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The London Riots: Another Blow to the Music Industry

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Tying (somewhat) into a theme from last week, there are many independent labels that may be in outright jeopardy, all due to one of the year’s most tragic events.

The London riots earlier this month were sad to witness. Much has been written about the riots by many with a much greater perspective than myself, and rightfully so. Aside from observations of the devastation, the numbers speak for themselves: more than 3,000 arrests, five dead, at least 16 others injured, and an estimated 200 million pounds in property damage.

Those numbers are not to be taken lightly at all. Another aspect of the riots are the numbers that could have a huge impact on the music business as well. According to the UK Telegraph, nearly 200 independent record labels lost 3.2 million pieces because of nearly 20 rioters. Three of them – two 17-year-old boys and an 18-year-old – have been arrested.

Witnesses say the group was near the Sony distribution center in Waltham Abbey when the warehouse containing millions in stock – CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, games, and other items – was set ablaze. The three-story warehouse burned while 40 firefighters battled the blaze, finally containing the fire. But several labels suffered devastating losses to the point that recovery may not be an option.

Spencer Hickman, manager of Rough Trade East, seems to think that may come to pass. “I’m convinced that some labels will go under,” he says. “It’s pretty devastating for us. It’s more innocent people being affected. They might be insured, but will insurance policies pay out on civil disobedience?”

Nathaniel Cramp, who runs the Sonic Cathedral label, is more blunt about the losses on his end. “Nothing’s going to be sold for months, and I don’t know what will happen. There’s no way of distributing records. My back catalogues are all gone. I can’t afford to get another run done for older releases.”

Indeed, many smaller artists on other smaller labels have now seen their entire catalogs destroyed, with no options for re-producing them for sale or distribution. There is a series of fundraiser shows planned under the header of “LabelLove,” and fans have been encouraged to purchase hard copies rather than digital downloads to help those in need. But is all of this going to be enough?

The loss of life and livelihood on many fronts is a depressing fact coming out of the London riots. Lost among the myriad stories of despair, however, is a potentially crippling blow to independent artists and labels. As if things aren’t tough enough for smaller artists looking to get noticed in a sea of corporate deluge and endless entertainment options, now many of them have nothing to sell due to the catastrophe that has befallen the UK. Many of those options may be taken off the board because of what has happened here.

There are many reasons for sending thoughts and prayers out to those affected in London. But now there are reasons for sending those same wishes to smaller artists and labels affected by this who may have lost their careers. This is a great time to not only support those recovering from the London riots, but also from the loss of livelihood as a result of them.

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About Michael Melchor