It’s the season of peace on earth, but that is not the story of the music industry’s 2019. Depending on your perspective, this has either been a vintage year or anabsolute annus horribilis for music biz rows.
Whether it’s Taylor Swift’s on-going dispute with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun (Swift and Borchetta are pictured in happier times); the indies’ complaints about Universal and Tencent; or Spotify versus the songwriters (or Warner Music or Apple or…), the illusion of the music community’s united front has been well and truly shattered.
None of these disputes are unjustified, but many of them could have been avoided with a little more care and respect. During the pre-streaming slump, there was broad solidarity within the biz, as companies and executives clubbed together in the face of an extremely challenging environment. But now that the biz is once again awash with cash – this time with the sort of profit margins that would have been dismissed as the stuff of a madman’s dreams back in the ’90s – that togetherness is being challenged.
It’s no real surprise that Spotify have been at the heart of so many disputes this year. The streaming service began as a start-up, rapidly became the market-leader and now finds itself the subject of intense competition from deep-pocketed rivals. Now it’s a public company, it does what most public companies do: seek out the biggest possible prize by using every bit of leverage it has.
When the biz was in the doldrums, neither the prize nor the leverage were really big enough to justify such disputes. Today, both have been super-scaled, which means some are prepared to ditch successful partnerships and long alliances at the first drop of a hefty cheque.
This may just be the festive spirit(s) talking, but does it have to be this way? Despite the recovery, there are still industry-wide issues that need solving, and are only likely to be fixed by working together. And the global political climate, including the dreaded Brexit becoming a reality, will make things more challenging for everyone.
As explored in the new, bumper Christmas edition of Music Week, artists and songwriters, for so long the Bob Cratchits of the biz hoping for a few crumbs from the table, are now reasserting their rights and, while others in the industry might lose out slightly by helping them out, it seems likely everyone would benefit in the long run. After all, the ghosts of the music industry past will tell you that everything is cyclical. The boom years won’t last forever so instead, why not plan ahead and extend the season of ‘good will to all’ into 2020 and beyond? Merry Christmas!
* The bumper Christmas edition of Music Week is in all good newsagents now. To secure your copy of this very special issue, email Rachael Hampton on firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.