A month ago or so, I received one of the most exciting tweets I had ever received.
“midem’s conference manager has something to propose?” I thought, “could it be…” I stopped my train of thoughts. No speculation; just wait for the call.
A few days later, it was confirmed. A journey that started two years ago had brought me to perhaps the most prestigious stage for music biz thinkers and doers: midem!
About two years ago, I set out to write a thesis about ‘cool new ways to market music’ – a project that actually turned into something much grander. I didn’t want to give recommendations that would only work for the short-term, I wanted something that recognised the full reality of the digital age and builds from there.
What came out was a guide to understanding the music industry’s disruption and how brands, artists and fans form an ecosystem that you can market to through non-linear communication.
I’ll be going through the concepts put forth in my thesis in future posts on this blog. For my first post, I’ve been asked why this thesis and what type of reactions I’ve had to it. And that’s actually somewhat of an untold story I’m eager to share.
When I left secondary school 7 or 8 years ago, I wanted to study music management. After some more reflecting, I realised that I love music and that studying all the legal stuff would ruin that love. Besides, I didn’t want to become one of those businessmen that rips off artists – a hot topic for the bands and artists I listened to in those days.
So I decided to focus on another passion: communication – and enrolled in International Communication Management, a study too broad to deserve to be defined.
A few years later, through the most spontaneous decision I’ve made in my life (ask me about it at midem!), I ended up going to eastern Europe to do an internship at the Bulgarian National Radio. Throughout my studies I became very interested in crosscultural communication, so when I was on a half-year study exchange in Istanbul two years ago, I set out to find an international company in Bulgaria to make that my research topic (Bulgaria also being my girlfriend’s place of residence).
Just days before Christmas, the company I had been speaking to changed their mind. I needed to deliver my research proposal to my university in just a few weeks time and I was left empty-handed. “Merde!” as they say in Cannes. So I reached out to the only company-owner I knew in Bulgaria. Someone I had met through my work at the radio; Miro Gechev, a successful producer and owner of the 2AM label.
In previous years, my university had always let students graduate through an internship, but now we had to do a thesis. This bothered me, because I was done with the theoretical, I’m a fast learner. I wanted to get hands-on and ‘change the world’. Then it hit me: if they’re going to make me do this thesis, fine, but then I’m doing it for me and not for them. I’m going to use these months to jump into this field head first and develop expertise and authority in it. I didn’t know how, but I was going to do it.
What was supposed to be 5 months of research and writing, turned into a year. The famous Douglas Adams quote comes to mind:
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
That was okay though. After all, I was doing this for my own future; not for the approval of my university. I became fascinated with everything I previously disliked and my research topic became almost the only thing I would talk about, even to friends and family.
In my thesis, I used many case-studies of artists and labels that often come down to the same core lesson: in the digital age, having a good story and communicating that story turns into opportunity; attention. That attention can be turned into income. Attention is income. Attention = money! (don’t you forget.)
The biggest case-study of all, is the thesis itself. I’m sure that through locking it up, using a paywall or whatever, I could have made a few bucks. But I didn’t care about that. My thesis, my ideas, they’re not the product. Take them, copy them, claim them as your own, I don’t care. My message has to be heard by as many people as possible; I don’t care how.
I am the product. Information is valuable, but it’s easily made abundant. When it becomes abundant, its role shifts: maybe it loses value in terms of money, but it gains value in terms of attention. So you need a two-fold strategy: share the abundant, sell the exclusive.
To ‘share the abundant’ you have to surround yourself with great people that will help you amplify your message. I’m really grateful for blogs like Hypebot (thanks Bruce) and Techdirt (thanks Mike) that have given me this chance, but also to all the people I regularly connect with on Twitter. I was super happy to convince Ryan Van Etten to design the awesome HTML5 version of my thesis, not being able to offer him any financial reward in exchange. He’s one of the people that gets that sometimes it’s more valuable to choose attention over money.
So what about selling the exclusive? Well, months before the public launch of my thesis (or even graduating), I had apparently caught the eye of a startup. I got the coolest email I had received in years or perhaps all my life, from a (now former) official.fm exec.
Epic win! I flew to meet them at their Geneva-based HQ and since March I’ve been working as a communication advisor and market analyst at official.fm, a startup where we work our butts off to optimise music professionals’ day-to-days by offering powerful music hosting & sharing tools.
Months later I received an award from my university, naming my thesis the most innovative, forward-thinking research of my year. I was scared that my thesis wouldn’t even be good enough to graduate on, because I had done everything my way, instead of their way. I was relieved and flattered, but because of the way I set out to do this, it didn’t mean as much to me as being approached by official.fm or midem.
What I care about is not approval.
What I care about is spreading a message of change and innovation.
I really look forward to explaining more about how all of this applies to music here on the midemblog and onstage at midem in January.
See you there!
To be continued!
Bas Grasmayer is a self-proclaimed music biz 2.0 expert with experience in marketing labels & artists, as well as grassroots political campaigning. Since 2011 he’s worked as head of online communication and market analyst at digital music startup official.fm. You can reach him here – Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook – and he’ll be back on midemblog very soon!