I’m a strong proponent of radical innovation in the music industry. My impression is that the people with power want to sustain the status quo, while it’s getting harder and harder for the artists, who just want to focus on making great music, to make ends meet. The disruptive emergence of digital means people expect to access all music, anywhere, at anytime, and the artist has been downgraded to supplying a commodity where the relationship between an artist and a fan is almost non-existent.
Digital has led to fierce competition, commoditisation and lowering margins (except for the very, very popular acts). But I’m not sentimental, the answer is not conservatism or fighting for the old ways. The reality is that the music industry is going to shrink quite a significant amount if they do not look more ahead and innovate more radically. If you’d ask them, they’d say they are adapting and innovating, but it’s way too little, too slow. Both the structure of the industry, business models and product strategy need to change, and they should start with fundamentally putting consumers’ needs at the centre of focus, not business’ needs.
The digital music experience most people have of an artist is minimal, and is basically hearing the mere sound of a couple of songs among thousands of others at Spotify or iTunes. Perhaps some fans have hit the artist’s “like” button on Facebook, where they spot a status update once a month saying something they forget the second after. This is not an experience, it’s almost nothing, and the artist is not setting itself apart from other artists outside the sphere of the actual sound coming out of the earbuds. Setting the consumers’ needs at the centre of what they are doing means greatly enriching and expanding this digital experience around the actual sound. It should be built with the passion to create long-lasting relationships, not transactions.
Research says that consumers are willing to pay for digital content, but mostly they don’t. So in principle the situation is really simple: For the value they are being offered at the moment, consumers are not willing to pay more than few pennies. So artists must increase this value.
So how do you do this? I’ve cited Mark Mulligan, a genius analyst at Forrester, before and I’ll do it again. With the awesome acronym SPARC, he has suggested some core principles musicians and music industry players should follow when building this enriched digital experience:
- Social: Put the crowd in the cloud and make it dialogue-based
- Participative: Make it interactive and immersive
- Accessible: Ownership of music still matters but access matters much more
- Relevant: Get to know your customers so you can meet their actual needs and wants
- Connected: People interact and access media through an increasing number of devices, digital channels and touch points. Music fans are connected, and they expect their music experiences to be connected too. This means integration and coherence in both technology, content and customer experience.
I wanted to get more specific what this means, so here’s a few good examples of services that show great potential in terms of delivering a great digital music experience or delivering tools to build a great digital music experience. They are all quite new, small, the experience breaks here and there, and often lacks an unifying concept, but the people behind seem to get where they should be going.
1. The first one up is Björk’s “Biophilia” app, an obvious, but a great example of a rich and compelling digital music experience. The app is a part of a cross-channel concept and Björk has described the project as a multimedia collection encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations, and live shows. For more on this, check out this iTunes page and this Wikipedia article or download the app.
2. Swedish House Mafia’s “Until One” iPad app, which is described as an “album and book in a stunning new interactive format”. Check this out:
3. Drip.FM is a platform for labels and artists to provide a subscription service for digital content. I recently signed up for the service of Fool’s Gold, an awesome niche record label, where I pay $10 a month to get new and old music, curated content, remixes, DJ sets, extras, merchandize discounts, priority access to events and more. 10 bucks a month seems a bit too much for the service at this point, but it’s a great start and I think is going to be brilliant in the near future as it expands! I love the idea that it’s one integrated platform which the artists control themselves, as opposed to the fragmented experience elsewhere where you need to navigate between Spotify, Facebook, Soundrop, Tumblr etc etc.
4. Topspin is a direct-to-fan digital solution with various widgets and tools to interact and sell music and merchandise online. Check out this short video about them:
5. Pledge Music is somewhat similar:
Please let me know what you think in the comments! Especially if you in some way don’t agree with me, I’d love to hear your point of view 🙂