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With the exception of marketing music to naïve teenagers that consume anything that’s fed to them on FM radio, it’s becoming impossible to market music to people that know what they like.
In the old days, mystery, intrigue, celebrity, and real or imagined bullshit benefits could be baked into the product and into the packaging. Record labels profited wildly by being experts at it, but digital music has changed all this.
Music is now the most naked product on Earth. Music sits upon the shelf unwrapped, raw and void of packaging. Consumers can fully try it before they buy it; they can take it home unmolested; and they can pay for it randomly, or not at all. I can’t think of another product that is so fully exposed and vulnerable to quick and precise, pre-purchase decision-making as music. You click. You listen. You buy. It doesn’t get any quicker or more precise than that.
I fully believe, of the five billion tracks sold on iTunes to date, a billion (20% or FAR more) have been sold to consumers that have NEVER seen the artist, have NEVER visited the artist’s website or MySpace page, and have NEVER had any interaction with the artist…other than exposure to a thirty second clip. A billion(s) of iTunes purchase decisions have been driven off simple recommendation algorithms (those that liked X, also liked Y).
Fortunately for artists that make great songs, the same naked qualities that make music impossible to market, also make music the easiest product in the world to recommend. Once again, I can’t think of another product that has the viral qualities that are inherent in music. It’s the only product where the entire product (the MP3) can be easily attached to the recommendation. Try doing that with chicken nuggets.
In my mind (no jokes please), the greatest unintended consequence of being stuck with a product that can’t be marketed, and can only be recommended, will be the overwhelming desire to seek brutal feedback and rapid validation. You can no longer say: it’s a marketing problem…when marketing was not an option. The only questions worth pondering are: does this song suck? If so, how can I make it better? Nothing else really matters in the recommendation-driven world of naked digital music.