Direct-to-fan tools can — when used to maximum effect — become the thinnest skin between the artist and fan. The full potential is possible and exists; but only a fraction of the artists and labels out there use it. There are no real problems of scale because each release campaign can and should be as unique and original as the music that drives it. The main challenges are simply that the platforms are being used generally to minimal effect. They’re being used solely as sales engines and not as experience engines. And so the bottlenecks are with the creators of the campaigns. Gimmicks and competitions aside, what is the artist and label really doing for the fans? Or to put it another way, what are the artists and labels giving their fans to do?
Most people in the music business see a side of the music world to which fans are never really exposed. When a manager or an A&R person gets a demo from an artist they work with, there’s a thrill, a moment of true discovery. You’re about to hear something you’ve never before heard. You’re sitting on potential gold, or you aren’t, but either way you’re in. And so my question is, why can’t the fans feel some of this too? Why can’t the fans be in at the same time as those who are making these records are? You don’t have to give everything away but my contention is that you have to give something away. Most artists are pretty well okay with giving the end result away for free or close to it whether it’s the entire album or just a single, but that’s for all. That’s the very public bit. The broadcast. It’s not special and it’s not an event.
Direct-to-fan can fulfill this massive unmet demand but the bottleneck is in the thinking that it will in some way diminish the release. In some way it will take away from what the artist or label is going to simply drop onto the fans when it’s all done. The end musical result is far easier to bond with from the true fan perspective if you are emotionally invested in it from its creation. If you have to wait like everybody else then you are simply being treated like everybody else. For some consumers that’s okay. For fans and especially true fans this simply isn’t enough. Social is partly to blame for this as people are often made aware of what they are missing and in the same moment they are also aware of how easy it is to share. So from a fans perspective they look in from the outside and see that someone is keeping them from what they want. The marketing logic that leads to this simply has to change.
Once this challenge is met everybody wins. Benji Rogers (@BenjiKRogers) founder and CEO of the crowd-funding company PledgeMusic.
I’m sure they do conflate the two groups, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. Music start-ups need one thing: numbers. Huge numbers. Without huge numbers of users and large market penetration, none of their business models will become profitable. Take, for instance, Spotify and Pandora, who are loudly complaining about their inability to make any money without more paying users (or lower royalty rates). If they really want to care about who is listening, how much they care about the songs, whether they share the songs with their friends — then they should become musicians. Because ultimately, all of these concerns are much more important to the artist than to the label. What does the label care about how they get big numbers, as long as they do?
So I think the bigger problem here is conflating the music industry with the musician industry. They are, an have always been, two completely separate industries with very different priorities, expectations and goals. The only people actually selling music are musicians. They are the only ones who need to worry about who’s listening. David Hahn is the founder and editor of the blog Musician Wages .
Music consumers live in three concentric circles. The casual listener, the fan, and the hardcore fan. They’re all the same in the way that it’s our job to guide them from the outermost circle into the innermost one, by listening to their needs and preferences, and catering to them in a way that makes sense for everyone involved. I don’t think it’s possible to mistake one for the other, especially since the financial incentives differ drastically between the circles. A fan is a fan is a fan though. They are who we, as an industry and as artists, are there for. They are at the core of our business. It’s their choice to listen to our artists, but it is our job to listen to what they will tell us.
We are getting better at listening, but it’s coming from a point so low that there’s still a long way to go. The industry was built from a place where listening to the customers was not something that was even considered. There is no difference between selling music, and selling anything else. You listen to your customers if you know what’s good for you.If music customers had actually felt heard and loved the companies they bought music from, I am certain piracy would’ve evolved differently. The music industry not only didn’t listen to their customers, it’s proactively held up their middle finger to the customer. Wesley Verhoeve is the founder of Family Records .