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A Fragmented Music Community: The Sum of the Parts Equals Less than the Whole

Music is so spread out online these days. Why? And why do artists not get paid for all the free plays they give away on these websites? These are two huge questions that I’ve been studying, and the answers are well worth addressing.

Part of music being so spread out has to do with the fact that the internet is still fragmented itself. The web is still set up like our real world - you have “sites” with their own “addresses” and you have to physically go to them. This is part of the problem for sure, and it turns out that it is actually easily solvable. With the software, you can pretty much make up your own rules, which means you could make everything just come to the user instead, almost like the iphone model, where every app is in one spot waiting for you at all times. That’s another topic though.

The rest of the problem really seems to be about preference. There are hundreds of music sites out there, and certain fans, or fan-bases, like to stick to certain ones for certain reasons. It could be the difference in interfaces or the difference in people in the network, but it usually has to do with simple preference.

The truth is that not one of the music sites out there right now has established supreme dominance over any other one. That means that as an artist, even though it is way more time consuming, it may actually seem smarter to be on 10 different websites rather than only one or two. After all, the way it is right now, you’ve gotta go where your fans are.

Some people may argue that having so many touch points out there can be beneficial for artist promotion; that a fragmented strategy on a fragmented internet is the best way to get your stuff out there; but they would be wrong.

Not only does the fact that there are hundreds of music websites out there make it harder for artists, in terms of managing the content, and harder for the fans, in terms of finding the music, but it also spreads out the fan bases so that they’re harder to reach, and harder to track.

The reason for one sole music community though, is not only about ease, for the artists and the fans, but it’s about concentration and stability. With 10 different websites you have 10 different methods of operation, 10 different user experiences, 10 different pricing models, 10 different ad models, 10 different terms of use..and so on. It can turn into a nightmare quick.

Everybody runs their site differently, and that can also mean different returns for the same content. If there could be only one website for music, where artists were satisfied with revenue returns, player features, the fan base size, the ad model and so on, it would open the doors up to do so much more with the artist’s online fan bases.

So it’s important that artists get their fans to come to one website for their music. Again, not only does this make it easier to reach them, but it makes it easier to track them and their streams of the music. As an artist right now, it’s definitely an important thing to think about.

It’s ideal to concentrate your fans as much as possible, because that way you can get your views, plays and fan numbers growing on one site. If you can concentrate all of these numbers to one spot, you might be considered worth more to potential advertisers and maybe you could start making some money by people just listening to free streams of your music, or just glancing at your profile page.

It’s time independent artists started thinking about how to realistically start earning revenue from their music online, and with the incredible viral quality of online content, and music especially becoming more and more popular to share, it’s time to start thinking seriously about ad models, and how to connect them in the right ways to the free content we already give away.

People don’t really buy independent music on iTunes, because on iTunes there’s no way to find something you’ve never heard of before. There’s no good recommendation for fans, which is exactly what independent artists need to get their stuff out there. Of course even if they get known, there can be piracy. This is why it’s best just to give away free streams that you can track and then collect ad revenue from. In the end, the ad model seems like the right answer if it’s done right.

Let’s take a look at a chart I put together, representing the online presence of one of my favorite indie bands - Temple Scene. On the left, I listed all (15) of the sites that Temple Scene has a presence on (there’s probably more). Along the top are different statistics and properties of those websites, relevant to the artist, such as number of plays, number of fans, amount of music offered, and so on.

Note: I will try to get Temple Scene to help fill in some of these numbers, and I would encourage you as an artist to make a similar chart. I would love to see the results of yours!

Full Chart Here

You will see that even though there are some large chunks of data missing, the band has recorded over 45,000 views to their profile pages. Using the data in the table to create an average, we can estimate that Temple Scene has accumulated something like 200,000 views overall, but even that I think, is a low estimate.

Over 200,000 views in 4 years - That’s about 50,000 a year. I bet the artists could negotiate some kind of long term ad revenue contract between them and a particular company for views like that, with a simple negotiation like for every view I get, I’ll show your ad once. Now imagine if the artist could get payed based on plays instead of views. These numbers were way bigger, with a total of 127,251 known plays.

One thing I need to note is that the 57,860 plays recorded on, actually technically isn’t plays, it’s hearts, which if you’re familiar with thesixtyone, are way less common than plays, yet are still dependent on them. I estimate, based on averages of Temple Scene’s fan base’s average plays/per heart, it would put the plays at just over a million on thesixtyone alone!

Of course there’s no way to actually track that exactly, because thesixtyone doesn’t choose to give you that information, but at the very least, this band has served well over 200,000 free streams of their music for sure, (though it could be more like 1 million) and they haven’t gotten payed for any of it!!

The real problem though is that the totals of these numbers are all spread out throughout 15 different websites, and so the opportunity to even use these numbers to negotiate with a sponsor is almost non-existant, being that most websites probably wouldn’t even let you place your own ads, and all of them would have different policies.

Also, I believe the fact that they are spread out like this means that these numbers are not as high as they could be. I mean think about it, if there was one website for all things music, and all of the fans in the world, or even the country were on that site, there would be a much better chance that those fans would run into your music, being already within close reach.

The way it is now, with the fans spread out all over the place, even if you’re on 15+ different websites like Temple Scene, you still won’t be covering all of the fans out there, and so the numbers will not be as high, even when added together. We need one music environment where the artists can take advantage of basically 1 huge fan base.

It turns out, this kind of situation would be better for the fans as well, because then all the music would be right there in one place too, and it could actually be brought right to them, using new forms of social recommendation. Did you like the song you just heard? What’d you think about that show last night? Did you leave a good comment on a band’s song today? This is all information that could potentially fuel a pretty useful recommendation for anyone who trusts your taste in music.

Imagine this kind of recommendation being tied to an ad model that pays artists based on how many plays they get. For each different song, there is a different unobtrusive and relevant ad. The songs just keep playing without the fans even having to search for anything, much like Pandora, except the songs are being filtered through their social networks instead of a broad algorithm.

If the music is good, it will get passed on through the social networks, and if a song gets played, the artist gets paid. The music can be free, easy to find, easy to manage, and easy to track. The artists can get free promotion and distribution, AND get paid, and everyone can be happy. The point is that this place can exist, and that this place already should exist!

We are working hard on bringing these concepts to reality. We’re currently in beta testing phases now. We need indie artists and music to start testing our social radio recommendation system now! If you would like to get involved please go here.

Dante Cullari is Founder & CEO Beat-Play, LLC.


Reader Comments (8)

I think maybe the most interesting thing on here is the large number of fans on Reverbnation compared to MySpace. I think the spreadsheet is something we all should be doing & I know I for one have been too lazy to do. I can barely even click the links on MySpace to see what cities have a fan concentration while booking a tour.

But here's the thing for the volume of traffic driving ad revenue. A site like Pitchfork charges about $5 for your ad to be seen 1000 times. So if your site is getting 50,000 views a year, that would still be only $250 (better than nothing, but hardly enough to make a living). & of course we don't have that kind of branding to demand those prices. I use Google adwords paying around $10 a month for more than a million ad appearances.

There is a site that I like called Gimme Sound that follows the old model of splitting ad revenue with artists, but I'm not sure how much luck they are having with generating enough ad revenue to really make things worth it. I'll take the pennies they want to pay me, but is it worth the time it takes to set up the account? Hard to say....

@ Brian John Mitchell

The number of fans that an artist has on ReverbNation can be misleading, given that ReverbNation allows artists to "import" fans from MySpace and FaceBook. Assuming that the artist uses the feature, their true ReverbNation fan base would be the listed total minus their MySpace and/or FaceBook fans.

October 15 | Unregistered Commenterclickwhistle

Wow thanks for pointing that out @clickwhistle

October 16 | Registered CommenterDante Cullari

@ Brian John Mitchell

Pitchfork, and many other sites like it charge $5 for a 1000 views yes. What I'm talking about is the artists charging $5 for 1000 PLAYS. And if you have a recommendation system spreading the music naturally through people's social networks, automatically playing and introducing the music to new people, getting these plays will be a lot easier than it is on a site like myspace or pitchfork, where the music just sits there waiting to magically be found. And Temple Scene most likely got over 1 million plays in 4 years, with there music just sitting there. Imagine if every one of those people who played it had recommended it to their friends automatically, just by saving it to a playlist, and if they liked it, they would send it to all of their friends. The number of plays could realistically grow at a much faster rate, as long as the music is good enough.

With this system, if you had a average of 20,000 plays/day(which with this recommendation system and a steady supply of new great music, probably wouldn't be too difficult for a band with a small following) for a whole year and you charged $6 per 1000 plays, you would make $40,320 that year. I'd say that's pretty damn good. Think about artists who get days where they get millions of plays. They may even be able to charge upwards of $12 - $18 per 1000 plays depending on their popularity. I think this model is the only one capable of producing those kinds of numbers.

October 16 | Registered CommenterDante Cullari

I think your idea is workable provided:

1. You have niche sites for different types of of music. Sure you can link them all using the same menu structure (Country, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Acid Jazz, Hard Rock, Blues, Power Pop, etc)

2. You have the infrastructure in place so the listeners do not have to wait for the server to play the songs.

These are just the first two major hurdles I see.

Though I do really like the way LastFm lets me combine 3 artists, or 3 genres of music to create a unique listening experience. If thee was some way to instantly send off an email to the artist (if the artist is still around ... alive, or the band is still together) that would be great.

October 18 | Unregistered CommenterAllen W

Dante, I like your philosophy of building a single portal for fans and artist to meet, but the question would be what pricing power both sides could maintain if this was in fact a monopoly. Whether the revenue model would be build in $/plays of ad revenue with $/views, the owner of this single portal would most likely exploit the unique position of its portal and pass through less and less revenue to the artists.

With that in mind, the benefit of the highly fragmented landscape is that (a) sites are competing and have to offer good deals to artists to attract content and (b) certain music scenes can gather around certain portals - just like in the real world, where naturally clubs and venues establish a position in a certain genre. But who knows, with the integration of Ping into iTunes we might see the the number one music portal go into a direction as you describe.

What I would highly welcome is a tool that accepts the fragmentation, but allows me to manage ALL the various portals through one interface. There are a few tools out there but all the ones I found were limited to managing twitter, facebook, myspace and one or two other accounts. There should be a 'standard' that allows an artist to submit to all channels simultaneously. This would at least 'centralize' the effort on the artist's side.

October 24 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Gold

A bit late to catch up my posts...

Fragmentation is just a major feature of the internet, and I don't think that we can change that and I'm not sure that would be a good idea in the end if you consider the whole internet ecosystem.

For artists it is frustrating and time-consuming of course and I have first-hand experience with that as an artist.

However, I believe in a new era of API ecosystems where you can create a web service for niche audiences like artists: a dashboard to put all the fragments in one place, much like the chart Dante put up in his post. And a service like John Gold in the comments is asking for.

Another (simultaneous) strategy should be bringing your fans to your own website, but again you need some API Facebook Connect-like magic to really make this work.

These are the two main things that we try to do at, but probably we are still not in the phase where John would like us to be. If I had unlimited access to funds we would be closer to this result of course :-)

October 25 | Registered CommenterHilke Ros

Thanks for all the comments guys. I like the ideas. I want to address some stuff directly, starting with this point from John Gold:

"Whether the revenue model would be build in $/plays of ad revenue with $/views, the owner of this single portal would most likely exploit the unique position of its portal and pass through less and less revenue to the artists.

With that in mind, the benefit of the highly fragmented landscape is that (a) sites are competing and have to offer good deals to artists to attract content and (b) certain music scenes can gather around certain portals - just like in the real world, where naturally clubs and venues establish a position in a certain genre. But who knows, with the integration of Ping into iTunes we might see the the number one music portal go into a direction as you describe."

John, while it's understandable to assume that the people in charge of this portal would exploit their position, the logic doesn't necessarily hold. As a person, fully funded, looking to be one of the people in charge of a network like this in the near future, I fully recognize, as a company with a competitive spirit, the need to provide the best possible service, for the most possible amount of net value for the consumer, because if I can do this, it will be hard to compete. And the company does this for long enough and, by the will of the people, the company is placed into a monopoly position, there is still nothing holding the people to this platform. This is very different than say an electric company, or a water treatment facility. The second we start slipping as a company(not providing a superior service and value to society) we make ourselves vulnerable to the competitors, and that is something that someone at the head of a company is always going to be thinking about.

As far as the money, we would take small cuts on the ad revenues, but unlike say a label, who often takes around 90% for essentially promotion and distribution, we would take something like 5%, and we would only get paid if the artists get paid, so there's no risk for anybody to try us out.

I like the idea of having separate portals for different kinds of genres, or kinds of music..I see the future of that going towards 3D virtual environments, where you can quite literally have dedicated spaces for people who share the same tastes to interact with each other, in very natural ways.

Also from John Gold: "What I would highly welcome is a tool that accepts the fragmentation, but allows me to manage ALL the various portals through one interface."

That's exactly what I'm talking about. Long term, in terms of the web being de-fragmented, all the platform would be is basically a shell. The content creators..the app developers..the people who make meaningful stuff..those are the people who are going to own the platform. That is who the platform is made to support, those are the people whose needs, first and foremost will always be met (this means ALL OPEN SOURCE & FLEXIBLE & FREE). The second group whose needs will be met will be the users, or the fans. As long as this interface meets these needs, and the people in charge understand the concept of competition in business, this will be a great thing.

Actually, this system will increase competition. Think about getting recommendations only from your friends or people you trust as experts. Those people are going to have just as high of standards as you. If it doesn't pass their test, it doesn't get sent on. This system makes it so that everybody's opinion on the product or service actually counts for something, instead of the main success-factor being the biggest budget or the wittiest ad campaign with the widest TV coverage.

Defragmentation not only makes our lives easier, but they will make our products better, our decisions more informed, our economies stronger, and our impacts, no matter what they are, ultimately more meaningful. It will give us quite literal control over the environments around us.

I am person working toward this goal - this end result for humanity - not the end result of personally making lots of money. I assure you that the people in high up positions who currently have that mind-set, once this kind of system is in place, will not be there for long. They've been able to get away with cost-cutting and price-hikes and exploiting the consumers because the people were lacking the organization to, as one community, do something about it. Everyone has been fragmented and that has left us vulnerable. If anything, this new model will provide some protection against that..that is something that even if you don't believe, you will end up seeing soon enough. I just hope that once you've seen it, you accept it as possible.

November 3 | Unregistered CommenterDante Cullari

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