@ pcMobile: Music Discovery Success Depends On Scale, Not Being First

Woman listening to music - woman wearing headphones - digital music

Here’s a safe bet: is Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) going to launch a music subscription service within the next year? Two of the three music industry panelists discussing the business of music at the pcMobile 2011 conference, readily said “yes.” The third, Michael Paull, EVP, Global Digital Business, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Music Entertainment, turned a little red in the face when he said he “didn’t know.”

Whether that will mean anything to the record labels and artists who create songs and albums, is more of an open-ended question. Still, being more social is the only hope the record labels have at the moment.

Another safe statement: the record business has been turned upside down by digital, which has completely disrupted the traditional model of radio revenues and consumer purchasing. Music discovery apps like Pandora (NYSE: P), Last.fm and Shazam have been joined by the rise of cloud-based systems from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) — whether these relatively new technologies can reconnect consumers to the music business is a big question for the labels and artist reps and the panel, moderated by paidContent editor Staci D. Kramer, attempted to answer it.

Syd Schwartz: The former EMI exec and founder of Linchinpin Digital, a startup music marketing service that works with progressive, anti-pop artists like jam band Phish, acknowledged that he doesn’t represent groups that will typically appear on Fox’s Glee. That primetime show has proven to be a fairly strong method of music discovery, particularly for younger audiences. But there’s a bigger world of music fans out there worth reaching, Schwartz said: “Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? Turn to page 17 if you want to see one scenario, turn to 19 for another. We work with a Chicago band that holds up signs and asks fans to interact and asks for requests. Mobile is a great way to update and strengthen the relationship with a band.”

Evan Harrison: The radio companies didn’t have to be first in the internet music space to succeed, said Harrison, a former president of Digital & EVP for Clear Channel (OTCBB: CCMO) Radio. You just had to get the distribution right to be successful. That’s where Clear Channel’s “I (heart) radio” app grew out of. People were going back to stations they grew up with and they like to flip from station to station. But the music fan who leans in and tries different things has a chance to discover music in a way that works best for them as an individual as opposed to being part of a larger, faceless group. The app was a success because no one else had the scale in size that Clear Channel has and the way that the company’s programmers communicated it to the audience. Pandora and Shazam were there first, but the space wasn’t too crowded and we were able to capitalize on that.

Michael Paull: How do companies deal with the idea that a consumer can listen to just about any song they want? What does the sense of ubiquity mean for music tech companies? The service layer combined with content is what adds up to a great user experience. That’s all it takes. While Paull didn’t want to touch directly on Amazon’s and Google’s cloud-based music services, he did say that the industry has to get the friction out of listening to your music wherever you want to.


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