Noon in the RDS and, introducing the panel as the annual “end of the world as we know it” talk, Hot Press writer Peter Murphy posed pointed questions to four industry experts on the state of the record business.
Speaking first, CEO of Warner Europe John Reid talked candidly about the financial problems that have hit the business. “We need to be paid,” he said. “The whole value chain is at risk. The Irish business is down 50 per cent in the past five years and it will take another year or two [to bottom out].”
On a more positive note that chimed with his fellow panellists, he later stated that, “we will be a better business coming out of this.”
The Mudbug Club mainman Jerry Fish was optimistic. “This is not the end of the world, this is the beginning of the world.”
Regarding the digital revolution and the freedoms it provides musicians with, he said, “Financial control is artistic control. The artist is empowered which makes it a very exciting time.”
The panel had representatives from both sides of the industry coin – Richard O’Donovan, A & R man with Mercury Records, for the conventional record labels and Stephen King of Believe Music flying the flag for digital distribution.
O’Donovan, who signed Razorlight, The Rapture and many others, feared for an industry without conventional major labels and made a case for their continued relevance. “There’s no gatekeepers in the internet world anymore – the internet is such a wall of music.”
He bemoaned the pressure placed on new bands (“You’re not allowed to make mistakes anymore, which is a shame”) and suggested that developing a fanbase, even if it means giving your record away as per Cast Of Cheers, is essential. “6000 copies is 6000 email addresses. The good stuff does work its way up.”
Stephen King agreed that building support before getting signed is key, that it is “absolutely critical” that bands “engineer their social network.” He championed the digital route. “We pay you four times the royalties and you get to keep your copyright.”
Overall, the panellists from various areas of the industry were harmonious – these are difficult times but through new and innovative methods of promoting and distributing music, the music business can navigate its way out of crisis.