Wednesday, January 04, 2012

BPI almost sound upbeat; fall back on to wailing about piracy

Half a point for making the effort to the BPI for trying to make their New Year press release about 2011 sales sound slightly upbeat:

In the past, that headline would have been written the other way round, splattering the silver lining with the mud of despondency.

Does this mean the BPI is slowly coming to terms with the new world; accepting that they're lucky to have emerged out of the last ten years with any sort of business at all?

Nope. Much of the press release is given to the usual wailing about the nasty pirates. Chief Executive Geoff Taylor starts it off:
“British artists continue to produce incredible music that resonates at home and around the world. But while other countries take positive steps to protect their creative sector, our Government is taking too long to act on piracy, while weakening copyright to the benefit of US tech giants. The UK has already fallen behind Germany as a music market. Unless decisive action is taken in 2012, investment in music could fall again – a creative crunch that will destroy jobs and mean the next Adele may not get her chance to shine on the world stage.
Yes, god forbid that the government doesn't do as the BPI orders, lest the music industry lose out to American owned tech companies. Which would be a tragedy for the Japanese and American owned music industry, of course.

Taylor isn't an idiot, and he knows that it's probable that Germany's music industry has benefited not from any magic measures against piracy - "ooh, those umlauts are too hard to force through a torrent filter" - but from having had (for much of 2011) a stronger economy. Germany is a larger economy; it's got lower unemployment and lower inflation and the average German earns more than the average Brit - surely its surprising that it took so long for the UK to fall behind Germany in terms of music purchases? Taylor isn't an idiot. So why does he allow a news release to be circulated that makes him sound like one?

Tony Wadsworth, who chairs the BPI, also has something to say. The second paragraph of his thoughts at this magic time of year focuses on piracy:
“Led by Adele, Jessie J, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and others, records by British artists in 2011 achieved both critical and commercial success both at home and around the world. But the challenge of sustaining this performance against a backdrop of chronic piracy means that Government action remains absolutely crucial for British artists and their labels.”
Adele again. In fact, Adele had the whole of Tony's first paragraph just dedicated to her success:
“The spine-tingling performance by Adele at The BRIT Awards 2011 fired the starting gun on her incredible and well-deserved year of success. Her achievements are phenomenal – the biggest-selling album this century, the best seller of 2011 by miles, her debut album also making the year-end top five, not to mention her fantastic success overseas
As the press release points out, Adele's sales aren't just the impressive for this one-eighth of a century; they're just impressive, full stop:
Adele’s 21 reaches 3.8m sales – the biggest-ever selling album in a single year.
Unfortunately, this does tend to fire a big hole in the heart of Geoff and Tony's demand that something must be done about piracy to save the music industry. Despite all this "chronic" piracy going on, Adele's album has sold more copies in a year than any album has ever sold. More than a Michael Jackson album managed in a year, even the good one. More than a Beatles album ever managed to whisk out the shops in twelve months. More, even, than the third Charlatans album sold in a year.

So, how come Adele's album was not only immune to the chronic piracy, but thrived in a world so stricken? Had there been secret umlauts sewn into the hemlines of the choruses, rendering it impossible to torrent?

Were any of the many pirate-busting measures deployed? Did the pre-release circulate solely on a tape glued into a Walkman? Was every copy watermarked? Did a fleet of fake files get launched onto the internet to foil downloaders? Did Derren Brown hypnotise the world so that if they typed 'Adele 21 free' into Google they'd die?

Nope. The success of Adele's album seems to be nothing to do with avoiding piracy, and more to do with sticking out an album that people liked and wanted to buy.

Now, it's possible that in a world without torrentsearch, Adele might have sold more copies still of her record. But even so, she has sold more copies of 21 than any album has ever sold, even before home-taping killed music.

The conclusion has to be that if we don't see other records selling in large numbers, it's not because of chronic piracy, but chronic releases.

Look at the other names Wadsworth throws around - Jessie J, who is alright in a Nookie Bear Sings The Black Eyed Peas way; Coldplay, an act who can't even hide their own boredom with their music most days; Ed Sheeran, a singer so devoid of charisma promoters regularly close down his live act mid-set because they simply don't notice he's on stage. And these are the acts that Wadsworth picks out as the marshmallows in the box of Lucky Charms.

Since they're bobbing about on a sea of singing squadie spouses and ten year's worth of build-up of Cowell dung, you can see why Wadsworth felt that was the best he could do. There's people who will always be excited by music, but for big sales you need to get that ripple of connection, of interest, beyond those people and out into the wider public. The people who will buy an album from time-to-time, if it's a better way of spending their money than a computer game, or a bottle of wine, or a chip supper. With the best will in the world, Olly Murs is never going to win a struggle with a pickled egg and a can of Irn Bru.

It's not piracy. There's no need for the government to legislate. Unless the action they take is to pass a law forcing major labels to introduce quality control.

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