opinion

A&R, not R&D: Why the music biz shouldn't let data take over artist development

If you’re looking for the result of the big fight between Gut Instinct and Data, here it is: Data won by a technical knockout. And there ain’t gonna be no rematch. Legend has it that, during one corporate record company ...

£9.99: What's your emergency? Why streaming subscription increases should be back on the music biz agenda

Spotify turned 10 last week, and celebrated with a deluge of stats about its decade-long history. It's been 10 years of constant statistical growth, whether that's in terms of number of subscribers or the number of streams the service generates. One number it didn’t mention, however, is the price of its subscription, which has remained unchanged at £9.99 throughout its history. Even if it had only increased at the basic rate of annual UK inflation over those years (and even including a couple of years when inflation basically didn't exist), a monthly subscription would now cost around £12.64 – and, with 83 million subscribers worldwide, that would mean a lot of extra cash for both Spotify and rights-holders. Hell, maybe Daniel Ek's streaming service would actually have turned a profit by now. Of course, Spotify is trying to build a scaleable business and price increases would no doubt make that harder. Especially when every other service is trying to do the same at, coincidentally, the exact same price point. But, as the streaming market approaches maturity in some territories, subscription increases will surely come onto the agenda sooner or later. That’s just what happens with this business model: Sky has regularly increased its fees, Amazon Prime has risen in price – even relative newcomer Netflix has bumped up its rates. Sure, some people protest, but most keep paying – especially if they feel they can't live without the service they're being provided with. And, while pressure on physical music prices has been relentlessly downward in recent years, £10 a month for the entire history of recorded music is such an insanely good deal most streaming services should be confident that they’ll now be viewed as essential. The healthy Q3 figures show that UK streaming is still growing. But as time passes, there will be fewer new subscribers to attract, while those that do bite are likely to be lower volume users. There may even need to be lower-priced tiers to attract those users. So consumption increases will slow, but with the industry now used to growth, labels and publishers will expect there to be an expansion plan in place. Indeed, several senior execs have already hinted to Music Week in recent weeks that "inflationary pressures" will see pricing back on the agenda before the next round of licensing deals. The volatility of Spotify’s share price last week also indicates the streaming service's need to turn a profit in the near future, however cash rich its successful IPO might make it look. And while some of its competitors’ pockets may seem bottomless, music can’t be a loss-leader forever. £9.99 isn’t an emergency number just yet, but one day soon someone’s going to need to make a call on it…

The long player game: How the album can survive the streaming age

For some of us, of course, every day is National Album Day. But the new event on the music industry calendar, which takes place tomorrow (October 13), will have to do a lot more than preach to the choir if it’s to become a national institution. Because the seachange in music consumption over recent years has moved a lot faster than 33rpm. While the vinyl revival hints at a desire from some to embrace the old ways of listening to music, most people’s preferred method of consumption is light years away from gathering round the gramophone. And, while everyone currently working in the music business has no trouble naming their favourite album, will future generations be able to say the same if they don't grow up listening to the format? Streaming now regularly represents 60% of the albums market week-in, week-out, but it seems unlikely that much of that listening comes from people truly giving a record their full attention and playing every song in order. And National Album Day will have its work cut out to break that cycle, let alone boost actual album sales. The skip button and shuffle feature have liberated listeners from the curse of the filler track or the poorly sequenced tracklist but, by and large, the industry still presents “long-players” in pretty much the same way it always has. This is not the case in other industries. TV has responded to the threat of the internet by producing ever higher quality series, available how, when and where the viewers want them, and engineered for obsessive consumption. Albums have long had built-in convenience, but too often their presentation, particularly on streaming services, seems throwaway. Meanwhile the lowering quality threshold means it’s been a long time since there was a undisputed front-runner for the Mercury Prize, let alone a truly generation-defining album. And that’s why, if National Album Day is to become a regular event, it can’t just be about old masterpieces. If albums are to remain central to UK culture, artists must be empowered to make new records with the vision to compete with the classics. And record companies and streaming services must promote them as essential bodies of work, not just for one day, but all year round. * For more on National Album Day and the future of the format, see the current print edition of Music Week. To read our full report on how albums can survive in the streaming age, click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.  

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