Can the Industry Change Its Spots?

This is a syndication of an article written today for the ever brilliant musicOMH

As an artist and owner of an independent music label, my intention and focus has been in making brilliant electronic pop music. We welcome any opportunity to help not only the creation, but also the promotion of our work. Over the years the internet has been a complete revolution for what we try to achieve – in fact many milestones in our success has been due to the web. It is no surprise then that I completely disagree with Warner Music's statement this week that services like Spotify are "not positive for the industry".

The "controversy" over music streaming services has very little to do with the two most important components in the debate - the artist or the music fan. In fact this argument, driven by the major labels, has rarely involved these two stakeholders at all; the recent missive from Warner indicating it may remove their catalogue from services like Spotify is testimony to this. Note that the consumer is not mentioned once in the rationale over music streaming, which is clearly becoming increasingly popular. What other business would get away with ignoring what the customer wants?

The central issue here is an industry resisting change, which is not about music piracy or the often cited devaluing of art - but rather a transition from commodity to experience.

Music enriches lives - this is experiential. Owning a piece of plastic does not fulfil this primary need. The desire for music in our lives has not decreased, and a new generation of listeners has arrived hungry for great tunes. It is simply the physical medium that has become irrelevant. Technology has allowed us this freedom and this realisation.

Music fans are continuously wanting greater access to musical experience. The internet offers this on a global scale. Like all content across the web, we habitually want it - and want it now. And in return, like never before, the artist is able to express themselves to a mass audience almost instantly. Music streaming - be it via MySpace, YouTube, or Spotify - has played an important role in allowing us to sample almost any artist's material, whereas previously we were restricted to hearing whatever the industry decided was worth marketing. With the massively increased bandwidth offered by the internet, every artist can find an audience. Not to mention the connections that artists can now make with each other! For an industry supposedly built upon creativity, this can only be seen as a positive asset.

In fact this democratisation of access is what scares the big labels the most. In the old industry he who shouted the loudest - via buying popularity through advertising spend - often reaped the greatest reward. Now anyone can broadcast their talent via services like Spotify. And the consumer has the reciprocal benefit of ultimate choice - no longer subject to being force fed content by the majors. When Warner restricts the audience access to their artists, which they have also previously done for content on YouTube, they are creating a massive competitive disadvantage. It is beyond belief how they could justify this decision to their artists.

Those leading the debate continue to stress that they are losing money and that giving away their content for free will bring the weakened industry to its knees. In fact streaming music is not given away for free - artists receive royalties per play. It might not amount to much for a single play, but it is a quantifiable and fair system. And as for the dying physical format, music revenue is not confined to the sale of a single product. There is licensing to advertising, games, film, live performances, clubbing, radio & TV broadcast royalties, publishing, merchandising ... all offering the potential exploitation of the artist and their craft.

Warner may not feel that "ad supported free services are a sustainable business model" - but there is clearly nothing sustainable about creating a business around a commodity that your customers are not interested in. Deserting new media because it has challenged your strategy is not a failure of the consumer - but of your own inability to adapt to the changing needs of your audience. It has become increasingly clear that sustainability in the new industry will involve nurturing talent and finding the best opportunity to connect it to an audience, not through the manufacture and sale of plastic discs.

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