As the saying goes – when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And as we face the reality of the digital music business today, many are finding ways to make digital lemonade. This is the first in a series of posts about creative thinking in music.
In the face of declining recorded music sales, we have to look hard at the opportunities for generating money in music and get creative. Most of the energy today in digital music investment is in streaming music, music discovery, ticketing, crowd funding and artist services. Businesses like Pandora, Spotify, Beats, Ticketfly, Soundcloud, Songkick and Indiegogo have received significant investments in recent years as investors chase profits in the music space.
Artist Income – Virtual Tours
But what about individual artists and musicians themselves? What can they do to increase their opportunities to profit from their art when it is becoming increasingly challenging to make a living as a musician. Live performance and merchandise have long been mainstays of any carefully crafted musical career. How are these revenue streams fairing in the digital economy? Live shows it would seem need to be experienced and therefore are harder to digitize and share, although some are trying to broadcast live events and take them to the digital sphere. Take Stageit and Liveset for example. Artists can broadcast their live shows and reach a global audience while performing in a studio, living room or other venue.
Like a virtual campfire, these technologies let fans and performers join together in virtual circles enjoying the music and getting up close with the artists. It remains to be seen how influential these attempts will be, but I expect that inevitably some form of digital broadcast of live events will take hold and be a profitable source of revenue. Afterall, in theory, this form of live event takes a lot of the cost out of the tour, makes the artist more accessible and is easy to promote using social media and email.
Artist Income – Involve your fans
The musician Beck is planning to release his next album in the form of sheet music and full color artwork. His thinking is that people can participate in the creation and performance of the songs in this truly interactive record release. I think this is really smart and another feather in the cap of this truly creative artist/producer. Why not sow the seeds of your music within your fan base, and see what they come up with? Perhaps Beck’s genre lends itself to this kind of experimentation, but other artists can take a cue from him on a clever way to draw your fans closer to the action.
Beck’s latest album comes in a primative form—twenty songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, never before released or recorded. Complete with full color artwork for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case, Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012. Beck is inviting his fans to record, mix and produce each track in their own way. If you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” you will need to bring them to life yourself, by playing the music. It will be very interesting to see what the uptake is on this release when it becomes available in December.
There are already postings of these tracks appearing online such as this cover of “Do We, We Do” from Max Miller on Soundcloud.
Digital Sheet Music
The sheet music business is facing challenges like unlicensed tablature, free files and online video instruction that is making this old-school business look for new ways to monetize their songs. Notation sales have fallen off, though not nearly as rapidly as recording revenues. In this post from Create Digital Music, you can see the transformation of the print music business as it goes digital (as it has been doing for some time now). Sites like sheetmusicdirect.com, musicnotes.com and others are pioneering the distribution of digital sheet music. Sites like lyricstore.com are taking music licensing into an entirely new direction by letting people create custom merchandise from their favorite song lyrics.
There is lots of room for making digital lemonade in the new music economy beyond iTunes, Pandora and Spotify. In the coming weeks I will post more about online music education and a quiet revolution in music merchandising, both of which we will discover, are hotspots for growth and revenue creation in the fast moving world of digital music.