Simon Napier-Bell: The record industry is careering towards meltdown

“The lobby of the Sony building in New York is 70-feet high and heavy with music business ambience – gold records, photographs and the ‘Sony Shop of New Technology’. Upstairs, the main reception is like the lounge of an exclusive club. Young people, dreaming of stardom, stand in wonder breathing in the atmosphere, looking at memorabilia – platinum CDs, photos of stars, framed press reports, Billboard charts. For an aspiring artist or manager, just to step into the building is a thrill. The impression is of a corporation dedicated to the success of its artists, almost altruistic in its understanding of their needs,” Simon Napier-Bell writes for The Observer Music Monthly.

MacDailyNews Note: Simon Napier-Bell has spent over 40 years in the music industry a producer, songwriter, and manager of The Yardbirds, John’s Children, Marc Bolan, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Japan, London, Wham!, Blue Mercedes, and many others.

Napier-Bell continues, “Yet it’s nothing but a flytrap. Artists go there dreaming of being signed. But out of every 10 signed nine will fail. A contract with a major record company was always a 90 per cent guarantee of failure. In the boardroom the talk was never of music, only of units sold. Artists were never the product; the product was discs – 10 cents’ worth of vinyl selling for $10 – 10,000 per cent profit – the highest mark-up in all of retail marketing. Artists were simply an ingredient, without even the basic rights of employees.”

“For 50 years the major labels have thought of themselves as guardians of the music industry; in fact they’ve been its bouncers. Getting into the club used to be highly desirable. Now it doesn’t matter any more,” Napier-Bell writes.

For artists and managers, this is the moment to take things into their own hands. Artists no longer need to be held for 10 years and they no longer need to sign away ownership of their recorded copyrights. These days, an artist working closely with his manager can ensure that everything is done in the artist’s best interest. Majors have never done that. And never will,” Napier-Bell writes.

Much, much more in the full article, which about the music industry and, although the company is never mentioned, obliquely about Apple here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Data Potato” for the heads up.]


  1. All successful business evolve to meet the demands of their customers, that is except the music industry. I can think of no other industry as abusive to their employees (artists) and as disrespectful of their customers.

    With the advent of the internet, it should come as no surprise that this model is failing.

  2. “…10 cents’ worth of vinyl selling for $10 – 10,000 per cent profit – the highest mark-up in all of retail marketing.”

    You know, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the music industry. But the self-righteous hyperbole quoted above is so obviously overblown and erroneous that it, weakens, rather than strengthens any argument.

  3. Good article, but he destroys his credibility very early on with this:

    “But outside of the industry, who cares? Pop music has never sounded better or more vibrant, … “

    No one would say that who knows much about music. There is of course always good music around, but one of the most obvious symptoms of the collapse is the fact that the majority of *pop* music today is absolute crap.

  4. The flat-rate all-you-can-eat rental schemes, whether for music or for movies, does not have the best interest of the artists in mind. If a customer “rents” (downloads) 10,000 songs, how is the artist with 10 songs in there somewhere compensated from the $15 monthly fee. Likewise, with flat monthly rate movie rentals, how are the makers of specific movies compensated if the customer squeezes in 20 movies per month. “Bulk rate” distribution of media makes money for the distributors, not the content creators. It’s interesting that Apple does not use bulk rate pricing. Whether for music or movie rental, the items are priced per item, which hopefully makes compensating for downloads more straightforward and fair. I don’t think Apple will adopt any type of flat-rate content rental scheme for either music or videos.

  5. “…10 cents’ worth of vinyl selling for $10 – 10,000 per cent profit – the highest mark-up in all of retail marketing.”

    That’s what I heard from my record company back in 80’s. Some of the compilation albums where there were no studio time involved and marketing was for the whole set, they really made tons of money.

    In some point in the future people will pay a lot of money for some thing as original as a CD, with a download you just pay for the airwaves that are coming from your speakers.

  6. Why do you hate the record industry so much? Couldn’t you just as easily single out the oil conglomerates, DeBeers, or any other similarly offensive corporate entities? Big Tobacco? Arms dealers? Why go after the labels every week? I really don’t get where your animosity comes from.

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