Here’s What Daisy Could, and Should, Look Like

Beats’ codenamed Daisy subscription service has been getting a puzzlingly large amount of coverage for a service that isn’t even launched yet. Beats’ Jimmy Iovine has somewhat smartly positioned Daisy as a challenger in what he has portrayed as a dysfunctional market in which the incumbents are flailing around, unable to even understand what the big issues are, let alone try to solve them.  Discovery, transparency, reporting, these are all great issues that do need addressing but they are also the exact issues Spotify et al are all busy trying to fix right now. The fact they haven’t points to the complexity and scale of the problems, and also the limitations of what any one music service can achieve on its own.

But rather than get distracted by the grandstanding and hyperbole (from all sides) it is worth taking a look at the what the next generation of music subscription service could look like, building upon some of the challenges that are faced today. These could be done by any streaming service, but they are also all natural extensions of Daisy’s already unique set of assets and DNA. These features are:

  • Artist Led Discovery: one of the big issues with streaming services is that they subjugate the artist brand.  In the single or album model (physical or digital) the fan is seeking out an artist specific experience.  With streaming services the value proposition is all the music in the world so the artist brand and relationship is inherently diluted.  So the next generation of music subscription service will be a confederation of artist sub-sites, combining the benefits of vast catalogue with mainstaining artists’ profile.  Back in the day, MySpace understood the value of unifying disparate artist specific communities with portal-like navigation.  So in the next-generation service you will still be able to use traditional tools like searching by genre, but you will also follow individual artists. This, combined with Spotify-artist app-like experiences would give Daisy a genuinely unique take on streaming discovery and navigation.
  • Artist Communities: again taking a lead from MySpace, the natural next step of artist-led discovery is to let users gravitate around their favourite artists.  To follow them, join communities, join discussions, chat with the artist, get virtual-VIP access.  Currently this sort of fan engagement happens one step removed from the music on Facebook and artist pages. Bring it all together and you turn a disjointed discovery-to-engagement-to-consumption/purchase journey into a seamlessly integrated experience, where each of those previously discreet activities becomes an indistinguishable part of a new whole.
  • Empower the Artist: and a further logical next step would be to then allow artists to plug directly into this platform and engage with their fans here just like they do on Facebook. This would not mean giving them full exposure to how often their tracks are getting played or how much they’re getting paid (labels deals just don’t permit this) but it would translate into self-serve analytics dashboards and powerful CRM functionality.
  • Merchandize and live: and if you’ve got your fans engaging with your music then of course you are going to want the ability to sell them other stuff like vinyl, box sets, merchandize and tickets for gigs. This is where Ian C Rogers’ expertise and the TopSpin hook up will become core assets for Daisy. Expect full eCommerce integration. Also don’t be surprised to see full Songkick integration either.

So what emerges is a picture of a MySpace / Spotify / TopSpin / SongKick / Facebook mashup, as 360 degree music experience platform, joining the dots in a fragmented digital landscape.  If Daisy, or anyone else, pulls this off, we will have a true next generation music subscription service.  One that recognizes that streaming is not a business model, but instead simply a technology means of getting music to people on the devices of their choice. A service that understands streaming is the foundation stone upon which rich, immersive music experiences can be built, but not the product itself.

MySpace is Back, And This Time They’re Serious

The new, new MySpace’s latest promo video has certainly done a good job of achieving buzz and positive buzz at that…something that hasn’t been associated with the MySpace brand for a long time.  Of course there is a big difference between a swish marketing video and the actual product, but the early signs are encouraging.  Most specifically the strong focus on music.

Back when MySpace was failing to fight off the inexorable rise of Facebook I argued that it was time for MySpace to stop pretending it was a social network anymore and instead start focusing on being a social platform for artists before it was too late.  Of course they didn’t and before long it was indeed ‘too late’.  Now they may well have another bite at the cake.

The original MySpace was the trailblazer for bringing artists and their fans closer together, with countless artist success stories.  It connected established artists with their audiences and gave aspiring singers, bands and producers the ability to reach global audiences. In the process it created an entirely new strata of semi-pro artists, too good for their garage but not good enough for a traditional record deal – the current staple of contemporary direct to fan services like TopSpin and Tunecore.

MySpace changed the artist-fan relationship for good, transforming a one-directional shouting dynamic into a two-way conversation.  ‘Bye bye’ email marketing list and static html website, ‘hello’ real time conversations with fans in a dynamic social environment.

Unfortunately MySpace’s inability to give up the doomed fight for the mainstream social network audience also resulted in MySpace failing to innovate to stay ahead of the pack in the artist space too.  An ill-fated foray into becoming streaming music service (when Spotify was but a glint in Daniel Ek’s eye) only hastened the demise.   But what did for MySpace more than anything was the fact that artists soon realized that all of their fans were over on Facebook.  It didn’t matter that Facebook lacked many of the artist-friendly features MySpace had, as those mattered little if your fans were elsewhere.

A Brave New World Faces MySpace Now

Now, many years on, MySpace faces a much more sophisticated and complex competitive marketplace.  The direct-to-fan arena which it helped create is now split across multiple categories and competitors, while Facebook is now firmly embedded in the music ecosystem.  MySpace must now compete simultaneously with Facebook, Topspin, Mobile Roadie, Pledge Music, We Are Hunted and countless others.  That’s without even considering the fight for the social networking consumer.

MySpace is not about to usurp Facebook’s near 1 billion user lead (see my earlier post for why) but it can realistically aim to become the definitive destination for artists and their fans, combining the best of Facebook and Topspin et al into one rich immersive music consumption, discovery and engagement destination.  Not necessarily instead of them, but instead a coexistence strategy, adding value to the existing value chain.

MySpace also has significant legacy assets at its disposal.  It remains one of the world’s most heavily trafficked music destination and has tens of thousands of artist accounts.  Granted the lion’s share of those are inactive, but getting artists to reactivate existing accounts is a much easier task than getting them to start from scratch.

MySpace is at risk of having had more regenerations than Doctor Who, but this latest one is simultaneously the one with the biggest set of challenges and potentially the best set of assets to compete with.  First though, MySpace needs to understand what makes it unique, what would make an artist want to invest time on it in addition to or instead of the many alternatives. Then, and only then, MySpace can start competing, again.

Facebook Timeline for Artists (When Platforms Forget Their Responsibilities)

Regular readers will know I’m a big advocate of content platforms and ecosystems.  Indeed device based ecosystems such as iTunes, Kindle and xBox are the success stories of paid content. More recently these platforms have been complemented by a new wave of ecosystems by the likes of Facebook and Spotify, that depend upon software and user data for walls instead of hardware.  Both sets of ecosystems depend upon 3rd party developer and / publisher platforms for success.  A thriving platform is one which is defined as much by 3rd parties as it is the host company.  But just as a blossoming garden requires careful tending so does an ecosystem.  The host has a responsibility to ensure that developers and publishers have the support, processes and transparency necessary to instill the confidence necessary for them to invest their time and resources into the platform.  It is a responsibility that does not always come cheaply to the hosts and isn’t always respected to the full, as we have seen with the impact of Facebook’s Timeline on a number of artist app developers.

Artist Timelines are Throttling Artist Apps

Facebook’s Timeline feature is looking like a great innovation from the social networking behemoth and there are many examples of artists, music services and music publications using the feature to great effect.  (Take a look at Spotify’s Facebook Timeline for a super cool implementation).  However the way in which Timeline was implemented on artist pages has had a dramatic cooling effect on what was beginning to shape up to be a vibrant community of Facebook artist app developers.  Latest data from AppData.com and reported on Digital Music News shows that Band Page (formerly Root Music), Reverb Nation and FanRX (formerly BandRX) all saw a steady decline in usage in the lead in to the Timeline switchover date and then a ‘falling off a cliff’ drop on the date itself.  All three apps have remained stuck at their decimated levels.

The key reason for the collapse in user numbers is that as part of the Timeline feature Facebook prevented these apps being able to act as the landing page for artist profiles.  There is very well thought out reasoning for this move: Facebook remembers only too well the anarchic chaos of MySpace artist pages, indeed the pared-down minimalism of Facebook’s UI was an intentional antidote to MySpace messiness.  But none of this detracts from the fact that Facebook has failed to fulfil its duties as platform host.  It should have done more to accommodate the concerns of artist app developers and would be well advised to work with them now to improve their lot.  Although it would be stretching credulity to claim these apps were responsible for artists switching from MySpace to Facebook, they certainly played an important role in easing the transition for many.

Being a Platform Means Looking Out for the Small Guys Too

If Facebook is serious about becoming a platform for music, it needs to ensure that it doesn’t just lay out the red carpet for Swedish streaming services.  The value of Facebook as a music platform will come from the functionality, utility and experience delivered by 3rd party apps that help artists differentiate the way they engage with fans.  Apps such as Band Page, Reverb Nation, Fan RX and Bopler Games.  Ensuring that strategic priorities can be implemented without destroying the livelihoods of developers is a key responsibility of platform hosts.  Of course sometimes hosts patently ignore the responsibility and use app developers as free R&D – just think about the number of times Apple has killed off app companies by integrating their functionality directly into iOS.  But even Apple knows you can only do that so many times before you risk killing the proverbial golden goose.

I continue to maintain that Facebook’s platform strategy is subtly brilliant, and in the bigger scheme of things the artist app Timeline debacle is pretty small fry.  But if Facebook is to establish itself as a genuine music platform it must learn from the lessons Band Page et al are painfully teaching.

The Socially Integrated Web and Facebook’s Content Strategy

Click on the video below to view my latest Music Industry Blog podcast.  This episode addresses the Socially Integrated Web, the term I use to describe Facebook’s content strategy.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Joining users’ digital dots
  • The four types of digital content ecosystems
  • How Facebook will extend its ecosystem reach
  • The universal content dashboard
  • What will happen to content companies that integrate with Facebook

Waiting For Facebook

As the market collectively holds its breath in anticipation of Facebook’s much (over?) hyped music service launch this coming Thursday, it is instructive to take stock of where we are at the moment to better understand the eager expectation.

Digital music is stuck in a rut

At the start of the year I made a speech at Midem, positing that digital music was at an impasse.  Now, with the best part of a year gone, it still is. Granted we’ve had some important and encouraging developments (Spotify’s US launch and 1 million+ paying subs and Pandora’s IPO among them) but the fundamentals remain unchanged (see figure):

 

  • Paid downloads are an Apple micro-economy not a marketplace. Despite valiant efforts from the likes of 7 Digital and Amazon, the 99 cent download just isn’t translating well outside of the iTunes ecosystem.  Why?  Because the tail is wagging the dog.  iTunes downloads are an extension of i-devices not vice versa.   The iTunes 99 cent download is effectively monetized CRM.  Deep, elegant device integration is crucial for any digital music experience, especially so paid downloads. 7 Digital’s Music Hub build for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the sort of implementation needed, but both 7 Digital and the market as a whole need a much wider addressable base than Galaxies alone (retail embargoes notwithstanding).
  • Premium rentals are an evolutionary dead-end. Despite Spotify doing a most admirable job of breaking the 1 million premium subscribers mark – which all other services had spent years failing to do the fact remains that 9.99 rented music is a high-end aficionado market.  Spotify have done a great job of building on the fantastic pioneering work of Rhapsody but in doing so they have developed the ‘faster horse’ that Henry Ford said his customers would have requested instead of the Model T if he’d asked them what they wanted.  Rdio and Mog both have great user experiences but have struggled to make headway because the basic value proposition of 9.99 a month for rented music just doesn’t appeal to most consumers.  Heck, 9.99 a month for owned music doesn’t even appeal anymore to most consumers anymore.  Mass market consumers may be willing to pay much more than 9.99 a month on TV, broadband, mobile etc. but they won’t for music. It may not be pretty but this is the harsh reality that must be accepted. As far as music is concerned the contagion of free is legion and the best way to fight free is with free itself (or at least something that feels like free – see my previous post on subsidized subscriptions for more).
  • Digital music is cluttered and complex. There is so much choice of catalogue and services that paradoxically there is no choice at all for consumers, unless you’re a savvy aficionado willing to wade your way through the clutter. Mass market consumers need the digital dots joining.  Back in my days at Forrester I wrote about the need for 360 Degree Music Experiences, where the disparate parts of the digital music journey get pulled together by an interconnected ecosystem.  The case for this is even stronger now.

Music: Facebook’s user lock-in

And this is where Facebook comes in.   As I wrote earlier this year, it doesn’t make any sense for Facebook to try to ‘do a MySpace’ or for that matter to ‘do a Spotify’ or ‘do an iTunes’.  Facebook is becoming a launch pad for our online lives just as Google is.   But whereas Google largely gets us to places we don’t yet know, Facebook is what (and who) we do know.  And in that lies a massive asset for digital music and an even larger platform for Facebook’s future growth.

I expect Facebook to join music’s digital dots and become a social dashboard for digital music activity.  By plugging our music activity into our social graph Facebook can both enrich those services and tap into the tastes of our friends.  The net result will be a richer digital music experience across multiple services and – most crucially for Mark Zuckerberg – one more reason why we’ll want to stick with Facebook when the Facebook-Killer finally raises its long overdue head.

Why SellaBand’s Demise is the Music Industry’s Loss

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

Mark Mulligan[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

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Yesterday fan funded band site Sellaband was declared bankrupt by a Dutch court.  This may be ‘just another digital music start up that burnt through its investment money with no proven business model’ but its demise is disappointing.

Semi-pro sites and services are a crucial part of the digital music ecosystem and despite this setback they will grow in importance.  Services like Sellaband, MyMajorCompany, TuneCore, Sound Cloud and MySpace, each in their own way, lower the barriers in the artist-fan relationship. They enable artists to reach out directly to their audiences and develop engaged relationships that make the fans feel a part of things.  The shift from photocopied fanclub newsletters mailed in the post, to active online fan communities is little short of a quantum leap. The advent of social music tools are the music business equivalent of the transition from the stone age to the bronze age.

Of course if you follow my analogy on, there’s still a lot of distance to go before we reach the iron age and beyond. SellaBand wasn’t the first high profile victim (anyone remember Snocap?) and it won’t be the last.

Back in December I predicted strong progress for semi-pro sites and services. And though I qualified my prediction with stating 2010 wouldn’t

“be their year” I didn’t expect SellaBand’s demise either.  I remain convinced of the potential of thesesorts of services and it is crucial for artists and the music industry more broadly that these social music tools prosper. If they don’t then so much of the Internet’s potential remains untapped.

Putting the Crowd in the Cloud

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

Mark Mulligan

[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

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I have a favour to ask of you: I have the germ of an idea which I am developing for a forthcoming report and I want try it on you.  So please let me know your thoughts.

Apart from the persistent pressure of free, two of the recurring trends that look set to shape the future of digital music are:

  1. The Cloud
  2. Social

First a few thoughts on the cloud….

The cloud is of course is already with us, but largely as a collection of disparate connected music experiences (e.g. Pandora, Spotify, Comes With Music) rather than as something more all-encompassing.  I’m skeptical of the truly ubiquitous experience happening anytime soon.  Indeed, the practical limitations on ubiquitous connectivity mean that connectivity will in fact fall short of ubiquity for some time (more on that from my colleague Ian Fogg later this year).  But it is clear that over the next few years more of the dots will be joined.  And sometimes the dots will be joined by innovative workarounds, such as Spotify’s ‘offline’ streaming solution.

And a few thoughts on social…

Readers of my Music Product Manifesto will know that I’m a stronger believer in the near term potential of social in music experiences than I am of the cloud.  In order to effectively compete against free music products need to create new, unique music experiences and social interactivity is a key means of achieving this.  If you put a $0.99 iTunes download against a $0.50 Amazon download against a BitTorrent $0.00 download the BitTorrent download will always win.  Future music products need to do more. Formally layering social functionality into the experience is key here, both to add a connected element but also for discovery.  With so much noise online, trusted taste makers (or ‘curators’ as Nettwerk Music’s Tony McBride calls them) are key.  And who do we trust most for recommendations?  People we know and connect with.

My thesis is that these two dynamics not only don’t have to be, dare I say it, disconnected, but that they should be inextricably linked. Their paths should be moulded together.

The likes of Last.FM (Audio Scrobbler) and Apple (Genius) have started to demonstrated the power of ‘Crowd Sourcing’ in the music discovery journey.  Spotify and YouTube and many others are showing the way for cloud based music experiences.

The time has come to be the crowd in the cloud.

Crowd in the Cloud

Social tools and media are of course already inherently connected and inherently cloud based, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.  When woven into the fabric of a digital music offering they bring that experience to life.  In a connected music experience that exists across multiple devices and multiple platforms, social connectivity is more important than ever. Social connectivity turns a bored 10 minutes waiting for a train into a connected a fun engaged interaction with a friend, sharing playlists on MySpace. It transforms looking for something new to listen to on your iPhone into a social discovery journey.

This idea’s still taking shape, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’ll post further on the concept as it evolves.

Five Music Predictions for 2010 (and Five Reasons Why 2009 was a Flop)

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

Lots happened in 2009 but it wasn’t a vintage year for digital music (in fact it was the year it well and truly lost the digital buzz to eReaders). All in all I’d give 2009 a 6 out of 10, with the launch of Spotify accounting for at least couple of those points and the following as the 5 key disappointments:

  1. Comes With Music under-whelmed (as did Play Now plus)
  2. ISP services didn’t get off the ground (including unlimited MP3’s nearly but not quite moment)
  3. Apple’s new killer music format was….oh iTunes albums
  4. imeem gave a master class in how not to make money out of social music
  5. The big boys (MySpace, Apple) snapped up the innovative competition (Lala, iLike, imeem)

So will be 2010 be any different?  Though I don’t think it will be the year digital music will really come of age (that’s at least a couple more years away) I do expect it on balance to be a stronger one than its predecessor.  Leaving aside the few specific developments I’m not able to talk about here are a few of my predictions:

  1. Apple launches a major refresh to the music experience.  (I’ll caveat this first prediction with the disclaimer that Apple make a habit of proving wrong those of us foolish enough to try to second guess them.)  With that said, there are many things Apple could do with music in 2010.  Whatever they do, they have to do something significant if they are to stay on top of their game. They’ve spent much of 2009 collecting user data via the Genius app and they’ve acquired some top notch streaming and programming expertise via the Lala acquisition. And of course they’re busy developing with content partners for the forthcoming touch screen note book.  Here’s hoping that this will all add up to something like an integrated on-device, connected, interactive and immersive music experience where the cost is bundled into the price of the device (perhaps with the touch screen note book as the flagship device for the offering).  Apple wouldn’t be in the game of hiding the cost of music to the consumer (a la Comes With Music) but they may use content subscription bundling as a way to maintain premium price points and differentiation for their devices.
  2. MySpace deepens its focus on music. Though MySpace will spend most of 2010 simply ingesting iLike and imeem, the acquisitions form part of a longer term strategy to breathe much needed new life into MySpace’s music role.  The new management talent is tasked with pulling MySpace from the brink of becoming a garbled also ran and dragging it by the collar into the 2nd decade of the century.  Though they’re unlikely to admit it, the mainstream social networking race against Facebook is as good as over. By contrast they remain the #1 destination for artist communities online, yet without a major reinvention they’ll start to feel the competitive pressure bite there also.
  3. Spotify scales back its US launch. Spotify appears to be paying the price for the major labels having second thoughts about ad supported on-demand content.  Those pesky US licenses have been proving tough to tie down and I’d expect to see Spotify’s US launch to be more strongly focused on the premium tier than it is in Europe.  If so, it could actually prove to be something of a blessing for the Swedish upstart, allowing it to consolidate the monetization of its core user base rather than building a US ad business from scratch whilst millions of free US subscribers add cost to the bottom line. Whatever the case, Spotify’s European revenue fundamentals should improve in Europe in 2010.
  4. ISP music services don’t pack a killer punch. I’m a firm believer that ISPs will become established as a core element of the digital music value chain and the best way of fighting piracy head on.  In 2010 we’ll see more services launched both in the US and in Europe, especially the UK.  But I don’t see anything yet to suggest they’ll be adequately provisioned to flourish. It’ll take another year or two of revenue pain decline for the labels to adjust their license requirements sufficiently. What do I think will work?  5 pounds / euros / dollars a month for household access to near unlimited (i.e. fair use) MP3.
  5. Semi-pro sites and services prosper. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say 2010 will be their year, but it will certainly see continued growth for the likes of SellaBand, MyMajorCompany and Tune Core. These sites that create a route to audiences for artists either not good enough or not yet good enough for record deals, play to the strength of the Internet as a social channel for artists and fans. Which of course is all the more reason for MySpace to be watching its back.

To conclude, 2010 will be another year in which digital music continues to find its feet, but significant progress will be made.

MySpace Music UK: First Take

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

MySpace today launched its UK music offering, over a year after its US launch.  However tempting it is to position this as a Spotify challenger (and the BBC and many others do) it simply isn’t.  It isn’t, both out of intent (more on that later) and also out of poor execution (more on that later too).

Music matters to MySpace more than ever before. Why?  Because it is has lost the race with Facebook for social networking supremacy, in fact Facebook is about to lap MySpace.  But MySpace remains undisputed leader as the global social music destination (a position consolidated by the recent acquisitions of iLike and imeem).  If you are a band, you’ll have an artist page because that’s where the online music audience coalesces for engaging with bands. Sure there are better, more innovative alternatives, but MySpace has the momentum and the scale.  And if you’re an artist looking to reach audiences that is exactly what you want.  Bebo and Facebook have both tried to challenge MySpace’s position here but have not had meaningful success (a recent report indicated that 77% of Facebook fan pages have less than 1,000 fans).

So whilst the mainstream social networking momentum may be shifting elsewhere, MySpace remains at the heart of the social music experience.  In many ways MySpace is in a similar position too YouTube, which is getting left behind in the online video revolution as the momentum moves beyond skateboarding dogs to full length shows on the likes of Hulu and iPlayer.  But it remains the number one destination for music video.  So MySpace and YouTube both find themselves repositioning around music, perhaps more out of necessity than out of choice.

All of this leads to why MySpace Music is not a Spotify challenger:

  • Strategically: MySpace is building its music experience firmly around social and community.  It knows that is its differentiation point and the essence of the artist-fan relationship which MySpace delivers.  So the music experience is wedded to that. Spotify is a straightforward music experience.  No community (at least within the application itself) and no artist-fan dialogue. So the music content is deeply integrated into the social experience (hence the focus on playlists for example).
  • Execution: But it is also not a direct challenger to Spotify because it isn’t executed well.  That deep integration brings great challenges also.  If you are looking for a Spotify-like experience on MySpace, you won’t find it.  But the odds are you won’t easily find the music you want either.  For example, MySpace poster girl Lily Allen is one of the featured artists on the home page (despite her just announced career break), but finding her music isn’t easy.  As you can see from the screenshot at the bottom of this post, you have to go all the way to the bottom of the page to find a genuine song.  And the top result, which is out of shot here, is for the ‘This is not the real Lily Allen’ profile page.  Those results below are all songs by unknown and small time artists.  Yes that is part of the essence of MySpace’s music community, but they shouldn’t be pushing the genuine Lilly Alen track to the bottom.  Also note all those ads by competitor music services!

All that said, MySpace Music is an important part of the digital music landscape and I expect to see much more fromo them over the coming 12 months as the leverage the iLike and imeem assets to the full.  But they also need to innovate hard.  There is a huge amount of activity in this space and MySpace can’t simply wait for each of the competitors to fail and then buy them up on the cheap.  The fact MySpace music is a Joint Venture sets them in good stead, with reportedly significantly below market-rate license fees (as this artist’s account also seems to suggest).  But MySpace doesn’t have a JV by accident, its financial security makes MySpace an important partner for the music industry. It can plan ahead with MySpace in a way that you cannot with an unproven start up, however well funded it may be right now. Here’s hoping MySpace use that power to the full and don’t rest on their laurels.

Why the ‘Music As Free’ Argument Just Doesn’t Hold Water

Regular readers of this blog will know that I take a pretty hard line on the idea that music can ‘just be free’ and that I take a fair share of flak for my position  (see my previous post here for background).

Numerous sites, forums and discussion boards pride themselves on their ‘everything should be free stance’ and argue that only money grabbing cynical artists would ever take the side of record labels in the piracy debate.  This is patently not the case.  Last week’s statement on tackling piracy from a 100 UK artists illustrates that artists care about this.  They understand that if people stop buying their music and download it for free that they simply won’t be able to be professional musicians anymore.  I for one used to be a struggling recording artist, many years ago.  I never made enough money from music sales to give up the day job, but I would have loved to be able to.  Not so that I could be rich, but so that I could spend more time doing the thing I loved: making music.

It is easy to argue that if consumers want music for free that the industry will simply have to adapt and develop free business models. But we don’t like our favourite artists because they or their record labels are good business people.  If the music industry proves inflexible enough to adapt to a free model and many professional artists go back to their day jobs who has won?  If the music business (in whatever guise it may evolve – i.e. it doesn’t have to be record labels at the centre of it) locks into a race to the bottom, ultimately less money will filter back to the artists.  That means that fewer artists will get contracts, and artists will have shorter careers.  Many more aspiring artists than today will never make it out of their MySpace page or their day jobs.

One of the counter arguments used by commentators is that having a MySpace page is an ends in itself these days.  No, it is a means to an end, and the VAST majority of artists see it that way.  If an aspiring artist doesn’t get signed to a label / publisher / agent they’ll remain one of those many tens of thousands of artists struggling to stand out from the crowded pack on MySpace.

The majority of artists just want to play their music to their fans and to be able to make a living out of doing so.  Most artists with record deals won’t and don’t make much money out of it, but they get to do what they love, and we get to enjoy their music.  But that model breaks down if people stop paying for music, whether that be buying CDs, downloads, gig tickets, ring tones etc.  And yes, of course, ‘feels like free’ models can pick up the slack, but they won’t do the job on their own, and they certainly won’t do enough whilst illegal free services continue to dominate.

But rather than try to persuade you with my words alone, please take the time to read this blog post from an artist that just felt the impact of file sharing (note this was recently reprinted in the UK’s Guardian by UK Music).  This is the pain of a real life artist and reveals the fallacy of the music ‘must be free’ argument

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=62653487&blogId=485944356