I. Observations

  • The introduction of MySpace inducted mainstream Internet users into social networking culture. It remains the model social networking site for band promotion due to its long-term association with the music industry, large population of artist profiles, unique promotional tools (e.g. imbedded media players, direct e-commerce, site-run record label), and the ability for users to be the 'friend' (not just a fan) of both independent and major label artists.
  • While a strong competitor, especially among college age users, in general social networking, Facebook has been slow to reach out to the music community. Recently, it opened the network up to brands and bands alike, allowing users to denote themselves as 'fans' of an artist. However, due to MySpace's head start and enduring success with connecting artists and fans, it will be difficult for Facebook to make a significant impact on MySpace's dominance in the music promotion arena without offering uniqely innovative features, experienceing a substantial surge in overall site population, or 'breaking' a band that emerges as the 'next big thing', transcending the online market.
  • Music-focused social networks remain an upstart entree that has yet to prove its popularity among mainstream users. While music aficionados may relish the ability to browse other users' playlists and music libraries, casual music listeners will continue to prefer a 'one-stop shop,' where they can communicate with friends and connect with favorite bands within the same platform.
  • Clearly, music marketing via social networks marks a shift in approach from traditional promotional campaigns. By appealing to the consumer's interests and engaging fans in the conversation, both literal and figurative, online marketing has begun to fully embrace the capabilities of the Internet medium. The success of these word-of-mouth campaigns depends on the continued popularity of social networks as currently structured, and the persistant need of young adult users to establish their online identities through association. It is doubtful that, should older members of the population become social network regulars, word-of-mouth marketing would enjoy the same success among an adult population.
  • The music industry's targeting of networked youth emphasizes the importance of creating buzz among the young and connected. However, in focusing promotional efforts upon America's youth, the industry must be prepared to deal with certain incongruities between today's young music listeners and previous generations of record buyers. Album sales, and even the production of traditional albums, are not likely to see a resurgence based on innovative marketing techniques. Marketers may be getting young listeners talking, but it is a much different — and more difficult — task to encourage 'long tail' listeners to make a purchase. As society becomes increasingly networked, music production is likely to grow increasingly single-oriented. The death of the album may not be far behind the death of the record store.

II. Suggestions

  • Continue reaching out to young, networked consumers. The music industry suffered a public backlash in the height of file-sharing prosecution, one that engendered resentment amongst music buyers. Winning back consumer support is key to the successful introduction of whatever new business model takes shape. Loyalty is a powerful motivational tool — ask any band with a well-established fan base.
  • If the album is to remain a viable format, added incentives for purchase must be created. An increasing number of releases on iTunes, as well as in physical stores, include bonus content in the form of added tracks and videos. Presumably, these features largely appeal to core fans who would have purchased the album anyways. This is not to be discounted, as added features probably do motivate fans who were still undecided about buying an album to make a purchase. Varied bonus features will also encourage core fans to purchase multiple iterations of the same release (though they may complain). But, it remains difficult to see how demos or music videos would compel someone with insufficient interest in the regular album content to make a purchase. Tying purchases to advance access to concert tickets, another growing practice on iTunes, may engage more 'long tail' fans, especially when a particular artist's tour is destined to be a hot ticket. Notwithstanding such bonuses, the industry, clearly, must grow accustomed to relying more on the sale of singles, concert tickets, tour merchandise, and the inclusion of tracks in advertisements, films and television, as it is highly unlikely that album sales can ever, fully, be resurrected.
  • What works for some, may not work for others. Allowing artists more individuality in their recording and promotional approaches seemingly would benefit an already fragmented industry. Drawing on the desire for personalization, the corporate monoliths of the record business should consider distributing operations among subsidiaries. These sub-labels could not only provide services tailored to distinct genres, but could further distinguish their services by the type of promotional approach to be implemented. More attention must be paid, not only to the overall needs of the digital generation, but the individual desires of specific fan bases. If it appears that mainstream pop fans are more interested in purchasing single tracks, groups and labels operating within that sphere could focus on releasing individual downloads and shorter EPs. If prog rock fans love picking apart the nuances of an artist's full albums, that artist could continue to put out full length releases. Whatever business model is adopted, the industry will have to be much more cognizant of consumer trends, and more willing to adapt sales practices to the needs of particular fan contingents. In a world where music delivery is no longer relegated to hard media and access is no longer physically defined, creativity and flexibility have become the hallmarks of market success. The music industry must recognize that it no longer has a monopoly on setting either stylistic or business-oriented trends.
  • Creators should be afforded greater control over the restrictions on the use and distribution of their work. In conjunction with implementing individualized marketing and distribution tactics, the industry must be more receptive to artists' desires to forgo the traditional protections of copyright. While an artist who signs to a record label agrees to a certain amount of label control, labels should be more open to managing ownership rights under a Creative Commons-like framework that allows for a more personalized 'bundle of rights'. Obviously, there are tradeoffs. Those artists allowing free distribution of their music, for instance, will have to seek alternative sources of revenue. It is one thing for established artists such as Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails to distribute albums for little or no cost, and quite another for the upstart act that directly relies on new money coming in to facilitate putting new music out. However, just as there are myriad genres of music, there are limitless ways in which an artist can choose to structure his career. In an digital age that, as a byproduct, has engendered consumer desire for personalization, moving forward with a malleable business model would allow artists to answer that call for individualization by structuring their own projects as their respective market shares deem fit.
  • Education of both young consumers and adult Internet users is key. There remains a disconnect between digital natives' familiarity with the Internet and the computing knowledge of adult users. With the younger of the two groups defining what is 'in,' and the older controlling the market, both factions would benefit from having a better understanding of the norms and practices that govern the other's online behaviors. Just as digital natives should be introduced to existing copyright regulations as a means of both instilling respect for creative works and spurring conversation for future initiatives, adults must be introduced to the possibilities of new media and how these opportunities can be employed to maximum market benefit. Education may not completely curb digital piracy or spur a resuscitation of pre-Internet business models, but it will engage today's tastemakers and industry heads in discussion. The need for change in both copyright policy and music business practices is evident. It remains up to those entrenched in the struggle to embrace this need as an opportunity rather than a barrier to maintaining the status quo. implementing innovative, social network-based marketing techniques is a step — but only a step — in the right direction.
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