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Pimp My Tune: Making Music Compete With “Free”

27th March 2007 @ 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm

Venue: Private Room, Bertorelli Bar & Restaurant

Illegal filesharing is outstripping downloads by 40:1. At the same time, NME recently revealed that six out of ten 18-24 year olds believe the CD will be dead in five years time. But does this mean downloads have failed and physical formats are over?

This Think Tank will look at “sexing-up” music purchasing options – is a product and/or marketing re-think necessary to get the public more enthused about the legal product, both physical and digital?

What can we learn from non-music re-brands? The fashion world constantly re-invents and recycles – think ugly old NHS glasses vs designer frames vs trendy NHS-style specs. So can creative marketing do something similar for music, in its existing and future formats?

iTunes has cornered the market through a “bottled water” attitude – taking an essentially “free” product and selling it on the basis of convenience, ease of use and reliability.  The obvious next level seems to be to accept and integrate interoperability – a la eMusic’s unprotected MP3 files. At least then the legal version will be as versatile as its illegal counterpart.

Mobile offers another step up on the convenience ladder with “Martini” music – anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  One Scandinavian download service recently reported 90% of customers were willing to pay double if they could purchase direct-to-mobile via SMS.  But, rather than benefiting the networks, can the record business cash in on convenience?

Or does the answer lie more fundamentally with the product itself? What about increased sound quality – in the download sphere does this necessarily mean larger, unwieldy files, negating the convenience factor iTunes has thrived on? This stumbling block, and the continuing resilience of vinyl, may illustrate the ongoing need for high-definition physical formats. But, beyond a certain level, does sound quality appeal to anyone beyond a niche market of DJs and audiophiles?

So do services now need to offer more than a file and some scanned artwork in order to trump the illegal versions and bog-standard CDs? What form should this “added value” take? Bonus tracks, commentary, videos, more comprehensive liner notes? – a similar approach has been driving sales of DVDs and CD reissues for years.

This process may have already begun with a Ticketmaster/iTunes US deal offering advance booking opportunities with certain downloaded albums. By offering stronger ties to the artist, entry into an inner sanctum of fandom where consumers get exclusive access, the possibilities for further creative tie-ins could be endless…

But is this a skewed attitude? Should special interest content be sold at a premium, not tacked onto the existing product, offering more for less and thereby further driving down the intrinsic value?

And does the mainstream really care about added-value extras at all – or do these just impinge upon the simplicity of “music-to-go”?

One thing’s clear, something needs to be done. And getting people more excited about buying the stuff is the right place to start.

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