The unbundling, whether as single album tracks on iTunes or the distribution and marketing that once only a record label could do, has affected every corner of the music and the music industry. But a new music paradigm is rising out of the wreckage of unbundling, writes Alex Marx.
By Alex Marx
This is a continuation of the Unbundled series on music dynamics. Read the previously published pieces here:
The second act in the “bundled/unbundled” production is the “bundled” piece. It’s about exploring the bundling process as it pertains to music, and really trying to determine the proper scope of examination. Said scope, when broadened enough, shows a shifting paradigm of power and perception rising out of the wreckage of the previous music landscape. It’s similarly divided into three parts:
- Bundled in the Wrong Way
- Power and Paradigm Shift
- Sexy vs. Unsexy
The first of these is an exploration of what types of bundling already exist, and how it might not be the right kind of bundling to pursue. The nature of peoples’ interaction with music has changed, so it follows that the things bundled in music should change as well. This is a particularly difficult thing to accept because it requires a reworking of thought regarding something already perceived as “done.”
The second part is a discussion of how power naturally shifts during these seismic events, and how the new power should be held by a previously dismissed faction: the artists.
This flows right into the last part, which is an exploration of how many of the things which should be considered and bundled may not be the “sexiest” or most exciting of things to include. But “sexiness” and utility don’t always go hand-in-hand, and reality prevails at some point.
Bundled in the Wrong Way
This is the biggy. Inasmuch as many things in the music universe(s) have become unbundled, so too are there a variety of things that have also become bundled. In the light of all the unbundling going on (Chris Saad blew through an extensive example list from everything including music and news to relationships and war), it appears somewhat unsexy to talk about the things going through the bundling process.
Where unbundling is fast and sexy and simple, bundling appears slow and outdated. But in music at least, this is far too simple an assessment.
The reality is that there are many things in music that have always been bundled, but bundled in such a way that they appeared to be unbundled. Many of the things which “music” apps are now trying to tackle separately—distribution, marketing, social, ticketing, analytics, messaging and/or communication, and live booking—have always been bundled under the banner of the record label.
The label controlled virtually everything, from distribution and radio play (yes, payola is real) to marketing and fan engagement. If you wanted to exist as an artist, you needed to be a part of this world in some way. Otherwise, you were relegated to the “independent” pile, which in the years prior to 1991, was much less glamorous than it is now.
Power and Paradigm Shift
When the digital age hit, the unbundling of the record labels’ power began. Since around 2005, major label power has seeped, and independent power has reached new heights. However, in their new-found power, independents were also sold a myth that everything they needed could be solved by partaking in a variety of unbundled services, from analytics to social platforms.
What this myth fails to address though, is the massive time-suck it really promotes. There are a great many things that should be bundled. Things like analytics, ticketing, distribution, radio play, social engagement, community, and marketing should all be offered under the same banner of a startup or new company.
But—and this is so important—done so in a way where the artists retain their power.
Sexy vs. Unsexy
The unbundling that has occurred has amazingly and unexpectedly taken much of the power away from the labels and delivered it to the artists. Artists now have the ability to control nearly every aspect of their operation, from recording through distribution through community engagement. But they don’t really have it all in one place, for free (yes this is huge), with the level of choice they need.
They have a variety of music discovery sites to choose from, a variety of analytics engines to use, and a variety of social platforms to post on, among other things. This is too much, and simplification is necessary. A music company should offer all of these types of functions under its purview, wherein artists can then choose to use them—or not—as they like. Choice and freedom remain intact while efficiency and simplicity are underscored.
But why stop there? Why not tackle the unsexy things that major labels have always done and give that power back to the artists as well?
Have a company that encompasses all the functions above, and then add (fan-driven) radio play, legal information and resources, management, copyright, and informational context. In making the experience of one site all-encompassing, you then succeed in changing the artists’ paradigm, thus changing the music landscape.
Giving artists access to these “unsexy” things is just as easy as (easier actually than) giving fans access to the music they want to hear.
The only difference is that instead of focusing on half of the equation, you instead complete the circle, and do so independently of the former rigid structure.
The Power of Knowledge
Whereas the points of the previous piece—choice and format—led to the overarching concept of community, the three points here point to something different, but equally important: knowledge.
If knowledge is power, then bundling things in a new way to give artists access to more knowledge clearly translates to a shift of power in their direction. This upends the previous paradigm immensely.
As artists gain perspective and knowledge on things like music analytics, marketing strategies, and engagement statistics—as well as “unsexy” things like legal resources and contacts—the power shifts significantly away from the major record companies. Their power has always been cemented in two main things: money and knowledge. But once artists and creators have access to the second of these two things (knowledge), they can apply it flexibly to attain the first of these two things (money).
This creates major fissures in the current music landscape, and opens up a splintering ecosystem of new opportunities for creatives at all levels of music creation and engagement.
COMING THURSDAY: The next movement in the symphony will be Part III: Democratizing the Future, which will take a look again at a new unbundled dynamic. Concepts discussed will touch on how the new unbundling will change music ownership and identity.
Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!