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David Emery Online

Articles by David Emery, mostly about marketing and music.


Three Lessons

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 16:48:51 +0000

I have, like most vaguely sane people, a love/hate relationship with the idea of giving a talk. The “love” bit typically consists of everything after I come off stage without completely screwing it up. The “hate” makes up the rest of proceedings. There’s a certain mist that descends about five minutes before hand that fogs the mind, dismantles your thought processes and dismembers your vocabulary. Preparation – extensive, or nonexistent – seems to bear no relation to this process. It is as if your brain is trying to distance itself from your mouth and body, lest they do anything too embarrassing. For me, this mist reaches its peak “can’t even see the front of the car, we’re going to have to pull over” intensity exactly 10 seconds after I’ve started speaking. It’s at that point where, having managed to actually say something, I start thinking about the fact that I’ve actually managed to say something and then completely forget what I was going to say next. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I gave a talk. The brief was good – 10 minutes on “What I Learned From…” a specific campaign I’d worked on recently, so I – foolishly, see above – said yes. I picked the Pre-Save tool we rolled out last year, not because it was particularly groundbreaking but because some of the thought processes behind it were hopefully slightly illuminating. For the same reason, I thought I’d adapt it slightly and write it up fully here. *** We launched the first Pre-Save for Laura Marling back in November 2016. If you don’t know what a Pre-Save is, it’s a way of bringing the concept of pre ordering a record to streaming services. You simply click a button on a website, login with your Spotify details and then when a record comes out it gets added to your Library and playlists. While we launched at the tail end of the year, the idea was actually formed back in the summer. It was a classic “solving your own problem” idea. One day I was browsing around and discovered that a record I was looking forward to hearing had already come out two weeks prior. It’s release had completely passed me by, even though I was actively looking out for it. This is, of course, a good reminder of how most music fans – even ones that care, as I still often do – aren’t nearly as engaged as most people in the industry think and hope they are. So this release – the Kingdom EP by Gold Panda, as it happens, which is really quite good – hadn’t really got much coverage on streaming services when it came out. Although I’d listened to one of the tracks when it was released a few weeks before, at that point there was no way of turning that interest pre-release into anything concrete other then pre-ordering a bit of vinyl. Which – like, anecdotally, an ever larger amount of music fans – I almost never do unless I’ve listened to the music first. At roughly the same time, I was having a deep dive read of the Spotify API to get a sense of what it’s capabilities are, because I’m a super fun guy who you should totally invite to parties. Turns out you can do quite a lot. Then, I went for a walk. You would be surprised how much a bit of fresh air can do. On this walk – I was working from home that day, so to complete the picture I was pushing a stroller with my snoozing son in – these two things coalesced together, and I realised that by using the Spotify API in a certain way you could easily mimic the way an album pre-order campaign works. It was a simple idea, and the tools to do it had been there in the API for several years, but it just needed some jigsaw pieces being slotted together. Lesson #1: Give yourself the space to have ideas I strongly believe that it’s almost impossible to have a good idea sitting at your desk doing email, but yet that’s what we all spend most of our time doing. Ideas need room to breath and time to come into focus, and it’s pretty tough to do that in an office environment. Brainstorm meetings and t[...]

Fake Hits

Sun, 02 Jul 2017 20:23:37 +0000

I remember having a conversation with a manager a few years back. It wasn’t an easy meeting. Throughout he was leaning forward in his seat, rocking slightly back and forth, his dissatisfaction with the situation physically manifesting with every sentence. We’d already talked about the problem at length, tried several different ways to try and change it, but still it remained and here we were. By this point he was not the only person in the room on edge. “So explain this again,” his voice was raised, but not yet shouting “how we can be getting so many plays on SoundCloud, but we can only sell a handful of records?” It was a fair question. *** One of the internet’s core strengths is its ability to create communities on a scale that were never possible before. People from around the world can loosely group together around a topic remarkably easily. What used to be a niche interest can suddenly be shared with millions of other people. This has obviously had something of an impact on the music industry. You could make a strong argument that Napster was the first music social network. Disparate music fans around the world connected together and shared what they loved. And what that was didn’t necessarily have any relation to what was traditionally deemed as popular. You could have millions upon millions of downloads of tracks and albums that hadn’t previously sold a fraction of that. Of course, you can’t compare free consumption to sales in that way, but we’ll get to that later. The rise of MySpace is the next stop on this brief history lesson. It legitimised a lot of this behaviour, with the currency being fans rather then downloads, but the underlying concept being the same – global audiences of music fans coming together and engaging with an artist, forming a community, and accelerating the growth of that collective like a virus. Each artist suddenly is their own niche, with their own little corner of the internet full of their own fans. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of them. Unlike what has gone before though, this global-hyper-engagement – these huge numbers – are a fundamentally different type of interaction then anything that existed before. Before, we had sales or nothing. Either you bought a record, a gig ticket, a t-shirt, or not. If you were an artist, there was no other way of someone communicating with you that they were a fan of your music, short of accosting you on the street and saying “I love your music, man! Didn’t buy your record, though.” Which, lets face it, is a shitty thing to do. Mass level passive engagement on MySpace confused the hell out of a lot of people used to the way things once worked. “We’ve got millions of fans, we’ve made it!” They’d say, without being able to get a fraction of them to do anything other then comment on a blog post. Fast forward to our SoundCloud problem at the start and you see this problem magnified and evolved. Not only does the ambient interaction of thousands of drive-by fans still continue, as it’s a dedicated music platform it does that whilst replacing previous ways that people used to listen to music. And not only that, it does that whilst creating a community of like-minded music fans that love certain types of music – mostly electronic and dance – meaning that the discovery and consumption happen in the same place, and that there’s no next step in the fans’ musical path. You could have a hit on SoundCloud, have millions of plays, expose yourself to an audience bigger than any radio station or TV show, and it have precisely zero impact on the rest of your career and business. And, in the heyday of SoundCloud, you’d earn absolutely nothing from it. Now this pattern of behaviour is going mainstream. The burgeoning streaming services all are cultivating this kind of blended mix of engaged and passive audience. It would be unfair at this point, I think, to call them niches because they’ve grown past that. We talk abou[...]


Sun, 07 May 2017 20:32:39 +0000

When I started my career in music I worked in what was then known as the New Media department. “This new internet malarkey” we collectively thought “is probably something we should pay attention to. Let’s separate out the people that seem to understand what it is hope they don’t cause too much fuss.” This was a while ago now. The iTunes Store was but a year old in the UK. YouTube didn’t exist yet. If you wanted to watch a music video your best bet was to wait for it to come on MTV. Your other option was to watch a postage-stamp-sized, sub-VHS quality Windows Media or Real Player streaming link. All of the talk then – at least in the New Media Department – was of the digital transition. At this point this referred to the transition to legal digital downloads from CDs and Napster. It was a format shift. Vinyl to cassettes to CDs to downloads. The concept was the same as it ever had been – buying music. And the overriding thought was that if the industry can make digital download sales work, and litigate like crazy, then the Napster problem would go away. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that all of this – which felt like a revolution at the time – was merely a blip. A stepping-stone. When we look back at the evolution of music industry at the start of this century, downloading, iTunes, iPods, Napster and everything else were just stops along the road, not the destination. As a marker of how far we’ve come remember how huge Napster was? How it “singlehandedly” ruined the music industry? If they’ve grown at the same speed they were growing last year, Apple Music now has more paying subscribers than Napster had free users at its peak. Spotify has double. We haven’t got to the destination yet, but I think we can see it coming. And it’s obviously not just another format change. If you talk to people at labels, they are – for the first time in some time – optimistic. Revenue is growing again. The clouds are clearing. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone. There’s a great article on The Quietus that covers a lot of the alternative viewpoints. And it’s true: the grand, elongated digital transition will not work out for everyone. The playing field now is completely different. What previously worked, may not work now, and visa-versa. Big companies can weather this storm and have enough resource to figure out what approach works. Small companies may not. Or, worse, may not really make sense any more. The music industry has been label-based for a very long time, but part of this transition is a move away from that. As ever, nothing is absolute – labels are still important and will remain to be so – but the shift in control towards artists and their teams is clear. In fact, there has never been a better time to be an independent artist. If you look towards the end of the article linked to a couple of paragraphs above, you’ll see it talks about how to do well on streaming services you need to be signed to a label of some size to be able to get into the playlists that matter, but – fortunately – it’s much more open then that. There’s a lot more to streaming services then getting on New Music Friday. But even if that wasn’t true, it still doesn’t mean independent artists can’t get on those playlists – for example, if you look at New Music Friday UK this week almost 20% of the tracks on it are from artists that – from the copyright lines at least – own their masters (and that’s not including ones that have licensed them to label). New Music Friday, and its equivalents on other services, are the closest thing to “how things used to work” on streaming services. They’re easy to focus on, they’re easily digestible, and they mirror how existing media like radio or press have always editorially chosen and championed music[...]

Music Stories

Sun, 05 Mar 2017 11:51:27 +0000

Last week a new band came in to play us their freshly delivered debut album. There is protocol in these situations. Everyone must sit in rapturous contemplation and laser focused attention. Heads must bob. Feet must tap. After every track you must make some gesture that indicates that, yes, that track was good; a smile, a nod, maybe even a quick, muttered “Great”. Mid way through the second track, one of them gets up, stretches over to the stereo and turns the volume up. “So, what did you think?” The one universal constant shared by all the artists I have come across is the wash of nervousness that descends upon them in the split second of silence that follows that question. Fortunately the room agrees that it is a great piece of work, and even more fortunately they’re not just saying it to avoid an awkward situation (and potential job loss). In the conversation that follows the band go into the ideas behind the record, the context, and also how much time they spent getting the track listing just so. You can hear it, as well; listening from start to finish the album ebbs and flows, building up tension and weight, only to release it. Light follows shade, loud balances perfectly against quiet. The question is, though: in 2017, just how many people are going to listen to it like that? *** This week online publishing platform Medium launched a new product called Series. Medium traditionally hosts content that looks a bit like a blog post or a news article – in fact, you might be reading this on Medium right now – and their new Series format looks to take this in a more mobile friendly direction. Designed for your phone, it takes the form of a series of full screen, portrait slides that you tap through to quickly read the content, on the go. In other words, they’re Snapchat Stories, but for articles. Snapchat Stories are fascinating, because they are the first truly mobile native content medium that has emerged. It is no surprise that the format has been rapidly copied by Instagram (who are probably going to be the ones to truly popularise it) and others, and that they’re starting to influence other formats like Medium Series. There are, of course, other platforms that have only become popular because of their use on mobile devices. Twitter and Facebook are prime examples. But both of them were conceived before the rise of the smart phone – Twitter was launched a year before the iPhone, for example, and hasn’t fundamentally changed all that much since then. We’re even still limited to the character count that was born from its SMS-based beginnings. You can look at something like Instagram and think that it’s truly mobile native because it only exists due to the presence of smart phones with built in cameras – and that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that conceptually it is designed in a way that is optimal for use on a phone. Like Twitter and Facebook, it has its roots in the first wave of social web apps that focused on connecting people together and typically represented their content as a vertical stream of posts. Instagram is a mobile version of Flickr, with a built in camera, rather then something truly new. Stories – I’m going to drop the “Snapchat’ now – are something new. They are designed to fit into the 30 second snippets of time you so often get scattered about your day. You can look at them with no interaction at all, or you can skip through the boring bits. They are ephemeral, disappearing after 24hrs, which leads them to being a lot more playful, a lot more risk free. You don’t have to put the perfect shot into a story, like you would an Instagram or Facebook photo, because it’ll be gone soon enough. No harm no foul. It is a medium designed for how we use our phones, and the social constructs that have developed from that, rather then a medium that has been translated and ada[...]

How to Survive 2017

Sun, 08 Jan 2017 20:46:54 +0000

Let’s take stock, shall we? By all accounts, the world has gone crazy. Not as bad as when it’s been really bad, but, you know, bad. Facts are dead. It is entirely possible that some people genuinely think up is actually down, and to say anything different is unpatriotic. In an effort to prove that politics is just as cyclical as fashion, by different turns we seem to be simultaneously reviving the Nazis and the Cold War. We are metaphorically wearing a Hugo Boss suit with leg warmers, and look just as stupid. Let’s put all that to one side though. It is, I think we can all agree, too much. But what I want to write about is how to best handle the year ahead, and to ignore the looming doom of the modern political landscape would be remiss. The elephant is there; let’s all look at it, puzzle for a second at quite what it’s done with its hair, and move on. After all, we have records to sell. Of course, I don’t just mean records. And of course – of course! – I don’t mean sell. Such simplicities are the luxury of a different time. I have written at length before about how the changing nature of the music industry is turning most things on their head, so I’m not going to rehash that again – although it’s probably timely to note Ray BLK winning the BBC Sound of 2017 poll, given she isn’t signed to a traditional label and is currently working through exactly the story I wrote about in my last piece. What all that means, though, is that things are tough. The industry is in flux – not in a bad way, hell it’s even growing – but that means that the people in the industry are in flux. The structure of companies is in questions. Some jobs need creating, other jobs need downsizing, streamlining, restructured or however else you’d like to refer to being made redundant. There is a general air of positivity in the air, I think, but with that comes a note of insecurity. That is nothing new, though, for we all, deep down, know two sacred facts about the record business: 1. We’re not doing this for the money, and our bosses know that too (because they didn’t get into music to make money either) & 2. There’s a queue of people lining up that would love to do our jobs (they’d be good at it, too, and they’re actually really, really nice). So we’re all going to lose our jobs to someone else cheaper and better and hungrier, or get restructured into oblivion, which is cool I guess. Happy New Year. That first “sacred fact” – that we’re not doing it for the money – is important, as well, because it means we’re doing it for the passion, which as it turns out it really fucking dangerous. I’m not exaggerating for comic effect, here; the combination of deep set industry-wide job insecurity along with an utter passion for the subject matter that we’re working on is dangerous. As in, dangerous for your health sort of dangerous. As in, I know of more people then I care to think about that have “burnt out” and had to take medically enforced time off, and worse. The music industry can fuck you up. I’ve written about this before, as well, and I’m writing about it again because it’s still more important then anything else I could write about. It’s all well and good to talk about it – and we need to talk about it, and keep talking about it – but I thought this time maybe breaking it down into some small things that might make working in the music industry slightly less likely to cause more stress than it really needs to. 1. When you’re off, you’re off One of the key issues if you’re talking about improving working practises in music is the utter lack of definition between your work life and your home life. Going to gigs, listening to music, grabbing a bite to eat before a gig R[...]


Wed, 23 Nov 2016 20:39:24 +0000

I was talking recently with someone I know who works at a music media company. I say “media company” both to be purposefully vague but also because I struggle to think of a better term that encompasses the merging worlds of distribution, retail and promotion. Day in, day out, they get pitched music. They told me that the latest thing that record labels are talking about is “storytelling”. This makes a lot of sense, because labels have always been natural storytellers. The original story was that if you wanted to get your music into shops, into the hands of the public, you had to sign a record deal. It was a good story, a true story, and I think we can all agree that the labels did pretty well out of telling that tale. Fast forward several decades, and the story started to change a little. The details adapted – like a shocking, unbelievable-because-it’s-made-up story you see flash past on Facebook every 3 years – but the underlying message is the same. Rather than “we’re the only ones that can get you in to stores”, as distribution got easier the story became “we’re the only way you can have a hit”. When you get wined and dined, paraded through fancy offices and “artist lounges” with platinum discs sagging off the walls and have A&Rs flying in to see your show deep in some middle America Trumpland backwater, this story, it turns out, is still pretty convincing. But its power is fading, and the labels know it. That’s why they have a new narrative, which is that they, with their years of experience making and breaking artists, are the best storytellers. If you want to make it – and you want to make it, right? – you’ve got to have a good story. And they’re the ones to tell it. It’s an interesting, necessary, and above all smart pivot. The industry, as I may have mentioned once or twice previously, is going through a radical change with the transition to streaming. This is no mere format shift, but a complete change in the way fans engage with music, and a complete change with how artists release it. The days of focusing on a week 1 sales spike, throwing half your budget into outdoor and TV advertising in the hope that you chart well, are not gone, but are getting less and less important. What’s becoming important is time. Your campaign now lasts for as long as people might want to listen to the music, which is a damn sight longer then how long they might keep considering to buy it. Not only that, but directly advertising to push people towards a stream doesn’t make any economic sense in the way that pushing a CD or download did. To keep people interested over time, then, you need to tell a story. A story with multiple beats, multiple moments that get people’s attention, over and over again. You need to elevate above the noise. Often the story once was “here’s an album, it’s good” but now it needs to be a bit more creative then that, and much, much longer. Your story needs to be a novel, not a press release. So the labels have it figured out then? They’ve smartly reconfigured themselves to be best placed to navigate the modern music landscape? Well, yes and no. On the one hand they are doing the right thing, and in no way do I want to come across as label-bashing because that would, quite frankly, be a very short sighted way at looking at the landscape. They’re talking the talk in terms of how you need to reapproach artist development, and it would be a fool that didn’t take them seriously. While they may be bastions of the old guard, that doesn’t mean they’re not smart. The bit that causes the problem is the inherent presumption – and the story that goes with it – that they are the only ones that can do this. Let me tell you a story of an artist that [...]

High Wire

Sun, 04 Sep 2016 21:12:35 +0000

Releasing music is getting complicated, isn’t it? Once, you’d simply use huge factories dotted around the world to etch your record onto a small plastic disc, then use fleets of planes, trains and automobiles to get them into thousands of stores dotted around high streets hither and thither. Now you just release it digitally with one retailer and go to number one in multiple markets with no traditional promotion. And it’s all just so complicated. Now obviously, obviously, the Frank Ocean’s of this world aren’t and can’t be a blueprint for everyone else, for exactly the same reason that Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want scheme wasn’t something that any old band could make work (homework assignment: 1500 words on how In Rainbows was the first significant windowed exclusive release). And I’m not saying the release of Blonde was perfect. But I think the current crop of exclusive and windowed releases are a manifestation of some significant industry shifts. The iTunes Store launched just over 13 years ago, and it’s taken that long for digital music to actually change how people release albums (it did the job with singles a fair while back, mind). It seems crazy to say, but while in certain markets (most certainly not all) the market share percentages have been swinging in digital’s favour for some time, it’s taken until now for a significant – although still small – number of artists to release their records in a way that is obviously geared around the digital release, at the expensive of the more traditional way you would release a CD or LP. This doesn’t mean that physical is “dead” or any other such rubbish, as it’s still a significant part of the pie – which isn’t shrinking as fast as some thought it might – but it does mean that it’s not in the driving seat any more. A couple of years ago the idea of a new Kanye record without a CD release would sound crazy, but he did it this year. Would he still sell a load of CDs if it was available? Yes, of course. Did it need to come out at exactly the same time as the digital release? No, it didn’t. Which I guess, ultimately, leads us to the death of the release date. Everyone loves something “dying”, it makes for a great headline. But let’s hop back to the start of this article, with all those trucks driving around all those CDs to all those record stores. All of that infrastructure requires coordination. You don’t want one store selling a record before another store has got it yet; that would piss the other store right off. And you want to sell as many as you can as quickly as you can so that the stores reorder (because don’t forget, the fan isn’t your customer, the stores are), and to do that you spend lots of money to make sure people go out to buy the CD on release day. Today, all of this is still true, but it’s getting less and less relevant by the minute. We’ve all been working in this structure for too long to snap out of it easily, but the cracks are certainly there. If you are digital first in your release strategy, then the whole game flips on its head. Your goal is monetising listening, rather than selling units, which means you want to get the music on streaming services at the same time you’re calling attention to it. The build-up doesn’t work – there’s no such thing as a streaming pre-order. Of course, releasing early screws with all the logistics and build-up we talked about before, so maybe your CD and LP come later. Which is fine for the consumer – see every other medium (films, books, tv) which has staggered format release dates – but is going to take a minute for the industry to get used to. The music industry is very insecure. I’ve written about it before, and[...]


Mon, 04 Jul 2016 22:33:17 +0000

I have two main ways of getting to work. One way – my normal way – involves a slightly soulless walk, slightly mediocre coffee, and a slightly less crowded tube train at the end of it. The other way features rammed carriages but significantly better flat whites. I was in the later establishment just over a week ago. It was a Friday. One of the more characterful features of the place is that it typically plays loud, high BPM music more frequently found in places like, I don’t know, Fabric I guess? I don’t really go to clubs any more, but this is the sort of music I assume they still play. In short, it is not the sort of accompaniment you expect with your morning coffee. Once I was in there and they were playing – at their traditional ear splitting volume – The Teaches of Peaches (by Peaches). Watching the ripple of confusion spread through the queue as people figured out that yes, they had heard that lyric correctly, was quite a beautiful sight to behold. Back to that Friday. There was no music playing, and a glum look across the faces of all the staff. You can probably guess which Friday it was. It was an extraordinary day for so many reasons that plenty of people – who know far more then I do when it comes to politics – have written about at length already. One further little extraordinary thing happened in this coffee shop deep in the heart of the city of London, though – some random strangers started talking to each other: “I’m just so shocked” said the woman at the head of the queue to the barista. “Me too” butted in the woman behind her, in a flagrant disregard to London’s extremely clear (but unwritten) rules about interacting with others. “Everyone I knew voted to stay, I was so sure it would be OK” she continued. “Oh me too” says woman #1 – let’s call her Debbie (she didn’t look like a “Debbie”) – “I even rang up my friend in Yorkshire and he said that he was voting to remain too, so it’s not just us in London”. The guy at the till didn’t get a word in edgeways, and remained looking glum throughout. Other than the lack of protocol, judging by my social circle Debbie and her new pal are pretty representative. To my knowledge, I don’t know anyone that voted to leave, and I imagine that – bar a few school friends that you’ve still got on your Facebook that you desperately try to ignore whenever they post something vaguely political – you don’t really either. One of the most defining things for me about the aftermath of the referendum was the deafening wave of surprise radiating across my social media. It was clear that many people had not even given it much thought that it might go a different way than they were expecting. Why is that, though? I’d like to think that most of the people I interact with online are pretty smart, clued up people, so why did they all get it so wrong? To answer that, you’ve got to look at how people consume news and get information. For an ever increasing amount of people, the way they get news has completely changed in the last 10 years. This is hardly news – hey, guess what, everyone uses social media now! – but, it’s had a slow but significant effect on how people view the world. Your friends have always been an echo chamber. They inevitably share a whole bunch of things in common with you, and probably have roughly the same world view, give or take. With social media, this group is now much wider. You get to see the thoughts and opinions of far more people then you ever would talk to on a regular basis. And this group is also your entry point to traditional media. I found out about the leave vote on Twitter, and I found out about Boris Jo[...]

You Used To Call Me On My Cellphone

Mon, 02 May 2016 18:38:53 +0000

My first MP3 player was this terrible, brick-like contraption made by Nokia. I couldn’t afford a regular player, so to take part in the nascent digital music revolution I was forced to get something on a phone contract that also happened to play MP3s. I paid a big price, not just in terms of the student-loan depleting monthly payments, as the phone I got was designed at the peak of Nokia’s “creative” phase, where they rigorously tested all the different possible permutations of what a phone should look like. For better and, far more frequently, for worse. I can picture the design meeting. It is somewhere deep in the frozen north of Finland. A gaggle of designers, sipping strong, black coffee to keep them alert from the never ending snowy darkness outside, assemble in a pristine conference room. “I have got it!” one of them says – he is excited, although you could never tell from the monotone of his voice. “The kids that we want to buy the new MP3 player phone,” he continues “they like to send the text messages.” “So, how about we give this phone a full keyboard, so they can send them even quicker?” “But,” another of the designers interjects, putting down his cinnamon bun “…where will we put it, won’t that make the phone too wide?” “I have thought long and hard about this” says the other “and I have come to the realisation that the optimum placement for the screen is in between two halves of the keyboard. Then they can send the text messages with two hands at once for optimum speed, whilst simultaneously listening to music!” An awed hush filled the room. And lo, the Nokia 5510 was born: As it turns out, it really was quite good at texting – side note, don’t forget before the crazy messenger app boom we’re in right now their was the txting boom, which was exactly the same thing only without silicon valley being involved. What it wasn’t good at was playing MP3s. For a start, it didn’t actually play mp3s, it played DRM encrusted AAC files which it would convert as you loaded them onto the device using some terrible piece of proprietary software. And of course, that software didn’t run on a Mac, so if you had one of those (like I did) you had to run it through an emulator, which meant that it would take at least an hour to transfer an album’s worth of songs. Fortunately, you weren’t stuck waiting for any longer then that, because as it only had 64mb of memory you could only fit one album on it anyway. For a good six months I couldn’t be bothered to go through the hassle of syncing the thing again to change the meagre selection of tracks I had on it, which means that even to this day if I hear a track from The Hives debut record I get a flashback like a Vietnam veteran, only with more Snake and less napalm. I was thinking back to this the other day when someone was telling me about how they tried to listen to the new Kanye record. This was whilst it was still exclusive to Tidal, but they didn’t know that. They looked on the normal places they get music from, starting at iTunes, then moving to Amazon, until after coming up empty handed they just googled for it and finally ended up on Tidal. They then downloaded the Tidal mobile app, spend a good 30mins trying to figure out how to download the album to their phone, until finally – finally – they listened to the album. It’s not Nokia 5510 bad, but it’s not far off it. But here’s the rub for us as an industry: this person is now a – maybe slightly unwilling – Tidal subscriber. You can make an extremely compelling case that album exclusives are bad for us as an industry. Just as we’re finally star[...]

I Want My MTV

Sun, 31 Jan 2016 22:17:15 +0000

You’ve watched Making A Murderer, haven’t you? And of course when I say watched I really mean binged, episode after episode flickering past in a haze of instant entertainment addiction. If you haven’t watched that show, you will almost certainly be familiar with the experience. Making A Murderer – and its widespread reception – indicates we have hit a tipping point where streaming, subscription-based video is truly mainstream. Not that it hasn’t been popular previously – the likes of House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black all attest to that – but it is now accepted – the fact that a series like this appeared, Beyoncé-esq, on Netflix with little or no fanfare and his hit mass acclaim is not news. It’s normal. And that’s interesting. Not only was the distribution channel through a per-month-based app, but they made – or at least financed – it as well. That’s pretty interesting as well. In fact, it’s all far too interesting for the music industry just to sit and watch happen without thinking “maybe we should do that”, as it is wont to do whenever a similar industry is doing well. I mean, if you squint enough TV is pretty similar to music, right? Netunes then. I scarcely believe that there isn’t a startup called that already, such is the ideas vacuum around music tech company names. This should be pretty easy, just a bit of find and replace on the business plan switching out video for music and we should be good to take over the world. First off, obviously it needs to be subscription only – none of this free tier “rubbish” – and only a month free trial as that seems to work great for Netflix. And it should be £5.99/month – good luck with those rights holder negotiations by the way. Next, as we’ve got rid of a free tier that acts as a funnel into a subscription, we’ve got to come up with some other ways of making people sign up, which means – you guessed it – exclusive content. So let’s continue playing by the Netflix rulebook and invest in generating our own material. Hire some hot shot A&Rs, employ a farm of writers, and generally make like an episode of Empire. We’re bound to have some hits. Aren’t we? This concept has been banded around the industry a lot of late, but this is where the elements of TV that are different from music make a difference, and in fact what separates music from a lot of other forms of entertainment that it typically gets lumped in with. Music connects you, as a listener, with an artist. TV, and film, and theatre for that matter, can do that but it is not a fundamental part of the medium. Rather, they connect you with a story. For example, let’s return to Making A Murderer. I have no idea who made it, even despite being engrossed in it for almost 10 hours of my life, and I’m sure most of the people that have watched it don’t have a clue either. And that doesn’t matter – it’s not relevant, because it’s the story you connect to, and the characters within it, rather then the artist or artists behind it. You understand that it’s a product that has been created to entertain, whereas music is art that has been turned into a product. Now I’m not naive enough to think that all music is born of a pure artistic expression. It’s called a business for a reason. But the cultural foundation that music is built upon is based on a fundamental belief in an artist, whether we know it to be flimsy or not. Yes, every Beyoncé track has a multitude of writers, but they’re still Beyoncé tracks. We ignore the little lies and have faith in an artist. But if they become big lies, that all crumbl[...]