Wednesday, October 20, 2004

COLIN MURRAY'S DIARY: It's like the Dales, only we've yet to be put out of our misery. This month, Colin muses on the death of the single:

So, the single is dead. Surely that's bad news for radio. Hold on a second, that's bad news for me ...

Neat opening, although since many, if not all, Gold and album format stations manage quite well without the single, it doesn't really follow.

I can always go back to McDonald's, given my two years' experience, and there's a monthly radio diary I do for a newspaper called the Guardian. It doesn't pay much, but it's a start. Still, I'll have to sell the holiday home in St Lucia and the Winnebago. Trust me, if that was the truth I wouldn't be writing about it today. Here's the story ...

We never really liked the idea of Colin taking over the Radcliffe slot; we liked the idea of him filling Eddie Mair's radio diary slot in G2 even less. But if it keeps him out of making the drive-thru in our local McDonalds even slower than it already is, we can live with that.

Last Sunday, Call On Me by Eric Pridz went back to the top of the official UK charts, despite the fact it sold fewer copies than a stall punting anti-war T-shirts at the gates of Downing Street.

Wouldn't that be a lucrative spot, though? Since many people turn up at Downing Street to protest the war? Don't you mean something like Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers in Texas?

Now, it was a very slow week for releases, but it's probably a taste of things to come. However, to quote Lance Corporal Jack Jones, "Don't panic!"

Surely it would make more sense to quote the Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy's advice, which is delivered in a clear, calm manner, rather than Corporal Jones', which would always be stuttered out in a blind panic?

Back in the day, you could buy six singles for the price of one album, whereas today most singles cost £3.99. Therefore, it makes sense to spend a few more quid on albums, sales of which are thriving. Record companies (and supermarkets) have cottoned on to this and are selling remarkable, ground-breaking new long players for a tenner, or thereabouts. Three years ago, you'd have been lucky to bag Black Lace's Greatest Hits for that.

Does Colin really think that record companies have reduced the price of albums? After all their defence of the high prices of recorded music in the UK?

Above all else, though, it's the untapped and out-of-control Download Generation that's decimating single sales.

Is it? Suddenly, Colin is signing up to the BPI line here. We're not sure what he means by "untapped" in this context - it could be an indication that he believes this "Download Generation" (didn't he call them the iPod generation the other week?) have yet to be treated as a market, but then - who's buying all the albums?

CD Burners are now standard with new PCs and the likes of iPods and iRivers (don't ask) are commonplace on the hip of today's youth.
On Radio 1, we have special album chart features and the first ever official download chart, but it's the stuff we're stealing from the net that's really damaging the legacy of the single. Personally, I'll be glad to see this wave of virtual theft curbed, but the rebel in me quite enjoys seeing the big record companies squirm. To quote that man again, "They don't like it up 'em.'"

Eh? This is a bit like, if you will, Corporal Jones saying "I'd hate to live under a Nazi occupation, but I really hope the Nazis do well." Now, we wouldn't expect Murray to come out in the press and praise the whole world of shady downloads, but it's a little disappointing to see him trying to simultaneously be on the side of the Kids ("stick it to the Man") while churning out the Man's words ("downloading is theft... killing music... we must stop it.")

It's a difficult issue but you shouldn't leave your car door open if you want to hold on to it and, at the moment, it takes serious morals for a teenager to resist the temptation to click that mouse.

Surely not, though? If you accept - as Colin appears to - that making an unauthorised download is theft, doesn't that boil down to one of the most simple pieces of morality there is: Thou Shalt Not Steal. Unless, of course, Colin believes that the issue really is more complicated than he suggests - God was a little vague with Moses on the exact status of a Twa Toots Peel Session track and what it means to download that.

So, with all this in mind, is there a point to singles any more? In short, yes.

Blimey, that's lucky.

This format is still the shop window for any new band to be discovered. They, along with their record company, decide on what track they'd like to represent them. The public fall in love with music in a second, after turning on the radio and hearing an outfit for the first time. The single remains the ultimate promotional tool.

Does it? But haven't the really big selling singles of the past couple of years been made by the likes of Cowell and his chums? Isn't a lot of prime-time telly exposure a much more effective marketing tool?

And even if the single is such a great piece of marketing fluff, and you can get round the question "Why, then, don't great singles acts tend to do well in the album charts?", why does the existence of a physical CD single need to happen before the tracks will be heard on the radio? To play devil's advocate for a moment, if people aren't interested in buying singles, but like to discover new bands through tracks getting played on the radio, why not just release the tracks straight to the radio? Surely Radio One plays songs because they're great and fantastic and fab, not because they're available for purchase in the shops? (Think carefully on that one, Colin, during Charter Renewal.)

People are not losing interest in singles; they are just attaining them in different ways.

I think you mean obtaining. But now let me get this straight: are you suggesting that downloads are singles - in which case the decline isn't anything like as severe as you suggest, when you add in the numbers of illegal and legal tracks collected off the web - or are they not, in which case what "different ways" are you referring to?

And anyway, if Radio 1 didn't play the best new music before anyone else, then how would the kids know what to steal from the internet?

Well, presumably, through the playlists of their mates, reviewblogs, samples of songs emailed to them, and off The Box, I'd imagine. What do you think?

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