Music industry is suffering a downward spiral, while it’s key executives seem to lack any answer for a noteworthy period of time now. Instead of doing like most successful industries, keeping their products up to date, adaptive, market orientated, easy to resell, they install a rigid grid around their product. Facing a tremendous slump in sales but an equivalent rise in downloads most music companies decided to go for total control of the means of production, marketing and sales of music. Looking back this seems a bit like an attempt to round the square peg, or even worse to delegate this attempt to you, the client. But will this model do the trick?
Skip – A shift to a new media (and new according formats) is likely to happen soon. It will happen, it’s just a matter of time. Therefore the most pressing issue for the music industry is NOT how to deal with a specific contemporary format and all it’s specific side effects, but to find means how to deal with a large, rich variety of formats that coexist and compete at the same time. Not seeing such diversity as a threat but as a chance to monetize various channels. The music industry will increasingly be challenged to cooperate with new technologies and respective players new opening markets. They will need to regulate if not dictate the means by which their product is materialised, copied, distributed.
Once again, this will not happen by insisting stubbornly on a concreted structure and assume those players will adapt their business after your needs.
When Edison invented his Phonograph in 1877, he did not only invent a machine capable of transporting sound unaltered through time, but he also changed the whole concept of perception of music.
Music used to be something – call it fluid, ephemeral – something you can enjoy the very moment it is performed. After Edisons idea, sound could be recorded and reproduced anytime, nearly anywhere. You can imagine his invention wasn’t that well embraced by contemporary musicians who earned their livelihood by performing.
Today there are still musicians earning their income by performing music. But today there is also an industry around this musicians, where there was none before. Labels, publishers, promoters, bookers, distributors, retailers, recording studios, manufacturers, recording software companies, merchandisers, etc. quite a long tail attached to the former simple economic micro system of a musician playing and an audience paying.
Edison didn’t kill music as some of his coevals had foreseen, but created a whole new industry.
Ever since, there hasn’t been an invention with an equal impact on music but only slight adjustments to the original idea. Media changed, tapes and Vinyl became CDs and then bits and bytes, but it’s concept remained untouched: Fix sound on a media and transport it unaltered through time.
There’s nothing wrong with that, if you think in terms of data security (well CDs might be disappointing, as they are expected to last some 20 years only… my vinyls still sound brilliant after ages). But this is about selling a trendy product, not data security. Music has a half-life of fresh vegetable rather than the life span of a vinyl.
Back to Edison, there has not been an invention as revolutionary ever since for the music. But there have been numerous inventions that revolutionized our media.
People were keeping up with those inventions and consumed their entertainment via vinyl, via tapes, via CDs, via .mp3 files, later split into torrents, spread out onto millions of decentralized discs spinning in millions of servers around the world, then decentralized even further onto the respective hard discs at home, that only occasionally are connected to these servers … – BUT, consumers did never defeat the product music, they just needed to adapt it to their current state of media.
Facing this brief media evolution, still maintaining the idea of banning a trendy product on a total inflexible media seems stupid. Developing an accordingly inflexible environment of commercialization – adjusted on that very one format, not the content nor the market and least on consumers needs, well – that‘s kind of completely failing.
It’s not a big surprise but rather logic then, that the music industry is not able to keep pace with competitors (call them pirates) or competing formats or any change in their eco system. All this didn’t happen for the first time. We faced media-shifts on a regular basis ever since the first inscription on a lump of clay, as well as humans did handle changing patterns in consumption and customer behavior before – but well, not everyone needs to learn from history I guess.
Now here comes the complete opposite Surimi. Surimi is a food product intended to mimic the meat of lobster, crab, and other shellfish. It is typically made from fish, pulverized to a paste and attains a rubbery dry texture when cooked. And… it is nearly tasteless.
People don’t buy surimi because it tastes better than fish or crab or anything it intends to copy. I would say, they buy it for convenience. Convenience and trust, maybe because of a trend, maybe presentation has got something to do with it…
You know, fish is a perishable food, it is said to be complicated to prepare and cook, it still resembles the living animal it derives from… bottom line: fish is complicated. People want it simple, that‘s how surimi works: Lots of people must feel they’d do safer and get a better quality if they don’t buy a wet slippery piece of meat but go for something clean, white, undefinable. No fishbones in there, no guts, nothing unexpected, no taste too, but who cares.
I see Surimi as proof, that format doesn’t matter any more but only metadata attached to it. It can be everything, it‘s adaptable, and people are even willing to eat something rather artificial, tasteless when it meets their demands – light, neutral, convenient, easy, fast, manipulable (it can be fish, chewing gum, lobster, cosmetics, …), clean, safe, trusted – hooked to a set of continuative elements.
What differs Surimi from music most, is it’s idea:
A product-basis (fish) can be transformed into nearly any format the market requires, but always stays in line with the attributes quoted above. It doesn’t intend to copy the original (fish) but does fine just by providing something neutral. That is everything most consumers want it to be. They take care of enriching this basis with attributes, making the product, themselves.
And that is the crux. Let the consumers do what they want to – but stay in control of the basic ingredients.
Ouuuuhhh – I hear a debate on taste and good old quality coming up… But what would keep you from offering a premium product on a market opened and run by something like Surimi? Go for it.
Back to the music industry, binding your product exclusively to one format, base your whole business model on it’s maintenance and sue anyone who wants something more convenient doesn‘t sound like a competitive business model to Surimi, right?
Kei Ishizaka, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) as well as chairman and CEO of Universal Music Japan sees the first and prior challenge in developing a new media format that might cover such demands.
Slowly it is dripping into the right minds – uniformity, exclusiveness, mono-formatism cuts you from developing and new markets. Maybe not tomorrow, but latest next season. The signs were there, obvious for anyone willing to challenge your own business model or perspective.
When DJs started the whole remixing thing back in the 80s, music industries executives should have spend a thought on what is happening. This was the first broad hint, consumers were giving to the industry, that customizing is the next big thing.
Today, everybody knows that altering stuff, playing with designs, personalizing the look and feel of products, do it yourself attitude, design your own sneaker, shirt, skate deck, … is what hooks clients to your product. As soon as they get bored cause they can’t interact, they move on. It’s all about modifying, interacting and providing the tools and opportunities to do so.
Not only in fashion, if it’s ringtones, device-shells, skins for software, log in to your favourite chocolates website to find a little flash game there, it happens everywhere in any branch. You can even personalize your agreement with your mobile- or gas provider. Often enough modifying formats is a sheer necessity due to software/hardware issues that you as a consumer can’t control.
So lets state three simple facts:
– format / formal stability is not recognized as quality any more
– convenience is rated equal or higher than content
– the option of modifying your stuff is a basic demand
Wake up! A concept that derives from the 1870s will not do any more. Go ahead with your copyright issues and format constraints. I predict, that soon there will be no one left to sue, as they all moved on to places you don’t understand, that you can’t go to – and the bad news is:
They’ve taken everything you own with them.