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75% OF UK MUSIC JOURNALISTS AGAINST DIGITAL PROMOS
Following the announcement by Sony Music last month that they intended to phase out all physical promo CDs, so that in future DJs and journalists will only receive advance copies of their releases in a digital format, CMU surveyed 100 music journalists about the way they are 'serviced' by record labels and music PR companies. The first question we asked was how those journalists would prefer to receive advance copies of single and album releases.
75% of those surveyed said their still preferred to receive review and pre-release copies of music in a physical format, ie as a CD. Five main reasons were given to justify this preference.
First, many said that digital preview services that require a journalist to sit at their computer misunderstood how most reviewers go about experiencing new music before writing a review. Those journalists argued that before starting a review they'd listen to an album several times over, normally while at home, or on the move. A CD lets reviewers play albums on home stereos or in the car, or they can rip tracks to an iPod for previewing while out and about.
Second, others, presumably those writing for older music consumers, argued that when they review an album they are not just reviewing a group of stand alone tracks, but the whole package that their readers may or may not wish to purchase. For them, that includes the packaging, artwork and liner notes, and the experience that you get from opening a new CD and putting it in your player for the first time. Digital-only previews do not allow such reviewers to get the "whole experience".
Third, some of those surveyed were review editors, and a number of them said that the system they used to manage the commissioning and publishing of reviews relied on physical product, which can be placed in racks on a desk, and is therefore much easier to manage that processing a plethora of emailed links and digital files in folders on a computer desktop.
Fourth, those running more grass roots music magazines and websites pointed out that their reviewers were not paid for their work, and that a perk of the job was the get a CD in the post which, if they liked the album, they could keep. A digital copy was less attractive, especially if it was a stream, because there is not permanent "gift" to keep in that scenario.
Fifth, a number of journalists pointed out that the PC technology being used by some media - especially regional and local media - is hardly bang up to date, with some still using versions of Windows which first surfaced in the 1990s. For these people many of the digital preview systems simply don't work.
Of course, it is probably inevitable that all record labels will move to a digital preview system eventually, the cost and time involved in pressing and mailing CDs to journalists being an obvious expense for cash strapped record companies to cut. But, while it seems that many reviewers will resist any move to digital previews, there is definitely a lot more resistance to streaming preview services than to MP3-based preview downloads. Of the 25 journalists who expressed a preference for digital promos, 18 said they preferred links to MP3s, while only 7 preferred links to preview streams, ie the kind of digital previews currently being offered by Sony Music and most other labels.
In fact, while some journalists are resistant to any move from physical to digital promos, it is possible some of those hanging onto CDs are doing so because they are unimpressed with the stream-based preview platforms currently being used by record companies, certainly the majors. It is possible that an MP3-based preview platform could overcome many of the concerns raised about the move to digital promos.
But, in the short term, it seems Word magazine boss David Hepworth was probably right when he predicted that Sony will find turning all music hacks to digital promos very difficult and that "within a year, when they want reviewers to take notice of something, they'll start sending out [physical] copies again".
The promo CD debate is just one of several things covered by CMU's music journalist survey. Details of other matters discussed will be revealed here in the CMU Daily in the coming weeks. More information on the survey will also be presented at the next CMU seminar on music PR, which takes place next Wednesday at CMU HQ in Shoreditch. This full day training event reviews the state and future of the music media, offers a beginners guide to music PR and best practice press releases, a summary of the aforementioned journalist survey, and a review of social media and its role in music marketing in 2010. Some places are still available, full info at www.theCMUwebsite.com/events.
CMU SAYS: LABELS NEED TO BETTER CONSULT JOURNALISTS OVER PROMOS
One of the problems is the stream-based preview services currently being employed by most labels. We're yet to find any journalists who have anything positive to say about any of the systems being used by any of the major labels, including Share, PlayMPE and the in-house platforms. You get the impression PR chiefs at the labels have briefed digital agencies as to how these preview systems should work, without consulting any actual reviewers.
At the end of the day, the average PR boss simply doesn't know what happens to a promo CD once it has been placed in a jiffy bag, so isn't really in a position to scope out a digital service which will work for journalists. The people operating these digital platforms really need to sit down with the reviewers they are expecting to use their services (and journalists and editors working at all levels on all kinds of media) and find out what they need. Though given the feedback we're getting, when they do, they may find they have to start again.
Another issue labels need to consider is something at least a third of our 100 journalists said: that they'd be more likely to use a digital promo system if there was one platform for all labels.
That's unlikely to happen, of course, and might raise competition law concerns if it did, but perhaps the future is that there will be a number of digital preview platforms which take music from all labels, so that journalists can choose the platform that best suits their needs; ie a platform will succeed not by signing up labels, even though they will be the ones paying a fee, but by signing up journalists. That would certainly provide a commercial motivation for the operators of these platforms to talk to the journalists they are servicing.
But even if all those matters are addressed, there remains one core problem with all the digital preview systems currently operating or being developed - and that is based on the labels' ongoing paranoia that journalists leak pre-release music onto P2P file-sharing platforms, even though we know most albums are available via BitTorrent long before they get mailed out to the press.
It is this paranoia that will stop labels from using and embracing MP3-based preview services which, as noted above, is what might make digital promos work. An easy to use press-only website that gave access to MP3 downloads of pre-release music - perhaps built so only editors have access to all the content, but so they can move relevant tracks to the personal folders of relevant journalists - would overcome many of the issues raised about digital promo systems and might just work.
In fact, we reckon a system of that kind is where we'll eventually end up. But it seems likely that - as with consumer-facing digital music - the labels are going to first invest a lot of time and money into alienating important stakeholders, by clinging onto a digital rights managed system, until eventually realising such systems are expensive to run, frustrating to use and, ultimately, never going to succeed.
As previously reported, on mflow users recommend favourite tracks to their followers via a Twitter style system. Those users' followers can then stream the recommended track in full once and, if they like it, buy the track, all via the mflow platform. The recommender then gets 20% of the download fee as a credit to spend on other music recommended to them by the people s/he follows.
At launch the service has music from Sony and Universal in its catalogue, and a plethora of indies are on board, including Beggars, Domino, PIAS, Ministry, Skint and various indie digital aggregators like Believe, INgrooves, EPM and IODA. Talks are ongoing with EMI and Warner, who will presumably fall in line given the buzz going round about this service, which actually links social networking and streaming previews with some proper sell-through.
Announcing the service's public launch last night, mflow top man Oleg Fomenko told CMU: "We are delighted that after six months of highly successful testing involving 10,000 invited users who have provided us with invaluable feedback and input about our service, we are now ready to remove access restrictions and let the general public use mflow. We are evolving quickly as a company and adding both content and user functionality every day so we are a little reluctant to call this a full public launch. We are, however, very proud of what we have achieved to date and are eager for people to start using the system and discover new music. Moving forward, we are confident that mflow will provide the template for social music discovery".
If you want to follow Team CMU on mflow they are using the following user names. Chris is still trying to decide which McFly track to 'flow' first.
Editor Andy - ieatmusic
TYPE O NEGATIVE FRONTMAN REPORTEDLY DIES
GIRLS ALOUD REUNION WOULD BE "A SMALL MIRACLE"
Speaking to lifestyle website Ponystep, Higgins said: "I think obviously that the rise of Cheryl Cole as a superstar is a phenomenon in itself, which is great for her. I think that everyone's got to wait and see where that takes Cheryl because it is obviously profoundly altering her life and how she sees her life. If she goes to America and does 'X-Factor' and everything, then that is going to create a situation".
As for whether or not the group would want to continue their relationship with Xenomania, he added: "If they do come back, they may well want to work with other people, or the alternative is that they say: 'We're wedded to Brian and Miranda' and come back automatically ... If the band continues it will be a small miracle, but then, every album was for me anyway. That's why we put so much into it, because we couldn't believe that they'd come back to us. We never assumed they would, ever".
He also pointed out that, in the modern pop world, the length of Girls Aloud's career has already gone far beyond what anyone could or would have expected: "I think that the body of work in terms of released songs is 110 or 120 songs now. It is very rare that that will ever happen again, going forward, that any group coming from any scene will release five or six albums and a whole slew of b-sides and bonus tracks, because careers just don't last that long".
WINEHOUSE BACK IN THE STUDIO FOLLOWING BREAST SCARE
BLUR URGED TO RECORD MORE NEW MATERIAL
EMINEM TO RECOVER IN JUNE
Earlier in the day the rap man tweeted that "there is no 'Relapse 2'", leading some to speculate that the follow up to last year's Slim Shady long player - which was expected to be positioned as a sequel to last year's record - had been canned. But later he clarified what he meant, and confirmed the album would be released this summer, but would be called 'Recovery', which has now led to speculation that the new album will be slightly more positive in subject matter than last year's offering.
Confirming the new album will be quite different to the original 'Relapse', Mr Shady said this morning: "I had originally planned for 'Relapse 2' to come out last year. But as I kept recording and working with new producers, the idea of a sequel to 'Relapse' started to make less and less sense to me, and I wanted to make a completely new album. The music on 'Recovery' came out very different from 'Relapse', and I think it deserves its own title".
WHITNEY'S UK COMEBACK SHOW GETS MIXED RESPONSE
As previously reported, the singer was hospitalised in Paris last week with a respiratory infection, leading to the cancellation of several dates in Paris and the UK. Arriving on stage in Birmingham, she told fans: "I'm feeling pretty good myself, thank you so much for asking".
However, things went downhill, with many in attendance later saying that there had been far too much talk and not enough singing during the two hour show. And when she did actually sing, there were complaints that she'd been off-key.
One bit of Whitney banter which seemingly summed up the concert for many came after Houston returned to the stage after disappearing for fifteen minutes while she changed her costume. She told the audience: "I could hear you getting pissed off".
It's worth noting that many people thought she was great, despite the chat, the delays and the off-key notes. As you can hear on this video, there were plenty of cheers and shouts of glee. Though you can also hear some people laughing as she fails, quite spectacularly, to hit the right notes during 'I Will Always Love You': www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-rV9_fVV7Q
TIGA IN TOWN
30 Apr: Glasgow, The Arches (Tiga, Boys Noize, Zombie Nation (Live), Riton, Sei A, Thomas Von Party)
BLOOD RED SHOES GIGS
Sooner than all that, the Brighton rock duo have a single out on 10 May, 'Don't Ask', from their excellent new album, 'Fire Like This'.
FESTIVAL LINE-UP UPDATE
SLAM DUNK FESTIVAL, University of Hertfordshire, 29 May, Leeds University, 30 May: Moneen, Millionaires, This Time Next Year, Deaf Havana and Futures have all been added to the Slam Dunk line-up, along with Me Vs Hero, Not Advised, L'Amour La Morgue, Sean Smith and Kill Casino. www.slamdunkmusic.com
T IN THE PARK, Balado, Scotland, 9-11 Jul: Echo and the Bunnymen, Julian Casablancas and Ash head up the latest acts announced to play at this summer's T In The Park. Other acts confirmed to play the Scottish fest include Babyshambles, Airbourne, Chapel Club, Example, Laura Marling, Hurts, Mystery Jets and The Drums. www.tinthepark.com
ALBUM REVIEW: Sparrow And The Workshop - Crystals Fall (Distiller Records)
Still, for any newcomer, without the high expectations for new material, this is an excellent record of emotional acoustic rhythms, combining the vastness of American folk, through leading singer American Jill O'Sullivan, with the more grounded folkiness of her Celtic bandmates. The joys of hearing such timeless folk ballads as 'The Gun' or 'Swam Like Sharks' for the first time is something I envy. TM
Physical release: 19 Apr
CONCORD BUYS ROUNDER
The indie's creative and marketing functions will continue to be based in Boston, with current management seemingly staying in place. The label's founders, Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin and Marian Leighton Levy, will also continue to have an advisory role.
SONY'S COUNTRY MUSIC CHIEF STEPS DOWN
Sony Music top man Rolf Schmidt-Holtz said: "I would like to thank Joe for his many years of invaluable service to our company. It has been a true pleasure to work with an executive of his exceptional calibre. Since our days together at BMG, I have admired Joe's remarkable passion and dedication to his artists as well as his unique ability for developing superstar talent and inspiring those around him. He has made an indelible mark on both the country music business and our entire industry and continues to do so".
DISNEY CLOSE DOWN COUNTRY LABEL
Lyric Street Records is currently home to artists like Bucky Covington and Rascal Flatts. The latter will be moved to another Disney label, while a marketing team will be kept in place to work on active Lyric Street releases and campaigns. It's not clear what will happen to the rest of the firm's artists once those campaigns are completed.
The Journal quote Disney Music Group chief chap Bob Cavallo as saying: "Given the changing nature of the music business and the more streamlined priorities of the [Disney] Studios, we need to find alternative ways to create and market new artists and their music to consumers".
IPAD UK LAUNCH DELAYED
Anyway, the Apple men said this yesterday: "Although we have delivered more than 500,000 iPads during its first week, demand is far higher than we predicted and will likely continue to exceed our supply over the next several weeks as more people see and touch an iPad. We have also taken a large number of pre-orders for iPad 3G models for delivery by the end of April".
They continued: "Faced with this surprisingly strong US demand, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the international launch of iPad by one month, until the end of May. We will announce international pricing and begin taking online pre-orders on Monday, 10 May. We know that many international customers waiting to buy an iPad will be disappointed by this news, but we hope they will be pleased to learn the reason - the iPad is a runaway success in the US thus far".
Although you're going have to wait a bit longer to get your hands on the iPad, Vodafone, O2 and Orange have all confirmed they will be selling the tablet computer once it finally arrives in the UK next month.
MICROSOFT ANNOUNCE KIN LAUNCH
The touch screen handset is seen by many as the mobile phone version of Microsoft's Zune (a phone version of which has been rumoured to be in development on various occasions), and is definitely the IT giant's attempt to move into iPhone territory. The device has music, video, radio and podcast functionality and is described by the IT firm as an "integrated entertainment experience", though some reviewers have said it seems to be more skewed towards social networking functionality than content consumption.
In the US, the Zune Pass subscription music service will be available via the phone, though given the Zune brand has never been launched over here, it remains to be seen if that service is also available via the European version of the phone.
MYSPACE UNVEIL TICKETING PLATFORM
Tapping into some of the functionality of iLike, the music platform MySpace acquired last year, and replicating some of the event functionality of Facebook, a new calendar system will alert users to gigs from bands they like and which their friends are attending, and then let their friends know if and when they buy a ticket for a gig, or something like that. Basically, it will be a bit like the event functionality on Facebook, but will include a ticket purchase element, and therefore will not only show if friends intend to go to a gig, but also if they have actually bought a ticket.
The new service will provide MySpace with a new revenue stream in the form of a ticket sale commission, but is also part of the one time social networking market leader's attempt to reinvent itself as a music and entertainment hub. A similar sell-through system for merchandise is also in development.
6MUSIC AXES WEEKLY MUSIC NEWS SHOW
Cullen told Music Week (the trade mag, not her own show): "Myself, Matt Everitt and the team are expanding music news coverage to appear across daytime programming and keeping features, updates, tour dates, industry news and big interviews as always. We're also hoping to include more international news, tour diaries and features on brand new bands, so please don't hesitate to get in contact with all your usual press releases, interview opportunities and anything else that you think might be of interest to 6music and Radio 2 listeners".
Some wondered if the axing of The Music Week was a sign 6 was moving away from bespoke news content, perhaps in preparation for plans to wind the station down next year. But Cullen seems to be saying that, for the time being, it's "business as usual".
6MUSIC DEFINITELY NOT BECOMING 2 EXTRA, SAYS BBC
As previously reported, those claims resurfaced in a Sunday Times report last weekend, and basically say that BBC bosses are considering saving 6 but renaming it 2 Extra, so that it fits in with plans to only have five national radio brands.
But writing on the About The BBC blog, Davie said: "Firstly, let me make it clear that, while we have proposed rebranding Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra, there are no such plans for 6music. But I should also explain that the proposals made in the Strategy Review are the first part of a process. The BBC Trust are currently consulting the public on those proposals and nothing will happen until after the consultation is closed".
He continued: "I [have previously] outlined the rationale for the closure of 6music and said that we will reinvest any funds from the proposed closure of 6music in digital radio content. This commitment to digital radio remains and we are looking at a number of ways of doing this. I said we would look at protecting some 6music programming by redeploying it elsewhere and considering how we can also do justice to its legacy in areas like new music development. This commitment also remains. But simply rebranding 6music as Radio 2 Extra is not one of our plans".
FOOTBALLER TO LAUNCH NEW INSTRUMENT
Details are scarce at the moment, but we do know that it's "a stylish cube percussion instrument which comes in four sizes and can be totally customised in colour schemes and tones". More info is apparently coming soon here: www.thedube.com