As the effort (time and cost) required to create a highly-personalized listening session of music (see blue bars below) decreases, the per-person rate of music consumption will proportionately increase (see green bars below).
The graph above (click to enlarge) is non-scientific; it’s just a prop; and I have my reasons for ordering and omitting the formats / services as I did; but that’s not what I want to debate in this post.
If there has been one constant in the music industry over the last one hundred years, it has been the constant migration to listening formats (easier formats) that reduce the effort required to create highly-personalized listening sessions. You can’t play a phonograph on the bus or clip it to your shorts at the gym.
Moreover, easier formats that can be summoned on-demand (for any given situation) will displace any format that requires more effort to produce the same result.
While older formats paired with new user interfaces and various recommendation technologies/methods can decrease the effort required to create highly-personalized listening sessions, I believe that music fans will ultimately migrate to services that feature acoustic-based personalization and manipulation, as these services will ultimately offer the most personalized, ubiquitous listening experience for the least of amount of effort (time and money).
Although Pandora is not an on-demand music streaming service (now), to me Pandora is the poster child of acoustic-based personalization. Pandora uses paid professionals to break songs down by numerous acoustic attributes, and relies upon its’ millions of users to provide supplemental quality control. Users initiate the service with a seed song and then they have the ongoing opportunity to shape what amounts to a personalized radio experience.
The service that will truly drive up the rate of music consumption is the service that features ubiquitous, on-demand streaming (or even downloading) of any song, brilliant user interfaces for rapidly manipulating the listening experience (for example: by mood), and an integrated, trusted (by artists and fans) quality fader that enables listeners to increase or decrease the frequency of (new) quality-rated songs. In my opinion, this service doesn’t (exactly) exist yet.
Artists and the Music Manipulation Curve
Any increase in the per-person rate of music consumption equates to a proportional increase in exposure opportunities for any/every (quality-rated) song and artist; albeit on the per-consumer level at first. If you believe exposure leads to economic upside, don’t allow your music to get trapped in a label/publishing deal or a mindset that slows the path your songs have to take to be found within services that feature acoustic-based manipulation. Moreover if the option is available, consider suspending your payment and royalty rights (but not through Creative Commons) until you have obtained the p-spins you are need to convert listeners into fans.
Labels and the Music Manipulation Curve
See previous paragraph. Anything (price, licensing terms, partnerships, etc) that enables fans to effortlessly create highly-personalized listening experiences…increases the size of the pie. Consumers are going to pursue - with or without you - the cheapest, easiest, sexiest method (service / format) that delivers a highly-personalized listening experience. Negotiate deals with partners (music service providers) where you can have real-time access to track-level analytics, as it’s going to make more sense going forward to throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall…and you will want to be the first one to see what sticks. It also seems to me that labels have to move away from managing a few eggs in the basket to models built upon volume, velocity and frictionless, lightweight deals; with the heavy stuff (360 deals) coming second (post appreciable traction), as an accelerating rate of discovery combined with reliable rating mechanisms are going to do more than re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic(s).
Kudos to Gerd Leonhard for saying some of the same things differently, but years ago.