Jay Frank wrote the book FutureHit.DNA
a few years back, and it's really a fascinating look into the music business. Frank, who formerly was the Senior VP of Music Strategy for CMT (part of MTV) as well as VP of Music Programming at Yahoo! Music, basically tried to scientifically breakdown what it took to be a "hit" song in the modern digital age. Of course, some might dismiss this as formulaic (and perhaps cynical), but I can't recommend the book enough. It's not just about "oh this is what makes a hit song," but it takes a look at how listening habits change in the digital era, and how even that may impact what makes a hit and what doesn't.
It appears that Frank doesn't just want to write about this, but he's about to put his theories to the test. Today he's announcing a new record label, called DigSin
, that will be focused on releasing singles for artists rather than full albums. But here's the interesting bit: all of the music will be released for free. What he's looking to do is build up a base of subscribers who will want to be pushed new great songs that he's releasing. In effect, rather than a "label" in the traditional sense, you can think of it as a "tastemaker," or even a filter or trusted friend.
I have to admit that I've been fascinated by this concept for a little while. I've written in the past about how I've paid a small label/distribution company a yearly subscription in the past for a "CD of the month" club, because I trusted the guy who ran it to find me awesome CDs. In that case, it was a small operation, where the guy who ran the label would take into account each of the subscriber's tastes and try to match music to what they liked. It was like having the guy at the record store who knew your tastes picking out what you should listen to. It was fantastic. In this case, Frank is trying that on a larger scale... and not charging for it.
In this case, it appears that Frank is going to be looking at alternative revenue sources. If he can bring together enough music fans, that's certainly an opportunity. I would bet there will be some sponsorship opportunities that make sense, but I could also see some more creative efforts, such as upsell opportunities for merch or concert tickets.
The timing of this is interesting, as he's launching it at the same conference where Ian Rogers, the head of TopSpin -- and also a former Yahoo! Music exec -- gave a talk on the race to be trusted
, noting that he believes that's the next stage of the music business. Basically with so much content out there, finding the right content for you is key, and that's going to be a trust issue. If you trust someone to bring you good music, that's a powerful connection.
Of course, it's worth noting that Rogers, in his speech, tells the record labels that they cannot be that trusted partner, because people will always doubt their sincerity on whether or not the musician that they're pushing, who's signed with them, is really that good. It is an interesting question. I think it's possible for a label to be trusted, but it's difficult. Though, I actually go back to an open letter that Ian himself wrote to then head of EMI Music, Guy Hands
, about why he should turn the label giant into a trusted filter based on affinity groups around existing big name artists (i.e., build a mini label around... The Beatles, for music that Beatles-lovers would like and then build out that brand as a trusted brand). It's possible. It's just difficult.
On the artist side, DigSin is also focused on being a better partner -- an enabler
rather than a gatekeeper. It's signing artists to very short term deals, with agreements around songs, not the artist. That is they'll share in the monetization of the specific songs. And the songs will still be available via traditional channels -- iTunes, Spotify, etc. -- for people who want them that way. But the real focus is on DigSin's ability to bring together a core group of people who are really into hearing the next great song first, and to help connect those people with musicians making those songs.
It's definitely a big challenge -- and one where there may be many hurdles. But if it's done right, it could be quite useful. I'm intrigued that Frank is attempting this, and if his notions on what makes a hit are correct, and he's able to execute on that with the artists who release singles through DigSin, it could become a very interesting model to pay attention to.