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Technology and the music industry: The ultimate Frenemies?

May 10, 2011

The photo above is sampled from Buzzfeed’s post on  “40 Sad Portraits of Closed Record Stores”. Unfortunately, record stores are needing to throw in the towel increasingly due to being “behind the times.” Any industry, whether it is film or janitorial work, needs to reinvent itself in order to stay afloat in a modern economy with revolutionary changes brought about by the digital age.

In revamping the music industry, music executives in charge of “bundling” music as a commodity must endorse technological mediums and trends as the wave of the future, and simply throw out traditional ideals which no longer apply.

In the music industry, huge mainstream pop artists are selling very little in comparison to the “good old days” when record sales would go through the roof and leave the next big thing with a mansion and five cars to show on MTV’s Cribs. Meanwhile, less “mainstream” artists that are embracing new forms of technology and media in releasing their music are garnering rising publicity due to these “offbeat” strategies- such as the Beastie Boys,who leaked their newest single using a variety of social media, and the Gorillaz, who encouraged fans to remix their music instead of holding them to copyrighted standards.

Other artists, such as Metric, The Dresden Dolls, Radiohead and OK Go have ditched their labels and seem to “get it” that content is everything in the new digital landscape. Innovation, particularly through technology, only serves to bring out the quality of content to a wider variety of music fans.

As Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls stated in a music conference on this very subject last week, “Make something that people will really want and then you are actually empowered. It used to be that even if your material was great, that didn’t empower you. Now your material does literally empower you to bring money, fans and success.”

Ditching a label as a music artist can not only be attested to being a hipster anymore. It simply makes more sense if labels continue to alienate technology as aiding the “download culture” instead of recognizing changing user behaviors as a call to implement these new technologies, thus benefiting their consumers and business.

On the other side of the coin, new technologies for music are emerging with each new day without the “consent” of the music industry, which seems to be a wasted opportunity. The emergence of Google Music for smart phones will make it easier to find music and stream it from the service to any device, yet is completely independent of the music industry. Other services such as the Amazon Cloud and Grooveshark have gone under fire by the music industry for simply giving music fans the option of uploading music and listening to it from any location. As location-based services have taught us, this puts the product on consumers’ minds more than before- which is extremely valuable. 

So how can the music industry profit from endorsing new technology and emerging business models?

Quite simply by becoming the “go to” for these new trends, and making it better than competitors. Instead of witnessing artists and streaming services giving music away without having any part in it, they should offer users free downloads and whole albums through their stores, websites and concerts. Embrace the model of “free.” In so doing, become the highest referred link on Google when a user types in “Muse free download.” Offer subscriptions and publicity to streaming services such as Rhapsody, Pandora, Grooveshark and more at their locations, and even start a streaming service themselves that bundles the entire “experience” to the users’ advantage. There are infinite possibilities, and it is all about innovative techniques high in demand by consumers.

The role of technology is crucial here because it is changing the consumers’ role in music and the “bundling” of music as a commodity. As stated in this brilliant post from Techdirt, “In the case of music, what’s happened is that the unbundling is of the album, which certainly many music fans enjoyed, but which was often seen as inconvenient for the fans who just liked a few songs. What the new bundles are about is not about bundling music per se, but bundling the full music experience, which is what the industry should have been selling all along.” 

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