Music Business Worldwide: The Response
In March 2018, Music Business Worldwide published an interview with our founder and CEO, Carl Hitchborn. It received a huge, huge response, and sparked heated debate about all aspects of the music industry. Almost two months later, Carl reflects on the article’s reception, why he thinks it received so much attention, what he’d say to the eternal naysayers, and his positive hopes for the future of the music industry.
“While I knew just how much we were rocking the boat, plugging away behind the scenes trying to find and implement new and better ways of doing things in the modern music industry, before the article went live very few people outside of the High Time orbit were aware of just how hard we’ve been working to be the change we want to see in the industry, and the kinds of challenges we’ve had to face down along the way. From old school record company execs to live promoters and booking agents, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that what we’re trying to do isn’t possible, that everything would fall from under me – and now I’m losing count of the times we’ve proved them wrong.
I expected the article to have an impact, as I knew other people felt the same way I did behind closed doors, but the level of engagement it received and the debates it sparked was truly phenomenal. This shows that even in the modern world of easy access to a wide spectrum of genres (and quality) of music, the passion for the industry, and the desire to make it work for both the consumer and the artist, is still very much alive.
I’ve been accused of courting controversy with some of the things I said in the article, but I don’t think what we advocate is all that controversial, and I know many others are thinking the same. The majority of people who shared the article online did so because they believed in what I was saying. A lot of the points raised reflect views I know others in the music industry already hold, but don’t voice publicly for fear of repercussions in a major label-led industry that is characterised by a toxic blame culture, where people seek to attach themselves to the ‘next big thing’ and run a mile from any artist perceived to be on the out. There are no such fears in the High Time ecosystem.
The motivation behind resistance to innovation and technology within the industry is clear: the major labels would find it difficult to match our model even if they wanted to. They’ve created their legacy, and now they are being held back by it – they have too many artists on traditional record label contracts, which we all know to be unfair and hugely weighted to their advantage, to ever be able to instigate radical change. They are buried in old methods and short-sighted measures of success. It would cause huge issues within their existing business model if they were to disrupt that. They own the history of music, but they won’t, can’t, own its future.
Just because major labels can’t offer what we’re offering to artists and be innovative and competitive in this way, doesn’t mean that they can’t see the value in doing things differently. Whilst they can’t compete with the fairness of newer models, they still want to work with independent labels like High Time to harness and use our new infrastructure, and hold onto a slice of the new music industry. If you look for it, there is evidence of this everywhere: all major labels have invested heavily into their distribution and label services, the business that enables them to work with independent labels, and with artists who want to remain independent, providing the valuable service that they’ve refined over decades, but on an ad hoc basis.
One trend I noticed in the replies and comments the article got was that people think High Time is ‘anti-major label’. I can see how it seems like we are, but we’re absolutely not. We just don’t agree with their model. The High Time ethos is anti-inefficiency, anti-dogma, anti-stagnation. There is still a place for the traditional giants of the industry; they’ve done incredible work, and have access to invaluable resources and contacts - there is so much to build on, and there is a place in the new world (believe me, it’s coming) for anyone who is able to let go of the past and move forward. High Time is about being progressive, and looking to the future – we are already working closely with Warner in the UK, and we certainly see a place for these big players in the new landscape. I’m not looking to replace anyone, or push anyone out. I’m not detracting from the past, or diminishing its value.
It’s never been about us versus them, new versus old. To me, being progressive is about recognising what’s been done, identifying what needs updating, and moving forward for the good of the industry as a whole.
Of course not everyone responded positively to the article, and a lot of critics lamented the changing nature of music consumption and commerce in the technological era, based on a misplaced belief that the ‘art’ of music is being lost or ignored. This is a real shame. So many people value history over what comes next. There is definitely a kind of romantic attachment to the music industry of old, but we can’t let an idealised view of the past stop us from moving into the future. The world is changing every day; people, and industries, have to move on, or they’ll be left behind. Doing things in a new way for today doesn’t detract from or deny the value of what went before. This is just how the world works.
What’s done is done; it’s about what we do today, tomorrow. The time to do is now.”