With the very excellent World Record Store Day upon us again, we decided to have a bit of a look around some different musical genres and see what forms of delivery methods seem to be working best for the artists and their teams. From vinyl through to cassettes, what kinds of things are working (selling) in your fave genres? We take a look at country, metal/hardcore, indie-pop and mainstream pop.
Right now in Country music, you can hear southern drawls crooning about biscuits, girl crushes (yes, really), little red wagons, sippin on fire and what it’s like to be the girl in a country song. The country music fans experience and connect with their favourite artists is a little more old fashioned, but just ‘cause we talk slow don’t mean we’re stupid. Country knows a thing or two about creating strong and loyal fanbases, a lot of which has allowed artists to enjoy longevity in their careers and the opportunity to learn how their fans experience music.
Although the music industry has turned to methods of delivery such as streaming and digital downloads, the purchase of physical CDs and radio airplay is still important in the Country Music genre. “In country, they’re buying into an artist,” Dierks Bentley says. “It’s not like other genres where you might be a fan for a year and then that band’s gone. Country fans are totally invested. They want that physical copy for you to sign.” Part of the identity of country music is the fan-artist relationship; this special connection has helped some country artists have the top selling CDs over the past few years. It’s the close-knit-country-kin-folk bond that keeps CD sales in Country Music relevant; the genre’s identity in general is based on the autobiographical element of songs that connect with the audience and fans. That kind of loyalty is why country fans want the CD to hold in their hands, to be proud of, to get signed and basically ‘geek-out’ over.
Radio airplay is still an important part of any Country release, with digital and analogue radio stations still being where many country fans find new music. This year Sony Music Nashville chairman and CEO, Gary Overton said ‘if you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist’, also recalling ‘I can’t think of one star, much less superstar in country music, who wasn’t broken by country radio. It’s just a fact. That’s where the active audience is. That’s where they go to listen to it’. The country radio network is alive and well in Australia too with over 50 dedicated country stations across the nation.
Metal and Hardcore fans are a special breed. This isn’t just music we’re talking about here, it’s a subculture – and one of the tightest, friendliest communities you can imagine. Word of mouth goes a long way in metal. Fans are often actively seeking out new music, and will tend to listen to their friends’ recommendations about the next new thing. It’s also worth mentioning that both Metal and Hardcore contain so many subgenres that it’s difficult to make a blanket statement about all of them at once.
However, heavy music lives in the modern age as much as anything else. According to Pricewar Music‘s Tim Price, digital releases and streaming still reign supreme for metal, but fans will often seek out the vinyl catalogue of a band they love. CDs are still a popular merchandise item for bands, and heavy-focused radio shows like triple j’s The Racket (as well as extensive touring and playing live) are the best ways to introduce new heavy music in Australia.
Special mention goes to Black Metal, though, whose more underground artists have actually taken to releasing on cassette tape of late. In fact, there are whole labels out there like Crepusulo Negro who release solely to tape. According to blog That’s How Kids Die, “The fact that the music is being released on a format which many find unacceptable only adds to the clandestine nature of these bands and the music they create…Black metal’s emphasis on creating a dark, murky and detached atmosphere is surely another factor in the use of cassettes. “
‘Indie Rock’ can be a bit of a fuzzy term, so let’s define it. The phrase is usually used to describe either a sound or an ethos. Some bands under the sound umbrella of ‘Indie Rock’, for example – making modern, left-of-centre rock music – may not actually be operating in an ‘indie’ (independent) way. They may have a manager, a record label, a booking agent, and be quite successful. If you’re talking about ethos, however, some rock bands with a very traditional ‘rock’ sound could arguably be labelled ‘Indie Rock’ bands, as they’re operating independently and playing rock music. To put that debate to rest, though, let’s agree here that we’re talking about bands with a ‘left-of-centre rock’ sound, many of them beginning independently.
Most experts agree that digital releases and streaming dominate the area of Indie Rock. Sites like iTunes still generate the bulk of sales and are important for higher-profile artists – though less popular for independent artists. DIY options such as Bandcamp and CD Baby allow independent artists more of a profit cut, and more control over the presentation and handling of their sales, while also offering the ability to sell merchandise and physical records.
According to Jesse Barbera, managing director of The Fans Group, vinyl is improving as a merchandise sale, selling especially well as ‘limited edition’ releases. iTunes and CDs still sell, and a recent release Jesse worked on showed that CDs outsold vinyl threefold.
Spotify is still one of the most popular streaming sites, and digital radio and podcasting can also help introduce new listeners for Indie Rock bands. Partnering a release with radio play is also a good idea for rock artists – the most popular options in Australia being triple j or community radio (FBi, Triple R and 4ZZZ are some of the country’s most listened-to).
It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg argument, though. Take new kid on the block, LunchMoney Lewis, who has blasted his way into the top charts with his quirky track “Bills”. He didn’t already have a gigantic following, like current fellow chartmates Rihanna and Sia. So that begs the question: is his music mainstream because it’s been played on stations like Nova or The Fox or B105 and their international equivalents, or has his music been played on these stations because it’s mainstream?
For everyone else with huge fan bases to fall back on, the equation is pretty simple. iTunes release + CD release, possibly with some sort of gimmick for a personal touch (like Most Powerful Person in Pop Taylor Swift’s polaroids with handwritten lyrics) = $$$). Or if you’re Beyoncé, literally all you have to do is drop an album – though even she had a gimmick of her own, by way of making it a “visual album”.
It’s what I like to call the ‘If you build it, they will come’ business model, and it works for massive stars extremely well. And, to use TayTay as an example yet again, artists like these are beginning to shun streaming services like Spotify. Jay-Z’s new service Tidal is being touted by its high-profile investors/participants as a gamechanger for artists like these, but it’s already drawing criticism, so the jury is out on that one.
Thanks to the ever-expanding amount of crossover between our beloved national broadcaster and commercial stations, the line between being in the mainstream and outside of it is growing ever blurrier (Brisbane boy Jarryd James’s appearance at #1 on the iTunes Top Songs chart is one such instance). And when we add pop into the equation, things get even more dicey. Aside from its literal “music that is popular” meaning, pop as a genre is relatively difficult to define. But if one thing is clear, it’s that not everyone who makes pop music falls underneath the “mainstream” umbrella.
Take acts like The Belligerents for example – the same model that works for mainstream acts wouldn’t necessarily fly for them. Artists like them are more likely to utilise services like Soundcloud to extend their reach as far as possible nationally and globally. Spotify also sees a lot of usage from acts like these, so that their songs are playable if and when they get added to the all-important triple j Hitlist, and so they can take advantage of cross-promotions when users are listening to “Artists similar to this”. It goes without saying that radio airplay on triple j specifically is just about essential. Of course, iTunes and CD releases are also utilised, but the ever-increasing demand for vinyl has seen a huge upswing in non-mainstream (and even mainstream!) pop record releases. Putting your tunes onto vinyl isn’t cheap, but since we’re all so into building a formidable record collection nowadays, it’s becoming more and more lucrative for lesser-known pop acts to invest in it.