It’s funny that. The way everyone is obsessed with the monetisation of music. Or content in general, if you prefer. I’m not saying it’s wrong. But the focus is such that it takes content for granted. As if it was something that just self-generated out of nowhere. Abracadabra! Here you go: content! More content! Thousands, millions, billions of it, hurray!
And for sure, there is so much of it whizzing around us that we would not have enough of a (long) lifetime to “watch-it-hear-it-touch-it-read-it-love-it-hate-it-and-digest-it”.[youtube]UoPplpBPQxQ[/youtube]
We’ve entered an era where it’s raining content to the point no one really has the time to sort out what is qualitative or time-wasting, original or duplicate, popular or viral.
It’s also not so much about ‘art’ anymore, rather than ‘content’. “How / how much / how often / do ‘users’ ‘consume’ it?” While distribution used to be a means, now it is the end, whereas content is increasingly a means to an end, not the other way around anymore, with the underlying recurrent question of its ROI.
And social networks have accelerated that. Watching Facebook’s F8 conference livestream back in September, someone tweeted it was all about the distributors, not the creators. How true. (Apologies for not finding that person to link back to).
Some people will object that the music business is, on the contrary, still very focused on content. In a certain way, I agree. But I feel it focuses on content for the wrong reasons. Could it be this industry has been neglecting its creators, its artists… its own source?
The shift to digital and the dematerialisation of music has created many incredible opportunities with the emergence of new players, facilitators that became moguls like Youtube, Google, and Facebook, only to name a few. They definitely helped give artists control back over their career and create new ways around the glass ceilings many of them were having trouble getting past.
The downsides however were the devaluation of content and its dilution, as its production increased and its sharing accelerated. Today, the new moguls have captured the shift of value from content to distribution and are healthily feeding off content their creators are the last ones getting paid for.
The value of content/art need to be resto
red and its monetisation reassesseed. Or the music business faces the risk of increased impoverishment and ensuing decline in overall quality, with artists incapable of living of their craft anymore (some consider this has already happened, but that is a whole other debate).
So how do we achieve this? All roads lead to Rome but the main one from which all the others proceed is just a simple yet major mindshift.
Artists need to take the center-stage of the music business again.
(Not just in real life concerts or on our television screens.)
C e n t r e S t a g e.
The music business stems from the artist. It should translate behind the scenes too.
Pulling the strings. Effectively voicing their concerns.Negotiating in their own interests.
Deciding from their own perspective.
Artists should be properly and fully empowered.
They should be deciding who they want to work with and knowing exactly why. Not just artistically (ie choosing the producer, mixer, arranger and A&R person). Many already do. But business-wise too. That starts with the choice of their manager, their lawyer, accountant, label, publisher, booker/promoter. And knowing what they are expecting out of each of them. Just like an CEO and HR Director of their own little startup.
And why shouldn’t they? They were the first who fully understood the industry was changing and how much more they had to and could do themselves. Still (or should I say, even more so) today, artists are the first ones investing, looking to raise funds and taking the financial risks to start their music career so as to be in a position to interest the professionals who will help them get to the next level. And this, before any of them come in, manager and booker included.
I am not saying this means asking or even expecting artists to do everything themselves. Creating, writing, composing, performing are full time jobs. Only, artist development (discovery, promotion, strategies and sales) should first and foremost stem from the artists: their music, their influences, their personality, their visual world, their own little bubble. Not the other way around. It is the only golden rule we, the artists’ partners, should never lose sight of.
The Featured Artists Coalition (F.A.C.) in the UK launched 3 years ago and have done a wonderful job at voicing just that. For the moment their main focus has understandably been on artists’ relationship with labels but the way they have organised themselves and the constructive yet firm approach they have adopted with their various partners is both promising and inspiring.
Putting the artists back at the heart of the system is very probably the only way we can save it. There is a long journey ahead before the mind-shift operates and all businesses monetising content and art are thinking from an artist-centric point of view.
It’s now up to artists’ traditional, recent and future partners to decide if they are willing to go there. Tech companies in particular can continue feeding off the beast for a long time or choose to become a constructive and innovative key partner for artists and foster a win-win relationship. Not just on a case by case basis, rather as a community. And artists need to federate to make this happen too. The future is an open field of opportunity for everyone involved. And a mighty exciting one, too.
“From this time, unchained
We’re all looking at a different picture
Through this new frame of mind
A thousand flowers could bloom
Move over and give us some room”
Portishead, “Glory Box”
Photo: Emilie Chick, by Clément Puig