Now that the dust in the music industry seems to slowly settle and some interesting new business models take their first steps toward maturity it seems to be a good moment to have a closer look on recent developments in the exciting world of music. We’ve seen the success of services like last.FM and Spotify, mayor acts experimenting with free downloads and some exciting grassroots initiatives, but over all we see an industry that still hasn’t found its way. Can a cross-media approach provide some answers to this confused industry?
Mayor labels in music have traditionally focussed on distribution. Music used to be delivered in a small plastic covered boxes offered to the public in some local store. In many ways music has been a physical product for a long time and even today some parties in the industry find it hard to accept that there is a difference between physical goods and content. As a result of this very physical approach the main effort of the industry has been put into defending their control over the distribution chain. The appropriate tool to succeed seemed to be Digital Rights Management. It wasn’t.
While some parties in the music industry may still dream of some sort of DRM solution in the real (or better virtual) world the use of this technologies has proven limited. Some may claim victory and the end of DRM, we should still realize that at least one application has proven very successful. Geo blocking (as discussed here) is a technology that seems to be here to stay, and these virtual borders are most certain a significant part of DRM even though they function on a very different scale. Having a functional system of region coding is not a minor point when it comes to making money on content like music, even though it is not as rigid as having DRM on single tracks.
While it is understandable why the mayors in the industry have invested so heavily in DRM, for the actual musicians it is never been that relevant. Most small labels, bands and musicians were not making that much money on record sales even before the rise and fall of Napstar. In fact almost all of the minor parties realized this, and as most of their profits are and have always been in live performances they have started giving away their music for free on a massive scale. At this moment there are already over 2 million artists offering their music for free, and even the most prestigious acts like Coldplay and the artist formerly known as Prince are offering free content on their websites today. They simply ask you to make a small donation and the audience is certainly willing to pay some money to support their favorite artists as shown by various donation based releases.
It’s not about the plastic boxes, experience seem to be the keyword when it comes to selling music. Just giving some audio clips for free does not do the trick, the real challenge is in finding a way to connect the act to an audience and to build a much more durable relation. Airtime still is important weather it is on traditional radio or on online platforms like last.FM or spottily as it offers opportunities to engage a new audience, but as recent developments have shown even the virtual platforms are more and more being incorporated by the traditional mayors. If musicians rely on these services we might end up building yet another industry just as harsh as in the old days, having a few mayors dictate the entire industry across all possible platforms.
I still see many bright lights for the upcoming bands of tomorrow as long as they do find their own unique connection to their own audience. There have been some really interesting examples of musicians offering very customized or even very personal experiences. Nine Inch Nails is not only offering their fans free music, they are challenging them to remix their music. They provide their fans with complete, high quality recordings of all separate instruments of their tracks giving their fans access to unique source material. Josh Freese is offering packages containing much more then just an audio track, for merely 10.000 dollar you get to:
100 Copies of “My New Friends”
Take home Josh’s now infamous Volvo 940 Station Wagon (Perfect for hauling drums, plenty of room for getting busy in spacious back-seating area. Good for trips to Good Will or disposing bodies.)
Make Josh’s next record for him
Josh joins your band for 2 days (quick book some studio time!)
Motorboat” Sarah for a minute or so (Josh’s wife’s friend…couples welcome, discreet parking available)
Oh yeah…$100 gift certificate to PF Changs and a bumper sticker that says something funny on it.
This package of 10.000 dollar already sold and the video will be on youtube soon…And its not just the Americans going wild, there some really original and tempting offers in the Netherlands as well. The bazookas are offering a package containing a CD, HD video recordings of a live performance, a 60 page comic book and a ticket to a special show in Paradiso Amsterdam for a stunning price of only 15 euro. If that’s not a broad and total immersive offer and a true crossmedia approach I don’t know what is. And you can meet me there to discuss this column.