UNBUNDLED: Reformatting Music’s Barriers
The unbundling of music has been a hot topic within the industry ever since Steve Jobs insisted that iTunes be able to sell every individual album track for 99 cents. Here, Adam Marx continues his deep and important analysis of the practice with a look at how unbundling has unwrapped previous barriers and changed music.
By Adam Marx
Part 2 of 4 ] The first movement in this symphony is the “unbundled” piece. It’s all about “reformatting” the conceptual barriers that initially existed for decades. It’s divided into two parts: Choice and Format.
The former is an exploration of how choice has evolved with the changing technology, and how it’s taken on a power it previously lacked. The latter, however, discusses how new formats have changed music and broken down barriers which artists historically were—most times—unable to scale. Similarly, it’s given light and life to format types which for decades have been ignored by the broad base of music consumers, except perhaps for the most die-hard fans.
[Editor: Is you missed the intro, read it here.]
The first and most obvious form of unbundling in the music industry is the industry itself; no longer is there simply one music industry to partake in.
Now there are multiple, and they exist as completely separate universes; the major label mainstream, the exponentially growing independent industry, and everything in between. Along with this kind of unbundling of different musical arenas comes a freedom for music fans to explore in new ways.
Where non-mainstream fans were once relegated to shoddy mixtapes and bare-bones independent releases (which many times meant lower quality), now they have a plethora of music sources to choose from, as do all music listeners.
This leads to a level of choice the likes of which has never been seen in music. Now, it’s realistically possible to exist as a music fan outside the mainstream in a holistic way. You’re able to not only find the music that you like, and which speaks to you, but are similarly able to take advantage of growing communities of people like yourself. With the free access to all this new material comes access to other like-minded people.
This is community.
Chris Saad pointed to two distinct contributing factors which have lead us in this direction:
- Reducing the cost of inventory and discovery to, in many cases, zero or near zero
- Reducing the cost of direct communication and orchestration with more people at once—bypassing the need for manual mediators/editors/orchestrators/curators
Saad’s post also mentioned this within the scope of musical format. What was once a record and CD has now become digital information, thus with more power to disseminate. Even the album format itself is restructuring, as fans looking for a single-song experience are abandoning the long form in favor of something musically shorter.
But this has a swing dynamic as well; while some argue that the album format is dying (or is already dead), many see the opposite.
The unbundling of the album format has actually given it more power than it had before. Now, when an artist chooses to create a full album, a fan knows that there is an artistic meaning behind that, rather than a record label’s fiscal bottom line.
It also lends long-overdue validation to releases that fall in between singles and full albums. EP’s and double-sides have long been ignored by most but the hardcore fans. Now, however, they exist with the same legitimacy as their gaunter and fuller peers.
The Ironic Thing
The ironic thing about these two points—choice and format—is that they’re inherently about one overarching concept: community.
As choice expands and begins to encompass formerly ignored genres and artists, new communities have the ability to coalesce and thrive. Choice isn’t merely about having new material for already established communities to engage in; alternatively, it can lead to a mixing of communities that otherwise might not happen.
Punks and jazz fans may begin to mix over a new punk-jazz fusion genre, and people who otherwise would never have met one another can now suddenly exist alongside each other. This leads to an increased level of creativity and an exponential production of creative material.
And this material is further disseminated throughout communities—splintering them and rebonding them—through new formats of information technology. Communities cease to be rigid and orthodox in their functionality towards music and instead become more elastic—they become living, breathing things which grow and continue to evolve.
This is the unbundling process within music as it should be: an unwrapping of previously rigid dynamics that lends more flexibility and power to the overall process of community cultivation.
The next movement to be published on Tuesday will be Part II: Shifting the Paradigm, which will take a look at the BUNDLED dynamic. Concepts discussed will touch on how bundling — but doing so incorrectly in the new era — impacts music consumption and community cultivation.
Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!