Socialist Worker

Fall of the bland brand

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1817

'WE MAKE the music, they own it,' is an old saying jazz musicians often quote. 'They' are the record companies. Music is big business. Sony Music sold in excess of $14 billion worth of music last year. Five major corporations control 94 percent of all records sold. But according to City analysts the good times may be coming to an end for music retailers like EMI, Sony and Capitol.

The latest figures from the British Phonographic Industry show that year on year sales have fallen by 15 percent. And recent research has shown that the decline in music sales across the Atlantic has intensified faster than the fame of a Pop Idol winner. Nielsen Media Research has found that US sales have fallen by 13 percent so far this year. This comes on top of a 7 percent slide in 2001.

The world's top five music markets - the US, Japan, France, Germany and the UK - make up three quarters of global sales and are either in or close to recession. Fear is sweeping the music industry. I don't know about you, but when I'm in a bit of a panic I talk nonsense. This is exactly what the music industry seem to be doing. Their researchers have come up with two explanations for the fall in sales.

Firstly Alan Giles, the chief executive of HMV, said, 'Believe it or not the World Cup had a very big distracting effect on regular music buyers. This had something to do with the kick-off times and people staying in the pub all day.' Funny! I thought kick-off times were 7.30 in the morning and certainly no later than midday. I probably buy more records than most, but I don't ever remember buying one at 7.30 in the morning!

More seriously, this doesn't explain the fall in CD sales in the US. When the New York Times conducted a survey of its readers it found that only 2 percent of them even knew that the US team was playing in the tournament. The other reason cited is the massive rise in CD piracy - especially in South East Asia and North Africa.

I have just come back from a holiday in Morocco. I can vouch that there is a massive amount of bootlegging of music going on. You can buy CDs of your favourite artists for less than a pound! But there is also a lot of poverty as well. The average Moroccan manual labourer earns less than 25p an hour. After a week's work a labourer could just about afford the latest Oasis album at European prices.

I don't think the world's poor are to blame for taking food out of the record industry's mouths. The real reason is that working people in the US, Japan and Europe are feeling the pinch. A growing number of workers are rightly worried about issues like unemployment and job security. Therefore the first things that people are cutting back on are so called 'luxury items' like CDs. There's another reason.

A couple of weeks ago the Guardian newspaper revealed that record companies pitch their sales of CD singles to 14 year olds and below. The result has been a glut of bland manufactured bands. Unbelievably HMV and Virgin continue to wonder why fewer and fewer people venture into their stores.

Rap, jazz and so called world music have seen significant increases in CD sales in the past few years. I wonder if that had anything to do with the quality of music - or was it just the World Cup?


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Sat 14 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1817
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