herald

Saturday 20 September 2014

Blood on the dance floor

ROCK ON: U2
Keane

Forget the Olympics. The contest music fans are more interested in is which bands are likely to be winners in the Great Autumn Release Schedule. Over the next few months, many of rock's heaviest hitters will be unleashing a new album. With so much high-profile product hitting the shops at the same time it's likely there'll be some serious commercial casualties.

The Killers, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol, The Verve, Kings of Leon, Oasis, Bob Dylan and U2 are just some of the big names ready to blast off with new studio albums.

It's a bit like a high stakes reality TV show, as these superstar contestants manoeuvre for poll position in the race to attract customers.

Most will survive. A few will thrive. But some are likely to have their pride, and possibly their pension plans, hurt.

Traditionally, the weeks leading to Christmas have long been the music industry's busiest and most lucrative time.

"The last quarter of the year accounts for more than 50pc of annual sales for most companies," says Shay Hennessy, Director of All Media Entertainment,

an Irish distribution company. In a crowded market place, the battle for your buck intensifies.

"Marketing campaigns are more expensive to mount at this time of year," adds Hennessy.

There's an even greater element of risk involved in launching a new album when the competition is so fierce. But many bands feel the possibility of increased sales makes it worth the hazard of slipping between the cracks.

"It might seem crammed but it is the biggest sales period and the biggest 'gifting' time," says Freddie Middleton, Marketing Director of Universal. "It's a good problem. Wouldn't we all prefer to have eight big sellers than eight bands that we didn't know what to do with."

"It's fine to have Greatest Hits packages and Best Of compilations and so on, but there's nothing like having new studio albums to create excitement," he adds.

While some of the bands are likely to be nervous about losing sales to rivals, music industry insiders are rubbing their hands in glee at the deluge of albums poised for release.

"Having really major artists releasing a long-awaited new album

dramatically

increases

footfall in stores," says an industry insider.

"Once there, the chances are that they'll increase their purchase by one or more other albums. So there's a very positive knock-on effect."

Despite the hype about digital sales, shops still account for almost 90pc of sales' turnover for Irish record companies.

"Digital sales tend to be of one song," explains a record company executive. "That costs about 99c. A CD single costs €4.99. So it takes five digital sales to equate with one CD single sale. Unit sales of CD albums have dropped, but the value of digital sales hasn't made up the difference for the record company."

"The problem is that people are buying individual songs rather than entire albums," he adds.

Radiohead rocked the music industry last year when they invited buyers to download their In Rainbows album and pay what they

felt the album was worth. Many hailed this initiative, claiming it would cut out the middleman benefiting for the artist and the consumer.

U2's astute manager, Paul McGuinness, told BBC that the scheme "backfired".

"Sixty to 70pc of the people who downloaded the record stole it anyway," he noted.

Despite his manager's

misgivings, Bono declared that Radiohead's stunt was "courageous and imaginative." This apparent disagreement between frontman and manager conveniently drew attention to the upcoming U2 album, their first full studio album in four years, which is expected to be prefaced by the single Sexy Boots.

Despite the growth in digital sales, the manager acknowledges the importance of CD sales for U2: "Physical sales are still an enormous part of our business and we still sell a lot of actual CDs."

Oasis will release a single next month, in advance of the October release of their new studio album, Dig Out Your Soul. The Killers are expected to showcase much of their upcoming album, including Neon Tiger and Spaceman, when they perform here later this month. Bob Dylan's Telltale Signs is due in October. Kings of Leon's Only By The Night is set for release next month.

"If the advance single doesn't make it for any of the bands, it can persuade them to postpone the album release until they've analysed and rectified the situation," says an insider.

But all this activity is seen as plus for the marketing teams who've been liaising with the shops since July. "One big release brings people into stores," says Freddie Middleton.

By releasing their album in June, Coldplay stole a march on other bands looking for a piece of the pie.

"Coldplay succeeded in bringing people into shops and helping the wider industry. Now that it's established as a hit, we expect the album to keep selling."

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