Creating Experiences vs. Selling Music (Part 1)

From mixtapes to Facebook listening parties, bands and artists alike are doing more and more to capture fans’ attention online with the hope that it will turn into album sales. As cd purchases continue to decline at a double-digit rate, digital downloads are becoming the industry standard – whether they’re paid for or not. Subsequently, it has become increasingly essential for album releases to have a compelling online component in an effort to convince fans to shove out dollars for something they could easily get for free. Perhaps there’s another alternative that more record labels should consider as a means for monetizing content…consumer engagement through music experiences.

For decades publications like Rolling Stones, Spin, and Vibe were the authoritative voice for music, primarily because there weren’t very many ways for music fans to discover new releases. The advent of the MP3 and sites like Napster and Kazaa changed that drastically. As personal computers made their way into homes and people started connecting to broadband internet, accessing and sharing music was a cinch, especially if you were a college student (Thank God for T3 connections!). People practically built their entire music libraries from P2P sharing alone. It was truly the first time the supply of music out weighed consumer demand.

The seemingly endless access of music created a need for content curation, which gave rise to music bloggers who offered their take on the best music out and what was yet to come. But truthfully, who’s advice do you trust more than anyone else? Your friends! They know you and they know what you’d like. More importantly, you know them and their taste in music. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to check out the new Strokes album if someone you knew and trusted advised you on how great it was and that Julian Casablanca never sounded so good? Of course! That’s the beauty of advocacy, and social media is the perfect channel to do just that.

Indie bands like Arcade Fire and Cold War Kids seem to understand this better than anyone. With their 2010 interactive, Google-powered music video, Arcade Fire put themselves in the background and their fans in the driver seat by creating a music experience that was both fun and sharable. This may not have resulted in millions of record sales for Arcade but it did produce other noteworthy metrics of success like:

1) a plethora of social conversations around the record (in August 2010, the band was a trending topic on Twitter),

2) a Grammy for Best New Artist (in February 2011, the band was a trending topic on Twitter for the 2nd time),

3) a sold-out concert schedule, and

4) a ton of new fans (myself included!)

The takeaway is that record labels might be better off setting aside this notion of “we sell music” and instead, focus on creating shareable music experiences that provide more profitable revenue opportunities.  That way, bands can promote awareness about new releases in a compelling way that not only enables their fans to spread the good word but also generate income with greater margins.

More on this later…



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  2. Anthony Gregory
    05/5 2011

    I agree… and the music “industry” has been too exclusive. I know that the movie industry has a different business model, but they have done so much right. DVD’s have been affordable and I can watch good quality movies through a myriad of platforms. Why can’t I buy a CD that is playable with a 5.1 or stereo track, that will show me the song information, like the MP3 tag, and the song lyrics? The CD was the last major technology upgrade by the “industry….” MP3 and other compressed formats were all developed and promoted by other industries.

  3. 05/5 2011

    Very well said! I think the key take away is that labels need to “focus on creating shareable music experiences” We need to stop focusing on a product and look at the big picture of what we can control. Musical trends come and go but if we are focused on making music revolve around memorable moments and connections with people we will always have a business. I would say that is the real reason people buy music, because of the emotional connection they have with it.

  4. Alex S
    05/9 2011

    So true, Iyana! I recently bought an Indigo Girls album (for shame!) just to bring me back to junior high car rides and sing alongs with my sister. It was worth it!


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