Simon Says #2: There’s no money left in the music industry
Fact – there’s no more money left in the music industry. Does that mean emerging acts should just give up trying? Of course not... Written by Simon Raymonde.
Here’s an imaginary TV listing: The Let Down. A new series on Sky Atlantic about a young band from The Bronx, or just about anywhere, who live a kind of Groundhog Day existence in the music business – where nothing new and exciting ever seems to happen. Sounds boring? It is! Mondays/Tuesdays/Wednesdays/Thursdays/Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays – 12am-11.59pm.
Of course, you know this already, because you read the news, you follow the industry journals from time to time, have friends in bands, you keep your ear to the ground and for the last 10 years, folks have been saying stuff like: “We’ve been through the doom and gloom period,” and: “We are out of the trough and coming slowly but surely into a period of growth.”
So when I say there is literally no money in the music business anymore, you can shrug and think I’m just being a grouchy old cynic – and one who is clearly being overly pessimistic. You may think to yourself: ‘What does a 55-year-old know about today’s vibrant thriving music scene?’.
And you are so right. I don’t know anything about it… because for the most part, it doesn’t exist. Fleetingly, a comet shoots across our skies, thrilling us with the speed and the drama, bewitching us with the glow of its spectral tail. Fittingly, our own Fleet Foxes (now with Warner Bros.’ white winter cosy coats on), who burst out of nowhere selling a million records here, were one such dazzling light.
But that was almost 10 years ago and, yes, Stormzy and several other equally bright sparks in greying and gloomy skies have come along since to give us hope. But for 99.9 per cent of new bands, the dream isn’t even a Peel Session or a headline show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire: it’s just to be reviewed. Once a given, now a Holy Grail. A radio play, a paragraph online – harder to achieve than you could believe, so saturated is the marketplace.
In the cold light of today’s industry, the sobering fact is that many shops are overflowing with records they can’t sell, and the radio stations are barely able to listen to the plague of new releases every week. All the while, media headlines shout that ‘vinyl sales approach those of peak periods in the 70s’ – without caveating those articles by clarifying that 99 per cent of those sales are reissues of classic albums from the 70s – and that they were sold in Sainsbury’s!
As a small retailer, you can’t afford to get your sales predictions wrong more than a couple of times. The likes of Tesco can, but they’re not the heart of this industry.
But hey, if you ask me, in many ways things have never been better or more exciting than they are now – provided you can accept that money is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon. But most people we work with aren’t motivated solely by money – it’s a labour of love. Do this because you have to; because you would be doing it anyway, whether anyone liked it or not. Do this because when something good happens you’ll say: “How awesome is it to be doing this?” and not: “How much am I getting?”.
When I sign a new band, the wooing process of yore is now more of a vetting process. It is more about giving a lesson in reality and checking they ‘get it’.
Because, truly, if you are a new band, unless you are blessed/cursed with the false financial fillip of a major-label deal, or supported by a wealthy benefactor, or have incredible good fortune in line with the same chances you might have of winning the lottery, you better prepare yourself for years of barren harvest. It’s what I call The Let Down. If you’re happy to proceed, knowing that, you’ll be fine.
SIMON RAYMONDE was the bassist and keyboard player in the Cocteau Twins and founded the independent record label Bella Union.