The following MBW column comes from Eamonn Forde (pictured), a longtime music industry journalist and author of The last days of EMI: Sale of the pig. His new book, Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, is out now via Omnibus Press.
Fans of chronology will almost certainly have noticed by now that it’s a new year.
This is traditionally a time for washing away, searching the past and treating the calendar like a palimpsest, where one can set some goals (some noble, some not always achievable) for the next 12 months.
In keeping with the fine convention, here are 22 things that the music industry really needs to stop doing or fixing before the calendar turns into 2023.
1. Stop trying to make things “go viral”
Instead of being a pleasing serendipital byproduct of marketing, it’s starting to feel like only setting. It completely misunderstands (or more appropriately, does not care) the curious and unpredictable way things strike when they are in nature. If you actively manipulate its DNA, it ceases to be viral and becomes invalid instead.
2. Absolutely no one wants your terrible NFT
At the beginning of 2021, hardly anyone in the field of music knew what an NFT was; by the end of 2021, the person in the music was rare who had not imprinted one or at least pulled most of their hair out to try to understand how to imprint one. Unfortunately, almost all of them (at least 99.9%) were diluted mediocrity. To rework the great Peter Cook line: “I met a man at a party. He said, ‘I’m about to imprint an NFT.’ I said, ‘Oh really? I’m not either.’ ”
3. Artists need to stop being overbearing about DSPs
We see it reached its oily peak in December with Spotify’s Wrapped, when artists buzzed posts about how many streams and listeners they had in the past year; but it’s also something that stinks up on social media every Friday when DSPs add new tracks to their branded playlists. “Thanks [name of DSP here] to add min [inevitably terrible] new single to [boring playlist]”Bending and scratching for the power of these platforms is really vulgar and unworthy; plus it trains them to only expect sycophancy from musicians. Have a little more self-respect.
4. No more than 5% of your output on social media should be sales messages
Of course, if you have a new track / album / tour / merchandise line, it would be ridiculous not to tell your fans about it on your various social media channels. But if that’s all your social media is, you’re in for a treat. Think of the basic principles John Reith outlined for the BBC exactly 100 years ago this year: inform, educate and entertain. You will notice that he did not say anything about commercials.
5. Stop paying word of mouth for “mental health”
Yes, it’s great that it’s all being discussed in public, and that the well-being of musicians and staff is now a topic of conversation rather than a topic of shame. Loudly proclaiming that you are listening and that you really care is one thing: but it gets somewhat undermined when musicians are expected to do endless promotion and find time to make “content” for a half-baked marketing idea, or when staff, who already work 12-hour days are told that they need to put their shoulder to the steering wheel a little more. Your hollow phrases turn into shrapnel in a war of attrition against them.
Hire more people
Related to the above point is the fact that most of your employees do the work with 1.5 or 2 other people – at least. Budget cuts passed years ago in The Bad Times seem to have been gamified as companies compete to squeeze as much work out of the smallest number of employees as possible. Employ. More. People.
7. Publishing music is not an automatic right to make money
Most musicians today do not live fully and comfortably by the music. This is no different than 30 years ago. Or 200 years ago. Or a thousand years ago. The financial odds are stacked against you. They were always stacked against you. Sorry. Just because you make music, it does not follow that you can – or should at all – roll in clover. Even the House of Medici had limits on how much art it could support.
8. Stop mixing a passive streamer with someone who in the old days would actually have bought your music
Listening to music and worrying about music are two vastly different things, and the former does not automatically lead to the latter. It’s like a repeat of the P2P arguments from two decades ago, insisting that every unlicensed download was a lost sale. What has happened is that the person may have heard your music and not turned off after 30 seconds. That is all. It’s a start, but we’re still a long way from Beatlemania here.
9. Pay artists and songwriters better …
Really. Do it. Whatever you are currently paying them, it is not enough.
10.… but know that an increase in payments will still not solve deeper popularity problems
If listeners do not flock to the artist in sufficient numbers, any increase in royalty will be like throwing an ice cube against the forest fires of audience apathy. See point 7.
11. Most of you have no business being in the meta-verse
You’ve never been indifferent to the meta-verse before the summer of 2021. You’ve never been indifferent to games before. You’re the worst kind of arrival. You are, “How are you, fellow children?” You’re Kirk Van Houten sleeping in a race car bed. Stop it. You only embarrass yourself.
12. Finally, have the courage to increase subscription streaming prices
A monthly subscription to a streaming service still costs 9.99 (dollars / pounds / euro). The same as 20 years ago. And 20 years ago you could buy an entire house for 9.99 (dollars / pounds / euro). Maybe. Increase the price of subscription streaming this year to 11.99 per month (minimum). Your customers take you for fools.
13. Stop raising the price of vinyl
Especially “limited-edition” versions of albums that sell for £ 40 or more when just five years ago you could not have paid people to take them from your hands. You treat your fans like spendthrift fools.
14. Seeing TikTok is not the same as A&R
Do you remember Sea Shanty TikTok? It was only in the beginning of 2021, and yet it feels like eight lives since: from ubiquitous to uninteresting in an instant. It’s like a decade ago when all these people became “Twitter famous” and got book deals, and it became instantly and painfully obvious that they were not able to maintain it beyond 140 characters. It is almost – almost – as content in short form comes with built-in obsolescence.
15. Accept that not all musicians make great art and that large chunks of music released today are not great art
And that’s okay. Frankly speaking. It is fine.
16. No box set should cost over £ 100
In any case, make something for the superfan. Give them lovely hardback books along with the music, but know that after a while – let’s arbitrarily put it to the £ 100 retail mark – all you give them is “posh landfill”. Your customer should not be treated as the willing victim of your troubled robbery.
17. Stop seeing record companies as solely the enemy
Sometimes they are awful. Of course they are. Welcome to capitalism. But sometimes they – diligently and very quietly – save the artist from themselves and their worst excesses over and over again. It pays to remember this from time to time.
18. You lose the right to complain about how little songwriters get paid if you are complicit in normalizing a world where 20 songwriters are brought in to make a hit single
It’s just arithmetic.
19. Stop making detailed apologies for the lack of diversity on your conference panels / festival bills and instead spend that time and energy doing something to fix it.
You can start by not posting a line-up message proving absolutely any negative thought your opponents have ever had about you. It’s like locking all the doors and then crying over that no one came to your birthday party.
20. Pay for things
If people in the music business always flaunt free tickets, subscriptions, etc., then do not expect others to pay for things. Lead by example. Push the art out of your own pocket.
21. Go to concerts with uncynical people who do not “work with music” and catch the act of support
Try it. You might enjoy it.
22. Keep digging for what will change your life (again)
If you work with music but do not find at least one new track or record every month to get ridiculously excited about, you are probably no longer fit for purpose. Music business worldwide