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Highlights From This Week's Bandwidth Conference

5On Tuesday, the Bandwidth Music & Technology Conference concluded in San Francisco with many prominent companies from the music/tech world in attendance including Spotify, Beatport, eMusic, Gracenote, and RootMusic to name a few.

This invite-only event was held differently than most music conferences, in that there were no panels. Sessions were held in boardrooms and kept small to encourage collaborative discussion and networking. Topics centered on the evolving musical experience -- how people discover, purchase, interact with, and are exposed to new music -- with a focus on marketing, fan behavior, current trends, and future forecasts. Here were some of the highlights:

Evaluating Technologies for Use in Fan Management

Jason Feinberg of Concord Music Group led a discussion where he pointed out that 2009 and 2010 were the boom years of the digital toolkit.

"Suddenly, there was a massive explosion of many companies doing very similar things in specific niches," Feinberg said. "Some were even doing the exact same thing and hoped their marketing efforts would persuade people to use their service over their competitor’s."

“We don’t need 12 tools that do the same thing,” Feinberg added. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What tools do we need that cover our services, and which one makes the most sense for us to use?’”

He went on to mention that different tiers of artists cater to different niches, so it’s important to figure out which category of tools is a proper fit for your core set of needs.

Email marketing continues to show the highest conversion rates and the highest levels of engagement, which led Feinberg to discussing the importance of analytics.

“If analytics are not at the top of your digital toolkit, you’re missing out on the true value of these tools,” he said. “Nowadays, we're no longer guessing. There are tools to effectively monitor pretty much everything.”

He elaborated on the idea of utilizing CRM (customer-relationship management) tools to help build a better understanding of your audience.

"Managing data, tracking insights, leveraging behavioral understandings, social analytics, and psychographics (hobbies, interests, lifestyle choices, etc) are all key elements."

Fienberg suggested utilizing Project Management tools like Basecamp to avoid becoming overwhelmed, where you can take all the data and conversation and manage it from one place.

Technology as the Great Equalizer?

While many of us feel that new technological innovations within digital distribution and online marketing have leveled the playing field for artists, Feinberg disagrees.

“Technology has NOT leveled the playing field,” he said. “One still requires expertise, relationships, and budget. The core needs of a music professional/company are still the same. Technology has allowed us to enhance those needs and potentially innovate on top of those needs, but it has not replaced them.”

“It’s ironic,” said Kelli Richards of All Access Group. “Many attempted to crush technological innovations beginning with Napster, and now it’s proving to be the salvation of the business.”

Tech for Tech’s Sake

Discussion ensued about embracing a new technology as a result of it simply being a “hot” thing to be involved with. One case study was live concert streaming, and how many thought it would be a saving grace to the music industry. However, once the dust settled, it proved to be yet another tool that only enhances the fan experience.

“Something may interesting because it’s innovative,” one attendee added. “But at the end of the day, is there a return on investment there?”

“A lot of it is can be seen as tech for tech’s sake,” Feinberg responded. “Many companies just build things because they can. 95% of things that come across my desk have already been created and the need has already been filled.”

Hyper-Personalizing the Fan Experience

Hyper-personalization, designing experiences for people as uniquely and as specifically targeted as possible, was a topic of discussion throughout the entire conference.

Ty Roberts of Gracenote spoke that proper context is one of the missing links in personalizing the listening and curation experience. He feels that creating a unique user experience where one's current environment and mood at a particular moment will be the future of how the curation process functions.

Roberts then went on to describe the idea of a “dead” music consumer - one who is missing out on the discovery process by just listening to the same music they’ve heard over and over again.

Music 3.0

Adam Klein of eMusic led a discussion about universal access – the ability to listen to music wherever, whenever, on whatever.

“Consumer behavior and expectations are going to substantially shape the business models of tomorrow,” said Klein. “However, offering cheap initial access in an attempt to later convert consumers into higher paying customers is a dangerous strategy, because we’re creating very high consumer expectations.”

He points out that there are five elements of a digital music service (Acquiring, Managing, Sharing, Listening, and Discovering) and that not every music service is good at all five.

"Apple for example excels in the acquiring and managing of music, but their discovery services are a bit lacking," Klein said. “After all, part of the pleasure of a music service is the ability to find new music yourself, as opposed to mainstream media.”

One audience member asked Klein’s thoughts on music services such as Spotify granting their users an “all-you-can-eat” assortment of music:

“All-you-can-eat gives you indigestion,” Klein responded. “Discovery should be about getting advice, getting direction, and getting opinions.”

Value Proposition

Jaunique Sealey of Atom Digital led a discussion by analyzing the word “piracy” and how it’s affected the music industry’s approach to securing new business models.

“We’ve attached a negative connotation with the word," she said. "But in reality, it reflects a consumer desire. We should be looking to innovate beyond it.”

“Everything has value,” Sealey added. “Consumers can either be spending their money, their time, or their word of mouth."

She goes on to show that music consumers have been shown to spend their money where the following six categories apply:

"Convenience, higher quality, curation (recommendation), intimacy (VIP experiences, personal stories, etc), badge (a sense of importance by adding a layer on top of someone’s regular existence), and being a part of a community."

“We’re no longer in the business of making music products and selling them,” added Jon Satterley of Roadrunner Records. “We’re creating and facilitating culture, and selling that. Music is just a part of the pie. It’s too narrow to just survive off of music.”

The Takeaway

After spending two days in boardrooms with some of the top minds in music and technology searching for ways to “save” the music industry, one thing struck me:

There isn’t a single saving grace on it’s way.

Perhaps we’re a bit too nostalgic of the golden days, when uniform and linear business models ruled the space which seemed to work tremendously well for a selected few, while leaving many others out in the cold. The rise of the Internet has not yet completely leveled the playing the field as many of us would like to think. Many would agree that it’s made it even more difficult to rise above the clutter.

One thing that was evidently clear however, and that's that we’re all in the same boat now. Instead of companies trying to grab a piece (or piece of a piece) of the market share, we need to go back to Marketing 101 and ask ourselves, “What problem does this actually solve?” and most importantly, “How can we make this be better for the business as a whole?”

Music and technology spaces are beginning to make significant progress in creating better approaches to fans in ways that are more responsive to their habits as consumers. However, it’s a mistake to believe that there is one uniform model on it's way to tell us how to approach fans as a whole. Different niches are comprised of different types of fans, and each possesses vastly different spending and consumption habits.

The future of the music industry ultimately rests in the hands of fans and consumers. It's our job as facilitators of their experience to provide them with ways they feel spending their money would actually be worthwhile. 

We shouldn't try to force another one-size-fits-all model to our industry; it's just not coming anytime soon. Instead, we need to cater to the needs and desires of each of our own niche's preferred method of consumption in order to create the best, most personalized and worthwhile music experiences possible.

And musicians, let's remember that it's our job to make good music along the way... really good music.

For without that, none of the above even matters.

This post is by regular Hypebot contributor, musician, and music marketer Hisham Dahud (@hishamdahud).

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