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The mainstream industry is a sinking ship, and the independent one is struggling pretty much just as much as it always has. Let’s look at the reasons why.
Having talked to independent artists from all over the world, it’s apparent that no matter where you go, they all have the same problems: Promotion, Distribution, and now Piracy. Piracy doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem for independents, while promotion and distribution doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem for mainstream artists. Nevertheless, these are the Big 3.
It all comes down to the Internet at this point. One can conclude that because the internet has already been responsible for an increase in the amount of options available, in terms of promotion and distribution, for independent artists especially, that this trend will continue. So it is interesting to look at what exactly this will mean for music. It’s also interesting to note that the internet is actually responsible for the piracy problem for the mainstream industry, even though it has proven to have been a positive force for indie artists.
The trick is now to get a solution that solves all three problems, because even though independents aren’t plagued by piracy as much right now, it’s a problem they may be forced to face if they do get more popular, within the current industry model.
The solution starts at the root – the internet. It may seem like the internet has attributed to many advances in indie promotion and distribution such as Myspace, iTunes, and Tunecore, but you must also look at it like this: The internet right now is also responsible for any limitations that still exist online. There is a great potential that has not been reached yet with online technology, and so all the problems that artists have these days – the big 3 – are all caused by the internet.
So how do you solve this? Do we fix the internet? …Yes. It may sound weird, but the internet does not work as good as it could, and in fact, the internet is not properly set up to handle music right now. There is a lot of potential left that has not been reached. Within this potential is a solution to piracy as well.
The internet is a visual medium, inherently, and so there are many more tools for other visual mediums online than there are for auditory ones right now, meaning that it’s easier to promote a visual medium online at the moment. For example, if you’re a photographer, you could change your Facebook profile picture every day if you wanted to and just leave a couple posts and people would be introduced to your work in its full glory.
In a world where music is a huge part of people’s everyday lives, relying on an environment that until this point has been primarily based on visual mediums, to support not only the music itself, but the whole industry as well, is a huge problem that needs to be fixed, both for the fans and for the artists. Think about this..right now, besides recommendation engines like Pandora, that mainly only work for artists that are already known, the only way to hear someone’s music is to click on a link.(This mainly applies to independents – the majority of the industry)
No matter where you go online, there must be a translation of your piece of audio content – your music, into this visual world. So this music that can sometimes be incredibly original and incredibly outstanding, is reduced to a link or small icon if you’re lucky, that could never even begin to represent all of the complexity in that piece of music, and that may in fact strike an incredible resemblance to every other link on the web. It is because of this system that there is a mass influx of links to people’s music, and the inability to sort them or categorize them in any certain way means that these links can become essentially spam. You probably see them all the time if you have a facebook or myspace page. Everybody wants you to check out their music…and maybe you do one day, and you hate it. It will probably deter you from ever clicking on one of those links again, and at that point, all the links become full-fledged spam for that user.
So how do you translate music into this visual world without stripping it of all of it’s meaning? You don’t. You build an audio world along side the visual one. A platform – a community online – a website – that is streamlined to handle music – serving as enhanced music discovery for the fans, and enhanced promotion and distribution for the artists as a result.
So now that the underlying problem of the internet’s inadequacy has a solution – I give you the without spamming part – and the piracy part. Let’s go back to the Pandora model: the recommendation engine. This model is void of spam (unless you’re talking about their audio ads) because the music is selected for you and just plays. There are no links to follow – the music plays, and if you like it, you can vote it up, if you don’t you can vote it down. This is a pretty cool system but it could be a lot better. Pandora’s algorithm for recommendation is somewhat limiting. Personally I listen to dozens of different genres, sometimes all mashed together to form new genres specific to certain artists. Typing in an artist’s name or a song can put some serious limits on the stream of music that gets played, so it’s all about making a better recommendation engine.
The best way I can see, is to use a person’s friends or favorite artists – people they trust – to make the recommendations for them. If a user’s friends like a song enough to save into their own playlist, it should automatically get sent to your radio. Let your social network filter the music for you! This will always give you better recommendations because the music is not only coming from people you trust, but those people are just as complex as you are, where as an algorithm is forced to develop more standard ways of recommendation across all people, leaving the experience to lack any sense of a real custom experience.
This viral, automatic word of mouth spread of the music would mean that as long as the music was good, it would spread automatically. Now imagine this radio being a little toolbar that sits at the top of your screen all the time, and there’s a small, unobtrusive, let’s say postage stamp size ad associated with it.
As an artist, your music just plays on people’s radio. As a fan, music suiting your tastes just plays for you. You no longer have to search for it, and bands no longer have to promote it, as long as the music is good. If you give away the full quality stream for free, and perhaps even a free download on this website, there would be no reason for people to go to a torrent to get it and risk getting a virus. Offer them a completely safe way to access your music directly from you! Then, depending on your popularity from this new free viral promotion, you can leverage any views and plays for advertising revenue. This would effectively transform piracy from a hindrance to artist revenue, into an actual driving force for it. The more the music is played, downloaded, and spread, the more leverage for revenue the artist has.
Then the ideal situation would be the community, or website, contributing to making it easier for the artists to negotiate with the advertisers for their ad space, allowing them to set their own prices and approve sponsors. Also all while maintaining full control over their musical rights and freedoms. Does such a place exist you may ask? I wish – and that’s why I’m building it.
We’re in beta right now. Here’s a screen shot below. It’s called Beat-Play, and it will be (free) promotion and distribution without spam, as well as will be a solution to piracy, as well as will give independent artists the tools they need to be successful in their careers without a label, as well as give fans a better way to find music, as well as act as a catalyst to the organic growth and ongoing evolution of the music industry in a natural and healthy way for everyone.
Written by: Dante Cullari – Founder & President Beat-Play, LLC