There used to be only one figure that counted in the music industry: record sales. Everything else was secondary. Tee-shirts, badges and other paraphernalia were given away. Tours lost money, but none of this mattered as long as the effect was to push the artiste up the charts. The only other area that was ever monitored was the number of times a track was played on the radio.
The internet turned everything on its head. Despite the desperate rearguard actions of the recording industry it’s unlikely music sales will ever be seriously profitable again. Instead the focus has moved to the previously promotional activities of merchandising and touring. This works particularly well for established stadium bands such as the Rolling Stones and U2 who, according to Billboard magazine, made over £75 million from their tour in 2009. This year they could have made even more had Bono not been injured.
So how else do you measure pop success in the digital age? It’s a question that analyst Kevin Watson is one of the first to try and answer. His report was prepared for the dance music business’s annual conference, the International Music Summit, held over three days in Ibiza, Spain.
“There’s not been much research on dance music,” he said. “So what we’ve tried to do is define the industry and how big it is by measuring the media impact.”
The reason for the focus is that many in the dance or electronic music business feel it is marginalised relative to rock and pop. Official industry figures suggest dance music in 2009 accounted for 9.4 million album sales in the UK or about 7.5 per cent of the total. That’s a larger proportion than any other major country. But those figures, Watson said, don’t tell the whole story.
Much electronic music isn’t included in official figures as it is downloaded from specialist sites such as Beatport. In fact the very means of its creation makes measurement difficult. Many of the tracks played in clubs are mixes, mashups and samples combining tunes from a number of artistes, often without the official permission of copyright holders. Generally these are created on home computers and most are never commercially released.
The combined scale of the UK dance music scene, however, is enormous. According to Watson there are around 100,00 DJs in Britain playing in around 1500 clubs with a combined capacity of 550,000. Specialist dance music festivals attract more than 200,000 people each year and that’s not including events such as Glastonbury which also feature big-name DJs.
Globally, the popularity of DJs such as David Guetta or Tiësto measured in terms of the number of Google searches puts them ahead of almost all other musicians with the exception of Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. Each attracts tens of millions of searches a month, but Guetta beats them all in terms of fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter. And, according to Watson just one of Guetta’s tracks “When Love Takes Over” received over 50 million user plays last year. That is, rather than having a radio station or DJ choosing the tune, fans selected the specific track on YouTube, last.fm, MySpace and Spotify or opted to download it.
French DJ Guetta has very much been at the forefront of the resurgence of dance music. He provided the soundtrack to the Citroën skating robot commercials, but it’s his work with the Black Eyed Peas that’s made him globally successful. He co-created their biggest hit “I gotta feeling” and since then every American hip-hop and R&B artiste wants to work with him. But it remains to be seen whether his current success is a one-off or part of a trend which will increase the proportion of US record sales represented by dance music above its current one per cent.
- Nick Clayton has lived in Ibiza for the last six years.