“Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it.”
Anarchy in the U.K. – Sex Pistols
You’ve got the keys to the magic bus. How does it feel?
The success of bands and popular music clearly rest in the hands of the fans, now more than ever. If you think that this has been the case for a while, you’re fooling yourself. In the early days, it was radio and independent promoters who were the hit makers. Payola was the name of the game. Exposure over the airwaves insured a chance to sell your music and tour and maybe make a little money. Later, as retail and distribution channels increased, the label fronted media and marketing machines started to take over. You (the fan) had some vote, but let’s face it, you were pretty much along for the ride. Music discovery was still done over the radio airwaves, and let’s just say it wasn’t a level playing field. MTV came along and changed the media format, but not the marketing machine. Some great bands emerged out of this machine, but many industry people constantly remind us, it couldn’t have happened with them and their A&R departments.
Digital music distribution, file sharing and the advancement of high speed internet access really messed it all up. We’ve had ten years of stripping away the layers of a machine that controlled us. Now, this machine is almost completely broke, and no one’s going to fix it. This is a good thing. Time for the next phase.
So, what’s it all going to look like? I’ll break it down into a few categories to get a better understanding. I’ll be brief, since you could write a book on each topic. However, what we do know, is that consumer interaction, artist-to-fan (and back) communication and internet exposure will matter more than ever in pretty much each category.
Music Discovery: Radio’s role is almost totally evaporated. Satellite radio may not make it though the year. Sites like Pandora do such a good job of helping people discover music that if radio was gone tomorrow, would we even miss it?
Music Production: The next generation coming up is going to be better than the current one when it comes to do-it-yourself production. Will this put music studios out of business? No, but it will help more and more bands produce quality music with a high production value without needing any label advances to get it going.
Music Sales: This is obviously the white elephant in the room. Problem is, the white elephant has trampled everything and decimated the bottom lines of every label in the land. Content, it’s been determined (by you, the fans), will be free. Paying for music can still exist, but there needs to be more value than just the song itself.
How Bands Make Money: The live music experience has always been the real money maker for most bands. Tickets, merchandise etc. This will continue. Bands need to concentrate on selling more than just music directly to their core fans. Fans will support their favorite bands financially, we know this much is true.
Building A Brand: Bands and their managers will have to learn how to market themselves beyond their music, merchandise and concert tickets. Back in the day, this was called selling out. Nowadays, it’s called good business.
I know that I’ve broken down the demise of a $40 billion-a-year industry into a few sound bytes. That’s probably a little unfair. There are a number of very important factors that will go into the success of the artists. What’s become more important than any marketing machine or unique distribution deal is the music. Great music will be any band’s first line to success. This wasn’t always the case. Right now, word of mouth, social networking and rapid communication (email, IM, Twitter etc.) are going to be as vital as the music video was in the 80s. We have the unique ability to get our music whenever and wherever we want, all the while tuning out the marketing noise which used to dominate our music experience. More than ever, it’s the music that matters. It’ll be up to you, the fans, to decide on what’s good or not.