Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hits? Or, Mechanicals?

Tom Roland's Country Update "takeaway" this morning from last week's second annual Billboard Country Music Summit - that the business is simply upside down as CD sales slipped another seven percent - in spite of CMA market research director Greg Fuson's report that "the majority of North America's 95 million country fans are an attractive and growing target which defies traditional stereotypes" - contains more than a small clue as to why both things might be the way they are.

Roland quotes CMT senior VP of music strategy Jay Frank equating a celebration of the CD to cheering for the rotary phone.

"The CD still has life in the marketplace," Frank said, "but instead of thinking of it as the primary source of business for Music Row, it should be considered just one of numerous revenue streams, including digital sales, online streaming of music and videos and—thanks to 360 deals—partnerships in other segments of the business. Ten years ago," Frank said, "a major label might have six forms of product on an artist. Now, that same artist might be the source of 300-500 product formats. Each of those products is likely to bring in a fraction of what the label previously received, but the small bits and pieces added together have the potential to make up ground."

Nashville Songwriters Assn. International executive director Barton Herbison responded to that optimistic future view, complaining that with fewer CDs selling, non-hit album cut mechanical royalties are a smaller part of the equation.

Somehow, he equated that factor to a need for radio to pay performance royalties — the payments that songwriters and publishers receive for the public use of their material, primarily from radio, which elicited this quote: “You could have a song on [a] CD and make a living with a song that never went to radio,” songwriter Rhett Akins said, reflecting on the ’90s, when such artists as Shania Twain and Garth Brooks routinely went multiplatinum. “Now it’s hard to get a songwriting deal if you’re not getting songs on the radio, because the amount of sales doesn’t add up to enough for your publisher to keep you around.”

So, let me get this straight.

Radio needs to pay for the people who write songs we don't play?

Listeners not wanting to buy albums anymore because of all the songs they don't want to pay for because they don't add sufficient value to the CD means that radio must pay performance royalties so that songwriters who don't write hits should continue to make a living?

Upside down is right. Upside down thinking.

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