opinion

Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on the questions at the heart of the "broken record" debate

As I wrote in my last Music Week column, the damaging impact of Covid-19 has been felt far and wide across the industry. The world we once knew is no more and, as a united music business, we must all ...

Paper cuts deep: Why music magazines matter

The shock news that the Covid-19 pandemic has left Bauer Media assessing its options for the future of Q and Planet Rock highlight the tough reality faced by many titles right now. Here, Music Week's deputy editor looks at why music magazines are still so important to the industry...   Long, long before any title entertained printing the laboriously crafted gibberish I like to call my writing, music magazines changed my life. To this day, I still consider certain covers, features and reviews as much a part of my DNA as the music they spotlighted. For one, I wouldn’t have even discovered some of my favourite acts without them. Music magazines matter to me. I recognise just how deeply unsurprising that must be to read: ‘Music journalist says music magazines are important – gasp!’ But now more than ever I feel compelled to stress this point. Yes, headlines proclaiming the end of days for print media have echoed for decades – a status quo of perpetual crisis. A lot of magazines have, sadly, been lost, but there is a flipside: a lot of magazines survived and continue to produce fantastic issues. But since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the story has changed. Many titles are now scrambling to find new subscription models, others have temporarily suspended publication to wait out the storm. It was the shock news of Bauer Media stating that it was assessing its options for the future of Q and sister title Planet Rock that really drove the stark reality home for many. The public outcry and flurry of new subscriptions to affected titles has been both heartening and revelatory. For a lot of people, magazines are still one of the best ways to get to know artists in a deep, meaningful way. This is not, of course, to discredit, the incredible music writing done online, but rather to emphasise that music titles still play a major role in breaking acts and building legacies. Here, it’s worth remembering: many of the interviews that break the internet and generate millions of clicks are first harvested from the pages of print media.   It’s worth remembering: many of the interviews that break the internet and generate millions of clicks are first harvested from the pages of print media   Never judge a magazine by its cover. In the here and now, the pages of many titles revolve around celebrating music that doesn’t always get the recognition or chart showing it deserves. Now more than ever, regardless of whether they service a large or niche audience, the feeling lingers that every one we have left matters. And every one is worth fighting for. I often find myself wishing I could flick through a new issue of Hip-Hop Connection, the irreverent UK publication that frequently gave my favourite artists a borderline lethal critical drubbing yet always lured me back each month with its passion, wit and incisive writing. It was shuttered 11 years ago. I still miss it. It’s a reminder that while the internet will always be here, some music magazines won’t. And it shouldn’t just be music journalists that hear alarm bells when contemplating that prospect.

What the 'broken record' streaming debate means for the music biz

One thing about all this time in isolation is, it gives you plenty of time to think. Forcing the music world indoors at a time when we would normally be wading through mud to watch bands at festivals has led to much pondering, as predicted in this column a month ago, about the state of the recorded music business model. The Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union have launched the Keep Music Alive campaign, calling on the UK government to review the functioning of the streaming market – with the aim of getting songwriters and artists more money. Similar arguments have also gained plenty of traction on social media under the Broken Record hashtag as part of a separate campaign while, in his Music Week Viewpoint on the subject, Ivors Academy CEO Graham Davies highlighted what he sees as "a disconnect between perceptions that all are benefiting from the huge riches streaming brings, with the reality that many music makers need hardship support". ERA, representing the streaming companies, responds by pointing out that you don’t fix a ‘broken record’ by smashing up the record player. The labels, having finally returned to growth after years of decline, are keeping a low profile but, privately, executives note how easy it is to under-estimate record companies’ contribution to breaking records and artists. After all, over 20 years after the Napster revolution, how many global superstars – or even successful mid-tier acts – have genuinely come through without label backing? The trouble with this argument is, nobody's completely wrong, but that doesn't mean somebody's completely right Music Week You see, the trouble with this argument is, nobody’s completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean somebody’s completely right. Artists and songwriters deserve more money from streaming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean DSPs or record companies deserve less. Spotify, rightly or wrongly often in the firing line over this debate, can afford to pay Joe Rogan $100 million for his podcast, the argument goes, so why can't it pay the musicians that built its business, currently valued on the stockmarkets at over $30 billion, more money? Yet Spotify is not yet a consistently profitable business – and might never become one if it has to distribute more than the 65-70% of revenues it already sends the way of rights-holders. And, given that the more time people spend listening to podcasts, the fewer royalties the streaming company pays to musicians, would artists and songwriters getting a bigger slice of the pie make further Rogan-style deals more likely, or less? The coronavirus crisis has added urgency to the creatives’ cause as revenues in other areas dry up, but it has also increased the need for cross-industry cooperation. As our lockdown analysis in the new issue of Music Week, available now, shows, music remains essential to the public even during the biggest crisis. And the music business, too, continues to function well despite unprecedented external disruption to its operations. So by all means let’s have an honest review of the streaming model, as long as it incorporates everything from subscription pricing to user-centric models, a path for streaming companies to make money, and a look at label deal structures alongside marketing costs (personally, I'd prefer to see the music industry work it out amongst themselves rather than involve the government, but that's by the by). But let’s also remember that everyone in this business needs everyone else in order to make a living. Some things may need fixing, but if there’s going to be a bright future, we need to make sure music industry unity isn’t broken in the process. * To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.

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