Monday, January 9, 2012

Behind the music: What mattered in the music industry in 2011

It has been a momentous year for the record business, with EMI being broken up and even Simon Cowell taking a knocking. Here are top stories to remember.

Break-up of the year: EMI
After years of being owned by companies unfamiliar with the workings of the music industry, and after much uncertainty, the last British major label was finally broken up and sold off to the highest bidders. Suddenly Universal, which was already the biggest major, looked like it would end up accounting for almost 50% of the record market, making it pretty much a two-horse race between them and Sony, with Warner trailing way in the back. "Not so fast," said the independent labels, and vowed to prevent any regulatory approval for the acquisition.

Music industry saviour of the year: Adele
Today's major labels are obsessed with market share, so nothing would have annoyed them more than London based record labe XL Recordings swooping in on their territory. At one point, sales of Adele albums alone reportedly represented almost 7% of the entire record market, effectively making Beggars Group – which includes XL – a small major. The girl from north London was responsible for giving the industry respite from a plunging spiral in 2011.

Most debated digital music service: Spotify
The Americans had been complaining about Spotify not launching in the US, many blaming labels and publishers for demanding too much money. But mere months after the service did take off there, the media was flooded with reports of how little artists got paid from their music being streamed. While the major labels and bigger indies kept championing the service, saying it now represented a significant part of their revenue in countries such as Sweden, Coldplay, Adele and the Black Keys were among the acts who chose to withhold their new albums from it (and all other streaming services, for that matter).

Sharpest weapon against piracy: SOPA
The music and film industry chose to redirect their focus from punishing individual citizens to going after rogue websites in their fight against piracy. After going to court, the Moving Pictures Association managed to force Telecommunications companies to deploy filtering technology to prevent its customers accessing Newzbin2, with UK ISP Sky following suit. With the Digital Economy Act proving to be a bit of a damp squib, some UK label executives have told me their setting their hopes on the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is currently being debated in the US Congress.

Leaving the news makers aside,the past year has not been a great year for the music industry in terms revenues and every year in recent memory, the numbers have sung the same sad song: overall music sales are down, again, as piracy and other factors chip away at the industry’s sales numbers.

It will be exciting to see what 2012 has in store as we anticipate new music from established artists and speculate about which stars-in-the-making might be making critical and commercial headlines.

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