Buying Robbie Williams

Robbie might be onto something by selling himself off to private investors. While the recent publicity around his proposed intentions might be a bargaining chip / cry for help from EMI, his manager is correct in saying that Robbie dosent really require a label anymore to co-ordinate his career. Marketing, touring, distribution - all could be outsourced to various third parties.

As Robbie Williams is now an established brand, he no longer needs the umbrella of a label to nurture his career. And his brand has strong investment potential - with a proven track record and fan base.

I guess what is missing is the trajectory - where is his career going? Whilst Madonna could guarantee Live Nation that she could generate returns on her mega-tours (even despite any potential flagging album sales) - and Bowie's "bond" strategy was aligned to his constant innovation (although they faired as well as his subsequent material ...) - Robbie has been a bit hit and miss lately.

Certainly the prospect of him reuniting with Take That would send the price of Robbie shares rocketing - but without this carrot venture captialists might be wondering how they will recoup their investment. Still it poses food for thought - with artists increasingly in control of their own catalogue, finding good business partners could be more lucrative than being tied into contracts with unsupportive labels.

Image from Flickr by fortyseven


The New Public Relations

I noticed a copy of NME sitting on the shelf at Tesco the other day. I was actually quite shocked that it was even still in print. Do music fans still read these magazines?

For the past few decades, the only way to find out about new music was through the radio, tv or newspapers and magazines. Of course there was word of mouth - the most powerful of all mediums - but this was largely unquantifiable - labels couldn't measure effectiveness or spend their budgets on it as easily as they could on the trusty stalwart of PR. As a young pup I was a devout reader of NME, Spin, Melody Maker, Select and Rolling Stone. I consumed the stories in these bibles without fail, every week/month. It was how I kept in touch with artists - the only way I could access information about them. Those stories wouldnt have been there without the industry's PR gurus.

The music industry has always relied heavily on PR. If you didnt have a good PR, you didnt have a career. But what was this magical power that these PR people weilded?

PR as "public relations" is essentially the manipulation of public perception through story telling via media. The PR professional creates the story - sells it to the press by convincing them that the story is worth telling - and voilĂ , a story appears. The story is used to sell the various media, so the more fantastic the tale, the more likely it is to be spun.

The power of public relations was therefore in the ability of the PR to spin a big hype-filled ball of yarn, alongside the relationship they had with the hack who was responsible for getting the story to press. Labels still spend oodles for this service. The tactic relies on the premise that winning over the press will result in an endorsement of your artist, and the public will follow.

In reality today, the service is media relations, not public relations. The relationship that the public has now with press is quite a different beast. The internet has allowed us to discover music in an entirely different way. Artists can create their own PR and build a community of fans without a journalist ever hearing about them. In fact these days, the journos are most often the last to write about new acts. Magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive. TV no longer has a captivated audience, and radio is being revolutionised by services like Spotify and Last.fm. Media relations has become the ego PR that rarely results in any audience connection.

"Public Relations" - real PR - is now something totally different. It is the relationship that an artist or label has with its audience. It is how an artist tweets back to a fan, or the comments it places on its Facebook group page. It is interacting with bloggers who become tastemakers for the life of a project, rather than just writing a story once to fill column inches. It is speaking directly to the people that are interested in their work, rather than relying on a salesman to force it into a journalists intray. Finally public relations is becoming a genuine interaction between the makers of music and the listener.


Still Paying for the Naughties

The piracy debate took an interesting twist today when the Independent on Sunday revealed that those that spend the most money buying music are, in fact, the same individuals who are most likely to download music illegally.

It's not really rocket science to think that people that are very passionate about music would use the convenience of the internet to gain access to what they wanted to hear. Analysis of the survey finds that those that file share do so as a "discovery mechanism"; something that most artists and labels have come to rely on in order to spread the word about their work.

After my blog on the proposed new anti-piracy legislation earlier this week, I thought I would research any current studies on the psychology behind file sharing. For me part of the answer to this issue lies in the reasons behind why people genuinely do not seem to have a problem with downloading and sharing music. I didn't get far before discovering this article from Esquire from last year.

Author Chuck Klosterman raises one of the most intriguing perspectives I have heard in the debate. By raising the question of where the billions not being spent on the music industry have gone from the economy since file sharing became a norm, he has come to a simple conclusion.

We're still paying for the music we bought over the past decade.

It's true. Think of all that cash you slammed onto your credit cards during the boom at the turn of the millenium. I used to spend £100 a week on vinyl alone, some of it which still sits unplayed in my record boxes. The reality for many is a big fat balance on credit cards - only now they choose to pay off their debt rather than rack up more CDs.

We were addicted to music consumption. Getting the last single by a new or favourite band was a symbol of status and part of a shared cultural experience. We needed to acquire music as much as we wanted to actually listen to it.

That passion hasn't died - music is just as popular as ever - but with the digital era crossing over to a new generation, the need to consume has begun to vanish. The physical relic of the plastic medium no longer required for a new audience that has access to digital content. Downloading is fast, convenient and readily available - even accessible on-the-go through mobile devices. So why wouldn't a music fan take advantage of the best resource that gives them access to what they love?