Mark Glaser has an absolute must-read interview with music label Nettwerk's CEO Terry McBride
. Nettwerk, of course, has been one of a few record labels that really understands
how the market has been changing, and has moved aggressively to take advantage of that. The label, which represents some top artists like Coldplay, Barenaked Ladies, K-OS and Avril Lavigne, got a lot of press a couple years back when it agreed to pay for the defense
of some folks who were sued by the RIAA for file sharing. But, much more interesting was how it was actively embracing the changing market while other record labels were trying to hold back the tide. I don't agree with everything McBride has to say, but he's a lot
closer to understanding where the music market is heading than pretty much everyone else we've seen in the recording industry.
You should really read the entire interview, but a few highlights are things like where he points out that musicians and record labels should be selling the overall brand
, not the music:
In the digital space, where you don't need to buy shelf space, if you create the right metadata behind what you're doing, and market it in an effective way -- you're not marketing the new album, you're marketing the brand.... Chad [Urmston of State Radio] just played to 2,800 people with a $25 ticket price in New York on the weekend. He's marketing a brand, he's not just marketing intellectual property. Now it all makes sense. He's happy, he owns his future, his audience has grown with him really well.
Which brings up the second key theme: growing the audience and having them connect more closely with the musicians, even to the point of having some say in what direction the band goes in. For example, he talks about originally letting fans design the t-shirts the bands would sell. While some band members didn't like the fan-designed shirts, they inevitably sold more than the band-designed shirts. So, they started taking that even further: releasing versions of the bands' music online for fans to remix. And, with the latest K-OS album, even releasing all the musical stems for remixing, months before
the actual album is released, with a plan to then release both the artist mix and
the best fan mixes as both physical and digital offerings:
You can even take it beyond that. With K-OS, we're thinking about having the audience vote on which 10 to 12 cities he plays in Canada. We might even take it one step further: pay as you go not as you enter. And maybe when you leave you get a copy of the fan mix for your donation, so there's karma pricing on the exit.
McBride also talks about where he thinks this is all going to end up, and he discusses a model that might
sound sort of like the music tax
we've been slamming, but in reality it's quite different:
To me, the future of music is really simple. It's cloud-based servers that have all of the music, TV, movies -- whatever it might be. Very rich application-driven PDAs, whether it's the iPhone or whatever else comes up, that has applications that I have yet to see. Like digital maids or valets, which go out and knows what your musical tastes are and your 20 friends, and finds that music and organizes it -- not the actual music but the metadata so you can pull it when and how you want it. You would have a $5 or $10 per month fee for pulling it down. And that's how it will all end up, because business cannot drive business consumption.
How free loses out is the applications and metadata that makes it really easy. I call it the "hassle factor" -- for $5 to $10 you get all the music you want without the pain of having to find it. So you get the new Killers album without even knowing the new Killers album is out, and it's automatically in your weekend listening folder because your digital valet got it for you. And if you want to know what your buddy Ken's listening to, then the valet checks out his playlist and copies it over for you.
I could see this happening to some extent. The difference between this and a music tax is (a) it's totally voluntary (b) it's about adding value beyond "free" that makes it worth paying and (c) what you're really paying for is actual scarcities: convenience and pointers to good music you'll really like. Of course, in the end, my guess is that eventually this would go one step further, where the service itself would be free, because musicians would find so many other benefits from being promoted through such a system (increased ticket sales, fan club subscriptions, etc...) that it would make even more sense for the whole system to be free.
Anyway, it's great to see real progress being made on business models in the industry, and this actually highlights (once again) why Warner Music/Jim Griffin's music license system just isn't necessary. The market is making things work without it. In fact, the key quote from McBride may highlight why Nettwerk is getting somewhere while so many of the old school labels are having trouble:
It's a business model and not a consumer model. And it's definitely not a psychological model. This is about monetizing consumer behavior and not about trying to control where they go.
He's talking specifically about "ad-supported" music, which I agree is a model that will never get very far, but the same thing pretty much applies to the old record label model, as well. These days, when there are real consumer options
out there, you don't succeed by limiting what consumers do, you succeed by enabling them to do more. And, that seems to be exactly what Nettwerk is doing.