The major labels are taking a beating in the UK. Will they end up turning their again?

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The following op/ed comes from the UK-based founder and writer of Music Business Worldwide, Tim Ingham.


I’m going to imagine that, what with you being a sentient human with web connectivity, you’ve had fairly sufficient motivational quotes thrust at you for one lifetime.

So right here is a refreshing different: maybe the best un-motivational quote of all time. It’s from Kurt Vonnegut’s e-book Bluebeard.

It was first printed in 1987, eleven years earlier than Google launched a rudimentary search engine. And it’s singularly the most prophetic and but deflating forecast of What The Internet Went And Did To Us you would ever learn.

“A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world’s champions.”

Vonnegut was commenting on the mass-media machines of the age: the printing press, terrestrial tv, radio.

But he nailed a future the place on the spot entry to peerless leisure – from all nations – has seen the erasure of prosperity and self-worth for native artistic heroes.

It’s a pattern that has been cruelly strengthened by digital analytics.

Wow, 50,000 folks are listening to your music on Spotify every month? You and 71,000 others round the world, pal.

(I didn’t conjure up this stat: it’s on Spotify’s personal Loud & Clear site, through a morale-crushing, Imposter Syndrome-verifying calculator.)



This unmerciful actuality is doubly harsh for the UK music trade and its artists.

Britain is, in spite of everything, certainly one of the strongest cultural exporters of the previous 70 years, with everybody from The Beatles to Queen and Adele altering the face of worldwide pop music eternally extra.

But breaking a British music star throughout the globe is getting verifiably tougher.

According to the BPI, abroad (ex-UK) recorded music income from UK-signed artists grew 6% in 2020 – but the international market grew quicker, up 7.4% (IFPI).

The BPI additional warns: “The UK’s overall share of global music revenue is slipping… the UK currently accounts for around 10% of the global total, down from a peak of 17% in 2015.”

Indeed, 2020 was the first yr in historical past that a British act didn’t place in the IFPI‘s Top 10 of the biggest-selling acts in the world (a list that was led by South Korea’s BTS).

“Despite all of this, the major record companies gamely continue to invest heavily in UK artists, anticipating that the discovery of the next Adele/Queen/ Ed Sheeran will remedy a troubling trend of Blighty’s waning global power.”

In brief: the international energy of the UK market, and UK artists, is statistically shrinking. Artists from Latin America, Asia, Russia and elsewhere are consuming into that international energy, and can proceed to take action.

Need extra proof?

Try this quote from Sony Music Group Chairman, Rob Stringer – a Brit, no much less – delivered throughout a podcast interview with Variety earlier this yr.

Stringer was discussing the evident trendy logic that at present’s international hits can come from wherever, quite than simply a handful of traditionally privileged nations.

“I know most of the charts around the world now; I’m not sure my predecessors had to [do that]… I don’t think of the UK as any more or less important than Mexico.”

He’s astute to take action.

Despite all of this, the major report corporations gamely proceed to take a position closely in UK artists, anticipating that the discovery of the subsequent Adele/Queen/ Ed Sheeran will treatment a troubling pattern of Blighty’s waning international energy.

In 2019, says the BPI, UK report corporations collectively spent a whopping £250 million (around $350 million) on A&R alone – up by 50% on the identical determine in 2014.

That’s a lot of cash going into the pockets of artists.

Thing is, the UK is now actually not changing into the most hospitable place for these identical report corporations.

In reality, in 2021, it’s getting outwardly hostile.

An notorious DCMS Select Committee’s report from earlier this yr slammed the three majors, calling for an investigation into their UK market energy.

Then, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – publicly applauding the DCMS report – decided to investigate Sony Music’s acquisition of AWAL.

This is a course of that might realistically see AWAL ripped from Sony’s proprietorship and bought off in items. Yet it’s additionally a course of that – with wafts of Brexit – doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge that 80% of streams for the average British artist really happen outdoors the UK’s borders.

And then at present (October 19), the CMA went one step additional, announcing a unilateral “market study” into the economics of streaming in the UK – and, by affiliation, the major labels’ mixed market affect.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, stated pointedly: “A market study will help us to understand the radical changes [in the music market] and build a view as to whether competition in this sector is working well or whether further action needs to be taken.”


Meanwhile, the major report corporations have billionaire shareholders who, as time rolls by, will likely be scrutinising each expenditure on the Big Three’s steadiness sheets. (Hello, Mr Ackman, sir. Welcome to the celebration.)

Said shareholders will inevitably query if the UK and its artists warrant their present degree of A&R funding – $350 million a yr, bear in mind – particularly contemplating the political backlash now brewing in London.

Those shareholders may as a substitute recommend that this cash can be higher spent elsewhere, in faster-growing markets like Russia, China…. and Mexico.

The present willpower from some political quarters to provide the majors a black eye in the UK proper now could be solely prone to make such an thought extra interesting to key decision-makers.

If you’re in every day competitors with nothing however the world’s champions, it doesn’t assist when your individual countrymen are throwing rocks at your head.


A version of the above op/ed first appeared in the Q3 issue of Music Business UK, MBW’s quarterly premium magazine covering the British market.

You can subscribe to MBUK and MBW’s other physical magazines through here.Music Business Worldwide

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