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CMU@TGE Previews: CDs! Vinyl! T-shirts! Who the hell is buying this stuff?

By | Published on Wednesday 18 May 2016

CDs! Vinyl! T-shirts! Who the hell is buying this stuff?

New music festival The Great Escape kicks off in Brighton tomorrow and, once again, the CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conference is at the heart of the convention programme. CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke has been previewing the sessions we will present this year, and today runs through the final of our four strands, ‘CDs! Vinyl! T-shirts! Who the hell is buying this stuff?’

The streaming music boom always dominates the headlines when the customary music industry stats are unleashed, but is it not also notable that 44% of UK music industry revenues last year still came from physical products, and the vast majority of that CD? We know that the CD markets are still particularly significant in Japan and Germany, but the old silver discs are holding up much better than expected in other markets too. And that’s before we get onto the much more talked about vinyl revival.

So who is still buying all these CDs? And is that vinyl revival sustainable? Have too many labels just given up on physical when there are actually many opportunities to capitalise on this declining but still significant revenue stream? This is what we’ll be discussing on Friday at CMU Insights @ The Great Escape.

I suspect the conclusion will be that – while the mainstream CD release may now be in terminal decline – disks of all kinds are becoming a premium product with a decent profit margin, fuelled by the rise of direct-to-fan and pre-order campaigns. And with that in mind, we’ll be putting the spotlight on four premium release projects covering CD and vinyl, new material and catalogue.

Simon Raymonde from Bella Union will discuss Father John Misty’s deluxe diorama release of ‘I Love You, Honeybear’; then Alex Thomson from Greenhouse Group will discuss the Pledge campaign around the box set release of The Libertines’ ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’; Karen Emanuel from Key Productions will discuss the major catalogue release ‘When Slade Rocked The World 1971-1975’; and Craig Evans and Alex Nicolas will discuss their Flying Vinyl venture with its monthly vinyl boxsets that champion great new alternative music.

The second half of this strand will the put the focus on the music industry’s other physical products – ie the still under-tapped potential of merchandise and creating great products for core fanbase. Which will bring us back to direct-to-fan, which – as I said at TGE two years ago – for me still remains the most exciting thing digital channels provide the music industry. But are we still learning quite how to do direct-to-fan, and capitalise on all that potential? Too right we are. But we’re getting there, and we’ll be looking at best practice, new channels and new possibilities on Friday.

And maybe new deals too. Labels sometimes see direct-to-fan as a competitor, but for me, direct-to-fan is a key part of the future label business. Record companies are cutting themselves into merch already, but does that sometimes just mean selling a few t-shirts on a website? I think labels are missing a trick here, and if they can master direct-to-fan, from a strategic point of view, they could start to make the multi-revenue stream record deals that have become the norm work for artists as much as themselves.

Well, that’s what I reckon, and I’ll explain why on Friday, before letting managers, labels and lawyers dissect my proposal, with PledgeMusic’s Malcolm Dunbar, The Orchard’s Scott Cohen, Rocket Music’s Jazz Sherman, Reed Smith’s Sachin Premnath, Communion Music’s Jamie Emsell and First Access Entertainment’s Benedict Maxwell amongst those joining the debate.

You’ll find final schedules for all four of the strands that make up CMU Insights @ The Great Escape online here, with all the info about ‘CDs! Vinyl! T-shirts! Who the hell is buying this stuff?’ here. And for updates on everything once we are up and running, check

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