Rick Rosenberg: Streaming needs to be embraced…or else

[Publisher's Note: SoulTracks regularly encourages our music industry friends to contribute articles that address issues of the day, and particularly issues that impact independent soul music artists. Here we are proud to present this opinion piece from music label veteran Rick Rosenberg]

(February 27, 2018) -- January 16, 2009. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Circuit City, the #1 supporter of adult driven R&B and Contemporary Jazz CD’s, was shuttering. Closing its doors. Kaput. Goodbye. Besides the obvious empathy that I felt for the many people who would lose their means of employment—including many great people in the music department with whom I worked closely—a sense of fear quickly enveloped all of us at the Shanachie office.

[Publisher's Note: SoulTracks regularly encourages our music industry friends to contribute articles that address issues of the day, and particularly issues that impact independent soul music artists. Here we are proud to present this opinion piece from music label veteran Rick Rosenberg]

(February 27, 2018) -- January 16, 2009. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Circuit City, the #1 supporter of adult driven R&B and Contemporary Jazz CD’s, was shuttering. Closing its doors. Kaput. Goodbye. Besides the obvious empathy that I felt for the many people who would lose their means of employment—including many great people in the music department with whom I worked closely—a sense of fear quickly enveloped all of us at the Shanachie office.

As much as 40% of our overall physical ship out on our R&B and Smooth Jazz releases went to Circuit City. More importantly, being in a Circuit City Sunday circular or on a listening station in their hundreds of stores was often the difference between a release being discovered—or not being discovered at all.

How do you make that up? How do you replace your #1 account and at the same time your #1 source of promotion/marketing in one fell swoop?

Of course we weren’t alone and somehow we all survived. Digital continued to emerge and labels like ours began to gain new and needed support from iTunes and the like. Certain independent retailers, along with some of the remaining chains and big boxes, recognized the opportunity and offered new and greater support for adult-driven music. New and growing revenue sources such as performance rights via Sound Exchange began to emerge. Finally, this little thing referred to as “Streaming” started to bubble under, initially creating angst, then curiosity, and, ultimately, excitement.

With all of that, the physical market continued to dilapidate and nothing really made up for the loss of Circuit City. So we survived…but not without some pain. When Best Buy recently announced their exit from carrying music CD’s come this July, I barely blinked. Best Buy had barely been carrying anything but the truly top line R&B and Smooth Jazz titles anyway. Their closure will have little impact on our ability to release new music.

Now, however, we face some new and very real challenges that once again threaten the survival of labels such as Shanachie along with the talented artists of these still in-demand genres. As mentioned previously, there is a lot of excitement about the emergence of the streaming model and rightfully so. For one, there are many, many choices from which the consumer can choose. From Spotify to Apple Music…from Amazon Music Unlimited to Google Play, each streaming platform offers amazing technology, selection and convenience. The “argument” of where the best place to stream is reminiscent of the days when music fans would delight about their loyalty to Tower Records vs. the next person’s affinity to buy CD’s at Virgin Records.

Additionally, availability is never an issue. If we release it, it’s there on all of these platforms without failure when it’s supposed to be. The days of praying and begging for the staff at brick and mortar retail to open the boxes and get the product on the shelves are over.

Most importantly, the discovery mechanism that these platforms offer is nothing short of a gold mine for the music listener. Simply put, there is just no greater way to find and discover new music whether it comes from your favorite artist or someone you never heard of before..

So my question to you—the lover of true R&B and smooth Jazz—is this: Where are you??

The R&B/Smooth Jazz fan is embracing the streaming era at a pace that is greatly lagging behind the emergence of this medium. The numbers are simply not adding up. CD sales—down. Digital downloads—down. Streaming? Up—but not nearly enough to make up the difference.

Don’t get me wrong here. We want the consumer to consume the music any which way you want to. We intend to continue to release music on CD. Amazon.com is certainly a great resource for those that still want physical product as sometimes are brick and mortar retailers like Walmart, FYE, Barnes & Noble, and the many great remaining independent accounts. Digital downloads are certainly a remaining option and for those who prefer to purchase and own their music this way, have at it! The download stores are still there (for now).

However, both physical and download sales continue to slide downward with streaming not yet making up the difference. Are many listeners just choosing not to listen at all?

For artists and labels like us to continue to be able to bring the best in contemporary R&B and Smooth Jazz, we need the streaming opportunity to be embraced at a much greater level. It’s a penny business now (or 1/10ths of pennies to be more accurate), and our pennies aren’t adding up. The result is a domino effect that results in less records being released, lower budgets to sign, record, market and promote, and a self-fulfilling prophecy of projects that, while critically acclaimed, don’t turn a profit. Not good for the future of the artists, labels and these genres that we all love so very much.

So my message is a simple one—embrace modern times! Transition to the here and now! The conversion has so much to offer and embrace and most importantly it’s a vital component to ensure that you the consumer continues to be serviced with the very best music from the artists that you love.

Rick Rosenberg is a 20+ year veteran of the recording industry who has risen to become an established sales, distribution and marketing executive within the independent music community. Rick is a respected force on the independent label and distribution landscape and a key business development executive who has led Shanachie’s charge into all relevant digital platforms and new business models.

 

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