So what would happen if the music industry had been run like other businesses? What if music was considered to be a FMCG product? If you consider heritage, recorded music was established on similar principles - a low priced consumable that was desired - and ultimately required - by the masses. Labels produced singles at an affordable price for kids to buy with their pocket money every week. Shelf life was limited to a few weeks before the item was out of fashion and replaced.
FMCGs have been popular for as long as our capitalist system has existed - many of the same brands exist today. So what do they know that the music industry has forgotten?
What if Unilever ran EMI - what advice would they give?
Invest in R&D
Unilever products are consistent - but also made progressively better (well, so we're led to believe!). Products are incubated and developed until they are ready for market. Today artists are expected to be shipped immediately from their bedroom studios to the top ten - failure to do so means you will be dropped, and with it goes the investment in your potential. There are rarely surprises in the launch of FMCG products. I'm not suggesting labels manufacture their artists - but a little less A&R and a bit more R&D to nurture talent (a la Kate Bush's career) can go a long way.
Do we need several variations on a theme of James Blunt/James Morrison/Jack Johnson, released by various labels? Why do you think Unilever dosen't try to make ketchup? If Heinz does it the best, why bother? The duplication strategy worked in the 60s but popular music has moved on. Redefining is critical, especially as technology has forced the industry to completely reinvent itself. If you can't innovate, you won't be in the game much longer.
Find Your Market
Unilever knows that young men will wear Lynx - not because it is the most effective anti-perspirant, but because there is a social status attached to it. Young people need music in a similar fashion. And young people have disposable income. So why does the record industry insist on alienating them rather than seeing them as their greatest consumer - and instead make them brand loyal for life?
Believe in What You Do
People who work for Unilever firmly get behind the missions of their brand family. They believe that deodorant fulfils a social need for people to feel confident. And that soup stock holds a family together by making meal times an event. It might sound like a pile of marketing bullshit, but to employees at Unilever it works. Do people in the recorded music industry believe they helping to produce brilliant music - and in doing so, entertain and make the world a better place through what they release?
Establish a Trusted Family
Unilever has realised that it is actually a family of great household brands. They are creating a connection between their products and helping the consumer to identify them under the parent label of Unilever. They do this to capitalise on trust - if I trust that Lipton tea is the best, in time I will show favour towards Dove soap. Major labels have no glue to hold their catalogue together. Niche labels (and mid-weight labels such as Def Jam) have always used this to help connect their community of listeners. What could be said, if anything, of the EMI family?
Unilever don't know anything about making music. But then rarely is this talent exhibited by major labels these days either. In the end this issue isn't about the music - its about an ever changing industry that appears to be unable to adapt. Which is a shame as there is plenty of inspiration from great, thriving businesses all around us.