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Saturday 7 December 2019

Record firms on super-highway to extinction

John Meagher

The days of bands making serious money from album sales are long gone. Unless you're Kings of Leon, whose latest album 'Come Around Sundown' is likely to shift by the old-fashioned truckload when it's released on Friday, your best chance of making wads of cash is to get on the road and tour like your life depends on it.

The simple fact is albums don't sell in anything like the quantities they used to. U2's most iconic album, 'The Joshua Tree', sold 20 million copies. Fast forward 22 years to the release of their most recent effort, 'No Line on the Horizon', and the figure is around the three million mark. But thanks to their seemingly never-ending current tour, U2 won't be short of cash any time soon.

In an age where even the most IT-illiterate can download illegally with ease, the quaint idea of spending €12 or more on a new release is unthinkable for many. And to younger generations, the internet has dispensed entirely with the notion of paying for recorded music.

That's bad news for bands, but far worse for the record industry, which has been in freefall for the best part of a decade. Illegal file-sharing looks like being the meteor to wipe this particular dinosaur off the face of the earth. And yesterday's decision by the High Court to rule against Ireland's main record companies in a dispute with UPC over illegal downloading, could hasten their demise. The industry has desperately tried to keep its head above water by repackaging so-called classic albums and offering special edition versions of popular new ones as well as banking on the "talent" created on popular television shows. You can be sure there will be a scramble to sign up Mary Byrne once 'The X-Factor' has finished. But such short-term approaches have failed to arrest the sharp decline in album sales over the past 10-odd years. The problem for the music business is that the very people who think nothing of "borrowing" an album for free still believe it's worthwhile to cough up the cash for concert tickets.

And the marquee names never have a problem shifting tickets, irrespective of how much they cost. €100 to see Leonard Cohen? Gone in a matter of hours. But were the 76-year-old to bring out a brand new album, there would not be a stampede in HMV.

While albums remain any act's greatest artistic achievement, they are, also, effectively advertisements for a tour.

There's little point going on the road unless you have something to flog. The Script's latest album, 'Science & Faith', has gone number one here and in the UK; but it is the 60,000 tickets they have sold for shows on this island, as well as a mammoth tour of Britain, that is set to make the band very wealthy indeed.

It's the visionary players such as American giant Live Nation that may emerge from this revolutionary time unscathed. Their relationship with rap superstar Jay-Z is based on album releases, live dates and merchandise -- the latter two being particularly lucrative.

Such an arrangement is known as a '360-Degree Deal', although it remains to be seen if this model really is the way forward.

Meanwhile, the live treadmill that sees domestic acts relentlessly touring the same circuit and established names playing here up to three times a year is already becoming a case of too much, too often. With the same old faces doing the rounds every few months, pop is simply eating itself.

Irish Independent

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