The 2013 forecast for the music world
Before we get too far into this fresh New Year, let’s take some time out to look back at the year that was as well as some speculation on what might be for the music industry in 2013.
This week we get some valuable insight on what to expect from the ever changing music industry courtesy of Eric Alper.
Eric is the director of media relations, licensing and distribution at eOne Music Canada in Toronto. He’s also the music correspondent for CTV’s Canada AM.
He recently hit 100,000 followers on Twitter and celebrated that milestone by giving away 100 CDs! He also boasts 5,000 Facebook contacts.
Throughout his years as a publicist, Eric handled PR for such artists as: Bob Geldof, Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Barry Manilow, Randy Bachman, Sinead O’Connor, Steve Miller, The Smashing Pumpkins, Little Big Town, Dwight Yoakam, Fred Eaglesmith, Chickenfoot, Bush, Slash, Steve Earle, Mick Fleetwood, Kim Mitchell and many more.
In short, he’s one of the most connected music gurus in the industry that I’ve ever had the pleasure of chatting with. After all, I always enjoy exchanging some healthy and colourful banter about an industry that has been my lifeblood for the past 25 years.
Frank: The general climate for the music industry isn’t exactly sunny and bright, what with album sales on a downswing. Overall sales for last year reportedly took a hit. Estimates of 4.4 per cent compared to this time last year make for a less than desirable forecast for physical sales. As we look ahead to the rest of 2013, what is your take on things? Should the music industry doomsayers, get their handmade signs ready?
Eric: Not at all! Digital download sales were up in 2012 in the United States and Canada. Track sales set a record here, too. Digital album sales set a record. In fact, sales were so healthy the gains nearly offset the decline in physical sales. Downloads are still a large part of the music business economy but subscriptions and performance revenues are clearly important pieces of the revenue pie.
Good to hear digital sales offset the decline in physical sales. Though while sales of CDs are in a decline (only 140.7 million units compared to 161.6 million at this time in 2011; estimated stats are based on sales entering the fourth quarter), digital downloads are up as you mentioned. In fact, the latest stats I researched were up 15.3 per cent from last year (to over 90 million units) which means people are just buying different formats of it.
Not only are they buying music, they’re consuming it in record numbers, on more devices, and hearing it in more places than any other time in history. It’s not the end of the business, it’s just the beginning of a new one, and one that is always changing and evolving, giving the customers what they want.
Another positive sign in the music industry is the popularity of the folk music genre. Do you see this movement sustaining or even expanding in popularity?
The best folk music in 2012 came from those focused on collective roots, elements of ancestry, the stories and events which unite us.Actually, it always has, doesn’t it? This year, though, the economy was front and centre on everyone’s mindset, with fine albums from Anais Mitchell and, although you really can’t put Bruce Springsteen’s "Wrecking Ball" in just a folk category, he does still have strong elements of the music. The Carolina Chocolate Drops play traditional music in a way that is current and relevant, and reminds me of the soul boom of Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones. Rose Cousins had a great year, as did Madison Violet, The Lumineers and, of course, Mumford & Sons, who not only had the No. 1 rock album for the second straight year with two different albums, if you love folk, you can’t miss with them. Old Crow Medicine Show, Father John Misty, Emmylou Harris, Avett Brothers, and don’t forget Bob Dylan’s "Tempest" was one of his best.
Who do you think were the most important artists in 2012?
Lady Gaga for the way she engages on social media; PSY for having the first video to reach one billion views, and not record Gangham Style in English. Adele, of course — her "21" album was released almost two years ago, and it’s the No. 1 best-selling album in North America for the second straight year. The last time this happened was Michael Jackson’s "Thriller".
It’s been said that with popularity in the music industry everything is cyclical. If each genre eventually gets a turn on the pedestal, what’s the latest buzz on the next flavour that the masses will be turned on by?
I think we’re still going to see, and hear, a lot from the pop world for a few years, at least. It never really went away, but those kids and teenagers who have the ability to watch and listen on demand are clearly doing this in droves. Usually, when pop is mighty in sales, the word ‘authentic’ becomes more of an action — that’s where you get bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers on hit radio right after One Direction. They’re all ‘authentic’ in my eyes, they’re all pretty honest with what they are in their own world and each have their own charm and craft. But if I knew what was going to be heart-warmingly vital for next year, I’d be signing it in a second. That’s the beautiful thing working in music — the audience ultimately gets to decide who they want, even if we get to be the ones bringing them it.
Most music industry folk are quick to blame online pirating that’s causing the downturn in the industry. Maybe it’s the phasing out of the CD that is to blame. Here’s a two part question for you that I think goes hand in hand: Will there be further governing of music pirating and when do you think the CD will become extinct?
The massively increasing trend in free music downloads has been a serious problem for record companies and artists because if people are stealing their music, then they aren’t getting paid. If the digital sales trend continues to grow, it is more than likely that the CD may disappear into technology’s past, but not for a while. The Top 200 albums of the year still sold 5.5 million copies combined in Canada, so there is still a huge audience for it.
As the advent of new devices continues to evolve, it changes the way we listen to music. The overall climate of the music industry always seems to reflect this. We’ve seen the extinction of 8-track tapes, cassettes and to a certain extent the record album, even though sales of those were up in 2012. Memory sticks and MP3s have taken the place of all those old classic ways we listened to our tunes. Is there a new device waiting in the wings for music lovers?
Smartphones are the furture as I can see it — MP3 player sales in the UK fell 22 per cent from 2011 and some have said this number will be cut in half by 2017. Today’s smartphones do everything an MP3 player can do, plus make calls, schedule appointments, take pictures and video and browse the Net. It’s having your own computer in your pocket. As much as I love my iPod — I have seven at home — I don’t have an iPhone. I want to keep them separate for now.
Over the past 20 years, major labels have been amalgamating and thousands of behind the scenes people in the business have lost their jobs as sales continue to decline. Obviously things have changed since you started in the biz. For instance, singing competitions have become the norm for discovering new talent. In your opinion, have those changes been for the better?
I love the fact that music is on every network, in prime time, and doing well in the ratings, and as a commercial venture. What I’m not really a fan of is the thought process that you can become a star overnight, and that these singers say they want popularity so badly, for as long as they can remember. What is sometimes forgotten is being an artist, writing your first 100 songs that are going to suck, playing your first 100 gigs to nobody, earning the right to be on that stage and own it, rather than singing cover songs from artists who put in their 10,000 hours of hard work to achieve that greatness. But shows like American Idol discovered Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino, Jordin Sparks, Phillip Phillips and that’s an amazing thing. I just don’t know how much of their success is their own artistic control, and how much is manufactured already for them. Either way, though, it’s everyone’s choice to watch, and participate.
However most music purists will say they prefer a band or artist who earned their recording contracts by sweating it out in clubs to get discovered. Is that the process you prefer?
It depends. I don’t expect the latest pop star to be on the road for years anymore, but I do expect rock and folk and blues bands who want a long career to expect to find their fanbase one at a time in front of people who don’t know them yet. It’s a continuingly intriguing evolution to popularity, but being successful in rock music still hasn’t changed since The Beatles and Stones.
One tends to wonder if major labels still have reps out in the clubs with contracts in their pockets, looking for the next best thing. Are there fewer bands scoring contracts or have the artists just become more cautious with their decisions?
We’re still out there looking, but we have more opportunities to find great music and bands at the office, surfing online. Certainly, with fewer record labels around, bands are realizing the amount of opportunities to sign with someone has changed, but the ability to release your music independently has never been easier. You can record a song in your bedroom on a Monday, master it on Tuesday, release it to YouTube on Wednesday, promote it on Thursday, and get to 100,000 views if it’s great by the weekend. And then start it up all over again.
Ah yes, YouTube. It has become the newest way for the masses to discover new music. Total views have become the new barometer for popularity among emerging artists. Case in point? Gangnam Style. Sure, not everyone is going to achieve billion view status but it seems anybody with a video camera and a song can get exposure through this medium. When you can reach a worldwide audience in an instant, it has to be a good thing for the industry. What is your take on the whole "YouTube sensation"?
Psy’s Gangham Style wasn’t just released, and then it just ‘happened,’ though. There were very smart people behind it, with a strong marketing plan. Yes, the song and video were great, but when Scooter Braun, manager of Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, signed the deal with him — that’s when it exploded. He was on SNL, Ellen, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, performing for the NFL and onstage with MC Hammer and televised award shows. There are also artists like Greyson Chance, who Ellen championed after seeing his cover of a Lady Gaga song at a school recital on YouTube, and Dutch singer-songwriter Esmee Denters, now backed by Justin Timberlake. So So Def Recordings founder Jermaine Dupri discovered Dondria, and so on. They might have one hit in their entire lifetime, but as a few artists have told me, "You only need the one."
What is your general 2013 forecast for music industry?
Man, I just want to continue to find great — not good — but great music to share with the rest of the world. If we can all continue to do this, we’ll be in good shape.
Finally, the footer message on all your emails is: "Awompbompaloomopawompbamboom" ~ Little Richard. I have to know why.
It’s the last word I ever heard from the first single I ever bought with my own money and it gave me goosebumps — Little Richard’s "Tutti Frutti". It’s the greatest word in music history. It could be THE greatest word in history. It says it all, really. The birth of rock and roll begins with that word.
Frank McGwire is a radio personality and booster of the music scene in Brandon and Westman.