Back-of-a-fag-packet prescription for the music industry

In preparation for this afternoon’s event, here are my notes of the main points I’m planning to make. I reserve my right to change my mind in the light of how the discussion evolves!

  • The good news for the music industry from recent experience is that people’s demand for music is showing no signs of being sated once they have a few hundred, or even a few thousand, albums’ worth of material.
  • There’s an opportunity to support this increased consumption with more information and critical features, as magazines like Word and ‘free-to-air’ services like the BBC’s have realised (I like to compliment my fellow panelists, but this is not merely cynical: see my appreciation of the BBC’s Sold on Song site).
  • What the industry needs to help it target its promotion of more ‘consumption’ is more information about the emerging habits of listeners as the distribution landscape changes. Not just buying habits, but ‘sampling’ or previewing habits, letting friends access collections, radio listening, web site viewing, magazine reading and gig going.
  • One option would be to mount promotions that encourage listeners to access and discuss music with their friends, possibly even trying to ‘harness’ peer-to-peer distribution, in return for collecting data about these habits.
  • Privacy is an important consumer concern, however. Would it be possible enable listeners to collect data about their own habits (using technologies like Audioscrobbler), and then provide some of this at their discretion to retailers or labels to facilitate permission-based marketing?
  • Another opportunity is to enable consumers’ to enrich their experience of their own collections by building detailed learning resources about — the socially-mediated equivalent of sleeve notes and fanzines for the Internet age — as described in the outline I wrote a few weeks ago.

One thought on “Back-of-a-fag-packet prescription for the music industry

  1. There has been some further comments on the ‘mirror’ of this article that I posted on the Ecademy site, and here are my rough notes of a small proportion of the discussion at the event.

    Mainstream commercial radio cannot afford to play more than a tiny number of new tracks each week. If they do, listeners desert for Radio 1.
    The dynamics of radio listening change with time shifting. Next year it will be possible to download the programme guide to your Bug digital radio, set it to record your favourite programmes for the week onto flash memory and then copy them to your iPod.
    Last.fm and audioscrobbler may provide an alternative to choosing between traditional DJs and cheesy end of collaborative filtering.
    Will there be Pop Idol or similar star-making TV/cross-platform apparatus in 2010? Possibly; at least there will still be manufactured fluff promoted to audiences. However Pop Idol etc have a poor record of identifying or developing lasting talent: the format is showing decreasing returns, and wearing thin. Argument that these shows should be seen as essentially a TV phenomenon – they have little to do with the evolution of musical culture.
    Similarly, ringtones are a red herring. They are a means of personalising your mobile – today’s youth culture equivalent of stickers or football shirts – and not an alternative music format.
    Much discussion around ever increasing bandwidth, wireless and storage capacity (though it was noted that bandwidth to the home is unlikely to reach South Korean levels in the foreseeable future), combined with ever increasing catalogues of online music stores. Will it be possible to stream any track you want to your player device on demand? If so, does that mean the end of listeners building a collection?
    In 2010 how meaningful will it be to say “I’ve got that album/track” if much music is listened to via subscription in a wireless, always-on environment? People will come to express their “investment” in specific tracks in different, less tangible ways, related to the interpretative, personal and social attention they have given it.
    Alternative view that things don’t change that fast; 2010 may not be that different from now? 2015 more likely horizon for change.
    Managing the changing environment cannot be left to accountants, lawyers and MBAs. It needs people who really understand music and where it’s going. Empathy with listeners and ability to spot trends.
    One thing the BBC would like to see is better (more efficient and effective) metadata tagging for music.
    Need to open access to BBC music archive?
    The ‘long tail’ effect provides opportunities for labels and others to exploit interest in back catalogue and previously deleted material. (The long tail refers to the fact that if more back catalogue is available – in the digital world it doesn’t require extra shelf space or distribution costs – then sales of low volume items collectively make up as much or more sales than current hits.)
    Could and should ISPs/telcos block P2P traffic? If they take responsibility for one thing, that may make them liable for everything.
    Notable absences from the discussion: DRM not mentioned until 2 minutes before the end, no complaining or hand-wringing over P2P and only the brief mention cited above.

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