What will the music industry leave behind when lockdown lifts?

Music Week

Lockdown has taught us many things. But amidst the constant Groundhog Days of Zoom calls and crossed out diary entries, it has been particularly good for realising the things you can’t live without – and rationalising the ones that no longer seem quite so necessary.

And, just as people are ditching travelcards and gym subscriptions in favour of a bike and a run round the park, and vowing never to go back to meeting face-to-face, so business is making some big decisions about what the future will look like. And the things being changed are not always the ones you might expect.

Last week, for example, Universal Music rebranded the UK’s current most successful label, Virgin EMI, and brought back the world-famous EMI Records imprint, with Rebecca Allen installed as label president after the departure of Ted Cockle. With persistent rumours around the launch of Def Jam UK, more big, future-shaping moves from the biggest major seem likely.

Meanwhile, in this week’s new issue of Music Week, HMV owner Doug Putman hints at issues with suppliers as he finally re-opens his stores after several weeks of closed doors. 

HMV has been a High Street institution for so long, it’s perhaps inevitable that some people now take it for granted. And it has had certainly had its fair share of support from labels over the years. And, while some sectors of the music industry have probably been pleasantly surprised in recent weeks at how they can get by as a near digital-only business, there were also encouraging signs of pent-up demand for physical product in the first week back. It would be a big call indeed if anyone chose to walk away from the last chain standing, just as it was looking steadier on its feet.

But no doubt there will be further big decisions about the future shape of the biz to be made in the next few weeks. As lockdown eases, it will be more and more apparent which companies remain in a strong position, and which ones have been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic.

It’s probably asking too much to expect the music biz ecosystem to be rebuilt exactly as it was pre-Covid. But given we don’t yet know how swift or complete any recovery will be, you’d hope no decisions are made in haste, only to be repented on at leisure.

After all, as lockdown drags on, we’ve still got the time and space to look at things from every angle.

* For more on HMV's return, see the new issue of Music Week, available now. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, sign up to our digital issue by clicking here.

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