Streaming, social media and the live sector are increasingly converging to progressively erase the existing traditional barriers of music promotion. Basically, 360° as we defined it in the early 2000s is dead, but 360° in today’s terms is growing under our very eyes, it’s just we’re not calling it like that.
It was a magic number and I remember it well : the top execs in the music business, back in 2005, were obsessed with it to the point of investing all their hopes and focusing all their energy on shaping deals that way.
The logic behind it was simple: piracy was threatening the very business model that got them there. Record sales were melting on the spot and the new generation didn’t care for the same quality of sound, they just wanted the music ASAP, even if that meant downloading it illegally. So even though there was a lot of wishful thinking along the lines of “surely-we-can-educate-the-masses-and-convince-them-to-become-reasonable-again”, the people at the top were taking no chances. They were leveraging their position as a power player in the industry while it lasted to muscle-in on any potential deals and get a piece of the pie anywhere, anyhow.
The legendary Robbie Williams 80 million pound deal in 2002 may have sounded crazy, but by 2005, noone was doubting anymore and the big players of the industry were completely converted.
It didn’t matter if most of the time their teams lacked the people, experience and skills to actually deliver on the new diversified rights they had secured. They felt their job was done and their business was safe because they had the signed paper granting them new sources of revenue.
The recording industry thought it had found its hayday with the 360 deal, as if it were still in the driver’s seat commanding the whole music business as it had done for the last 60 years. However delusional it was understandable: recorded music had always been conflated with the whole music industry, with everything revolving around the labels and them being any artist career’s starting point. Why imagine it was never going to work in the long run?
Fastforward to 2018: do artists still pine for 360 deals? If some still do, it certainly isn’t with the majors. (Did they ever really? That is another question altogether which we will not explore here). So 360 as a concept is dead.
But actually, it isn’t. It’s a zombie. It’s back, and it’s everywhere. Except not in the form the industry had every expected. 360 is now what defines the music industry as a whole because its destiny is so closely tied to tech’s.
Streaming, social media and the live sector are increasingly converging to progressively erase the existing traditional barriers of music promotion.
Spotify, Instagram and Bandsintown are respectively leading the way in streaming, social media and concert promotion, as the deals they are making move each other ever closer to narrow integration, and the pace seems to be accelerating. The paths of promotion for artists are now interconnected, sparing the nuisance of having to solely rely on their website, newsletter and social media to alternatively push their tour dates or latest release.
Typically, Tash Sultana became an overnight sensation on YouTube but has shifted her strategy to Spotify, where she promotes her new songs and next shows, sells her merch (thanks to the streaming platform’s deal with Merchbar) and promotes the artists she supports, via playlists pinned to her profile.
The number of places artists can now engage with their fans has exploded. All the tools available used to complete each other, now they compete with each other. Music event platforms (Bandsintown, Songkick) and streaming platforms (all of them) have become social networks where artists all have profiles they update and from which they can share their news. The latest example to date: Songkick has just launched its Artist Update feature, with the likes of Gorillaz or Kelly Clarkson using it to respectively ask fans which song they would like to hear live, or to promote her upcoming EP and video.
But that’s not all. Music event and streaming platforms are also all becoming search engines, with Apple, Spotify and Deezer looking even further ahead, aggressively investing the podcast space to position themselves as entertainment hubs.
Meanwhile, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are racing to develop the missing products (from software to hardware) or services (from analytics to fan engagement) that will help them convince artists and fans alike to neglect their competitors’ respective ecosystems. Meanwhile, pure players are either trying to mirror that strategy (Spotify), raising funds via their owners (Deezer) or being bought out (Shazam, Songkick).
The trend is anything but new, yet the increasing interconnection changes everything. Artists now have access to a wealth of data to finetune their relationship with their fans (which platform hasn’t launched its “For Artists” app?) and devise ever more sophisticated and made-to-measure strategies to engage with them.
And fans now can discover artists more easily than ever, be it through search (text or voice, song names, lyrics or location), recommendation (human or algorithmic), or opt-in notifications (from artists tracked, venues or pages followed).
If artists and fans wish to enjoy such freedom of choice, it is to be hoped no clear winner will take it all, even in the long run, be they tech companies or traditional music ones. Beyond the case for maintaining musical diversity, it would be ironical indeed if predicting who the next big artists will be simply came down to which big tech player they are backed by. As was the case already back in the days with, you know… the majors.
Top photo: DenPotisev/Getty Images