Friday, April 27, 2012

Roadrunner Records Closed

Question from Stephen Payne (swpayne@blueyonder.co.uk) : Hi Dig I'm reading with dismay what's happening to Roadrunner UK / Worldwide. Can you please give us your take as to what is likely to happen to the bands on the label? I was under the impression that Roadrunner was massive. Will labels like Earache live on? thanks Stephen
from swpayne@blueyonder.co.uk

Answer: Thursday 26th April 2012 will go down as the day the global metal scene went into shock as Roadrunner Records closed its doors  in the UK and EU after being absorbed into its parent company Warner Music Group.

 For over 30 years since Dutch native Cees Wessels (pictured) founded RR as an Indie label in the early 80s, Roadrunner Records led the way and shaped the tastes of every metalhead across the globe (including myself). Behind the scenes, the successful careers of the metal artists  we all know and love was achieved mainly because of the unseen army of staffers (A&R, Marketing,  Distribution, Promotion, Touring, Videos, Accounts etc)  toiling away in various RR offices- many of whom dedicated their working lives to promoting metal - but were sadly let go yesterday as Warners Music Group closed the RR offices across Europe and UK. Dozens of staffers were made instantly redundant, presumably as part of cost cutting/ consolidation measures.

RR ceased to be a true Independent in 2006 as the founder sold the majority of his company to WMG, and by the end of 2010 Warners had completed the buy-out, to assume 100% ownership. Consolidation was inevitable ever since WMG took sole control, because RR simply couldn't decide its own destiny any more. The July 2011  $3.3 Billion purchase of WMG itself by the chemical/media group Access Industries added another top-level hierarchy and no doubt spurred this decision.

I don't think the bands contracts with Roadrunner will be affected, records will still be released, distro'd, and promoted as normal, a few of the very key staffers will probably remain. Though some bands like Slipknot (see Clowns statement above) and Trivium have taken the shake-up  badly and went public to show their support for the staffers who have been left jobless by the office closures.  Its a rare thing for bands to publicly appreciate the workers behind the scenes,  gotta applaud Clown and Matt Heafy for taking such a  stance.

I'd speculate that the decision made by WMG execs to shutter the UK/EU offices and dramatically downsize the USA HQ  has been prompted by concerns over falling profits at the group as a whole in tough trading conditions. Sales-wise, Roadrunner is massive, by far the biggest Metal label in the world -  dwarfing Earache and even the German powerhouses too - but what everyone overlooks is that Metal is almost a niche genre when compared to the gargantuan sales of Pop/ R&B and Electronic music which dominates the airwaves and TV channels.  Metal acts sell concert tickets and pack out summer festivals, but  traditionally sell zero singles for example. Even on albums, Metal lags behind Pop-  Nickelback's "Here And Now" (RR/WMG) has sold 150,000 copies to date in the UK,  which is decent, but pales in comparison with say, Bruno Mars' 1.5 million selling "Doo Wops and Holligans " (Elektra/WMG)- that number is more in the ballpark of what these Major labels are used to dealing with.

 Europe is also a tough  place to do business currently, due to recession and rampant downloading which has decimated profits in the recorded music biz. Compared to USA, Europe has always been a tricky territory to operate in anyway, there are different laws, something like 25 languages and a different culture every 200/400 miles or so in every direction. Pan-European operations come with a hefty price tag.

To answer your question-- cutting back on staffers doesn't necessarily mean a cull of bands will follow. Fans won't have to worry- I guess the majority of bands will  continue to record and be released on the RR imprint label of Warners  -much like Elektra and Atlantic  was absorbed before it in the 1970s. On a day to day basis WMG staffers will  take on the back-office functions,  while most of the marketing & promotion functions will inevitably transfer to WMG staffers instead. The execs will gamble on the fact that Warners do have a history of promoting million-selling radio-friendly Rock acts like Linkin Park and Green Day- but does that mean they can promote the likes of  Dream Theater,  Opeth or Machine Head too?  Time will tell if they are right.

As the old adage says:  "It's the Music Business - 10% Music, 90% Business."

I wish all those affected by the cutbacks the very best of luck.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't come as any surprise this happened.

I used to work for Sony Music Digital group and if WMG are anything like the bulk of Sony, they still do not understand their audience's purchasing habits or make any efforts to do so.

Another parallel is most likely the guys at the top see RR as a brand name and can be run from WMG central offices. Sony certainly work this way with labels nothing more than a brand tag.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Eric Syre said...

Your posts sums it up, it's 10% music and 90% business. When you're running such a huge business, you act accordingly, I guess.

1:43 PM  

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