Well, you’d hardly expect the boss of the world’s most powerful music industry body to write a column titled ‘five reasons the music biz is doomed’, would you? Maybe after a few beers and a cry…But yes, RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol has penned a column for Hollywood site The Wrap to explain why things are looking up for recorded music. Some points are sensible enough – the recognition that recorded music revenues are about far more than CD sales, and indeed about far more than sales.But this point clangs like a man-sized anvil: “So far in 2009, growth in digital album sales is again outpacing digital singles (17.5 percent vs. 11.7 percent). Digital music is still a maturing marketplace, and fans are becoming increasingly comfortable buying not just the latest single online, but the entire album. Throw in the recent iTunes LP initiative from Apple and the major record companies and the album’s unparalleled significance is taken to the next level.”Digital tracks still vastly outsell digital albums, so the fact that the latter are growing faster is simply down to their smaller starting point. What’s more, the real issue is whether overall digital growth has started to slow down – and if so, why. It’s a meaty issue that you might not want to deal with in an upbeat ‘five reasons’ article, but it’s surely more relevant to the state of the industry than comparing percentage increases of different formats.Also controversial – although entirely understandable given the RIAA’s role – is Bainwol’s contention that “record labels make or break the day”. His point that the bands who’ve gone it alone so far have been well-known already thanks to the efforts of their former labels is true, but check this: “That notoriety and fan support exists in the first place because of the unique marketing and promotional expertise of a record label.“The point is that this marketing and promotional expertise isn’t unique to labels any more. There’s a growing network of startups and consultancies – many staffed by the smarter people who used to supply their expertise within labels – that are helping artists to go it alone at an earlier stage in their careers. Labels certainly don’t have a monopoly on making smart use of social media – an increasingly important part of the music promotion process.Music Ally has never jumped on board the ‘labels are dead’ bandwagon. But Bainwol’s column seems to take the labels’ position for granted. “Breaking through, developing and cultivating an audience, working with the most talented musicians and top notch equipment, leveraging opportunities in a cluttered multi-platform digital media world – all are the invaluable and irreplaceable functions of a modern record label,” he writes.The obvious thing people will jump on is the “most talented musicians and top notch equipment” quote – as if that has to define a great album nowadays. But actually, it’s the “cluttered multi-platform digital media world” that’s most relevant. That’s the real reason for optimism for artists right now: for ‘clutter’ read ‘enormous opportunities’.You just need smart people to make the most of them – who may well be at a label, but could be a management company, a tech/services startup or the artist’s own team of people. In this climate, a company can only be judged invaluable and irreplaceable by what it does now, now by what it used to do.

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