Thursday, March 13, 2008

Duffy proves life in the record companies yet - possibly

The Times' business section carries an analysis of Duffy's album to offer hope to the executives in record company boardrooms around the world.

Dan Sabbagh compares Rockferry with Shayan Italia's YouTube number one Reflection:

Rockferry shifted 180,000 CDs in its first week, worth rather more than 190,000 views on YouTube, without the help of a television programme talent contest or any internet nonsense. In fact, the album was marketed conventionally to entice the mainstream buyer.

This, concludes Sabbagh, proves that all this talk of new business models and death of the label is hogwash:
[I]t is easy to get distracted: these companies are really creative businesses, allying marketing muscle with nothing more complicated than good music.

Spending too much time banging on about a new business model while failing to discover new acts, hiring management with little credibility in the industry or simply not bidding for talent when necessary are sure ways to fail, as Guy Hands many find out if he is not careful.

There's a degree of truth in this: there's still a healthy market for CDs, and the four majors are still massively successful businesses - this is why it's hard to shed many tears for them when they tell us about how beastly the peer-to-peer networks are.

But it also misses a crucial point - Duffy's album sold less than a fifth of a million, and went to number one. That's despite the enormous might of the marketing department behind it, with commercials on TV and in the papers, a hectic circuit of appearances, and an effective press office operation generating much warm glow around Duffy. As Sabbagh concludes, Rockferry has put much more money through tills than Italia's effort - but we bet that in terms of earnings, the gap between what Duffy's made from her record and Italia has made from his isn't going to be as wide as you might think.

It's also odd for Sabbagh to dismiss the idea of new models out-of-hand while opening the article with a reference to an unsigned artist who has found an audience of 190,000 people in a day and then concluding:
[I]t would have been a lot easier for him to find an audience if a well-organised music major had snapped him up.

You think? Leaving aside the question of just which label would be snapping up an Indian-born guy, on the cusp of his thirties, with an 80s fixation in the first place (unless the other majors also had aging retro Anglo-Indians on their books), it's hard to imagine how they would have marketed him - you can imagine meetings coming to grief over the question of what genre to tick on the iTunes form. Italia would have been a non-starter for a major label and, sure, while he would have found a home on a smaller, boutique imprint, it's hard to imagine that the old-school radio and TV networks would have known what to do with him, either. You only have to look at what happened to Sheila Chandra's career for an example of how the old business model worked.

Yes, Italia isn't doing as much trade through chart-return shops as a major label. But then a 2008 major isn't doing as much trade through chart-return shops as a 1990s major, either. But he's finding a way to take a niche product to an audience that's bordering on the mass. Dan, can you really not see that we're living in a transfer between business models?