Agile Music: Music Formats and Artist Creativity In The Age of Media Mass Customization

I have just published a new report entitled ‘Agile Music: Music Formats and Artist Creativity In The Age of Media Mass Customization’.  The report is available free of charge to all subscribers to this blog.  If you want to receive a copy simply click on the email subscription link on the left and you will shortly after get a copy sent directly to your email address.  If you are already an email subscriber to this blog but haven’t yet received your copy please email me at musicindustryblog AT gmail DOT COM.

Here are some highlights from the report:

Digital and social tools have already transformed the artist-fan relationship, but even greater change is coming.  In the anaologue-era music was mass produced, releases cycles were static and music product formats were a creative dead-end.  Mash-ups, engaged online fans and user generated content brought these barriers tumbling down.  The scene is set for the Mass Customization of music, heralding in the era of Agile Music.

The driving force of Agile Music is Fan-Fuelled Creativity, with many fans taking an increasingly active role in the creative process.  But it isn’t only crowd-sourced editorial, Fan-Fuelled Creativity has implications right across the digital music value chain, from the creative process, through distribution to music product formats themselves.

Most fans of established artists don’t even go to their gigs.  Similarly most don’t regularly visit their various social channels, and even of those who do, most don’t actively participate, preferring to observe from afar.  Put simply, the majority of mass market music consumers are relatively passive, so to have widest possible potential Fan-Fuelled Creativity must also have something to offer for the passive majority.  Welcome to the Three Cs of Fan Fuelled Creativity:

  • Customize. The most mass market and product-centric implementation of Fan-Fuelled Creativity, giving music consumers the ability to customize their music consumption experience.
  • Create. For the more creative fans, this encompasses creating mash-ups, bootlegs, ringtones and remixing tracks.  There are of course already many good examples of artist and label-led remix competitions and other such initiatives.  However for the real potential of Create to be unlocked, such functionality needs to be embedded into recorded music products and formats.  In the digital age artists should feel empowered to design at least some of their music with explicit intention of enabling their fans to create their own content from it.
  • Contribute. The most artistically involved of the Three C’s, Contribute enables fans to help shape the original music content itself, echoing the wider trend of social co-creation.  At a base level this can be simply be a digital extension of the live-gig echo chamber dynamic, testing new songs with online fan communities.  At a more involved level it can mean putting fans at the heart of the create process as Imogen Heap is doing with her latest album

The Era Of Mass Music Customization

Of course the majority of audiences will not want to become a part of the creative process, they want to remain the audience not the creator.  But the point at which audience and creator meet is no longer a hard break.  Affordable digital production technology, user generated content, the remix generation and mash-up culture have all contributed to creating a middle ground that is neither purely audience nor creator.  This layer of creator-fans – including also many semi-pro musicians – are increasingly whiting out the full stop after a traditional release, creating their own new iterations.  The late 20th century revolved around mass production and distribution of fixed, physical music formats.  But as physical media formats die away to be replaced by modifiable digital alternatives, the early 21st will become increasingly characterized by mass customization of music.  The creator-fan effectively turns music into open sourced software, where the original song is simply release version 1.0. An artist and her label can either embrace or fight this dynamic, but either way it will happen regardless.

There are many diverse and complex reasons why digital music is stuck in a rut and currently unable to drag the music industry out of its malaise.  Multi-variant problems usually require multi-variant solutions.  Just fixing one element alone will not solve the problem, a comprehensive and far reaching approach. Agile Music may be ambitious in scope and remit but that is exactly what is required.  Digital tools are creating fantastic opportunities for artists, fans and labels alike more quickly than the industry is able to respond.  Agile Music sets the framework within which the diverse strands of innovation outlined at the start of this report must be pursued, and with haste.


14 thoughts on “Agile Music: Music Formats and Artist Creativity In The Age of Media Mass Customization

  1. Always like a radical idea, Mark. Fully behind technical innovation in format and like the open-source content angle (although I’m sure the rights agencies are already sharpening their pencils). But, do you think the passive majority will ever really engage with the 3 Cs? It’s that majority that are becoming so increasingly passive

  2. Sorry – split post: the majority are becoming so passive that even paying for their music is now merely an option. If the malaise is to be lifted, it is them that we need to re-engage with and i fear the 3 Cs will only appeal to the already committed. However, I agree with you, we need to be more creative if we are to find a solution and I look forward to reading the full Agile Music report.

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  4. Under the heading ‘music industry’ I suppose this is fair enough, talking about consumer services and formats – methods by which some artists might generate some revenue.

    But an ‘Analogue – Digital’ divide seems like a distraction. If, as you say, Mark, analogue formats were “a creative dead-end” and “digital is in a rut”, then what is it that really matters?

    Actually I don’t believe either is true, but maybe format considerations are themselves rather ‘last century’ – and, come to that, the notion of “fans” too. They’re collaborators now.

    Yes, the artist should bring about (musical) experiences that are engaging and creatively interesting. You have to be engaging, prepared to communicate, collaborate and cohabit if necessary (think house concerts and sofa tours and down yrr local).

    Those have been the characteristics of music-making for much longer than there has been a music industry. Maybe we’re recovering from a temporary aberration, when surging profits created a bubble that was overblown.

    True, today’s technology allows us to share ideas more widely than ever and to fashion endless variations, while that amuses us. Some of what’s produced is trivial, some of it sidebustingly funny, really inspiring, etcetera and so on… see wikigoogle

    The exchange of creative experience in music-making and active listening isn’t altered by those things. There’s still endless possibility and fun to be had.

    Creative participation remains vital to music – that didn’t begin with digital.

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  6. In your article you’ve jumped on a bunch software buzzwords (Agile, Gamification, Open Source) and used them in a context which is entirely unsuited to their purpose. Can you imagine music that was entirely based on iterative feedback from listeners? It would all sound like Phil Collins!

    Apart from commercially driven pap, a piece of music will sell because it’s good, not because it has loads of silly gimmicks. The reason digital music is stuck in a rut is obvious – because no one is able/willing to provide it to consumers in a way they want it. They’re all bound to complicated models and licencing restrictions which make it far more compelling just to nick it as then none of those restrictions apply.

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  8. Firstly apologies for my late replies. I’ll try to address most of each of your points:

    I agree that the majority of passive consumers will not engage with the 3 Cs of Fan Fuelled Creativity, but this strategy is focused on engaging with the ever dwindling core base of engaged music fans who either do still spend money on music or will do. In the report I state that mass market tactics such as YouTube and Spotify remain the most valid tools for the passive majority.

    Creative Participation is absolutely something that existed before digital, and indeed in the report I explain how it existed in the analogue era, making specific reference to the live concert crowd as a creative echo chamber.

    As for the ‘software buzzwords’, again I recommend you look at the report itself (it’s entirely free, all you need to do is sign up for email alterts to this blog). In the report I include this following note regarding ‘Agile’:

    The use of the term ‘Agile’ draws fully intentionally from the Agile Software Development movement. Agile software development is based on principles of cross-function collaboration, iterative and continual improvement and continual improvement and collaboration with the end customer. With Agile Music I have attempted to apply some of these business and software focused principles into consumer music services and formats. For more on Agile Software Development see the Agile Manifesto

    Finally, as for the quality of crowd-sourced music, well it of course all depends on the artist providing a suitable filter. Basically the better the artist is at doing this, the better the end result. And if you want concrete evidence that the results don’t need to sound like Phil Collins then take a listen to Imogen Heap’s ‘Lifeline’ which include’s fan sourced lyrics and sounds

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  10. Generally I don’t read article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

  11. It seems that one thing is being forgotten here. Music is a form of entertainment. It is a matter of personal taste.
    The artist produces a product, a work of art, and puts it on display. He creates his art work within the framework of his medium and it is his own, individual. If this appeals to the masses, he is successful. If not, he goes back to his waiter job during the day and starts over from scratch at night.
    My point here is this; When the audience becomes the artist, who owns the rights to the art work? Who is the artist? The people who develop the system of gathering and compiling the data which is used to create the actual work are merely the tool, the paintbrush if you will. The work itself (from a moral standpoint) is public domain because it is the product of the audience and not a single individual.
    Perhaps my thinking is a bit old- fashioned. Perhaps my opinion is too analogue. I am of the opinion that art is the product of a single or a small collaboration of minds creating something unique and individual. This work is based upon his or their own taste and ability and not the audience. The audience decides the value of that work, not the content.

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