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Spotify or Soundcloud: future of music payment

July 16, 2009

Tonight, I was at a great event organised by Chinwag called “Music – who Pays the Piper?”, that examined future revenue generation in the music industry.  It was refreshing that the panel members were unanimous on one thing – music can’t be free.  Or, in other words, artists should be paid for creating something valuable.

But what was most inspiring was the range of ideas put forward about how music creation might be rewarded.  This is a very rough summary of some of the ideas put forward by the panel – Dave Haynes, UK Manager at Soundcloud; Dom Hodge, Associate Director at Frukt Music; Helienne Lidvall, journalist and blogger at The Guardian and a songwriter; Jon Mitchell, Sales Director at Spotify and Richard Jacobs, Head of Radio at MediaCom.

Dave Haynes: the age of the CD is over.  A premium will be put on originality – remixes and music created collaboratively will become more valuable – in fact, music can already be developed entirely in the cloud, enabling collaborative creation of the music itself.  This collaborative creation is where value can be added to the music – what happens then is not important – ad-funding, fan-payments or brand sponsorship – Dave does not really care!

Dom Hodge: one of the most important recent changes to the music industry has been the new emphasis on access, rather than ownership (e.g. the streaming model used by Spotify).  A solution to the stifling of innovation in the music industry would be for the major labels to acquire equity stakes in successful start-ups, rather than to shut them down – an intriguing idea. Fans will pay for music.

Helienne (pronounced as Korean): the obvious revenue generator is touring – but not everyone can make money this way.  The industry rule of thumb is that the break-even point is when you can fill the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (capacity 2,000). Other ways of making money don’t necessarily work: Helienne has received millions of plays on YouTube but been paid only about £30 royalties.  From online sales, record labels make about ten times as much as song-writers.  She argued against flat-rate fees for music.  Brand advertisers will end up funding music.

Jon: Spotify has reached 2m users within five months, but it is still a long way from making money.  The entire room was asked “who has not used Spotify?” – nobody put their hand up to that.  But when asked who pays for Spotify Premium, only one person in the room raised their hand – me.  Jon said artists must be compensated, and alluded to innovations and growth in the ad-funded Spotify service.  He also mentioned that – in the very long term – individuals should have access to Spotify too.  Ads will eventually pay for music.

Richard: brand relationships in the music industry are becoming more important and this is going to continue.  Media buyers such as MediaCom are hearing from countless new music streaming sites every week attempting to pick up ad revenue – but the vast majority are not worth looking at.  Fragmentation is nobody’s friend, and Richard advocated a collaborative approach to media selling among streaming services.  He emphasised that the biggest consideration is the connection between brands and the music site – and in that sense, media buyers are increasingly becoming the financial gatekeepers of the music industry – if the song doesn’t fit the brand perfectly, then it is Richard’s job to pull out of the deal.  He felt an ad- and sponsorship-funded music industry was inevitable.

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