The music business has had particular trouble adjusting to the realities of the digital age, so I set out to develop a model that fully integrates all of these realities in order to help out artists and labels. Not only is it valuable for the music business, but for many other fields, especially those touched by new opportunities and difficulties arising from the web.
Click any of the links throughout this summary to jump right into the related section of my thesis. The designer, Ryan Van Etten, did an awesome job at creating a great platform for the thesis’ content.
The research revealed that convenience is one of the most important factors for music consumption. Due to the fact that the music industry has lost control over the distribution of their content, this desire for convenience has resulted in piracy. Meanwhile, consumers are replacing traditional media with new media with the percentage of respondents who have never bought a physical CD increasing per generation. People have different expectations as to what price is reasonable for different products. An important trend being that people enjoy consumption that feels like free, which has made that which is easily copied cheaper and that which can’t be copied more expensive. Although consumers like ‘free’, even consumers that frequently pirate music often regularly spend money on music.
As a solution to these challenges, the author recommends that artists and labels starts integrating the concept of the ecosysteminto their communication strategy. The ecosystem is an active fanbase which is interconnected through non-linear communication. This means producing a ‘story worth telling’ to turn the internet’s non-linear communication and loss of control over distribution into an opportunity to get discovered. The second step is retaining the attention by connecting with listeners and connecting them to each other like the host of a party would with guests. Turning the ecosystem into a fun party helps energize the fanbase and amplifies the aforementioned ‘story worth telling’. Marketing opportunities come from listening to the ecosystem and releasing the products they want, as opposed to the classic approach of pushing the product that you want them to buy. Internet-enabled concepts such as pre-ordering and digital releases allow labels and artists to offer the ecosystem abundant choice to play into all the different expectations regarding price and product characteristics. This most likely will involve a mix of (feels like) free and publishing products or services that are better than free.
In trade group IFPI’s Digitial Music Report 2010, the following quote can be found:
We are in danger of creating a world where nothing appears to have any value at all, and the things that we make… will become scarce or disappearing commodities.
- Stephen Garrett, Chief Executive, Kudos (source)
The concept of something becoming free (or feeling like free) decreasing the value of it is an often repeated logic in the music business and needs to be addressed. A lot of the common medicine we use now, used to be a lot more expensive, but their value has remained the same or perhaps even increased due to their availability. It has not become scarce or disappearing as their costs fell; they became abundant and more widely used.
A report by the trade group Recording Industry Assocation of America reveals that as (physical) CD prices dropped 9% between 1996 and 2006 (inflation-adjusted), concert ticket prices rose 86%, suggesting that that which is easy to reproduce reduces in (commercial) value and that which is not easily reproduced has actually gained commercial value. This has very important consequences for the marketing mix and will be discussed in the solutions section (thesis coming very soon, I promise).
Some are even suggesting a more radical drop in price for that which is easy to reproduce (this is where the financial cost versus mental cost discussion comes back). Rob Dickins, former boss of Warner Music UK and former chairman of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), suggested that album prices should be slashed to about 1 euro, arguing that:
If you’re a fan of REM and you’ve got 10 albums and there’s a new album coming out, you’ve got to make that decision about whether you want it or not. If we lived in a micro-economy, that wouldn’t be a decision. You’d just say ‘I like REM’ and you’d buy it.
Music manager Jonathan Shalit retorts:
Right now if you buy a bottle of water it’s £1. A piece of music is a valuable form of art. If you want the person to respect it and value it, it’s got to cost them not a huge sum of money but a significant sum of money.
Again, the cost/value point is made, but refuted by San Francisco Weekly’s music editor, Ian S. Port:
Several have argued that selling an album for less than a cup of coffee or a bottle of water would devalue the art of music. But people — at least, young people who don’t buy much music anyway — don’t judge the artistic value of music by what it costs. If they did, they would look down on artists who give away free MP3s and whose albums were obtainable on file-sharing sites. They don’t.
The devaluing-the-art argument misses two other important points: First, coffee and water bottles can’t be downloaded quickly and anonymously at no cost, while digital music can. Second, paying $3 or $4 for a tangible good (i.e., a cup of coffee you watched a person make especially for you) seems intrinsically reasonable in this day and age, even, I would guess, to a 13-year-old. But paying $10 to download a digital file that’s a copy of a copy of a copy — all of them made at no additional cost — somehow doesn’t.
And that is basically how I feel about this whole discussion.
I recently started blogging for Techdirt, so keep an eye on that blog or my profile to see more articles by me. Of course, I’ll throw out updates like this one every once in a while, so you don’t have to follow me in 3 different places.
Two articles I recently did for Techdirt:
Tunisian State Secretary Says Censorship Is Fine Because The West Does It Too. The West cannot expect other countries to respect civil liberties, when it keeps in power governments that don’t fully respect our own civil liberties. This is mostly caused by politicians who have no clue what a reality-shift the internet has created and thus pass laws (often suggested by lobbies) that are not in the best interest of their citizens.
The main reason many of the readers of this blog found me, is my thesis on digital communication strategy for the new music business. I am almost ready to publish it and send it out, so if you’re not on my distribution list already, put yourself on there. I promise not to spam you too much.
Also, I’m moving to Sofia, Bulgaria next week and I would love to find a job that let’s me apply my knowledge and expertise in digital communication strategy and leveraging the power of the ecosystem. If you can help me out or know anyone that can, please get in touch.
This case-study is about Shpongle, a much respected group of musicians, in a very specific niche: psychedelic chill-out, but attracting many fans of other genres too and is generally categorized as ‘electronica’.
A while before they released their latest album ‘Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland’, it leaked onto filesharing networks and fans of Shpongle started discussing the new album on the internet forum of Shpongle’s record label, Twisted Music. Obviously, Simon Posford, the main person behind Shpongle and owner of the Twisted Music label, was very unhappy about this and lashed out:
“So some fucker has released the album on the internet already…. thanks a lot, whoever it was… Maybe twisted will still recoup, maybe not… all i know is that we are teetering on bankruptcy, and are seeking deals elsewhere…. the 12 loyal fans on this forum are not enough to sustain a record label…. How much do you think Twisted has in the bank account? Have a guess? More than $10,000 ? More than $20,000 ? Well it is actually less than $1,000….. Raj and i haven’t even been paid our advance for this album…. All the artists on twisted are seeking deals with other labels now… We can’t pay a label manager, and we can’t pay the artists…. always putting our hope in ‘just ONE more release’…. “We’ll be ok if the DVD sells”….“Surely the Shpongle CD will sell, right?”
This sucks, for Twisted, for myself and Raj who have spent 3 years working on the album…. Just as i started looking around and posting on this forum again, i remembered why i shouldn’t bother…. I’m outta here… Soon to be followed by Younger Brother [another project by Simon Posford] and probably Twisted…
He got understandably emotional, but misdirected his anger towards perhaps the most dedicated fans: those who really cannot wait until the release and decided to preview it. After all, Shpongle hadn’t released an album in four years and their following is quite fanatical about their music. Later in the same forum topic, he adds some more thoughts which are also relevant to this case study:
“It’s all very well to speculate, but i can tell you as a fact, we made more money before file sharing… we could survive… now not so…. and i think you will find it the same all over the music business… the argument that “file sharing is promotion” is probably valid…. in fact, i agree…in a way it serves a similar purpose to radio…. but the argument that “file sharing is promotion and therefore you will sell more CDs” is clearly absolute bollocks, otherwise the music industry would be booming right now!
Also i’m sorry that “And if it weren’t for the internet, I would have given up on music entirely”…. for me, the internet makes me want to give up music wink But i guess i’m from a different generation…. I started making some of the trance that probably fills your 100Gigs hard drive before i’d even heard of the internet… and i didn’t need the internet to find a deep love of music… the rush of buying a new vinyl, of collecting every release/picture disc by my favourite artists…. discovering new music i liked, all underground, no radio-plugged mix CDs or whatever… ALL without the internet!”
Later on in the topic, which currently carries over 600 replies, fans started to suggest ideas to Simon. They encouraged each other to buy more merchandise, replace old t-shirts or hoodies, buy an extra album to give to a friend and they came up with ideas to help out Simon Posford, Shpongle, and Twisted Music.
And it seems Simon has also learned from the fact that you indeed will not sell more CD’s even when filesharing is good promotion, as he noted. Being a fan myself, I was very delighted to receive a newsletter, one year after the leak, which featured some interesting new business models and experiments. It does a few things very well and I’ll highlight this bit by bit. The opening paragraph is as follows:
“Dear Twisted fans,
The new Prometheus album has been doing very well on Beatport with 4 of his tracks reaching the Top10 of the electronica charts. If you haven’t got your copy yet then Benji and Twisted would be happy if you could get onto Beatport and purchase at least the electronica tracks. We’d love to see him get to Number 1!
Ott is beginning his 6 date tour of the USA starting tonight! You can see and buy tickets to all his tour dates at the bottom of this newsletter. You can also join his Facebook Fan Page here.
We’ve also got two new tracks of Younger Brother and Shpongle available as a free download, keep reading to find out how to get hold of them.”
What a dramatic change of tone, compared to the rants on the forum. This is how you connect with fans! First of all, it acknowledges fan support in terms of chart positions and makes a polite request (as opposed to lashing out or guilt-tripping fans, like on the forum). Also, it tries to unite the fans and give them a purpose; a mission. People love accomplishments, individually or in groups, if only for the little dopamine rewards our brains release.
They then give the fans more information and ways to connect with one of the labels artist’s and finally reward fans with free music. That’s a great way to open a newsletter.
As for the free tracks, the newsletter featured two images with links to the place to download the song. Once on the page, the page showed a download button, which when clicked, becomes a box in which people must enter their email address (as seen on the left). So actually, they can see which email addresses support which artists, but also, when people choose to use one of the share buttons, they help Twisted Music get more email addresses than just the ones they already had for the newsletter.
Younger Brother’s page was a little more complex (see screenshot on the right), with more information, but basically boils down to the same thing.
The newsletter then continues with another exciting way of dealing with the reality created by the internet, which is crowd-funding:
“Many of you have already pledged on the Younger Brother album ‘Vaccine’ . We’re working with pledge to raise money and to set up the best possible foundation to promote and release the record next year.
We’re calling on the loyal and faithful to help. In exchange we’re offering loads of interesting things from studio time with the band to limited artwork and access to rehearsals.”
Again, a great way to involve fans and offer them something exciting. It basically offers them a reason to do it for themselves, instead of telling them to please buy a CD because the label needs it (see forum post). Some of the ‘items’ on the list for people that pledge: signed CD (£15), new album and entire back catalogue (£25), coming to one of their rehearsals (£40), studio workshop (£300), being in one of their videos (£150), a unique personal remix of your favourite track of the album (£600), and much more.
The newsletter closes with more standard stuff, such as tour dates and the like.
The strategy here is simple, yet complex. First of all, the label releases some very unique, high-quality music, which has given them a fanatical and evangelical following (Seth Godin would call this a tribe). Secondly, this following, together with the label, has turned into an ecosystem; when things were not going well, the ecosystem started figuring out ways in which it could survive as a whole. Thirdly, Simon Posford started paying close attention to his tribe and started catering directly to their needs. When reduced to a communication and business strategy, it becomes the formula of CwF (Connecting with Fans) and giving fans a RtB (Reason to Buy).
Giving away free songs is a good example of connecting with fans by rewarding them. The clearest reasons to buy in this mailing are the mission to get one of the label’s artists to number 1, as well as all the rewards for pledging money for the new album.
It is important to note that this should not be done to generate profit, but should genuinely be done to please the fans and to give them what they want. I thoroughly believe that if you betray your fans’ trust, you will lose them and your (potential) income.
As if the amount of blogs and micro-blogs I have right now are not enough… I set up yet another blog. For my final thesis I’m studying the Future of Music Distribution. While I was studying I realized that instead of saving my notes in a document on my computer, it would be easier to post them to a place where I can access them from every computer. Then I thought “why not make them public?” So that’s what I did. I present to you my new blog, The Future of Music Distribution.
Don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging here, but instead of posting 5 updates per day regarding this topic on this blog, I’ve chosen to keep it separate. My ‘life’, travels, pictures and views go on here and all stuff related to my final thesis go on there. Visit The Future of Music Distribution now!