Seth Godin (arch-blogger of the marketing world and author of many genuinely interesting business books, including “The Purple Cow“) has been writing and talking about the music industry recently. And it’s all been very interesting. He gives Bruce Springsteen as a great example of how longevity is something that is so much more difficult to achieve these days, as labels are under massive pressure to drop under-performing acts like hot potatoes.
Secondly, he talks wisely about how the dynamics of the music industry are changing. I’ve long been telling anyone who’ll listen that we need to look at music on the internet (particularly Last.FM, Myspace etc) as if it were radio. Having your music out there to listen to on demand, for free, is a good thing. In the very early days of radio all the live musicians were up in arms. “No one will come to see us play any more if they can hear us in their own living rooms!” they said. But we all know that exactly the opposite happened. And the same will happen now, but this time it’s the major record labels that are doing most of the shouting.
I’m not denying that we’re still in a period of flux. It’s going to take time before everything settles down. But the music industry is not in trouble. It’s just the music industry as we know it that is in trouble. And the problem is that the revenue streams have changed. Whereas there used to be one river of money that flowed past the mill of the record label (if you’ll forgive the metaphor) in order to keep it turning, now we have a thousand tiny streams all flowing in different directions, none of which seem to be sufficiently swollen to keep the mill wheel turning.
And the funny thing is that some of these streams don’t actually have any money in them. We’re entering an era of people making money from free content. Just as many journalists are writing online for free in the hope that they’ll subsequently get paid to do high-profile speeches, or get lucrative editorial contracts with newspapers, so various bands are making their music available for free online in the hope that they’ll build a fanbase that will pay to come see them play live and then buy their t-shirts.
The editor of Wired Magazine has just written a book about “The Future Of Free”. I think it’ll be a must-read for everyone in the music business, whether they’re a PR person or a drummer. The author, Chris Anderson, who previously wrote the revolutionary “The Long Tail“, has published the first chapter of “The Future Of Free” for free (of course!) here. As he points out – virtually everything Google does is free. And according to some valuations they’re worth over $200 billion……