“The music business is surprisingly healthy, and becoming more so. Will Page of PRS for Music, which collects royalties on behalf of writers and publishers, has added up the entire British music business. He reckons it turned over £3.9 billion ($6.1 billion) in 2009, 5% more than in 2008. It was the second consecutive year of growth. Much of the money bypassed the record companies. But even they managed to pull in £1.1 billion last year, up 2% from 2008. A surprising number of things are making money for artists and music firms, and others show great promise. The music business is not dying. But it is changing profoundly.
The loudest boom is in live music. Between 1999 and 2009 concert-ticket sales in America tripled in value, from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion. Ticket sales wobbled in America during the summer of 2010, but that was partly because some big-selling acts took a break. One of the most reliable earners, Bono, U2’s singer, was put out of action when he injured his back in May. Next year many of the big acts will be on the road again, and a bumper year is expected.
Music’s cachet and emotional pull also make it a potent weapon for businesses that want to build their own brands. The Rolling Stones (again) led the way in recruiting tour sponsors, from Sprint, a phone company, to Ameriquest, which sold mortgages. Sponsorship can lead to musicians wearing a company’s clothes and naming songs after it: Rascall Flatts, a country music band, has done both for American Living, a label carried by JCPenney. IEG, a firm that tracks the market, estimates that the value of tour sponsorships in North America will reach $1.74 billion this year, up from $1.38 billion in 2006.
Because it derives revenues from business as well as consumers, publishing is much more stable than recording. Record companies’ publishing departments, which once seemed rather dowdy next to sexy, talent-spotting A&R, have become vital cash machines. Publishing supplied 29% of EMI’s revenues and 45% of its profits in the year to March 2010. The outfit’s new boss, Roger Faxon, comes from that side of the business—a reflection of how the economics of music have shifted.
Many of the acts that now draw huge crowds emerged in an era of multi-album record contracts, lavish marketing and radio airplay. They built their brands gradually, overcoming the occasional lousy album. They “invaded” other countries when they felt the time was right. As a result, they have legions of fans who are prepared to stump up for concert tickets. Because their songs appeal to several generations of listeners, they are attractive to advertisers and TV programme-makers. The young dreamers in shows like “The X-Factor” commonly perform songs that are more than a quarter of a century old.
Some music executives fret that the stadium-filling acts will not be replaced. It is true that the starmaking machines run by the record companies are creaking. But this does not mean there will be no more popular acts. Musicians will build fan bases in other ways—through social networks, by recording music for TV or simply by trekking from gig to gig (which is how bands became famous for much of the 20th century). Some will rise with a speed that would have shocked their predecessors—witness Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, a 16-year-old singer who was almost unknown a year ago. Those who doubt their staying power may wish to consider that adults have long believed the music their teenage children listen to will not endure as long as the tunes they grew up with.”