A love letter to record companies

Friday February 26, 2016

It's no secret retailers and record companies sometimes have a 'lively' relationship. And even if margins weren't tiny and even if physical volumes weren't shrinking and even if streaming was fantastically profitable, things would still sometimes get fractious.

The fact is the skills required to make it in retail are very different to those required to sign and develop acts and bring them to market. The kinds of personalities you meet in record companies often wouldn't last five minutes in retail - and many of our lot would fare just as badly if they were pitched into the world of A&R. 

It's chalk and cheese. Too often in the past we have tried to gloss over the differences between us in a well-meaning attempt to reach a consensus which has left no one particularly satisfied. Sometimes we haven't been as clear as we might have been about our 'red lines', the things we really can't afford to compromise on.

Maybe it is time to celebrate each other's differences. Maybe it's time to celebrate each other's successes. To remind ourselves about what first attracted us to each other.

And since it's my idea, I guess I'm obliged to go first. And since we live in an age of clickbait, and the eye-catching line is everything, let's call it something you maybe never expected from the CEO of ERA:  A love letter to record companies. 

And this week there's a perfect reason to write it: Wednesday's BRITs was a triumph. And the reason it was a triumph was because it exemplified many of the things record companies do best: 

The Strong Personal Vision 

Apart from a few outliers , the best retailers are very much team enterprises. On the contrary, many of the greatest record labels are the result of strong individuals with a distinctive vision (think Chris Blackwell, Martin Mills, Clive Davis or Lucien Grainge). 

This year's BRITs was very much the work of Warner boss Max Lousada. By all accounts over the past couple of years he talked the BPI council into significantly increasing the budget for the show which struck some as a bit odd when budgets everywhere else are under attack. 

In the end the result was stunning, a tour de force of production. You could see the money in the room, but most importantly, on the screen. 

The talent for talent 

Of course dealing with talent is what labels do, but there can be few greater challenges than the potential talent nightmare which is the BRITs.  The stakes are high, the egos as big as they get. This year's show really did offer some of the greatest mainstream musical talent in the world right now. Bieber, Rihanna, Coldplay and Adele made for a fiercesome combination. 

The Appetite for Risk 

The BRITs was pretty much obliged to acknowledge David Bowie's demise, but that's not to say it wasn't risky. On the contrary, given the undoubted preponderance of David Bowie fans in the media, it felt in advance that they were set fair for failure. Gaga's Grammy effort seemed to prove the point, with The Guardian's Alexis Petridis reporting she "rampaged through the late singer's back catalogue like it was an obstacle onIt's A Knockout. 

Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman did a tremendous job with the spoken tributes and combined with the stunning visuals and Lorde's genuinely fresh take on 'Life On Mars' provided the ultimate riposte to the naysayers. This was a risk worth taking. 

All this, and great music too! 

By definition the BRITs is a mass market show and the talent choices reflected that, but as a handy two hour guide to the state-of-the-art in popular music, this year's BRITs would be hard to beat.  

And as the credits began to roll, streams and downloads of the performers flashed down fibre optic and copper cables and through routers to laptops and phones around the country, order lines to distributors began to hum, delivery vans fired up their engines. 

The UK record business provided the platform. Now it's time for retailers and digital services to work their own miracles and turn TV magic into the cold hard cash which makes the whole business possible.

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