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Single life

01:00 Mon 18th Mar 2002 |

Q.� Is the pop single dead < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� Dead no, but decidedly unhealthy these days!

Q.� Why

A.� Because record companies are scaling down the release of singles in the belief that customers will buy albums, which is where the serious profits are to be made.

Q.� But singles have always been the lifeblood of pop music�- that's pop as in chart music.

A.� They have, but those times are changing, and the record industry seems oblivious to the fact that it is in danger of killing its own golden goose.

Q.� Hasn't the Internet and CD copying played a part here
If the Head of The Recording Academy, Michael Green, is to be believed, these two innovations are strangling popular music�- although the truth may not be quite that simple.

Q.� Can you explain

A.��Michael Green's speech at the Grammy Awards informed the audience that the downloading of music from the Internet is quote "... the most insidious virus in our midst ...". He went on to advise that piracy is a " or death issue ..." for the music industry.

Q.� Is he right

A.� He may be, but he's neglected to mention that the current release schedules of major record labels invite piracy, because individual songs chosen as hit singles are hits, but not singles! The modern 'single' is an abstract concept, it's a song with demand created by advance radio play, that doesn't exist as a single in the shops, but as one track on a full price album.

Q.� That can't be true!

A.� It certainly is. Take last week's Billboard Hot 100 chart�- the barometer of the most popular songs in the USA�- sitting at Number One is Ain't It Funny by Jennifer Lopez with Ja Rule. If you are a music fan, and would like to own this song as a single, you are out of luck, because it does not exist as a single.�You need to fork out $15 plus for the J To The L-O album to enjoy the song in your own home. If you make up the majority of Jennifer Lopez's core audience�- teenagers with allowances or maybe part-time jobs, the investment of that sort of money, for an album you may not like with the exception of the hit, represents an uneconomical option. Step forward the Internet, or a friend with a PC and a CD burner, and you can have that song�- without paying any money what so ever to Ms Lopez or her record company.

It goes on�- Linkin Park's In The End, and No Doubt's Hey Baby, numbers Four and Five on the Chart respectively are similarly unavailable as singles, it's the 'album only' option, or the Net / friend option. If you like Creed, Enrique Iglesias, and Alanis Morrissette, the same story applies, buy the album or don't 'buy' the album. You don't have to be a genius, or a record label executive, to work out which way the fans are going with this.

Q.� But this has to be commercial suicide.

A. Quite possibly, but the thinking is driven by executives who believe that singles sales cut into album sales, and they are unprofitable, given the cost of promotion, and sale-or-return systems of selling to retailers. Record companies appear to be moving towards the elimination of the pop single, even though their argument that album sales will pick up the singles buyer who wants the hit song is patently fatally flawed.

Q.� But surely music sales are already decreasing

A.� Of course, and as indicated by Michael Green, record companies believe that this is down to the evil that is the Net / burn culture, while they remain oblivious to the fact that the Net / burn culture exists, and thrives, because it fills the vacuum that the record companies have created themselves, by refusing to make popular songs available as singles. Single sales have dropped from 53 million in 2000 to 31 million in 2001, a 41% reduction caused not by consumers' unwillingness to buy singles, but by the record companies' unwillingness to let them!

Q.� This doesn't make sense does it

A.� Not really. History dictates that young people become music fans by buying singles�- they get a hit song, and maybe a good second or even third or fourth song as well, and it fits in with their spending power. Now the record companies tell them they have to shell out for an entire album which they may not want, and probably can't afford, and then the companies gnash their corporate teeth because people opt for obtaining the song they want by other�'totally non profit-making' means.

Q.� So what's the answer

A.� The music industry is in a state of flux at the moment, and could go either way. If the major labels persist in their determination to obliterate the notion of pop singles, then they must wait while a generation of youngsters appears who doesn't feel locked into the single-buying culture. Which sounds fine, as long as the new generation don't become consumers who fail to see why they should pay for music at all, when plenty of people seem willing to offer it to them for nothing.

A sensible solution would be to end the loss-making deals with record shops to shift boat loads of singles to get an artificially high chart placing, then withdrawing the single when the album is released. It might also be an idea to make sure that an $18 album has enough decent music on it to represent good value for money�- now that would be a novel idea.

Meanwhile, the clock's ticking�...

If you have a question about any aspect of music, please click here.

By:� Andy Hughes.

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