Over ten years ago, MODO placed an ad in Music Week magazine with the strap line: ‘Step away from the plastic case.’
This was an attempt to highlight that a disc in a jewel box at £10-£15 could not compete with a CD in a plastic wallet that cost £1. The person who would know this better than anyone? The music fan in Our Price.
The CD, we can see now, had already started the journey of distancing the music consumer from the artist.
Greed, eh? Has a habit of coming back and biting you on the arse.
(Also, jewel boxes offered no way to switch over the sides – and no large canvas for the artwork on which to roll joints. Both minus points.)
Then came the download era.
Suddenly, the CD looked doomed and the artist’s vision was pushed even further away from the consumer.
“I’M A ROMANTIC OLD FOOL. I REMEMBER WHEN PEOPLE LISTENED TO MUSIC AND CONSUMPTION HAPPENED AT MCDONALD’S.”
Now all we had were songs, pushed into a music library on a device to be ‘consumed’ like every other byte of data. Or a Big Mac.
(I’m a romantic old fool: I remember when people listened to music, and consumption happened at McDonald’s.)
Now streaming has arrived – and it’s aiming to kill the desire to own any music at all. Or at least, that’s I was informed by one Apple exec in a recent radio interview.
That’s all very well.
You can’t stand in the way of progress, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. Progress is a fast moving beast. It’s knocked smarter people than me flat on their behind.
Talking of smart people, though, some of them tell us that artists are currently earning – after major label deductions – just £0.0001 per stream.
I could literally stream your music all day and, at those rates, a rock star lifestyle would never become affordable.
Neither, for that matter, would a mortgage. Or a cup of coffee. From Gregg’s.
Here’s the nightmare scenario: the pool of tracks made available by streaming services stop ceasing to grow, as artists cease to exist.
If the economics don’t change, that seems like an all-too-real possibility.
That’ll be a fun Christmas day: ‘Here, son, I’ve got you a subscription to Apple Music. Everything that happened musically until 2015 is on there. As for what came after, well, frankly it’s a wasteland.’
For the record: I’m not ‘anti-streaming’.
Clearly, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and their rivals have a place. Streaming is a marvellous way to distribute music to fans.
But artists can’t be expected to survive on fractions of pennies.
“ARTISTS CAN’T BE EXPECTED TO SURVIVE ON FRACTIONS OF PENNIES.’
Perhaps the solution is that streaming becomes a starting point; a seamless way for people to search out new acts, then buy some of their music, or a ticket, or a T-shirt.
Until we get there, I’m delighted to see that something of a silent revolution is going on.
If big software corporations are asking today’s kids to tow a line of non-ownership, those kids ain’t listening.
Physical music remains in a very healthy position – and from the perspective of our business, vinyl is booming, CDs are up and independent music stores are on the increase.
Perhaps that’s because MODO has quite a unique view: we don’t make cheap tat. (Like those horrible jewel cases.) We specialise in quality physical music goods – very often costly items – and people are lapping them up.
I read on MBW recently that physical music actually generated more than half of all global industry revenues last year. It does not surprise me.
The soaring sales of fancy headphones in the past few years clearly suggest that people like to own quality stuff – including quality music.
At one point, it looked as though physical music’s resurgence was just a short-term blip in the lifecycle of a dying product.
But it’s been going on too long for that to be the case.
Look at Warner Music Group – which saw income from physical music grow 8% in the six months to the end of March this year, bringing in almost half a billion dollars in total.
Now we hear that vinyl alone generated more revenue in the first half of 2015 in the US than all the free streaming services, YouTube included, put together.
There’s still a lot of money to be made out there right now from physical product – so long as it’s of a certain quality.
I sincerely hope the music business doesn’t take its eye off the opportunity.
In our experience, if you make wonderful items, people will treat them – and the artists behind them – wonderfully.