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.