Guest post by Adam Steele, co-founder of Merge.fm, an online platform for musicians to offer their music to fans as engaging online events. Adam shared with us this clever piece that presents a concrete analogy between musicians and the Internet.
Picture an enormous concert stadium that is so big it can hold everyone. Literally there is a seat for every single person in the world. Now imagine this stadium is made entirely of glass and it also happens to have an open-roof.
There you are, up on stage with your band performing your most mind-blowing songs. When you look out, you see countless empty seats, behind which is an endless sea of people goofing around outside your stadium’s glass walls. Once in a while someone glances at you and maybe even listens for a bit. But then they quickly go back to texting their friends or stuffing that sandwich back in their mouth as they disappear into the crowd.
After a couple songs, someone from your crew walks over to you and says, “Look at all those people! You should sell them digital photos of your concerts.”
“That’s a ridiculous idea,” you reply. “Everyone has a hi-def camera phone connected to Facebook.”
But you trust this person, so you do it anyway. Sure one or two people who really like you buy some. But you soon realize that you can’t sell very many.
Then this same person says, “Okay... well, let’s add artistic effects to the photos so more people will buy them.”
So you give it a shot and sell one or two more to people with crappy cameras. But in the end you can’t sell very many no matter what other fancy features you add. Your point of value is the photos and once they are out there, everyone just shares them with the world instantly. Not many people think they’re worth anything.
This is really starting to make you angry, so you demand, “Silence! This is all illegal... they’re my concert photos... I own them!”
“Well, that’s true,” he replies. “But we can’t stop people from doing that. And it’s turning out that even the people that don’t want to be illegal can see the photos whenever they want. They just have to visit the art galleries that we allowed to show your photos in exchange for a cut of the revenue. Not to mention, everyone can look at you whenever they want legally and for free from outside your glass stadium.”
After you land a haymaker in that idiot’s face and you’re about to bring on the rage, you notice something.
“Look at all those empty seats! We’ve got an enormous concert stadium here. Why don’t we try to do something amazing on stage and then sell tickets?”
You think to yourself, “This sounds a little more promising. I like doing amazing things.”
But then someone else from your crew replies, “Well, if you just play a regular concert, who is going to buy a ticket when they can all just sit outside your glass stadium and watch from a distance?”
“Hmmm...exactly,” you reply. “Not very many people will buy a ticket if we’re selling a regular old concert, because they can watch a video of our concert (or get photos) whenever they want for free. We have to make it an event where the value is getting up close and personal with a chance to interact and engage.”
“What kind of events do that?”
“People who make it to the front need to get something special compared to the people who just watch from outside our glass walls. We could bring people on stage and involve them in our performance. We could even improvise a personalized song for one lucky fan while they’re up there. Or maybe we could let our fans that are musicians play with us and show off their own ideas.”
“How about inviting them to join your songwriting sessions later on,” someone suggests.
“Yes!” you reply. “I bet there are lots of events that will work in our enormous glass stadium just like regular concerts worked so well in our good old cement stadium.”
“But won’t people just pirate that stuff like they did your photos?”
“It doesn’t seem like people could pirate that type of value,” you propose. “The value seems to be in being there in the moment and experiencing it. And if they do copy and share parts of it, that’s probably a good thing because they are showing their friends how awesome our events are... which will sell more tickets for future events. The more sharing the better!”
Just as you’re starting to get excited about this, that first idiot wakes up from his punishing knockout and declares, “let’s try putting some flashing lights on those concert photos.”