What’s next for the music business? (I know, I thought what you just did when asked the same question.)
Someone asked me yesterday what’s next, after streaming, in the music business.
In a word: interactivity. In three: Next level interactivity.
Let’s count the ways.
Zines, relics from the 1930s that gained steam in music in the 70s, are back. And they’re not all giveaways. The xx is recently sold a photo zine for $30.
Next, playlisting. It’s what Spotify’s been yelling down to the labels for years: release amazing music, get fans to share it and playlist it and, eventually, you’ll chart.
That’s part of the science of their algorithm. Even if Joe Listener adds you to one of his playlists, your music enters a feedback mechanism. No matter how esoteric or niche your music or genre is, even if you only have 17 followers, being on a playlist puts you in contention to be recommended to another listener who likes one or two similarly categorized songs.
That’s what Discover Weekly and Fresh Finds on Spotify are all about.
Playlists have become living, breathing documents. And songs in them are like words. They have become the de facto language of platforms like Spotify.
The challenge has always been: how do you get a 100M+ songs (with 20k new ones being added daily) to subscribers? How do you efficiently distribute a Niagara Falls of information?
User generated playlists is how. They’re the foundation for musical discovery.
But let’s strip it down and take out all the buzzy expressions for a second. At their core, playlists are all about interactivity. Beyond playlists, Spotify looks at the rabbit holes users go down: exploring albums, discographies, bios, artwork. These are other layers of interactivity that drive listener numbers over time.
What’s next for music is more nuanced and meaningful interactivity. Interactivity unleashed.
You’re thinking: but isn’t the current model all about interactivity? Isn’t consumption a form of interactivity? Yes — interactivity exists in many forms already: purchases, concerts, social media, custom emoji. But when I say it’s the future, I’m referring to more forms of interactivity. Personalized and customized kinds of interactivity. Technologically, this could be AR and VR. RED Camera just came out with a pocket-sized AR and VR device. No doubt, the aim here is to scale AR and VR to more mainstream applications and end users.
It could mean gamifying fan experiences. Demi Lovato’s game numbers are insane. Part of why Khan Academy has scaled so widely is because their platform is game-based. So is Duolingo’s language learning platform. Where did the concepts of hacking and cheat codes originate from? Games!
What other kinds of interactivity could exist? What if labels or rights owners released stems of their music to the broader public? What if every bedroom DJ out there could remix your song and share it? What if every song you released became its own ecosystem, its own platform for innovation, discovery, community, and culture?
If rights holders could monetize both individual tracks and their underlying stem parts and, in turn, allow the creators of tomorrow an opportunity to shine or establish themselves, everybody wins.
Song Exploder, the amazing podcast that deconstructs songs, is a brilliant use case for stems. By deconstructing, the songs become three dimensional. And it’s largely because the podcast’s creator has access to the stems.
The interactivity is infectious. The episodes pull listeners closer to the music, not unlike MTV videos in the early days. That’s special. Who knows how many extra streams each episode is driving but there is no question that engagement is high. There is a genuine depth of loyalty and devotion to the podcast. And that level of engagement is the exact kind an artist wants and needs in today’s noisy media environment.
So, to wrap up, if the key to getting more streams is being featured on more playlists, besides the obvious requirement of releasing great music, building interactivity into the fan experience is a variable you can control. You own the presentation of your art. And putting out innovative and engaging interactive experiences will, over time, create signal amidst a lot of noise.