Music Industry Fail: This Time It’s Personal.

image from www.google.comThe big mistake that the industry continues to make is that too many are thinking of music in terms of social engagement, when it is actually a deeply personal experience.

The huge success of Amanda Palmers Kickstarter campaign, which has so far raised over half a million dollars, exemplifies this point. People are willing to shell out on music when they feel a personal connection to it. When they feel part of the process on a very personal level – they want to invest in that opportunity. 

I understand that Twitter and Facebook help connect the fans to this opportunity, but it only acted as advertising, not a replacement for distribution.


The problem with streaming services is that they are very impersonal. To subscribe and get unlimited music does not align the buyer with what they feel is “their” artist. Fans want ownership in the artists they connect with. That piece of ownership used to come with a CD. It would sit proudly in their collection – a defining part of them. This is somewhat realized with iTunes, when you pay your money and add it to your iPod, but it has always been thought of as a transitional format, and has a temporary air to it.

Does this not explain the rise in vinyl sales? To have the release on this very organic format makes the experience that bit more personal. It may never be played, but it becomes an important addition to ones collection, something solid in what has become a very transient business.


When music is channeled into a social tool, it immediately loses ownership. This works to a certain extent but only a superficial level – it explains why viral videos are quirky and funny but the majority lacks any real substance. They become quickly forgotten. Bands now value their own and others worth on the amount of Facebook likes or video plays they have. But these are social engagements, not personal engagements, by which I mean they do not leave a lasting piece of the artist in the engager’s personal collection. When a company or band looks to exploit the social nature of music they are investing in a very temporary and fleeting business that has very little actual worth. 

The music industry is not Facebook, it certainly isn’t Zynga or some token based gaming system. It has become the norm for people to associate the future of music with companies like Facebook. Facebook is free, it’s impersonal, it actually has very little to do with what music is about; it is not a model or distribution system to base the music industry on.


Everyone has been focusing on the artists, on the record labels, on social networks and streaming. It seems that the fans are the ones everyone is neglecting to take into account. Record companies need to be looking how to connect the fan direct with the artist and monetizing that, not connecting the fan with all music ever made, because it is not actually rewarding to the fan on a personal level.

Fans want ownership of their music, they want a piece of the artist and they are willing to pay for it, they want something that will be a part of them forever. They want it to be about them, to be personal, to define them, to be something to add to their collection, and they want their own collection, not someone else’s. 

They do not consider themselves connected to band simply because they liked their page or watched their video.

It is the desires of the fan that will decide the future of the music industry, because to the fan, the music they buy, and their connection to its makers, is worth much more on a personal level than any service trying to offer mass consumption and social saturation.

Robin Davey is a independent musician, filmmaker, and VP of Music and Film development at GROWvision Studios. Follow him on twitter @mr_robin_davey


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  1. I have never agreed more with anything posted on hypebot than this article! Thank you for your wisdom. It’s so simple, but so right. As a matter of fact, this may be the only article I have read in a long time that I’ve agreed with. Kindred spirits.

  2. You list a lot of problems with music and general idea of connecting fans to artists as the key to the future.
    Any specific ideas on how to do this?
    Or do you just want to meet your favorite artist?

  3. Understanding what the fans want is the key to the future. Not what the labels want, or the RIAA, or what Spotify thinks the world needs. If labels can emulate the personal connection that Amanda Palmer achieved through her success, then they may be in with a shot. But the personal connection comes first. Social only replaces advertising, or at best radio – which always was essentially advertising.
    It is screwing up the industry to think that social networking is a form of distribution, it is not – it is just a form of advertising.

  4. Great post.
    2 actors matter in the music “economy”: artists and fans. I’m not clear which is the most important. (but if you’re talking about music and money, I would say the fan is the most important).

  5. Sorry but I find it all totally irrelevant.
    Amanda Palmer is NOT the future of the music industry. Nor are Radiohead and NIN. The main difference is Amanda is a major (company) failure who finds its way because of the promo she got before. She’s not a new act, and in this context no new act can say they got a new way to promote themselves.
    Come on there is no new music industry solutions these days…

  6. I’m glad to see someone saying this! Too often do I read articles stressing how important social media is (especially to indie/DIY artists), but the reality is that it’s not going to do you much good unless you already have a strong fan base. Honestly, I would start with your friends when making a fan base. Find a select few people you know that are really interested and positive about your music. Those people will help spread your music even if it’s inadvertently. Hopefully you can then turn their friends into your friends and grow your “fan” base. Edit treat your fans like fans, treat them like friends because they should (most likely) start as friends!
    Free album at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  7. the idea put forward hits home on so many levels. And I’m afraid there is no replacement to real musical craft when it comes to an artist’s staying power. The way it’s always been really

  8. Robin! I generally disagree vehemently with your writing. It comes off as one-sided, half-researched, over the top, and very assuming. But this is good stuff, man. Made me think, AND I’m not totally pissed off after reading it. I like that you’re always pondering. And if you can present your ideas in a more balanced fashion, I really think your posts could be great. (All IMO of course!)
    I never thought before about your reasoning for the rise of vinyls, and I think it’s probably spot-on for a lot of consumers (I’ve replaced my ownership needs with merch).

  9. I agree with what you saying, however I also believe that the idea of what a “fan” is, is constantly changing and completely subjective. It no longer means fanatic, or patron, or supporter, though sometimes it does, and sometimes it means more.
    The vernacular we’re using is dynamic at best.

  10. But I think that is the common mistake people are making- they think fans are different now and want different things. They ultimately want what they always have wanted – something tangible to associate themselves with the artist. Something virtual is just not enough.

  11. I would start with your friends when making a fan base. Find a select few people you know that are really interested and positive about your music….

  12. To an extent I would have to agree with this post. A certain large pre-owned music retailer has just opened in my home-town and its popularity can certainly be seen in that there are people clearly willing to keep buying CDs, although admittedly at a fraction of the price they were paying only a few years ago.
    However, there are clearly 2 distinct generations of music consumers now, those that used to buy physical and those that didn’t. My worry is that the younger generation are now increasingly regarding recorded music as a virtual/disposable commodity. This may well be in part a result of the industry fails outlined above. I’m not sure now whether anything can be done to change that.

  13. “Record companies need to be looking how to connect the fan direct with the artist and monetizing that”
    I couldn’t agree more. I just started a company doing exactly that, but labels just do not get it!

  14. I can appreciate that concept to a degree, however everything we come across now (media, content or otherwise) is seemingly more disposable, and the average consumer/fan is generally bombarded with 400% (that’s a humble estimate) more content than they were even five years ago.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that in many ways the fan is in fact getting what they want, however they’re getting it in smaller doses from more places and many times satiating that need for palpable connection over a multitude of connections.
    They have more options now, and while some might want that experience of truly connecting, or others who tend to be sticking with a few tried and true artists they like are one type of demographic, and honestly from what I’m gathering an aging demographic.
    As artists, we can offer up the art, the wares or whatever you want to call it, however we please. I think it’s pretty bold to put any type of absolute distinction on what and how fans choose to appreciate what we do (that’s what labels used to do).
    I will agree that some people do in fact want a tangible connection, some fans will be die hard, tattoo getting child naming fanatics. But the majority (at the moment) will just have a song in a playlist, and for many artists that’s more than they ever would have had in years past.

  15. Good thinking, Robin. The point about vinyl is well made. You can’t emulate the joy of owning a fragile artifact, such as a glorious 12-inch slab of vinyl sleeved in seductive artwork, by non-physical means.
    The artist/fan relationship is ever evolving, but fundamentally you’re asking living, breathing people to engage at a level more personal than spending a bit of money. Many aspiring stars, and some who’ve ‘made it’, lose sight of that.

  16. Agreed on your point about Amanda Palmer being a failed major artist turned internet money getter (I couldn’t think of a better term). But I think that the argument really should be, does the music industry have such a control over what people like that they can truly exist outside and above the artists and the fans. OR, if the artists seek to be more personable and more connected with fans, giving them what they want according to Robin Davey (which i agree with) will the music industry be forced to follow suit in order to keep up with the changing dynamic of music of the industry. I guess it comes down to who you really believe runs the industry, the labels who create “the product” or the fans who buy it.

  17. how many other artists are going to raise the money amanda did without 1) previous major label support (like NIN/Radiohead) and 2) google money laundered to kickstarter?
    I’m happy for amanda but is this a business model or a casino win? sure people win at casinos, but do you quit your job and move to vegas?
    Success Artists have ALWAYS connected with fans, that’s how they sold records…

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