Friday at Eurosonic started with a talk and workshop from Sara Cordoba Rubino on Meta Products. Meta Products are essentially technologies and experiences built around behaviour and relationships, rather than around specific technologies. It is very similar to Service Design and draws on Touch Point design heavily too, but the central tenant is that you don’t say “what can we do on TV, Radio, on a desktop, in print or mobile” you say “what are the best means to give a type of person a useful/pleasurable/edifying experience”. The options could be a website or app that fulfils a need, but could equally involve developing a technology that works with a fridge freezer, because it is best to do that. Your solution could even be to phone a number of people up and encourage them to talk to their families more.The point is that you don’t think inside the box or page, but do map current behaviours to build something that offers an experience that makes sense to the target group. There is a whole book about Meta Products you can read online or order from Amazon with pleasing graphics and explanations (see below), with a lot of references to Apple. I really enjoyed hearing Sara speak but she was preaching to the converted in my case.
Next up was Robert Levine and Pink Floyd’s former manager Steve Jenner on a panel arguing the merits of digital copyrights. A highly divisive issue as SOPA campaigns rage. Robert Levine’s argument is persuasive, although I’m not completely down with his suggested remedies.
Basically, Levine argues that many big online businesses, such as Google and Pirate Bay, have made enormous fortunes out of others’ creativity, robbing the originators of their livings. His conclusion is that governments should intervene to legally protect copyright holders via punitive measures against services that help to flaunt copyright, rather than publishers trying to find their own technical solutions. Levine’s issue isn’t really to do with friends sharing copies on local level, but the businesses that make large profits on an industrial scale. Levine notes that Pirate Bay is registered in the Seychelles to avoid paying taxes in Sweden, so they are not organically grown but willfully exploiting creative for corporate ends.
Copyright law exists, so what’s the big issue? Well Levine points out that the effective enforcement of copyright is being hampered by large scale lobbying by the likes of Google to weaken the laws around it. He quotes, not only amounts paid to American politicians but also amounts given to academic institutions like Stanford University to write reports supporting the loosening of copyright laws. Levine argues that whereas the likes of Google and Facebook talk of free speech and the stifling of innovation with copyright, they’re in fact just trying to get laws passed that profit their companies;like the way Google Music didn’t want to deal with the music industry to create their digital music service.
Levine makes some exceedingly salient points about the way that the SOPA arguments have been framed by big corporations claiming free speech intentions. I disagree with his argument on the nature of ownership of cultural products and the assumption that creators should have a right to make money the same way they always have, despite material and market changes.
To explain the first point, why do you need to own digital copies of music on devices, hard drives and cloud storage when You Tube, Last FM, Pandora, MOG, Grooveshark and Spotify all offer services where music is readily available? Yes the creators of this content should receive some profit share, but there’s no way they can charge the price points of the past or even charge in the way they used to. The public took to illegal downloading in such a big way because of two reasons: most radio stations don’t play what people want to listen to and the amount charged for CDs were more than people thought was fair. A secondary reason is the perception that the money goes to big corporations who pay vast sums to people to live excessively luxurious lifestyles. When a music fan sees that Elton John can spend £293,000 on flowers in 18 months, why would they feel guilty downloading an album from his record label for free. I’m not saying it is right or lawful, but the law is ultimately created by social consensus and the consensus went against the music industry’s old model as soon as the technology allowed it.
If the music industry had been less entrenched in its ways, more open to new information technologies and cared more about its audience, they could have developed a Spotify with a decent price point before file sharing sites went mainstream. Music is a social product and a highly intimate medium, it is a soundtrack to people’s lives which a distributes of new ideas and values. It is a friend in hard times and in that way people don’t want to treat it like it is cereal and so it won’t be purchased as such; that’s why record sales were still high in the 1990s despite over-charging. Music also flows- the power of the playlist, cover version, remix or the DJ set re-appropriate the music in a context, removing the dictatorship of the author (getting a bit Roland Barthes here I realise). So music doesn’t feel like a possession of the artist until bought, but ephemeral and owned by the listener as if it is part of their identity. The fact it is boxed and unitised in industrial production, is a temporary historical phenomenon – which leads on to the second point.
The music album only became the main source of income from songwriters and musicians in the 1950s, before then live gigging and sheet music sales were the main incomes to those groups. Prior to 1878 musician’s couldn’t record their work at all, so the sound of music was something you went to see performed in a variety of settings, be it campfire, cabaret or concert hall. After music recordings kicked off as a major revenue source in western civilisation with the social advent of ‘teenagers’, artists, once well known, could spend long periods recording their music and needn’t bother with the exhausting tour schedules. You can see this change in the relentless live dates that The Beatles performed from 1963 until they decided to stop touring in 1966. It was a technical and social change that made the album a focus for musicians to make a living, just in the same way a social and technical change has taken it away as a primary source of income. Many industries have to stop doing things the way they used to when changes happen with technology and consumption patterns, why shouldn’t the cultural industries? Many younger and smaller record labels have accepted the change in environment, focusing on live touring, merchandise, creating unique moments, unique access or licensing their music for use in games and adverts. Why is this a problem? Well the main issues are whether people have time to perfect a quality product and if poorer people can mature their musicianship without album sales. The answer is ‘they can’ to both. As long as a musician can successfully explore the avenues that people would be prepared to pay for they can invest the money they make wisely to create a well considered album, but time and money are only useful up to a point . The Happy Mondays successfully demonstrated that having millions and going to record in the Caribbean doesn’t create a great album.
Former Pink Floyd manager Steve Jenner, emphasised the need to create uniqueness and scarcity around musical artefacts in order to make money from musical recordings. Jenner referenced Trent Reznor’s limited run and personally signed backlog release as well as the Uber Deluxe Actung Baby package from U2.
Jenner’s main point is that you should segment music audiences in a more sophisticated way, rather than offering the same thing to everyone for the same cost. This way you can lower the price points by creating something cheap for the cash strapped and spend more effort charging more to the cash frivolous. This approach is more like the art world’s model It is worth musicians studying how gallery artists can now make money before they’re dead, as audiences at galleries have gone through the roof in the last 15 years.
Live Music Broadcasts’ Fragmentation
My final session of the day included Jan-Jelle from You Tube Europe, lawyer Marcel Bunders from Hellingman Bunders Advocaten, Jan Sneum from The Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) , Hein Fokker a Benelux festival broadcast consultant, Tomi Saarinen who’s Head Of Music and Internet Finnish broadcaster @YleX and yours truly.
The session focused on the impact of live concert streaming on rights and broadcasters. Marcel gave a succinct summary of the different rights holders that you need to co-ordinate to get the content live streamed: from the promoter, artists, labels, musicians’ unions and broadcasters. It sounds an almost impossible co-ordination job, but the fact that there are mutual interests in streaming concerts brings this all together. However, getting to the point where all parties can agree to stream the majority of the festival footage online has not been easy. When the BBC started to offer festival footage on its websites the record companies were uneasy about whether this material would be devalued by streaming or even pirated. Then by 2008 the record companies saw the benefit of exposing their artists’ performances for a limited period of time, whilst the artists’ management just saw the internet as a minor concern, so didn’t engage with our initiatives; just green lighting whatever was proposed. Then around 2009/10 the artists’ management started to focus on internet activities avidly, seeing it as an opportunity and a threat in equal degrees. As Hein explained, some were willing to engage but others’ feared piracy, exposing flaws or impacting ticket sales. Without resources to engage in lengthy negotiations or guaranteed significant audiences, gaining rights form a big American act or ‘legend’ is near impossible. This is an experience shared across Europe according to the panel, explaining conversely that if broadcasters support an act from early on in their career, they will have more chance of gaining rights later on.
So the extended relationship with an artist is one distinctive factor that a broadcaster has over a new entrant to live music streaming, like You Tube. However can they get displaced by new brands who offer lots of money and large global audiences? Jan certainly saw the likes of You Tube as a threat, stating that the Eurosonic Awards from that week couldn’t be offered by his network because You Tube got there first. New entrants to the live music broadcasting space are now not only national but international, cross-platform and numerous. The fear for Jan and many public service broadcasters in Europe is that they will be excluded from the recording of major live music events, thus diminishing their audience, archive and public remit.
I argued that the arrival of new entrants like Apple, Google and even Red Bull have actually forced public service broadcasters to examine what’s distinctive about their activities. I feel that many have avoided being distinctive due to their monopolies on production facilities and access to audiences. A simple cashing in on a name is no longer enough, public service broadcasters should instead leverage :
- their technical expertise in recording sound
- their editorial judgement in selecting the most interesting music
- their expertise in developing new artists early in their careers
- their editorial flair in contextualising the music.
Many broadcasters are already doing these things but aren’t sharing their live content where audiences are increasingly accessing them: primarily in the video superstore that is You Tube, the communication hub of Facebook and increasingly in Sound Cloud. Especially for public broadcasters, getting brand recognition is the most important factor for survival, but they measure success by unique browsers on their own sites or listeners, which is wrong. Broadcasters should instead treat You Tube as a platform not another website, especially when it comes to live music. Treating their websites as extensions of their radio and television broadcasts is the most promising tactic.
Tomi from Finland goes as far to say that he doesn’t think radio should broadcast more than three songs in a row from a live concert. Instead he suggests teasing a track and pushing to the website or on-demand platform for more. This is backed up by research I’ve seen which explains the polarising effect on an audience of forcing a single artist on their ears. I would caveat that, occasionally an artist due to the nature of the occasion can demand interest, despite musical tastes, as with Jay-Z at Glastonbury or Nirvana at Reading Festival.
The conference, though rushed, was extremely thought provoking. Sessions highlighted the exciting and epoch changing trends that music and cultural communication is going through currently. It seems convergence of mediums, true cross-platform services and the challenging of hardened broadcasting models are forcing all elements of the music industry to re-examine their roles in the cultural eco-systems of 2012.