Why Music Is Not A Product & Three Reasons Why That's A Good Thing

from the check-your-assumptions dept

Perhaps the biggest illusion in content-centric industries is the belief that the content itself is the main product. For the end-consumer, music is not a product or a service. End-consumers rarely pay for music. They put down money for copies of music, such as CDs, sheet music or music downloads. They put down money for tickets to live experiences. They put down money for subscriptions to music services. Those are all products, but music itself is not. Arguably, the only way to directly 'pay for music' is through commission or donation.

So what is music, or any other type of content? It's what adds value to the CD in the box. It's what makes 2 covers separated by a stack of paper worth buying from the book shop. It's what brings hundreds of people to one place for a shared experience. But it's not a product.

For people that have effectively programmed their minds to see their content as a product, this might be an uncomfortable revelation. Yet while uncomfortable, it can also be very empowering and here's why:
  • Digital-proof. For a long time the music industry 'got away' with believing that the content is what people buy. However as music went digital, an increasing amount of people were able to separate the content from the product; thus leading to an uncontrollable proliferation of the content through unauthorized networks. Understanding that music ≠ the product fully acknowledges the digital reality, which is the first step to finding viable alternatives for products.
  • Flexibility. Understanding that music is not the same thing as the product which creates the financial reward is a great way to rethink the products that are created surrounding your music. Music is neither a CD nor a download. It can add value to anything. Some people actually create content around physical things to make them more valuable and easier to sell (it's called Significant Objects).
  • Fan-centrism. Separating product and content means you no longer have to sell fans what you want them to buy. You can sell them what they want to buy and let the music add value. By understanding who your most avid fans are, you can provide them with something they'll be happy to spend money on. Example (oversimplification alert): got hipster fans? Sell subscriptions to exclusive content via an iPhone app. Got teenage girl fans? When doing a live show, give them a number to send a text message to for an x amount of money & give them exclusive backstage content from the show when they return home. You can do anything; just understand your audience by being connected with them and realize that it's not the content itself that's being sold.

This way, everybody wins. The fans win, because what they pay for is more relevant to them. The artists win, because not only do you have increased chances to monetize, but you will also create a stronger connection with your fans by giving (or selling) them what they want.

Some great, classic examples of artists & labels that 'get it' are:

In short, the value of the products you sell can be raised dramatically by attaching your content to it. Your content is valuable, but for end-consumers, it's not your product.

Filed Under: music, product


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  1. icon
    Bas Grasmayer (profile), 15 Feb 2012 @ 1:59am

    Re: You've got it backwards

    "All that other crap brings more value to a good artist's music"

    If it's crap, then how does it add value to the music? I don't think there are many people that think Metallica's music is better due to the merchandise. But the merchandise wouldn't be valuable if it weren't for the music.

    As for this:

    "This article has nothing to do with how music should be marketed/sold. It has to do with how people expect artists to just pump out great music for free. Then tell them to create a merch line to fund it. Ridiculous!"

    I'm not sure we're talking about the same article here. I haven't stated such a thing anywhere. However the reality is, after more than 10 years of fighting digital piracy, very often artists are forced to 'compete with free'. I want to help artists do that.

    That does not mean creating a merch line to fund their music. Merch lines are usually not thought out very well, IMO.

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