Voice control is continuing to both develop in terms of technology and implementation.
The idea of a new operating system completely disrupting the way we operate computers is completely exciting. How cool that artificial intelligence has reached a stage where we can now successfully and efficiently control not only medias, but also tangible real-life objects by our voice!?
The potential for voice control is absolutely huge, it really will change how we interact with computers (meaning all computer devices, not just desktop/laptop varieties!)
It won't be long before stand-by projectors, that can be operated by the likes of Alexa, are used - so that we only see things when we need to (a great potential for saving energy wasted by doing tasks on a screen that can now be done by voice). This will help human eyesight by eliminating the need to stare at screens and will be great for arthritic RSI caused by keyboards or smartphones. We're moving into an augmented reality, and voice control is a big part of that.
But, voice control technologies pose some real threats to the independent music industry that need to be addressed to ensure new independent music is discovered and shared with prospective new fans.
Understandably, the listener is moving more and more towards a 'just play' solution for their music, with algorithms and technologies that detect and execute everything from curation to mood detection and all in between.
Much like with the radio of yesteryear, music consumption will increasingly be about continuity over control. This is great news for discovery but introduces some really scary problems.
Firstly, with budget & industry weight and buy-ins to the technologies that host and play the music, the majors would be able to manipulate the curation in search results to ensure their music is played in response to specific search queries, thus suffocating the independent artists and labels.
Secondly, voice-control adds to the risk of music devaluing to the point it becomes just a supplement to other activities, rather than an enjoyable pleasure in its own right.
Thirdly, if a listener does like a new artist they're introduced to through voice-control, they need to be able to easily escalate that new interest into interaction with the artist so that the enjoyment of listening to the track can be escalated to a long-term 'relationship' between artist and fan.
Voice-control also poses a threat to other new ways people are discovering music. Spotify's Discover Weekly, social playlists etc. will all be less likely to be used, just because of the way search works. It will be uncommon that people ask their devices what friends are listening to or to "play me something I don't know" - because people will often already have some idea of what they are asking for.
It'll be more about "Alexa, play something I can dance to", which will 9/10 be mainstream commercial music, big hits that the streaming platform will know people would want to expect to hear in such a playlist.
So that means that music will have to be very popular before it even reaches the 'c list' levels of streaming. Spotify try and tackle the 'mainstream overpowers all' problem by using something that looks like the following system (taken from this report from BPI):
That alone, in the current streaming climate, is really tough on independent artists and labels when it comes to not being overshadowed by major-label-backed material, but now we're moving into voice-led OS (and speculatively, people will add things to their playlist less) that system just won't work very well for getting new music heard.
Ethical relationships between labels and artists aren't just about giving the artists a higher percentage of royalties.
Independent labels should also manage and educate artists about the importance of making the right choices to be sustainable professionals. Being an artist is one thing, but making a stable career out of it is something that requires a lot of business sense and strategy. Nowadays especially, labels should be actively working in artist development services as well as record manufacturing and releasing.
The whole reason that defined artists have [personal] managers, where other creative professionals (marketers, designers, strategists etc) don't, is because artists need managing.
Well, if you're 100% devoted to your art - which requires you to always be in a state of living purely to feed a selection of philosophies & concepts and to create a representation of something intangible (a way of living which is often mistaken for 'selfishness') then you're unlikely to be able to deal with the logical and sociological pressures that come with forming a business around your work.
A good manager understands this and uses it as a the foundation for the relationship between them and their artist(s).
It's time that we understood that most artists are not 'entrepreneurs', even if society would have us believe it now.
Modern Western society has adopted urban music as their 'popular' genre, and Hip Hop lyrics are often around self-made success through hardship and money-making, making it an expectation for artists. Especially now that they can grow their own digital following.
In reality, artists are still more like Rock Stars or the best Jazz Musicians. If they were fortunate enough to earn loads of money, without the right management, they could well burn it, themselves and their future career.
But that doesn't mean that artists are likely to spend all their money on drugs and partying. Artists can just as easily waste way too much money on expensive restaurants, gym classes and personal trainers, unwise investment decisions, or any other expensive frequent costs that can go unnoticed separately, but quickly add up to put wealthy people into debt.
And aside from all of the financial management, artists need somebody to manage their public relations so that they're exposed enough to keep enough attention to generate revenue, but also a gatekeeper to prevent distractions.
More importantly, they need somebody to keep them on track artistically and find the right people to help an art work find a marketable home.
All in all, the team around the artist should never get in the way of the artistic vision and output, but all the best artists are also aware that there are other 'artists', masters of their own crafts, who can help take a work from something good to something great.
To be honest, Tidal hasn't crossed our radar for a little while. They've been very quiet - especially since the Kanye / Jay-Z fallout and subsequent suing between one another which largely involved Tidal.
When Kanye first released The Life of Pablo on Tidal and told people it’d be exclusive there (for a while at least), the free trial was well worth jumping on. Again, later when Jay Z released 4:44 solely on Tidal it was another reason to give it a shot.
There's something alluring about the exclusivity of a streaming platform. Having the artists you're wanting to listen to as the key shareholders in the tech business feels similar to buying luxury clothes, somehow. But if Tidal does become a platform that's marketed in that manner it's going to have a far more restricted target market than the likes of Spotify, but could giving it some strong differentiations - more on that later in the article.
On first use, Tidal is really likeable. It looks nice, it's simple, to navigate, it works, the mobile app [was/is?] faster than Spotify and it was releasing music from some of the leading artists in Electronic and Urban music, music that wasn’t landing elsewhere.
The innovative business strategies bought forward by Tidal also make it an appealing platform. It raised a new issue for the industry...
Until Tidal, artists with commercial power were experimenting with methods to maintain power over their assets, such as refusing to release music on selected streaming platforms (i.e. Swift on Spotify in favour of Apple, or Adele refusing to stream) to strategically block out competition to their high-profile deals with their partners; but they were still keeping with the traditional model philosophy of ‘release as many places as possible to reach a wider market’.
Artists only releasing on a single platform, saying to listeners they may need to pay multiple subscriptions to access all the music they wanted, was a new proposition to listeners who were just getting used to the idea of even paying for any subscriptions! It was positioned from an abundance mentality, implying that artists are in control and fans should buy into their platform in order to enjoy the art and entertainment they provide. The philosophy being based on scarcity selling.
A small ripple happened here in the media surrounding the platform. A theory that this splitting of platforms (and the respective separate subscription costs associated with them) would cause a relapse of pirating, because consumers would be expected to pay for multiple platforms to get music from different artists. Although that scenario is bad for artist, listener and business alike, it's also very exciting because it's shown another problem that needs solving to eventually reach a solid streaming solution for both artists and listeners.
Tidal includes prolific shareholders including DeadMau5 and Daft Punk, so we were hoping they would develop the platform in a way that was marketed and appealed to the electronic music audience (as well as their primary niche in Hip Hop/RNB/Urban) - similar to how Beatport is in the MP3 world. As shareholders, the mentioned artists could be using their profile to really grow and push up-and-coming artists in their space through the platform, giving it a unique discovery edge over other streaming platforms in the market. So far, there doesn't seem to be much of this happening.
Tidal doesn't seem to be taking advantage of this potential advantage they may have as a 'speciality' provider. We think that this could be make or break for them.
It works. Almost…
Artists Get Paid
Of course the renowned argument is that they don't get paid enough! There are many on-going questions as to where this money is getting stuck and challenges to make it happen.
Listeners Can Consume Easily
We thoroughly believe that music streaming that generates revenue for artists (both through adverts and subscriptions) is the future of music consumption. This will be especially evident when voice control starts to become more mainstream for playing music.
Listeners want access to any music they want, when they want to listen to it. In the age of the internet, this is not a harsh demand...
It is our job; as labels, publishers, technology platforms (DSPs) and other service providers to create and manage a solution that ensures listeners can consume easily, and that artists get paid enough to develop their careers as artists and not have to subsidise their passion by working in corporations that destroy their souls!
Why Not Apple Music, Deezer or Tidal?
At BDEM, we use all of these. We want our artists' music to be on as many platforms that are in demand as possible (that recuperate our artists with revenue earned), and it is said that Apple Music and the others even give a higher payout per stream than Spotify.
However, Spotify has the highest userbase of all the DSPs and the most advanced technology. This bring a lot of advantage to our artists in terms of opportunities, and as long as those opportunities are evident it makes sense for us to put all of our marketing eggs in one basket, as such, and invest our resource into using the advantages of Spotify to support our artists' growth.
The Majors Have Their Grubby Paws All Over It
It's no secret that the Majors are heavily invested in Spotify and therefore have power over decisions, and take the majority of the revenue (leaving Spotify in their position of turning over billions but still not making a profit). - And, it is widely criticised that the majors do not pay the right amounts of that back to their artists.
This is a situation we're watching closely and assessing whether we're always going to have a place on Spotify as an independent service. As long as there is opportunity for our artists, we'll have presence. As soon as it shows that the playing field isn't fair, we'll find another way to make a fair solution elsewhere.
The Market Has Changed
Some are still arguing against streaming and its viability commercially. claiming that per-play returns are so minimal against MP3 purchases that there's not going to be enough money in it.
But we're now talking about a multi billion dollar industry, one that is still in early growth stages.
Even with such a small return per stream, a quick look at The Spotify Charts is enough to inspire you to believe in the future of streaming. 4,000,000 plays DAILY at $0.006 is no laughing matter. Earning $24,000 a day is no laughing matter. That makes you a millionaire every 41 days. So every year you earn $8,000,000 from a single track, in theory. But yes, that 4,000,000 mark is artists like Drake and they are massively manufactured, globally marketed and highly advertised on the Spotify platform itself. The point is, there is chance and opportunity there for those that play the game right.
It's highly likely that these deals are much better for the major partnerships than $0.006 per stream. However, the deals with artists are complicated, and it's unlikely that artists are seeing $8m from each track per year.
But we don’t believe the outlook is bleak for independent artists either, with more users picking up the use of streaming platforms and Spotify going public, it should bring more money into the business, bring more power back to the DSP and introduce fairer payouts directly to the creators. If not, then people will either have to get used to only listening to manufactured music from the majors or they will seek new ways to consume new / up-and-coming / independent music and we'll be there with a solution that ensures our artists are properly reimbursed!
Some of us had a tape Walkman and recorded the radio to build mixtapes in our childhoods, but that experience quickly whizzed through to annoying skipping unreliable portable CD players and then the cheap china-made MP3 players we could get off of Ebay for under a fiver, that we'd fill up with tracks we'd download on our 28/56k internet connections from P2P platforms.
P2P was a game-changer for the music industry. This was the point that music not only became free, but became ON DEMAND. We as the listeners finally had a way to access single tracks as and when we wanted them, sometimes when they weren't even available to buy.
The major labels responded to P2P in a way that damaged the future of the music industry all round.
The shutdown of P2Ps had a similar result to the war on drugs, so as with the changing of chemicals to mask the type of drug being sold, illegal digital music distribution just kept changing to suit the needs of the consumer. Meanwhile, the labels ended up losing more and more control trying to oppress and deny the listeners.
At the time, it wasn’t really even about the fact the music was free. People still wanted to support artists. The listeners were just in awe of the new easy ways they could obtain music, accessing any music they wanted (from chart albums to super-rare bedroom recordings from new up-and-coming artists).
Digital changed the way music could be enjoyed and listeners caught onto it quickly. Trying to stop them doing that was like forcing people to walk 30 miles when they have a car. Most of the time it’s just not ideal.
The way Grime artists used P2P was a demonstration of how the spread of music between communities eventually lead to the growth of a culture and market. They used P2P far more wisely than the majors, because they saw it as an assistance to business, not a problem. For the Grime artists, it was about getting music into the ownership of as many people as possible. They exploited this with their ‘demo style’ freestyles, battles and chats which helped them elevate their careers into commercial territory by leverage of mass sharing with niche markets.
We get this and one of our core drives as a business is to find harmony between digital consumers and the artists that they actually truly want to support, but don’t know how to with the tools they’re given.
We’re sure that part of the answer lies in digital streaming platforms, but there are still some questions to be answered - especially from an independent music respect. The accessibility of stored archives of music (in data centres accessible via the cloud) seems like the answer, and having that wealth at a single point (with self-management abilities) on both your computer and portable devices is clearly unbeatable when compared to self-owned MP3 libraries; that you have to order, backup, purchase separately and search for from multiple sources.
The problems at the moment are with fair distribution of earnings - the majors have a lock-down on the streaming platforms and deals that mean that take a huge percentage of the earnings. This is suffocating both the streaming tech companies and the independent labels and artists who only end up with a small portion of the earning split.
There is a problem with royalty collection across both production rights and copyright, with some grey areas in both copyright law and neighbouring rights that need to be solved so that artists get what they have actually earned against their play count.
There is a problem with collection agencies not paying artists properly.
Many of us are looking to the Blockchain for a potential solution for tracking rights. However, this is something the whole industry at every stage has to tackle diligently, doing what we can to ensure the right information is in the right place to drastically improve the chances of our artists getting paid properly.
Something for artists to consider very early on:
This is the tag that will represent your brand that is going to follow you around for the rest of your career!
If you're reached the stage you're defining yourself as an artist, chances are you would have already chosen a name to represent yourself. But depending on the stage of your commercial development, you might still have time to change this to something that's going to benefit you longer-term.
Are you planning a new album and have under 5000 followers on your social network? It might be a good strategy for you to consider changing your name now before it gets too ingrained on an extended scale.
It has to fit with your artist persona and image. Ask yourself what you're representing. What topics are you covering? What sounds are you making? What political ideals do you want to represent (or not)?
What position are you as an artist? If you're a singer/songwriter you're probably safest choosing an 'actual' name (which can be an alias of course), whereas producers or rappers might choose more of a 'tag' name. Maybe you'll always be performing with a band? Even as a single artist you might want to define what your band name will be (think 'Spiders from Mars' or 'The Wailers' for example).
Make it unique!! You really want to consider this. Our artist Brock UK has the UK handle because there are 13 other Brock's on Spotify. If you're one of those Brock's you're going to be in a nightmare when it comes to royalty collection, trademarks, gig flyers, buying your website domain and SEO. All of these things need to be considered to aid your commercial growth as an artist.
So, you don't need to go as far as making sure your artist name begins with 'A' so that you're at the start of a phonebook or other chronological list so much now we're in the digital age, however this is still something important to nail.
BDEM014: Brock UK - Blindside // Available on Spotify: 27th January 2018
BDEM014 is our first release since 2014 and a welcome new addition to our release legacy from our long-standing artist and label manager, Brock UK.
Blindside is an EP made of 2 Speed Garage stompers, built with intention to purely please the dancefloor. Reminiscent of the white label Garage white label vinyl releases of the yesteryears, we've started a series to give a modern digital twist to the concept.
The first track, Blindside, is a Speed Garage vibe-provider that could have been pulled out of the 90's, given a shinier mix, had the bass weight pumped and spat out for Generation Z to say "wooooow WTF is that?!" We can see this having serious advantages in those moments the dancefloor starts to go sleepy, this is sure to put a rocket in the raver's pocket.
The second track, Do You Feel Me, is one to get you on high-alert. Instantly rattling your brain with a dissonant alarm-like sound - bringing you back to the planet with some nice vocal cuts. Likely useful mid-set, getting people pumped as the tempo rises.
Collectively, what we have is an EP from the modern-day Speed Garage King. We don't think anybody is putting Speed Garage out to the standard of Brock UK and we're sure DJ's are going to be going nuts for this release when they see what it does to a dancefloor.