Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Music Industry of the Future

We live in a time when the music industry is in a state of flux. It's trying to adapt to the new while holding on to the past - some months more in the present, and other months still steeped in the old. One thing we know for sure is that it's changing quickly. Music 3.0 is here to stay and music 2.5 isn't coming back.

So what will the music industry of the future look like? There are 5 areas where it will change, as I see it.

1) Subscription Music - Industry pundits have been predicting for ages that digital music distribution will ultimately change from paid downloads to subscription, and they'll finally be right. The upcoming US introduction of the Spotify service will push the ball up the hill. The iTunes subscription service (which I predict will debut in 2011) will seal the deal.

2) Hybrid Record Labels - Even today most record labels are more concerned with selling music products than anything else. In the music industry of the future, the new hybrid labels will be more concerned with rights management than actual sales. Since it's so easy for an artist to produce and even market his own product (the traditional duties of a record label), they'll no longer need those functions. But they will need an entity that's expert in overseeing their digital rights in the variety of distribution streams that will exist, from streaming to download to subscription to licensing (supplanting the traditional publisher) to even physical product like CDs (while they're still around) and boxed sets.

3) A New Gig Model - A band dies if it doesn't gig. That's always been the way an artist made the majority of its income. It's pretty impossible to gig outside of an act's home area unless they have an agent, and the agent had a good relationship with promoters and venues. The new model would make it easier to connect an artist directly with venues, either eliminating the agent or as an adjunct to an agent. On the concert side of the music business, the agent is the middle man, much the same as a record label. Agents will have to change the same way that labels have.

4) The New 5th Beatle - Producer George Martin was always the uncredited "5th Beatle," since his input was such a huge part of their success. In the future, that person will not be a musician, but a web presence expert. It'll be a kid that's spent all of his time on every social network, learning all the ins and outs. The guy who just graduated from college who learned everything about web design and programming that he could just because he thought it was so cool. The kid who loves music, loves the band, can't play a lick, but can handle every aspect of their social media presence better than anyone in the organization. He's the guy that allows them to utilize Music 3.0 (the interaction with their audience) to it's fullest.

5) A New Media Package Replaces The Album - The album as a package was great for it's time, but that time is not now. At some point in the future a new multi-media package will combine audio, video, photos, text and interactivity into a new product that's fit for the time we live in. There are already a number of experiments that we'll soon see come to life (MXP4 is one technology; the major label backed CMX is another). Regardless of whether these catch on or not, it's inevitable that some combination package will.

In some ways, the future is almost here. We're starting to see the social media 5th Beatle pop up. Subscription music has been around for a while and growing, but still not at critical mass. Record labels are getting hipper to the needs of Music 3.0, a new gig model is brewing, and the rich media album is about to be born. The question is not longer if, it's when will the future get here?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A&R - The Movie

Here's another post along the lines of "The A&R Guy" from the other day. Too bad that it's so close to reality.

Once upon a time, there were some great A&R people out there, but that was back in the days of Music 1.0 (before big business took over the major labels) and 1.5 (at the beginning of conglomerate rule of the music business). As the music business turned into really big money and Wall Street became interested, everything began to change. Then came MTV, which pushed the mainstream industry down a path that it finds itself today.

Lucky for us all, Music 3.0 can be the savior, since an artist can easily reach an audience without the help of a record label. Record labels do have their place and can supply an artist with the needed infrastructure when it's time to take things to the next level, but letting them have a piece of all your income streams (as the animation suggests) isn't necessary or even realistic on their part.

The mechanics are now in place to do most of the work yourself that a traditional record label used to do. The difference is, you can do it better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

12 Social Media Tactics For Artists

Heidi Cohen at ClickZ recently had a great post regarding the 13 tactics to make social media work harder. I've adapted her post for Music 3.0, since her points are excellent, but I've found that only 12 of them apply. They are:

1) Understand how and why your fans use social media. This is the best way to make sure that you're interacting with the majority of your fans in the first place.

2) Develop content that meets your fans needs and interests. This shouldn't be too hard. They like you already and will probably want anything you give them. Don't be afraid to offer rough mixes, rehearsal and studio out-takes, and behind-the-scenes videos.

3) Use a variety of forms of content and understand the role that each plays in social media. Blog posts, video, forums posts, Twitter and Facebook posts are all important. Many fans prefer one over another, so it's best not to ignore any of them.

4) Encourage your fans to share content. The key to a healthy fan base (or Tribe" as "Seth Godin calls it) is not only their interaction with you (the artist), but also with each other.

5) Support and promote consumer-generated content. Mash-ups of songs and videos can be as important as your own releases.

6) Integrate product information into your content/story. Don't sell or hype your fans, inform them. They'll do the promotion for you.

7) Use content in social media to help build organic search optimization. Always think of SEO (search engine optimization) when developing content. Using the proper keyword phrases in your copy and metadata (even for videos) is crucial for being found, and therefore getting the word out.

8) Listen to, interact with, and recognize your fans. Communication can't be just one way. When they reach out, you must reach back.

9) Provide immediacy and nimbly react to events as they unfold. Social media is immediate by nature, so your fan base expects a more-or-less immediate response.

10) Participate in social media with a human voice. For social media to work well for an artist, the artist herself must participate. Certain communication can work through a surrogate, but fans can see right through a post that's supposed to be you but isn't.

11) Encourage band members and crew to participate in social media. The perspective of everyone involved with an artist is valuable to the fan, that's why it's important that everyone in the artist's circle should participate at least a little.

12) Track relevant conversations, responses, fan relationships, and sales across social media forums. The real key to effective and efficient social media management is measurement.

These are all great points and worth considering in your social media management.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The A&R Guy

This is a hilarious animation depicting an exchange between a stereotypical A&R guy and a remixer regarding some work. Forgive the language and crassness of the video for those reader sensitive to such things (if you're in the music business, you're certainly not), but it's so spot on that it's pretty funny.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Still No DIY Breakout Artists

The music industry news on the net has recently been abuzz with some comments that Tommy Boy Records and New Music Seminar founder Tommy Silverman made regarding the scarcity of DIY (do-it-yourself) breakout artists.

Tommy analyzed all 105,575 album releases from 2008 and found that only 225 had sales of more than 10,000 units. Of that, only 12 were unaffiliated with a record label, be it major label related or indie. Now this seems like a staggeringly small number but it illustrates a couple of points:

1) Just because distribution is relatively easy in Music 3.0, it doesn't mean that you don't need to infrastructure to get to the next level. Modern M30 music distribution, either physically or digitally, still requires specialists in promotion, PR, social media and distribution techniques to make an audience or potential audience aware of the product, then make it easy for them to consume it, then find something that the artist can monetize. While you're starting to see some indie acts breaking through lately (most visibly Vampire Weekend at number 1 last week), it's still an overwhelming job that requires a lot more time and expertise than a DIY artist usually has available.

Granted, Silverman is the longtime owner of a successful label so he's biased on the label side, but facts are facts. As it stands right now, DIY can only take you so far, then you need a label to take you the rest of the way. Except that there are a few companies on the horizon which might turn out to be the intermediary between DIY and label that will become an alternative for the artist. Stay tuned for more news as it becomes available.

2) Just because production is so easy it doesn't mean the music will be any good. It's easier today to make a recording than ever before. The simplest, lowliest, least expensive recording package has more horsepower than the Beatles ever had at their disposal in their prime, yet you can't say that we're in the golden age of music at the moment. I've had an ongoing debate with several of my contemporaries about whether this is a musical, social, economic, or cultural phenomena, but whatever it is, we've had periods when music was far more vital than what we're living through at the moment. One thing you can say about Music 1.0 through 2.5, the labels were great gatekeepers and you really had to be good to get by them, and they usually just took the cream off the top.

Once again, just because it's easy doesn't mean it'll be any good. If you don't put in the time (the 10,000 hours to genius as Malcolm Gladwell would put it), you just can't develop the skills, and today's songwriters, musicians, producers and engineers have far fewer opportunities to develop that skill than ever before. Fewer studios to apprentice at, fewer venues to play at, and fewer teachers who really know how to make a record to learn from severely limits someone just starting today and it reflects in the music.

Keith Barr, one of the founders of Alesis, once complained to me that he thought that his ADAT digital tape machines would cause of revolution in music that would bring about new artists every bit the equal of The Beatles, Stones, etc., but unfortunately that never came to pass. That's continued into the current day of DAWs, but you can't blame today's musicians, it's just the unfortunate hand they've been dealt.

We really need a revolution in the music business. One that takes everyone by the ear like we know it can be done. We're in a transitional period in Music 3.0, but the new dawn is just around the corner. We can all feel it.


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