Time to men­tion the C-word – as the mu­sic in­dus­try gears up for its busiest time of year

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - JIM CAR­ROLL

Over the next 59 days or so, more money will be spent on recorded mu­sic than at any other time of the year. Yes, even more than Record Store Day and its over­priced, lim­ited-edi­tion, coloured-vinyl hoopol­ogy.

This is the pe­riod when the record busi­ness re­ally makes its cash. Be­tween now and 6pm on Christ­mas Eve, fresh-faced pop stars and hoary her­itage acts alike will be pimp­ing and hawk­ing them­selves with much aplomb.

It’s why acts such as Lady Gaga, Me­tal­lica, Michael Bublé, Leonard Co­hen, Ali­cia Keys, The Weeknd and dozens more are on the new re­lease tip. We should be thank­ful that 50 Cent is still hold­ing off con­firm­ing the re­lease of his sixth al­bum – so not all tur­keys will be plucked and stuffed this side of Christ­mas.

What will be in­ter­est­ing about this year’s splurge is where ex­actly the money will be spent. Like so much else in the re­tail sec­tor in 2016, most of the ac­tion will be on­line.

The record in­dus­try has long since re­cal­i­brated its spread­sheets in favour of dig­i­tal rev­enue, so they’re good to go with this change in cir­cum­stances af­ter a cou­ple of years of crib­bing and whing­ing. The money you spend at any of the var­i­ous stream­ing out­lets, right down to the last cent, will make its way into the right cof­fers in time.

For those who want a phys­i­cal mu­si­cal tchotchkes to wrap and give as a present, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. In years past, you could be fairly sure that Christ­mas was a time when many ven­tured into a record shop for the only time all year. It was up there with the re­lease of a new U2 al­bum as a rea­son to fre­quent a store.

Beige and safe

How­ever, re­li­able well-stocked record stores are few and far be­tween and this is not just bad news for the aul’ lads who’d loi­ter out­side the doors of HMV wait­ing for the chance to buy that new U2 CD. There are a few hardy, weather-beaten, in­de­pen­dent mu­sic shop sur­vivors scat­tered around the coun­try, car­ry­ing on like Griz­zly Adams with records in­stead of bears, but that’s about the height of it if you’re look­ing for an ac­tual piece of plas­tic with mu­sic on it.

While the on­line sphere gives you ev­ery song ever, to quote au­thor Ben Ratliff’s fine book on mu­sic lis­ten­ing, it’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter when it comes to choice. One of the prob­lems with the on­line world is the ca­pit­u­la­tion to an one-siz­e­fits- all model, where all that choice re­ally boils down to a hand­ful of heav­ily pro­moted re­leases. It’s strik­ing, for in­stance, that few of the ma­jor stream­ing ser­vices bother un­duly with pro­mot­ing Ir­ish mu­sic to their Ir­ish cus­tomers un­less it hap­pens to be on a ma­jor la­bel. Even then, the choices tend to be beige and safe.

The cap­i­tal­ist in OTR has no prob­lem with this way of think­ing: Spo­tify and Ap­ple Mu­sic built their re­spec­tive net­works so they get to set the house rules. How­ever, when you look at the likely spend on recorded mu­sic in the com­ing weeks, you re­alise that the bulk of the money will be go­ing to a small per­cent­age of the acts.

For all the fo­cus on how playlists help to pro­mote new acts and what-have-you, the fact re­mains that the home pages, which re­main the de­fault launch­pad for many, fo­cus on the global high achiev­ers.

As the stream­ing plat­forms take over more con­trol of the mu­sic ecosys­tem, it may be a good time to look at just how they op­er­ate with re­gard to the en­tire play­ing pitch. You wouldn’t want an­other Ir­ish ra­dio sit­u­a­tion to de­velop, would you?

We should be thank­ful that 50 Cent is still hold­ing off con­firm­ing the re­lease of his sixth al­bum – so not all tur­keys will be plucked and stuffed this side of Christ­mas

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