Andy wrote a great post in which he asks the key question of the moment in the world of selling recorded music:
What happens when the physical form of our media becomes fully disassociated from its function? What happens when there is no longer any physical form at all – it feels like we are basically at that point. Does anyone even remember CDs?
As we move rapidly towards streaming becoming the dominant form of music consumption, CD’s and even MP3′s are being pushed out of the market. This will finally allow artists and their teams to be liberated from having to look at the physical component of a music release as just a carrying vehicle for music or liner notes. (For goodness sake, we just released an album for which a handmade finger puppet is the only physical component.)
It’s wistful to remember cassettes as the form that allowed us to imagine and experience. For me it was record liner notes, the inscrutable clues left behind that exposed a world you couldn’t be part of. But that was the key – these were worlds (and objects) that were apart from us, we dreamed of being part of them, but couldn’t. They were hard to make.
Instead, right now, we can be part of these experiences – and not just as simple viewers. We can be creators, sharers, promoters, discoverers. I think that’s why disassociating the physical form from the function matters. It allows for creation and experience that is wide open, accessible, and easy, as opposed to closed and hard and not understandable.
I fully support Andy’s point here, and would even like to amplify it. In the same way that disassociating the form from the function liberates artists and labels from the vehicle dogma, it also empowers listeners to have a more complex and interesting choice in their consumption patterns. Everything becomes fluid and, if we do it well, seamless and open. Track listings turn into “make your own adventure” style experiences, with the option to go with the artist’s vision, your own cherry picked version, or a playlist integration to make it your own daily soundtrack. Listening itself becomes promotion, as fans can choose to broadcast their behavior through their facebook tickers and other platforms. Song discovery moves into the world of a million taste-makers, where your music nerd friend is more influential (again, like in the cassette days) than the Rolling Stone reviewer. Every fan has the opportunity to engage with the music by making lyric videos, cover videos, etc.
All of these changes greatly amplify what start-up folks might call “user engagement”, which is one of the most important metrics around to indicate the value of a product’s interaction with it’s customers. The higher the engagement, the more opportunities to monetize the relationship. So where music business veterans fear these changes and the immediate loss of income, those that can see the big picture can see this temporary drop is only making way for a long-term improvement if you’re willing to stick it out and put in the work.
In many ways, we are living in what Nick Crocker calls “musical heaven” in his great post. By disassociating form increasingly from function we open up a whole myriad of opportunities within the music world. Opportunities to innovate, monetize, create, liberate, re-distribute, enjoy, and open up. And the physical component to music can once again flourish and become an artistic opportunity for the artist, and a very special bonding opportunity for hardcore fans.
The separation of form and function represents one of the biggest shifts in music. We are moving from the carefully controlled “Apple App Store”-style closed experience, towards an environment and dynamic that is yet to be determined and very well might be much more open and interesting, and therefor also terrifying for the current stake-holders. However, for innovative artists, and the teams around them willing to be bold, it’s an exciting dream.
- To Release Or Not To Release On CD (Or There’s Another Way) (read)
- Form and Function by Andy Weissman (read)
- Living In Musical Heaven by Nick Crocker (read)