Roundtable: What The Music Industry Isn’t Talking About – And How To Improve Music Curation
By Kyle Bylin of sidewinder.fm.
In this interview panel, three influential thinkers in music and tech — David Dufresne (Bandzoogle), Emily White (Whitesmith Entertainment), Frank Woodworth (Thrillcall) — talk about important issues in the music industry, interesting shifts in listener behavior, and how they would improve curation on subcription services.
sidewinder.fm: What is an important issue that no one is talking about right now?
David Dufresne | CEO of Bandzoogle: Something that folks don't discuss enough is the fact that music is losing grounds to other forms of entertainment, in terms of mindshare and “wallet-share.” Apps, games, movies, professional sports, books, restaurants, travel, etc. It seems all of those have been innovating, creating new products, new distribution models and creating more awareness. All this while music has been at somewhat of a stand-still and with the main gatekeepers incentivized to actually slow down innovation.
“Fan attention” is becoming the most valuable commodity in entertainment. The music industry is trying really hard to optimize how the attention it currently has gets monetized, but very little trying to increase that relative attention. In other words, everyone is fighting for a bigger part of the existing slowly shrinking pie, instead of thinking of baking a bigger and tastier one. Innovation gets stifled, startups get killed, and in the long term, everyone suffers.
Emily White | Founder of Whitesmith Entertainment: There is a huge debate between people complaining that artists don't get paid enough and like they used to vs. seeing a really exciting, open and limitless future in music. But the fact is: we are competing with free. Since media digitized in the late 90's, music (as well as other content of course) immediately shifted from a physical product that had to be created to an intangible good that is easily accessible and transferable instantly. People forget that when they are griping about album sales or complaining that rights holders aren't compensating artists and songwriters enough via streaming platforms. Instead, we need to be applauding these platforms for legally providing a way for the public to consume music in an organized and modern fashion. It only took our industry 15 years to accomplish this feat from the dawn of Napster to everyone freaking out to Steve Jobs calming rights holders' nerves by launching the iTunes Store to subscription services finally emerging in the form of Rhapsody, Spotify and Rdio that make sense.
Frank Woodworth | Director of Business Develop at Thrillcall: I think one of the most important things that no one is talking about right now is the reversion of copyright. When the copyright act of 1976 was instituted the lawmakers decided that anyone who gave up the rights to their work could have it revert back to them in 35 years. Due to the legislative process the first date eligible are works in 1978, which means that starting this year and every year thereafter the rights to some of the most lucrative catalog works in our musical cannon could no longer be in the catalog of the major labels and publishers.
No one is talking about this because it is incredibly complicated. There are a number of legal rules you have to know to do it properly, and for co-written songs and deceased artists a variety of additional things come into play. No one is also talking about this because the labels and publishers probably do not want to draw any more attention to it than necessary.
This issue needs to be discussed for two reasons. The first is that the potential migration of catalog needs to be discussed in the valuation of any company that relies on copyrights for revenue. Anything post 1978 needs to be discounted at the year it reverts in terms of future revenues. Additionally labels and publishers could put a likelihood of reversion equation for each copyright and build strategies to minimize migration. The second reason is that all of these legacy artists will require help managing their catalog, which opens up opportunities for companies that can demonstrate proven success in marketing catalog and collecting publishing royalties.
sidewinder.fm: What is the most interesting shift in listener habits that is emerging right now? Why is this shift interesting to you?
David Dufresne: Since the cost of access to music has gone down dramatically, I feel like people take more risks and get out of their comfort zones more. In some cases people do it on their own, but some tastemakers, critics, app makers are also helping steer them down the rabbit hole.
For example, 15 years ago, if one of my friends was into metal, then he mostly would buy metal albums, only go to metal concerts, read metal magazines, etc. He couldn't afford the money or attention efforts to seek out great jazz, for example, or hip-hop. Too risky and too expensive. Now, with music flowing freely, with social media (tons of friends saying what they like) and tons of different ways to discover music, I feel like people are discovering new genres and scenes, not just new bands.
There are major opportunities there to help create new experiences with recorded and live music to make people love more music, go to more shows and hopefully spend more money and attention on music. There are opportunities for rights holders to leverage their vast catalogues, as people discover or rediscover genres (Brazilian tropicalia, anyone? How about French hip-hop?) eras and scenes (British Invasion, Seattle 90’s grunge, etc.), and there’s opportunities for new bands to associate with those “brands”. I love the recent wave of shoegaze bands, for example, and I love that it’s making kids look into the history of Creation Records and find out about Ride, The House of Love, The Jesus and Mary Chain, etc. Is it all happening by accident or are people working on specifically creating value by nurturing those decades-spanning “scenes”?
Emily White: The biggest shift is the amount of music that's out there because now anyone can record high quality content on their own and immediately distribute it worldwide. I love it as it has completely leveled the playing field because everyone has access to these tools, even taking it a step further and marketing to some extent on their own. How exciting and liberating! In the past, artists were beholden to signing to a company who sometimes had great intentions but sometimes didn't always listen to the artist or do what was best for them. Of course, this abundance of music also means there is that much more competition in the marketplace and in daily life. May the best artists win, or rather, create long-term sustainable careers. From Medieval minstrels to now, we have all loved and needed music in addition to there being people who need to create music because they just can't not. Thus, people will be creating and enjoying art forever.
[Read Frank Woodworth’s answer, which we ran as a full post: YouTube: Go To Discovery Source, Important Revenue Stream .]
sidewinder.fm: If you were given the role of chief curator at a leading subscription music service, what you would do?
David Dufresne: I’d do three things:
1. A lot of the current music curation is, "Hey! You love indie rock, here's the hot new indie rock bands you should learn about before your friends do." It's like if Yelp recommended only sushi restaurants because I said sushi is my favorite food. I want music curation to expand my horizons and make me listen to better music, not just more music.
2. I also think curation needs to get more personal and context-aware. If I live in Montreal, local bands and bands that are coming on tour soon are probably relevant to me. If a few of my Facebook friends have a new favorite band and RSVP'd to their next concert, my curation service should know that. If I always listen to instrumental music during office hours, my “curator” service should learn that I have this preference and take that into account.
3. I would let anyone sign up to be DJs and create “stations” on my service, both in “long playlist” form, live “on-air” shows, commented (podcast-style) or not. Users would have a lot of fun, the good curator-DJs would get more followers, draw in more users, and the data mining would provide tons of value. Basically, crowd-source the curation.
Emily White: I am convinced we need to be thinking about how people listen to music from a completely different angle and perspective than we have in the past. The industry has gone from vinyl to CD to digital retail to streaming. I can't help wondering how 15-year-old me would consume music, as even though I love it, when I look on Spotify, Rdio, etc. it's just an evolution of how albums are presented to the public. I mean literally, looking at the screen on those platforms and seeing the album covers is just the 2013 version of row of vinyl hung up at a shop in the 1960's. It has just evolved.
We need to truly think differently about what role music plays in the bigger picture of society because it will always be there both in the sense of being created and being enjoyed. We need to forget just turning an album into a CD and then onto iTunes / Amazon and then onto Spotify / Rdio. I do think giant leaps and bounds have been made in fan education with regard to the importance of direct-to-fan. But for the more casual listener, particularly anyone that grew up in the pre-iTunes era, we need to think about how and why those people listen to music and how we can create the best possible experience for all. I'm not sure yet, but I don't think we can ever over emphasize fanatics, but we also need to realize they are just a small piece of the larger puzzle.
Frank Woodworth: I’m not sure if curation is the answer to the problem, but I think streaming services lack artist involvement and a strong editorial voice. So, if I were made chief curator, I would incorporate more writing by the artist, the users and the editors of the service to give context for the featured selections. I would break the service down into layers to give structure to the editorial.
Many e-commerce companies are creating content around their offerings because they know that voice drives sales. Streaming services have largely avoided doing this because they are already paying significant amounts for content. They believe that the content speaks for itself. In a way, this is true, but when their competitors have all the same content context becomes very important.
The infrastructure needed to facilitate this content is accomplished by layering the service. Layer one is artist pages. Layer two is user pages. Layer three is the genre pages. Layer four is the main page. Each of these layers work together to form a cohesive path to float quality content up through the service starting with the artist pages.
Each artist would be given control of their page, so that they can curate their catalog within the services framework. This ensures that anyone who is interested in an artist can experience their music as they think it should be heard. These pages would also allow the artist to write liner notes for every song and album. They will also have the opportunity to post about non-recorded music endeavors so that they can reach those interested in their music.
Then users would have the opportunity to build playlists on their page. Again, they will have the opportunity to give editorial context to their selections. A main priority for this division would be to partner with trusted blogs and magazines and other music companies to make the most of the capabilities offered by the service.
Genre pages would highlight both new releases and catalog music as well as the most interesting user playlists. These require a strong editorial voice and would have a writer/curator to populate the page. Albums and songs would be reviewed creating a hybrid of the magazine review system, and the preview ability afforded by streaming.
Layer four would be the main page. This would be a highlight of all the editorial selections for the most relevant music in the service regardless of genre, leading to the appropriate artist or user page.
This streaming service would end up resembling a hybrid, of the best parts of iTunes (main and genre Pages), the original Myspace (artist pages) and classic Rolling Stone (expert reviews and commentary).