News that Universal and Sony Music are to make music tracks available forpurchase on the same day as theyare first aired on radio is very welcome. But it has to come with the question – why the long wait?
The last 10 years have been soundtracked by the music industry complaining that piracy has been damaging sales. Revenues have indeed been falling with digital downloads failing to substitute for physical records. Thirty-pound man – the legendary music buyer scooping up new releases at the start of every week – has long been replaced by the file-sharer downloading tracks without paying for them.
Three decades after the industry complained that “home taping is killing music”, digital streaming by channels like Spotify has provided instant access to millions of tunes. For those who want a sense of ownership, recording to a hard drive from an Internet radio station has never been easier.
The converse trend has been the roaring success of iTunes and the integration of music into computer games. Non-music industry brands figured out some years ago that consumer behaviour was changing and found profitable ways to exploit that shift.
It is in this regard that major labels still look to be behind the curve. Great marketing is not possible if your understanding of the marketplace is based on a buying cycle from the 1960s, rather than the 2010s. So putting out a promotional release to radio stations up to six weeks ahead of commercial release is not the way to get a hit. Giving listeners the chance to buy straightaway is.
As David Joseph, chief executive of Universal Music, has said: “Wait is not a word in the vocabulary of the current generation.” Labels missed the rise of online through a focus on an out-of-date marketing model. Supporting click-to-buy from a broadcast stream online would be a major step forward that might even see sales plateau and even rise again.
Music will always be a fast-moving consumable and there is undoubtedly a crisis in how acts are discovered, developed and supported. But close examination of actual buying behaviour through available channels will show that the desire to buy songs is still there. Now it is time to put the right mechanisms in place.