The scariest trend in music is also the most exciting trend in music: it’s the ease of music creation, promotion, and distribution by artists.
Over the last 20 years it has become increasingly easy to create mid to good quality recorded music. Now it’s easier than ever before to record and share decent sounding music, and next year it’ll be easier still. Depending on your perspective, this is either an incredible opportunity or horrifying threat to all you know.
This is a fantastic development for artists and fans, but a terrifying one for the music industry’s old guard.
Contrary to what most insiders and experts might project, the most disruptive trend in music isn’t that more people are giving it away for free or that fans don’t appear to want to pay for it. (Fans do want to pay for it and bands most certainly don’t want to give it all away for free.)
The pre-Napster music industry was built, like most hulking industries, over time to capitalize on constant and predictable factors. One of those was scarcity of quality recordings and limited access to the promotion/distribution pipeline.
Not long ago it was prohibitively expensive and difficult to record, release, promote, and distribute your own music. Artists relied on major labels to help them record their music and share it with prospective fans.
Today, enterprising and determined artists can record, promote, and distribute their music themselves. If an artist puts in a lot of blood and sweat, they can grow their following from dozens to hundreds to thousands all on their own.
The most important ingredient here is probably the low-cost of recording your own music. The other stuff is a little more complicated if you’re not a born marketer. But for artists – people born to create – recording your sounds is remarkably cheap and easy, historically speaking.
And if you’re super dedicated, you can even book your own tours – completing the circle and making the function of major label’s operating outdated business models largely irrelevant. Mac Miller and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are two of dozens of examples that come to mind. And for every Macklemore, there are probably ten or twenty artists that find a more modest, but still sustainable, level of success.
Of course, not every artist is a natural marketer. Nor is every artist committed enough to put in the equivalent of startup hours to launch their band up beyond the local hero level. There is plenty of room for innovation in the in-between area and it has largely been filled by industry outsiders and startups like Indie On The Move, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud.
Instead of adapting to the needs and desires of both fans and bands, the two biggest revenue-booting innovations by music industry’s titans are investing in Spotify and introducing all access VIP passes to touring arena acts while hiking prices to those shows. Pretty pathetic.
On the other hand, independent musicians are gobbling up market share when lumped together as one entity, dominating the minds and hearts of fans, as well as blog-space. Hungry young artists that understand technology and have no ties to the old methods of the music industry can thrive in the industry’s new frontier.
The difference between fads and trends are pretty clear. Yet the music industry largely treats changes within it as fads, routinely ignoring signs of disruption and opting to maintain the status quo rather than embracing inevitable change brought on by technology.
The monster under the bed is also the elephant in the room. Music’s largest companies and biggest stakeholders simultaneously ignore and fear the hoards of insightful, talented, genius artists producing worthy art at an unprecedented rate.
The phrase “content is king” is super popular and fun to say. But what does it mean?
Most of the time the people saying it don’t fully understand the expression. It used to mean that owning all the masters you could would give your label more power (and more earnings). Now it means that there are more quality options for customers who now have direct access. The challenge for content creators and owners, then, isn’t stockpiling content, but determining the best way to get that specific content seen, heard, and shared. And the tools are there, so I don’t want to hear about a lack of options for reaching fans.
Embracing this flood of music could result in a resurgence for the industry and might include industry-sponsored collectives or a farm system designed like the one that helps young stars prepare for the rigors of Major League Baseball. For now, sadly, fear and stubbornness keep a trend that could save the music industry in a box labeled “Do not open.”
My advice to music’s controllers is simple: Don’t fear the tsunami of music on the horizon. Embrace it.
Embrace the technology that makes it possible. Turn the thing that haunts you at night into the most effective tool in your belt. And do it soon, because these kids aren’t going to wait for you to change your mind. They’re coming for you, and they’re coming now.