Music royalty orgnization PRS for Music published its annual Adding up the UK music industry report today, presenting dismal figures for 2010. Even live music revenues, which had been on an impressive rise over the past several years, fell 11.8% between 2009 and 2010. UK industry revenues overall fell 4.8%. Yikes.
Is there anything good in a landscape that seems as bleak as London fog? Well, yes. Will Page, the chief economist for PRS for Music, advises in his report that the UK industry should ‘get small’ and ‘get abroad’. The first theme involves “reducing the transaction costs of managing metadata”, which I won’t pretend I understand. I’ll leave that topic for the grown-ups.
The second nugget of wisdom, though, I will happily discuss. The report found that royalties societies in the UK (like PRS for Music) did significantly better than those in the US (like ASCAP) over the 2010 year. Page acknowledges the huge potential for growth in exports, including in emerging markets like Brazil, India, and China. Page writes: “According to the BPI, UK artists’ share of global sales is estimated to be 11.8 percent in 2010, with one-in-ten sales in the US being a UK act and up to one-in-five in markets like Germany and Australia.”
While the report doesn’t talk about folk/new-folk/acoustic music specifically, I’d like to think that some of this growth has to do with the very artists I write about so frequently. While Adele may be queen in terms of sales figures (she was “responsible for almost 10% of all artist albums sold in the first four months of the year”), it shouldn’t be ignored that Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More hit number 2 on the Billboard 200. (And performed at the Grammys. And graced the cover of SPIN.) Their rise to the top is the gift that keeps on giving, through both their exposure-building US tours (bringing along artists like King Charles and Matthew and the Atlas) and the efforts of label/club night Communion. Even buzzy indie rock darlings the Vaccines grew out of the same tiny music establishment in southwest London, Bosun’s Locker (back when Justin Young was Jay Jay Pistolet, and shared a flat with Marcus Mumford).
While other UK folk acts have yet to reach the same status as the waistcoat-wearing Sons, they are certainly on the way. Noah and the Whale grabbed attention for their polished new sound and teaming up with director-photographer Autumn de Wilde on “Life is Life”. Alessi’s Ark made the New York Times at SXSW. Matthew and the Atlas and James Vincent McMorrow recorded for Daytrotter. Emmy the Great’s Virtue got a review in Pitchfork. Slow Club made waves (and Mashable) by debuting new material on Turntable.fm (with Paste magazine).
These are just the things that came to mind, but the fact remains that these artists are much closer to US recognition than they’ve ever been before. I can casually talk about Laura Marling or Johnny Flynn without getting blank stares, and I can buy the Communion compilation in Mojo magazine at an airport. I no longer have to scour Youtube for new-folk material–I can just click on iTunes (or Spotify). Back when I first found this whole ‘scene’, things like the Black Cab Sessions, Bandstand Busking, and even Jeremy Warmsley’s Welcome to Our TV Show (and the later version, Jeremy Warmsley’s New Thing) were about all I had. From my perspective, the rise in popularity since those early days (three-ish years ago) seems massive.
Furthermore, another BPI survey found that 83% of people are proud of the achievements of British music. While I’m sure they were dealing with Brits proper, I’m pretty proud of those achievements, too. For even though these new-folk artists often acknowledge American musical influences, there is something quintessentially and inescapably English (or Scottish, or Irish, depending) about them. So by all means, UK music industry–follow the advice of Mr. Page and ‘get abroad’. I’ll welcome you with open arms.