THE BLOG
27/07/2011 05:17 BST | Updated 25/09/2011 06:12 BST

Larders And Linoleum

Record companies are the past. Nothing wrong with them - they served a purpose, and the names of their labels were a part of our lives. But like larders and linoleum and cars that didn't start on cold mornings, they belong to another age.

Record companies are the past. Nothing wrong with them - they served a purpose, and the names of their labels were a part of our lives. But like larders and linoleum and cars that didn't start on cold mornings, they belong to another age.

Trouble is, they don't realise it. In 2004 BMG merged with Sony, then sold out completely. That left just four major record companies. BMG then changed their mind about leaving the record business and made a bid for Warner. Having failed, they're now bidding for EMI. So are Universal and Sony. With one company buying another - then separating, then re-buying - the record industry in its death throes is beginning to look like a demented dog running in circles trying to eat its tail.

The first digital camera appeared in 1990. Just fifteen years later Kodak gave up making film. The end of darkrooms and negatives and 35mm slides was that quick. Yet 17 years after the first mp3 showed us the future of recorded music, record companies still haven't got it - they cling to the past, making scratchy little circles of plastic.

Well of course they do. Since the early 1900s, records have been the greatest source of income ever invented. It started with one cent's worth of shellac selling for a dollar. And though the type of plastic has changed and inflation has upped the prices, the ratio has always stayed the same. There is, of course, the cost of finding something to press into it that people want to hear, but from source material to finished product there's a profit of ten thousand per cent, the highest in all of retail selling. Who'd want to let go of that?

Certainly not the major record companies. They're squeezing what they can from a dying market. No longer investing in artist development, they're playing safe, serving up pappy pop and endless re-issues. The companies aren't run by young forward-thinking people; the people at the top are the same old faces who've been there for years, growing ever more wrinkled, applying sludgy minds to a declining situation, clinging to overpaid jobs. Defunct, but refusing to accept it.

From the 1980s onwards, as the major companies got bigger they became the industry's doormen. To have a career in popular music you had to find a way past them. When originality was still welcomed, that wasn't so bad. But today, when the only thing record companies want is more of what they sold yesterday, anyone offering something different has to find their own market through the internet. Which is what they're doing, making record companies progressively more redundant.

To begin with record companies were run by people who loved music. In their heyday the greatest albums were a perfect balance between marketing and art. The work of art was the record, in its sleeve, in its rack, in the record shop. But as the companies conglomerated, instead of continuing this balance between commerce and creativity, they simply chased profit.

For rock and pop managers the first priority has always been to fight with the record company - arguing, manipulating, coercing and cajoling them into doing whatever's needed to get success for their artists. Frankly, I've enjoyed every minute of it. Major record companies are dull, deaf, greedy, blind, stupid, grasping and dishonest - but that's what they're meant to be - they're the enemy. As an artist's manager your job is to go to war with them.

But like a professional soldier - without an enemy you're out of work. And on that basis I regret their passing. Yet there's a certain fondness for them too. These days, watching the major record companies writhe is like watching a terminally-ill uncle endure a long tortuous death. You remember the good times you had together, but they're over. Your lovely old uncle is suffering incontinence, dementia and pain. The right thing to do would be to help him on his way. But you can't.

Poor old record companies, I wish I could give them a pill to finish it off painlessly.