A very senior executive in the music industry recently extolled the virtues of a new piece of music tech by calling it “the music business in a box.” I totally understood what he meant, but it spoke to the heart of the problem. This senior exec thinks of the music tech biz as being a bunch of young geniuses that will put his beloved money grab in a box. I get it! I get it! But if you’re out there trying to decide if you can afford to go on tour with your band in Oklahoma, you don’t give a shit about good solutions for Lady’s GaGa or Antebellum. You need to know what to do next!
Music tech and the music business started out at odds and, even with the broad adoption of many of the tools available, the two worlds still seem mostly contentious. There are tools galore and some of them actually work, but the old music biz establishment seems to think these are transitional processes that will one day return them to the glory daze of selling product at a high margin to cover the inconceivably high costs of their creative mistakes.
On the other hand, the music tech community mostly creates complex overreaching “solutions” that are lost in a world somewhere between “free music for all” and “getting their piece of the pie”. Both of these groups are being intellectually dishonest to the music consumer. Both of these groups are “mature” businesses that are protecting their space.
True innovation, which I would define as changing the game completely, has come to a near stop. The tech guys all got caught up in the VC world and had to show profits because they wanted to pay themselves like A&R guys. The music guys know lots of money people (who all want to be in showbiz) so they bring investment to the table and get a vote on how the product is monetized.
So what we have now is a slate of tools that would have worked perfectly for Lady GaGa if they had been around when she broke out (her numbers look really good in pro forma docs) but they do little for the “next” big artists. I have heard many, many tech guys say, in no uncertain terms, “we don’t make products for poor musicians!” To be clear, I can’t afford (yet) to make tools for poor musicians either, but I think it’s prudent to take a portion of every dollar earned in music tech and reinvest it in solutions for “poor musicians”, because until we do, the game will not really change and we won’t be part of the “next big” thing.