Music mood muted despite Lady Gaga, more big albums

Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:06am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - When even Lady Gaga can't lift the gloom, you know the music industry is in the doldrums.

Despite a release schedule that includes the reigning queen of pop, Britney Spears, R.E.M., U2 and Coldplay, record labels are bracing themselves for another tough year.

Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI -- the market leaders -- struggled in 2010 as they have for a decade, hampered by online piracy, shrinking retail space and an inability to adapt to technological change.

Global recorded music sales overall slumped by nine percent last year, and figures out last week estimated that some 19 of 20 tracks downloaded from the Internet were illegal.

The scale of piracy and other challenges suggest that no matter which artists are competing for chart supremacy, 2011 sales are virtually guaranteed to extend their long slide.

"I don't see any indication that record sales are going to improve, because it's got nothing to do with the quality of the music," said U.S. music critic Robert Christgau in a blunt assessment of the business prospects.

That does not make release schedules irrelevant, with companies still hopeful their artists will rise to the top and repay their time and investment.

Top of the pile is widely tipped to be "pop provocateur" Lady Gaga with "Born This Way," due out on May 23. Not one to shy away from the hype, the singer has called it "my absolute greatest work I've ever done."   Continued...