Tunes of change

Society has too much to lose if we don't ensure that talent is rewarded, writes BPI's chief executiv

There is no doubt that the recording industry is going through a period of unprecedented change. The very foundation upon which our business is built - the ability to generate income from the artists of today to invest in the artists of tomorrow - is being threatened by widespread copyright theft.

Operations such as that against the illegal OiNK service represent just one part of how our industry is successfully managing the challenges of the digital age. There is no magic bullet to eradicate copyright theft and no single anti-piracy action or business model will change the world. Even so, our mission is to turn more of the growing number of streams, copies and downloads into pounds and pence to share across the value chain.

Some have suggested that a larger issue for industry is the ability of artists such as Radiohead to seek alternative distribution channels. But there is in fact nothing new in established artists setting up their own record label - Prince, Simply Red, Oasis, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin have done the same thing in the past.

But what the new distribution models recently adopted by the Charlatans, Madonna, Prince and others have in common is that they generate revenue streams that are far less vulnerable to copyright theft: with recordings being used to drive the sales of concert tickets in the case of Madonna, or as a promotional vehicle to claim a share of newspaper income in the case of Prince. And models such as these are only practical for well-known artists who have built up large fanbases after years of marketing and investment by record labels.

The bottom line is that no-one is offering an alternative to the core business model of a record label - investing in unknown artists on the basis that they will generate income in the future. To cover their investments in new music, record labels are seeking to earn income from a wider range of artists' revenue streams.

Lines are blurring between the traditional record label and other music companies. While opportunities arise for others to enter the record business, record labels are developing broader business models to generate income from revenue streams outside recorded music.

The many services that a record label offers to an artist have become more important as media channels proliferate. In addition to their traditional expertise in international physical distribution and marketing, labels have networks of relationships to collect licensing income globally to remunerate artists, music publishers and other rightsholders.

The back catalogues and broad portfolios of larger record companies give them negotiating power in striking deals that can benefit all the artists on their roster, while digital channels are opening up many new opportunities arise to promote acts across a multiplicity of online channels and exploit catalogue more effectively than has been possible through physical retail.

Labels are also well-placed to generate new income from brand partnerships and synchronisation. These capabilities are essential for artists trying to build a long-term career.

The BPI is at the forefront of the industry’s efforts to ensure that there is a fair financial return for artists and those who invest in creating new music. We believe the prevalent culture of online copyright theft will be curbed through a combination of consumer education, new business models, more robust action by ISPs against online copyright theft and stricter enforcement by industry and government.

We believe that the internet will become an environment in which creativity can be effectively monetised, as our society, economy and culture has too much to lose if we do not ensure that creators are rewarded.

We do not need to convince anyone of the emotional value of the music they love, but if the record industry is to reach its potential online, we must succeed in our mission to convince new industry partners, policy makers and consumers that an online and mobile ecosystem in which music is respected and valued is in the interest of everyone.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times