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Finding The Holy Grail For The New Music Business

Holy-grailGuest post by music industry veteran David Sherbow who blogs at MyMusicLife

The music business is like our Congress – full of factions who can’t work together and special interests trying to manipulate them for profit at the expense of the people they serve. I have spent forty years of my life working in virtually every aspect of the music business. I have lived and breathed the traditional music business and made a difference there...

I have been immersed for the past ten years in the digital/Internet music business. Daily, I read everything I can find on the new music business. I look at every new music business site that pops up.  Unfortunately, little if anything addresses the by far single most important issue facing the music business today: How can a new and unknown artist with great music get massive exposure, build a large mainstream audience quickly, advance into the next generation major artist category and make a lot of money?  Any person or company that solves this problem with a solid, sustainable business model will have found the holy grail of the new music business.

CopyrightOf all the artists in the world, far less than 1% have ever needed a manager or business manager, booking agent, a publishing company, a PR/social media expert, a lawyer or an accountant. Yet it seems like 95% of everything written talks about these very things that really only apply to the 1/10 of 1 % of artists that actually need to use them.  Does it really matter to the masses of middle class artists and musicians whether Taylor Swift pulls her music from Spotify? Maybe from a vicarious thrill standpoint there is. However, in reality, there are only a couple of hundred artists on the entire planet where the debate surrounding this issue might actually be helpful. I suggest that a serious discussion of how new artists can be better discovered and developed is a far better topic for debate and requires a much greater needed solution.

There seems to be a major disconnect between the old guard still running the music business and the young technologist entrepreneurs who think they can come up with a disruptive, sustainable business model for the future. It seems that if you are under 30 and have been in a band for six months or booked a show or two in college that you are an expert in the complicated ways of the music business. There have been many attempts to build websites that could make a difference but thus far all have failed or haven’t scaled enough for reasonable exits for their investors.  More often than not, they are built by people who can code but have no real understanding of the interactions required or the necessary components that make the music business really work.  Also, it is painfully obvious that Wall Street has never had a clue as to what drives real success in the music business. 

I believe the answer lies in developing a new mainstream music filter that targets the 80% of casual music listeners who are totally underserved by the Internet music business.  This new disruptive filter will be borne out of a meaningful collaboration between the existing music business factions, a better corporate sponsorship vision of the music industry, the return of key old school promotion techniques and substantial value propositions that will financially incentivize artists, trusted sources, major influencers and casual music listeners.  If you study the music industry as I do every day, you would see that slowly but surely all of these elements are coming together and will eventually evolve into the mainstream music filtration platform of the future.  The ultimate final result will be one or two places on the Internet where 80% of all new music discovery and artist development will take place.

IStock_000010267528Small.jpgThe factions with the most to gain from a successful new music filter are artists, record, management and music rights companies, trusted sources and corporate sponsors.  With the major label artist development model no longer viable because it takes way too much money to find and break a new talent, artists are desperate for an artist development funnel they can enter and end up as mainstream successes like the old days. The music industry is bleeding out financially and desperately needs to find a much better and cheaper way to find, expose and control content. If they don’t and some other person or entity develops the secret sauce, they will be doomed to be catalogue houses forever. Should artist management companies develop a successful platform to break their artists using the Internet, they will have no problem totally dismantling the major label system and leaving it in the dust.

Trusted sources need their new music opinions and critiques funneled into a system where they can truly help filter a few great choices each week or month for timely consideration by the casual listener to decide if particular new music deserves a place in their listening mainstream.  Overwhelming tyranny of choice has all but destroyed the casual listening audience’s ability to discover and champion new mainstream music. Contemporary hit, rhythmic and pop radio with half their former reach continue to be the major platforms for breaking new music almost solely fed to them by what’s left of the major label music machine.  

Sirius, Music Choice, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Deezer and Beats have never been in the mainstream new music discovery business.  YouTube is more of a freak of nature than a viable music discovery system when the occasional music video or particular artist goes viral and breaks into the mainstream.  Some labels woefully appear to pin their hopes on Twitter analytics providing them with real time trending artist data from which they can discover the next “big” thing.   The human element seems to be disappearing more and more from the A&R process every day.  Analytics can be a useful guide but will never be able to replace a “human ear” assessment of new music or find great new songs that have no real traction on the Internet.

Only a few companies like Red Bull, Toyota and Mountain Dew have made corporate dollars available for artist development and unfortunately have met with little major success. The idea of providing the unknown artist with a national platform brands these companies as “cool” in the eyes of artists and their die hard remaining 20% of music listeners.  When Internet based viable music discovery concepts come calling for support, enlightened corporations should immediately pony up sponsorship dollars. 

Major, record, artist management and rights holding companies all of whom are staring “the innovators dilemma” squarely in the face need to aggressively start funding disruptive music business platforms.  They waste millions every year on music with little profit potential. They should take some of these millions and fund any project that if successful will destroy their future lest they suffer the same fate as companies like Kodak, Xerox, Skytel and Blackberry. They should embrace the brave new music business world and finance it instead of looking for ways to minimize it at every turn. 

Imagine if all of these major music industry factions could be combined into one orderly platform serving their best interests as well as those of unknown artists trying to break through and the mass of casual music listeners needing fewer quality music selections to choose from.  If this were to happen the music world as we know it and the music business in it would be forever changed and finding the holy grail for the music business would no longer be necessary.