The music industry’s centre of gravity is shifting

Regular readers will know that MIDiA has been analysing the creator tool space for some time now and building the case for why the changes that are taking place will be transformational not just for the creator tools space itself but for the music business as a whole. In fact, we believe that the coming creator tools revolution could be at least as impactful on the wider music business as streaming was. Firstly, it establishes a new top-of-funnel that sits above distribution companies, meaning that creator tools companies are now able to fish upstream of labels for the best new talent. Secondly, audio will become the next tool with which consumers identify themselves, following the lead of images (Instagram) and video (TikTok). But there is another factor too: the fast-growing volume of institutional investment is changing where the centrifugal forces of the music industry reside.

Outside of the currently crippled live business, the record labels used to be the undisputed central force of the music business. Then streaming services grew in scale and attracted the first wave of inward investment into the industry. Alongside labels, streaming services became the joint central force of the music business, around which all else orbited. Big investors started to make bets on either side of a binary equation: rights or distribution.

The publishing renaissance

Then music publishers and publishing catalogues started to attract investment. At the time, the only real place big institutional investors could place their bets on the rights side of the equation was Vivendi – and even then, it was an indirect bet as UMG was just one part of Vivendi. SME is just too small a part of Sony Corporation for the parent company to be a viable music industry bet. Since then, UMG divested 20% of its equity and is on path towards an IPOWMG went public and Believe is on track to an IPO also

When growth isn’t growth

Investors may be given pause for thought by the way in which leading music industry trade associations such as ARIA in Australia and Promusicae in Spain have restated their 2019 figures, having the effect of making what would otherwise be declines in 2020 instead look like growth. Take a look at Australia (2019 total revenues AUD 555 million here versus 2019 total revenues AUD 505 million here) and Spain (2019 subscriptions €159 million here versus 2019 subscriptions €138 million here).

Publishing catalogues by contrast look more predictable, with performance still largely shaped by non-recorded music market trends, including radio and public performance – though COVID-19 threw a lot of that stability down the toilet. Music publishers used the inward investment to diversify their businesses. Kobalt pushed into artist distribution (recently sold to Sony), neighbouring rights and a PRO; Downtown pushed hard into the independent creator sector (CD Baby, Songtrust); while Reservoir is going public with a Spac merger; and then of course there is Hipgnosis.

The creator tools gold rush

With music publishing catalogue valuations over-heating, big investors started looking for places where they could still play in the music market but get better value for money. Enter stage left creator tools. Key moves include Francisco Partners’ moves for Native Instruments and Izotope; Summit Partners’ investment in Output; and Goldman Sachs’ investment in Splice

What this means is that the music industry now has an additional gravitational force at its core. Just as music publishers and streaming services used their newfound investment to push into other parts of the music and audio businesses, expect creator tools companies to do the same. With hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into creator tools (and lots more set to follow), investors are making big bets on audio in a broader sense, with bold ambitions that will not be sated by staying in the creator tools lane as it is currently defined. Avid’s recent move into distribution follows on from LANDR’s similar move, and of course Bandlab has 30 million ‘users’. Adding label-like services (e.g. marketing, debt financing) and streaming functionality are logical next steps for creator tools companies.

Streaming may be the change agent that has enabled all of these shifts – but streaming is the start of the story, not the end point. The process of music business diversification is only just beginning and the next chapter may be the most exciting yet.

Creator tools platforms could become social networks

With all the growing interest and investment in creator tools companies, music production platform Bandlab hitting 30 million users points to a longer-term future for the space – one in which the boundaries spread far beyond the base of music makers. Unlike most creator tools companies, Bandlab has simultaneously built itself as a platform for creators and fans. While the 30 million ‘users’ does not specify ‘active users’, it nonetheless points to the potential of creator-centric fan communities. While this blog’s title says ‘social networks’, in truth the term is becoming redundant. Everything is becoming social; the distinction now is howsocial a platform is. Right now, most creator tools solutions are not very social at all, but that will change and those that harness the change early will have an advantage.

Artists have a branding problem 

The song economy of streaming has created a branding problem for artists, relegating the profile of the artist to the side lines. If streaming was a computer, the artist would be the processor chip, the Intel inside. There are no signs that is going to change in a meaningful enough way anytime soon, so artists need to look to other places where they can build their profiles and relationships with fans. One solution is to bring fans closer to the creative process. A growing number of artists that have done writing and production videos on Twitch have learned that there is strong fan interest in what might otherwise look like quite a niche topic. 

Music production software and hardware have traditionally been relatively complex, and so it is only natural that fan spaces did not get built around them. However, the music creation process is undergoing a user experience revolution, with elegant, intuitive design prioritised. This user-centric mindset means that the newer generation of creator tools products already have a more consumer-friendly feel, and many also already have strong creator community tools. These are the foundations for building fan communities.

Ecosystem plays

Bandlab is building an end-to-end creator tools platform, incorporating a DAW (the music making software), sounds, distribution and audience. This ecosystem play will become more widespread as investors put together multiple creator tools companies to build single combined entities, such as Francisco Partners’ investments in Native Instruments and iZotope. The depth and breadth of fan involvement will become a key battle ground for creator tools companies. The rise of these fan-micro-communities built around exclusive and early access to their favourite creators will become a defining characteristic of the future of the music business. Perhaps even more important is the way in which these micro-communities will open up new income sources for artists. Products like creator subscriptions and virtual merch could ensure that most creators would earn many multiples more from their micro-communities than they could from streaming.

Just one more way in which creator tools companies are set to transform the music business.

IFPI confirms global recorded music revenue growth

Last week MIDiA reported that recorded music revenues grew by 7% in 2020. Today the IFPI confirmed that figure, reporting 7.4% growth. (Similarly, the IFPI reported 19.9% growth for streaming, MIDiA had 19.6%). Given that the majors’ total revenues collectively grew by just 5.5% in 2020, this means that even by the IFPI’s reporting the majors lost market share, driven largely by the continued rapid growth of the ‘artists direct’ segment and also the similarly stellar growth of smaller, newer independent labels. Whichever measure you use, the recorded music market is transforming at pace.

There was one big difference between the IFPI and MIDiA figures. MIDiA’s figure for 2020 is $23.1 billion while the IFPI’s estimate is $21.6 billion. The gap between the IFPI’s and MIDiA’s figures is steadily widening each year, in large part because of the way in which the market is changing. The traditional market, which is of course the easiest to measure, is being out accelerated by an increasingly diverse mix of non-traditional revenue streams. MIDiA has spent the last few years putting considerable resources into measuring these emerging sectors. These include the music production library sector, of which the revenues do not flow through any of the channels that traditional music industry trade associations track. You have to go direct to company financials, ad agencies and sync companies to collect this data, which MIDiA spent a lot of months doing. The recordings side of that sector alone was worth the best part of half a billion in 2020. 

The long tail of independents is the other key area of variance, which is why MIDiA fielded a survey of independent labels to capture the revenue of independents of all ages, regions and revenue sources. This gave us an unrivalled view of just how much the independent sector was growing and its contribution to global revenues. 

Direct to consumer has also been a growth sector and one which access to the data is limited for traditional trade associations. During the pandemic impacted 2020, direct to consumer became a lifeline for many smaller labels and independent artists. MIDiA was able to size this sector through the independent label survey, an independent artist survey and data collected directly from platforms.

The key takeaway from all of this is: change. The industry is changing and in turn it is becoming more difficult to measure. There is also a host of additional challenges to how anyone measures the market in the future. For example, Bandcamp did $100 million of merch and live streaming revenue in 2020 and even though total Bandcamp revenues went up, recorded music income growth ground to a near halt. It turns out that aficionado indie kids only have so much disposable ‘fandom’ spending. As more platforms aim to monetise fandom, whether that be subscriptions on Twitch or NFTs, more music consumer spending will shift from traditional recorded music to derivative formats. The old distinction between merch and recorded may become counter-productive when trying to size the music business.

But these are all quality problems to have. The recorded music business grew in a year when the live music business was decimated. It was a rare beacon of hope when the world was falling apart. And as MIDiA’s recorded music market figures revealed, global Q4 revenues were up 15% year-on-year. The recorded music business weathered its fiercest storm in 2020 and entered 2021 in fighting shape. 

Native Instruments and iZotope: creator tools major in the making

At the start of the year private equity firm Francisco Partners acquired a majority stake in creator tools stalwart Native Instruments. It always looked like it was going to be the start of something big and today we saw the next step on Native’s new journey, with leading audio plugin company iZotope added to the Francisco roster. Although both companies will operate independently for now, this is the first step of a standard private equity strategy of creating a ‘roll up’ play, with Native the lead acquisition around which a portfolio of creator tools companies will be created. This is one of the first big moves of the new era of creator tools that MIDiA identified last year.

The cultural shift in music making

The music streaming market has enabled many things, not least the era of the artist. A new generation of empowered independent artists have an unprecedentedly rich (and fast growing) array of self-serve tools and services that enable them to replicate the traditional roles once performed only by record labels, marketing agencies and studios. This shift is underpinned by a seismic cultural trend: the act of musical creativity has been simultaneously simplified, amplified, and improved. Creators can go from one to 100 faster than ever before. Creativity has been accelerated and intensified. In doing so, the creator tools space has merely borrowed from wider consumer culture, where new tools enable the masses to make great content without having to put in the years of hard graft to learn the ropes. Just like Instagram did for photos and TikTok did for videos.

The new, predominately younger, generation of music consumers expect to be able to make great sounds at the swipe of a finger. New companies like Landr and Output have created tools that focus on great user experiences rather than overloading on features and complexity, the latter of which is the modus operandi of traditional creator tools companies.

Embracing the new

Native and iZotope both make great tools, but fall into the traditional category. If they are to represent the backbone of a future creator tools powerhouse, then Francisco Partners will also need to start integrating some next gen creator tools companies which can act as innovation catalysts for Native and iZotope. Key to this will be developing compelling subscription offerings. 

Thus far, most of the subscriptions from creator tools companies have been rudimentary, making the false assumption that subscriptions are a billing mechanism rather than a customer relationship. Output’s Arcade subscription (a sampler tool with daily content and a well-thought-out CRM strategy) is a better indication of where creator tools subscriptions need to go. It is this sort of thinking that is often embedded in new, young digital insurgents that needs baking into the DNA of traditional incumbents.

Going wide

The other move that Francisco Partners will be most likely considering, is how to construct a creator tools ecosystem that goes beyond music creation, and into all the other aspects of an artist’s needs. It is not a giant leap to think that rights management (e.g. Stem), distribution (e.g. Amuse), collaboration (e.g. Delic), sounds (e.g. tracklib) and marketing (e.g.  Linkfire) companies could be built into the portfolio. Perhaps even a certain DAW company might be in the sights.

The future of music companies

When Spotify was going big on independent artists the labels pushed back and it was forced to put its plans on ice, shifting focus to podcasts as its next growth driver. Meanwhile, it continued to leave its creator tools assets (Soundbetter, Soundtrap) to tick over, finally giving them some love in its recent Stream On event. As MIDiA has long argued, the labels may have stopped Spotify from competing with its business of today, but could do nothing to stop it building out what will likely become its business of tomorrow. 

Just as every label of size now has a distribution play to give it access to the ‘top of funnel’, sometime soon(ish) they will also need a creator tools play. Creator tools are simply becoming the future of what a music company is. Francisco Partners has an opportunity to not only build a future creator tools company, but the future of what a music company is. In fact, Francisco Partners might have the opportunity to create the first creator tools major. It is certainly showing more enthusiasm for it than Spotify is right now.

Women making music

This is a guest post from MIDiA’s Hanna Kahlert.

Even taking into account the impact of the pandemic, it has never been a better time for independent creators in the music business. The various 2020 lockdowns may have prevented artists from earning vital touring income and disrupted release and promotion cycles, but for many it also pushed new creativity, with nearly 70% of independent artists choosing to use the time to write or make new music. 

Yet, with access to the industry easier than ever, a glaring discrepancy remains: why are there still so few women, and so many men? What is stopping female creators – artists, songwriters, producers and DJs from picking up an instrument or learning the software, and releasing music into the market? Despite women occupying leadership positions and topping the charts, women overall remain starkly in the minority and remain massively unrepresented in the music industry. Why?  

2020 has been a year of change, some of it very much positive, including months of protests within the Black Live Matter movement, driving global conversations and pushing for diversity, equity, and ‘minority’ recognition. The demand to recognise that more is needed from governments, businesses, and institutions, for a universal recognition of discrepancy in opportunity and lived experience, has forced changes in practise and behaviours – and hopefully attitudes too. While many want to forget 2020, it was the year that moved the global mindset forward unilaterally.

The challenges women and others face in the music industry (and beyond) are deep, varied and unrelenting – some obvious and now exposed (in part through #metoo), but many either subtle or deniable enough to have escaped accountability for decades, if not centuries. #metoo shone the spotlight on harassment and assault, often by men in positions of power. Yet discrimination and bias can also be as simple as girls experiencing discouragement from participating in “male” activities in schools, like technology, or from playing ‘male’ instruments likes drums and guitar. 

It’s well known that women creators in the music industry (and other sectors too) must work harder to achieve the same approval or reward as their male counterparts. They are sometimes treated with an air of dismissal, or are not as initially respected, or suffer expectations of childcare/parenthood as a burden or skill proclivity based on gender. 

Much has been done over the past few years to address a myriad of these issues in music by the likes of Women In Live Music (WILM), Women In CTRL, Pass the Aux and more. The F-List female creator database has removed the excuse that there simply “aren’t enough women in music to hire”. Female-centric projects like Rhythm Sister, She Is the Music and SheShreds are working to develop, provide resources for and spotlight female artists that both inspire and empower the journeys of more women and other minorities into music. The Annenberg Study highlighted shocking statistics, finding that only one-in-five of artists are female, but worse: only 12.3% of songwriters and 2.1% of producers are (2012-2018). While men and women of colour have climbed ladders, and female representation in the ‘big leagues’ is rising, behind the scenes it remains to be seen how much has really changed.

No in-depth work has recently consulted the global community of female creators. This, too, is changing. MIDiA has long focused on the path of the independent artist, and in conjunction with Tunecore and Believe Digital we are now conducting a comprehensive global study asking creators themselves about their challenges, inspirations and experiences. 

Through this we can discover the main issues they face, what is helping them along their journeys – or holding them back. We can point to solutions that can bring the industry forward. Let’s find out what we need from those working in the weeds of the industry today and those looking to carve out a living from music – whether independent, signed, solo or part of a band. 

The survey is now live here.

Due to the very issue of representation, we welcome people of all genders to take part, but it is imperative to hear as many female/femme experiences as possible. The more respondents, the better a picture we can uncover. These findings will be published in full, in a free report in March – International Women’s month. 

Survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZZ8YFBL

Please also get in touch with hanna@midiaresearch.com or keith@midiaresearch.com if you would like to contribute to the study or discuss this research. 

Sony just became (even more of) an independent powerhouse

Sony Music has bought AWAL (and Kobalt Neighbouring Rights) from Kobalt for $430 million. By adding AWAL to its already-booming Orchard division (as well as other distribution companies), it now has leading brands for independent artists as well as independent labels. Sony Music just became one of, if not the, leading global companies for independent music. With a major now being one of the biggest indies, the obvious question is: what does being independent even mean anymore? 

Kobalt has been one of the music industry’s most important change agents with its publishing and label assets helping reframe some of the fundamentals of the business. Since its acquisition of AWAL, Kobalt has nurtured it into a brand that was synonymous with the age of the empowered independent artist and was seen by much of the independent artist community as their natural home. 

Now that AWAL is becoming assimilated into the Sony Music corporate structure, the independent artist community will be wondering whether Sony can keep AWAL’s independent spirit alive. The answer is most likely a qualified ‘yes’. Years after being fully incorporated into Sony, the Orchard continues to be a key force for independent labels. Sony has proven adept at striking a balance between corporate integration and divisional independence. Also, Kobalt had always structured AWAL in a way that more closely resembled a major label than it did an independent. This was reflected in its structure, leadership, strategic thinking, tech and marketing capabilities, and even in many of its more successful artists like Lauv and Rex Orange County (who Sony eventually poached). You could even make the case that what was really independent about AWAL was that it was not part of a major label…

Nevertheless there was, and is, a crucial, company-defining, independent principle: artist ownership of rights. This remains what makes the average AWAL artist different from the average Sony Music artist. But, of course, all of the majors have been betting big on label services too. Which brings us back to the original question: what does being independent actually mean? Is it about not being part of a big corporate structure? Does it mean an artist retaining ownership of their rights? Is it commercial and creative freedom for artists? Is it an ideology of music first, business second? In truth it is probably a mixture of some and all of those things, depending on the individual artist. What is however also true, is that nowadays an artist can be independent with a major label. A dynamic that AWAL just made even more true.

Equitable remuneration, artist income and unintended consequences

The UK Parliament’s inquiry on the economics of streaming appears to be building a case for equitable remuneration (ER). There are many iterations of what ER can mean, but a simplified description of what is in play here is: a share of streaming revenue being paid directly by the DSPs to an entity which then distributes directly to artists, thus bypassing the whole ‘do labels pay artists enough’ debate. Though there are some examples of ER in place – such as in Spain – if the UK went down this route it would, in many respects, be setting a global streaming precedent. What is more, it is a solution that would likely have more income impact on artists than alternatives such as user-centric licensing. ER has the potential to transform artist income, but quite probably not the way you think.

Superstar skews even apply to streaming’s superstars

The starting point for ER is the premise that most artists do not make enough money from streaming. It is tempting to look at Spotify’s 43,000 artists that account for 90% of its plays as evidence that the pool of high-earning artists is becoming sizeable. Indeed, the implied average income for these artists was around $100,000 in 2020. But averages can be misleading, especially when there is non-linear distribution. 

To illustrate the point, we can slice this 43,000 a few ways thanks to a number of industry figures. In his DCMS presentation, WMG’s Tony Harlow stated that the label had eight artists globally that had a billion streams. Assuming that is a ‘lifetime’ rather than annual figure and applying market share assumptions, that gives us around seven artists across all labels generating a billion streams a year. Additionally, the BPI recently reported that 200 artists generated more than 100 million streams each in the UK in 2020. Taking these figures into account, applying assumptions to account for global figures and Spotify market shares and then factoring in per-stream rates and the total number of releasing artists globally, we end up with the following:

98% of Spotify’s 43K club earn a more modest $29,046 a year (after label deductions). Which isn’t bad when you consider that Spotify is just one part of much bigger streaming economy. Against that, though, those artists are just 0.76% of all artists globally – this is very nearly as good as it gets to be as an artist. Only 1,007 do better. 

The remaining 99% earn an average of just $26 a year, and that figure includes not just the around five million artists direct, but also independent artists and even major label artists. Also, just as within the superstar segment, distribution is not linear, but the point is hopefully clear.

The added complication in all of this is that not all of the royalties that Spotify pay for the streams of its 43K club actually end up with artists, as many will not be recouped. WMG’s Harlow suggested that a typical major label artist might need to generate a billion streams to be recouped, and there were just seven of those made in 2020 (indeed an artist on a 15% deal would need 1,010,101,010 streams to pay off a $500,000 advance, assuming a headline per-stream rate of $0.0033 for the label). As artists recoup over multiple years, the recouped figure will be far north of seven and may be closer to the 1,000 that generated between 100 million and one billion streams. So, a majority of Spotify’s 43K club may not be earning any royalties at all.

Hence, there is a double case for ER:

  1. To ensure all artists earn more
  2. To ensure artists who are not recouped earn at least some royalty income

And so, onto ER…

Again, using Spotify to illustrate, a 5% ER levy on Spotify would be equivalent to around $400 million for 2020, and around $1.1 billion at an industry level (excluding YouTube from the calculations). Not considering recoupment rates and assuming a single artist share of 32.5% (the average of major and indie royalty splits) this would equate to a 28% increase of income for all artists. Certainly, a welcome shift. But, just in the same way that user centric can have the unintended consequence of benefiting bigger artists, it is the superstars who do best, by dint of simple arithmetic. 

There is an implied misconception with ER that ‘equitable’ implies some sort of quasi-socialist redistribution of wealth. It does not. Instead, it allocates income with the same distribution skews that make streaming the superstar economy that it is.

The one billion-plus-streams artists would earn an extra $125,400 a year from Spotify (around $350,000 across all services), but further down the ladder the pickings are more meagre. The 98% of Spotify’s 43K club that currently earn $29,046 would get an extra $8,125 (around $21,000 across all services). A meaningful amount, but unless you are a solo act probably not enough to transform streaming into a liveable income source. And don’t forget, we are still talking about the very top echelon of artists here; for the remaining 99% of artists the average additional income from ER would be $7 a year (though again, the distribution would not be linear, so some will earn in the hundreds and some in the low thousands).

An intriguing unintended consequence is that the average major label artist would likely see a higher percentage increase than independent artists. The reason is very simple: around 80% of major label artists are not recouped so they are currently earning zero streaming royalties, which means ER would be a 100% increase. A far smaller share of independent artists have advances so will be in the 28% bracket.

There is no silver bullet solution to artist income

The key takeaway from this exercise is that just as with user centric, ER is not a silver bullet that is going to fix all of the ails of streaming for creators, mainly because there is no silver bullet. The fractional economics of streaming need scale to deliver benefits, which means that rightsholders (i.e. those with large scale catalogues) benefit far more than the majority of artists (i.e. those with small scale catalogues). 

None of this is to say efforts like ER should not be pursued – they should. But expectations should be managed for the majority of artists. As Will Page puts it, there are simply too many mouths to feed (i.e. too many artists fighting for ever smaller slices of a finite royalty pot). 

And did you miss the glaring omission from this analysis? Songwriters. In fact, if Spotify and co. are compelled to pay 5% ‘off the top’ to artists, then they are going to need to make up that revenue somewhere else, which probably means a combination of royalty dilution through podcasts and audiobooks, reduced rates paid to labels, more direct deals with artist etc. Crucially, with DSP margins pulverised, good luck with publishers squeezing any further increases in rates in the future. Artist ER could inadvertently put a stop to songwriter royalty increases. Such are the ways of unintended consequences.

Music has developed an attention dependency

The attention economy defines and shapes today’s digital world. However, we have long since reached peak in the attention economy with all available free time now addressed. What this means is that previously, when digital entertainment propositions grew, they were often using up users’ free time. Now though, every minute gained is at someone else’s expense. The battle for attention is now both fierce and intense. What is more, it will get worse when much of the population finally returns to commuting and going out, as 2020 was defined by entertainment filling the extra 15% of free time people found in their weekly lives. But there is an ever bigger dynamic at play, one which gets to the very heart of entertainment: the attention economy is becoming a malign force for culture. Consumption is holding culture hostage. 

The increasingly fierce competition for consumers’ attention is becoming corrosive, with clickbait, autoplay and content farms degrading both content and culture. What matters is acquiring audience and their time, the type of content and tactics that captures them is secondary. It is not just bottom feeder content farms that play this game, instead the wider digital entertainment landscape has allowed itself to become infected by their strategic worldview.

The attention dependency goes way beyond media

Do not for a minute think this is a media-only problem. The corrosive impact of the attention economy can be seen right across digital entertainment, from hastily churned out scripted dramas, through to music. Artists and labels are locked in a race to increase the volume and velocity of music they put out, spurred on by Spotify’s Daniel Ek clarion call to up the ante even further. In this volume and velocity game, algorithm-friendly A&R and playlist hits win out. Clickbait music comes out on top. And because music attention spans are shortening, no sooner has the listener’s attention been grabbed, then it is lost again due to the next new track. In the attention economy’s volume and velocity game, the streaming platform is a hungry beast that is perpetually hungry. Each new song is just another bit of calorific input to sate its appetite. 

In this world, ‘streamability’ trumps musicality, but it is not just culture that suffers. Cutting through the clutter of 50,000 new songs every day also delivers diminishing returns for marketing spend. Labels have to spend more to get weaker results. 

Music subscriptions accentuate the worst parts of the attention economy 

Perhaps most importantly of all though, music subscriptions are the worst possible ecosystem in which to monetise the attention economy. In online media, more clicks means more ads, which means more ad revenue. In music subscriptions it is a fight to the death for a slice of a finite royalty pot. A royalty pot that is also impacted by slowing streaming growth and declining ARPU. The music industry has developed an attention dependency in the least healthy environment possible.

This is not one of those market dynamics that will eventually find a natural course correction. Instead, the music industry has to decide it wants to break its attention dependency and start doing things differently. Until then, consumption and content will continue to push culture to the side lines.

It is time to take hold of the wheel

Some years ago, Andrew Llyod Webber said this: “The fine wines of France are not merely content for the glass manufacturing business”. Although those words are of someone from the old world grappling with the new, the underlying premise remains. None of this is to suggest that streaming consumption is not the future. Nor is it to even suggest that all of the changes to the culture of music that streaming has brought about are negative. In fact, it may be that streaming-era music culture is simply what the future of music is going to be. But what is crucial is that artists, labels, songwriters and publishers take an active role in steering the ship to the future rather than simply getting pulled along by the streaming tide.

2021 Predictions: The year of the immersive web

As we approach the end of 2020 it is time to look forward to what 2021 may bring. MIDiA has published the fifth edition of our Annual Predictions report which clients can read here. There are 27 predictions in the report, but I am sharing a few of them here. MIDiA has a pretty good track record with its predictions; 79% of our predictions for 2020 were correct.

These are the seven meta and cultural trends that we believe will shape 2021: 

  1. The immersive web
  2. Recessionary impact
  3. The great reaggregation
  4. The return of synchronous experiences
  5. Social consumption and micro communities
  6. Video streaming as a cultural catalyst 
  7. The end of influencers

The immersive web

Web 1.0 was an information dump; web 2.0 added multimedia and social. Now we are entering the third phase, which MIDiA terms the immersive web. As is usually the case with big epoch shifts, this will not be a clear and sudden change but instead a steady change – a change that is, in fact, already happening. The immersive web is characterised by environments in which we do not simply conduct extensions of IRL activity (e-commerce, video calls) but ones that create behaviours and relationships that only, and can only, exist within these environments. Apps and platforms like Roblox, TikTok and Discord are early iterations of the immersive web, but merely hint at what will come. The trend will be driven by Gen Z, who have grown up with social apps from the playground onwards. Gen Z relies more than any previous generation on such apps for social interaction and expression, forming muscle memory for digital-first relationships. The COVID-19 lockdown measures have accentuated this shift, further solidifying Gen Z’s receptivity to future immersive web experiences.

Music

Here is a short version of some of the trends we expect to shape music in 2021:

  • The start of an artist economy: Streaming is a song economy of which the scale benefits rights holders far more than creators. The industry needs to work towards a collection of models that work for artists. Components could be micro-communities (see below), sounds platforms, ticketed live streams, skills marketplaces, and virtual merch. 
  • The rise of micro-communities: Niche is the new mainstream. The next phase of this market dynamic is the emergence of micro-communities; small audiences of dedicated fans who almost consider it an honour-bound duty to support their artists. 
  • The creator tools revolution: Creator tools, particularly music production and collaboration, will be one of the most important market shifts in 2021. Companies like Splice, LANDR and Output will continue to build scale in 2021, changing both the culture and business of music. 
  • Live streaming professionalises: With live unlikely to be anything close to full capacity until the latter part of 2021, live streaming will be used by a growing body of artists as a genuine revenue driver, rather than the audience engagement role it played in much of 2020, driven by increased professionalisation, better distribution and more sophisticated monetisation.
  • Music continues to deliver as an asset class: Although the pandemic dented music publishing’s long-term growth story, music catalogues retain strong appeal as an asset class, not least because they are performing better in relation to many asset classes that have been hit hard by the pandemic and that look vulnerable to the coming recession. The imbalance between supply and demand remains, so expect prices paid to continue to accelerate. 
  • UGC continues to accelerate: User-generated content (UGC) music revenues reached $4 billion in 2020 and will push up to $4.9 billion in 2021. The crucial difference between UGC music now compared to five years ago, is that the focus is on genuine user creativity rather than users simply uploading others’ music.

2020 was a year like no other in modern times, with the impact on digital entertainment both pronounced and creating the foundations for accelerated innovation in 2021. Whatever may happen to the global economic and health outlook, digital entertainment will go through further dramatic change in 2021.

Creator tools: The music industry’s new top of funnel

For most of 2020, MIDiA has been working on a major piece of work around the fast-growing creator tools space. The themes we had already started working on became rocket propelled with the onset of the pandemic, with an unprecedented volume of artists starting to engage with music production tools, services and hardware. Even before COVID-19, the creator tools space was set to transform the entire music business; now that future has become the present. This landmark report ‘Creator Tools – The Music Industry’s New Top of Funnel’ is immediately available to MIDiA Research clients here (more details of the report can be found at the bottom of this post).

Music production used to be a siloed segment of the music industry that revolved around studios, hardware and packaged software – at best a cost centre for labels. Now that is all changing. A new wave of creator tools companies are meeting the needs of a new generation of artists with innovative and intuitive music production solutions. Adding to an already vibrant marketplace, this new breed of production tools and services, often subscription-based, are reinventing the creative process and will reshape the long-term view of what a music company is. 

This is set to be the most dramatic product strategy shift the music industry has experienced in decades catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 68% of independent artists reported making more music and 36% doing more online collaborations during lockdowns.

There are 14.6 million digital music creators globally, of which 4.7 million are self-releasing ‘artists direct’, up 31% from 3.6 million in 2019.

The emergence of a subscription economy

In the same year, music software, sounds and services generated $884 million, with plugins and VSTs the largest single segment at 43%. Building on this ‘COVID bounce’ total revenues will reach $1.86 billion by 2027. Though music software is the most widely-adopted creator tools category among independent artists, sounds and services will be the two largest drivers of future growth. 

Subscriptions models will also be key, with new models, more self-sufficient tools and the rise of SAAS services making the market majority subscription by 2026, with subscription services reaching $870 million by 2027, up 477% from $151 million in 2019. The shift from software sales to SAAS models means these companies are collecting crucial creator data before they even get to the distribution or release stage, giving these companies the ability to identify the likely hits before they even get into streaming services. This is the music industry’s new top of funnel. Meanwhile at the other end of the funnel, Apple (Garage Band, Logic) and Spotify (SoundBetter, Soundtrap) are well placed to push up the funnel, with the foundations of what tomorrow’s record label will be. Sony Music’s move to invest in creation app Tully is the start of what will rapidly become a creator tools arms race. Expect Splice and LANDR to become sought after by both labels and streaming services. 

Creative feedback loops

The new breed of creator tools is also fostering creative feedback loops between other creators and in some cases with audiences—a dynamic MIDiA expects to become a mainstay of the future production landscape as digitally-native Gen Z and younger millennials mature in their production capabilities. The creator tools that build around such creative feedback loops will be those that resonate most with the young generation who will be the creators and fans of tomorrow’s music business. 

Snap’s acquisition of collaboration app Voisey illustrates how this is so much more than just a music tech play. We are on the cusp of a consumer revolution also. Just like TikTok made amateur video making a mainstream consumer activity as Instagram did photography, so this new generation of apps and games are aiming to do the same with music. Warner Music’s Tones and I making a soundpack available for fans to create music with inside Roblox’s Splash is an early indication of how music making is about to go mainstream.

Just as samplers and DAWs transformed music making, so this new approach to production will change the future of how music is made and in turn, how it sounds. Music production product strategy is at a pivot point, where a new breed of user experience-led propositions will rise to prominence. The smart services that have already empowered their users to go from zero to 100 more quickly than ever before, will grow their offerings in line with their user base’s growing capabilities. The business of music has always shaped the culture of music, but perhaps never more so than how the creator tools revolution will reshape the future of what it means to be a fan, an artist and a music company.

If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to learn more about how to get access to the ‘Creator Tools – The Music Industry’s New Top of Funnel’ then email stephen@midiaresearch.com

Report details

Pages: 48

Figures: 15

Words: 7,500

Vendor profiles: 12

Products tracked: c.2,000

Excel includes:

Music Software, Sounds and Services Revenue

Creator Tools Value Chain

Software Tracker Summary

Software Tracker – Plugins

Software Tracker – VSTs

Software Tracker DAWs

Software Tracker – Rent-to-own

Software Tracker – Platforms

Software Tracker – DJ Tools

Creator Tools Company Directory

Methodology Statement