Q4 is officially in full swing. After Music Week’s annual Q4 special laid out this year’s contenders for the music industry’s peak selling season, the focus has shifted to the major labels’ commercial teams, who have the job of securing huge sales and streams for 2019’s release slate.
As revealed in the current issue of Music Week, Q3 racked up some impressive sales, with total AES consumption surging 11.3% on Q3 2018. The picture for the year-to-date is almost as encouraging, with AES up 9.1% so far. But the last two Q4s have been disappointing as the transition to streaming starts to flatten performance across the year.
So, with rumours of some big releases still to come, Music Week sat down with the commercial chiefs for the Big 3 – Universal Music UK Commercial Division MD David Hawkes, Warner Music UK SVP, commercial Derek Allen and Sony Music UK VP of market planning and media Charles Wood – for their assessment of how this year’s Q4 might shape up…
Are this year’s Q4 releases strong enough to maintain year-on-year growth?
Derek Allen: “We haven't got complete visibility of everything that's in the market at the moment, but it feels like there's a few things in there that potentially could be game-changers for the overall UK market. So I don't see why it shouldn't maintain growth. It does feel like we could be going into an interesting peak season.”
David Hawkes: “Looking across the industry slate, there are some strong releases orientated towards gifting, which should deliver a strong Q4 this year. But it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Q4 down again, bearing in mind that consumption across the year is flattening as we move into a streaming world.”
Charles Wood: “We think it's quite an open Christmas. There's not one record that you could sit here and clearly say, ‘That's the No.1’ and everyone else is just competing for No.2, 3 or 4. Our highest hopes are probably Robbie Williams, Celine Dion, ELO, the Last Christmas soundtrack, with a wildcard for Martin & Shirlie [Kemp]. They have a great promo schedule lined up. Last year or the year before there were a few too many albums like that, it appears slightly quieter this year.”
Are the labels generally putting out fewer albums this year?
Derek Allen: “Most of the majors are putting fewer releases into the market. Traditionally at Christmas, there are a few speculative releases that get put into the market that couldn't possibly work any other time of the year, but might just catch a moment in peak season and hit a gifting market. But from conversations we've had with our commercial partners, it feels like there are a lot fewer punts this year. So I think the overall number in terms of releases is down, but the quality overall is up. The performances in the last couple of peak seasons across the whole market meant that record companies have tried to address the strategy in terms of going with things that are less speculative and look more guaranteed to deliver a return. The feedback I've had during presentations is that the [retail] trade like that.”
Charles Wood: “It's trying to favour quality over quantity. We're very aware about what the numbers in the market might be. There are only 20 records that can be in the Top 20, after all, so we've cut down. Probably in the past we'd make or break our year by what we put out in November and December, but the year is much more steady now.”
How important is this Q4 to the industry?
David Hawkes: “Q4 is still very important from a physical perspective, and very important for certain artists. But for those artists that know they can build up phenomenal performance via streams, it's become marginally less important. But that's not to say we won't load Q4 with some big albums.”
Charles Wood: “There is an overall trend going on here where people are moving away from owning stuff to consuming it, and we're going to see that again. Last year was the first Christmas in my time in music where records didn't sell over 100,000 copies in Christmas week. That's probably going to be the case again. What's going to be interesting is, we look at the Christmas Top 20 as the finish line we're aiming for and it might be you get some records in there that really aren't releases aimed at traditional gift buyers or older consumers. They're just records that are streaming a lot. If you're streaming 20,000-odd equivalents a week, you could be close to the [Christmas] Top 20 this year because of that.”
* For Music Week's full, exclusive Q3 analysis, see the current print edition, available now, or click here. Music Week's special Q4 preview is now online. To see Universal Music's plans, click here. For Now That's What I Call Music, click here. For Sony Music, click here. For Warner Music, click here. For BMG, click here. And for PIAS, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.