Why the impact of the Global Release Day on local culture worries me

The IFPI recently announced that it would be instigating an official ‘Global Release Day’ for music on Fridays from the end of this summer. Here, [PIAS] co-founder Michel Lambot gives his view on a worrying knock-on effect he believes this move could have on the market.

Ever since starting [PIAS] from a basement in Brussels over 30 years ago, we have taken a global view of the music business.

We know better than anyone the importance of ‘thinking local, acting global’ to our own company and our independent friends and partners. Many times over, we have carefully broken an artist in one territory before branching out across Europe, Australia and then, ‘the big one’, the USA.

In some respects, the announcement of the Global Release Day makes sense. Consumers in the UK, for example, currently have to wait an extra day to get hold of new releases than people in Benelux. That is a consumer frustration that may drive piracy which this will help eradicate.

I know there has been much debate in the independent music community over the IFPI’s choice of Friday as a release date.

But my personal concern with the consequences of the GRD are more to do with that independent territory-by-territory thinking I described – and the gradual erosion of local music culture.

“My personal concern with the GRD regards the gradual erosion of local, independent music culture.”

We have recently seen the Billboard chart system change in America. As Martin Mills recently articulated, this is troubling because ‘track equivalent albums’ or ‘stream equivalent albums’ can only mean one thing: more blockbuster hit-driven artists taking exposure away from leftfield, often independent artists whose relationship with fans is usually on a true ‘albums’ basis.

GRD could, in my view, take this one step further. How long will it be, I wonder, before we see a regular global chart based on the Friday release of music the world over?

Spotify, iTunes, SNEP, HMV and many more could promote it and abide by it. Local press and radio companies could feel under pressure to react to whatever is top of its list each week – and gauge public popularity based on its Top 10.

It is a genuine possibility that a global chart, pushed by the major record companies and adopted by these ‘gatekeepers’, could become a bigger priority than local equivalent charts. That goes especially in those countries where local charts are not well-organised, robust machines.

In the UK, the Official Charts Company is a solid operation with lots of industry stakeholders that help keep it neutral and democratic. It is no fluke that when it came to introducing streaming into the UK chart, there was months of debate and discussion with the industry, and at least an attempt was made to maintain the ‘integrity’ and scientific approach of the chart.

But in most other countries, charts lose money. They are subsidised by the local majors to a large degree. And if the paying client wants to change the rules, they’ll change the rules. They are paying the bill, after all.

If this comes to pass – and I’m not saying it definitely will, but we must bear it in mind – then if you are then releasing your records country-by-country, you have no hope of being No.1 of the industry-standard chart.

Look at the way [PIAS] works with Agnes Obel. We released it in Benelux and France first, and based on the success we had there we moved it to another country.

We’ve had Oscar & The Wolf in the Top 5 in Belgium for 45 weeks. If we release it tomorrow in Germany, we have a story to take to that big market: this artist is triple-platinum in Belgium where they have spent almost a year in the chart – you should pay attention.

“vivendi recently tied its publicity business to its music business, universal. It needs huge global trademarks.”

There are many of these stories: Milky Chance were a huge independent success across Europe in the past two years, Passenger the same – both benefitted greatly from a territory-by-territory release.

This strategy means you can sign something in January, release it in March with no fanfare, work out it’s doing well in, let’s say, Ireland, try to push it there, then based on that result maybe try to convince the Scottish or the Spanish to push it.

It is about being careful with your money.

But if a global chart reigns supreme, development artists and local artists will have to get used to hearing the voice of America, everywhere. Big money, big global campaigns, will dominate.
This can only help the blockbusters become even bigger, for a longer period of time, in more markets.

UMG owner Vivendi recently tied its publicity business to its music business, Universal. Guess what a publicity business needs to maximise its business? Huge global trademarks. Like the ten biggest artists in the world.

Two things can prevent this problematic outcome. The first is the most important: music fans.

In most European countries, local music accounts for 50% of the charts.

The public will lead whether that will continue. Nothing says that just because you push a global chart topped by Lady Gaga and Sam Smith, German people aren’t going to buy German music. It’s not black and white.

As for [PIAS] and our fellow non-major music companies, I recommend that we do exactly what we’ve done: resist, create, don’t be distracted by being ‘No.1’ – and talk directly to the people who love music.

For many independents, of course, that will be business as usual.