Well, it's that time of year again. Chrimbo. Right now you are probably listening to a bunch of 1980s celebrities sing about there not being any snow in Africa this Christmastime in an alarmingly cheerful manner whilst hanging up a stocking (yes, you're doing the stocking-hanging, not the celebrities). No doubt you are also hoping that Santa will whack a big fat record deal (complete with huge advance) in said sock. However, without wishing to be too Bah Humbug about it, it's questionable as to whether either Santa or that kind of record deal actually exists. So, in the absence of a bearded mythological figure or a recording contract, we give you Prescription's list of things to watch out for in 2012 in the music biz.
The ongoing death of the download
Not everybody has twigged this yet, but the digital download is slowly (or not so slowly) joining the record, CD and tape in the 'extinct music format' club. It's certainly on the endangered species list. As more and more people consume music via the likes of Spotify and WE7, storing gigabytes of music locally on a hard drive seems more and more quaint (and pointless). Although headlines were made recently by rumours of record companies deciding not to sell new music on CDs after 2012, the real story is that selling MP3s is going to become more and more difficult in 2012. Indeed, even giving them away is going to get harder – that old trick of 'download this amazing MP3 free in exchange for your email address' that musicians have been employing for a while now is not going to work for much longer. Firstly, every band under the sun sussed that particular tactic out back in the mid-naughties, meaning the free MP3 'market' has been completely saturated; but more importantly, why would music fans bother storing an MP3 somewhere when they can stream as much music as they like, with relative ease, online?
The upshot of the death of the download is that bands are going to have to become far more inventive when it comes to getting people to listening to their music. Creative angles and interesting content (blog posts, animations, games, viral videos, downright lies and so on) are going to be more important than ever in 2012 in catching people’s attention (and hopefully, ears); on this note, you may find our article about using strong content to drive visits to your band’s website interesting.
The longer tail
There has always been a 'long tail' of music out there – a few huge-selling artists, and truckloads of non-selling ones. In recent years however, this tail has got longer, as modern computing enabled anyone with a half-decent laptop and an audio card to produce music in their bedroom. In 2012, we reckon this tail will get longer still, due to the explosion of mobile device / smartphone use. When you can buy an app for three quid or so from the Apple store – Garage Band – which effectively allows you to produce release-quality music on a pocket-sized device, it's inevitable that you will end up with more wannabes (sorry, serious musicians) uploading their pathetic (sorry, heartfelt) efforts onto the web. All this means that your band's fish size has just been reduced; where as once you were a humble cod swimming in a very big quantity of water, you have now been downgraded to a mere goldfish swimming in a vast ocean.
The end of record companies?
If CDs do become a redundant format by the end of the year, and as discussed above, MP3s roll over and die in the near future too, then the question has to be asked – without any recordings to sell, what is the point of a traditional record company? 2012 will see lots of record companies go bust, there’s no question about that, as revenues from sales dry up.
The companies that survive (mainly major labels with large cash reserves) will simply become management companies, signing or developing celebrities and taking a percentage of everything they sell, from T-shirts to perfume to gig tickets…but not necessarily recorded music. This sort of carry-on has been around for a few years now of course – with ‘360 degree deals’ and so on - but if 2012 is the last year of the CD, it may be the year that this 'I'll have a finger in every pie' approach becomes the de facto way that record companies do business.
The rise and rise of Spotify – and what will Apple do?
With both its recent arrival in the US and its link-up with Facebook, Spotify now has an even bigger market to tap into. And people seem to be using it in ever larger numbers.
What will be very interesting to see is what Apple do in response to the increasing popularity of Spotify. For many music listeners, Spotify has replaced iTunes as the go-to music library; however, iTunes still has a huge userbase, and Apple could simply decide (once legal and licensing issues are resolved) to turn it into a music streaming service (and presumably one that you could use to listen to several artists that are not on Spotify – the Beatles, Pink Floyd etc.).
However, my gut feeling is that Apple are going to hold off doing this until absolutely necessary; the download market may be shrinking, but as far as Apple's concerned, it's still a huge one and the umbilical link between all those iDevices and iTunes makes it incredibly easy for Apple iDevice owners to buy new music or Apple to flog it to them. But the trend is definitely away from download stores and towards streaming services; so regardless of what Apple do, it makes sense for musicians to get very clued up on how to get their music on Spotify and promote it on there – as such, we’d recommend taking a look at this Make it in Music article about this very issue.
The rollout of 4G
2012 will see several countries roll out 4G – the superfast successor to 3G mobile broadband (I'm reliably informed by Wikipedia that two thirds of US cities will have 4G coverage by mid-2012). This will make streaming music on mobile devices much faster and easier than it is now (and will bring greater monthly data allowances, thereby facilitating even more streaming). As with much else in the world, the UK is somewhat behind the curve when it comes to 4G, but its general onward march (combined with ever larger numbers of people using smartphones) is inevitably going to speed up the death of downloading we talked about earlier (and may provide that tipping point for Apple to convert iTunes from a download service to a streaming one). This represents another development which should make you think twice about manufacturing 10,000 physical copies of your latest opus; maybe 500 would do…
It's looking more and more likely that despite politicians' best efforts (or worst, depending on your political viewpoint), 2012 will bring a double-dip recession to the UK and Europe. This will inevitably impact on the entertainment industry just as much as anything else. It's hard to guess what the exact outcome will be; but alas I fear the prognosis for bands is pretty grim – people are buying less music due to technological developments anyway, and a crap economy probably just means people will buy even less of it.
It's perhaps in the live scene though that the impact will be felt most; even going to see an unsigned band is an expensive pursuit these days, and when people have less money in their pockets, your mates will view going to see your band (let's be honest, you don't have any real fans, do you?) as very low on the 'how shall I spend my shrinking disposable income?' list.
That’s all very depressing
I fear that in the above observations, I've brought you famine, war, pestilence and various other harbingers of a music-industry apocalypse. However, there is a bright side to all this: thanks to this digital revolution which is proving so distruptive, more people – perhaps including you, dear reader - are making music than ever before. And more people are probably listening to it than ever before. Music remains incredibly popular (and is more accessible than ever), and regardless of how things pan out in 2012, this is going to remain the case. Good music can get an airing, but the key thing to remember is this: if you want your music to be heard these days, you've got to – to coin an alarmingly Steve Jobs-esque phrase – think different. You may need to think smaller; in a more business-like way; but – and I appreciate the contradictions – more creatively.
In fact, I think that's generally been the theme of our articles in 2011: looking back over them they seem to prescribe a mix of not forgetting the basics with thinking of ways to be clever about how you promote yourself. And, as a parting Christmas gift, I thought it might be worth highlighting our ‘greatest hits’ of Prescription articles – the posts containing the tips which we think could make the most difference to your forays into music promotion next year.
- Leather pants, rock gods, groupies and er, project planning? – how simple planning can make the difference between an independently released hit or flop
- Rock success, the Ryanair way – how thinking like Michael O’Leary could (alarmingly) help your music career
- Why you need to be on Youtube, even if you don’t have a video
- DIY music promotion - avoiding the pitfalls
Anyway! Enough musical talk. We're off to the Prescription PR Christmas party, dressed all smart-casual, like.
We wish you well in your endeavours and hope you have a great Christmas and a successful 2012.
The Prescription is written by independent musician and digital consultant to Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.
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