Sunday, March 21, 2021

Gennaro Castaldo Watch: He's working from home

Like Nena's war machine, No Rock & Roll Fun is opening up one eager eye as an old friend has emerged to celebrate the crazy upside of a global pandemic. Yes, yes, it's cut a swathe through our friends and family, tanked the economy and destroyed lives and livelihoods. Sure, it might have revealed that a worryingly large portion of the people we share this island with turn into big babies if you ask them to pop on a mask to go into Sainsburys; and an even more worrying number will claim that you will literally die if you do so because wearing a bit of cotton over your mouth is the same as sleeping in a sealed box with a broken gas boiler. Absolutely, coronavirus meant that for some reason the world spent far too long talking about a bunch of arseholes who appear to be famous solely for treating tigers badly.

But did we learn nothing - nothing - from Bing Crosby? You've got to accentuate the positive, right? And here's Gennaro Castaldo, who has found a cash-stuffed upside that doesn't even require him to be mates with Matt Hancock:

Music lovers have been getting in the groove during the pandemic – and buying record amounts of vinyl.

While the Covid crisis has been  disastrous for live music, it has turned the tables on sales of old-fashioned LPs, which are now at their highest level since the early 1990s.


And the trend looks set to continue. Gennaro Castaldo, of the British Phonographic Industry, said: “The nation’s love affair with vinyl shows no sign of relenting – a passion that, if anything, has become stronger under lockdown.

“Vinyl is appealing to fans of all ages and backgrounds because it feels like the ultimate expression of the artist’s craft.”

Gennaro has clearly spent much of his time in lockdown trying to find something new to say about vinyl beyond "it sounds much more authentic" or "it's so much warmer" and, fair play, "it feels like the ultimate expression of the artist's craft" is fresh. 

Although craft and art are two different things.

And the delivery method of the music isn't really the ultimate expression of how good a musician is, is it? That's clearly idiotic. If you'd only heard, say, B B King playing live, you wouldn't have come out of the gig muttering "yeah, that seems okay, but I'm going to withhold judgement until I've had a chance to hear his work coming out of a tinny speaker on a jukebox because you can't judge a musician until they've had their work mediated by a producer, a shitload of recording equipment, some tape, the mastering process, the vagaries of a pressing plant, and a whole load of decisions made at the other end about styli, turntables and speakers. You don't really get to understand what sort of a craftsperson the artist is until all those mechanical process and other people's decisions have been slathered over the top."

Still, let's channel out inner Bing Crosby. The Mirror points out that this is a good news music story in a bad year:

While the Covid crisis has been  disastrous for live music, it has turned the tables on sales of old-fashioned LPs, which are now at their highest level since the early 1990s.

Industry experts say lockdown means fans can’t go to gigs – so they have more cash to spend.

The paper doesn't actually mention how many vinyl albums have been sold, and unfortunately, because they've labelled the news of album sales an "exclusive", I don't suppose we've got any way of finding out.

Hang on, though, it's a UK tabloid exclusive, isn't it? So that means it's probably a story that has been circulating for ages.

And, indeed, Farout reported the exact same thing two months ago:

The new figures show that almost one in five (18%) of all albums bought in 2020 were vinyl, with a staggering 4.8 million vinyl LPs purchased. 

Nearly five million. That is a lot. At about 20 quid a pop, that would work out at a business worth roughly a hundred million pounds. Not, of course, to be sniffed at. But that's only one-eleventh the size of the live music industry.

And, given that only ten per cent of this is the extra sales uplift being attributed to lockdown, that means one percent of the money that would have been generated in 2020 on going out to hear live music has trickled into vinyl.

Oh, and that would have to be offset against the drop in sales of CDs, which had their worst year since 1987.

So the idea that the shuttering of venues has been mitigated by physical sales is a bit of a pipe dream. It's like Michael Gove losing his political incomes but thinking the residuals from A Stab In The Dark will let him coast to retirement.

In fairness, Gennaro is representing the Phonographic Industry and for him, it's the platters that matter in a very real sense. And if your focus is on shifting units, it's quite a good news story.

Up to a point.

The Mirror concedes that the trend is being driven by "older, nostalgic" music fans - people like us who will be dead or struggling on the state pension soon and don't really represent much of a long-term future market for the UK music industry. But, wait, the kids are getting involved, too:

But new LPs, including Harry Styles’ Fine Line and Kylie Minogue’s Disco, were also high in the vinyl charts, as younger fans discovered the discs.

This year releases by Foo Fighters, Celeste, Maximo Park and Kings of Leon have helped to drive the surge in sales, which are already up 10% compared to the same period in 2020.

Oh, young people! Except if you were born in the year Kylie signed her first record deal, you'd be 34 now. Shit, if you were born in the year she had her last UK number one, you'd be able to legally drink in a pub, if pubs were a still a thing that were open for drinking in. Celeste apart, all the artists cited have been plugging away at it for ages. 

By the time The Beatles had been going as long as Maximo Park have, Wings were already on their first Greatest Hits album.

People buying recorded music in 2021 is obviously a good thing, and in a lean year when there's no cake around, finding a couple of custard creams at the back of a cupboard is a bit of light in the dark. But we can't kid ourselves that the rickety rack of Screamadelicas and Velvets with Nico shoved in the no-mans-land between the Sainsbury's deli counter and the tiny Argos is the solution to the structural problems in the music industry.

Still, it's good to see Gennaro is still doing his thing. Positive-sounding puffery in a tabloid? Isn't that really the ultimate expression of the artist's craft?