Wednesday, October 01, 2003

EXPERIENCE: Traditional Packaging Not Required

Apple launched iTunes in January of 2001. The product, it turns out, is a music supervisor's delight.

But in order to maximize its usefulness to me, I've had to rather compulsively spend inordinate amounts of time transferring media from one platform to another. Now, two years later I've finally burned through a life's collection of Compact Discs and DATS, and even digitized my old audio cassettes, so that I can access it all via the iTunes app. The net result is that as of today I've amassed one hundred and ninety seven gigabytes of audio, a collection that includes both MP3s and AIFF files. An even though I've been using computers for well over 20 years, I'm still amazed that how much audio can now fit on a single drive.

Here's a question: What am I going to do with all that left over packaging?

Along the way I came to the following realization:

In the past, the vinyl record and its jacket was not just a vehicle for distribution, but actually part and parcel of the entertainment experience. The same can’t be said for Compact Discs, which are about as experiential as a box of Tic Tacs. Once the Tic Tacs are gone, you don’t keep the packaging. So it goes with CDs. Once a customer has transferred audio from a CD to their hard drive, the disc, Digipak or jewel case it was transported in, all instantly become garbage.

The iTunes store itself has replaced packaging to some extent –as has each artist’s own website– and both definitely provide an experience. But given how digital audio is wreaking havoc on the traditional music business model, how will artists in the future reach a substantial audience? Because global awareness is one reason why an artist signs with a record label, right? Well, I think an artist can reach a worldwide audience –and significantly increase their market share– by accepting sponsorship and corporate patrons. Call it The Medici Music Model.

I am NOT suggesting artists accept traditional spokesperson-styled endorsement deals. Nor am I suggesting that performers tell their fans that they use and enjoy a sponsor’s products unless that is part of an overall contractual negotiation/obligation.

However, I do put forward that modern merchants can power up their branding possibilities by underwriting individual artists and entertainers beginning with the recording and distribution of an artist's works similar to the same way as Coca Cola does right now by underwriting Charlie Rose's talk show. That is, no explicit endorsement by the artist for the patron's product or service required or expected –just a public word of thanks by the artist for the sponsorship (unless otherwise negotiated by the sponsor). For artists (unattached to traditional record labels), such relationships can significantly increase their own market share or fan base by a tremendous margin.

Let's consider a future where songwriters and performers aren't signed –they're underwritten. And stars won't endorse products; they'll partner with the companies that make them. (I call such strategic partnerships ROCK BRANDS)

For individual musical artists, regardless of whether they accept patronage, it's arguably all about the experience; therefore there's no reason to insist on packaging your music on a Compact Disc, or in a jewel case. You can sell anything –oats, soap, flowers, swag, art, books, marketing collateral, tequila and collectibles of all sorts– and package the merchandise with a coupon redeemable at an online store for one's desired music. For ten bucks, do your fans prefer A) one CD, or B) one T-Shirt that comes with a unique code enabling a download of a complete album (or perhaps any ten songs from your repertoire) from your online site?

In the future, musicians may resemble entrepreneurs who sell not just songs, but are associated with an array of products, which will use the artist's own music to add value to a number of consumer goods and services. In tandem, the brand partnerships will serve as a distribution vehicles for the music and the artist's message.

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