Friday 24 November 2017

Satisfying your pop urges

Niall Byrne

It's only taken a small matter of 10 years, but two major record labels have finally seen the light and decided to release music to the public for purchase as soon as it is serviced to radio.

Universal and Sony will initiate this long overdue new approach in February, when the new 'on air, on sale' strategy will kick off in the UK.

Aimed at fighting piracy (pipe down you at the back, muttering "it's too late" under your breath), it's a welcome strategy that finally addresses how we listen to music these days. A recent Nielsen & Midem report on the music-listening habits of 26,000 people confirmed what we already know by our own actions , that three times more people listen to music on YouTube than via legal downloads.

One of reasons this happens, in relation to the way the industry works, is that a single will begin its pre-promotion on radio up to six weeks in advance of the release date. This builds up buzz, keeps the artist in the public eye, allows for the best possible chart position at week one and allows the rest of the media to help in hyping up artists for their first big splash.

Under the old model, a radio station might play, say, Rihanna's latest single three weeks in advance of release. Anyone who heard that song and loved it would have had to wait three weeks to buy it on their computer, phone or portable music device so, most likely, they would download it illegally.

David Joseph, the chief executive of Universal Music, said that the word "wait" was not in the vocabulary of the current generation. "What we were finding under the old system was the searches for songs on Google or iTunes were peaking two weeks before they actually became available to buy, meaning that the public was bored of or had already pirated new singles," Joseph said.

The X Factor has no doubt actually helped convince these two labels to try a new approach. Songs from the show were instantly available on iTunes once the performances were aired every week and Matt Cardle's winning song was available immediately after he won the competition.

For this idea to work, these two labels need support from everyone else too. The idea of advance press copies of albums for review will have to go. Radio stations will have to stop picking playlists based on chart positions. Traditional chart patterns suggests singles start high and then fall, where this system allows a more level playing field based on sustained interest. Add in instant streaming on Spotify and We7, and this "instant pop" idea might actually work. Let's hope this idea hits Ireland too.

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