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Sony BMG, UK music charts: the beat goes on

an image of the Sony BMG logoBack in the 80’s it wasn’t unknown for a number one song to top out in the many hundreds of thousands. In fact, getting to number one demanded that.

Fast forward through the intervening couple of decades and here we are – dwindling record sales, a slump in consumer confidence and all but outright contempt of the paying customer by the labels and their representative agents.

How times have changed.

Oddly, the overall quality of music has improved, while the sales of physical music products has dropped, more recently in last decade due in some part to illegal downloads.

The music industry got caught in the headlights of the most disruptive technology we might ever see; that being the Internet.

Rather than look for a way to use the Internet to their advantage, thus harnessing the huge audience underpinning the Internet, the music industry instead incorrectly identified the Internet and its citizens as a threat.

And when things started getting really rough, the labels by way of the RIAA brought legal action against the very people lining their pockets.

Wonderful stuff!

In any case, that’s old news. We know all of that, so what’s new? By way of an introduction to my line of reasoning, I’m reminded of a quote by Sir Winston Churchill:

“Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

Which coming from a guy whose mother was an American, either came about despite or as a result of his lineage. In any case, the same idea holds true of the music industry – the labels are slowly showing signs that they’re willing to pull their collective heads out of their collective arse holes and starting to do the right thing:

Sony BMG has decided to dip its toes into the world of podcasted music … making it the first (and only, for the time being) major music label in the US to license music for podcasting.

Ford and Chrysler are both paying Sony BMG a flat fee to license music for … distribution for one year, no matter how many copies are downloaded … the podcast will be free and can be kept forever. Rock River says that they are in talks to license music from more music labels in the future for podcasting.”

While this appears to be a one-off arrangement, it’s a very competitive move, which will prompt similar moves from t’other labels, no doubt.

The beat goes on in Britain

Meanwhile, the British music charts have seen some changes recently:

“The UK Top 40 singles chart has severed its historical dependency on physical stuff. As of yesterday, the hit parade will allow digital-only tracks to be included in the weekly listing. The Official UK Charts Company, which runs the marketing survey, has dropped its requirement that labels must produce the song in some physical form.”

But why?

“The change has helped double the volume of singles sales.”

Oh, right. That’d do it.

Not having read the officially sanctioned PR spin from ‘The Official UK Charts Company, which runs the marketing survey’, I’m sure the story was suitably couched in buyer benefits and the usual marketing twoddle.

However, I have to be fair to these guys, they’re moving with the times. So that last part might be a bit harsh to some eyes, but it stays anyway.

The labels still have a long, long road ahead of them. In many ways, we’ve yet to see an acknowledgment by them of their exceedingly bad attitude, and some sign of remorse. But I’m sure as their coffers shrink further, their humanity and humility will return.

So there you go! The times they are indeed a changing.

Music to my ears…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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