And Now A Lesson From The Industry Formerly Known As 'The Record Business'

Vinyl records

Photo: Tim / Flickr

A record company’s value used to be measured by the acquisition, protection, and exploitation of copyrights. Exploiting those copyrights by selling songs is an easy business model to understand and used to be the foundation of a very healthy global industry. Historically, the record business was the heart of the music industry. Sell a lot of records and you were a successful business. And artists also succeeded through record sales: they became household names when they had sold a lot of records.From the business perspective, artists and songs could be viewed as interchangeable commodities. If any given artist failed to deliver hits, another waited in the wings to take their place. This impersonal approach allowed the music industry to grow extremely profitable by simply selling “product.”

But the sale of recorded music has taken a battering over the last decade, and it’s no longer smart to judge an artist’s commercial viability on record sales alone — not least when there is a new generation who questions the need to pay for recorded music at all. For many artists and their managers, record sales are now just one of many revenue streams and one of a number of factors with which to judge success.

Despite this dramatic change in the marketplace, many struggle with the concept of uncoupling success from record sales. It doesn’t help that most measures — the charts by which many fans learn about new music — are still based on this notion. For emerging artists this is particularly precarious, since careers are too often ended early if a first set of recordings fail to sell.

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