09 March 2009
The Independent newspaper gave away the album "Better Than Heavy" by Mongrel on Saturday. It's billed as "A CD that makes history", the first time that a band has launched itself by distributing its debut album with a newspaper. The album itself is a hybrid of hip-hop and indie, and boasts 16 rappers on the track "Alphabet Assassins".
This development isn't quite as amazing as the Independent might have us believe. The group is made up from members of Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, and Reverend and the Makers. So the giveaway has a strong promotional hook inside the conventional record industry.
The model of distributing music for free with newspapers does threaten the conventional music industry. As the focus shifts towards the live experience, the value of recorded music is falling. But until newspapers start taking the risk of breaking genuinely new bands, that nobody has ever heard of, there will always be a place for the record label. A brave newspaper could take on the role of breaking new talent, but for now it's the name on the CD that sells the newspaper, and not the other way around.
(There's much more about the future of the music industry in my novel University of Death.)