Titanic, deckchairs, lifeboats...
I attended a MusicTank event last night entitled 'Pimp My Tune: Making Music Compete with Free'. I've been to a number of MusicTank events but this was the most interesting - a very impressive panel, all with opinions that were refreshing and stimulating.
A few themes worthy of note:
John Dyer, General Manager at Domino Records, spoke of the polarisation of music consumers between older CD buyers and youngsters who have grown up in a digital world. He noted that kids hang out now in places like Cyworld, Habbo Hotel and Second Life (as well as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook of course), and so this is where he will need to deliver music to them. And not just music - in the Second Life example, Avatars will distribute Arctic Monkeys t-shirts for residents to wear and keep in their virtual wardrobes.
John also touched on a theme that would run through the whole evening - music being about much more than the song or the album, but about identity and lifestyle. He used a beautiful description of people buying CDs "for an imaginary dinner party that never comes". Music buying is an expression of who you are, like what you wear and the brands you buy.
Malcolm Garrett, Creative Director at AIG, pointed out that music has always been driven by technology in the sense that artists have long been aware of how much they need to fill a single, EP, album or CD. He asked why artists would release an album any more? They need to think of new ways that are not constrained by physical media.
Professor Merlin Stone from White Consultants took this a stage further by suggesting that the battle for CDs and tracks is already lost because anyone can get hold of anything that's out there free and therefore you can't sell the same track over any long period of time. You can, however, sell new material for a short period while it's hot - his model is that artists should produce smaller amounts of new work far more regularly, with the fans looking forward to each new release and being prepared to pay to get it at the time of release.
Michael Bayler of The Rights Marketing Company discussed the importance of cultural reference of music - "music to define myself". He traced the changed from product, to service, to experience and asked what now is the product? It's different things to different people, but it's the experience, not the CD.
Tammy Smulders of SCB Partners talked about the need to package and deliver a lifestyle that people will pay for, and that you can't get from a free download. She used the illustration of Fabric Direct, which has gained thousands of subscribers paying £7 per month for a monthly CD, membership card, queue-jumping at the club, discounts and "a vague sense of belonging".
Chairman Keith Harris valiantly attempted to point out that 90% of music sales are still CDs and we shouldn't write them off yet, but sadly found no backers for that argument - in philosophy at least, the panel had already moved to the new digital world.
A healthy debate then followed. Michael Bayler had the last word when he said that this should be the last ever forum on this subject - it was time to stop talking about how the market is changing and do something about it. To the consumer, music is about emotion, and the challenge/opportunity for the industry is to sell them an experience rather than a commodity.