'National Album Day can grow and grow': Cherry Red chairman Iain McNay's vision for the industry initiative

'National Album Day can grow and grow': Cherry Red chairman Iain McNay's vision for the industry initiative

There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the inaugural edition of National Album Day, the news of which Music Week broke at the weekend. The initiative was first formulated during a meeting of indie labels on the BPI Council, including Cherry Red chairman Iain McNay, who discusses the campaign in the latest issue of Music Week.

Here, the industry veteran explains why he’s doing his bit to preserve the 70-year format for a new generation of fans and artists...

Did National Album Day start out as an idea to support CD and vinyl?

Yes, the origins were very much for helping support the world of physical. But an album is an album, and the encouragement of National Album Day is to remind people of the wonderful format. It doesn’t really matter how the album is listened to, whether it’s physical or a download or whether it’s streamed, the idea of National Album Day is to encourage people to remember the thought and genius that goes into the making of an album. Of course, so many artists when they record one track aren’t necessarily thinking of just one track, they’re thinking of an album.

Are declining sales for physical albums a concern, though?

It isn’t just about physical, streaming is on the increase. Streaming tends to be primarily track-driven but we would hope National Album Day actually encourages people, if they’re going to listen to music on Apple Music or Spotify or wherever else, to listen to a whole album in sequence rather than just a track. That’s the idea of National Album Day, it’s format agnostic.

So how is physical music performing for Cherry Red?

What’s happened is that people who buy the physical [product] spend a lot more money than they used to. At Cherry Red, 85% of our income is from the physical format. We’re doing lots of box sets and some of them really aren’t cheap – some are £60 or £70. But in the album chart, that £60 or £70 counts as one sale, which is the same as someone selling an album at £5 in how it impacts the chart. So the album is in a far healthier state than it appears to be [based on unit sales]. In Germany their album chart is a value chart – it’s worked out on what is spent on an album rather than the units.

The album is in a far healthier state than it appears to be

Iain McNay

Have you suggested the Official Charts Company look into this? 

I speak to [OCC chief exec] Martin Talbot every few days, he knows how I feel! 

Despite that agnostic approach of National Album Day, are you hoping people will actually go and buy a CD or LP on October 13?

Well, of course, and I think a lot of people will. The BBC are behind it, they’re fantastic in their support. So every day leading up to October 13, people will hear something about National Album Day and some of the channels will play a whole album in sequence. In our first year we’re trying to get profile, the BBC are very enthusiastic. AIM, ERA, MMF, MPG, UK Music – they are all behind it. I think it will be a little bit like Record Store Day. National Album Day can grow and grow.

The indie labels are still very focused on albums rather than tracks, aren’t they?

I think that’s true for independent labels generally – especially the ones that have been around for a few years - albums are very important to them. We’ve got a few artists during that week who will do shows playing a whole album in sequence. We’ve got some albums coming out for National Album Day during that week. Arthur Brown, Jah Wobble, Pere Ubu, House Of Love, Inspiral Carpets, Luke Haines – they are all involved with Cherry Red and they have all said they want to support National Album Day.

So will the physical album outlive the Spotify playlist?

The reason I’m confident is I know so many musicians who love making albums. Kids love vinyl, physical is becoming more of an artefact. They love the fact it’s something tangible, there’s a cover, there’s something to hold – people love to own things. Streaming has its value but when you stop paying your £10 a month, you haven’t got anything.” 

To read Music Week’s exclusive report on National Album Day pick up the latest issue – or subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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