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Rassami Hök Ljungberg: In music – content is king, but context is God

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The 2Pears co-founder’s inaugural column on how tech is changing the music industry forever

When it comes to music, up until recently someone else pretty much decided what you listened to, and when you did it. The record labels picked new artists and who to promote, the radio stations played what they believed listeners would or indeed should like, and the ad agencies ran campaigns pushing the latest and greatest. The symbiotic ownership and distribution model this created defined the industry for decades.

But as we all know, this top-down model of content creation delivered to consumers based on anticipated demand is quickly changing to a more participatory demand-driven world.

The latest spat in the entertainment business between Ministry of Sound (MoS) and Spotify, with the latter refusing to delete its users’ playlists seen as copies of MoS’s compilation albums, shows this change is not happening without pain nor protest from the established industry.

Nowadays, technology puts the power into the hands of the consumers. This in turn is creating an ‘on-demand society’, where fans and audiences are able to connect with content-creators and artists directly. They can then measure the demand and determine where the opportunities are greatest to build their brand, make money and create a stronger fan base.

While establishing the Music 4.5 seminar series, which explores the intersection between the music and technology industries, I started engaging more actively with a broad range of music-tech start-ups. In the past 5 years, I have seen numerous companies such as Songkick, Pledgemusic and Music Glue in London, and newly launched Stagelink in Berlin, emerge to tap into consumers’ desire for music and in particular live music gigs.

One of the biggest revolutions is the capacity for fans to engage in advance of the gig or album being delivered, to almost co-create the content, and in particular its delivery, with the band or artist, a sort of gig and music-on-demand relationship. Think Imogen Heap, Mumford & Sons, and Amanda Palmer.

Engaging the direct support of artists’ fans would not have been possible without the help of disruptive new technology. New digital technology services bringing together people who want to listen, see and engage beyond the CD or immediate live gig, and enabling them to crowd-fund the delivery of the content.

There are an increasing number of content sources, content producers, as well as content connectors, all in the form of nimble new businesses. Many of them are based in London around Silicon Roundabout and new hubs such as Tileyard Studios in King’s Cross. They are challenging the traditional media and entertainment companies’ grip on reaching the consumer. They are tapping into the growth opportunities presented by the cracks appearing in the rigid and established but obsolete structures of the industry.

They’re all searching for the holy grail of what really engages people and what are people really willing to pay for?

Never mind the clever technology though, the fact remains that without the right content there is no business and no revenue. Content is still king, or at least the foundation for a successful business.

For all the talk of the long-tail ‘selling less of more’ and whether or not it really does make business sense, there are some very lively and thriving niche communities out there. When preparing for last year’s Music 4.5 seminar focused on ‘Smart Radio or Dumb Audio’, I came across Lorin Cutts, the founder of Global Radio Alliance, an internet radio network with programming focused on UFOs. It is delivering special interest content in an easily accessible way to its audience, presented by its passionate listeners and amateurs. Who would have thought it would be in the top 5 of all talk radio on Live 365, the world’s major net radio directory, and have half a million page views per month?

But not all change is consumer-driven. Some content developing companies are challenging the existing hierarchy of the media, advertising and entertainment businesses by doing things differently.

An interesting example is the commemoration of Dambusters, the famous attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron. Production companies TBI Media and Snappin’ Turtle worked in partnership with the BBC tocreate a series of programmes on BBC Radio 2, culminating in a special ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ as a live concert. It was a combined presentation with recorded testimony and the voices of actors. The underscore and featured musical performances were supplied by over 150 musicians from the BBC Concert Orchestra, The Central Band of RAF and the Military Wives Choir in an aircraft hangar in Biggin Hill, the launch-pad of the Dambusters raid. The live concert was totally sold out to an audience of 2,500, predominantly a more mature audience.

The Dambusters content format – blending a live concert and TV event with radio programming – is innovative. But it is the building up of engagement with and delivery to its more mature target audience, which is special and delivering the return on investment. The creative partnership also sees a new business model for the content production. The production company, traditionally only focused on production, is in this case central to both the creative idea and to facilitating and negotiating the funding through sponsorship deals across a number of media channels.

The old advertising model with the supremacy of the ad agencies with regards to all things brand, content and communications is being seriously challenged by business-savvy and creative production companies. The traditional music industry is  finding itself sidelined and bypassed as technology companies enable artists and fans to engage and do business directly. Moreover this disintermediation has started spreading to related industries that are also feeling the pinch. The world of entertainment and marketing communications is shrinking and having to re-adjust and re-group.

“Content is king, but context is God” as Will Clark, founder of music tech startup Superstar VJ put it. The context in which the desired content is packaged, distributed, shared and monetised is paramount for maximising the opportunity to make money. It is not just all about content-marketing, but about context-marketing. We have yet only scratched the surface in the consumer-led revolution, expect more shockwaves to rip through the wider industry yet.

Rassami Hök Ljungberg is the co-founder and content director of 2Pears, the team creating events and networking for creative and startup companies in tech, music and media. Rassami has a passion for shining the spotlight on interesting and new startups and entrepreneurs. She loves connecting people and collects innovative ideas.




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