Millenials & The Social Media Explosion
7 July 2009
This MusicTank session will lift the lid on the social media phenomenon and reveal how rights holders can better engage with this social space and make sense of its increasingly complex future. Beginning with a presentation from artist, composer and serial social media experimenter Steve Lawson, this event will also update on progress of our chosen Millennials artist James Yuill, twelve-months on from MusicTank’s Millennials conference at which Terry McBride spearheaded a unique 360-degree artist road-map assisted by the amassed 180-strong conference audience. Closing this event will be a 90-minute debate looking at the future of social media in an attempt to gauge where it’s heading and its impact on rights holders, with a panel comprising far-sighted entrepreneurs, commentators and digital culture experts.
Part 1. Steve Lawson – Understanding Social Media
Becoming a solo bass player came about through chance and was the start of a series of events in which happenstance became a recurring theme. Having enjoyed a moderately successful career as a session player in the 90’s, after playing a solo number during someone else’s gig, a promoter offered Steve a slot. Hastily agreeing to do it and with no material to perform, he then abandoned efforts at writing material, preferring to make it up on the day(!)
Out of habit he recorded the gig and put it up on his website resulting in requests for the album…which wasn’t the plan at all. From that point on, the session offers stopped, but bookings for his solo playing took off – as Steve put it, it sounded more like a dare than a job…
At that time he was writing for Bassist magazine and he knew the people he needed to know in order to do what he was doing as a pro musician. He had a hunch that for the niche he was in, a traditional record label deal was not the way to go. He had a website already, part of its content was a blog, except that back then it wasn’t called a blog – it was a verbose news page that formed part of his tour diary.
Being an early website adopter he got a lot of web traffic – for two years it appeared he was the only bass player with a website – with enquiries requesting lessons as well as gigs from all over the world, and all specifically because he was on the web. Given he had a sizeable audience, as soon as he put recordings up there, he immediately had interaction with his audience which he’d never had through being part of a band, and had online conversations with them.
Back then there were no embeddable chat rooms, no tools like Twitter, so he put up his IM and ICQ address. He then published formal responses to questions being asked. What passed as a blog was simply his news page with no commenting facility, so he put up a guest book that visitors could use to comment on what he was writing.
As the tools evolved (he’d only had to expend time to build relationships with the people he’d interacted with then telling their friends, families and communities about him) it became clear that the level of interaction he was getting and the percentage of people getting deeply involved in what he was doing was beyond any marketing metric you could ever imagine.
Having been in bands that hired publicists, bought magazine ads and used radio pluggers, the thought of similarly spending money on something as nebulous as solo bass simply wasn’t viable. The viral way it grew – fans recommending their friends contact him directly – meant that rather than passing on music, fans were passing on a relationship (with the only cost to him being time to respond) which in turn led to further gigs, contacts and CD sales with which to build a sustainable business model. He was working towards a bigger audience that wasn’t costing him any extra money, (though he conceded that time management was an issue).
Given that no one was at that time making a career as a solo bass player as their primary activity and income stream, he made it an experiment over and above the process of selling music.
There’s a reason why the web tools that emerged were called social media and not marketing media: it wasn’t driven by those wanting a target audience, it was driven by those who wanted to build a community. As those tools came along and there was an option to hold those IM conversations in public so they were archived, it meant that the number of conversations reduced, but the number of those accessing the info rose dramatically.
When MySpace appeared and people used the comment area to hold conversations, Steve held conversations that were archived and then quoted elsewhere in other forums. It became a way for him to be able to describe what he did and personalise and build interest in what he was doing. Far better than taking out an ad that would have diluted his message in order to be as broad as possible for an unknown, undefined audience, all this was possible at no cost.
MySpace was subsequently seen by musicians as a broadcast space that missed out on the notion of community that its early adopters managed to achieve. Between 1998 and 2006 some fundamental changes happened on the web, from bands trying to look corporate and like a major (1998) – his own label was a non-entity devised to avoid reviewers crediting his DIY releases as ‘private release’; he used the label to give the impression of viability and validation – the roles reversed by 2006, to that of bands writing as personally as possible in blog posts.
What emerged was that any platform based on communication and interaction favours the smaller artist because conversation doesn’t scale. The corporates themselves were [and still are] trying to be approachable. This was a big shift and put smaller artists in a position of power, able to leverage the personal contact people could have with artists as part of the artist’s story. For Steve this led to guest ‘how-to’ college lectures and offers to consider big strategic thinking.
As MySpace became less useful as a communication platform, others sprang up. Last year (2008), the arrival of Twitter changed everything. Whereas there was no value in the internal currency of MySpace which was essentially how many ‘friends’ you had, Twitter exposed the friend-adding sham of MySpace for what it was – utterly meaningless.
In the case of Twitter, if you are following thousands yet are followed by just a few (most likely because you aren’t saying anything interesting), it’s clear that it’s just being used as a broadcast platform and it just won’t work. Twitter becomes a useful marker as to the depth that someone is interacting with their audience and is also an indicator that most people find you on the web not because you’re good, but because you’re interesting.
Within communities you get people who act as node points. The bit of social media that functions is marketing, though to view it as a marketing platform is a dangerous thing to do. As a one-way broadcast, most social networks are dreadful because it transitions into being spam that subsequently gets blocked. Most social media-literate people are highly suspicious of people that start ‘shouting’ on a platform. A social media campaign (such as that which an agency might push) is therefore largely missing the point.
Steve’s posted 20’000 Twitter updates in 18 months, the volume equating to 2 PhD’s. A huge time investment (and fun too), but had that been written in ad copy, it’s doubtful whether he’d have got anything like the social karma back. Social media’s beauty is not only discovery, but that it rewards engagement.
Social media feeds into what artists do, allowing for experimentation and creativity (in Steve’s case without worrying about repaying huge advances). Releasing a home recording to an audience of 10, 20 30’000 and having no money is a brilliant problem to have. Releasing a recording and being £200K in debt [to a label] is terrifying. Anything that can push him towards a balance being in favour of audience and back towards a zero – i.e. not needing to make money at the point the record comes out – the recording is the potential. It allows artists to be far more experimental.
Primary and secondary connections with audiences…Steve’s had a lot of secondary connection through radio that produces a spike in interest, but which then tails off. Constantly running behind this is his primary connection – his online conversations with his fans that have resulted in a constantly growing audience. When spikes occur he seeks to draw new interest into his primary connection, engaging them through conversation via social networks. If he doesn’t do this, they will disappear.
The issue about a tipping point, a time when the audience is too big to be able to interact with personally is way-off for the simple fact that most people are in occasional contact – as neatly summed up by Net, Blogs & Rock ‘n’ Rollauthor David Jennings (steve’s must-read tip for anyone looking to develop online)… “most of your audience spend most of their time not thinking about you…”
Twitter isn’t a queue of messages; it’s a flow, to be dipped in and out of. Interaction becomes a reward. Undoubtedly it will evolve into something else…perhaps an open platform?
Should you limit your exposure to chat? It depends on your personality. Some artists do, some don’t. But what you do should be in keeping with your personality.
Imogen Heap – a great example of consummate social media exponent. 500’000 Twitter followers, YouTube video blog etc.
Steve makes more money playing house concerts to no more than 40 (which also leads to CD sales), than he ever has done in the past when performing in large venues. It works due to the scale of the music. You have to be innovative and find what works.
Musicians and artists are no longer beholden to the machinery of the traditional music industry; to labels, publicists and media. The smart thinkers will build services that will make social media easier and better. There are still design ideas to come centered on physical product – the bit that is scarce – and touring. You can’t monetise ubiquity.
Part 2: Amul Batra, James Yuill & Steve Lawson – Millennials Update: One year-on…
For those of you not familiar with the Millennials project, MusicTank last year commissioned noted artist manager, Terry McBride to write a report. The result was Meet The Millennials – which sought to lift the lid on an increasingly important Millennial demographic, providing an authoritative account of fan influence over musical creation, exploitation and consumption.
As well as providing insight into key areas of change, including social networking, mash-up culture, copyright and revenue streams, the report also included an indispensable marketing road-map for anyone hoping to succeed in tomorrow’s marketplace.
Following publication, MusicTank produced a seminal one-day conference, Face To Face With The Millennials, it’s purpose to generate a UK take on this report’s conclusions, from activating p2p communities, mash-up culture and price-tipping points through to band-and-brand engagement.
In what amounted to a conference ‘first’, Terry McBride uniquely kicked-off a year-long project in which the participating audience generated from scratch a mould-breaking, 360 degree road-map for an up-and-coming British act, artist James Yuill, live onstage in front of a 200-strong audience, thus putting Terry’s theory into practice.
James Yuill’s music melds the worlds of electronic dance music with acoustic guitar based songwriting. Some people like to call it folktronica. Others refer to it as electro folk.
When Music Tank decided to use James as a guinea pig for its road mapping experiment with Terry McBride, James was just on the verge of releasing his first commercially available album with UK indie label Moshi Moshi. 12 months later, the album has been released and critically received in every major music market across the world (with the exception of Japan – where it is scheduled for release in this Autumn). This year alone, James has played over 80 shows in 12 different countries and he has returned, along with his manager to talk about progress and the actions taken specifically from the road-mapping session.
We are now going to play No Pins Allowed after which we will welcome James and Amul onto the stage.
- Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prFqi5Fo5pE
Keith Harris: So, Amul and James, what worked, what didn’t?
Amul: To give you and insught to the broader principles…it was the right moment 12 months ago to accept the invitation to take part in the Millennials project. Everything was in place – the record was ready, the album recorded (and to be released through Moshi Moshi), the publishing deal was done, the UK record deal was in place, publicity and plugging was ready to go. But nothing was in place in the online, social media space. No MySpace, no Twitter, no blog, no FaceBook, thus presenting Terry McBride with effectively, a blank sheet of paper. The public road-mapping process was nerve-racking, but enabled Terry to take everything back to basics – to question and find out everything about James and to then build an authentic list of ideas that could work, using social media, to build a presence and association with James and his fans. Connecting not just with James – the music, but also with James – the person.
Initially, Terry differentiated between the academics of the industry – the labels, publishers, publicists etc – and outside of that look at what could be done without them to reach a wider audience. It should be a natural process for every artist to see themselves as a brand. If you want to sell records you have to be prepared to be treated as something that is for sale. Ideas focused on brand awareness – increasing followers (shows with other artists), creating promotional assets and tools that reinforce a presence.
The conversation revolved around his passions and interests (including the story of James’ stolen laptop complete with original mixes and stems, leading to the domain registration of where’smyf**inglaptop.com during the conference). The afternoon continued with many similar random ideas to increase the awareness of the James Yuill brand. Other passions included recycling, Guinness, brand affiliation and other revenue streams.
The revenue stream is not just about the album anymore. Artists need more than just one product line every two years. Creating commercial assets, multi formats, multi-language releases, crowd-sourcing artwork & designs, the seeding of multitrack stems for fan mixes…all were mentioned as possibilities during the roadmap session.
Post-conference we developed the plan (which didn’t include the laptop!). Now, to bring in James…
Amul: What was the most fundamental change to thinking after the event?
James: Setting up a blog and increasing an online presence. Discobelle.net – a music blog – did a Roots Manuva remix competition which I won. They then asked me to do a mix for them, became a fan [of James] with more blogs then picking-up on me, incl. Hype Machine. Discobelle also helped me to run his own remix competition for which I uploaded my own stems. Huge level of interaction through blogs that hadn’t previously been considered. Having a personal connection with someone is far better than traditional barrier between artist and listener.
Amul: Terry talked about developing communication and increasing the digital footprint. An ambition could be to get James the No. 1 result on People Search (www.pipl.com) – other than James Bond(!) – Do you now regularly vists other blogs to check out people and get ideas?
James: Yes – really increased online activity. Incorporated Google Reader to help keep up with news, artsist etc. Also set up Google analytics (Terry’s recommendation) – discovered I had a global following esp in Japan and USA. Helps to plan tours.
Keith Harris: How much information do you get from Google Analytics?
James: Loads – hit rates, most popular pages, bounce rate, where people are coming from and tracing them back to see where else they’re active. There’s a mine of information that takes time to process, respond to and experiment with.
Amul: Terry also discovered James’ friends included video makers. Suggested making viral videos for his passions, incl. Guinness. They made them whilst on tour.
- Watch Guiness ad here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCuZxOlLwb4&feature=related
…admittedly, probably not quite what Terry had in mind, more an attempt to inject some humour. Really important to make sure whatever’s out there is authentic.
Other than promotional assets, what commercial assets did you get involved with?
James: Terry recommended foreign language releases (as he’d done with Avril Lavigne). Got together with Norweigan band CasioKids – did a swap. I sang one of their songs in English, they sang one of my songs in Norweigan. I now get some of their fans following. Also did a remix album containing acoustic versions of 5 previously released electonica songs and electronica versions of 5 previously released acoustic songs – doubling up content.
Amul: This is valuable commercially and promotionally…you got to feature them onstage during your set at a Swedish festival appearance. Double vinyl will be released in the UK. US market wanted something slightly different format. In Sept, releasing same album with different tracks featuring in order.
Audience: When artist web sites first appeared, there was a big debate between label and artists over who owned and controlled an artist web site. As you’d already signed to label and publishing, what was the interation between the label and all your social media activity? Was there some involvement from the label?
James: No. I’d started all the sites before any signings. I continue to make as much contact through the sites as much as possible. Not good to see artist sites who don’t operate their own sites/social media. It was never an issue with the label.
- Watch Nescafe Ad here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW0ggI9Tlrc
Amul: Tell us about the adverts you made as part of your tour diaries…
James: When I went on tour, I took a filmmaker with me to make the blog as interesting as possible, to put over my personality and to give an insight as to what it’s like on tour…rather than taking a tour manager, we took someone who could do more for us, in addition to generally helping out. It also changed our approach to not only how we make money but also how we spend it.
Amul: Any interesting shows as a result of Terry’s advice…?
James: Did a gig with friends of mine (similar music) as way to cross-fertilise our respective audiences. Did an ‘plus friends’ show (May 09) for people to collaborate with me on stage. Good way to reach their followers who otherwise night not have come across my music. and at Fabric – 5 sets of electronic (Fire) and acoustic (Earth) versions [as detailed earlier].
- Highland Spring Ad here: http://jamesyuill.wordpress.com/2008/12/28/highland-spring-advert/
Amul: What’s next? At our last talk (MidemNet 09), the record was made and imminently to be released…
James: I’ve bought Yuletube.com to host a video competition, the winner gets to direct my next video [crowd sourcing]. I’m also trying to appeal to illegal downloaders by offering free merchandise when they buy my music, or access gigs for free if they bring the album booklet. I have also thought about giving away a live EP (or access to it) through buying a T-shirt.
[essentially, experimentation in the true spirit of Terry McBride]
Amul: We’re at the end of the first album campaign cycle, and coming up with ideas for where to go from here…The album was recorded in January, it’s not due out until August, and it’s already out on Russian and Chinese Torrent sites from people who can’t get it. We’ve introduced a contributions box to appeal top people’s better side.
Audience: To both James and Steve – In the old world, it was all about ‘gongs’ and whose ‘won’. Aside from happiness and cash, how else do you determine/judge success these days?
Steve: My only measure is whether or not I’m happy with the music. I do this because of artistic creativity and endeavour – not for cash. The ongoing success is me and my music and developing me as a person. There is no bar beyond which it fails to be successful.
James: I judge success on those I meet at my gigs, whether they like what I like.
Audience: Interesting what you both say about the fans you meet…The Guinness campaign – attaching yourself to a product as aggressive and capitalist as Guinness. It’s an interesting shot to take – you’re very soon going to not be meeting people you like! There appears to be two things going on in your world, one is a stratospheric, capitalist, go-for it existence, the other is wrapped up inside a cosy notion that you’re going to go on liking your audience. The two things seem to be polarized. Is the joke at Guinness or are you using Guinness to launch yourself?
There is a serious side to this. In his report, Terry put forward some serious strategies that you took on board – one was to develop your brand awareness; and thus develop your career.
James: Terry was talking about making ads on YouTube and deriving income from it. It was just a bit of fun.
Audience: It’s an interesting choice – clearly something you’re interested in but also a huge global brand – it’s certainly improved your brand awareness. It demonstrates something interesting. When you say your definition of success is liking and knowing your audience you’re also working alongside a brand with multi-million pound ad budgets.
Amul: These were done for fun, not as an advert for Guinness…done more to demonstrate his comic side than anything else. We’re not trying to get Guinness on-side.
Audience: Trent Reznor’s approach with technology is legendary. Is a James Yuill app or embeddable widget something within your reach (thinking about the investment costs) and ambition now that these tools are available?
James: I like Apple, but I’m not thinking along those lines.
Steve: Icons of the online world, Trent & Radiohead were huge red herrings. Both were cashing in tens of millions of label investment over decades, a huge amount of energy to be starting from. Radiohead didn’t give anything away for free – they made poor quality audio available for free in return for massive press coverage. Clever thinking that has no relevance to this – it wasn’t free. Reznor’s iPhone app – can only build a walled garden around what you do if your audience has reached critical mass. James’ talk of collaboration makes way more sense – sharing audiences rather than trying to stick audiences in ever-smaller walled gardens. Reznor did it to be the first.
Steve: Innovation is vital, but we’re bad at looking at where we’ve come from. We’re very good at looking at where we are and where we want to be, but bad at context. I keep stressing that musicians need to understand why we are where we are, deconstruct that and work towards a world that wants to support creativity, rather than music being just another currency within another market.
Keith: Could you comment on what James and Amul have done thus far and what they might want to do.
Steve: It’s really interesting, the silliness is great and it’s very ‘you’. I would suggest filming the making of these videos and your recording sessions too– that’s a story in itself. I would focus on story rather than product.
We keep thinking of bit torrents as being the death of CD – it’s actually the new radio. It’s a discovery mechanism – free promo for artists. Radio isn’t for free – you have to pay a plugger to place music. Having content out there for free is an investment in time – you can cash it in at some future point. Indie artists are greatly under-represented on bit torrent – they’re less likely to be illegally uploaded by true fans connected to an artist they care about.
Pete Jenner brought part two to a close, asking both artists if they were making more money than last year…which they were pleased to confirm.
Part 3: Panel Discussion – The Next Big Wave: What Happens Next?
1. Keynote: Steve Bowbrick (Blogger in Residence, BBC):
I’m here for my passion for recorded music and its history. I’ve been writing for seven or eight years on the subject and every nine months or so I would assert with confidence that the time had come (in my head) where the music industry reaches the accommodation phase in the accepted four stages of the grieving process (!) – one from which it can begin to move forward. Every time though, I was wrong, and the music industry’s position simply became more entrenched.
I want to take you through a brief history of recorded music. There is an ancient history to music – 35,000 years ago people would carve flutes out of bone, from there we were already making music. And that date 35,000 years ago is the earliest that we know that people were carving flutes out of bone as that is the oldest instrument we’ve found. But even so, music predates many things – 35,000 years makes the technology for making music four or five times older than agriculture and cities, metal work, currency and the wheel – many things that form the framework to our everyday lives. Even Neanderthals could sing and make music – so the technology for the reproduction of music was ritual, and rituals still continue to this day – we all invent rituals to remember things.
So it was a long time from that early invention of the flute before there was a permanent record of music. It is now a massive source of sadness to me that the people who gave us these massive changes in music are now absolutely incapable of embracing this next big change. This one hundred years of recorded music begins to look more and more like a golden age.
Music is of course still being created and consumed – my fear is that those making it and enjoying it relate more to the past than they do the last 100 years. From the distance of another decade or 100 years, the whole of the recorded music era might be remembered as a golden interlude – a period during which much of the language of music was laid down but whose economic base and reason for being has been entirely eliminated.
Keith Harris: I was going to ask you actually Steve, what would you like to see?
SB: I want to see a readiness. In groups we have a habit of deriving the same thing over and over again. With the publication of the Digital Britain report we saw a grim way of seeing the resistance to change crystallised in a document. Essentially it said “one last heave guys, just give Virgin and the rest one last chance to cut off file sharers and we’ll be okay” – so desperately disappointing and a mis-investment of energy. An important issue we have to get past is that if you’re a board member in a Plc, it’s very difficult to set out a position that the music industry might be smaller in a few years time.
Mark Selby (VP Multimedia, Nokia Corporation): Digital Britain was a bloody fiasco, one of the worst written documents I’ve ever come across for something that was apparently representing creative Britain – all the key examples were from the US, it was, frankly, bizarre.
One thing that is positive is that when we look at social media (and thank heavens people are no longer calling it user generated content), we are clearly seeing an explosion which can be looked at in many ways. One can look at companies, software applications, the social networks…others are looking for a ‘killer app’ (there isn’t one – nor is there a killer social network) and they will continue to migrate and comeback to different locations as they continue their journey. Social media has been happening for a long time – people are now exploring ways in which money can be made from it.
Growth in the mobile sector has been strong and the value of content and media in the mobile world is expected to top $344billion by 2013. Of that, five to six percent of that market is expected to be music. We are seeing new ways for people to engage, we’re looking at the focus on the brand. I’m sick and tired of people going on about being screwed here and now dying – get over it. We can either deal with romantic notions or get on with it. There are exciting prospects out there, we’re seeing growth and understanding the value of social media.
James Doheny (Digital Change Consultant & Artist Manager): The world has moved on. The last 100 years of mass communication were an incredible disruption in communication. Communication used to be one-to-one, moved to being one-to-many and now it is many-to-many. Life moves on – we have to embrace change. Art won’t die. We don’t have to worry about music dying, just about how to make a living from it. As much as us being in the music business, we’re in the entertainment and experience business. We’re going back to a network situation, where you have to go out and do the work yourself. Beethoven would design the flyers, go out on the street and sell the tickets – that is where we’re going again.
Umair Haque (Economist & Director, Havas Media Lab): I always like to think of music as the canary in the coalmine. Music is always at the forefront of change. Realism means coming to grips with the fact that economics is not just about money. The economics of music fall into three categories: (1) demand – we need to do a better job at aggregating demand and understand who our listeners are, what they want and where they are; (2) supply – we need to do a better job at aggregating supply. Where is the next big band coming from, where are they going and what do they want to become?; (3) Knitting those two together in the real world i.e markets.
Markets run on prices and one of the big problems with the music industry is that we’ve had fixed prices for many years. This has left us in a situation where you don’t have the incentives to get better information about supply and demand – so that’s one problem. Secondly – the age-old debate about content versus distribution, neither of which is king. Context is king. Context is meta information – information about stuff. We need to do a much better job of generating context about the music we make. Social media is the engine of context. If we only see these as distribution channels for the same old content, we’re going to fail to understand what their power really is.
MS: [To Umair] What issue do you have with social media?
UH: It’s just media that’s an extension to people’s lives and people’s lives are social – everything is becoming more social. That’s not to do with social media platforms, but down to natural economics of living in a world that’s much smaller, ‘social media’ is a bad term for something so big.
MS: I would claim that 100% of creators are consumers and a very large proportion of consumers are creators. Starting from that basis, recognising that creativity comes from many non-artists, the term ‘social media’ addresses that. Rather than a few people in an exclusive club [artists and copyright], we’re looking at fundamental citizen rights. The breadth of social media highlights the need and its relevance to all citizens.
JD: I agree, the last 100 years were not normal behaviour; we’re only now going back to people doing what they want to do naturally with technology at their disposal – expressing themselves.
KH: Is the problem that there’s recently been lots of good stuff and less great stuff?
SB: That’s the point about meta data. The issue is that over the last 35,000 years there’s not been much great stuff.
UH: Context is important because we can’t define what’s good – what constitutes good? The stuff the sells the most today, tomorrow, next year…?
Audience: As a musician and artist, we measure what’s good as technical proficiency. That’s bad; artists that sell ideas are good and more conducive to the commercial world.
UH: Good point. We have a music industry that’s failed to allocate it’s resources in the most productive ways. If we have the most technologically proficient people, could we channel them in ways to make them more productive? Can we help them make better music – not just better, technically. We’ve had an industry that’s seriously mis-allocated its resources.
KH: The essence of art is that you can’t make something everyone thinks is great, it’s not the function of the science of economics.
UH: I’d suggest that if you have an industry where everything is sold at a fixed price, you have poor information about what people really value – we should and can get better information without compromising artistic integrity…there are better ways to chanel.
MS: The interesting question is what is great and good. Getting data is fascinating. I’m surprised that people in the music industry don’t get it. The most vauable assets are the quality of digital files – metadata is massively important – so why is the job of filling that in given to 12-year-old dyslexics? I say that as a father of 12-year-old dyslexics – they can’t spell, the wrong data is being given. There’s no quality assurance.
SB: When ripping the file, metadata is usually wrong. That’s because sources from which you get the metadata aren’t generally open source. They are closed and owned by businesses, that don’t permit the application of crowd logic to keep them up-to-date, that’s why the metadata is broken.
Audience: If we have a scale whereby ten is U2 or another massive band and zero is nothing, between zero and three people will make their own mind up and it’s a lottery as to whether music will break through. Between four and ten it is gatekeepers – people who make sure things get heard – are in control. Slightly off topic but…it seems that the gate keepers at BBC R1 have more of a correlation between what is heard (either bought or stolen) than they did 20 years ago: social media in this context has less influence [on musical greatness] than has radio.
JD: The two main routes to discovery are radio and personal recommendation. What’s great and whats good – it’s crowd sourcing on an historical scale. In architecture you have three buildings, the one people like the most will stay and the other two will be pulled down. I think it is the same in music, what endures is what brings value to peoples’ lives. Artists should do what they want and then the community will choose what survives.
Audience: I get the feeling that today there is no band that someone loves forever and champions, it seems like top trumps – which band do I support today? It’s not about the difference between being good or being great, it’s that nobody gets the chance to be great – longevity is the issue, someone shows you their band that they like so you have to go out and find one better.
UH: Maybe people aren’t finding what they like?
MS: The main question is “who is the audience?”. How many musicians actually know their fans? Are they the people in the community or the people that buy tickets to the gig? Within an individual’s life, what is the context of your music? How do they value you? I’m constantly surprised when I find out what people are doing. I was reading a report today that suggests music has a predominantly female theme. It suggested that females were interested in music to a greater extent than men – what representation is there of that in fan bases?
KH: Over the past five years female bands have dominated, your point could reflect a recent phenomenon…
JD: I never hear the word ‘fan’ at marketing events. There was never a way to find out who your fans were. Now there is, and we should rejoice at that.
MS: The importance of social media as a way to interact with rather than it being just another distribution channel or pushing/broadcasting a message, the opportunity to listen is incredible.
Audience (Will Page, PRS for Music): PRS’s work on the long tail has shown that distribution of revenues is even more hit-heavy, skinny tail and even more hit-centric than would perhaps have been the case in the physical market – possibly due to the paradox of choice – but the interesting question is whether or not you get more rags-to-riches success stories in long tail type markets? Is the problem not how you license your rights but who you licence them to? YouTube for example, forms part of a group company structure. Its role is not necessarily to generate profits but to acquire traffic, as explicitly stated by Google, it’s a traffic acquisition strategy. Its role is to acquire traffic, not generate revenues yet the platform requires licensing.
UH: We cannot get long tail effects if search costs remain too high. You have to be able to find the stuff in the tail – the small stuff. And we know this isn’t easy for whatever reason. Looking at revenues is not the best way to measure the intensity of a long tail life. Secondly, re licensing and ‘edge’ – we see huge corporations disintegrating into three kinds of ports – markets, networks and communities. To be productive we need new institutions and rules.
Rights are like rules. How do we sell this stuff? We need better rights and new institutions to do this. The rights left over from the 20th Century are an incredibly bad match for new markets, networks and communities.
Where do we get these rights? Currently dancing around the edge of these new rights structures – Radiohead, Trent Reznor – but who is going to take that further? There’s been a huge reluctance at the core of the industry for addressing issues at the edges of industry.
Audience (Peter Jenner, Sincere Management): In amongst all this dissing of the Digital Britain report…I thought its section on P2P was brilliant – the civil servants served up a poisoned chalice for people on both sides to sort it out. To the ISPs, if you can’t come to a solution you’re going to have to alienate your customers, you’re going to have to increase churn. To the record industry, the report made very clear it’s not going to control the Internet to suit a redundant old model. Digital Britain forces people to look at their business and find a solution.
KH: We are talking about music breaking down into smaller units. Michael Jackson’s death was a shock to everyone, and the unified response to that was one thing that wasn’t fragmented. Is there a problem with fragmentation?
SB: Fragmentation is going on but it’s about an appropriate match facilitated by technology, not about reducing audiences per se.
JD: A time existed whereby the artist-fan relationship was simply Top of the Pops. Now social media provides a platform for communications.
Audience (Will Page): But there are still hits. Coldplay selling 500,000 small plastic discs in boxes doesn’t look like a crisis to me. Now labels are getting into a bidding war for these hits (it’s the same with book authors).
SB: Industry needs to regain its confidence, without resorting to antagonising emerging consumption models and the audience.
Audience: There’s a great opportunity here for an artist who wants to be great, to not spend their time in a public space, but getting it right in private while the industry develops new systems. Social media is too easy to be a vanity exercise.
UH: The returns to art and craft are going up. What does a ‘hit’ mean? A blockbuster is something people buy because it’s heavily marketed. The music industry relies on blockbusters. Historically, there’s been an over-investment in marketing and an under-investment in the craft – quality and production. Music will not see the end of hits but it will see the end of blockbusters.
MS: I have a terrible image of a band in a grimy bedroom waiting for the world to come and knock on their door. We have a challenge to find out when there is a blockbuster. Looking at social media being a driver for that. We don’t have simple ways of measurement with media being so much more fragmented.
KH: Should we be measuring time as an indicator of what makes a hit? If we could see how much time people have ‘spent’ with content online, would that be a more accurate way of defining a hit?
Steve Lawson: The quest for metrics is the mind of an economist. Social media is an insular, practitioner space which cannot be valued and have a worth put on it from the outside. We can spend our time getting excited about numbers but missing the actual depth. An artist can talk about 30’000 visits a day, because Stumbleupon is driving traffic. But they’re getting no interaction.
The time problem is passive versus active activity. You could see a website in minutes and be thinking about it all day, or you could leave it on the screen all day and not even read it. I had an email recently from a guy whose dad had died and he said all he could listen to was my music. I thought it was spam at first but copied the first part of his email address and Googled it. The first thing that came up was his Last.fm page and for the past days it was just my music he had listened to. Measure the value in that you can’t!
MS: The advocacy value of that is incredible.
KH: But that has always existed, but nobody could communicate those feelings before.
SB: We can be inventive in measuring this. Economists are the best people for that.
Audience (Pete Jenner): Emotional contact is important, but this is also about business. Perhaps the business we should all be in is helping people save time to find the music they need/didn’t know they wanted to hear.
Audience: Social media is best when it works underground. Things don’t feel the same in the mass market. The one-hit-in-ten signings model doesn’t exist now.
UH: Shifting from product industry to a service industry. How do we do that? Through search. The bigger question is human benefit – the reason the music industry was small in the 20th Century was because these benefits were underplayed. In the 21st Century we’re finding ways to measure these.
SL: The value is already there. I’ve already measured it. From my point of view, the music industry is there to make music available as easy as possible.
UH: Until the music industry finds a way to make money out of that, it will continue to be under-investing in its artists.
Audience (Will Page): Time matters, on the same day Radiohead made In Rainbows available for free and 2.3million people downloaded the album, 400,000 people downloaded it illegally elsewhere (10.10.07) – that’s messed up.
JD: We have got to be savvy in finding out value. Music is a whole range of experiences – not just recorded product. The more tools we’ve got for that the better. There is no reason for cynicism.
UH: Don’t despair – every industry is in trouble at the moment, and music is cooler than banking. The Four ‘problems’ to be addressed:
- Search – finding the best;
- Production – how to structure production to be more efficient;
- Investment – how much do we invest in artists, how much risk do we take?
- Consumption – rewards and punishments.
Context-based pricing. The solution is very natural. If we know that social media works better underground it should be cheaper there, and become more expensive as it grows in popularity.
SB: I’m hopeful for music as there are artists and creators there. 35,000 years of passion for music isn’t dying and in two or three years the industry might be smaller and less relevant. I’m not a fan of micro payments but I am a fan of taking value from different places. The music industry is close to the hearts and souls of people and ten years ago – before P2P – I knew less music and was a poorer person for that.