As an addendum to my prior post on free music, Kevin Kelly has posited a “true fan” model. He argues that having a core following of around 1,000 people per artist would bring in enough revenues to sustain a career. Nine Inch Nails appear to have managed this – their run of 2,500 deluxe ($300!) editions of their latest release sold out straight away, and John Otway has sustained a career this way. Of course, this requires either your fans to grow up with you, or a constant stream of new fans to replace disillusioned ones. NIN’s early music was quite angsty – will their fanbase remain loyal as they enter maturity? The evidence so far suggests they will.
I’m interested in how one can make this a robust business model. In TV land, there is increasing talk about moving from eyeballs to engagement. It is no longer enough for someone to have a TV programme switched on – they need to be attentive, to be interested, to interact. But measuring this is tricky. With music, as the methods of distribution increase, it becomes more difficult to know exactly who owns, or who listens to your music. What proportion of tracks owned by music lovers came into possession through legal (and measurable) methods? And how does ownership intersect with passive listening – through TV, radio, Myspace and so on.
Could musical success be measured by engagement? If the Seinfeld Curve is borne out, the record labels (or their successors) will need greater certainty in predicting ticket sales, not to mention advertising on artist websites and other revenue streams. A minimum number of units sold will be meaningless. Some artists (I can’t remember their names) are now getting people to pay up-front for tours or CDs. If enough people sign up, it happens. If not, the transaction won’t take place. This may work in the odd case but is too rigid to be sustainable for the majority of the market. A model of engagement therefore needs to be found.
A lot of data is already available on music consumption and engagement, but it is proprietary. Could iTunes or Last.fm become an industry currency? If they asked all of their users whether they would be willing to share their data with the music industry, a lot of people would refuse. Understandably so, given the amount of pirated and leaked music available. But if incentives were offered, I believe a a reasonable number would. Interested users could fill in an additional form for demographic information, and this can then be calibrated to the wider audience for greater accuracy. If this became an industry standard, there would be no competitive advantage. The more parties that sign up, the cheaper subscriptions could be and the lower the barrier to entry
Some of the possibilities of data analysis this could offer include:
- Knowing number of plays, not just number of units shifted
- Finding out the top rated tracks for each artist
- Seeing how quickly new tracks are forgotten about and never played again
- Profiling the most avid fans
- Segmenting these fans by geography to plan tours
- Getting similar artists to join the tour
- Measuring the speed at which new music travels globally
- Tracking and predicting popularity of different genres
- Last.fm event attendance can be correlated to music libraries
- Using the messageboards to gather information on buzz
- Surveys can be used to gather opinions to supplement the raw data
I realise this is just a pie-in-the-sky idea and that there are many barriers to this actually being implemented. But if music does become the loss leader to the experience’s premium product, then there is no point in restricting the distribution to official methods. If the music can be democratized, can the information?