Some ideas go full circle, and some need to meet their moment. The music industry is niche marketing at its best: a market retrenching and going back to what it knows to survive.
Did Steve Jobs have a vision of Apple becoming the global music distributor that spawned competition like Spotify? I don’t know, but I tend to think not. iPod was born to deliver a new consumer experience, it turned into the iPhone and the rest is history… or is it?
Despite what Apple did with the iPod, artists have continued to sell their product packaged, in the format of single tracks and albums. It’s the way we listen to music that’s changed. Now we buy a license to access it, or we download it illegally (not so different to recording a mix cassette tape in the old days really).
Consequently, artists find themselves needing to perform live to make any money (it’s estimated that artists receive around £75 for 150,000 Spotify streams) and to sell merchandise to turn an extra buck. Despite technology driving consumption of the commodity, the experience of seeing live music, and aligning ourselves to a band by wearing their stuff, has gone full circle in 50 years.
The question for the industry has been, how to add intrinsic value back into music?
When a product is ubiquitous, its novelty is lost. Being a medium that craved mass consumption has led to popular music being under-appreciated. The fact that bands are now touring more often reveals two things: the audience is there to service, and the bands need to tour to make a profit.
It’s a supply and demand equation, where punters are asking for added value to justify their loyalty.
In other words – market scarcity is driving value.
To draw a comparison with the world of consultancy, you can buy McKinsey time, and the only barrier to their input is the time it takes them to process your enquiry though their sausage machine. In our world it’s a bit different – we have finite resource and a capacity for quality that we can’t exceed. We consider each project on its individual merit and if we can make a difference to your prognosis, we’ll work with you. We’re busy, and so are McKinsey, but the client experience is different, and you choose which to go for depending on your taste.
The music industry is moving in the same direction. Small venues are coming back to life; private appearances are more common than they used to be (I heard about Glen Tilbrook doing a birthday party, solo, on the back of a chance meeting); intimate performances in private houses are squeezed into tours by emerging bands; and the opportunities to engage with your favourite artists go on. Your favourite stadium band may not be able to play in your bedroom, but you can probably get the lead singer and guitarist, for the right price.
The idea that music’s consumption model is changing was further illustrated this week. Sheryl Crow, talking on the radio (one technology that seems to be surviving), just released an album that was two years in the making. She said it’ll probably be her last. Because we now buy music in convenience-sized impulse units (by the track) and we rarely buy full-length collections, Crow questions the value in releasing anything longer than an EP.
This is a supplier response to consumer behaviour shift. Look down any album listing on iTunes, and see how the lead single is bought versus the less promoted tracks. Sheryl’s right.
For her, playing live allows her to test her product in a room and release the tracks she knows will get best uptake. If it doesn’t work, leave it out, and maybe release it to a geography where the reaction was different. A great example of fail fast, fail cheap consumer-centricity.
This all reveals a developing marketing model, distributing exactly what that regional market demands, tested by an artist who can charge a premium for showing up to do what she always wanted to do anyway. Maybe we’ll begin to hear about music exclusively available at gigs. That’ll push the competition for tickets up to capitalise on the scarcity of the product.
It’s true that ideas go full circle. It’s also true that ideas need to meet their moment. The way the music industry is evolving illustrates a market retrenching, going back to what it knows to survive, and of niche marketing at its best.
Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.