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The Record Business Thrives in 2022

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Story by Joe Leary

It’s easy to appreciate just how much the business of selling records has been altered by years of advancing technology. Yet despite substantial transformational developments, records still exist, and the promotion people within the various record companies still rely on the services of commercial radio stations to get their artists airplay.

Dale Robertson has been in the record business game for nearly 30 years on the label side, following a stint on the retail music side in 1991. Robertson holds the title of National Promotions Director, Universal Music Canada, and recalls a much wider landscape of record labels back then. Story by Joe Leary “At that time there were seven record labels: BMG, A&M, MCA, Sony, Capitol, Warner and Polygram.”

Today there are three (Universal, Sony and Warner). “The various label reps would come into our store as CD sales were still just getting started back then.”

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“Now that radio stations are opening up again and offering a physical visit, you can get back into ‘feeling the energy’ in the room.”

Major releases from rock acts Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soungarden helped to further establish the digital boom, thus sounding the death knell for earlier methods of recordings. “CD’s totally killed vinyl,” he adds.

“That’s not to say that cassettes didn’t, but CD’s were much easier for a variety of reasons. For one, it was convenient and you could have the entire record on one side. “It was also portable and you could easily play it on a Discman or in the car, and getting to the next song was immediate.”

And while digital technology has made access to artists and the recordings infinitely easier since through myriad sources, record promotion people still play a key role in the overall process; certainly with respect to radio stations as they too remain a key component within the mix.

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“I deal with radio stations from coast to coast primarily and there’s a team that I work with closely. “I also captain the country format, which is a substantial part of our roster, so there are a lot of great artists I get to work with.”

The primary objective of the promotion person is to “sell” the record and/or selected single to radio station programmers. And while some may veer away from the recommended track in favour of something else, Robertson acknowledges that in the end it all proves beneficial in overall exposure.

“Sometimes they’re right,” he admits, but cautions, “They’re not going to have the advantage of all the other radio stations that went with the chosen single, especially when it comes to building a new artist.”

As for the various recording formats, interest in vinyl is again renewed and has helped stem the tide of declining overall sales within Canada.

According to sales tracker data, more than 1.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2021, an increase of nearly 22 percent over 2020, a year in which sales suffered, due largely to COVID-19 and the resulting supply chain issues. Today, the various applications of music (physical, digital, vinyl and compact disc) blissfully coexist, bolstering sales and trending up.

“These days it’s a hybrid of a physical and digital business,” says Robertson on today’s reality. “Using Zoom became the norm over the last couple of years, but now that the radio stations are opening up again and offering a physical visit, you can get back into ‘feeling the energy’ in the room.

“You can pick up the odd social cue from Zoom, but it’s not the same. “In terms of music delivery, currently it’s now completely digital. “We service all our singles to radio on Wave files, which they then download on their end.”

The record business remains vibrant in 2022 and Universal Music has much to brag about. “We’ve been fortunate, given our roster of artists such as Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Olivia Rodrigo, just to name a few and even more fortunate on the artist development side as we help grow and nurture careers.

“I’m extremely proud of the impact we’ve had here in Canada as our roster continues to blossom.” And the future looks bright. “The progress we’ve made with the likes of Josh Ross, Reve and Preston Pablo is just getting started – and radio’s support has been instrumental. “It hardly feels like work – any day of the week!”

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