Industry Convention Offers Optimism, Some Confusion
The National Association of Recording Merchandisers had its convention in San Diego recently. It’s basically a convention that gathers retailers from around the country to meet with labels, talk issues, bounce ideas off one another, and see what the future holds.
An article in yesterday’s San Diego Union-Tribune recapped the event and highlighted the major topics of conversation and at panels. George Varga’s “Music Industry Is Fighting For Survival” In one panel after another, Varga wrote, “industry experts agreed that the record biz is facing dramatic challenges if it is to survive, let alone again thrive.”
RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol called the industry’s struggle “a culture war” and framed the Supreme Court’s Grokster decision in a near Biblical sense of good vs. evil. “We need to seize the moment on questions of right and wrong (regarding illegal downloading and copying),” he told attendees. “I’m optimistic about the future.”
Partisan cheerleading? Quite possibly. Turning the tide means the industry needs to gather its forces on a common front. NARM revealed just how uncertain parties are as to the best course of action and which technologies to invest in. One example is the in-store digital kiosk, a stand-alone unit that allows a consumer to browse a vast music catalog and either download music to a portable player or burn the songs to CD. Retailers are looking at this to be a possible solution—a new tool would be a more appropriate outlook — but they don’t allow transfer to iPods and are too expensive for smaller retailers.
And though technology is a key to the industry’s future, at the end of the day it’s still all about the music. Though labels have nearly every type of music under the sun, they trot out only their best prospects for events like NARM. In what sounds like a common complaint about the sameness of priority projects of the major music groups, Don VanCleeve, president of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, gave his impression of labels’ road show in his weekly email. He bemoaned “cookie cutter A&R” and complained that “it felt like we were watching the exact same presentation over and over and over.” He urged “more creative thinking” in the future between retail and labels.
Hits wrote of a presentation by Nielsen SoundScan’s Rob Sisco that analyzed sales in a non-SoundScan manner. Album sales are down about 7% for the year, he said, but if you took the 184 million legally downloaded tracks and divided by ten (to arrive at the number of albums that would represent) you get an extra 18 million or so albums—and sales would be only down by 2%. Seeing as how most attendees are in physical retail and don’t directly benefit from digital sales, that analysis may have fallen on very deaf ears. Make no mistake, album sales are no longer an accurate measure of the industry’s health. Digital downloads, ringtones, and music DVD sales also need to be factored in. At a conference like NARM, though, talk of digital sales will get a lot of people shifting uneasily in their seats.
American Idol contestant Mario Vazquez quit before he had the chance to win, which left him free of a winner’s mandatory contract with 19 Entertainment and Simon Fuller. Fox News’ Roger Friedman reported that Vazquez signed a “lucrative deal” with J Records—which is where he would have ended up anyway if he won. Wrote Friedman, “Vazquez is in the studio recording tracks under (Clive) Davis’ watchful eye.” If there’s any watchful eye a budding recording artist should be under, it’s Clive’s. He has the Midas touch.
Every Move A Picture has signed with V2 Records. The band’s Franz Ferdinand-like sound should turn a few heads…although the “Franz Sound” is getting to be a pretty crowded party.
Here are a few names that have been out of the spotlight for some time: Filter frontman Richard Patrick and brothers Robert and Dean Deleo from Stone Temple Pilots. The project—name not given—is managed by powerhour The Firm and has signed with Columbia. The album due out next year.
eMusic Tops 100,000 Subscribers
Online digital music store eMusic announced last week that it topped 100,000 subscribers. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who use iTunes, but real progress for a site that has carved out a niche for itself in a market that gets more crowded by the month. eMusic offers only indie labels, a move that allows it to sell DRM-free MP3 files for a small monthly fee. And the site has articles and content that isn’t found at other online stores. That’s the kind of added value that frequent music buyers can appreciate.
Glenn works in the music industry in New York City. He writes about the industry and music in general at his blog, Coolfer.