Monday, December 26, 2011

An Interview With Topspin's Ian Rogers

Ian Rogers image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
Formerly the General Manager of Yahoo Music, Ian Rogers is currently the CEO of Topspin Media, one of the premier direct-to-fan services currently available. A frequent panelist at industry conferences world-wide, he is one of the most respected and widely quoted voices in the music business today.  I was lucky to  have him agree to an interview for the 2nd edition of my Music 3.0 Internet Music guidebook. Here's a brief excerpt from that interview.
"Where do you see things heading a couple of years down the line?
I really see things crystalizing. The industry has been in the way of what consumers wanted for the last fifteen years, but it’s finally getting pushed out of the way. The way fans are consuming music will change again in the next five years time, which should really scare the industry. They just got used to the idea of digital downloads and now they’re going to see their distribution format change yet again.

Five years from now you won’t connect your computer by a wire and transfer tunes to it. CD sales will continue to decline, but they won’t decline to zero because some people will still want collectables. Things like box sets or 12 inch vinyl will still exist.

Then you’re going to have two types of services. One is the subscription services, which are the Spotifys of the world, like Spotify, Rdio, MOG, and Rhapsody. I don’t think you’ll see many new entrants there, and in fact, the weak ones will probably get bought by a company with an existing subscriber base, such as a cable or wireless company.
 And then you’re going to have Apple, Google and Amazon with these more sovereignty-based [cloud] services. You buy the track in some form so you own it, and then it’s lockered and you can access that track from any device. That’s what it’s going to look like.

Companies like Topspin are going to be dealing with the direct-to-consumer channel which will be for the higher end goods. Digital is 50% of our volume and 25% of our revenue right now, but it’s possible that ratio will decrease over time.

What’s the best way to break an act these days?
I’m not sure that it’s changed all that much. More than ever you have to have something that people are passionate about, and you have to build awareness through great recordings and touring. Step two is different in that you now have to build real fan connections and a real relationship with those fans. If you’re lucky enough to do both of those things, then you can talk about selling something.

I think another difference between the proverbial yesterday and today is that we’re moving from a mass market to mass niches, so you have to know what the first niche is that you’re targeting and then go after it. You don’t put the music out there and see who adopts you, you have to know when and how and where you fit. Square peg, square hole, you just go straight into it.

If you look at the way that Yeasayer did it, it wasn’t about an all-out blitzkrieg. Their manager said, “I know exactly the audience that is going to like this. I’m going to tailor our approach to fit that.” It wasn’t that he changed the way they looked or anything, but he didn’t let any photos of the band get out for the first twelve months. He had a specific way that he wanted people to experience the music and the art that went with it. He knew it would resonate with a certain audience, and that’s the way he let it unfold, naturally but still really deliberate. Once he saturated that niche, then he moved on to another audience that would likely dig it, and treated it like it was a brand new band and pulled all those levers again.

The typical scenario is more of a shotgun approach, that “If only I can get it out there, someone is going to find it” kind of thing. That may have worked in the past, but not now.
Yeah, you’re right, but if you look at Odd Future as an example, those guys didn’t really do anything. They literally did just put it out there and the right people did find it and then some magic happened, but that’s the exception because it’s proven that the way your awareness unfolds really matters.

There’s a great study that someone sent to me that found that the influence of people on other people matters a great deal. Having someone say, “You’re going to like this,” is really important. That speaks to the fact that trusted filters really mean something when it comes to marketing music. I think we’ll have more of that happening in the future, and getting music to those new trusted filters in the right way will become increasingly important.

What’s the best way to do that?
I’m not sure but I think this is where the relationship game goes in the future. Having a relationship with the right bloggers and things like that is really going to matter. I think that there will be a “relationship with trusted taste-makers” business somewhere down the road, which is something different. Getting introduced to those sites in the right way will soon be an important part of marketing."

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