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
    bratwurzt (profile), 15 Feb 2012 @ 2:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Actually, Trent is paid license fees, residuals, etc. You know, all those horrible trappings of copyright law and licensing that you hate so much."

    Come on, what's with all the character assassination attempts on Mike? Is it that hard to have a debate without all your ad hominems? I am quite sure (i.e. I strongly believe :) ) that this blog is voluntary read by fairy intelligent people - people with technical knowledge that can't be shaken like a simple belief (why? try reading about the differences between gnosticism and theism)

    I'll simplify - propaganda does not work here (this goes both ways). This blog is a fine example of "filter out the trash" - mistakes will be pointed out and supported with facts - at least eventually. Trolls just make this process more obvious - spotting the trash gets easier.

    I'll compare this with file-sharing in current consumer culture:
    With filesharing, people (like me) can view a movie/listen to a track without directly paying for it. Because of this movies and music get a lot more exposure and analysis/judgment of artistic value gets more voices/votes. With it we weed out the trash. Ok, not simple enough, I admit.

    Let me put it into practical terms - movie studios with bad movies used the first weekend to make money. They fooled people with trailers and marketing and before internet came along that worked quite well - people saw the movie but word of mouth travelled a lot slower than internet chatter. So a lot of people lost 2 hours of their life for a shitty movie AND gave money for it.

    Now we don't have to AND better movies get made because of it. It's a win-win situation (and by win-win I mean the people won twice).

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