So to keep up the conference blogging, I was also at one last week called The Future of Music in the Digital World which was organised by the CMC as part of a larger IAMIC week of events. It was a well run and well programmed event with very contrasting speakers taking part, and was well attended by a good cross section of composers, creators, managers, musicians, press, and other aspects of the industry (but no record labels…) I think this was one of the first (if not the first?) conferences dedicated to examining the impact this digital age is having on music and it’s interesting that it was organised by an arts funded organisation- thus making it very reasonably priced and largely uncommercial in angle- thank you cmc.
Jim Carroll has written a great round up of the events for the Irish Times, and it’s sparked some good debate over on his On The Record Blog (which I contributed to as comment 7.) The CMC themselves have uploaded loads of great content from the day- with video and audio if you want to get caught up, and there was some good tweeting going on live on the day, with a number of non-attendees weighing in under the #fomusirl hashtag which was great see. (As a side bar thought- it’s a fascinating aspect of contemporary conferences that there is a layer of debate and discussion in the room, and another layer happening simultaneously online) The main jobbing speakers have made content available with Gerd Leonhard putting his presentation online, and Andrew Dubber posting a comprehensive diary of his trip on his blog,
So- what’s the future of music? No answer for that one I’m afraid. There were some suggestions made, some questions asked, and some theories put out there, but the main thing that the conference threw up was the fact that not only does no-one seem to know, but the models being proposed don’t seem fit for purpose. I for one am with the permission model, or a version of it. I think artists who want to have a career from music (and this is a big distinction as there are many that see it as an artform that should only be monetised to a certain degree, or as a pastime that they don’t see as a main breadwinner due to the compromises they’d have to make to turn it into one) have to start thinking in a more 360 degree way about their work, and in that way I agree with Leonard’s logic- as a musician you should first have talent, then build your audience based on a recognition of that audience, then create value for that audience and THEN ask for money.
The Digital Age (see Dubber’s 5 ages of media here) offers artists the opportunity to engage directly with fans, from a very low cost base, all over the world. There is technically no need for a record company, or a large organsiation around smaller artist. If you have -or can learn -the skills you can record yourself, distribute yourself (digitally and physically), book gigs yourself, play yourself and pay yourself for very low running costs. You can now reach your audience your way. So if that means teams of people, commercial appeal, endorsements, advertising and a buy-in from the industry at large you can try that path, or if that means communicating your work directly, and in a reasonably small way, you can do that too, or anything in between. “Niche” is no longer a percentage of the irish market, it’s a percentage of the global niche market. If you create a good digital footprint, with good value content, you are technically “findable” by billions of people worldwide. You just have to be where they are…and they are online, with billions more about to come online, and with a market that large you only need a micro percentage to make a big impact. I’m not sure I agree with Leonhards blanket licence idea (akin to a broadcast licence that ISP’s would pay and pass on in micro amounts to their customers) as a total panacea, but it could contribute to the overall model as a way to tackle challenges to the flow of music online.
It’s a contentious issue for many musicians and composers/songwriters of course – what do they do with the seemingly diminished returns on recording in this digital age and how are they paid appropriately for their work v’s capitalising on the HUGE opportunities the digital age presents them with. Control v’s permission raises it’s head again and again. On the one hand you have collection agencies, like IMRO and IRMA who naturally enough want to find ways to collect income for their members, and who, in basic terms, are a good thing: find ways to track the use of musical works and ensure the creator receives appropriate financial compensation. Of course the huge problem is that the ability to track that work globally is now near impossible, and their methods for doing so are out of step with the age we find ourselves in.
And so, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the afternoon panel was given over to the question of control, tracking, royalties and copyright. Which is interesting given that one of the many stats the morning revealed was that the amount of the music industry that derives income from recordings is just a third. Not a half, or more than a half, but a third. So we spent the afternoon talking about a third of the industry, and what we can do about it, which for me was the wrong question. I do think the train has already left the station on the dissemination of music online, and we have to find a way to hop on.
I think the core relationship between the listener (or consumer if you prefer) and the artist is unchanged, and can remain unchanged, it’s all of the industry in between those two that has to change. In a time when recording was complicated, or expensive, record companies emerged to underwrite that cost, develop the product, and make a profit. Then distrubtion was difficult,and costly, so they did that too. But now neither of those elements are expensive, or complicated, so the value added services you need to avail of as a musician should change. Maybe now you need an IT person, or a digital manager, or a renewed focus on (gasp) marketing?
And of course marketing is an evil word to many , but it just means identifying your audience, working out how to keep them, satisfy them and grow their overall size. Which, in a time of baffling choice for the consumer, is more important than ever. You have to know who might be interested in your music to figure out how to get them interested in you, and to ultimately pay you. So as a dreaded “marketeer” I propose we change the title to Development Manager. That’s what it is in the arts- you develop audiences. Right- marketing rant over, I’ll get my coat…
Author Kevin Kelly has a theory that all a musician needs to make a good living is 1,000 true fans, each willing to spend $100 on you in a given year. Now- this is not a foolproof theory of course (and there is plenty of discussion in the case against) but it does point loudly to deepening fan engagement to unlock an income- which brings us back to Gerd’s theory of engagement before money. So should the Trent Reznor model be adopted- provide free music, in a lower quality, on your site, but create special reasons for people to buy high res versions, special bundles and increased access? Is that only possible if you already have a large “true” fanbase to start with? I don’t think so, and I do think quality and engagement will out. It’s particularly true that the digital generation have totally different norms, and totally different expectations when it comes to the consuming of culture. They want access, transparency, depth of engagement, immediacy and personal control in their choices. They want to seek out, to uncover, to create and to curate their own content. If you want to get a hold of that generation you have no choice but to get out there digitally and directly- no hiding behind an organisational machine.
Sure it’s a complicated process, and change is often difficult, and we must surely be able to find a way to capitalise on the massive potential of now being able to reach a global audience v’s any fear at loosing control of the work. Of course as a dreaded marketeer I can’t make comment on a new model, but as a music lover and consumer I can. I’m not a “digital native” but I just about make it into the digital/net generation. I listen to new music on youtube, myspace and soundcloud- the latter I can stream for free over my free iphone app via my home wifi and dock into any speaker set in the house. To do that of course I had to pay for the phone, the wifi and the speakers, but the music is free, and if I like it enough, then I’ll buy it. If I think it worthy of payment off I go to itunes- which I do a lot, or if I like the artwork I might buy the vinyl with a free bundled mp3. I’m actually buying MORE music now than I did 5 years ago. Much more. but because each purchase might be 99c at a time I don’t feel it so much so I spend more. The younger generation might not buy on itunes, but they’ll listen to the music, decided what they really like, talk about it, share it and then spend money on gigs and merch, and special editions. If they like you enough that is. If you take a typical teenager their “budget” for music might be the same (or more) than it was 10 years ago, and they will still spend the maximum of that budget, but how they spend it has changed, and their choices are vastly greater.
Ok- this post could go on an on and there’s no answer as yet, but as Jim commented, the model’s have to be suggested by the creators and the audience, and not the industry in between. The industry should respond to the needs of the creator and the consumer, not the other way round (some suggest that artists actually do better in times of illegal downloads) and I look forward to hearing some new suggestions on how that might develop, but I firmly believe the three strikes attempt is not the way forward, maybe for the industry it is, but not for the creator.