In January, the American arm of V2 restructured itself out of ongoing releases, telling the likes of the White Stripes, Raconteurs and Moby that their back catalogues were safe with them but they wouldn't be releasing any new material by anyone. In August, Universal Music Group bought V2 for an estimated £7m, a deal which also gave them the rights to the Co-Operative Music licensing organisation that acts as a global clearing house for many a respected UK indie. At least someone still has faith in the music industry.
While it's been an ongoing process for a few years now, The Death Of The Music Industry was sounded more than ever in 2007, and while clearance looks set to be removed from 2005's Sony-BMG merger in the European courts, which puts either's bid and counter-bid for Warners into doubt - look, nobody said it all had to be of cut-throat interest - most people can't wait for the run to the border that encapsulates the Camelot of a music industry where none of this matters, where everyone has a level playling field. People will tell you that that is happening now, but of course it isn't really - people will still love what they want to love (Leon Jackson sold those records because people liked his singing and his song, perhaps), but radio will still play what they think their ever tightening demographics want to hear, sellable bands on major labels will still get the all-round push and brand expansions, and the big boys will still bring everything to bear in their respective fields.
What's actually happened is said labels didn't notice until spotting how fast the world was now moving how important the Internet was becoming. Beyond the odd cursory page nobody spotted the connection between a switched-on audience and what a brand manager will refer to as their potential market until Napster brought the ring fence down and let the hoi polloi through. Wrong-footed, RIAA legal actions aimed for the wrong people and more importantly didn't quell anything, as the peer to peer traffic increased as the online audience increased. The infrastructure may now get the hard sell - although please note as few others will that downloads will not overtake CD sales of the same product for a while yet, or at least until a major label puts an affirmative toe in the water of a fully digitised future - but it didn't save anyone's profit margins. Inevitably, this meant the bands suffered, hence the great maxim of today, You Can't Earn Money From Record Sales Any More. (Something, incidentally, that with the poverty pleading of musicians, the profit warnings of the labels, the rearranging of the major chains (HMV's computer section taking over, Virgin becoming Zavvi) and slow downsizing of every other music stockist (Fopp going too fast too soon, Britain's oldest music shop Spillers' Records in Cardiff being rent priced out), appears to apply to everyone. Is all the money really in publishing these days, we wonder.) And you get the feeling they still don't get it, with the ongoing DRM issue and how every month a new 'revenue stream' idea takes hold that makes you want to go all Luddite on Universal. As Thurston Moore said when defending Sonic Youth's Starbucks/HearMusic-distributed compilation, they are now no more or less evil than a major.
Through such a gap slipped one band more aware of change and possibility than most, and hence in October Radiohead became the poster children for The Death Of The Music Industry. Ask them, which nobody thought to do for a while, and it turns out that it was motivated by something other than most of the theories about destruction from within that excitable onlookers had come up with during the ten days between revelation and release. The figures quoted by a major source have been doubted publicly by the band and their 'people' ("fucking shite" being Thom's exact words), and those must have been affected by the takeup when it became clear come the 10th that you really could put in £0.00 and get ten mp3s delivered to your inbox gratis, but clearly while the five were not wanting come Christmas when recording costs are gathered in they could probably have earned more from renewing with EMI. Indeed, a lot of their prognostications appear to have been based around the simple concept of getting the album out as soon as possible. Music all used to be like this. Mick Jagger completed the lyrics to (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction on May 5th 1965, finished recording it on May 12th and released it on May 27th in America, Britain only having to wait until July as Decca couldn't stop production on a stopgap live EP in time. Now, though, all bands have global markets to play by, which is why everyone initially expected a release around April 2008. Some interesting sidenotes emerged: Johnny Greenwood suggested that the 160kbps state of the mp3s were only meant to act as a preview to the proper released version. The band overruled their two managers (who came up with both the download and pay what you want details) and insisted on the standalone release. And so forth. Perhaps what this will really tell us in 2008, given acts ranging from the Smashing Pumpkins to the Crimea have found ways of letting their work go online, is how bands and managers want to approach all this now, whether blindly following this route, as much a reaction to circumstances as a bright star in the sky, or producing a seperate method of getting music heard earlier. On the very same day as the Radiohead announcement the Charlatans, doubtless under the aegis of their new manager Alan McGee, announced their album would be coming out on free download, then missed the point somewhat by declaring it'd be issued in March (and did you hear the single out in October? It was useless anyway, but just checking), and beyond that there's vague talk of the 'Ash abandoning albums' type that promises much but delivers little. Possibly just as much as all that, almost incidentally to most, it restored an album to the status of talking point, as bloggers and message board posters debated the pros and cons of the ten tracks at the same time without knowing that half of them had heard the leak two months earlier. At its core, it was about hearing the music after all that. Maybe that's what a smarting EMI and a too quick business press overlooked.
There were other revenue streams coming to the fore. Tubular Bells was given away free with the Mail on Sunday, Mike Oldfield showing how much EMI (them again) cared for their artistic employees by claiming he hadn't been informed this was going to happen. The newspaper countered that it had led to an upsurge in sales of the CD version, although who'd go and buy a second copy for money wasn't specified. Then they gave away a whole new album, Prince's Planet Earth, followed soon after by Ray Davies in the Sunday Times. Neither Prince nor Davies need to release another album in their lives, although the former's 21 nights at the O2, plus aftershows, was one of the year's genuine rare live events, but at least we remember who we are, even if Prince's legal team won't let you put anything about him online.
As a quick sidenote, where The Death Of The Music Industry does neatly dovetail with In Rainbows' progress is in the reason Ed O'Brien gave as to why they decided after talks not to go with EMI again: "EMI is in a state of flux. It's been taken over by somebody who's never owned a record company before, Guy Hands and Terra Firma, and they don't realise what they're dealing with. It was really sad to leave all the people (we'd worked with). But he wouldn't give us what we wanted. He didn't know what to offer us. Terra Firma don't understand the music industry." Of course, a private equity firm taking over the musical wing of EMI is a fair demonstration of how the industry is changing, Guy Hands already talking about cutting back on A&R and distribution and letting Myspace do all the work for them, essentially cutting the reason why a young artist would sign for EMI. Still, at least those signed are getting John Birt as essentially head of internal A&R and the promise of closer work with advertising executives. No wonder nobody talks about selling out any more.
Here's the thing from our perspective. Technology is not failsafe. iPods and hard drives crash. People, as the stubbornly refusing to die CD and vinyl markets prove, will always want physical product. Online you have more choice of purchase options than ever before, but sometimes it seems too facile. That's why they want you rather than your money, leading to Dante's circles of mailing list sign-up downloads and street teamers with clipboards at gigs, not to mention the wheedling in on "Facebook campaigns" and last.fmalikes. Something's got to give in the Myspace miasma or we'll all be sucked down.
Maybe this is why there was so much interest in reforming in 2007. We're always told that live is where the money is, but when a clodhopping band like Shed Seven, who nobody was really aware had split up, can sell out a reformation tour, on occasion even when upgrading the venue, you have to start wondering. What's in it for the Police, The Verve or Boyzone to get back together bar easy nostalgia points? The Here And Now tours of previous years seemed contrived, but at least everyone on them knew what was required of them and was still performing anyway, and it was more the cheap glitz than the performance, manifestly not the case when Wet Wet Wet, EMF and Dodgy are coming back around or Tim Booth and the rest of James are heading cap in hand back towards each other. It's all in aid of the great god Mammon, of course, but there has to be a limit as to how far it can be pushed. Even of the manifestly more intriguing tourers My Bloody Valentine never officially split up anyway and the Jesus And Mary Chain, quite apart from hardly being a reunion when it's the brothers who formed the band plus two new hired hands, were biorhythmically up and down for most of their time together anyway. The Sex Pistols - well, you expect that as much as you expect John Lydon to claim to love an artist you - ha! - wouldn't like him to expect while claiming nobody else was punk at all. Re-recording a song for Guitar Hero certainly isn't 'punk', by the parameters only Lydon believes in any more. Sly Stone even returned to the fold, although those that saw him at his two British engagements would doubt the validity of that statement.
Of the two big comebacks of the year, one had been touted virtually from the moment they split and the other nobody saw coming. Away from the media onslaught of their day, and with their name and imagery lasting longer than their records have on retro radio, the Spice Girls seem more the five horsewomen of the celebrity apocalypse, the first pop stars who wanted to become famous above all else. It makes perfect sense then that the only way forward was a "proper farewell" - yeah, right - enormodome stage show, some of which might allegedly be mimed and which features solo slots almost all of which are of covers and in Victoria's case doesn't so much as involve singing. Victoria was never the de facto leader of the band in their heyday, but all previewers referred to "Posh Spice and co" and reporters noted at the first O2 date that it was whenever she appeared on the big screens that the screaming intensified, despite, or maybe even because of, her famed inabilities. She is, you see, The Famous Victoria Posh Spice Beckham. The fact that despite getting the Children In Need hard sell Headlines limped to number 11 told its own story. Nobody wants the Spice Girls' music, just everything around it.
It's not really the same for Led Zeppelin. That Robert Plant's dates with Alison Krauss, following their successful Raising Sand collaboration, were greeted not with glee but with in some places actual anger that we were for the time being to be denied any full tour told much. Their own date was, at the end of the day, just for the Ahmet Ertegun memorial, yet most have taken the view, spurred on, it has to be said, by the odd Jimmy Page comment, that we're owed far more. Surely Led Zeppelin, of all bands, don't owe us anything extra, and certainly not people after the nostalgia buck.
And herein lies something else. As we've just mentioned, the default opinion is now that it's in the burgeoning live scene where all the interest is now, so that comparatively recorded output becomes a virtual loss leader. Well, maybe for London it is, but we know of many a metropolitan town and city, and live in one, where only an act of god sells out mid-range venues and sometimes, although we're aware this may be more the fault of the promoters, hardly brings anyone in. We saw a major-signed band with NME and MTV2 support at the end of 2006 locally and counted twenty attendees. And because live is now seen as the band's cash cow, prices have skyrocketed to an extent that were the same rate of inflation to take hold of house prices the Daily Express would have to publish standalone special editions daily. Even odder, nobody on the surface seems to care about £95 for the Police, or famously up to £1500 for Barbra Streisand (which sold out). Turin Brakes are coming round here in February with a door price of £17. £17 for a band whose last notable act was a surprise top ten album in 2005, more than Hot Chip or the NME awards tour are charging in the same month? This bubble cannot last, especially as developers are moving in on many a venue - in London alone the Hammersmith Palais, the Spitz, the Garage and the Proud Galleries all disappeared this year to redevelopment and another All Bar One, while the axe has been hanging over the comparatively huge Astoria since being bought by a property company in 2006. Festivals are already feeling the pinch, a combination of low ticket sales, the summer's wet weather and bandwagon jumping promoters causing a swathe of cancellations as corporately backed identikit two-dayers (Supergrass, the Rumble Strips and the Rakes, you say?) try to muscle in with their money and advertising potential ahead of those put together with care, atmosphere, ideas and a proper love of live music. Again, it has to stop somewhere.
So what of recorded music? Although it was flagged up as excitement and rejuvenation, the freed up download incorporated singles chart has led to a more debased singles market than ever. Nobody needed Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight in the top 30 for thirteen weeks on the back of the sort of advert that explains why advertising executives feel they have good reason to look that smug. It's becoming impossible to predict how one single will do from week to week. The two singles from the hardly little known James Blunt album peaked at 4 and 57. Hard-Fi followed 7 with 45, Maroon 5 2 with 33, Emma Bunton 3 with 60, Avril Lavigne 2-3-30. Gym Class Heroes started with a 3 and 5, then missed the top 75. Plain White T's and Hellogoodbye both missed the top 75 with the follow-ups to huge hits. Bon Jovi didn't just miss the top 40 for the first time since their 1985 debut single, they missed the top 100. Bjork missed the top 75 with a full scale single for the first time, with one of her most radio-friendly songs in years ahead of its parent album. The second single from Athlete's album crashed into the chart at, er, number 199. Even Take That weren't immune, with a chart run since their comeback of 1-1-17-2. Yet some artists - Mika, Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Timbaland, Rihanna, Mark Ronson - can hang onto single and album sales simultaneously. Even Cascada has had four top ten singles and two top 20 albums in the last eighteen months, and nobody knows anything about her. Or is it them? On the other hand, nobody saw the Pigeon Detectives coming, yet they can casually knock off a number 3 album and a row of top 20 singles, while makeweight pop-punks Koopa managed two top 40 singles by marshalling their localised troops, but who do you know who's heard any of their music? Don't forget we've got the Beatles coming next year.
Want further proof of how the chart rules have contrived to shoot the singles market in the foot? Two records, Umbrella and Bleeding Love, spent a combined total of 17 weeks on top, and yet how many people do you know above the age of 14 who know what they sound like? With precious few television opportunities - Popworld inevitably went under, their magazine offshoot folding for a second time - and the ever more carefully demographed nature of young people's media songs that would once have once taken over the land - Crazy managed it last year - now almost might not exist outside a name and chart placing. Umbrella - ten weeks atop, don't forget - sold a smidgen over 500,000 copies/mp3s. That's rotten.
And where has Leona Lewis come from, exactly? If Kylie is a blank canvas for producers to project their experiments onto, Leona is a plain white canvas table to store Mariah and Whitney records on, and this apparent gap in the market for a non-mad featureless R&B singer has led to 1.45m albums (only Back To Black has sold more) and 750,000+ Bleeding Love sales. It's ironic that as we were being routinely told that X Factor winners have fifteen minutes of fame and end up on cruise ships her and Shayne Ward were holding down positions one and two on the album chart. That's why, in the face of so much antipathy, Leon Jackson wiped the floor with the Christmas chart while whoever it was that won T4's Mobile Act Unsigned, a show for people who unironically use the term "real music" and one that blithely ignores everything up there about the pitfalls of major labels, isn't likely to receive much support outside.
There was something strangely familiar about the music scene's social life in 2007; in a year when post-Libertines guitar bands made like post-Oasis guitar bands in 1996-97 only with sales that almost matched their arrogant confidence, Britpop started replaying itself, presumably as tragedy rather than comedy this time. Peaches Geldof became the new Kate Moss, Noel Fielding the new Damien Hirst, the Hawley Arms the new Good Mixer, Amy Winehouse the new Robbie Williams. Amy Winehouse. What the hell are we going to do with her? In a year of cancellations, hospitalisations, drink, drugs, marriage, arrests, jail, the ever growing albatross contained in the words "no, no, no", the odd op-ed claiming that as consumers paying audiences had no right to expect a legitimate performance, the surprise rise to a certain kind of fame of cabbie Mitch Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil, a kind of Jonathan Wilkes with a Pete Doherty crombie and a pocketful of good gear, it seems Winehouse has taken the man-clinging lessons of the Shangri-Las records she talks about having constantly listened to as inspiration for Back To Black to a very modern heart, with a dose of stroppy self-regard. Unlike others, it's not even really the ever popular tortured artist effect, more existing traits amplified by hype - the post-Cullum 'nu-jazz' brigade seems to have come to a standstill by the departure from the scene of one of its leaders - leading to sales. Mind you, all this started early, the mid-range papers running stories throughout last summer, well before everything kicked off, about her weight loss and fitness regime at a time when surely barely anyone would remember what weight she was in the first place. Having temped as a news agency showbiz reporter in her teens, presumably she's across the techniques of blowing someone up into a household name and marketing said name as one with an edge, but she seems to have got carried away somewhat.
And of course she's now friends with Pete Doherty. We wouldn't expect anything less. Doherty's own story hit a kink in the road when he and Kate seperated, excited the specialist press alone with a one night only Carl Barat reunion in April, and then when he briefly or otherwise cleaned up, and found time to release his diaries like someone of great achievement's estate might think about, but depressingly, in this post-The Dirt world, people are still willing to fall for the rock'n'roll bad boy/tortured artist myth, Winehouse's 2006 released album outselling everything issued in 2007 and a great number of people willing to forgive Pete everything when it transpired Shotter's Nation was slightly more linear than most of his records. Rehab and its facilitations are not adding to the story, they're the result of biological imbalances and addictions. We're all grown-ups around here, we don't need to buy Back To Black just to spite Mitch and Janice when they tell 5 Live listeners not to buy it as such direct action might slow their daughter's income streams (although you can't make money from records any more, remember) Amy Winehouse is not Janis Joplin or Billie Holliday and the world would thank you not to try equating them.
And while we're about it, let's complete the triumverate of 2007 waywardness that formed despite Charlotte Church's domesticated absence, albeit this time with an overriding sense not of The Bad Girl Of Pop but of actual pity. Tellingly, while one tabloid reported on 1st January that Doherty and Moss had married (they hadn't), another carried a story of Britney Spears being carried from a club. It was when she went into rehab, came out of rehab and got scalped within 48 hours that what the pits of showbiz despair actually looks like was demonstrated, and with sundry stories of playing around and the fabled MTV Awards performance throwing a police cordon around Blackout, the first evidence in three years that she was still a recording artist, the hits just kept on coming. With all three, there's a very modern issue - what is the exit strategy from this point in their respective lives and careers? Clearly none of them, despite the hyperbole, is going to die, but clearly as popular and high profile professional performers the spotlight is not going to quickly leave them. Someone has a duty of care, and in 2008 we might even work out who it is.
With such sideshows well beyond Victoria Newton's understanding of showbiz caners, the other usual favourites only sporadically pulled their weight. Robbie Williams went into rehab for prescription drug addiction but nobody really cared by this stage. Madonna's LiveNation deal might in the long run have more impact on the way major stars deal with their business than Radiohead could ever imagine, but it's not the sort of thing that shifts tabloids. Lily Allen busied herself with the usual facile feuds, drinks, weight issues and all sorts, now adding television, pregnancy and a range for New Look she says tipped her hand due to - ta-dah! - the income from her record sales not being as much as expected. Still nobody outside the tabloids refers to Lady Mucca, and Heather's probably outside music's jurisdiction now anyway. Brave Kylie recovered and went back to being a dead end. With the minted range of pop now either looking back or repeating itself, it turned out indie, or at least what many think that broad term involves, is the new celebrity breeding ground. Celebrity Big Brother thankfully failed to make an anti-star out of Donny Tourette, lost in the Jo O'Meara-starring coven of racialism, and Preston's Never Mind The Buzzcocks walkout was the end of his time in the spotlight as he then walked out of Now! magazine marriage and, it's rumoured, label and band. Just again to prove there's nothing so likely to pull punters as a comeback, though, back came Cerys Matthews, whose Met Bar licentiousness and FHM cover took up a decent portion of what took down the post-Britpop scene to begin with, into her own unsuitable showbiz bunk-up, for which she moved a tour to February perhaps knowing that the focus on her by then would be very different. Nobody wanted Cerys to be like this, but it's not as if she wouldn't have known, and more to the point we couldn't have seen it coming... unlike Beth Ditto. Incredibly in retrospect, Winehouse aside the most talked about female singer in the UK red-tops this summer was a Calvin Johnson/Kill Rock Stars associate, albeit one reduced to a fat/lesbian/Deep South/exhibitionist/soul/ate squirrels caricature, nobody caring about the political message of Standing In The Way Of Control as much as the "watch Skins" one. The famous naked NME cover in May has allowed the magazine to claim against all evidence that they're still edgy and alternative, someone who is not "conventionally attractive" which just reinforces the idea that there is conventional attractiveness. Unfortunately, it then became apparent that once caught in the spotlight of the wider showbiz world Ditto didn't have a lot to say about the only issue people wanted her to talk about, size zero, which she was held up as a role model in the alleged fight against presumably as there is nothing between her weight and Nicole Ritchie's (was Beth designing for Top Shop or not?), so ended up attempting to be "surprising" in her quotes in the Johnny Rotten sense and ended up railroaded into a Guardian "homespun advice" columnist and Friday Night Project host (quoting Oh Bondage Up Yours!) - god knows what the post-pub audience made of that. Before long Ditto had been filed as "annoying egotist" and left alone by the masses. We can't wait for the interviews around their next album, possibly to be released in 2008, to see what she made of it all herself.
As for the rest of the once-alternative community, the post-Libertines effect still took hold, labels now seemingly trying to quality undercut each other in the race for quick and easy Radio 1 playlisting. Thought the Fratellis were as low as they could get? Try The View. That not enough for you? Here are The Enemy. And then the Pigeon Detectives. And so through to the Courteeners. All new acts have to go through a period of manufactured "word of mouth", to the extent that at the moment, on seeing a 2008 preview piece, you can take bets on whether it'll major on Duffy or Adele. They're not going to fail like tips for the top often used to, because too much has been put into them at ground level already. In 2008 a lot of those guitar bands will be planning or releasing second albums, and then we'll see if it can stand or fall when the stabilisers are removed. Many got excited about the Underage scene, because of course teenagers have never made music before in Britain. Eventually a band of youngsters will emerge whose music is urgent, exciting and - important, this - not completely in thrall to the trend of two years earlier, but like them all the current roundel doesn't seem set up to deliver it. Just before Control opened to exalting reviews Tony Wilson, a man who much as he liked a good publicity idea left much to chance, passed on and is greatly missed, while his former mortal enemy Morrissey also returned back to an old theme when embroiled in a row with the NME over his immigration stance - that's Morrissey, a man who often glorifies the Mexican communities in America, claiming Britain's soul had been eradicated by foreigners - both sides trying to make clear that the other wasn't the worst case scenario acted out amid claim and counter-claim of editorial interference and Tim Jonze managing to gain and lose a lot of respect within 48 hours while everyone else piled in regardless. It can never be 'just like old times', not when what in 1992 was a little localised difficulty is now played out on websites and news wires.
And music kept replaying itself. Were we too cynical for Live Earth? The crowd reaction to Spinal Tap, a knowledge that seemed to extend to having heard the name before, suggests the people gathered at Wembley for the spectacle rather than the message. The Diana gig a week earlier got greater viewing figures, but five months on nobody really harks back to either as great uberevents. After Live Aid the big event gigs burnt themselves out through overuse quickly as well. Mika was the big star the MOR revival wanted, and even before 2007 was out the Hoosiers - enough of the advert! - and Scouting For Girls were signed to help corner the cloying piano pop market. Keith Richards added to his stockpile of quotable personal apocryphals. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was savaged for its fortieth anniversary by a set of bands doing covers as if their lives depended on it, with sad results. LDN Is A Victim was the most talked about bootleg of the year even though it had no resonance beyond about thirty people at Nambucca and turned out to be an inside job anyway, while Kate Nash, much maligned for her own semi-Mockney vowels despite coming from the same town as Ian Dury, took on unofficial New Lily honours by crossbreeding with Regina Spektor, of all people. Mark Ronson took his one idea of adding some Motown brass as far as it could reach. Nu-rave encompassed everyone with a laptop by April and took Klaxons to a highly dignified Mercury acceptance speech that the NME never shut up about the depravity thereof as if it were something to be proud of. Patrick Wolf was never going to become a pop star no matter what he tried. XFM dropped their DJs and in doing so any semblance of being a force for alternative good. Alan McGee claimed everything was changing. Again. Viral campaigns failed time after time. The Zimmers - that didn't work. God Save The Queen - that didn't work either. Malcolm Middleton - soz. New formats arrived to a welter of indifference - USB sticks, vinyl CD, CD-VU, MVI. Paul Potts - what the fuck was he? Hard-Fi failed to kill off the album cover, largely because they'd done so by means of a properly designed album cover. The Zune became the biggest selling mp3 player nobody really cares about. The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones upset bloggers with a "white indie" piece which was really only "indie not like heavy rock" with an eyecatching race angle. Girls Aloud's Nicola Roberts declared herself a Tory, probably too young in fairness to know that it's still not the done thing in polite pop society. OiNK was shut down, which stemmed the flow of advance leaks. For about two months.
You know what we were saying back there about how we know the big breakout stars of 2008 already? There's a horrible sense of tightening cyclical history that's occurred to us while we've been writing this. Amy, Pete, Britney, labels caught out by technology, gimmickry, festival overkill, the thrall of the live, reality TV stars, event management... these were all big issues in 2006, some in 2005, and doubtless they'll only expand in 2008. Back here next New Year's Eve for more of the same thoughts, then?