Routes to Success for Record Labels in the 21st Century

1 – Continue to do what they do well. Madonna, Radiohead, Prince and Macca’s various antics do not spell the end of the road for labels. They will remain the best conduit for discovering, nurturing and marketing talent.
2 – Aggressively pursue digital strategies. Apple has done a fantastic job of driving the digital channel out of its infancy through to market adolescence. Now is the time to experiment with what will edge digital music towards mainstream market maturity. That’s not to say Apple can’t play a key role in that too, though one couldn’t help but feel that Jobs’ Macworld keynote spoke about music as little as it possibly could. Perhaps something of a “ok labels, you can snub us if you like, after all we’ve done for you, but look, we’ve got bigger fish to fry if you chose to neglect us”.
3 – Enhance the perceived value of music. Online music piracy has undermined consumer perceived value of music but so has all the music around us from aggressive synchronization strategies (ads, console games, sound tracks) and the multiplicity of digital radio and TV channels. Consumers need to learn that music has value beyond emotional value without feeling punished or lectured. (Bold brand association strategies will have to be careful not to further add to the perceived devaluing of music).
4 – Monetize music when as part of an experiential overly rather than an entertainment centre piece in the digital domain. The flip side of the ubiquity of free music. A tricky strategy to pursue without further devaluing music, but achievable e.g. licensing music for use in mash ups in YouTube. It may be the road less traveled but is crying out for traffic.
5 – Leverage the flexibility digital provides. Digital frees artists of the constraints for traditional release schedules and formats (not everyone is able to, nor wants, to make albums). Return of the EP as a key format. Artist contracts flexible enough to accommodate diverse release scenarios

The future may not be bright, but it’s not all gloom. The tide will turn and music will always be important for people. They’ll always want to listen to it. The music industry needs to successfully transition from a predominately transaction based model to one which additionally effectively monetizes consumption.

You’ll note that nowhere in my list was the recommendation to slash jobs. This isn’t because I don’t agree with the tactic (or indeed that I agree with it). It’s because I’m not paid to have those opinions, nor do I have the expertise to make such judgements. I’m a strategic market analyst, not a financial analyst. So should you have read quotes by me suggesting my support for job cuts, you can rest assured that I didn’t say it!