NOISE GATE: 6 Tenets for a New Music Industry – Conclusions

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It’s okay, you can open your eyes again. I’ve reached the end of my Six Tenets series. I hope it’s proved interesting and perhaps even useful. The way people consume music is changing very fast right now, faster than it ever has done before. At the end of it, will there still be the same infrastructure we have now? I highly doubt it. So, in full then, here are my recommendations:

  1. Music must be sharable – word of mouth is more important than ever
  2. Revenue must come from multiple sources – if one bit of the industry becomes obsolete, it shouldn’t sink the whole ship
  3. New technologies are to be welcomed and understood, not feared and litigated against
  4. A&R can be crowdsourced, but remember the long tail
  5. “Added value” is key – give people a reason not to pirate things
  6. Your artists are your most important spokespeople

You’ll notice three major themes that I’ve concentrated on in the list. Adapting to the changes in the ways people discover, share and consume music, keeping the fires burning while the transition takes place, and making sure that the industry doesn’t get into as bad a state ever again.

In tenets one and four, I talked about how people’s habits have rapidly changed over the last five to ten years. With the onset of file-sharing approximately ten years ago, kids have grown up with unlimited free music, and the MP3 player industry has built up around that. Labels need to begin to loosen their grip on trying to make people pay for records.

That roof is crashing around us right now. Services like Comes with Music (with its egregious DRM system) and Spotify are becoming successful because they’re providing something that people already expect – unlimited free music. People don’t mind getting the odd advert here and there for that privilege, or paying a small amount more for their handset. The concept of music as a service – as much as you want, essentially for free – is the future, and in fact I’d argue that it’s already here.

So how do you make money then? Well, as I mention in tenets two and five, you can’t rely on infinitely replicable songs for your revenues. Instead, you’ve got to make money on the stuff that people can’t simply replicate for nothing – an amazing gig, a tshirt, or a beautiful, limited-edition piece of artwork. Sell the experience of the music, and give the music away free.

You also want to get the artists on side. In tenet six I argued that some of the people doing the most harm to the reputation of the record industry are the artists themselves. You might argue that they’ve got good reason, so why not give them a reason to praise you, instead? Much like Van Morrison praised EMI earlier today.

Lastly, it’s acknowledged within the tech community that game-changing developments are going to happen more often in the future. The industry needs to be ready for them, and not catch them totally off-guard, like file-sharing did. In tenet three, I urged the importance of music companies having someone, or even a team, around that has an obsessive interest in new technology, and trying out new stuff.

There’s no reason why music companies shouldn’t have an immensely rosy future. But it won’t happen if they don’t do anything. The major labels, in ten years time, won’t remotely resemble the record companies of today and of ten years ago (which, revenues aside, are mostly the same). But that’s okay. There’ll still be awesome music, amazing bands and songs that mean more to you than anything else ever could. I can’t wait.

In the new year, I’m going to take a closer look at some of the companies that I think are doing exciting things. It’s easy to sit here and point out where people are going wrong, but there are people out there doing some amazing things today. Over Christmas, look out for a few reviews of new sites, and then I’ll go more in-depth starting in January. Have a fantastic holiday season, and I’ll see you then.

More Noise Gate: Do geeks know anything about the music business? | Why music subscription services will eventually work

Duncan Geere