Column from March 27th, 2000 issue

People having been making plenty of noise at the moment about the future of the music industry, mainly because the Wall Street suits fancy throwing money after every internet venture possible. With the sheen finally coming off all these internet stocks, maybe it’s a good time to think about where the specialist melodic rock labels are going – all that the majors do doesn’t really count for a whole hill of beans for rock fans, and its still the specialists that are the only labels providing some measure of support to it, whether it’s genuine or not.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, for melodic rock to make a come back to any useful degree, there has to be a US indie that gets the right sort of success and makes the majors wake up. Some might say that CMC International are just that sort of label, but the industry always views them as a “golden oldie” specialist with bands like Styx and 38 Special on the label. Add Judas Priest to the roster and you’ve a bit of cabaret feel! CMC really seems to just be pumping product from established bands to their existing fan base, and nothing else. In the US, Song Haus might become something of a force in the long run, but they’re taking a “less is more/easy does it” policy of concentrating on a few releases rather than getting suckered into releasing too much too soon thus spreading their support too thin….

What of the Europeans? Well, it’s all still a little provincial and you can’t really see any of them emerging as a world force. But it is interesting to see how they’re attitudes and positioning in the market is changing.

Where are they, then: MTM seems to be easing off the gas from their original hectic release schedules in an effort to concentrate on promoting what they do release properly; Frontiers seem like kids in a sweet shop signing everything that moves and dreaming up solo projects from members of any half-established band; Now and Then and Z Records seem to be trying to outdo each other in a competition to have the heaviest (in a heavy metal sense) roster possible, and moving away from AOR; Escape seems to be putting out the same old same old, just with the names and musicians shuffled differently each time; and Point in Germany still has to do something distinctive and original.

We’ve already seen some European labels go under, mainly because they set their heights too high too quickly. But should they be content working to serve the same parochial market? Expansion could prove risky, so most chose not to try…..

The way melodic rock is actually sold is killing it. Unless it’s easily compared no one thinks it will sell. Making a release that mail order retailers can describe as “just like Survivor” or “the best album Journey never made” is the wrong way round to do things and, frankly, shameful. It’s time for a new set of defining bands to appear….

The next two years are going to be critical. The labels (and maybe the audience too!) needs to move on and be part of a bigger picture that guarantees the future health of melodic rock, so it’s not an insular clique trying to feel superior. If that continues melodic rock as we know is dead! Sometime soon creative new releases have to come, and that doesn’t mean rehashing old material or finding some unreleased “undiscovered classic” album from 12 years ago to spearhead a release schedule!