The Most Important Problem The Music Business Must Solve
What is the greatest problem which the new music business must solve to maintain it relevance in the future? In my humble opinion, it needs to figure out how to simply curate new music, filter it down to a small enough selection that is easily digestible and readily posted some place on the Internet, seamlessly accessible by mobile phones, where people will want to come, listen to it, own it emotionally and support it financially. When this happens, and eventually it will, the music business will be forever changed.
Artist development and new music discovery via the Internet seem to be incredibly lacking when it comes to finding a clear, defined path on which true artistic and financial success can be built. Where are artists mostly found hoping to be discovered? Major sites include Bandcamp, Bandpage, SoundCloud OurStage, Reverbnation, MTVMusic, and the new Myspace. Lesser sites include Tunezy, TastmakerX, WeAreHunted and TheSixtyOne. This list can go on forever as there are hundreds of sites out there that no one has ever heard of which have little or no traction and allegedly were built to discover new music. Streaming music services like Spotify, Grooveshark, Rdio, Deezer, Rhapsody, Songza, iHeartradio and Pandora are not in the business of new artist and new music development.
Former Topspin and now new Daisy Project CEO, Ian Rogers, made a telling point a while back when he guestimated, that the real market for serious bands and musical artists around the world was most likely in the vicinity of 30,000 serious artists making some kind of income. The Future of Music Coalition's artist revenue stream study certainly did nothing to shed any further light on whether or not this was an accurate number or what they thought the number actually was. Admittedly there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who have created profiles and posted music somewhere on Internet. At least 99% of these have no intention of ever making a career out of music. So how do we find the really good new stuff that could resonate with millions of people? This is the new music business' greatest question and it begs for an answer that no one seems to have except me.
There are lots of blogs that are more than willing to help with the curation process and which recommend new music for people to listen to on the regular. Some of them like Pitchfork actually can and do influence a large number of people to take a shot with a new song or artist. However, these trusted sources make a very small difference in the grand scheme of things. There is no longer in place a system of filtered choices and listener control. Occasionally a song or artist will pop up on YouTube, go viral and generate loads of activity and some income. If I were a talented artist, I could not reasonably rely on the fact that my music would ever go viral on YouTube and make me famous. Furthermore, all the web sites mentioned above combined have broken only a handful of new artists into the mainstream. When they actually have or lay claim that they did, there has usually been no rhyme or reason from their end for the success of those few artists.
Unfortunately, Top 40, Rhythmic and Country radio are where most people still discover their new music. This environment is carefully controlled by major labels and rarely sees a newly developed unique act because those chosen to be exploited are usually brought into the mix by major players with little vision and cookie cutter mentalities all about making money.
Very few real music business veterans are connected on a day to day basis with most of the above mentioned sites. Most have been built and are being run by technologists under 40 who have been in a band or worked in new media for a label but don't really, for the most part, understand the true mindset of a working musician and his or her actual needs nor what it's going to take in today's world to develop a casual listener into a true fan. Show me a site, any site, that has one million plus uniques a month or that has converted into paying customers a large portion of Rogers' 30,000 serious artists AND that is making more than just a little bit of money. Show me any site that has created an ecosystem for artist development and exposure that regularly spits out a stream of successful moneymaking artists and I will bow down to their genius.
I have been analyzing the music business Internet space for almost eight years. It is clear to me that there is one piece that has been completely missing: none of the alleged music discovery/artist development sites has any kind of meaningful and compelling value proposition for casual listeners that gets them to aggressively participate in a site's discovery process in large enough numbers to develop an emotional and financial bond with a particular artist to make them a successful mainstream artist who can live off their music. Without there being something substantial in it for the user why should any user change from their present course of music activity to a new one? For example, what's the Daisy Project going to do for the casual listener to make them leave Rhapsody, Pandora or Spotify?
Extremely well funded sites like Reverbnation, TopSpin, Bandpage, OurStage, Turntable.FM, Pandora and Spotify would have been bought up by now if they were really making money. None of these sites or any others that I can see have anything to do with new music content development and ownership. Content used to be king. Major labels and major publishing companies don't need to develop new content because for the time being they still control 95% of the content people want to listen to. Record promotion is broken like the rest of the traditional music business. In time, some company will figure out how it can successfully promote new music in the new music business and then the clutter overwhelming the music space will become manageable once again.
Most streaming services have access to 10-20 million songs of which only a very small percentage are listened to on a regular basis. Those songs actually listened to more than once are made up overwhelmingly by good to great songs from the past. How is the content of the future being discovered, developed and meaningfully exposed? Whomever or whatever entity figures out how to access, discover and control new and great future music content will have found the new music business' answer to the "Holy Grail."
At the beginning of this piece, I told you that I have a solution to this problem. My visionary idea for a startup has evolved over eight years of personal trial and error in the Internet music business space. Here is the link to my proposal, entitled "MusicWhirl.Com: A Weapon of Mass Music Discovery."
David Sherbow is a 35 year music business veteran, former artist manger, booking agent, indie label operator,urban independent record promoter whose companies have broken over 100 No.1 records, Internet music business entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor of Music Industry, Towson University, Baltimore, MD.