Why do record labels still make money today? In fact, why do they even exist? Technically, they are the ‘middle man’ – the man that delivers the artist’s content to the consumer. And technically, this role has become obsolete in the third wave of the tech revolution.
Think about it. The first wave of the tech revolution was PC/desktop internet (1Billion users); the second was mobile (2B); and the third is the Internet of Things, or IoT (IoT refers to the billions of robots making our lives easier…wearables, Nest thermostat, autonomous cars, precision agriculture, etc.).
Industry analysts estimate that ~30B of devices will be wirelessly connected to the IoT by 2020. That’s a lot of devices, especially for a world suffering from mobile addiction, and it will ultimately change how people consume everything.
So let’s discuss why this is this important for music. We’ve previously walked through how streaming (which was and is being facilitated by the second wave of the tech revolution – mobile), has altered the way that consumers listen to music. This has in turn altered the way artists deliver music. Artists no longer have to beg a radio station to play their track, or stand outside of a record label trying to prove their ‘dedication.’ They can simply build a fan base online, that – if it grows big enough – will ultimately get them a record deal.
Therein lies the issue though. Artists ultimately will accept a record deal, which means they still need a record deal. Tyler, The Creator (yes, the rapper) is pitching a platform that he believes will solve this problem. In an interview with re/code, he reasons that artists have a lot of content that would reach more people if you cut out the middle man – imagine the ability to view on demand TV shows of your favorite artist, the ability to receive brand new music, and any other content they release.
If you can, watch a bit of the video first before you read my response below.
OK, so here’s my take…while I am all for new ideas, and giving artists the ability to appeal directly the consumer, I don’t really think this idea (as it is) will work. 3 reasons:
- It sounds like a lot of this ‘content’ will be based on the consumer using PCs – he wants to move consumers away from TVs to the desktop. I think this is the wrong direction. The main source should be an app, not just a ‘media platform.’ That was the point of introducing IoT at the beginning of this post. Desktop is becoming more and more obsolete. It was the first wave of the tech revolution, and as alluded in the interview, his concept is not new and it is going to be hard to convince consumers that they need it…it would be better if his technology was part of the new tech phase – I think streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have done this well.
- If it is an app, I don’t think it should just be a ‘Tyler’, or a ‘Kardashian’ standalone app. Sort of reminds you of the LeBron one, doesn’t it? Yes, it may get a lot of downloads, but what would entice you to always check in on those artists (assuming the company rolls out 10 or 12 of these apps as hinted towards in the video). That’s just too much data use in my view. Make it a single app / platform, and then have the artists’ pages within that platform. It would even allow for cross distribution – example, I may be a Tyler, The Creator fan, but if I’m on the app and see something interesting about Howard Stern, I may click on it.
- Last point. I mentioned previously that this solves the problem of the ‘middle man,’ aka the record label, but….it doesn’t really (sorry I lied). Tyler, The Creator still plans to release music via his label deal with Sony and the Kardashians aren’t leaving TV. So that’s my last question – why not go all out and put everything into the business? Too risky? Or is it because Lloyd Braun (the founder of Whalerock) used to work for ABC and Yahoo, so doesn’t want to fully disrupt the distributors? Or is it because Tyler just wants to make money? Is this just another tech scheme aimed for failure? Who knows…I just think we have to ask the questions.