Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Doubtless, the expected downturn in global music sales this year will be blamed on piracy, theft, drug dealers selling Alanis Morrisette's back catalogue to schoolkids on the black market, and all the usual excuses. But don't fall for it - US labels are having a rubbish year because the product has been thin. The effect is going to look worse, too, as last year new stuff from Eminem and U2 was getting deployed.

When the labels start crying, remember these words from Jim Urie, president of Universal Music:

"The release schedule is weaker this year than it was last year."

That's why they're having a downturn; to blame sliding sales on theft is like a baker suggesting his poop-filled-tarts aren't selling because people are stealing cakes from Tescos instead.

You can sense the desperation for something - anything - to capture public imagination in the sheer weight of push the Madonna album is getting. Her unconvincing attempt to pretend she's still a vibrant dancefloor force is what happens when record companies call in favours: as when the Are You Being Served team regrouping for Grace and Favour, no turning up of the applause track can disguise that she's, well, a little past this sort of thing. It's not that she's too old, but she's too distant from where she came from. When she sang "only when I'm dancing can I feel this free", you could believe it - on the dancefloor she's able to put the cheap rooms, glamour photography and nastiness of life behind herself and groove herself a whole new life. But what now? When did Madonna last go to a disco, nevermind need the glitterball as a means of escape? Normally, sane counsel would take her to one side and suggest she produces something a little less off-the-shelf, something a bit more personal and not so plastic. But instead, the industry needs a hit, and so will sell us the substandard as transubstantiation.

Things are slightly less gloomy at home, with Robbie Williams also holding out the prospect of massive sales to the don't-really-like-music market.

Williams and Gorillaz helped EMI manage to increase its sales for the first time in five years, but still managed to mislay 47% of its profits.

2005 has been a brilliant year for music in the smaller end of the music business pie charts. You'd have thought with all the investment the big labels keep telling us they put into artist development, they'd be enjoying something of a golden boom.

Having said which, we should remember that when massive corporations announce they're living in hard times, it's always relative. A drop in profits of nearly half still left EMI with supernormal profits of £22.5million.

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