“What fan wouldn’t relish getting a camera phone-recorded video of a band on the tour bus shouting out the fan’s name? Because it’s not the MP3 that has value, but the connection the fan has with the music and the musicians. And unlike the MP3, that personal video has value, is 100% useless for pirating, and will never end up on the remainder rack.” David Silverman
What contains value? Is it the music or is it the connection to the artist? The medium of music has changed over history. Although the CD or mp3 you purchase appears to contain value in a physical or digital format, its not the actual CD or code you buy, it’s the people behind it, the people that created it. The CD is the placeholder, the middleman that transfers value to you. When you listen to your favorite song, you feel like they are performing for you – they are playing a private concert in your headphones. Nobody really cares about the CD or the mp3 file. Those are replaceable and disposable at best. If your harddrive crashes and you lose your itunes library, you buy again. Yet the vocal line of Ke$sha’s Die Young is still stuck in your head.
There is a reason why most people can memorize pages of lyrics and associated melodies from a grand library of musical pieces, yet we still struggle to memorize your friends phone numbers. Its our total immersion in the product. Music is deeply ingrained in our culture, as poignant as our own heart beat. With the amount of people walking around on the streets of New York city with earplugs in, we continuously create a soundtrack to our life. We seek emotional connections to the moments we are living in. The likelihood that you choose to play Die Young on your mp3 player is high, not just because its there, but because you associate its melody, beat, rhythm and lyrics with a certain mood, emotion or setting.
What the internet has given us is the convenience and opportunity of unlimited choice. But not just for downloading music (legal or not), but also to research and discover artists. We are given the opportunity to know more about musicians than their voices, performances and what we are fed by traditional channels (media, live shows and artwork). Our relationship is almost intimate. We spend our own valuable time researching who Dr. Luke is and why he worked with Ke$ha – or exploring how a small indie band from Boise, Idaho recorded its drum parts (discover Youth Lagoon). Through new channels the internet has allowed us to – in a way - become a part of the band. We are immersed in the creative process and distribution from the moment the song was conceptualized to the time we buy our concert ticket.
However, these channels continuously change. Where we read about music, how we buy or download music and how we share it constantly changes. At least it does if we care enough about the latest trends. The early innovators will experience a wealth of music related startups and innovative distribution projects. As everyone scrambles to find the next profitable method of monetizing music. Although Apple’s iTunes appears to hold its monopoly position as download central, let’s remember that we thought the same thing about the Vinyl, Tapes, CDs and even minidiscs. Nothing lasts forever. How music is sold and valued is evolving, and that’s nothing new, it always has been: “Development often implies the notion of victim of culture. I don’t’ think in those terms. People live, struggle, renew, invent.” Jabeesh Bagdchi in Lovink 2002: 210)
So to get back to the original question, what contains value? Value is initially added through the creative process – a musician writing a song, a producer working on the song, a mastering engineer creating the perfect soundscape or a band manager or label finding the right musician to collaborate with. The avid consumer values the people behind the end-product. Nevertheless, even the mass market is enticed by a brand, usually a person or group of people (it is important to note here that often a brand in music relates to a group of people, e.g. David Guetta appears to be a person, yet involves agroup of producers, composers and finally the name himself as a DJ).
Yet value is also added through novelty and innovation. Take, for example, the buzz Radiohead received when they proclaimed they would release In Rainbows on a pay what you want basis. Or the 571% spike in sales after Tupac’s post-mortem hologram performance at Coachella 2012 (Caulfield 2012). Consumers expect innovation, they desire it and respond favorable to well-implemented projects.
To conclude, what we value from music products are the people behind the music and the way in which they transmit and connect their music to us. Skill is important, yes, but everything else is what makes an artist intriguing. Strengthening the interaction between the people who make the music and those we listen to it creates stronger brand loyalty and forms a stronger bond. After all, what has been lost in the current debate about music is the simple fact that music is about emotions, stories, people and ideas. It is intangible and innately human. To capitalize on this concept is to monetize on music.
Caulfield, Keith (2012). Tupac’s Virtual Coacehlla Appearance Spurs Sales Bump. Billboard. <http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/489895/tupacs-virtual-coachella-appearance-spurs-huge-sales-bump> [Accessed on 17.3.2013]