With the European approval of the BMG/Sony merger all but making American consent a slam dunk, the wonderful world of music becomes smaller by a major. And that ain’t all, folks. The Warner Music/EMI marriage is being arranged and when that takes place, the wedding party gets smaller still.
Record companies should worry when headlines about mergers and downsizing get more ink than the artists and the music they make.
The reality is that our world is changing…faster than American Idol records run up the charts. And with these changes comes a ripple effect that makes the radio and record industries rock with uncertainty.
What does the future hold? Let me hazard a guess…or two.
Radio programmers have long held onto the notion that they don’t need record companies to survive. It’s another naïve notion that has no basis in fact. Programmers say they don’t need the promotion provided by record companies…they can purchase their music in record stores if need be. Of course, the dwindling number of record stores should give them a clue that the idea may be mired in the rules of the past.
Recent changes in the way radio companies allow access to their programmers has made a hit even more difficult to determine. Radio companies, in an attempt to keep programamers from being illegally influenced by unscrupulous independent promoters have decreased their influence, and in many instances, banned them altogether. It’s an altruistic attempt similar to dropping Agent Orange on forests because an enemy “might” lurk there.
Record companies welcomed these changes with open arms because they were able to gain a degree of control over independent costs that had spiraled out of control. The fact that record executives were responsible for these costs didn’t seem to matter.
Now, programmers are faced with record promoters only intent on promoting their own records. Believable? Hardly. Record companies have needed independent sources to act as cheerleaders since the beginning of promotion. One lone voice calling out in the wilderness (and being paid to do so) is hard to hear. But record companies didn’t care. The costs were down. What else mattered?
Record companies stopped focusing on breaking records in smaller markets. There was no immediate return. Instead, it was easier to break records out of the major markets and then let them “trickle down” to the sticks. Regional hits were a thing of the distant past. If a record didn’t make it nationally, it didn’t matter.
Radio fell for the same lure. Why take a chance on a new artist? Wait until Z100 said it was a hit. And while we’re at it, let’s kill the local research. If we aren’t playing regional records, why would our research be any different than that done on a national basis. There really isn’t any difference in New York City and New Orleans is there?
Programmers hide behind the fact that they rely on research. Yet, to research a record, it must first gain significant airplay. How are new records going to be exposed in the future if everyone is playing it safe and waiting on the majors to discover new music? And that new music is increasingly the product of record companies offering bigger acts for station concerts in return for airplay on “new” artists.
With access being denied, research becoming meaningless on a local level and playlists shrinking with record companies, what’s next?
With the number of majors shrinking, more independent record companies will be raising their heads. Most independent record companies aren’t able to promote their records on a national basis. These record companies will begin focusing on the radio stations in their immediate vicinity. The future of the music business rests in the ability of the independent record companies to break records out of regions. Not because they should, but because it’s their only choice.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Now if the executives running the “majors” recognize a fact of life and once again begin focusing on regional breakouts and smaller markets to expose new product, the result could be a miracle.
I’ll light a candle.