Keith Jopling: Stepping Up Music Innovation

02 Apr 2012

Credits: mikecogh@flickr

Stepping up music innovation from the age of experimentation to the age of commitment

As I previously wrote in this editorial there are 3 necessary pillars for building on innovation in music services:

  • Better customer insights
  • How to facilitate experimentation
  • Multi-channel innovation, not just digital

My last editorial focused on the first pillar – and so without further ado – to the second.  There’s no doubt we are still very much in the ‘age of experimentation’ in digital music services.  The numbers tell that story out loud.  The IFPI continually makes a point of 500+ music services in existence around the globe, but we are in little doubt about the number of long-term sustainable, profitable enterprises in the league of iTunes, Amazon et al – those can be counted on both hands and possibly, feet, if we count niche market successes such as Bleep.com and Beatport.  By my definition that makes the other 490 ‘experimental’. And certainly – all those new start-ups that emerge in the music sector on a weekly basis are in that same boat.

The latest rush of music experiments comes in the form of Apps, designed and developed for Spotify’s infant music apps platform (a very innovative, almost genius move in my book).  Many of these apps have been made by labels too – with 13 label created apps added during March – many of which are reviewed in this week’s MusicAlly Report.  Any platform encouraging innovation directly from the labels is doing God’s work.

But it’s not just apps. You Tube has been highly visible in its shift to become the ‘new TV’ and a big part of its strategy here has been music – with high profile artist channels coming in waves, alongside interesting moves such as Warners own (non-catchy named) Warner Music Group channel and more interesting still, new ‘music TV’ brands such as Noisey.com.

In fact, let’s get to the point here.  Noisey is a great example of what can happen when ideas go beyond experimentation and get some real commitment.  The channel has been in ‘beta’ since January but has obviously benefited from a combination of sponsorship cash (Intel, Dell) and facilitation and partnership from You Tube (little wonder then, Noisey’s SEO gets top marks). It describes itself thus:

“Noisey is a video-driven music discovery platform, documenting the most talented emerging musicians from around the world.  Curated by VICE, the site showcases bands and music scenes from over 10 countries. We’re giving local scenes an international audience, and music lovers the opportunity to discover great bands on a powerful, state-of-the-art digital entertainment channel.”

That sounds good – like a real market proposition should.  And with music TV in the parlous state it’s in, there’s not much doubt Noisey is filling a gap in the market.  This might explain why Noisey has hit 30,000 channel subscribers and nearly 25 million views – a strong performance when benchmarked against other music channels on the new You Tube.

So what does it take to go beyond experimentation?  Well, Noisey.com has it all – at least for launch phase.

A good service launch needs a magical combination of money, partnership and a purpose – a clear audience to serve or customer problem to solve.  Beyond launch, those factors of course change to more grown up concerns – revenue generation, sustainable operations and good positioning.

At each step – launch and during the first period of operations – you’ll note my deliberate choice of factors as cash related (investment or sponsorship at launch, revenues ongoing), people related (partnership, sustainable operations) and market focused (clear purpose or proposition, strong market positioning).  As an insight-led strategist I would say this, but to my mind most new ideas fail to go beyond experimental because of lack of any real market focus.

To be properly market focused takes as much effort, direction and care as building your app, channel or website and as much care again as finding your funding and operating partners.  Without due thought to why you’re in market and who your service is for and what value it adds (above and beyond your competitors) your experiment won’t break out of the lab.

This is partly why the Innovation Panel I run for the BPI has focused more on market challenges like insights, proposition development and positioning.  But it’s well worthwhile for the music industry to consider offering more systematic industry help in nailing down those other critical factors – money and people.  It’s good business development.

Look outside to the pioneers of open innovation like Procter & Gamble for example. P&G’s global Open Innovation team Connect & Develop isn’t just a meet & greet for people with ideas for new ways to lather up in the bath.  The team has a global revenue target of $3 billion – all from the facilitation of new ideas from experiments to full-blown consumer or B2B products.

It’s time to take music experiments to a new level and commit to the development of sustainable, profitable music services and work out how to offer industry support to those ideas and experiments with that potential.

There has been a flurry of activity around point two.  EMI Open is now up & running (EMI’s Sandbox facility for developers via API’s) and Spotify announced its plans to – yes once again – go the way of the API – allowing app developers to plug into its streaming catalogue (though controversially the commercials once again look conspicuously absent).

It seems experimentation is really happening – the music industry might actually be exemplifying how to succeed here for other content sectors – if it works.  I’ll comment more on how this is coming along after we can observe a ‘bedding-in’ period.

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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