After a decade of frustration, disruption and false dawns, the future for music currently looks increasingly positive. The industry is fast embracing a range of new services and revenue streams. Recent reports from Norway and Sweden, for instance, where the recorded market is growing for the first time in a decade, suggest there is an incoming new wave of artists, fans and entrepreneurs who do not know life without the internet.
For anyone in their early 20s, accessing music online, using social media or YouTube comes as easily as breathing. It is simply what they’ve grown up with. Whether they interact with music, whether on a laptop, an MP3 player or – increasingly – a smartphone or tablet, is irrelevant. Music in 2013 is everywhere. It is a digital business. Full stop.
For artists and creators, this transition has had huge positives. Certainly, thereare countless innovative and inexpensive tools to help them connect with fans – most of whom are carrying an ‘always-connected’ device in their pocket – and that can enable them to sell music, merchandise and tickets, as well as capture data and help build a valuable mailing list.
However, there are also challenges.
Faced with a fragmented audience, all accessing competing digital platforms on different kinds of devices, it can be difficult for new artists to effectively employ these new tools, while also allowing time for the truly important stuff – i.e. the writing, recording and performing of great music.
For today’s artists, time is a real dilemma.
It’s a hypothetical question, but would The Beatles have been so prodigiously productive (12 studio albums in seven years!) if they’d been hooked on Facebook ‘likes’? Would David Bowie have released four albums in 1977 alone (including two for Iggy Pop) if he’d been obsessed with boosting his Twitter following?
For a handful of acts, fortunate enough to have management or label finances, this might be less of an issue. Many 21st century superstars, like Rihanna or Lady Gaga, have successfully employed social media as a direct channel to their Navy of fans or legions of Little Monsters.
But for fledgling artists, a balance between marketing and creativity is difficult to strike. Since taking our first steps at midemmab in 2011, it is a challenge that we at Songpier have had to grow up with and comprehend.
Back then, Apple was primed to launch the iPhone 4, while the tablet market was still in its infancy. Two years on and the tablet market is exploding, with fresh competition from Google, Samsung, Amazon and others. The internet economy continues to grow by more than 10% each year, while mobile internet access in the G20 regions is predicted to outreach fixed line access four times over by 2015.
Already, we are seeing more than 15% of e-commerce traffic coming from smartphones and tablets. Whether you are a tech giant like Facebook or an emerging start-up, everyone recognises that the future is mobile.
This is a tough environment for an artist to gain attention. Increasingly, what they demand is simplicity. Rather than spending energy covering every digital base, it makes more sense to have their creative assets held in one place – and to be able to upload a track or event listing once, have that information held centrally, and then have it served to all devices and all screens. Using the potential of HTML5, this is certainly where Songpier is heading.
The business of technology should be solutions-focused, making it easier for artists and fans to find each other. Clearly, we are not there yet, but in 2013 this remains our biggest opportunity and our biggest challenge.
Despite the disruption of the past ten years, it is a fantastic time to be an artist and, as always, the winners will be those who write and perform great music. But artists need time and space to perfect their talents. The most successful will also need help to find their way through the current digital maze and to recognise the trees for the wood.
Matthias Glatschke is CEO & founder of Songpier.