There’s nothing worse than someone who’s constantly using buzzwords, but I’ve used one or two today to discuss what I think needs to happen to A&R. Crowdsourcing. Don’t worry – I’m not going all Web 2.0 on you – but “the crowd” is far better at finding new bands than any A&R man. Find my thoughts over the jump, and an index of the past weeks below.
- Music must be sharable – word of mouth is more important than ever
- Revenue must come from multiple sources – if one bit of the industry becomes obsolete, it shouldn’t sink the whole ship
- New technologies are to be welcomed and understood, not feared and litigated against
- A&R can be crowdsourced, but remember the long tail
- “Added value” is key – give people a reason not to pirate things – carrots, not sticks
- Your artists are your most important spokespeople
You might think that that local funk-metal band is awful, but they can pack out the local pub with their friends every time they play, so why shouldn’t that passion be spread wider? As the old saying goes – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Music discovery, and bear in mind my earlier comments about music sharing, is becoming increasingly democratised. The discovery of the ‘next big thing’ is no longer limited to an elite of white, male A&Rs (every A&R person I’ve ever met at a major label has been male and white).
Instead, the kinds of people I’m talking about are the obsessive Peruvian kid in his bedroom writing a fanzine, or the girl in Bangladesh putting on Bhangra DJ nights for her friends, or the Chinese student who promotes metal gigs in his local venue. These people have always existed, but now they’ve got a much louder voice and greater reach than ever before, thanks to the internet.
The Peruvian kid now publishes a blog instead of a fanzine. He gets comments from across the world. The girl in Bangladesh webcasts her DJ sets and takes requests via Twitter from East London, San Francisco and Tokyo. The Chinese student advertises all his gigs on social networking sites and now people travel miles to come to the shows, because there aren’t many metal gigs in China.
All of these people have one thing in common – they love music, and they’re using technology to share that love. Now that they’re easier to reach than ever before, there’s no excuse for music companies not to listen to these people. Hell, give them a mini-label – ask them to find bands and give them a share of any profits, with the big company handling all the administration, digital distribution and any marketing that the company deems appropriate.
I’d hazard a guess that the labels simply don’t know these people or trust them. I suspect that, although major labels have offices in most countries around the world, the lowest-level staff – who are more likely to know about local musical personalities – simply don’t get asked.
Alternatively, take an even wider approach. Labels – set up a Digg-like site where anyone can upload music and write about it, and fans can vote individual acts or even individual songs up and down. The bands at the top of the list get rewarded with wider media coverage, tours and brand sponsorship opportunities. You monetise it by making it very easy to buy merchandise, gig tickets and physical product, and taking a share when anyone does.
The danger with all of this ‘skimming off the top’, though, is that you end up with a rather homogenous sea of identikit artists and bands – which is already an issue with the pop charts. Don’t forget to look a little deeper – there’s no reason why the crowd can’t do this too – for more obscure acts that aren’t quite brilliant yet, but have the potential to be the next big thing.
There are all sorts of ways you can harness the power of the crowd to find amazing bands. At the end of the day, one big job of any music company is just to try to make it easier for people to find music that they like. Be an enabler. Some people love discovering bands – why not let them?