Sunday, 9 August 2009

Decline and fall?

I read a book review last week of a work covering the spectacular, ego-driven, cocaine-fuelled, decline and fall of the record industry. As I was prepping this post, I checked on Amazon on to be sure I had the title right, looking for books on the Record Industry, decline and fall of. Blimey, there's dozens of them. Talk about Hollywood Babylon revisited.

Record industry depravity aside, the review sparked a notion for this post. Some years back, a very savvy and smooth operator, Tim Blackmore, was in charge of the Radio Academy. This is a UK industry talking shop, and I was, and still am, a member. If you care about broadcasting in the UK, you should be a member too. Tim set up a meeting which brought together music radio types and some senior music producers - respected players in the then ego-driven, cocaine-fuelled, etc, etc, record industry - to discuss common ground. You know, all music lovers together, that sort of thing.

Only trouble was... there really wasn't any common ground. Early on, I wittered on worthily about radio's need to relate to its audiences first and foremost, and if that meant radio could support record industry priorities, that was fine and dandy; but that we could not honestly be expected to place their priorities above our own. Blissfully unaware of their reactions, I ploughed on about it was now difficult to trust the chart as a barometer of public taste, and how it made sense to do some research into local sales patterns.

Well, that went down like a lead balloon with the producers. And when the producers in turn talked approvingly about hyping sales to put records into the charts so that radio would be forced to play their product, that went down like a lead balloon with me and not a few others.

Of course, that was in the days of serious audience figures for Top Of The Pops, when Radio 1 was the biggest station in the UK, and Radio 2 was definitely... not. Since that time, record sales have largely tanked, the chart has lost all credibility as a programming tool, and a lot of radio has programmed increasingly conservatively using in-house research. What we didn't expect then was the web: This punched a dirty great hole through all our cosy assumptions. I'm not unhappy at the changes: I'm hearing so much great music from the web - stuff that doesn't fit the financial model the record industry grew fat on. And, as I have already said, I'm not at all unhappy that thousands of new players are experimenting with radio, also on the web.

What I would like to see is some way that the new cream can rise to the top. We're not there yet. But I'm happy to wait. In the meantime, I would love to see a companion Radio Babylon-style book or two about the ego-driven cocaine-fuelled big beasts... of radio... back in the day.

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