Column from May 17th, 1999

Came across some interesting, recently published figures on the size of the global music market from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Despite the major labels pushing internet delivery as their next saviour, the size of the market in 1998 remained static at $38.7 billion.

North American sales increased from $12.9 billion in 1997 to $14.2 billion in 1998, but an improvement in the overall market was held back by continued weakness in Asia and Latin America. The improvement in North America would normally be a good sign, but how many labels are supporting real rock music?

The overall market is still well below the high of $39.5 billion 1996 produced, and overall the tempo of the music market is seen as slowing significantly. Growth in the music market was strong for a decade from the mid-1980s, but this slow down has already brought about the current rash of label mergers and take-overs. Why am I bothering to mention this? Well, when money markets see the music industry as weak then we’re going to see less investment in decent music and everyone concentrating on safe bets. Like every late 1990s industry, the labels are so blinkered that the only way they can see of improving their position is taking over competitors and reducing overheads, rather than trying to find niche markets and taking some chances on signing policies, or believing in something different. It’s going to be difficult for melodic rock to make a more wholesale comeback in that environment.

Something else the recent figures showed was a decline in the size of the German market. This could be even more bad news, Germany is the real stronghold of melodic rock at this point in time, and a fall off in demand there could see labels having to retrench into a more defensive position.

Maybe this also brings out an issue that many of us have been avoiding for a while: can melodic rock ever really make a comeback? Gut reaction is "of course". But when you take a more measured, thoughtful response then you realise that it’s been an awfully long-time since melodic rock’s hey-day. With the main labels’ target demographic so small these days, you’ve probably got a huge section of the prime music listeners that have never been exposed to melodic rock to any significant degree. How do you get round this? Who knows? But it’s got to be a serious worry…, but unless something happens soon the melodic rock audience is going to get increasingly marginalised.