One of the best things about working in a library is that customers come in with such a wide range of requests there will likely be times we are helping people with subjects that I also share as a hobby or interest. If, like me, you are a keen music fan, it is great when you are able to assist customers with their music-related research enquiries. In the Business & IP Centre, these queries could relate to a huge span of time, and we could be helping customers who are just recently following their passion to start a business or looking to innovate it further. Music is the perfect example of an industry which highlights how important innovation is and how this has already been consistently happening over centuries.
I frequently receive queries on historical musical inventions, such as finding historic patent registrations by Emile Berliner, who is the inventor of the gramophone and recording disc. Some of this information may be on open source on the Internet, on specialist databases held in the Business & IP Centre or available on Espacenet. Berliner’s patent registrations are particularly interesting because they give a sense of the trial and error approach he was going through when he was developing the gramophone, and the constant improvements that he was putting in place and patenting. Another example I have particularly enjoyed is when I helped with a research enquiry into the invention of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Thanks to other inventors who have followed in the path of people like Emile Berliner, recorded music is now worth £700 million, and in 2017 music publishing was worth £505 million, representing year-on-year increases of 9% and 7% respectively according a report by UK Music.
The developments in smartphones and tech have encouraged many innovations, notably, the acceleration of streaming music. You may have kept up to date on the battle between streaming services and artists who argue that these streaming channels do not foster a “fair digital marketplace” or protect the financial rights of the musicians. Despite these conflicts, things seems to have fallen into place for the streaming suppliers with reports saying that a huge 86% of consumers listen to music through on-demand audio and video streaming, and that video streaming in fact makes up more than half of on-demand music streaming time, at 52% (M Magazine). In recent years, streaming music has also been noted by institutions such as YouGov for reducing the rates in illegal downloading as consumers prefer the listening options and fairer pricing offered by streaming services.
However, interestingly, there have also been innovations in musical consumption in the last decade that have seemed like more of a throwback. Vinyl has seen a revival with a record high in sales and some record stores still thriving on the high street. Research by Kantar Worldpanel has also revealed that vinyl record sales in the UK are growing, up by 6.6% in 2018. You may have noticed too that there is a push for customers to visit their local record stores, boosted by Record Store Day, which takes place in April and is supported by BBC Sounds. It is clear that old ways of consuming music aren’t dead in the water, and sometimes good business isn’t just about innovating in the traditional way, but also about repositioning older propositions.
Back at the Business & IP Centre, we also have customers who want to look more into trends and consumer behaviour. Our market research databases and library collection have great information to help them understand and develop their business ideas on this topic, while our Music Industry Guide is a very helpful list of all the resources (including some free internet sources) available in the Business & IP Centre. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to break into the business side of the music industry and helps provide a sense of the length and breadth of opportunities awaiting you.
And when you’re done at the Business & IP Centre, you can look elsewhere in the Library for a continuation of your exploration of sounds. Some of our recent exhibitions have made use of our unique Sound Archive, housed in the library such as ‘Listen – 140 of Recorded Sound’ and ‘Windrush – Songs in a StrangeLand’. Our Sound Archive is also accessible through our Listening Rooms and there are over 200,000 tracks to request in advance and explore. If you are looking to research something historical, literary or wildlife, in particular, this is bound to have something on record that sparks your interest.
So whether you want to develop content, designs, a business plan, or just get some sound-based inspiration, at the British Library we are here to help. Come on in to chat and we’ll be sure to lend an ear.
Seema Rampersad, Senior Business Researcher & Service Manager at the Business & IP Centre London
Seema has worked in the field of business information for over 25 years. She is currently a member of the Research Team within the British Library’s Business & IP Centre where she delivers reference work, 1-2-1 business advice clinics, as well as workshops and webinars on regular basis.