There are few things that bring people together like a good song. We cry to them, we laugh to them, we spend some of our most intimate moments with them. iPods and smartphones have literally turned our favourite music into our daily theme song, between taking the subway to work, or relaxing after a stressful day it’s these combinations of ones and zeros being output by our speakers that define us as much as they distinguish us. Since the early 90’s mp3 players allowed us to store an entire CD on a device that was smaller than the palm of our hand and soon after, in 2001, Apple introduced the iPod which paved the way for an unprecedented ability to carry around music and consume it.
It’s a shift that propelled the music industry into what is today a $15B global industry and is expected to reach $50B over the next few years as more people tap into the internet via their mobile devices. The rate at which music is created and consumed has never been greater. Our smartphones allow us to record, DJ, play instruments and listen wherever whenever. The key advantage of the iPod (massive storage) that led to it’s enormous success is being replicated in the modern setting with the advent of online streaming. People no longer have to worry about storage space on their device, with services like Spotify, Mixcloud, and Soundcloud users can tap into a much wider pool of music that is stored online for a much lower capital cost.
This expansion of the industry has led to a great deal of diversity. Markets that formerly devoured American recordings, such as Japan, have decreased their purchase of American music due to the willingness of smaller nations to fill voids as they appear. Korean music has taken Japan by storm, similar to how Psy crashed American shores. Sweden, a nation of merely 9.5 million (10 million less than greater New York City), is now the world’s third largest music producer, behind the U.S. and England. It’s as much about diversity as it is about the increasing pool of potential consumers. According to Tom Silverman, the founder of Tommy Boy Records, the industry has only managed to tap into 250-300m people. That’s less than 4% of the world’s population. It’s about accessing that new frontier of customers.
From the outside looking in, it’s clear to see the parallels between the smartphone industry and the music industry and the radio which is even more popular now with the Internet and with great resources for this you can find here. Our devices have been getting stronger at an almost ludicrous pace while the actual functions they perform and services they use seem to be mostly linked to the vast expanse of the internet. According to a study by Comscore mobile media consumption accounts for 60% of our entire media consumption time. The top 25 mobile apps by consumption are all web services that revolve around the creation and consumption of media. It’s an ironic situation where our smartphones have never been more powerful yet our applications and use-cases have never relied more heavily on the outsourcing of said power and processing to the cloud.
It’s a paradigm shift with how we view our connected devices. Areas like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine communications (M2M) are reducing our need to provide physical power and functionality on our connected devices. In the case of music consumption the storage space is being outsourced or shifted away from a consumer responsibility. The collective power of the Internet if you will. Things like BlackBerry’s BBM Music which, admittedly, was a little ahead of its time paved the way for this notion of a sharing economy where nobody really owns anything, but gets access to everything. It’s a movement that has extended into various different areas from automobiles, accommodation, transit, food, clothing, home improvement and even employment. But nowhere is it more pronounced than in the music industry.
For all the pundits who talk about the downfall of the music industry there are certainly others who believe that it’s the very things that are said to be hurting the industry that will expand it even further. Many musicians have fought against major players in the space such as Spotify or Deezer, which offer minimal returns to performers in return for a play or “stream” while at the same time modern consumers spend less and less on physical format albums. But according to Tom Silverman, consumers who have relied entirely upon streaming services for music listening will need to continue subscribing in order to access music at all. Soon the very notion of having any permanently downloaded music may be ludicrous but on the flipside if small subscription fees are enforced (unlike the modern system, where users can easily access streams for free with limited commercial interference) a constant source of income will flow into providers and, ideally, they’ll be more willing to shell out to record labels accordingly. More subscriptions means more money for performers represented.
That may not exactly be how it all pans out but there are still other advantages that present themselves when it comes to online streaming. When a band tours, they need to get there, have some food (and some drink) and a place to crash. The problem currently for up-and-coming bands is that they have to “guess” if they have enough support in an area to hopefully cover the expense from their touring. But with the use of streaming services and the associated analytics that can be tapped into it provides a wealth of information to all artists to ensure they get the best return on investment when dealing with booking concerts, releasing albums and doing other promotional work. Instead of treating the entire world as one it distills those plays, listens and favourites into data that can easily be interpreted. Say, for instance, an artist released an album on soundcloud but notices most of the listens and favourites are from Spain. The artist could then send out a post seeing if people would be interested in seeing them play live in Madrid or Barcelona, maybe even pre-purchase tickets to help pay for the travelling and concert arrangements. The field has changed but the tools are much better.
Not every artist has to be loved by everyone to be successful, we as BlackBerry fans know this all too well, it’s easier now than ever before to carve out niches in various different places that can provide a good return on investment by using the right tools. Tools like what BlackBerry is trying to achieve with Project Ion which provides integrated analytics tools for examining and visualizing data. The analytics tools are designed to empower employees and teams by providing easy-to-understand time-based and geo-spatial comparisons, flexible interfaces, and powerful search-based syntax. It’s never been a better time for artists to get market feedback and take the appropriate route for their career. As a former DJ who opened for various international performers I know first-hand how difficult it is to plan an event or gig. Do people who frequent this bar like my style of music? What’s the demographics in the area in case I want to attract walk-ins? Ultimately while the music is definitely the most important aspect for an artist, no artist wants to perform to an empty bar or dance floor (hurts man). The sharing economy, streaming and IoT can connect that musical talent with the right listeners because nowadays “back to beats, it don’t reflect on how many records get sold” – Dead Prez.