I’ve been looking at music business figures in the news today. I really shouldn’t.
The problem is that macro-economics tell a story without meaning. There is no useful knowledge that can be gleaned from Online music licensing revenues pass radio for first time. Why? Because the fortunes of a very few artists skew the results every single time.
So focusing on online music licensing as a business strategy only becomes a reasonable response if you’re Ed Sheeran, Adele, Coldplay or Mumford and Sons. It’s not just unhelpful information, it’s scarcely even descriptive.
Take, for instance, a headline like “UK album sales up on previous year”. That might simply mean “Adele released a record recently”. In aggregate, it gives a false picture.
Or what about the idea that physical sales for music are down? Other than in aggregate, maybe, it’s nonsense. It might say something about the fortunes of a sector, but it’s no basis for strategy for an individual act.
What if the sales of physical products are actually UP for the top half a dozen acts, significantly DOWN for the next 100 artists or so, and UP for pretty much everyone else (the so-called ‘long tail’)? The fact that those 100 next-tier artists are collectively so significant financially means that the overall aggregate is down.
My point: it adds meaning to the results when you start to slice the data up. Even only a little bit. Even with an arbitrary, rhetorical number like 100.
Coincidentally, I also received a press release from the PRS this morning, claiming that more money had been paid out to their members over the last year than ever before. I sent back an email asking if that information could be subdivided so we could see the relative growth between the top 20% and the bottom 80%. They declined.
But without even very simple analytical dividing tools like that, aggregation is utterly meaningless as a method of understanding the music business. If one artist (or five, or a hundred) can utterly skew the overall results, then a total is empty information.
And that’s what nearly every ‘state of the music business’ report is based on.