Those wailing souls and cries for help you hear are the malady of the music industry. Music itself has never been healthier; it's the business of selling physical derivatives of the music that is illin'. It's the enormous, prolonged de-leveraging of an industry only halfway to its bottom. Yes, the music industry has an insistent rash they keep scratching. But for the more progressive, innovative artists, it's only getting easier, and for the consumer, the days are becoming brighter.
The consumer, once forced to lurch through a Sam Goody or a Strawberries only to be inundated with "sales," cardboard cutouts of rockstars and overpriced singles and albums, can now sit in the comfort of his or her own living room and search, browse, borrow, steal, stream, remix and send music in almost any format, from any location on the internet.
Wait, so who cares about all this? An industry in transition, whose main concern is the economics of ones and zeros, mediums and messages. Consumers don't care about this, they only care about the music.
Furthermore, why does the process of buying an asset get so profoundly in the way of actually getting the asset? At least that much should be apparent to the consumer.
Music fans care about discovery. Connecting people with what they want and what they don't even know they want yet is the name of the game. Oddly, the ease with which one can find this new, relevant music has become tremendous. Apple's Genius mode in iTunes allows one to find related content from your own collection, or Pandora, to find it from the ether. It's all based on your taste -- radical, pluralistic democratization.
What's the buy-side, you query? People can sift through a site like HypeMachine and read, engage, and comment on their favorite and possibly-favorite artists, all while listening to their entire album (plus remixes). How often do those links to Amazon and iTunes go un-clicked? The enormous ocean of music, sorting through what you do like, don't like, and may-very-well-like-but-haven't-heard-yet is a Herculean task. Once a user finds something they like, they can search for it on a site like Qloud or GrooveShark and stream it instantly. Repeatedly.
There it is, that moment of effortless, unmitigated interaction with a song ... but a purchase has never occurred. Indeed, the current process of discovering music has replaced the need to acquire music. Certainly, there are those remote corners of your life, like camping or swimming, where the internet determinstic argument falls down, but even those areas of our lives are being constantly opened up by new devices and infrastructures. The car has already fallen under the constant "just give it time" umbrella.
Music is sort of like a municipality, like water from a faucet: free, of acceptable quality. If you want a more savory experience, there is always the bottled variety. In fact, this paradigm shift is already behind us.
Our answer to how the cycle of life keeps on giving and evolving is the pairing of the appropriate music with the appropriate brand. Musical artists now have another avenue to access financial resources, infrastructure, and distribution, because brands can extend their commitment on what they bring to their consumers.
As a human being, you are multidimensional. You wear and integrate all kinds of elements into your life: Converse to Sperry, Rayban to Oakley, Timex to Tag, Dial to Tom's of Maine, Cheetos to Kettle Chips, etc. If you are savvy enough, discovering music through a brand who represents your lifestyle is a win-win. It becomes a seamless extension of your personality, supporting the elements you choose to have in your life.
For marketers, the golden egg is to create authentic ways in which brands and music reflect one another and their audience. Is this the appropriate music for that kind of brand? What is the most effective delivery mechanism that's necessary for this magical combo platter to reach you? Can it last longer than a band's tour?
The answer is yes -- it's just having the know-how and creativity in building something that is culturally-relevant, penetrating and credible.
Tim Shea contributed to this post.
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Ko Kawashima is a self-described life-a-tarian, curious brand strategist, philanthropic, fun-lovin' creative music head, humorous travelin' friend to all, entrepreneur and business owner for over 20 years, who also happens to be co-founder/chief creative officer of Brands + Music.