Keith Jopling: Is The Music Industry Really Ready To Innovate?

31 Oct 2011

Credits: dullhunk@flickr

Innovation is the watchword in business at the moment, with all sectors keen to look to new ideas to help drive some growth out of the glum depths of the current recession.  The music industry is no exception with a slate of new digital services – from Deezer, Blackberry and Virgin Media in the UK (and Facebook and Google initially in the US).  There is some genuine excitement about a potential new wave of growth for digital music.

Existing players are making progress too, with new in-device music deals being driven by 7digital – and with iTunes moving into locker services it’s good to see the steadiest of digital innovators taking another major step forward.

But there is plenty of anxiety as well. The streaming model has come under scrutiny since Spotify launched in the US with some abstentions from a handful of indie labels and certain prominent artists.  All of the UK’s new launches face the challenge of acquiring customers via the hard route of premium subscriptions.

Over a series of guest editorials for MusicTank I’ll take a look at what’s required on an industry level for the music sector to rally around new innovations.  The critical outcome needs to be another one, two or preferably many more long-term sustainable services. We know that hundreds of services have been licensed over the past five years. While that’s a healthy trading business – it’s a very short term focus.  The industry’s record on the delivery of long-term sustainable music services and formats needs to improve and quick.

There are a number of key areas in digital music innovation that need more exploration and implementation, including:

  • Multi-channel innovation, not just digital. Is the CD really ‘dead’? Are there no alternatives at all but to allow the industry’s core format to wither on the vine, as it has in the US?  The majority in the industry probably think not – but surely the time is now to work up viable mid-term options for physical formats as well as develop more music experiences beyond just gigs and festivals.
  • How to facilitate experimentation but prioritise as well. With the growing use of APIs (think of how when you discover a new tune on say Shazam you are immediately offered links to hear a clip on iTunes, stream the video on YouTube, and can purchase gig tickets – that is all via APIs) it’s now the right time for labels & publishers to help facilitate new music discovery service experiments by allowing access to repertoire via technology platforms using APIs.  Think access to stream perhaps the whole track once or twice rather than just a clip, join the band’s mailing list etc.  I would expect this to become commonplace over the next few years. But the critical thing is for the most promising ideas to quickly scale up from being simply ‘code’ to fully fledged services with strong consumer proposition and proper marketing.
    • Better customer insights.  It’s surprising in many ways but the industry still lacks a common platform for better understanding of music consumption trends and consumer needs.  Yet this is so critical to success. We are sure about the long term shift from physical to digital – but less sure of digital’s ability to drive growth. And we need not only consumer insights, but a better understanding too of what ‘business’ buyers want from music – from the biggest ISP’s to the smallest SME’s.


These key areas need to be understood along the value chain too – for labels and publishers, retailers and services – and artists of course – who have more & more choices about their route to audiences these days.

There’s a need here for active and empowered cross-industry initiatives and forums. It’s been an industrious year for the Innovation Panel – set up by the BPI in early summer last year. We have worked largely behind the scenes this year on developing further consumer research, developing partnerships between labels (and publishers) and music services and developing separate initiatives very much in the areas outlined above.

In this short series of editorials on innovation I’ll tackle each of these key areas and say more about how each one can potentially drive growth along the music value chain.

Keith Jopling – Chair, BPI Innovations Committee

Catch the series here: 

[#1 Is The Music Industry Really Ready To Innovate? ]

#2 Who’s Driving New Music Industry Insights?

#3 Stepping Up Music Innovation

#4 Is It Worth Innovating With Physical Music?

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