Our Virtual Panel Looks Back on 2014 | Dmitri Vietze
Dmitri Vietze of Music and Technology PR Firm Rock Paper Scissors is up next on Hypebot.com's virtual panel. He shares his thoughts on the Taylor Swift rift with Spotify and the importance of YouTube Music Key and the expansion of Beats Music ecosystem below. He also speaks to the changes brought on by 2014 and what it means for his business: "The largest shift right now is that we are in a transitional moment, which means there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for musicians, labels, managers, agents, tech start ups, or fans. Our interconnectedness and ubiquitous access to information (including music) means that everything can be approached from a lot of different angles." For more from Vietze, continue reading.
1) Do you see the current debate questioning the effect of ubiquitous free music online leading to real change, or is the Taylor Swift rift just a short term distraction?
It's leading to real change in the sense that each artist, label, manager, etc. is thinking about it hard and making a decision based on their thought process. But they are not all making the same decisions. Some artists have enough of an existing fan base that they do not need to make their music available for free. That same pool of artists may choose to "give away" or discount a certain amount of their music anyway because they want to and/or because they know they will make plenty of money in other ways. Other artists are still in the "unknown" category, and getting Spotify or Pandora airplay is better than getting no radio airplay. This points to what I think is the biggest theme in the post-Napster digital music era: there is no single solution for each artist; there is no single solution for each fan. I believe music that feels free is not going to go away. Any business or monetization models of recorded music will need top consider the experience that most people click through to free music most of the time. Unless there are major legal changes around music sharing online, that experience will not change. I suspect that the post-free era will lead to a practice where musicians make SOME songs available on various digital services (interactive or non-interactive), but not the others. Using some songs as a method for netting new fans and staying in the conversations and consciousness of active music listeners on those platforms, but attempting to move fans up the chain for paying for downloads, branded subscriptions, or physical product of some sort; or even concert tickets or other real life experiences. Or that certain streaming services will take hold and be able to offer exclusive content by licensing albums exclusively, the way Netflix offers exclusive content, driving additional subscriptions.
2) How important is the entry of YouTube Music Key and the expansion of Beats Music within the Apple ecosystem? Will they lead to a much larger streaming audience by the end of 2015, or just fragment a steadily expanding user base?
Generally speaking, I find it impossible to predict whether new entries in a still-developing market will have any traction at all. I think about iTunes Ping and Twitter Music. And I think about staying power; remember MySpace, Last.FM, and Turntable.FM. However, if either Music Key or Beats do get traction, I think they will grow the streaming audience more than they will fragment the user base. Each service has its fans and its existing user bases. People who subscribe to Spotify are not necessarily the people who have been holding out with a gritty YouTube for free music. Not only are they early adopters compared to most YouTube music consumers, they wanted a very streamlined service. YouTube music users consume music differently and if YouTube does it right, they will create onramps to Music Key that Spotify cannot leverage. If you already feel that you can get everything you need on YouTube, and you already have subscriptions or playlists that you want to keep and not re-establish on another service, you might want to pay a few bucks per month to remove the ads and get more functionality. A larger factor in growing the streaming audience is that the people who grew up with free music everywhere will continue getting jobs and start to have more money than time on their hands. Less time to sit through ads or to make playlists and more money to have someone remove those barriers from their experience.
3) What big shift or story took place in 2014 that will have a major effect on your business/sector in 2015? How will you feel and field the effects?
I think the big stories are typically not as big as they are reported to be. Most of the big stories are more like plate tectonics where tension has been building for years and the explosion is a result of that pressure over time, not from a single occurrence or innovation. The largest shift right now is that we are in a transitional moment, which means there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for musicians, labels, managers, agents, tech start ups, or fans. Our interconnectedness and ubiquitous access to information (including music) means that everything can be approached from a lot of different angles. It means there are more bases to cover and you have to test out a variety of approaches to see which ones work for your situation. If you get lucky, you will find out how to gain momentum on your early attempts. If you are unlucky, you will probably give up before you hit upon something that works. That does not make it impossible, it just means you become collateral damage as the market sorts itself out.
As a publicist for musicians, festivals, and music tech companies, the biggest shift has been that there are more people competing for media attention and there are fewer large media outlets with major sway on the public. There are more smaller outlets with more niche influence. On the one hand, this means you can target your efforts more precisely. But on the other hand, it's much more labor intensive to target and reach the public you want to reach.
More broadly, the idea of niche is growing, just as it did in the cereal and toothpaste aisles years ago. Every product or service type is getting more and more specialized, which means people want their specific tastes matched, so most creators will inherently have smaller consumer bases. They either have to operate with a smaller base and charge more per unit (the Etsy model) or figure out a way to serve large quantities of niches with a variety offerings (the Walmart model). Or use systems and technology to gain enough efficiencies that the price is so good that people choose price over niche preferences.
When people talk in broad brush strokes about the shifts in the music business or the potential of streaming, they are missing that the variety of musician situations is broader than ever. Let's see what 2015 has to say about that!
– Dmitri Vietze, music tech publicist, www.rockpaperscissors.biz,