IOU Music is a new service for artists that launched this week in beta. They're building a platform to support DIY music monetization and marketing. For example musicians can use their accounts to sell music, crowdfund, accept donations and create subscription services with more features on the way. I spoke with Founder and CEO Rob MacArthur about IOU Music and it's clear that the bigger vision is one that goes beyond simply aggregating sales and marketing tools to building a platform that also supports musicians in evaluating their finances, making financial goals and establishing specific steps for reaching those goals as a musician.
Such platforms are partly a response to the current situation in which indie musicians and those who work with them have to use far too many separate tools to get the job done. But these platforms also have to have some patience while making the case that musicians should be shifting to their services.
IOU Music: The Backstory
Fortunately Rob MacArthur says he's taking the long view with this project. IOU Music's current status grew out of MacArthur's past ten years in the music industry.
Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, MacArthur started out running a jam space and then launched a record label and got into managing bands. In the process he says he discovered that the industry was a total disaster and that starting a label was a good way to lose money.
Along the way he became more and more interested in business models and then started a coworking space through which he met co-founder Jessy Oullette.
IOU Music emerged from that combination of experiences. In particular, MacArthur sees it as a response to new thinking about musician-based business models. But it also addresses his observation as a manager that most musicians don't have clear financial goals.
What IOU Music Offers
The current incarnation of IOU Music addresses the issue of business models and monetization most directly. The services are all free with IOU Music taking 10% of revenue earned through the platform which also covers credit card and transaction fees.
Currently IOU Music provides:
1) "The option to sell music in six different digital formats using set pricing or pay-what-you-want pricing"
2) "Crowdfunding for music related projects"
3) "Soliciting donations in a tip jar"
4) "A monthly subscription service"
5) "You'll find a completely customizable profile page with streaming music player, video player, gallery, email list and more there now."
Future developments will include:
"a way to sell physical merch, goal and financial management tools, ability to embed your ioumusic store on your Facebook page or website and a mobile development"
MacArthur feels that the traditional recording industry model focused on big album releases followed by big tours doesn't fit current realities for most musicians. He feels that individuals have more varied needs and would be better supported by shifting to a subscription model featuring more regular releases of music.
But he also notes that people have different needs at different points. If you're reasonably established with a solid core fanbase, then you're probably ready for a subscription approach. If you're just getting started you might prefer other tools as you build support.
Taking the 1000 True Fans Approach
Perhaps more importantly, MacArthur is a proponent of Kevin Kelly's "1000 True Fans" concept and feels traditional music industry approaches obscure its value.
From a record label's perspective 1000 fans may not seem like much and shouldn't you be focusing on 10,000 or 100,000 fans?
But for a musician who's totally independent and can count on 1000 fans to subscribe for $5 a month you've got an annual revenue stream of $60,000 before taxes, expenses, etc. For a singer/songwriter, that might be enough.
What IOU Music wants to do is:
Become the platform that allows musicians to get past having to use multiple services so they can focus their efforts at one central location.
Provide tools and services that are useful at every stage of an artist's career so that they can choose to remain DIY throughout their careers.
Give artists the tools and support to maximize their efforts
This means that in addition to such obvious features as being able to sell digital downloads, IOU Music wants to add tools that would enable an individual artist or a group of musicians to calculate their financial needs and set financials goals.
Once one's needs and financial goals are established, such tools would help you figure out how you're going to make that happen and then calculate your progress as you move forward with your career.
Tools and features will also be inspired by research. For example, MacArthur reads widely on related issues from business to psychology. In reading about nonprofits and donations, he discovered that donors are more likely to give again at a later time if thanked after the first donation.
So that might mean including a thank you email in the workflow for fundraising efforts such as crowdfunding campaigns or donations.
This is potentially an extremely powerful approach in that research findings and related observations are built into the platform rather than, for example, simply appearing in a tips post on their blog.
But the idea wouldn't be to force artists to send thank you emails. Rather the idea is to not only encourage but to directly support artists in their efforts by making it easier to do the smart thing.
Taking Their Own Advice
MacArthur says that whenever they consider such features, their key question is, "Is this going to benefit musicians most?"
But that question goes beyond product development to guide other processes such as marketing. For example, in the fall, IOU Music wanted to do something at the Halifax Pop Explosion festival to get to know folks and promote the upcoming launch while also helping artists.
So they came up with the idea of the HPX Artists' Lounge which provided some really nice services to artists in a comfortable space.
They're also taking the advice they give to artists to have a goal, think long term and work towards it.
IOU Music's biggest goal is to help musicians make as much money as they can while maintaining their independence and they hope to be doing that for the long term.
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.