We’ve all heard the stories. Well, anyone who pays any attention to the music business at all will know. We are living in a period of transition while the dinosaur that is the ‘music industry’ finds a new way to exist. From those ‘horrible downloaders’ to the death of the CD to the somewhat surprising resurrection of vinyl, the industry is in a state of flux.
With the exception of mega-acts like U2, Coldplay and such, the people paying the price are the small artists. They are finding their way. And I think for many of us, watching the behemoth music factories struggle and fail only brings us a certain amount of glee. Sadly, money that might have gone to many smaller artists dried up as the internet age boomed.
So what should the future look like? Some of it is already here. Artists self-promoting persistently through social media. And old school still works much of the time. Touring endlessly and relentlessly. For me the social media aspect is playing a big role. As an example, I am nobody. I am not ‘known’, famous or generally given the time of day. But as I have moved further and further away from traditional avenues for music, I have continued to explore the indie scene and wrote about it more. Bands have seen that. Their friends and other bands have seen that and so they start following me on Twitter as an example. So suddenly in recent months I have dozens of bands following me. I spread the word and the cycle continues. I post more and send it to people like Alan Cross who has a following and he sometimes posts their music on his site with significantly more followers. Some of these many people might go buy a song. Or see them live somewhere. Or remember their name one day.
As traditional radio dies in favour of consumers being able to listen to what they want, internet radio has surged forward. Small bands are forging relationships with indie internet stations to get their sound out there. Streaming services are growing and may be a new commodity market for music. I haven’t quite bought into the pay-to-stream idea myself. I can find plenty on my own. Consumers are generally lazy so paying a few bucks a month for a quality streaming service might work. My major concern is that the artists have opportunity and get paid decently for it.
As I think about what things I might like to see and might work going forward, a few thoughts come to mind. I don’t think they are so farfetched but what do I know. Feel free to diss, riff or build on these thoughts.
I’m dreaming of the day that digital sound can be captured as raw as vinyl. Maybe that is as simple as recording and pressing on vinyl and capturing the sound digitally without the smoothing. Pure reproduction giving the feel that vinyl has always presented over digital. Maybe new digital recording techniques can be developed that capture that nuance. And maybe artists need to stop editing their work to perfection so the live feel disappears. A misplaced note or a crack in the singer’s voice can say so much more. Let it.
I’m dreaming of the digital concert hall where I can sit at home with a reasonably priced semi-surround screen and near perfect reproductive sound (or a bloody laptop for that matter) where I can pay $1 for a concert and the artist is fine with because they can have 3 million viewers from every corner of the planet. Imagine. Hear about a band. See them live wherever they are playing. Sounds like music heaven to me.
Where’s the digital integration of small venues? When they start attaching to the Borg and allowing entry, the world will change. I know of venues that hold 50 people and post videos from live shows there. So what’s the leap to internet pay-per-view but low, low-cost? Have links during the show to a band’s merchandise page so everyone wins. Is this that difficult? I can’t see it.
Will users pay for the privilege of being in studio while you are creating? How much would you pay to see U2 work a song over a couple of months. How much would you pay to watch Edge jam out new tunes? Would people pay $0.50 to see that with smaller bands? Might be a tough sell but I see a lot of fans with rabid local followings that would generate revenue. Worth a thought.
Will streaming be the only new norm for music? Will we spend days choosing feeds and playlists for a fee? Is the advertising revenue stream dead for music. No, just another thing that needs to change. Instead of record companies paying seed money for bands, could big companies like Pepsi do collective digital spaces to see new bands, find new music? We’ve seen bits and pieces of this but there’s a larger scale for this.
Like everyone, I have no idea. I see potential everywhere. What I don’t see is anyone screaming ahead to define the future. Apple for all it’s business savvy is always the follower, better, but not truly innovative. I’m curious to see if that captive market fades as new roads open.
No idea where this is all going. I do know the day will come for something that will benefit the artist and the company while pleasing the consumer and generated revenue possibilities. It will be a combination of ideas and those bands and companies willing to take a chance will be rewarded. It is just a question of looking forward and thinking in new directions. Technology offers the potentials. A smart, savvy collection of partners can make it happen.