How technological advancements impacted on the 21st century music consumer- a study into the resurgance of the vinyl lp

Executive Summary

The aim of this piece is to establish wether there is a connection between the rise in the availability of digital music services, and the rise in sales of vinyl records in the 21st century. Literature relevant to vinyl records and consumer attitudes will be explored, combined with data found through secondary research. Once a connection has been made, both the research and the literature will be used to investigate wether the music industry can use the results in order to better service their consumers.

Chapter 1- Introduction

For the first time in history, 2014 saw recorded music revenues fall below $15 billion to $14.97 billion, thanks to a global drop in both physical (8.1%) and download (8.0%) sales. Despite this overall decline in worldwide revenues, one type of product is showing a significant upturn in sales, the vinyl LP. The sales of vinyl rose by 54.7% in 2014 and although it is still only a niche product, accounting for around 2% of international recorded music revenues, this spike in sales is an area of intrigue throughout the music industry (IFPI, 2015).

2014 also saw independent rock act Jack White’s solo album Lazaretto, break Nielsen Soundscan records, becoming the fastest selling vinyl LP since records began in 1991 (McIntyre, 2014), but what  exactly is causing a resurgence in this format? Once perceived to be out of date by major record labels (Kozinn, 2013), the 21st century is full of alternative listening experiences; compact discs, digital downloads and streaming services like Spotify and Deezer taking up the vast share of the market (IFPI, 2015). So is the recent trend just an anomaly among a certain group of consumers, or is there something more to the upturn in sales?

Neil Young (2015) states that the current interest in vinyl records is “really nothing but a fashion statement” as he believes contemporary releases are mastered from digital CDs so they are nothing but CD quality music playing on the vinyl format. This may or may not be the case, but Carl Smithson (2015) of Truck Independent records, believes the interest in vinyl is a direct reaction to the digital world; “Streaming is great for ease, but people want to own something and be able to share that experience with their friends.”

The purpose of this report is to investigate the current trend towards purchasing music on vinyl, and to try and decipher what it may mean to the wider music industry. In order to do so, secondary research has been collected in an attempt to reach conclusions to the following:

What consumer groups are buying vinyl records in the 21st century and why?

Is there a relationship between the sales of vinyl records and the consumption of digital music?

Can the music industry serve consumers better by understanding the link (if any) between digital music formats and vinyl records.

This piece will address the aforementioned issues by using the following structure: Chapter 2 will focus on critically analysing the already existing literature on what types of consumers buy vinyl records, and why they choose to do so. Chapter 3 will map and detail the possible ways of obtaining data relevant to consumer attitudes on vinyl records, using secondary research, and the philosophy attached to this methodology. Chapter 4 will present the findings of the research of both the quantitative and qualitative data sets found. Chapter 5 will then critically analyse the findings of the research, relating those findings back to the pre-existing literature, in order to asses the relationship between consumers and vinyl records. It will also look to how the music industry can use this data in the future to serve consumers most effectively. Finally, Chapter 6 will conclude the project.

Chapter 2- Review of the literature

This literature review will look into the pre-existing literature on people’s attitudes towards physical & digital music formats and the rise and decline of the vinyl record over time, in order to assess potential gaps for further research on the topic.

A qualitative study conducted by McIntyre (2009) in relation to the decline of record shops, found that virtually every one of his interviewees eulogized about the smell, feel and magical properties of a vinyl LP. He also concluded that compact discs (CDs) were a form of mass market consumption, the middle ground between the vinyl LP and the process of digital downloading. Furthermore, having a library of thousands of individual tracks was generally seen as a negative trait, as the music consumers questioned favoured listening to music in depth rather than breadth.

This is further echoed by Hayes (2006) in his study of teenage music fans who lamented the days where artists such as The Beatles or Bob Dylan recorded albums that made statements, and were supposedly more powerful than the recording labels they were signed to. These fans were obsessed by collecting and hunting down second-hand vinyl records, cleaning and archiving them in collections and discussing these experiences with like-minded peers. This, and the listening experience offered by the vinyl LP, lead them to rejecting contemporary music of the time.

Among fans of contemporary music though, there are distinctions clearly made between the physical and digital realms. Most commonly, according to (Giles, et al., 2007) digital music is used as a research tool used to discover new music that is then purchased on a physical format if particularly desired by the consumer. Their study also found that “the traditional aspects of music collecting still mean there is a felt need for material recordings”. The study also referred to the music itself being placed on display in tower racks and in dedicated items of furniture. Though their piece did not focus on vinyl records specifically, they suggest further research into young consumers, whose first music purchase was in the digital realm, and their relationship with physical music formats.

Further research is also required in the contemporary music market and how consumer behaviour has reacted to technological change (Warr, et all., 2011). It is also suggested in their report, that the values offered by physical music formats need to be assessed comparatively to the values that customers attribute to digital music. They believe that understanding these consumer values could be the way forward for the music industry.

In their study of music consumption, (Nuttall, et al., 2011) go some way into looking into this and found that in some cases, ownership of music is still important but that it has partially transferred into the digital world. Music is purchased online instead of on the high street, then stored as digital files on MP3 players and Laptops, as opposed to physical formats stored on shelves. It was also found though, that some participants attached a symbolic nature to physical copies of recordings. Part of this was through a level of superiority felt by the consumers themselves who believed they were a bigger fan of someone’s music if they bought and owned an artist’s CD. This was also linked to the satisfaction felt by owning a large collection of physical music to show off to others, though these sentiments were all from male respondents. This particular study related to CD purchases, but it could be used as a template for a similar study on vinyl records in today’s market.

It is also argued that when consumers are highly reliant on their portable music devices, their preferences towards owning a tangible copy of the music they are listening to is reduced says Styvén (2010). This high usage is explained by the desire for portability and large amounts of music on the go, something that tangible music formats cannot offer. The study goes on to say that one of the ways the internet has changed the consumption of music is to allow fans to just buy the singles they wish to own and not have to buy the whole of an artist’s album. Both these points reinforce Styven’s (2010) argument that tangible formats are seen as more valuable by certain groups of consumers and could indicate a need for a study into what format is perceived as more valuable, the CD or the Vinyl LP?

A lot of the value attributed to the vinyl LP in the 21st century is through its change from being used as a functional item to its usage as an aesthetic form of expression (Nokelainen, et all., 2015).  One of the reasons for this is that the modern record buyer is more interested in the technology itself, rather than the music or art contained within or on it. They propose that contemporary vinyl consumers aren’t buying into the format for its conventional uses but to take part in the tweaking and modification involved in using the technology itself. This is an interesting discovery, but given that the results are taken singularly from a vinyl enthusiast’s web forum, the results may not be the same if the same amount of people (190,000) were surveyed under different circumstances.

This does show that the digitisation of music has not rendered physical formats obsolete and this case is also put forward by Magaudda (2011). His study states that that the desire for material goods has not been eradicated, but reconfigured and reinvigorated through obsolete objects. He goes onto say that the subjects he interviewed use digital and physical music in ways that complement each other, and shows that they do not have to be mutually exclusive.

The credibility associated with vinyl records brought forward by Hayes (2006) is also further reinforced by the fact the formats relevance extends further than the rock/pop recorded up until the 1990s. It is suggested that the reliance on the format by dance, hip hop and electronic music listening cultures, is a large factor in the resurgence of vinyl in the contemporary marketplace (Bartmanski, et all., 2013).

In a comparative study of two Norwegian record shops Kjus (2015) found that one of the important factors of purchasing vinyl records in the 21st century was the detachment felt by listening through digital alternatives. One shop, Big Dipper, used this thought process as a marketing tool to launch an attack on the digital listening experience, and to promote itself as a provider of a service that had more value. Kjus (2015) further stated that, for the shops employees, vinyl “was a bridge to a (romanticised) past, when vinyl was a primary recording medium for artists and everything was different (better), a point made repeatedly on vinyl album reprints to this day.”

This section has thoroughly detailed and critiqued the available literature on consumer attitudes towards vinyl records. It has led to a belief that an under researched area in this field is the relationship consumers have with contemporary releases on the vinyl format. Hopefully research into people interested in vinyl will help identify what type of people are choosing to buy new music on this format today and why. This topic of research would be valuable to music producers of all shapes and sizes, from major to independent labels and artists, to help them produce content relevant to music consumers in the 21st century.

Chapter 3- Research Methods

This section will address the philosophy of research and look at the differences between social constructivism and positivism. It will define the attributes of both quantitive and qualitative data sets and state the methodology chosen by this paper, mentioning it’s strengths and limitations.

When conducting research, it is important to select a paradigm as a framework to the research. The theory of Positivism is one example of a research paradigm, and states that reality is independent of the researcher and it’s goal is discovery of theories. Because of this, positivists assume the act of research has no effect on the social reality it is conducting its research within. Positivist theories provide the basis of explanation, and predict the occurrence of social phenomena. It’s belief is that these phenomena can be measured, so positivism is associated with methods of quantitive analysis (Collis & Hussey, 2009).

The approach to answering a research question using Quantitative analysis means using predominantly numerical data from experiments, closed survey questions and published data sets. The advantage of using Quantitative data is that the researcher is able to draw data on a much wider scale of responses, answers are usually more precise because of a more articulated approach to questioning, and the breadth of the research allows conclusions to be made with a reasonable degree of validity. However, the data gained can be at risk of not understanding a phenomenon properly, as not all aspects are measurable, and there is a risk of obtaining bland results that are strictly numerical (Cottrell, 2014).

Social Constructionism, on the other hand, is the theory that social phenomena is instead created from the actions of social subjects. Because of this, social reality is in a constant state of flux and so it is necessary to understand the situation that the subjects are in, in order to understand what drives their decisions to act. The use of the social constructionist philosophy requires a more in depth view of subjects opinions and thought processes, this is why it is better to use a Qualitative data collection approach within this framework (Saunders et al., 2012)

Qualitative data instead uses open-ended survey questions, unstructured interviews or focus groups to gain a better understanding of human behaviour, opinions and thought processes. Because of this more open ended approach, the data provided can allow a greater set of responses to emerge from individual people that give insights into their opinions and feelings. The downside is that it can create large, cumbersome pieces of data in the form of long quotes from interviews or focus groups (Bryman & Bell, 2007).

The financial, accessibility and time limitations imposed on this piece, meant that the most effective way to research for this project was through the use of secondary data, predominantly within the social constructionism paradigm. Secondary data includes both raw and published data already collected for other purposes. The benefits of this are that the research is more permanent and more open to public scrutiny, the resource requirements are lower and it is unobtrusive. The downside is that it may generate results that are not directly relevant to the research question, there is no control of the quality of the data and the initial purpose of the researcher may affect how the data is presented (Saunders et al., 2012).

Because of the nature of the secondary data approach, both quantitive and qualities data sets will be analysed. To necessitate this approach requires the process of triangulation. “Triangulation is the use of multiple sources of data, different research methods and/or more than one researcher to investigate the same phenomena” (Collis & Hussey, 2009). Using triangulation leads to greater reliability of the research. Reliability is concerned with how consistent the research findings are, and if the results would be the same if the same procedures were used by different researchers. Triangulation also improves the validity of results, which is more concerned with wether the results designed to test a particular concept, really directly measure that concept (Bryman & Bell, 2007).

In order to explore the pre-existing literature, Google scholar was used to find articles relevant to vinyl records. The terms ‘vinyl’ ‘records’ and ‘consumer attitudes’ were used in the search engine. Then, in order to drill down further into more relevant papers, the terms ‘music industry’ ‘teenagers’ and ‘analogue technology’ were entered to produce more tailored results.

In order to then find data on the more contemporary interest in vinyl records, trade publications such as Music Week and Billboard were read, as were quality national newspapers. The databases of trade specific researchers like the IFPI and ICM were also searched for figures relating to the sales of vinyl records.

This chapter has clearly explained the different research paradigms relevant to this project, the differences between qualitative and quantitive data, as well as the positive and negative aspects of secondary research. It has also stated why knowledge of these philosophical theories are an integral part of creating an effective, reliable and valid research project.

Chapter 4- Presentation of the findings

The renewed level of interest in vinyl records has been well documented in various different press outlets and trade publications. The purpose of this section is to present the most relevant findings to the research question that were discovered through secondary research.

According to a 2013 investigation in the UK by Independent Communications and Marketing Unlimited (ICM), the driving force behind the vinyl sales resurgence was 18-24 year olds with 14% buying vinyl in the month prior to being questioned (ICM, 2013). However, in the same study the following year, it was found that the largest group purchasing vinyl records had shifted to those in the 25-34 year old category, accounting for 26% of vinyl sales, which was 17% more than that categories results from the previous year (ICM, 2014). This shows that the main age demographic of vinyl consumers in the UK are those under 34.

In the USA, young people represent an even larger share of the market. According to the National Purchase Diary (NPD, cited by Ringen, 2015, pp 38-39) consumers aged 35 and under represent 44% of the overall US music economy but account for 72% of all vinyl sales.

One of the key themes that arose during the research into why these consumers favoured vinyl was  the importance of the sound quality over the other formats available in the 21st century. One anonymous interviewee from the 18-24 category told the ICM (2013) in the qualitative part of their study;

I love the way vinyl sounds so raw. Other formats sound like an annoying frequency if listened to repeatedly, whereas I feel vinyl has a much fuller organic sound.”

In an interview with LA Weekly, the creator of the CD Kees A. Schouhamer Immink (2015) said; “As long as you can measure the difference, the CD will be better than the vinyl, absolutely”. He goes on to state that:

“If you say the whole experience — just like smoking cigars with friends — [is better], well, do it. Enjoy smoking cigars with friends, and drink beer and brandy and enjoy listening to an old-fashioned record player. But don’t say the sound is better. You may say it sounds better to you. That’s OK. That’s a subjective matter.” (Immink, 2015)

Paul Stephenson (2015), managing director of audio manufacturer ‘Naim’ acknowledges the functionality of the MP3 format, but sides with audiophiles who want more from their listening experience in a Guardian interview;

You will always get the bare essentials [from MP3], but in terms of changing your life and getting what the composer intended, you are never going to get that from MP3.” (Stephenson 2015)

Paul Rigby (2015) co-owner of Australian based record shop, Zenith Records believes this is only part of the reason why a younger market is starting to reject the MP3 and place more significance on owning a piece of recorded music on the vinyl format. He told the Guardian:

“With the younger folks, the vinyl has become a merchandise item. They’ll buy the T-shirt, they’ll buy the record. They’re collector’s pieces – not strictly a music storage medium. They represent more than that to the younger market,” (Rigby, 2015)

This theory is further cemented by the ICM’s findings in their 2013 report that 27% of all vinyl consumers purchase records without ever intending to play them. When interviewed on this subject, the respondents gave answers like; “It allows me to display the cover in my frame and leave the CD in the rack to play.” And “You can own what is essentially a piece of art in a size where artwork can be appreciated (unlike most CD covers).” (ICM, 2013)

This love for the aesthetics of the vinyl packaging is further echoed by General Manager of Ameoba Records, Rik Sanchez (2015) who told Billboard; “Having a record in your hand is just way cooler than having a file in your iPod”.

Rough Trade Director Steven Godfrey (2014) further supports this idea behind young people purchasing vinyl records:

“I think we are moving into a post-digital age where people do value something that is real – there is a value in its ownership, it is not just a piece of binary code on a mobile phone.”

A nineteen year old east London record shop employee told the BBC of the love for having ownership of a vinyl record, and how he got something out of the experience of owning a physical piece of music: 

“The thing about playing a CD is you put it in, press the button and it plays. This sounds a bit corny but the artist has put so much effort in with vinyl you have to get it out of its sleeve, put the needle on and I think it’s respectful.” (Alex, 2013)

Another example of this respect for the music and artist are the Classic Album Sunday listening parties organised by DJ Cosmo or Colleen Murphy. Murphy (2015) told the Independent;

“We provide a space where people can immerse themselves in an album, played on vinyl in it’s entirety, in a cosy setting with other people and on a world-class audiophile sound system so that people can hear new things and experience it in a way they never have before.”

Nielsen’s study of 4000 music consumers found that there is a significant number of people that would like to experience music in more ways that the industry is currently offering them. Nielsen’s Chief Analytics Officer stated “Fans want more, there is an unmet need there.” (Cited by Peoples, 2013) Their findings also said that even the group Nielsen called “Ambivalent Consumers” (the 22% that spent the lowest amount, $73 on music annually) would buy exclusive content if given the opportunity. The study also found that the potential revenue gap not currently being addressed by the industry was worth between $450 million and $2.6 Billion (Nielsen, 2013).

[Nielsen (2013) Turn It Up: Music Fans Could Be Spending up to $2.6 billion more annually. Available at:–music-fans-could-spend-up-to–2-6b-more-annually.html (Accessed: 30/04/15).]

From looking at the knowledge gained through this research, it is clear that consumers aged 35 and under hold an emotional attachment to music that is contained within the format of the vinyl LP.  Both this, and the community aspect of the listening experience offered by this format suggest areas that could be used to better service 21st century music consumers.

Chapter 5- Analysis of the Findings

Having looked at the pre-existing literature on vinyl records and then researching deeper into the role they play as a consumer product in the 21st century, it is clear that there is a relationship between the rise in digital music sales and the desire for a more tangible consumer experience. This section will now discuss the objectives of the research question through these findings.

A clear theme that emerged during the research was that consumers made a specific choice to buy music on the format of a vinyl LP, even though it is considerably more expensive than other physical (CDs) or digital alternatives (Winkie, 2014). An explanation for this is the way value is placed on the format itself, over and above the content contained placed on or within it. This links in with the (Nokelainen, et all., 2015) theory that purchasing music on the vinyl format is used as a form of expression/statement for the consumer. Brian Solis’s theory of the value of context is synonymous with this behaviour. He states that “we must invest in the calibre of our relationships as well as the calibre of the content we consume, create and share. The answer to what consumers value lies in context” (Solis, 2011). By realising that the vinyl LP is a context in which content is placed, music producers can seek to add value to this context and add value to their business.

A good example of this in action would be the success of the Lazaretto LP, by independent rock act, Jack White. The vinyl edition of the album was christened the “Ultra LP”, and was pressed with various unique traits, such as a floating hologram, reverse playing sides and under label grooves (OfficialTMR, 2014). This added value in the context resulted in 86,700 copies sold in 2014, 28,000 more than it’s nearest vinyl LP competitor, the standard vinyl pressing of AM by The Arctic Monkeys (Nielsen Music, cited by Jonathan, 2015) 

This value of context is again brought forward with the idea that vinyl records are “collector’s pieces – not strictly a music storage medium” (Rigby, 2015) and can explain why people aged under 35 are buying them. Hayes (2006) discovered this was true of young collectors purchasing secondhand records, but it would also appear to be true of the consumer of contemporary releases on the format. This would go some distance to explain the phenomenon of independent record store day, that has become a global event since it’s inception in 2007. Intended to support independent record shops, artists and labels are encouraged to put out limited edition vinyl records that are available in selected shops on that day only (Williamson, 2015). It’s success has sparked involvement from major record labels that have started creating special edition releases for record store day. This has left some consumers feeling alienated by deluxe vinyl versions by huge acts like U2 (Cramp, 2015). This is a counterpoint to Solis’s (2011) “Context is King” theory, as although playing vinyl is seen as a way to “respect” the artists work (Alex, 2013), it would seem a connection must exist first with the music, not the format. This suggests the format that the consumer chooses to purchase the music on is more of a reflection on the consumer, not the artist, and that by purchasing an artists work on a physical format, the consumer feels a deeper connection with the artists work (Nuttall et all., 2011) .

This should be recognised by music producers, especially when taking into account Nielsens findings that, combined, the Aficionado and Big Box Music fans (those most likely to purchase vinyl records) were worth an estimated 48% of all spending on music in the USA in YEAR (Nielsen, 2013). These consumers are the types that would already purchase vinyl, but perhaps the key area for creators to recognise is the Ambivalent consumer, who would spend a lot more on exclusive content if given the chance (People, 2013). One way they are given this chance to spend more is on record store day, so the appeal of the limited edition and tactile attributes of the vinyl LP can potentially stretch to people that do not necessarily regard themselves as fans. The 27% of vinyl consumers that do not own a turntable are further proof of this groups existence, and who place as much value on being able to “own what is essentially a piece of art in a size where artwork can be appreciated” as they do on a listening experience (ICM, 2013).

The use of digital music as a research tool rather than a consumer experience is prevalent among buyers of physical music (Giles, et al., 2007) and sound quality was one of the main reasons why certain consumer purchasing vinyl records over digital files. Stephenson (2015) states: “in terms of changing your life and getting what the composer intended, you are never going to get that from MP3.” This further cements Magaudda’s (2011) findings that digital and physical music are not mutually exclusive for young consumers but the idea among young people that vinyl has a superior and “much fuller organic sound” (ICM, 2013) than other formats available appears to be linked to a psychological and nostalgic thought process. This thought process shows that young people wish to have the ability to listen to digital music, but also want to invest in the artists work on vinyl because “They [Vinyl Lps] represent more than [a music storage medium] to the younger market,” (Rigby 2015).

Kjus (2015) found that young employees felt vinyl “was a bridge to a (romanticised) past, when vinyl was a primary recording medium for artists and everything was different (better)” so this nostalgia is prevelant among vinyl enthusuasts under 35 but the idea of vinyl sounding “better” is refuted by Kees A. Schouhamer Immink. Young consumers feel that the experience of CD’s that “you put it in, press the button and it plays” (ICM, 2013) is not enough but when it comes to the actual sound, Immink (2015) states; “You may say it sounds better to you. That’s OK. That’s a subjective matter”

The physical experience of playing a vinyl record that is tactile and real seems to be the prevailing theme as to why young consumers are turning to vinyl records. Classic Album Sundays where people “can immerse themselves in an album, played on vinyl” through the use of a “world-class audiophile system” won’t necessarily make the sound of the vinyl record more accurate than a CD or Digital File, but the “cosy setting with other people” again suggests the importance of context over content in the 21st century (Murphy, 2015).

Although the secondary research on this topic brought up many interesting theories on why young consumers choose to buy vinyl records, not doing primary research has led to relying on how others have been quoted. This means that the study is not a direct analysis of young consumers and their interest in the vinyl format. A deeper study into how digital consumption affects physical consumption is necessary (Giles, et al., 2007) and although this was one issue addressed in this piece, neither the funds or resources were available to mount a significant primary research project specifically in this area.

This section has critically analysed the findings of the secondary research and related them to the pre-existing literature in an attempt to answer the research questions. The research in this report has lead to the belief that consumers under the age of 35 are main people purchasing vinyl records in the 21st century and do so for a variety of different reasons, with different consumers placing different levels of importance on their favoured features of the format. Though the prevailing theme above all else is the need for an experience that is more tangible than that offered by digital music formats.

Chapter 6- Conclusion

In conclusion, the results of this paper make it apparent that the resurgence in the sales of vinyl records is a direct reaction to the rise in digital music services in the 21st century. Even though it is only among a certain group of consumers, the fact that the upturn in sales is driven by those under 35 would signify that it is a trend that will continue and grow in the future (ICM, 2013). The physical attributes and limited edition releases also seem to be a driving factor in the formats resurgence, especially when consumers are given more value through special edition releases like the Lazaretto LP (Nielsen Music, cited by Jonathan, 2015).

In a world where almost the entire catalogue of recorded music is available to most people through streaming services on their computer or even mobile phones, the desire for certain consumers to have something less disposable is to be expected. Technology has allowed the 21st century music buyer a wealth of choices when it comes to how they choose to purchase the material that they enjoy. This is why Solis’s (2011) theory of “context is king” is a key element to ensure that music fans are given the freedom to purchase music how they want to, not just be told how they will by the industry gatekeepers. The value gap in today’s industry discovered by (Nielsen, 2013) can be addressed through creative releases on all available formats, not just vinyl records, in order to cater for all different types of music consumers in the future.

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Williamson, C (2015) ‘Record Store Day reveals 592 exclusive releases’ Available at: (Accessed: 30/04/15)

Winkie, L. (2014) ‘The Price You Pay: At what cost does the vinyl revolution come,’ Available at: (Accessed: 30/04/15)

Young, N. (2015) ‘Neil Young on his new Digital Music Player and why MP3s are Subpar.’ Interview with Neil Young. Interview by John Horn for Vulture, 16th January. Available at: (Accessed: 30/04/15)


A Discussion of Legislative change that has affected the Live Music Industry


At the start of 2013, UK guitar band The Vaccines were preparing themselves for their biggest tour to date, culminating in a headline performance the 20,000 capacity O2 arena on May 2nd. It is therefore, hard to imagine that the band kicked off the year with an intimate show at the Southampton Joiners on January 22nd, as a show of support to a struggling live music venue [NME, 2013]. Like many other venues in the UK, Southampton Joiners poor situation at the time was partly due to the Licensing act of 2003. The act placed many restrictions on the performance of live music and other entertainment, and so inadvertently caused lots of venues throughout the country to close. This, along with the combined effect of further legislation, and the growing monopoly in the live sector that big business like Live Nation and AEG currently hold, has changed the UK live music sector significantly over the past 15 to 20 years.

This report will look into the UK’s live music industry and how it has changed over this period of time, analysing the various factors driving that change. It will also look at the impact that recent regulation changes and the emerging secondary ticket market may go onto have, in order to predict the future of the live music economy in the near future.


Originally proposed in order to cut down the processes involved in applying for licenses to sell alcohol, host regulated entertainment and provide late night refreshments, the 2003 licensing act was expected to create a more diverse night time economy. The need for six individual licenses would be abolished, replaced instead by the need for a single premises or personal license to cover all licensable activities at one fixed cost. The application process would be made to the local council, rather than the national courts, making licenses easier to regulate. It would end fixed closing times to reduce the amount of rushed drinking before 11pm, and aimed to reduce public disorder. [, 2005].

Unfortunately there were many unforeseen repercussions from the act, many of those hitting grass roots music venues. The act made licenses compulsory for small pubs and clubs to host regulated entertainment. This lead to concerns that 56,700 smaller clubs and “toilet venues”, who had previously not needed licenses, would now face closure. This would result in the number of concerts taking place in the UK every night falling by around 50% from 4,500 to 2,250. Despite this concern, the act was put into place with no amendments to address these issues [Higgins, C. & Gibson, O. 2005].

Many notable live music venues throughout the UK ended up closing and were turned into residential spaces or restaurants. This is because of the cost of the new licenses (on average an extra £1600 per year) and the application processes that were both lengthy and complicated [Sabbagh, D. 2011].

The localisation of the applications also led to stricter rules on licensing implemented in certain areas. One of the most extreme circumstances of this was in St. Albans, where although licenses were granted for live music performances, they were very prohibitive. For example; there were restrictions on the number of performers allowed in a space, restrictions on frequency or amount of performances, restrictions on genre/style of music performed and signs having to be displayed warning of upcoming events. Although this is an extreme and localised case, it is an example of the impact the act went on to have in some places [King, J. Jaggar, P. Rayner, L. Robertson, D 2009].

However, it could be argued that the closure of these low quality and dirty “toilet venues”, with their poor facilities and equipment, could actually benefit musicians. Online promotion and marketing has made it easier for new bands to create a buzz and fan base themselves, negating the need for small scale promoters [Hasted, N. 2005]. The rise in cost and processing time of licenses has further squeezed out these low and mid range promoters that used to be so prominent in the live music world [Harris, J. 2013]. This has led to corporate brands such as MAMA Group and DHP promotions purchasing small venues. The additional funding provided by these brands has ensured their venues have award-winning facilities, creating a better gigging experience for both bands and fans [MAMA Group 2014].

On the other hand, the independent venues that have survived have not only had to cope with the licensing fees, but also the rising costs of putting on bands that have come to expect the quality offered by corporately owned small spaces. Because of this, despite The Forum in Tunbridge Wells being named best small venue by NME in 2012, it is staffed entirely by volunteers. The money that the co-owner can spare from the profits of his local pub chain funds the annual £7,000 loss the venue makes. The forum carries on through dedication to music, and because the volunteers’ feel that towns don’t need places selling wood fired pizzas, they need music venues. [Lamon, T. 2012]

This sentiment was echoed by the former chief executive of UK music Fergal Sharky, who said; “The licensing act is failing small venues and that is having a huge impact on the future of the live industry.” [Topping, A. 2012] Lord Tim Clement-Jones also felt change was needed, and so helped bring forward the live music bill of 2012. The purpose of the bill was, according to Clement-Jones, was “to breathe new life into the live music scene” [The Guardian 2009]. The bill removed licensing requirements for; live music between 8am and 11pm, in venues up to 200 in capacity, that are already licensed to sell alcohol, and non amplified music between 8am and 11pm in all venues [Penrose, J 2012]

Most music industry professionals welcomed this act as a sign of the government noticing the unintended harm the licensing act had caused. However, the extent of the impact is yet to be seen, and there have already been criticisms levelled at the bill. For example, small scale corporate owned venues have invested time and money into their high quality performance spaces. These venues risk being undercut by amateurs not needing a licence, putting on cheaper events in spaces not meant for live music shows, resulting in poor sound quality and a bad gig for both fans and artists [The Rocktober Report 2009].

There are also wider issues to consider when looking at the nationwide closure of small venues, not associated with the Live Music bill. The recession has led to people having less disposable income, and combined with rent increases on properties, pressure has been heaped on venue owners. The rise in VAT to 20% also hit smaller shows, as having to charge more to ticketed events in a time where people have spare money is not going to bring in customers [MacVeigh, T. 2012].

The ability to promote shows at smaller venues was also hampered with the introduction of the clean neighbourhoods and environments act in 2005. The act presents councils with the powers to control the distribution of free literature, in order to keep neighbourhoods clean. A person found guilty of putting up posters in public spaces without a license can be fined up to £2,500, and the licenses to distribute flyers are prohibitively expensive [Clean Neighbourhoods and environments act 2005. 2014]. The Internet has allowed small venues to promote through social media, and flyers can still be given out inside venues. However, it is thought that the act has made it harder to make the general public aware of small shows, therefore reducing audience numbers and having a knock on effect to their revenue [Appleton, J. 2014].

Technological advancements may also play a part in peoples decisions not to go to smaller gigs by lesser-known artists. It could be suggested that music-streaming services have inadvertently created a “try before you buy” culture. Perhaps people are now only purchasing tickets to concerts by bands they know and love, rather than taking a risk on an unfamiliar artist. YouTube has also allowed potential concert goers to see what exactly is in store for them before going to a unknown artists show, or to even stream the performance of a megastar act live into their living room in some cases. This could also be linked to the rise of arena gigs and the monopolisation of the upper echelons of the live music industry by the likes of Live Nation and AEG, as demand for tickets for huge acts with substantial followings and big production stage shows needs to be fulfilled.

Live Nation is the result of various purchases and mergers by American Robert Sillerman’s company SFX. After buying up lots of live music promoters in the US, SFX purchased three of the most significant UK promoters (Apollo Leisure Group, Midland Concert Promotions, and the Barry Clayman Corporation) in 1999. Clear Channel then bought SFX, and rebranded all of its live music interests into Live Nation in 2005 [Brennan, M. 2014]. Live Nation has gone on to become the worlds largest concert promoter, organizing around 30,000 gigs per year, and turning over almost double the entire revenue of the UK music industry [Ingham, T. 2014].

Part of the reason for this huge amount of growth in the live sector is due to the decline in record sales thanks to the rise of internet download sites, streaming services and piracy. However the level of investment pumped into the live music world by huge corporations has resulted in better facilities in arena sized venues throughout Europe, enabling higher ticket prices to be charged. This has led to multinational companies being able to entice huge heritage acts out of retirement onto lucrative tours, as well as being able to cash in on maximum revenue when contemporary pop acts perform live [Music Week 2012]. High capacity venues and high-ticket prices obviously lead to huge sums of money being generated when arenas do sell out, but what happens when they don’t?

The music industry now moves at such a high speed, due to increased fan-to-fan connectivity, leading to a lower level of control from the traditional record label hierarchy [Wikstrom, 2013]. This has resulted in managers and booking agents getting involved in much earlier stages of an artist’s career to ensure they benefit from an artists success should they take off. The resulting team that ends up around the artist all need to be paid. So, in order to compensate for the lack of money generated through record sales, the act is booked at huge stadium sized shows the moment they have a hit. This is also cheaper for the label, which doesn’t have to provide tour support for a single arena show in a big city [Harris, J. (2013].

There are potential issues to be considered with this school of thought though. For example, the artist may not have had enough time to grow the fan base required to sell out these huge venues, which could result in a poor atmosphere and bad performance. If the act has enjoyed huge hype and does manage to sell out the stadium they are playing, they may not have had the time to create the bulk of work required to entertain the crowd sufficiently. The performer may be able to compensate for this by having the best sound in the world thanks to the state of the art facilities, along with the most amazing pyrotechnics and light show. However, if they have not honed their craft, they may not have the charisma or star quality to wow their paying customers. The possible result of any of these potential problems is that the artist may not have the demand for a further run of shows, resulting in their popularity level dropping significantly, and the average music fan moving onto the next act to be given the same treatment [Goldsmith, H. 2013].

A tour by a genuine superstar artist that has been building a fan-base over a number of years usually avoids these hurdles, generating such a huge demand that tickets sell out within minutes [Guardian 2014]. Circumstances like this and the internet have allowed the growth of a huge secondary ticketing market worth an estimated £1 billion per year, but is one of the most controversial issues within the industry today [All-parliamentary Group 2014] . 

On one hand, the secondary market allows fans to buy and sell tickets for sold out shows. Usually the tickets are sold above face value, which allows tickets to set their own market price. Live Nations chief exec Michael Rapino supports this theory, as he believes the music industry deliberately undervalues shows as part of its core marketing strategy. Some tickets actual market value may be thousands of pounds, but an artist coming out and selling their tickets at that price would be a PR disaster [Ingham, T. 2014]. This is understandable, as it would come across as artists doing nothing to stop fans who are unable to spend hundreds of pounds on tickets, being priced out of their shows. 

Because of this, there has been an outcry for governmental legislation to help stop the secondary ticketing markets prices spiralling out of control. Otherwise it becomes a place where event holders can allocate tickets directly to resellers and take a cut of the profits on the inflated sales figures, as uncovered by channel 4s dispatches investigation into ViaGoGo [JustMeSTKK 2012]. 

However, it is believed that too much time has elapsed to legislate the secondary ticketing market, and that one potential solution could be to be for the event hosts to be stricter in their allocations. Limiting the amount of tickets individual users can buy and requiring photo ID at event entry could massively dent the resale market. On the other hand, it could harm initial sales as tickets would be non transferable, so could not be bought as gifts. These restrictions would also be very expensive to implement on small-scale shows and so may not be practical to implement [All-parliamentary Group 2014].

Centuries ago, music and culture was only for the aristocracy and royalty, as they were the only people able to afford to indulge in these activities [Klein, S. 2014]. If the cultural industries do not take steps to address the secondary ticketing market, it is feared by some that the general public may be priced out of concerts and other cultural events, resulting in a return to such times.


Secondary ticketing, the closure of small music venues, cultural changes, sector economics, and diminishing record sales, have changed the way the live industry operates, yet has increased it’s importance to the whole UK music industry. Live Nation, AEG, MAMA group and DHP, among others, have provided high quality live music performances spaces of all sizes, and many “toilet venues” have closed their doors. The general public now expect this level of quality at every show they see, wether it be at the 20,000 capacity O2 arena, or the 200 capacity Borderline. This, along with poor economic times, has led to gigs becoming more a part of the broader entertainment palette, with people choosing between going to a live music show, football match or spa day. A gig at the O2 arena, with it’s cinema and many restaurants, has become a day out rather than just an evening event [O2, 2012]. Customers now expect high quality food, drink, and comfortable seating whilst watching globally renowned acts, something that small “toilet venues” can not offer.

Perhaps this is why the Live Music act of 2012 may not provide the huge boost to the UK’s small music venues it hopes to. Instead of new acts relying on constant touring and releasing album after album, slowly climbing up the venue ladder before they have enough fans to fill arenas, the process happens in a different way. The internet means artists can release a YouTube video that goes viral and leads to them gaining 100,000s of fans overnight, significant major label interest, and a headline gig in front of thousands [Beaumont, M. 2013]. If this is to be the future of the industry, perhaps the time of the “toilet circuit” is over and the arena is now king. Maybe the importance of the overall entertainment package now outweighs the importance of the intimacy, blood, sweat and tears offered by a tiny basement club, with sticky floors and paint peeling from the walls. 

Reference list

All-parliamentary Group On Ticket Abuse 2014 Report (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Appleton, J. (2014) Leafleting a liberty Lost?. Available at: (03/05/2014).

Bars & Restaurants in Entertainment Avenue (2012) Available at: (Accessed: 07/05/14)

Beaumont, M. (2013) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – review. Available at: (Accessed: 07/05/14).

Brennan, M. (2014) Constructing a Rough Account of British Concert Promotion History. Available at: 01/05/14).

Clean Neighbourhoods and environments act 2005 (2014) Available at: 01/05/14).

Goldsmith, H. (2013) What does the future hold for music? Available at: 01/05/14).

The Guardian (2009) Available at: 01/05/14).

Guardian Kate Bush Tickets sell out in under 15 minutes (2014) Available at: 01/05/14)

Harris, J. (2013) Can the UK’s toilet circuit of music venus survive. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Hasted, N. (2005) Year of the Arctic Monkeys. Available at: 01/05/14).

Higgins, C. & Gibson, O. (2005) New Live Music rules Could Halve Number Of Gigs. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Ingham, T. (2014) The Big Interview Michael Rapino. Available at: 01/05/14).

JustMeSTKK (2012) ViaGoGo The Great Ticket Scandal. Available at: (01/05/13).

King, J. Jaggar, P. Rayner, L. Robertson, D (2009) Licensing Act 2003 Enforcement of the Act by St. Abans District Council and the impact of live music. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Klein, S. (2014) When UK Pop was born: the 18th century. Available at: (03/05/2014).

Lamon, T. (2012) Powered by pure passion: the music venue that runs on love alone. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

MacVeigh, T (2012) Rock Music under threat as small venues go bust across Britain. Available at: 01/05/14).

Music Week U2 top Pollstar list of top 25 highest grossing ours 0f 2011 (2012) Available at: 01/05/14).

NME (2013) The Vaccines play benefit gig for Southampton’s The Joiners. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Penrose, J (2012) Changes to Licensing Act 2003. Available at: 01/05/14). (2005) Frequently asked questions about premises licenses. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

The Rocktober Report (2009) Available at: 01/05/14).

Sabbagh, D. (2011) Band Aid: minister to call time on pub live music restrictions. Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/14).

Taylor, N (2014) Rough Trade History Available at: 01/05/14).

Topping, A. (2012) Live venues close as overbearing licensing laws bite. Available at: 01/05/14

Venues MAMA Group (2014) Available at: 01/05/14).]

Wikström, P. (2013). The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Polity Press.

Record Label Profile – Third Man Records


At 10am On Saturday 19th April 2014, Jack White, owner and founder of Third Man Records, took on the challenge of creating the worlds fastest released record. Three Hours, fifty-five minutes and twenty-one seconds later, the task was complete [Moss, M. 2014]. This was all to celebrate independent record store day 2014 because, as Third Man Records slogan says “Your Turntable’s Not Dead” [Third Man Records 2014]. However, is Jack White really the saviour of analogue recording and vinyl records? Or is this just an elaborate way of upping back catalogue sales, enabling him to produce more vanity projects in the future?

This report will look at answering that question by looking at Third Man Records as a label, it’s history and releases, and how it carries out its business in an ever-changing music economy. This economy will also be analyzed to see if there are any practices that could benefit Third Man’s already interesting, innovative, yet niche market approach.


Third Man Records began life in 2001 when The White Stripes signed their first significant label deal with V2. In order to keep control over his master recordings, White set up the label to lease them to V2 in the USA and XL in the UK and Europe. A move that shows a solid level of industry awareness early in his career, turned out to pay dividends when V2 records collapsed in 2007. A loyal fan base created through these 6 years allowed him to rerelease material he regained control of in his own way, with no record label executives to worry about, but it was only in 2009 that a physical premises was built [Modell, J. 2011].

Incorporating label headquarters, record shop, performance space (capable of recording live gigs/sessions) and a novelty outlet selling souvenir like trinkets, White has swallowed up most of the vertical supply chain needed to release a record [Wikström, 2013: 51].

This is a smart vertical integration move, and with the United Record Pressing plant (the only missing link) situated a mere 1.3 miles from Third Man Headquarters, White enjoys a personal relationship with the plant, enabling him to release his strange and unique records [Gold, A. 2011].

Each one of these unique releases is accompanied by a YouTube video featuring Jack and Third Man employees explaining the unique features. That is then shared with their 95,401 Facebook fans and 97,512 Twitter followers [OfficialTMR, 2010]. Although a simple approach to social media, it is effective and relevant to its products and audience.

In terms of then further marketing Third Man’s releases, the 6 year period of success between The White Stripes third album “White Blood Cells” and their last album “Icky Thump” in 2007, helped turn Jack White into one of the 21st Century’s great guitar pioneers. In 2003, White was named the 17th greatest guitar player of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, cementing his status as a guitar hero [White Stripes Biography 2014].

Because of this iconic status, White has become tastemaker, with fans interested in every release on Third Man, simply because it has been released by Jack [Gold, A. 2011]. New garage-rock projects like The Dead Weather & The Racontuers featuring White, plus his own solo material, have greatly improved the labels stature.

The label also reissues blues and rockabilly records by the likes Blind Willie Mitchell, Charley Patton, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. White also reissues White Stripes releases and has collaborated with acts like Beck, Tom Jones and Wanda Jackson for label exclusive vinyl releases [Third Man Records 2014].

Third Man also signs artists for development projects, including; The Black Belles, Whirlwind Heat, The Greenhornes and Kelley Stoltz, who all have a similar garage rock sound to White’s material. Karen Elson, Pokey LaFarge and The Haden Triplets have a more country feel to their music, a style which is clearly very close to Jack’s heart, and can also be heard throughout White’s own tracks [Third Man Records 2014]. Solo blues artist Seasick Steve is also signed to Third Man Records, who’s most recent album, ‘Hubcap Music’ reached the top 20 in the UK when it was leased to Fiction records [Fiction Records 2014], suggesting that Third Man may be a little more than just Jack White’s plaything. [Official Charts Company 2014].

The most interesting of Third Man’s releases though are their “Vault Packages”, a quarterly subscription service offering online bonus material [Michaels, S. 2011]. They contain a brand new exclusive 12” LP, an exclusive 7” Single and a Bonus Item in one package 4 times a year. This costs $60 a quarter plus $20 shipping for international subscribers. This works out as $360 per year (£215) for UK customers, almost double that of an annual Spotify Premium service. There is also no guarantee of what the next package will be. It could be a new solo album from White, (Package 20) or a bunch of live recordings from an older Wanda Jackson, arguably past her prime (Package 9) [Third Man Records 2014]. This is an intriguing business model at a time where online internet subscription services such as Deezer, Netflix and Spotify are changing the way the public consume different forms of copyright. Perhaps offering something physical at a slightly higher premium, combined with online content, could be a way of enticing more of the general public into subscription streaming services. Though it could be debated that this could not work on a mass-market level, and would only work effectively in niche markets, such as the one that Third Man operates in.

Jack White clearly believes in that niche market; “We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer, and talking to other people in person and getting turned on to music that you can hold in your hands and share with others” [Michaels, S. 2011]. So its obvious that Third Man Records has set up in opposition to the culture of digital downloading. However, this is could be seen more as a marketing exercise because a quick search of the iTunes Store will find most of Third Man records releases available for download [iTunes, 2014]. This backs up the idea of White using gimmicky releases to thrive of the press generated. Only an incredibly limited number of people in Nashville were able to purchase the world’s first liquid filled record on record store day in 2012, but the mass of attention gained through releasing such a product had the potential to increase his digital and regular physical sales significantly [Peoples. G. 2012].

Among these physical sales are CDs, however, they are limited to only to the artists that are signed to Third Man. Presumably because White still sees their importance in the growth and development of an artist, and the size of the global CD market. All of Third Man’s vinyl and CDs are distributed in the UK by Forte Distribution [Forte, 2014] and White himself also has a record deal with XL records. One of the UK’s largest independent labels XL is home to Adele, The Horrors and Radiohead. XL records stock and release White’s solo projects and White Stripes albums in the UK (including UK digital releases on iTunes) but XL does not have much input in the releases themselves as they are leased from Third Man [XL, 2012]

From vinyl to CD to MP3 to streaming, the change in music formats has always gone hand in hand with technological advancements that have continued to present fresh challenges to both major and independent labels. As the Internet has developed, the recording industry has had less control over the flow of its copyrighted material. Increased connectivity led to peer-to-peer file sharing sites presenting a massive piracy problem for the whole industry, which may have lead to irreversible damage to the value of intellectual property [Wikström, 2013: 6].

One way Third Man Records has reacted to these changes is by encouraging increased connectivity between fans and the label itself, with its aforementioned vault subscription service. Releasing what Jack White calls an “Ultra LP”, a reverse playing record with holograms and locked grooves, also shows a desire to give value to the physical product, not just using it as a vehicle for different copyrights [Beaumont-Thomas, B. 2014]. Not only does it generate great press and further his stance on being anti digital music, but it could also be an example to the rest of the industry. Perhaps more thought could be put into the design and release of its physical products as the mainstream CD buying public still count for 69.8% of the album sales market [Jones. R, 2014]

If Third Man started catering to this market, the label could expand greatly. Improving the quality of its CD releases (limited editions, box sets etc.) has the potential to tap into a whole new mass-market audience.

Being an independent label allows releases and projects to not be purely profit driven and can be created for more artistic reasons, especially when they are owned by an artist themselves. Major record labels are business, and so have shareholders to account to at the end of every financial year. This leads to major labels searching for the next big hit in order to generate maximum revenue. Although this is clearly a very successful approach, it is argued that major labels are unable to allow the creative freedom offered by smaller independents [Harrison, 2011: 63].

From the nature of Third Man’s special releases, it can be assumed that creative freedom and innovation are championed above the need for profit. The label itself is still a business though, regardless of the money that can be ploughed into it from White’s royalty cheques [Gold, A. 2011]. Artist run labels are an interesting business model, and what they can potentially offer their rosters is a contentious issue. On one hand their career could be propelled to heights previously unattainable to them, whilst being inspired by the creative owner to make better records. A good example of this would be The Smoke Fairies, who garnered so much attention from being the first UK band to release a single on Third Man records (that Jack White produced and played on), that their debut album skipped a release on White’s label and came straight out on V2 [Independent, 2010].

This is not always the case however, with artist owned labels sometimes being highly idiosyncratic and therefore, releasing only material that is either self-indulgent or sounds like cut rate versions of the owners hits. Though this argument could be levelled at some of Third Mans artists, there have arguably been worse. The Beatles, after the release of some of the greatest albums in history, started Apple records. Apple released experimental solo projects by John Lennon and George Harrison that are very challenging, and now only focuses on a steady flow of Beatles reissues. Paul Weller’s failed Respond records, and Noel Gallagher’s defunct Big Brother Records lacked success. [Petridis. A, 2010]. This is surprising, given their owners musical pedigree, but are further examples of the negative impact artists can have when they try their hand at being the A&R guy.

White’s pedigree allows him to collaborate with high profile acts, most recently Neil Young, who released a covers album recorded live in a 1947 recording booth. Young’s most recent innovation, the Pono music player, has seen him become the most credible face in digital music, promising digital audio at 24-bit sample rate to “bring music back to life” [Barry, R. 2014]. Although there are many sceptics, Jack White has come out in support of the device [Pono 2014]. This could be a way for Third Man Records to grow, by venturing further into the world of digital music; partnering with Pono, providing high quality digital music, whilst still opposing the MP3 format.


Through a combination of placing more value on physical releases and realising the internet has the potential to allow niche markets to flourish, Third Man records seems to be a stable, secure, yet idiosyncratic label. White’s bank balance allows him to indulge in weird and wonderful marketing campaigns fuelled by his genuine love for vinyl records, resulting in far reaching press that increases the labels profile [Beaumont-Thomas, B. 2014]. The artists the label signs and develops are either in the same garage-rock style as White himself, or are playing music akin to his influences, that can be sold to a specific audience. Third Man has identified that this audience places authenticity above all else when purchasing its music, and there is a high degree of authenticity in analogue recordings contained on vinyl LPs. The resurgence of Vinyl has primarily been in this small market that Third Man operates in [Dredge. S 2013]. If this format, almost consigned to the history books, becomes something for more than just the niche market enthusiasts, White’s innovative releases will be a huge part of reminding the general public that “Your Turntable Is Not Dead” [Third Man Records, 2014]

Reference List:

Barry, R. (2014) Oh No Pono: The Trouble With Neil Youngs New Player. Available at: (13/05/14).

Beaumont-Thomas, B. (2014) Jack White Creates Ultra vinyl containing hidden tracks and holograms  Available at: 29/04/14).

Dredge S. (2013) Daft Punk & David Bowie Helped UK Vinyl Sales Double in 2013

Available at: 29/04/14).

Fiction Records Seasick Steve (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 13/05/14).

Forte Third Man Records (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Gold, A. (2011) Jack White’s Third Man Records Tells The World: Your Music City Is Not Dead. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Harrison, A. (2011). Music: The Business – The Essential Guide to the Law and the Deals. London: Virgin Books.

Independent So Who Runs The Record Labels Now (2010) Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

iTunes Preview The Black Belles (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Jones, R. (2014) ‘Let’s Get Physical’, Music Week, Issue 14.03.14, Page 1 

Michaels, S. (2013) Jack White’s named Record Store Day Ambassador. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Michaels, S. (2011) Jack White’s label launches subscription service. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Modell, J. (2011) Pop Pilgrims: We Visit Jack White’s Magic Factory, Third Man Records In Nashville. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Moss, M. (2014)  Inside Jack White’s World’s Fastest Record

. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Official Charts Company Seasick Steve (2014) Available at: 29/04/14).

Official TMR (2010) Triple Decker Record. Available at: (Accessed: 13/05/14).

Peoples, G. (2012) Record Store Day Nashville: Liquid Filled Jack White Records at Third Man; JEFF The Brotherhood Rock Grimey’s. Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Petridis. A (2010) Why Artist Run Labels Dissapoint

Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Pono Testimonials (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 13/05/14).

Third Man Records About (2014) Available at: 29/04/14).

Third Man Records Artists (2014) Available at: 29/04/14).

White Stripes Biography (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 29/04/14).

Wikström, P. (2013). The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Polity Press.

XL Records The White Stripes (2012) Available at: 29/04/14).

Is the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents act relevant to the recognised music industry publishing norms?


Over the past 20 years, there have been a number of high profile court cases concerning the ownership of copyright contained within recorded music. The outcomes of these cases have challenged the established music industry norms of copyright ownership, where the songwriter is deemed to be who first created the lyrics and melody of a piece [Free, D. 2002]. This ideology ignores the potential significance of other musicians involved in creating a recording that would be heard by the general public. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 stipulates that copyright does not exist in a musical work until it is recorded in writing or in any other way [Copyright Designs and Patents act, 2013]. When interpreting this statement in it’s most literal sense, it can be seen that every time a musical work is recorded, a new copyright will be generated associated with that particular recording. This report will focus on the importance of reading the copyright law in this way, in an attempt to answer whether or not “All musicians featured on a popular music recording are entitled to an appropriate share and interest in the music publishing copyright of the work performed on that recording”.

Godfrey VS Lees, 1995

Robert Godfrey was involved with the group Barcley James Harvest in the 1970’s. As the bands “Resident Musical Director” he claimed to have joint authorship of six musical works featured on 2 of the groups albums, claiming to have made orchestral arrangements in 4 cases, and piano/organ accompaniments in 2 others [Domone, K. & Domone M, 2010].

Blackburn J. ruled that Robert Godfrey did indeed have a claim to the copyright on the 6 musical works but was stopped from revoking this license because of waiting for 14-years to claim [Arnold, J. 2009]. This is referred to as estoppel, which is a legal principle that stops claims from being granted if a claimant’s previous actions suggest he/she has accepted the position they were in previous to the claim.

Blackburne J. puts forward the following in his ruling:

“It well illustrates how little originality is required of a person’s contribution to a piece of music in order to attract copyright in the altered work”

[Arnold, J. 2009]

This is the correct reading of the 1988 copyright act as it focuses on how the contribution made to a recording can be very small yet still attract an interest in the recordings copyright to the performer in question. However, this completely disregards how the music industry works and if this interpretation were applied to every existing musical work, would this be fair to the songwriter who had the original idea for the work? For example, a bass player may play a performance of significant quality as an accompaniment to already existing lyrics and melody. Would the idea for that bass line exist without the melody and lyrics used as the inspiration for his part?

Hadley VS Kemp, 1998

A disagreement in publishing income sparked this legal case between Gary Kemp and Spandau Ballet, but perhaps the most interesting section deals with the saxophone solo in the song “True”. An expert musicologist described the solo as “particularly attractive” and “particularly felicitous” yet it only takes up 35 seconds (9%) of the finished recording.  Park J. found that Steve Norman (saxophonist) and not Gary Kemp arranged the notes in the solo played by Norman, yet still credited the sole authorship of the song to Kemp.

This decision, although conforming to music industry norms, contradicts the Godfrey VS Lees case. The saxophone solo contribution was clearly of high originality as it could not have been written by Kemp and should therefore, when strictly abiding to the 1988 copyright act, attract an interest in the copyright of the work. Instead, it was ruled that a pre-existing space was included for a saxophone solo and so; its inclusion was not a significant part of the work because it was not in itself, an element in the work [Arnold, J. 2009].

The member’s claims to a share in the copyright in the songs were also rejected with the exception of one song where the percussion parts were of “substantial and prolonged prominence” [Free, D. 2002]. This follows the ruling in the Godfrey VS Lees but the reasoning behind it contradicts Blackburn J.’s  “little originality” statement. 

To compound all of this, the claimants were further denied from revoking any licenses as they were estopped from doing so.

Beckingham VS Hodges 2002

This case focuses on a session musician known as Bobby Valentino, contracted to perform a violin part on The Blue Bells recording of a song called “Young At Heart”. Previously recorded by Bananarama, the song achieved a medium amount of success. Written by Robert Hodges and his girlfriend (Siobhan Fahey) for Bananarama, it was decided the song would be re-recorded in a different style, for which Bobby Valentino’s violin playing was required. The version by The Blues Bells was a hit in 1984 and an even bigger hit in 1993 when it was used on a commercial for Volkswagen. The violin part was a crucial part of the work’s success and Hodges and Valentino both insisted that they were the parts composer [Free, D. 2002].

Although Hodges gave Valentino the initial idea for the part, it was ruled that Valentino created the part by reversing a country riff played somewhere else in the song and by drawing on inspiration from a song Valentino had composed himself previously.

It was judged that there was collaboration in the creation of the work, there was a contribution from each joint author and the contributions were not separate. Therefore, all requirements of the 1988 copyright act were fulfilled for Bobby Valentino to qualify as a joint author to the work and he was also not estopped from revoking the gratuitous license granted to him, unlike both Godfree VS Lees and Hadley VS Kemp cases [Free, D. 2009].

This is completely against music industry practices but given the apparent significance of the re-recording and inclusion of the violin part, it could be seen as the “fair” conclusion to this case. The work recorded by Bananarama was not as successful as the Blue Bells version and that lack of success can be associated with the differences between the two sound recordings. However, when using the Hadley VS Kemp case as the precedent, did Bobby Valentino not just fulfill his contractual obligation by providing a violin part of high quality, just as Steve Norman was, as part of Spandau Ballet, on “True”?

Brooker VS Fisher 2009

The final and most recent case concerns Procul Harum and the 1967 song “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, written by Gary Brooker and recorded as a demo tape to his own accompaniment. The song was then re-recorded after taking on Matthew Fisher as an organist who performed the now famous introduction on the recorded work. Fisher and Brooker both agreed that Fisher had created the organ solo for the recording in question but disagreed on sharing the ownership of the copyright to the song itself [Arnold, J. 2009].

Blackburne J. ruled that Fisher should indeed have a share in the copyright of the work, because the organ solo was sufficiently different to what was composed by Brooker and that the existence of a demo recorded previously does not change the organ part from being a product of individual skill and labor by Fisher [POP].

Fisher was not estopped from revoking his gratuitous license until the case went to the court of appeal that upheld the decision that Fisher was entitled to a share in the copyright, but should not be able to benefit from the copyright because of the 38-year gap in putting forward his claim. This was then overturned by the high court that saw it as unfair that Fisher be granted a share in the copyright but be then unable to claim the benefits of that share [Arnold, J. 2009].

This, and the Beckingham VS Hodges cases have set a dangerous precedent for the music industry as they have shown musicians who had no input on the lyrics and melody of the original song being granted a share in the songs copyright if their instrumental performance is deemed significant enough. This is shown particularly when looking at Blackburne J.’s comments on the Brooker VS Fisher case:

“If Mr. Fisher’s only contribution to the work had been the organ accompaniment to the sung parts, it would be a nice question, whether that contribution would qualify him… as a joint author of the work”

[Arnold, J. 2009]

This is incredibly contradictory, as by copyright law and Blackburne J.’s own words, it should. He stated in the Godfrey VS Lees 14 years previous that little originality is required… to a piece of music in order to attract copyright in the altered work” [REF]. It is highly confusing and difficult to come to a clear conclusion how decisions on copyright can be made when both of these statements came from the same Judge interpreting the same laws differently.

Reflection on the cases

It could be seen that the main hurdle facing the ownership of copyright in musical works is the lack of actual music industry law. This lack of law leads to Judges making decisions on creative and individual works using the Copyright Act of 1988 that does not make a definitive statement on what music is. This needs to be rectified, but then it is very difficult to define what may become memorable or significant in a musical work. If it is not the lyrics or melody created by the songwriter, then the instrumentalist in question would be justified in his claim to seek a share in the works copyright, as he is partly responsible for that works success (particularly seen in The Blue Bells case). It is almost like trying to predict what will be the most quotable line in a film script, as it is impossible to look into the future [Arnold, J. 2009].

A possible solution to these copyright claims could be found when looking at the Spandau Ballet publishing agreement that sparked their copyright feud. The vocal agreement between Gary Kemp and Spandau Ballet was that 100% of all royalties generated from the songs went straight to Kemp. Kemp then paid the other members 50% that was shared equally between them. After the split of the band, the 50% ceased to be paid to the other members by Kemp, and a legal case ensued [Southall, B. 2009].

Park J. dismissed the publishing claim as it was found the band had entered into agreements stipulating that publishing income went solely to Kemp, which effectively stated that the band accepted that 100% of the money was his and it was Kemps choice for it be split whilst the band were together [Southall, B. 2009].   

Considering that it was only when Kemp ceased to pay 50% of the publishing income to his band members that the agreement turned sour, it would appear this would be a fair way of dealing with money generated. Spandau Ballet recognized Kemp as the primary songwriter and understood that he was entitled to a greater share, but still received compensation for their performances on the recorded works. This relies on good inter-band relationships however, as not all songwriters will necessary be willing to give away pieces of publishing income earned by what they consider to be their ideas. Therefore, it would be difficult to write into a law and be enforced. Also, this relies on all musicians on the recording having a pre-existing relationship and would be difficult to apply to session musicians.


The copyright act of 1988 completely disregards the standard music industry norms by stating that new copyright is generated every time a new musical work is fixed [Arnold, J. 2009]. This effectively means that whether musicians want it or not, they have an interest in the copyright of every recording they perform on. The industry has tightened this area, with session musicians being asked to sign contracts before performing on any recordings, stipulating that they understand they will not go on to make a claim to any copyright [Arnold, J. 2009].

Without assessing each individual work created on an individual basis and looking at how important the piano playing or the guitar riff etc. is to the quality of the final musical work, it is hard to attribute the song writing credit when using copyright law. Because of how circumstantial every single band, solo artist; writer, song and recording session is, it is very hard to put forward a solution to the problem. Following Copyright law word for word would mean that the answer to the proposed question would be yes, all musicians featured on a popular music recording should be entitled to an appropriate share and interest in the music publishing copyright of the work performed on that recording. On the other hand, should the person playing the triangle have the same share in the copyright, as the guitarist who wrote the riff that the public whistles on their way to work? In the words of Blackburn J. “it would be a nice question” [Arnold, J. 2009].

Reference List:

Arnold, J. (2009) Reflections on the triumph of music: copyrights and performers rights in music [Invited Speaker Seminar], Oxford Intellectual Property. 20th October.

Copyright, Designs and Patents act (Year that the site was published 1995 /last published 2013, May 19th) Available at: (Accessed: 10/12/13).

Domone, K. & Domone M. Barclay James Harvest Biography. Available at: (2010) (Accessed: 10/12/13).

Free, D. (2002) Beckingham v. Hodgens: The Session
Musician’s Claim to Music Copyright 
Vol.1, No.3, Autumn 2002, pp.93–97 Available at: 10/12/13).

Southall, B. (2009) Pop Goes To Court. Second Edition. London: Omnibuss Press.

How the developments of new technology have changed the way Music Publishers generate income over the past 50 years


Music Publishing is the area of the music world that controls the copyright contained within musical works. Publishing companies exist to collect the royalties generated by the use of the copyright contained within songs and act on behalf of songwriters to exploit these copyrights in order to generate revenue. [Avalon, 2009, pg 41]. For this to take place a deal is signed between the songwriter and the publisher to give control of the copyright contained in the works to the publisher and gives them permission to administer them. The income from the exploitation is then split in accordance to the deal (e.g. 60%/40% or 70%/30%) and depending on the deal, an advance may be paid to the songwriter that is then recouped by their future earnings [Passman, 2011, pg 230].

The three main areas of publishing income are split into royalty brackets; performance (live performance and broadcast) and mechanical income (reproduction of recordings and works) being primary sources and synchronization (sound recording placed with moving image) being a secondary source [Wikström, 2009, pg 57]. The way each of these revenue streams has earned money for publishers has changed over time thanks to developments in technology. The relationship between these technological advancements and how they have affected the income generated will be the main subject of this piece. 

History of Music Publishing

The music publishing industry as we know it today started with the production and sale of sheet music on Tin Pan Alley, which is where the term “Publishing” was, coined [Harrison 2011, pg 110]. The publishing offices on Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street in the UK, West 28th Street, NY in USA) employed songwriters to write songs that were pitched to the popular singers of the time to be performed. This was the only way for the works to be heard, as there were few national radio platforms in the early 20th century and those that existed, did not cater for popular music. It was also regular practice for performers to not write their own songs and therefore relied on published songwriters to give them material. Unfortunately, this resulted in unpublished songwriters finding it very hard to exploit their music without the backing of a publisher [Passman, 2011, pg 232].

Because of the lack of recorded music at that time, people had to buy and perform sheet music in order to enjoy music in the home. This is the first time the commoditization of music yielded significant profit, with “School Days” performed by Gus Edwards selling over 3 million copies of sheet music in 1907 [Wikström 2009, pg 62] showing just how vast the secondary income market could be.                                                                                                                                                                        Performance Royalties

In terms of publishing, performance royalties are a primary source of income and not only limited to when a composition is performed live in by an artist, it is whenever that particular work is broadcast publicly, whether that be on the radio, in a place of work, the internet, a shop or on television [Wikström, 2009, pg 57]. The money generated by broadcast/performance is then collected by collection societies, the main UK collection society being the Performing Rights Society (PRS), and then distributed back to its members. In short, each publisher assigns the performing right contained within all of the songs in their catalogue over to the PRS to be licensed on their behalf [Nichols, 2013]. Once this deal is completed, the PRS then go to every user and ensure that they have the correct license in order to broadcast the music publicly. The users pay a license fee to the PRS that covers their particular song usage and the funds generated (minus the PRS’s operating costs) are paid to the publisher and then, in turn, the songwriter [Passman 2011, pg 251]. It is also possible (and encouraged) for unpublished songwriters to join the PRS so that their royalties are collected and distributed to them, as some songwriters choose to publisher their own work and get paid directly, or have not yet signed with a publisher [PRS, 2013].  

Technological innovation has played a huge role in the way that performance royalties have been generated over time. Tin Pan Alley had songwriters creating works for singers to perform live in public, but this evolved with the invention of recording technology and development of radio equipment. These advances meant the songs could be broadcast as recordings and earn significant royalties without the need of a performer [Wibberly 2013]

The earning potential of recorded songs being broadcast developed further as technology opened up further avenues of secondary income. Songs started to become used in motion pictures and broadcast to cinema audiences where performance royalties are earned, although US cinemas are exempt from this. Works also started to be used in television advertising campaigns where broadcast royalties are due after every airing. As the number of television channels has increased, so has the possibility of earning public performance royalties [Passman, 2011, pg 253]

However, the largest shift in performance royalties has come in the digital age with income being generated through plays on YouTube, digital download services such as iTunes and streaming services such as Spotify. As of 2012, the royalties generated through online usage have eclipsed radio broadcast and live performance. This is an indication of the radical change the music industry has been through over time [PRS, 2013]. 

 Mechanical Royalites

Another form of copyright exploitation in the music industry is the reproduction and manufacturing of songs contained within sound recordings. Whether these are vinyl records, cassettes, CDs or even digital download files, a license needs to be applied for in order to reproduce the works in this way [Krasilovsky, Shemel, 2007 pg 161]. This license is called a mechanical license and in the UK is obtained through the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), which is paid on every physical release manufactured. The license fee on every physical copy produced is 8.5% of the published dealer price (PPD) but is a slightly different amount for online reproduction. These are the primary sources of mechanical publishing income. Mechanical license fees are also payable when copyrighted music features on computer games and DVDs that are being mass-produced and sold [Harrison, 2011 pg 121].

Initially, it was only vinyl records being sold that generated mechanical royalties and over time this has developed into many other forms of media using music also having to pay for it usage. Given the wealth of different formats carrying licensed songs in today’s market, it would be assumed that mechanical royalties would generate a significant portion of the music industries revenue. Unfortunately, because of the digital revolution, the amount of money generated through the mechanical reproduction of music has been in decline due to an overall decrease in the amount of physical releases sold [Rogers, 2013, pg 32].

This has not always been the case though, before the digital age, one of the music industry’s primary royalty generators was mechanical revenue. This is highlighted with the invention of the CD, as record companies were able to reissue their artists back catalogues. Avid fans would purchase their favourite acts recordings, repackaged on the new medium, which resulted in mechanical royalties coming in from records that were not only popular at the time, but also from those who had long since disappeared from the public eye [Wibberly, 2013].     

This could be seen as one of the music industry’s greatest ever marketing achievements, maximizing mechanical income. The public were promised that CDs had a cleaner sound of much higher quality, as well as being more portable and more hard wearing, enticing music enthusiasts to take up the new format [Harrison, 2011, pg 183]. However, the digital age has actually seen some music buyers revert back to purchasing vinyl; the format the industry proposed was out of date. Although still small in number, the resurgence of the vinyl format could indicate the extent of the music industry’s cunning, seeking to squeeze maximum amount of profit from the consumer [Dredge, 2013].

Synchronisation Royalties

Synchronisation in a publishing sense is the act of placing a recorded musical work to moving image and in order to do this, a synchronization license must be obtained. From films and TV programs to advertisements and computer games, wherever a musical work is used, it would have been paid for. These deals are often very lucrative for the songwriter with fees of £100,000 being relatively commonplace [Harrison, 2011, pg 123]. If a song is to be used in any film or motion picture then the producer of the film must go directly to the publisher to use the song in question, then to the record label to use the sound recording in question. This process also applies to get permission to use a work in a television advertisement or video game. The same also applies if a song is to be used on a television program in the USA. However, in the UK, the process is slightly different for television programs. The main channels such as SKY, BBC and ITV pay a “blanket license” to the PRS, which is a negotiated set fee, enabling them to use any song controlled by the PRS and any sound recording registered with the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) in their show [Passman, 2011, pg 261].  

The potential for royalties from secondary revenue sources can be explained when looking the soundtrack of the 1973 motion picture, American Graffiti. Music from the 1950’s and 1960’s was synced to the moving images in the film to recreate the feel of early 1960s America [Guardian, 2013]. Music from Buddy holly, Johnny Burnette and Bill Hailey [Amazon, 2013] among others, was included, which saw interest in those acts rekindled long after their recording careers had diminished or completely ceased. This meant that inclusion on the films official soundtrack provided mechanical income from the copies of the album manufactured, performance royalties were generated from the films cinema showings and synchronisation royalties were also paid for the songs inclusion in the film itself. Record labels also had the idea to stimulate primary income by re-releasing material from the featured artists back catalogue and so benefited from the profit of those sales, which in turn lead to the songwriters (or their estates) benefiting from mechanical copyright attached to production of the re-released work.

Publishing companies still didn’t realize just how productive the area of secondary income could be until Levi Jeans re-launched their brand with an innovative television advert featuring Marvin Gaye’s, “Heard it Through the Grapevine” which together married moving image and music to create a cool, authentic and original feel for their brand. Advertising agencies realized that music could be a way to help branding and sell products. This was an opportunity that could yield large amounts of money for publishers with both synchronization and performance royalties generated. Not to mention the mechanical royalties generated by the rejuvenated sales of a long since forgotten record. Virgin Publishing were the first act on this and set up a dedicated synchronization department to fully exploit this revenue stream which is now a cornerstone of every publishing company today [Marcel Visser, 2013]. 

Today, the synchronisation departments of publishing companies also have to change the way they generate revenue in the digital age. For example the act of synchronisation in a computer game should generate both synch and mechanical royalties. This is not the case and instead, a flat fee is paid to the publisher of the work in question in return for the songs use. [Passman, 2011, pg 262]. 

Another interesting sync case to look at in the digital age is Bjork’s release of a digital and interactive “App” in conjunction with an album. This is an innovative idea as music is synced to moving image in an interactive way, in a product will be copied every time the app is downloaded and therefore, generate both synchronization and mechanical royalites for publishers [Kiss, Needham 2013].  

Unfortunately for publishers, it seems that the increase in technology available could lead to difficulties when completing synchronisation deals in the future. Leading music supervisor PJ Bloom suggested that the potential exposure and revenue sales generated through a synchronisation deal are so important, that rights owners should be willing to pay for the right sync deal [Musicweek2013].


Labels and publishers paying for advertising space would indicate a complete shift from the current synchronisation paradigm, as advertisers would no longer be paying for the use of songs. Music Publishers would instead, pay for a works inclusion on an advert, in order to benefit from the exposure that would generate income through other revenue streams. Coupling this with how the digital age has seen mechanical royalties continue to decline, the publishing market looks to become even more challenging [Rogers, 2013, pg 32].

However, the copyright in a song will always be exploited, which means royalties will be generated, even if the money generated becomes spread thin over a number of different revenue streams. If the days of big mechanical royalties are over and synchronisation fees continue to decline, the future could be in song placement. Higher quantities of music in more places all together generating sufficient income could be the future of the publishing world in the 21st century [Musicweek, 2013].

Reference List:

Amazon. (2013) American Graffiti Soundtrack. Available at: (Accessed: 24th October 2013).

The Guardian. (2013) American Graffiti. Available at:

(Accessed: 24th October 2013).

The Guardian. (2013) Daft Punk and David Bowie Have Helped UK Vinyl Sales Double in 2013. Available at:

(Accessed: 24th October 2013).

Harrison, A. (2011) Music the Business. 5th Edition. London: Ebury Publishing.

Krasilovsky, M. W and Shemel, S (2007) This Business Of Music. New York: Watson-Guptill Puplications

Moses, A. (2009) Confessions of a record producer. 4th Edition. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books.

Nichols, S. PEDL Key Account Manager, PRS for Music (2013) Conversation with Danny Dawkins, 27th October.

Passman, D. (2011) All You Need To Know About The Music Business. 7th Edition. London: Penguin Group.

PRS. (2013) YouTube Deal – Help Centre. Available at:

(Accessed: 24th October 2013).

PRS. (2013) PRS For Music 2012 Financial Results Briefing Paper. Available at:

(Accessed: 24th October 2013).

PRS. (2013) Press Releases. Available at:

(Accessed: 24th October 2013).

Rogers, Jim 2013, The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age, e-book, accessed 24th October 2013, <;.

Marcel Visser (2007) Levi Commercial – Laundrette. Available at:

(Accessed: October 24th 2013).

Wikström, P. (2009) The Music Industry. Cambridge: Polity Press.