You may have missed the reports this week of another nail in the coffin of the music industry as we know it. It was announced by the fledgling record label that grew into a multi-armed hydra encompassing airlines, trains, cola, perfume, finance and condoms. Of course, I'm talking about Fierce Panda. Just kidding. No, Virgin (for it is they) announced they were selling off their retail division, the Virgin Megastores.
Now that's not the news that makes me fear for the sanity of the music biz. By 2007, Virgin were barely in the music biz anyway, despite the record label's terrific heritage that took in Mike Oldfield, Faust, Henry Cow, Gong, The Sex Pistols, Magazine, Japan, The Human League, Rip Rig and Panic, Culture Club and..er..Phil Collins. Branson took his eye off the ball musically sometime around the early 80s, handing over the running of the label to people like Simon Draper. Sales of CDs are tanking, so in many ways this was a (financially) smart move by the Virgin group.
The stores have been bought out by a management consortium, but it's not this that makes me fear for their future either. In theory, a team of managers could turn the stores' fortunes around and make them relevant to today's reluctant consumers, assuming, that is, that they had some degree of aptitude.
No, the news that told me everything I needed to know about the sorry state of the music industry and the people who run it was buried at the bottom of the press release. In a bid to ditch 35 years of brand heritage (Mike Oldfield, Faust, etc..), the new owners of Virgin have decided to rebrand the stores and name them Zavvi. That's Zavvi. Zavvi. What. The. Fuck?
According to the management team's spokesperson, this new name was a "modern and independent take on the word savvy". Modern. Independent. Hmmmm. If by modern and independent he means "bearing no relation to the written word as we know it, and implying no values whatsoever" then I'll go along with that. Or perhaps "condescending and doomed-to-fail attempt to appeal to txt msg-crazed and wordblind kids" is closer to the mark. Whatever the explanation for this spectacularly awful rebranding, you just know it came out of a focus group, the same sort that (probably) brought about Consignia. And it tells you all you need to know about the fiasco that is today's music business. That it's more concerned with marketing a lame-duck product than with improving the product itself.
Just in case you think I have some sort of great affection for the mechanics of the music industry, I don't. Music predates the invention of the phonograph and will continue to exist for a long time after the last record shop closes its doors. But it absolutely beggars belief that people who don't seem to actually like or care about the artform are in charge of marketing and selling it, and therefore helping to provide a living for the artists themselves. I know none of this is news. But it depresses me every time I see concrete evidence of folly, as I did this week at the unveiling of Zavvi.
The one piece of good news for the biz that I read this week was from the New York Times' profile of Rick Rubin, now joint head of Columbia Records. His radical idea is that the music itself is the most important part of the marketing chain. Or, as he puts it, "We're in the art business." Whoulda thunk it?