Recorded Music As A Commodity & The Power Of Artistic Vision

image from whoistywhite.com This guest post comes from Ty White, a self-proclaimed musictech geek who spends his days at progressive ticketing company Eventbrite and nights finding ways to showcase emerging artists through live performance videos with Yours Truly. and blogging about the music business.

Let’s just admit it: recorded music is a commodity product. The abundance of recorded music now more than satiates the (plentiful) demand, and the market of recorded music is losing differentiation. Sure, different recordings will suit different needs and wants to some extent, but that’s no different from other commodities like coffee or petroleum or pharmaceuticals. So what does business in a post-commoditization music industry look like? I see two big, important things that will drive the rest:

1. Music everywhere — use the commodity to fuel other (not necessarily music) businesses

2. Artists need a vision worth showcasing — to keep a music-focused business alive, it will take something special to rise above the commodity market

I’ll talk briefly about why I think each is important.

1. Music Everywhere

As I pointed out in my last post, Soundtracking is a tiny step towards universal integration. They’re a moment sharing app like Instagram, Path, and PicPlz, but they’ve theorized that music can be a more compelling way to turn pictures into moments than photo filters (like their competitors have). Ultimately it’s just a question of prioritization — all those apps are trying to accomplish the same goal, they just have different ideas as to what is most important to get there.

EchoNest is banking on the idea that music’s integration into other applications is inevitable, and I agree. To date, however, most of the apps built on EchoNest have been focused on the music — probably because it’s both the most obvious application, and the interest of folks who are familiar with EchoNest. As other apps and companies start to realize music’s value as part of their app, however, EchoNest stands to be a powerful toolkit.

But music’s integration into other parts of life doesn’t stop at online apps. The licensing process for commercials and other broadcasts continues to be more and more automated. YouTube pays millions of dollars a year to publishers for music that’s in the background of user-generated videos. The list goes on.

Recorded music has become more accessible than ever before and in higher supply than ever before. Anyone who wants to access any song for any purpose should be able to within a few years, and dozens of successful businesses will be built upon assisting with that access.

2. Artists need a vision worth showcasing

With so much abundance, how does an artist avoid becoming a faceless data point? By putting a compelling face to their artistic vision.

In what I imagine to be the majority of cases, this face includes (and may be driven by) a live show. Of course, if everyone who has been creating recorded music starts playing live shows, the market will become as crowded as the recorded space, necessitating more help to cut through the noise.

Songkick, Sonicliving, and others are great tools for helping to keep track of your live shows and tying the live show to your own library of recorded music. The problem, though, is they don’t help cut through the noise any further (yet). I admired Songkick’s initial vision of being a concert recommendation engine, and while I wish they would get back to that now that they have significantly more (and cleaner) data, I acknowledge it makes far more sense for them to simply power the ticket listings in a variety of discovery channels.

There’s a large, very active community of music bloggers out there who help folks comb through all the recorded music that comes out. It’s a fantastic community with some brilliant folks, and I’d be devastated if they ever went away. However, they’re focused on a commodity product and barely drive any direct, attributable value (the exception being a “Best New Music” rating from Pitchfork).

The new era of music journalism (and potentially journalism in general) will focus on letting the subjects (in this case artists) showcase themselves — journalists become producers and editors, rather than verbose writers. I believe Yours Truly (disclosure: I’m involved) is at the head of this charge, along with folks like La Blogotheque and several others. I suspect many more will follow, and more artists will see these videos as their best promotion mechanism for their new top product: the live show.

Which of these is more compelling to get you to spend money on the hottest new rap act, Tyler the Creator:

Reading this article?

or

Watching this video?

I would also count Kickstarter amongst the companies helping artists showcase themselves, and the one doing the most to tie that showcase directly to revenue ($13 million pledged to music projects thus far). Like buying tickets to a live show, you pledge money to artists solely on the promise of getting something worthwhile in return (most of the time it doesn’t exist yet). I have backed 11 projects, have only received one reward, and yet will continue to pledge — a great Kickstarter video is so inspiring you feel compelled to help bring the products into the world. The same goes for music video journalism and live shows — a single video taste of an epic performance (plus a little interview with the artist talking about inspirations) makes you immediately want to buy a ticket to the real live show, no matter how far off it is.

In any of those cases, though, the onus is on the artist to make themselves appear worthwhile. No amount of cleverly written marketing copy is a substitute for raw, personal, intimate content.

I, for one, am excited about the new music business. Like the rest of America, the music industry as a whole is in dire need of a wake-up call that the industrial revolution is over and greatness does not come off assembly lines in little plastic packages. I’m hopeful that we’ll be resourceful enough and passionate enough to make music an even bigger part of everyone’s lives, and maybe even make a living doing so.

Ty White is a self-proclaimed musictech geek who spends his days building an iPad-based box office solution at ticketing company Eventbrite, and his nights finding ways to showcase emerging artists through live performance videos with Yours Truly. He occasionally blogs his thoughts on the music business.


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