Rather Than A Record Label, How About A Musical Affinity Group?

from the bringing-it-all-together dept

For years, I was involved in a “CD of the month” club — not from BMG or Columbia House or one of those ancient “buy a bunch of CDs for a penny and we’ll keep bugging you for years” offerings, but from a tiny, tiny label in Chicago that released the kind of music I like. It was run by one guy who also would scour the world for similar artists, and then act as their US distributor. The “club” was limited to a small number of customers, who would send over their basic “tastes” and basically this guy would act as their filter, and every few months (it wasn’t quite monthly) would send over a big box of CDs of fantastic music that fit my tastes perfectly — from bands around the world that I’d usually never heard of. It really was a useful service.

I was reminded of this a bit, two years ago, when Topspin’s CEO, Ian Rogers, penned an open letter to Guy Hands, the head of (struggling) EMI, suggesting that rather than think of itself as a “record label” focused on promotion and distribution (two things that are easier and cheaper than ever before), it could instead focus on being the smart filter for music listeners today, struggling to find the music they love amidst so much musical abundance in the world. The suggestion was to take some of the key, iconic, bands under the EMI roof, and put them under affinity-based “mini-labels” with other less well known bands, that would appeal to people who liked the more well known band. It seemed like a great idea, which, of course, EMI has not done.

I’m thinking of both of these things now, as I read an open letter written by Bruce Warila at MusicThinkTank of what letter he would write to all bands on his roster if he ran a record label today — and it’s somewhat similar to what’s described above. The label would build up a brand of its own, to bring together a bunch of affinity bands/musicians, and present them together — thereby acting as an affinity filter. Of course, related to that, he would also shift strategies to give the bands true ownership of both their own works, and a piece of this overarching “venture,” — even allowing them to take their works elsewhere if they’re not comfortable with how things proceed.

To be honest, I’m really surprised we haven’t seen more of this. To date, there are some small, independent affinity labels, but they haven’t really put together much of a comprehensive strategy. On top of that, there are various recommendation engines online, from Last.fm to Pandora and such, but that’s not quite the same thing, and don’t really take advantage of much more than recommending songs or artists you might like. This concept is about taking that even further, and building a real community of affinity around a group of artists that fans might like. It seems like a powerful idea.

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Comments on “Rather Than A Record Label, How About A Musical Affinity Group?”

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Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

I called them 'discoveral agents'

With the disintegration of copyright we’re looking at a paradigm inversion, a complete reversal of the music production line.

Instead of producing it, marketing it and charging for it, we have the fans asking for the music they want, commissioning it, and the artists accepting the commission.

Instead of labels selling copies for retail, we have discoveral agents selling their music lover members to musicians and discovering musicians that meet the tastes of their members.

It’s all back to front.

Anders Ekbom (profile) says:

Isn’t this kind of like the “Related artists”-feature in for example Spotify? Not sure how much of the relations that are human- vs. machine-generated but it seems to be working pretty well, I’ve found a lot of new music that fit very well with my taste.

(Of course, this limits the scope to music available within Spotify….)

Sheri Candler (user link) says:

I advocate this for film distributors as well. Whether they realize it or not, their current business model is going away too. They aren’t in the business of selling plastic DVDs and booking theaters. They should be in the business of creating a tribe of rabid fans with a very special interest vertical and sourcing films JUST for that genre. Artists who reliably make those films will have more work than they can handle. It is a win-win for everyone in this scenario. It is only when greed and the need to serve bigger and bigger audiences comes into play that the whole thing falls down.

One step further, not only are those distribs supplying awesome content, they should also be facilitating a place where these people of a certain interest could congregrate and meet each other, if only virtually. Sort of like that favorite record store I hung out in as a kid where the records were secondary (the take home souvenir) to the people you met when you hung out there and the staff personally knew the music you were looking for and could take it out from under the counter because they saved it for you (loved that!).

With online community building tools, this is a cinch to build, but it is work to maintain. Since the distrib won’t be distributing and marketing anymore (marketing will come from word of mouth from the tribe), they will have the time to really cultivate the audience while scouring for more content to bring them. Of course, they will treat the artists and films they find with reverence because that content is their lifeblood.

Jerry Leichter (profile) says:

Everthing that's old is new again

Back in the 1970’s, there were many labels, most of them small, and most of them concentrated on one area of music or another. One I remember in particular was Nonesuch, which had a very strong presence in what was then known as “world music”. (Today, the boundaries are so much more fluid that a separate “world music” category makes no sense; but forty years ago, things were quite different.) There were labels focusing on jazz, on mainstream classical, on less mainstream classical, on folk, on blues, on jazz.

It was only later that we would go through the grand consolidation of the industry, as a small number of giant labels swallowed everything. In the 1970’s, “indy” labels weren’t a category; they were most of the industry.

Consolidation has a long, long history of destroying industries. It’s so tempting to the business wonks: Economies of scale, elimination of redundancies, and all that stuff. It often works for a number of years. But it freezes in current business models, can destroy any real brand equity (how many times did recording companies try to start their own on-line distribution stores, only to fail because, among other things, no one buys a BMG recording, they by a recording by artist X, and don’t want to have to pick one or another store based on which artist they are buying today?), and eventually leaves openings for another round of differentiated sellers.

— Jerry

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Affinity groups require trust ...

I think that this idea to create an affinity group is a brilliant one. It won’t work for the record labels, No one trusts them, and the situation is constantly being made worse by their own actions. With the desperate actions we are going to see on ACTA over the next few months all remaining trust will be lost and you will see a serious backlash.

Miguel Moura (profile) says:

About that "affinity community" ideia

I was reading your post, and since I’m a (let’s call it indie shall we) musician who has had an album out there for about a year (iTunes, Amazon MP3, the usual “will sell but not publicize” kind of deal), I thought I might give my 2c to this discussion (specifically the community part, on the bottom of the post).

My musical genre is very specific (instrumental rock guitar music – a la Satriani and the likes) so from the get on I’ve always had the problem of finding people who like this kind of music. I tried dedicated guitar forums, MySpace, online radios, etc, and it seems that it always boils down to people mostly buying music based on what a big label has to offer. So, even if someone actually thinks that an obscure artist is better sounding than, let’s say, Madonna, the tendency will be to buy the Madonna album, since Madonna is “an artist” and that other musician is just some guy who makes music. Sometimes it seems that the established “artist” deserves more respect than the “guy who actually makes very good music”. I’ve seen this happening, with people I know who own every Satriani and Steve Vai album, who listen to my music and like it as much, but won’t buy my album, just because.

My point is, the affinity community is a real good idea, because I think the consumer always wants to be part of the hype, and the community would be something more than just getting that album from that guy nobody knows, but instead getting that album from that guy whom the community endorses.

It would be really nice! Where do I sign up?

out_of_the_blue says:

Radio / internet stations already do such filtering.

Surely you don’t like *every* tune of a “genre”. A quick audition of an already selected stream — without purchase — is what you want. For that, I’ve used Streamripper, let it record for hours then skim through the resulting files. It’s a bit cumbersome to look through the (text) .cue files for tune name, but those I like are few enough that I never bothered to integrate the process a bit. — So far as I know there’s no player that does such integration of Streamripper’s .mp3 and .cue files, but it’s possible with REXX and the modern OS.

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