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Major labels tune in to the public's 'age of immediacy'

Major labels tune in to the public's 'age of immediacy'

The dramatic shift bows to demand from music fans and follows months of research, discussion and soul searching by the two majors. It provides artists with more creative campaigns and also ends the so-called "self-generating piracy".

On-air/on-sale was the only logical way forward, says Universal Music UK chairman and CEO David Joseph. "For a lot of our younger fans and consumers the word 'wait' is no longer in the vocabulary," he says. "You hear something and want it and then you search it. And if you search for it then you've got to make sure there is a legal site for that appetite."

Sony Music chairman and CEO Ged Doherty adds, "We live in an age of immediacy - release windows are a thing of the past. We have heard loud and clear from our customers that they want to get hold of music they like as soon as they hear it and that is what we are going to give them."

The move to on-air/on-sale, which will be phased in from next month for acts whose management are on board, ends a year-long campaign by the Music Managers' Forum and the Entertainment Ret-ailers Association to persuade record companies of the futility of leaving long gaps between tracks going on air and their availability instore.

MMF chairman Jon Webster says the move will lead to "happy consumers" as well as increased sales and revenue.

AIM chairman and CEO Alison Wenham has also been a vocal supporter of same-day retail radio releases. She says her indie members have already been quietly getting on with narrowing the gap between radio and retail and she hopes the move by Universal and Sony will encourage more indie labels to get on board.

Wenham adds she has long argued that long lead times have actually weakened sales because people become fed up with tracks by the time they are on sale in shops. "The concentration of playlists can lead to the exhaustion of the popularity of a song," she suggests.

EMI and Warner have yet to be persuaded by the benefits of the move, but one insider suggests EMI is "halfway there" and it is expected - or hoped - the two other majors will follow suit by the end of this year. Warner is understood to consider the issue on a case-by-case basis.

Research demonstrates online searches on first singles previewing albums peak at around the second week of radio play and that many people are annoyed they cannot buy music they have already heard on the radio.

With that kind of appetite for new music Joseph believes Universal had an "absolute responsibility" to make the same-day move.

"Not to try to do it in the way fans are consuming music is absolutely the wrong thing to do," he adds. But he also points out that on-air/on-sale will be more exciting for artists because record companies can be more creative about their campaigns.

The shift could also encourage more legal online music services because they will be able to get their hands on legitimate digital tracks at the same time as the pirate sites.

"We can do lots more deals with companies who want to set up streaming or downloading services. It gives them fuel to launch and be really competitive because they can be marketed as having tracks available immediately and of a better quality," explains Joseph.

In addition to ending years - even decades - of accepted working practices at record labels, who will now have to rethink their marketing strategies, the move will also have a significant impact at radio. The effect of same-day sale and radio play means tracks are unlikely to shoot into the upper reaches of the charts on the day of release.

More typically, they will enter the lower reaches and then climb steadily. They are also likely to stick around longer if radio producers add the tracks to their A- and B-lists. Again, many executives see no problem with Joseph suggesting the sales charts may start to behave like the airplay charts. "I think things will come in, they will rise and they will grow with new audiences," Joseph adds.

There is also a piracy agenda. Many supporters of on-air/on-sale suggest the Digital Economy Act will be undermined by the industry itself for as long as it continues to allow digital files of music, which are not legitimately available for sale, to flood the internet. A senior executive says, "It is untenable to send letters to people [under the DEA] who you are accusing of piracy while you allow this."

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