Wednesday, January 04, 2006

PETE TONG: NOT ENTIRELY WRONG

Pete Tong's inteview with Wired isn't actually bursting with fresh insights, but it's worth reading anyway. He's vague on the increasing dominance of Apple in the music scene:

I've always been a Mac user, but as Apple grows more powerful I get the sense that there's a little bit of Microsoft in there. The way it's so controlled from the center. It's phenomenal what it has achieved. Success in digital music gives Apple the chance to control things again, but will it keep that friendly image?

Well... yes, there is a bit of Microsoft in there - Bill took a USD150million stake in 1997, primairily to keep the company alive and spare Microsoft from having an awkward monopoly.

Tong is more interesting when he gets on the reason why labels shouldn't be so busy trying to kill digital - if they'd played their hand better, and cleared their eyes, they should have realised that disintermediating was a positive good for their business; but they've chosen to panic instead:

In my day at London Records, we signed an artist, a pop band. We got everyone, from the guy on the door to the chief executive, approving of the artist. We signed the act, made the record and took it along to BBC Radio 1. To succeed we had to get airplay, but the guy running the station didn't like the record, and we dropped the act. That just wouldn't happen today. If the station knocks you back you have other places to go.

Things have changed so much. Bands can build an audience all by themselves. Market research has gone out the window, labels just follow the heat, really. They maximize artists who are already doing well. I think it's really honest, actually. Almost everyone who arrives at a label's door already has a story.


We're not convinced that Tong is right when he suggests that "market research has gone out the window" - surely, the industry has become even more reliant on a few responses? Indeed, with the new marketplace dynamic and far, far lower break-even point open to them, it would be a positive good for the industry to abandon market research altogether. Instead, and because record companies are basically marketing organisations rather than cultural ones, they cling to the charts more than ever. Tong's right about where the labels have slipped up, but he's living up to his cockney rhyming name on why.