Saving the physical music format...

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10 mars 2007, 0h22m

...the ideas that will save "The Album", revolutionize the music industry, and bring back appreciation of good music. Or at least they would if I was the CEO of the media conglomerates and not a network tech making peanuts. ;)

There's a lot of discussion where music will go in the age of the iPod and the music download; over at the lala.com forums a question was posed about what the future album would be and that got me thinking, how can music regain the richness it had in the 50-60's, live in this modern world, but still exist in a way that the big labels could go with the flow rather than act to destroy it?

A lot of people say that music is doomed because full albums aren't done as well as they used to be "one killer, the rest filler". Well it goes without saying that the quality of music is dependant on the artist making the music but that's a separate issue from the loss of the album as we know it. Labels just need to quit focusing on cranking out albums as fast as possible and stick with promoting quality; there are still a lot of great artists out there that can make damn fine music.

Assuming the artist has talent how can they be marketed to the public in a way that gives music lovers what they want and keep the labels that find and sign the artist from losing money to online distribution?

A lot of talk is around the elimination of the physical album and the CD; and in the face of the iPod and single song purchases the outlook looks bleak. But I've already been down this path myself and I can tell you that everybody going to all digital downloads won't happen.

First off that makes the same bad assumption that all technology predictions make; that all users on earth are as technologically savvy as the person making the prediction. But until my parents figure out how keep the VCR from blinking 12:00 I don't believe they may stop buying CDs in favor of downloads. And many of my friends that are in the same 18-30 demographic as me think dial-up is ok and there's no reason to upgrade. But there's another reason I think this prediction won't play out.

Back in the day of the first Napster I gained a few hundred tracks of music, all single songs rather than albums. iTunes and the like didn't exist but the idea is the same, I got all the one hit wonders and to 40 singles I heard on the radio and started listening to them. But rather than online single tracks becoming the norm of my music acquisitions that music planted the seeds of that would later become some of my favorite artists. At first I noticed that I had a hand full of songs by one artist so I went out and bought their "greatest hits" album; that introduced me to more of their music so I started collecting all their CDs I could get my hands on. My point is that I didn't just walk away after getting that one song, it led to more CDs and some full discography collections (except from some artists which truly deserve the title "one hit wonder").

Physical CDs also won't die out because they provide some pretty nice benefits that digital downloads don't have. An HQ copy of the song (no 192kbps iTunes crap), that can be re-recorded as needed, liner notes and album art (Rhapsody albums are like mini novels that incorporate the songs into the story), the ability to play music on anything that doesn't have an iPod dock or audio-in line (most cars), and finally physical a backup if your hard drive burns up ot iPod is left on the bus.

But even if the physical album isn't in danger of being completely eliminated it's definitely losing enough ground to online distribution that it may become secondary to digital downloads. How can the industry rekindle the spark of interest in music that once existed in the days before MTV and the media conglomerates?

First, I think the UK and Japan have the solution by bringing the Single into the equation; by having the Single + Album dynamic you can appeal to many different levels of music fans.
Second, CDs need to be more than just music, with large numbers of video iPods and other video capable devices available it's time to add video content to mix things up. The music video needs to be as easy to play as the song so some spare time on the bus can be spent watching and listening. Besides a good music video can add to the music, and if others watch it it's basically a commercial to promote the song.

Singles:

First, the single needs to be promoted as strongly as the album. And not the wishy-washy, overpriced singles we have now; it needs to be strong because it's basically what gets the user hooked into getting more singles and albums down the line. I figure three songs per single (the A and B track and one alternate) should be the norm for a "regular" release, or the A and B tracks and a music video; the price for this would be $5-6. Plus have a "limited edition" of the single that has the A and B track, 2-4 alternate editions of one or the other, and any music videos associated with those tracks, the price would be $6-10 depending on how much extra content is included (I've seen singles with 10 tracks of 2 different songs).

The benefits are that that even with the simple regular single releases your favorite artist is putting out something new every few months, keeping you listening to them and hyping the next album instead of waiting a year or two between releases where your attention may drift to other artists. The current US method of releasing the album then the singles for that album is completely backwards; it's no wonder people don't get the single. If I already have the album, why should I get the song again?

Adding in the additional and alternate tracks is the key; they can be alternates like acoustic versions, live recordings from concerts, remixes, or unplugged "Jam Sessions" when the song wasn't 100% done and was still half written. All of which need no additional production (except the remix) and are relatively cheap and easy to produce; nothing much is needed other than having good recording equipment running every time the band plays. Having these alternate versions allows listeners to see how the song evolved as it was written and played before its official release. This alone is a selling point for popular songs even if somebody has the album before the single.

Another key is the low price; I know the big labels will balk but if the single is only costs 25% less than an album for 60% less songs nobody is going to touch it. The single is what gets the new fans attracted to the specific artist, if they have to be sold a little bit of a loss it's ok since the money comes back on the limited editions, albums, and compilations. Besides at over $2 a track you lose too much competition to online services; and when they purchase one iTunes song that's often heard on the radio there's less of a chance of customers expanding their knowledge of the artist than if you give them 2-3 additional songs and some bonus content.

Albums:

After a handful of singles are out group them, the B-sides that went over well, and some new songs into an album. A lot of people think that albums are too mechanical and don't flow as a whole like they used to; this is true but it's not the problem of the album, online competition, or the artist. It's simply a problem of a badly organized album. As long as the artist keeps the album in mind when making and releasing the singles that lead up to it they could flow straight into the album. Imagine where each single is a step in a path fans follow through the year that becomes a story that finally solidifies and comes to a conclusion in an album. Fans could literally follow the creation of the album through the singles leading up to it.

Once again any blank, unused space on the disc itself should be filled with the single's music videos, the album songs being performed live (especially for the B-sides and new tracks that didn't get their own music videos), entertaining backstage clips, or entertaining clips from recording and making the album. None of it has to be high budget produced video; just candid moments caught by a roadie or staffer with a handi-cam to build a connection between the artist behind the music and the listener.

For the hardcore fans offer a limited edition that comes with a DVD that has the exact same tracklist but is made of musicvideos and live perfeomances of tracks that didn't get music videos.

Compilations:

When a band has a good number of songs released it's good to get a singles compilation or "Greatest Hits" CD out. Once again purists say this destroys the flow of a true album but the compilations aren't made for people who are already fans. The comp. is mainly for people new to the music who don't want to risk getting an album that may not be the artist's best work, but want more than just the single of the song they've already heard on the radio.

To make it a true "Greatest Hits" album and to bring the fans closer to the music give the fans a list of music on the official artist website and have them vote what favorites of theirs should be in it. Sometimes even though it was the A-side track of the single that was emphasized, it turns out to be the B-side or the alternate "rock mix" of the single that people liked the most.

Reasons:

The benefit of promoting releases with multimedia singles, albums and comps like this is that it appeals to all fans. First, the people who don't like the artist but did find one song catchy (Moby - Southside for me), can just get the single and have all alternate versions of that one song they liked. Second, the average fan who likes the artist but isn't a diehard can get the album which groups the recent singles plus some extra songs. Last, the diehard fan can collect all singles and albums. They'll have some duplicates but they'll also have all the rare alt. tracks from the single plus the non-single tracks from the album for a full music discography of their favorite artist. An alternate fan group would be the late-comers who have heard a few songs or a lot of hype and just want an overview of the artist, these people can start with the comp albums and then move onto the singles and albums if they like what they hear.

Another key to reviving Physical media is the addition of video and multimedia content which needs to be unlocked and in a standard high quality format that everybody can use. No more of these crappy flash screens that pop-up on my computer when I insert the CD, no links to non-existent web pages because the CD is 2 years old, and no bogus proprietary players that need to be installed to play the video. Just have the music tracks, and some videos in AVI or MP4 that can be dragged and dropped into a player like a file. And the video should be good quality, like I said before it's basically a commercial for the song that encourages more of its play. I've even heard songs I thought were sub-par that I liked much more once after I saw the music video for them, so no grainy youtube quality vids.

The only reason I can see having the CD link back to a homepage is an idea that Bill at lala.com had where the album would allow you to download updates to the music like computer software can get updates. Getting to do it in a way that doesn't install a root kit on a computer would be an issue but the idea is great. Not only do you have the single with it's music video, you can use the disc to download clips from the release party, live performances of the songs at the release tour, and new updated tracks that come out later such as covers, remixes, or unplugged acoustic sessions. It'd really open up how a fan could further access their favorite artist and favorite music.

The short if it is that the "track at a time" online purchases will continue to gain market share, and of course piracy will always exist. But even with both of these forces pulling physical media in opposite directions, physical media can still restructure itself in a way that can not only limit it's loss to competition but can also use the new technologies we have now. With the right deployment and marketing artists and labels can catapult music back into art form it was before MTV turned artists into cattle to feed the masses, and still incorporate the format richness and freedom the iPod/Napster generation has come to expect.

Commentaires

  • Niovi_

    completely agree. you should sent this to a record company... ^^

    13 jui. 2007, 15h49m
  • Pazas1917

    Great marketing model! If only the major music conglomerates would actually follow this, but it's to much of a "risk." They need some young hotshot like you to go in a revitalize the industry. :D

    12 août 2008, 1h20m
  • apeman2001

    I like having mp3's and if I like the artwork or want to a explore an album; have more of an experience with it, I try to find it on vinyl.

    28 août 2008, 23h55m
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