Music: A Lesson in Soundtrack Economics

By The Myers Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Music: A Lesson in Soundtrack Economics

All content is being submerged into a background soundtrack that will feed the subconscious until it emerges briefly into the consciousness to be liked, shared, consumed and "pinned", only to quickly fade and disappear.

Music personifies, more than anything else, the dangers associated with a reluctance or refusal to shed the baggage of the pre-Internet world. After a slow start, the music industry continues its transformation as it finds ways to meet new and demanding requirements for easy access and complete consumer control. Rather than anticipating and proactively responding to new technologies and their impact, the music industry wasted time by clinging to business models, talent relationships and distribution techniques that were quickly becoming outdated and irrelevant.

The old traditions revolved around executives identifying, developing, promoting, selling and profiting from musicians. That world has unraveled as it has in the print business and as it will inevitably unravel in the video industry as well. While the music industry scrambles to recover and rebuild, the fans are in charge — and today's generation of college students who I refer to as Internet Pioneers in my new book Hooked Up, have led the charge. Their tastes are eclectic, diverse and constantly changing. Musicians themselves have easy direct access to their fans and often have an active dialogue with them through Twitter, fan pages, blogs and videos. While VEVO has become a popular industry-owned site for music videos, YouTube and other music sites offer discovery engines and distribution tools that consumers and artists themselves can control.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Micah Nickerson and Damain Randle wrote a protest rap song, inspired by a quote from rapper Kanye West. They put the song, "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," online, where Marquise Lee, a video producer found it. Lee then created a video for the song, which was posted online. The song writers and the video producer intentionally designed the work to give users free access under Creative Commons licenses. More of these collaborations are likely to occur, as the pathways for putting work online expand. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and My Space plus many more emerging social tools, close gaps and degrees of separation among musicians, producers, collaborators and fans. Internet Pioneers, who grew up with social networking and are adept at it, will lead the charge.

Music's role in the lives of Internet Pioneers and subsequent generations of Internet Natives reflects their unique power and the power the Internet has granted them. They will demand more musical choices than past generations and more channels through which to consume their music. As music listening shifts from computers and the classic iPod to smartphones, tablets and even Google Glasses, the music business is also switching from a focus on downloading tracks to streaming through apps such as Pandora, VEVO, Spotify and Clear Channel's IHeartRadio. Music has devolved into a constant soundtrack of young people's lives. Always on. Always present. The music discovery process is out of the hands of the industry and is the equivalent of YouTube viral videos. Find it, share it, enjoy it for the moment, and move on to the next tune that captures your interest.

Music is no longer the cultural phenomenon it was in the 20th century, when massively popular performers and groups and waves of musical trends defined generations and eras. Over the years, we had a steady progression of personalities such as Al Jolson, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalon, Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd, The Who, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

In their eras and at the height of their popularity, large percentages of music lovers would have named these stars as their "favorites." Most of these artists sustained careers well beyond their prime. Even today, they remain among the favorites of X-Gens and seniors. The Classic Rock genre remains among the most listened to by all generations and The Beatles remain a top seller on iTunes.

In contrast, Adele, 2011's Billboard Artist of the Year and a multiple Grammy Award winner in 2012, is named as "favorite" by only 1 percent of male Internet Pioneers and 3 percent of females in the Hooked Up survey of 1,000 college age students. And despite the most successful concert tours of 2011, U2 and Bon Jovi are named as favorites by fewer than 1 percent of Internet Pioneers.

Today, groups and performers are popular for a moment in time and are as good only as their most recent release. Successful performers with a lasting presence are few and far between, with personalities and image often as important as musical talent. For Internet Pioneers, music is of the moment. They check out new talent, especially independent musicians, and they stay current on dozens of performers. They will find and support new performers, "like" them on Facebook, and even purchase a song or two on iTunes. But it's a rare performer who transcends the most basic level of popularity to capture the attention and money of a large segment of young music audiences. This reality is slowly but surely taking hold in the video business, where TV scheduling is becoming less relevant, favorites are far less universal, and traditional measures of success are collapsing.

Young peopleconsider music to be part of an integrated, everyday soundtrack of their lives that they manage and control. This reality will be the future for all content – TV, films, online videos, and advertising. All content is being submerged into a background soundtrack that will feed the subconscious until it emerges briefly into the consciousness to be liked, shared, consumed and "pinned", only to quickly fade and disappear. Marketing and agencies are adapting by investing in technological tools that enable ad messages to be discovered and "pinned", and custom strategies that engage consumers through their passions, issues, needs, interests and emotions.

Jack Myers is author of the best-selling book Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World, available at Amazon, and all leading booksellers. This report is excerpted in part from the book.

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