We started this series of articles looking at areas of the music industry that have stoically refused to move with the times and technology. It’s high time we looked at some of the ways the music industry has attempted to move with the times, for reasons known only to itself, and made some questionable decisions within the structure of the industry.

There is no ‘normal’ route for a band to become attached to a record label, but it’s generally agreed that established procedure is along the lines of being discovered by a record company A&R person (Artists and Repertoire - the person responsible for finding new acts, and pairing them up with songwriters, promoters etc.)

It was then the record company’s job to promote their new find with another department, cleverly called Promotions, which includes PR (public relations - the people who e-mail me and insist their latest charges are the best thing since sliced bread), pluggers, and many other work experience students. It is this department’s job to make sure there’s enough awareness (or ‘hype’) of a record before it comes out to ensure it sells as well as possible.

Finally, a finished product would hit the stands, miraculously timed to coincide with a slew of magazine articles, radio and TV appearances, T-shirt sales, and tours.

This, of course, still happens. You can often find A&R people propping up the bars at underground gigs (see if you can spot them... keeps me entertained for hours.) But there’s so much more music out there these days. What about that band that made the charts whilst still being ‘unsigned’? There are more opportunities for self-promotion these days, thanks to the Internet and sites like MySpace and Facebook. Basically, draw as much attention to yourself as possible and you’re not reliant on the massive chance of an A&R bod being in the right place at the right time to recognise your genius. Page views are also a very good guide for the record company as to how popular a band could potentially be and could be a factor in their decision rather than going purely on instinct about what will sell. But in the end these bands will be absorbed into a record label because it’s highly unlikely anyone can self-fund every aspect of their own career. But it’s a new way of starting and the increase in bloggers and Internet scribes willing to promote bands that get in touch with them without the aid of a PR company is continuing.

Let’s look at it from another angle: how do you go out and find new music? A few years ago you might have popped down to your local independent record store and asked (or, more likely, just been given) the opinion of the sales staff on your choice of purchase. Nowadays, if you can find your local independent record store, which would have been visited by record company promotions staff and plied with posters, T-shirts, and other goodies, it’s a miracle. Your other choice is the massive homogenised retailers, either those specialising in music or perhaps supermarkets. These large companies don't promote the music in the same way - the staff could probably tell you where in the store a particular CD is, but unlikely to offer their opinion on the latest indie release. And I’ve yet to meet a journalist who has encouraged their readers to get on down to Tesco for whatever they reviewed.

Very often record companies will make deals with one particular chain of stores to become the sole distributors of a certain record. Want to know why it’s such a big deal being banned from sale in Wal-Mart? Because lots of people go to Wal-Mart, and for them their annual album buy is alongside their grocery shopping. It’s a market that wouldn’t necessarily have the time or inclination to seek out music for its own sake. It’s also incredibly cheap. And if your record company has a sole distribution deal with Wal-Mart, nowhere else will stock your record. Ergo, album fails, and the band is in trouble.

The other sad knock-on effect of this is that by making the deal directly between the record company and one seller is that the chain of distribution is destroyed, there’s no need to promote or plug the record anywhere else, or distribute CDs to other retailers. They’ve just cut out the jobs in their own company!

Not only have they cut their own promoters and distributors out of the chain and threatened the survival of both independent and large chain record stores (remember Zavvi?), they have also alienated both the traditional and internet press with such deals. You’ve probably come to R13 because we cover new music, but if you went to ASDA or Target you probably wouldn’t find most of that music on their shelves; out of all the music out there, it’s automatically narrowed down to the most saleable. You pick up the one thing you want, and aren’t aware of anything beyond their ‘chart’.

Since the advent of digital music, downloading has become a hot topic and source of much music industry distress. The availability of illegal downloads has had a massive impact on record company (and thus band - remember that!) profits, but so has legal downloading. Why buy a physical album when you can get it from iTunes for a ridiculously low price? That price is so low because fewer people need to be paid for an album to reach its audience. There’s no CD printing, cover design, shipping and handling, record store promotion. It’s just an mp3 moving from one computer to another. But if the record company doesn’t earn enough from product sales, they can’t invest that profit in the development of new and existing bands on their roster.

Download-only releases limit the music in record stores, and stretch the chain of communication between these stores and the record companies to breaking point. The problem with the music industry putting all its promotional eggs in one basket is that when technology moves on again, where does that leave the business? Surely it would have been better to keep as many options open as possible. Many people don’t own a computer, or object to downloading on principle - how does new music reach them? Until the chain of distribution and promotion is reinstated or replaced, the choice of music and the format it reaches you in is likely to remain in decline.