Is this the decade new music died ?

When artists and labels first started selling directly to their fans it was clear to me that this would be a bad thing not just for the future of shops but for the future of new music and eventually the future of all artists except the very biggest. I suppose to some extent it was because I understood the mind and thinking of the super fan long before the phrase was even coined. There were people who you knew would buy everything by an artist and then there were those who would if they could go beyond that wanting anything related to the release of the album or single be that a poster, badge or a sticker we had in our window. One of the many ironies in all this is that for years we asked for extras to give customers and it rarely went beyond a limited number of signed copies to get fans in quickly. Eventually labels and artists would claim they had to cater for super fans themselves as shops had not done so ! 

pixies surfer rosaThe effect of downloads was still an unknown and streaming wasn’t even a consideration but as it turned out they were never going to matter because super fans live in the physical world. At this point the equation was simple. Independent shops invested time and effort into promoting mainly new artists that either they liked or they thought their customers would like. They knew in the end they would be sold out to the majors (Virgin, HMV + more!) but that was normally by the third album and they could move on to find the “next big thing” while still selling the artists they had done so much for.  On the 10th anniversary of their first album Interpol were telling anybody who asked that it was UK record shops that broke them while they promoted the reissue that shops would only be given some time later. Further back in time and history records that The Pixies as with many American bands first found success in the UK and again to a large extent because of the support of independent record shops and it has to be said independent labels. 

While albums obviously sold far more the amount of effort shops put into promotion should not be underestimated. The pay off came with the second album that assuming it was not a big let down which could easily happen would sell to the fan base the shop had built. As the ability to sell directly to fans online became an option the problems were clear. In many cases shops had helped labels build up data bases of fans. Now that information could be used to offer the fans of established bands a reason to buy directly. At the same time though breaking new bands was a different matter still best done by shops. While the financial incentive was to a large extent gone shops continued to do what they had always done supporting the music they loved. Whether on a label or self distributed one thing quickly became clear and that was that second album sales  very rarely ever came close to the first album no mater how well the album sold and was received.

As the market shrank it made fans rather than the casual music buyer a far bigger part of the equation and when PledgeMuisc came along with I’ve no doubt the good intention of helping new bands raise money what it quickly turned into was a way for an artist to take all the super fan sales for themselves. At the same time the growth of social media and online sales meant well established bands could sell their expensive box sets and bundles directly while those indie exclusives are really not all they are made out to be.

pixies pic 2016Which brings us to today. Only the most mainstream of artists sell week after week (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith plus a few others) while even the biggest of other artists now see their sales crammed into the first few days as the presells and initial weekend sales kick in. Decent sized bands sales have been reduced to their fans and no more and new music doesn’t stand a chance. Shops are now a different animal completely from those indie shops in the 80s and 90s and in fact there are literally only a handful left from the thousands that sold that Pixies “Surfer Rosa” album all those years ago. Those middle sized bands can often rely on publishing and sync deals and many if truth be told hang on too long and stop new bands coming through. So the biggest loser in all this is new music with the odds now heavily stacked against even the best of bands. Bigger indie labels can pretend their new bands are selling but the truth is that even with everything at their disposal they can sell low hundreds. What doesn’t help is that so often the bands supported are really not very good a genuinely interesting new band is lost among the masses.

So the music industry and shops will limp on selling old albums to old people and pretending it isn’t so. Unless something dramatic is done this will be the decade that new music died and all this year’s stats are already showing this will be the first year old music outsells the new and of course for the purpose of these figures new music includes the new Adele album ! There simply won’t be another Pixies who in turn paved the way for Radiohead and Nirvana among many others.

And if you want the new limited edition Pixies box set, t-shirt and exclusive poster bundle. That will be £81.99 on PledgeMusic !

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