CULTURE

Stooping lower to reach higher

This is not the first time the Greek music industry has fallen on hard times. But never before have sales figures dropped to such shameful levels. The annual rate of domestic CD releases is continuing at its customary pace of between 1,100 and 1,200 annually. New technologies are providing new sales channels for the music industry, the Internet and mobile telephony being the dominant domains. As these new sales outlets continue to expand, the local music industry is also keeping busy manufacturing ways to optimize the images of artists. The basic tool at work here is the manipulation of sales figures certifying gold and platinum status for albums. Until last year, albums were certified as gold by the industry when sales figures struck 20,000 units. Just days ago, this required sales level, unattainable for most – and which had been revised downward late in 2001 – was lowered again to 15,000. Critics of this downward shift argue that the achievement of earning a gold record is being lost. But, then again, the gold and platinum award system has always been about promotion, or a reminder by the record companies of what is on offer. In 1997, acquiring gold status required a sales figure of 25,000 copies. Further back, in 1991, the figure used to be 30,000 and, until October, 1990, going gold meant striking sales figures of 50,000 units. The system has followed a similar downward trend for singles releases too. At present, a single is certified as gold if it sells 7,500 copies, down from 10,000 until recently. This ongoing manipulation of sales figures to ultimately maximize promotion is not the only development being witnessed in the local music industry over the past year. A considerable number of 10-inch vinyl releases have also emerged. Their arrival, a nostalgic-minded move mostly for the rereleases of Greek golden oldies, has reignited some interest in the vinyl format, but only to a marginal degree. The past year has also seen the emergence of an increased number of independent record companies. A certain number of these were established so that their owners could freely hand out CDs without any form of corporate hindrance. «It’s simple to set up a home studio and record a CD that sounds professional for about 2 euros per unit. Then, by forming your own company, you just hand out the CD and promote yourself,» said Petros Dragoumanos, a mathematician turned music industry statistician and analyst who, for years, has put out incredibly comprehensive industry guides. Dragoumanos’s latest edition, on the DVD format, includes detailed discographies, domestic releases from 1950 to the present year, and commentary on industry change. Titled «Greek Discography: 1950-2006,» the guide documents 27,703 Greek LPs, CDs and singles, and includes information on 10,832 acts, 16,539 songs, details on collaborations, as well as trivia about long-forgotten hits, even numbers that remained obscure. The current situation of cheap handout CDs for self-promotional purposes echoes the tactics employed by emerging artists a couple of decades ago, who used the audio cassette. The difference between then and now, though, is that in the cassette era, aspiring acts offered their work, usually in demo form, to record companies with the hope of striking a deal. These days, the homemade CDs are reaching radio stations. If major stations don’t go for the musical bait, the country’s numerous provincial stations seem to think otherwise. Youngsters have turned to the Internet for self-promotion by including their work on websites that offer free music. The artists don’t receive any royalties here. Whatever the means, the objective is success. The music industry is reacting to all these do-it-yourself marketing maneuvers in a variety of ways. For instance, they are releasing CDs sold with accompanying publications, such as biographies and guides. New sub-labels commemorating important artists and movements are surfacing. Also, another common music industry response is to release CDs accompanied by a DVD featuring related content, such as artist interviews, rehearsals and concert footage, all for the price of one CD. Low-priced compilation CDs, selling at about 7 euros, is another of the reactions by the music industry to the market’s depleted sales figures. For further information on Petros Dragoumanos’s «Greek Discography: 1950-2006,» e-mail [email protected] or call 6932.850.519.