The music industry has taken a radical turn in the last ten years. Anyone watching with even a passing interest can’t fail to have noticed how the emphasis has turned to online tools. My colleague Molly touched on this issue very recently and she had a great point to make – labels, industry types, and even bands, have been stuck on technology.
If they’re not discussing piracy and copyright ownership, taking infringers to court or wallowing in the decline of the industry, execs and bands alike are focusing on the wealth of new tools that have emerged to help them sell via traditional and new channels. Which of them is going to save the industry? Is it Topspin, Nimbit, Fanbridge, et al, who are giving artists more control of their fan conversations and fulfilling the prophecy of the direct-to-fan model? Will it be TuneCore, which allows the artist to circumvent the label altogether and directly sell their music online? Or will it be something like TuneRights, making music a revenue stream for both artist and fan?
Amidst these heated debates it seems to me that we’re missing the only thing that can truly nurture the industry: The Fan.
Sure, it’s well documented that a music fan can be crazy, loyal and bordering on militant in their obsession. It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Lady Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters’ bow to her authority with reverence. Or that Justin Bieber’s ‘Beliebers’ dominated the trending topics on Twitter for so long that they started banning his appearance there. Not to be outdone, 30 Seconds to Mars fans, calling themselves the ‘Echelon’ and My Chemical Romance fans, the ‘MCRmy’, have been equally vocal in online voting wars. This is an industry with hardcore advocates. Even MTV acknowledged the fan communities in their recent O Music Awards with the category of ‘Fan Army FTW’.
So why, when the industry analyses and obsesses over the changing landscape of music, do few talk about these fans, their communities and the power they wield? In all this change one thing remains constant – the passion, dedication and emotional attachment of a music fan to their artist.
This emotional connection to the artist is what drives music fans and it should be the centre of any debate. Why do they have that connection? What created it? And how can we encourage that connection in every music consumer across the world?
These days we have to really make people want to buy music. We can’t just assume anymore. The industry can crack down and try to force people to buy instead of illegally download, and don’t get me wrong, it is their right to do so – illegal downloading is a problem that needs to be addressed. But let’s face it, there will always be piracy, and the harder the industry pushes against the angry pockets of the Internet, the bigger and longer the fight will be. A shift in attitude needs to happen. Instead of trying to sue Limewire to the tune of $75 trillion dollars and attempting to use brute force, the focus must be on how we get people to WANT to purchase.
You might think that no one wants to buy what they can get for free, but on the contrary, fans who are invested in the success of an artist – one they have followed since inception, or one they feel particularly close to – will want to support the artist in every way, including purchasing their music. Further, when fans experience music through a community that is given status as being an important and significant entity in an artist and label’s considerations, they become highly invested in the act of buying and promoting. Often fans will go ahead without you, but why let them flail around when you can direct and harness that enthusiasm to build a campaign that will cut through at grass roots level?
Many labels do a bit of this without strategy or direction, sending out a thoughtless email here and there – reaching out without consistency, viewing it as a way to play nice while investing in expensive above the line campaigns. But few understand the value of their advocates and the ways in which they can make a difference to the industry as a whole – as the glue that keeps the artist stuck to the consciousness of the general public, both on and offline.
Given the right encouragement and tools, fans are the best hope. The music industry is in a unique position – while other industries struggle for evangelists and take great pains to build consumer experiences that will lead to advocacy, in music we are presented with this on a platter. That is no doubt what has caused the industry to take fans and communities for granted, but imagine taking that platter of advocates and creating something meaningful from it.
A music fan is not just a consumer, buying an album and gig ticket once a year, but a powerful voice for an artist, reaching the niches we can’t with an authenticity that is unrivalled. By involving them in the entire promotional strategy and ensuring that they are invested in the success of the artist, we will find that the fans are our strongest ‘tool’ in overcoming the difficulties the industry faces today.
So, as a music fan (rather than a marketer, consumer or industry player): what do you feel?