opinion

Local heroes: Why the UK biz must continue to set trends

I write this shortly before I head off to Nashville for a few days. The home of country music is perhaps the ultimate example of how a local scene can grow to influence national and even global tastes. The UK ...

Hit the spot: Why setlists are the new playlists

It’s been something for audiences to moan about at gigs and, especially, festivals for as long as anyone can remember: that moment when a classic artist breaks up a storming Greatest Hits set to drop some tracks from the new album that no one cares about. Cue mass exit to bar/toilets. But summer 2019 suggests artists are finally getting that message. Look at The Killers (pictured) at Glastonbury: huge festival crowd, even bigger TV audience, surely the ideal opportunity to remind people they put an album out less than two years ago? Or not, as the only song featured from Wonderful Wonderful amongst a host of hits and exciting collaborations was The Man, the one song that broke through on streaming. In London that night, Weezer went one better, or perhaps one worse depending on your point of view, neglecting to play anything at all from The Black Album, which only came out in March. Almost every gig you go to now, artists are treating setlists like playlists, compiling them with the constant fear of the real life equivalent of the skip button. This has long been apparent at pop events like Capital’s Summertime and Jingle Bell Balls, where a brutal teenage crowd will cut you dead the second you test their attention span. But it’s now seeping into other genres, where it’s also born of the realisation that flogging the new album is no longer the most important thing for artists with a significant catalogue. The future may involve fewer live run-throughs of classic albums and more full renditions of new material to hardcore fans only. But, in the meantime, the real priority is to grab people’s attention and send them to streaming platforms, where they can keep your monthly listeners up and hopefully explore all of your music. If they check out the new record while they're there, then that's a bonus. Because the reality for most of the rock artists that still dominate the live business is that few people outside of your hardcore fanbase will ever buy your new album (when was the last rock album that truly crossed over?). But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your huge festival platform to engage people outside of that core group. Hence The Killers’ Direct Hits flying back into the Top 10 this week, while Wonderful Wonderful lurks somewhere below the Top 100. You suspect Brandon Flowers and co will have no problem with that. The only problem we have now is choosing which hit we miss for a pint… * To read Music Week's highlights from this year's Glastonbury, click here. To read our 2017 in-depth feature on The Killers, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

Cast a long shadow: Why the music business needs the podcasting revolution to pay its way

At times lately, it’s felt like more people are producing podcasts than actually listening to the bloody things. But, as streaming companies target spoken word as their next big (and, conveniently, lower-cost-than-music) growth area, it’s clear that the music business and podcasting are having a moment. Hence Music Week's podcast special in this week's edition, starring Ms Banks & DJ Semtex (pictured). So Universal Music Group has hooked up with Wondery to “develop premium original podcasts drawing upon the breadth and depth of UMG’s renowned musical catalogue”. Warner has launched Atlantic and Rhino-related podcasts, while Sony has formed a podcasting JV with Adam Davidson and Laura Mayer. Much of this is presumably about a landgrab: if Spotify is pushing podcasts over music (and the streaming service has splashed out on multiple podcast firms), the labels will want to make sure they have a piece of the action. And artists’ own podcasts can play a key part in positioning: Team George Ezra, for example, will tell you about the vital role his George Ezra And Friends series played in his gigantic second album success. And the format certainly chimes with the biz’s current obsession with ‘storytelling’: creating that elusive narrative that makes fans buy into an artist, not just a song. But while the financial advantage for the streaming services in replacing music consumption with spoken word is obvious, it’s less clear what’s in it for the industry. Time spent listening to podcasts on streaming services may be time well spent but, in pure economic terms, it's time spent not listening to revenue-generating music. So if podcasting is to become an essential component of the music biz content offering, whether it be for labels or associated media, it will ultimately come down to much more direct monetisation. With most audio free, or at least feeling like it through streaming subscriptions, the podcasts that do make money – and there are fewer of those than you might imagine – do so through advertising and sponsorship. Those are areas that some musicians may feel less comfortable about embracing. But the biz also needs to work on getting the consumers to take the leap from listening to a podcast about an artist, to actually listening to the artist’s music and generating some income. After all, content may be king. But so is cash. For pod’s sake, everyone needs to work out a way for both to rule. * To read Music Week's podcast special in full, see this week's print edition, available now. To read our cover story with DJ Semtex and Ms Banks, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here. PHOTO: Paul Harries

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