Record companies these days are (sadly) losing money hand over fist. They’re being forced into savage staff cutbacks, slashing budgets and releasing only music that they believe will make them money.
Most of this can be attributed to the illegal download trade – music ‘fans’ trying to get the latest from their favourite artists from wherever and however they can.
Unfortunately, the money that was once being made from music sales is now no longer available to finance staff, promotional tours, artist instores, and even national concert tours. Australian fans just can’t get close to their favourite artists anymore. Highlighting this case is Madonna (left) – a global superstar. In a country of 21 million, only 13,000 people bought her album “Hard Candy” in it’s first week to give it the number one debut. And while Madge would’ve cherished (pardon the pun) the healthy chart position, she presumably looked at the sales figures and instantaneously struck Australia from her tour schedule. The last time she toured down under (1993), her then album Erotica had sold more than 16 times that figure.
But far from it being solely the fault of those illegally downloading, record companies too must shoulder some of the blame. Somehow they seem completely oblivious to the fact that we now live in a global marketplace. The internet has revolutionised the way we now shop for music. Albums in the UK cost around $17AUD, while in the US they’re as low as $10AUD (plus postage). We don’t show loyalty simply because something is “Made In Australia”. But beyond this, there are sometimes huge discrepancies in international release dates and availability.
Take Robyn for example. The album’s first single “Konichiwa Bitches” was originally available in the UK on The Rakamonie EP, released on November 26, 2006, and belatedly released in Australia on September 16, 2007. That’s an excruciating ten month gap, plenty of time for fans to obtain the single from elsewhere. Furthermore, her self-titled album was released in the UK on April 2, 2007, in Australia, a full six months later on October 6, 2007. Even more astonishingly, the original version of the album was released in her homeland Sweden on April 25, 2005!
It’s fair to assume that by the time she toured Australia in early 2008, playing not only the V Festival but a handful of side shows, all of her fans would already have acquired the album.
The four subsequent singles from the album (pictured) were never released in Australia. Had the record company released an Australian exclusive single or tour EP at the time, they would have enjoyed healthy chart success with it. And a good chart position would’ve led to increased airplay, which in turn would’ve peaked the interest of those who’d never heard of Robyn into possibly going and buying the album themselves. By releasing an Australian exclusive, they would’ve not only garnered the interest of the local fans and collectors while tickling the chart, they would have also tempted fans the world over into buying the tour EP to add to their collections. Robyn’s album might have stood a chance in the Australian market.
And this is where record companies now really need to focus their attention. They need to think smarter. They need to start thinking like music fans. We need restrictions lifted from buying on international digital sites like iTunes. To maintain the viability of the music industry into the future, we need to see albums AND singles released simultaneously worldwide. We need to see a smarter approach to the CD single with differing tracklistings or artwork in each market. We need to see record companies making tracks available digitally as soon as they’re taken to radio (though most companies are now starting to follow this trend). Most people will BUY digital songs/physical singles and albums, but only IF they’re available when they want them.
The local music industry could and will survive, but only if the powers that be start seriously facing up to the challenges that come from not only the digital revolution, but also the challenges of navigating the bigger global marketplace.