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Old 5th June 2007
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New opportunities for Record Producers

Hi Tim - This is the question of the age! Personally, I remain optimistic because this is not the first time the end of the music business as we know it has been predicted. As long ago as the 1920's the advent of radio, broadcasting music free to listeners, was predicted to be the end of the nascent recording industry. In fact, the promotional value of radio stimulated demand for records. Nevertheless, the models that have evolved during the last century are rapidly becoming redundant. Although P2P remains by far the largest volume of trade in recordings, the iTunes model is working, partly because most people are not so computer friendly that they can be troubled to negotiate the complications involved - OK, to the current generation of youth this is easy pickings, but as the new models of home entertainment delivery evolve into one-size-fits-all boxes that will do music, TV, films, e-mail and general internet informational systems, service provider regulation and enforcement will become do-able. Other models, such as royalties based on advertising revenue are being explored. And though there are schools of thought out there who believe that, somehow, all this should be free, the benefits of rule-of-law underlie a global economic system that has provided the most material well-being for the most people in the history of humanity. It's not perfect, but consider the alternatives: Where anarchy rules, greed, graft and corruption prevail!

Oh dear, I've gone all philosophical! The point is that these are early days and the scene changes almost daily. As long as you have contracts for your work that are legally constructed then eventually you will have recourse to law. The reality is that the value has to be big enough to justify costly legal action. But this has always been the case - in the 80's I was managed by a very large powerful company and most of my productions were with major labels, but occasionally they would agree to me working with smaller and sometimes rather dodgy labels, when they would insist on larger advances, or accounting direct from distributors because they knew the chances of honest accounting were less. At least the larger companies could be audited!

The current turmoil also offers a new opportunity for record producers. Where once a high quality recording required substantial capital investment, anyone with the skills and talent can not only create great recordings, but now, no longer need fleets of environmentally unfriendly trucks and planes to distribute their product. The record producer can be the hub of creativity! Of course, you are still going to need promotional and marketing skills - there are lots of independent companies specialising in the many genres out there, though funding is an issue. And when a production takes off it could be time to go large and engage with a major. This is what they're best at - international marketing. I think that's the way the industry has gone over the last decade or so anyway - successful indies soon find it not worth the effort to keep on top of licensees abroad. And majors realised that being big makes it hard to keep up with the cutting edge, where the new scenes evolve. A symbiotic relationship at best - but a necessary evil if you really want your music to reach the most people.

As I said, this is a big subject. Undoubtedly books are being written as we speak analysing the possibilities, but the key remains intellectual property rights, and, as we now see, bigger money businesses - films and TV - are starting to hurt. You can be sure there will be measures taken!

Mike Howlett