It’s the question on everyone’s mind these days: what does the future hold for the music industry? Illegal downloading and file sharing are rampant, record sales are dropping; if we took our cue from the major labels, they seem to be scratching and clawing their way into every aspect of artists’ lives (and paychecks) just to hold on to a few bucks here while they’re hemorrhaging millions over there. The outcome looks grim. If the “Big Four” can’t make it, who can?

A New Age

Few people could have guessed how profoundly the dawning of the information age would impact all our lives. Development of new technologies has almost leveled the playing field, and now what used to take months takes days, what used to cost thousands costs hundreds, and what used to take years of specialized training can be accomplished by watching a few videos on YouTube or doing a few searches on Google. There’s never been a time in human history where it’s been easier or more inexpensive to create and distribute your music. Any kid with a microphone and a computer can be a “producer” and/or “engineer”.

This is not to say that there aren’t major advantages to high-end equipment and an expert knowledge-base, which typically does takes years to develop (as we have already stated); what it does say is that we are now dealing with such a massive influx of music (whether quality or not) readily available to the masses that the supply has far outgrown the demand. And we all know that when there is less demand for a product than there is supply for it, people stop making money. So how do you set yourself apart in this new information age when the Internet is already filled to the brim with new and established artists all fighting for the spotlight?

In a word? Community.

The 3 C’s

In 1999, billionaire business magnate Michael Dell (founder of Dell Inc.) gave a keynote speech (which you can view here) addressing the dilemma facing most businesses in today’s economy and the game plan needed to succeed in the new era. While we can’t spend much time discussing all the details of his talk here, the bottom line for him was that the game plan required three components:

  1. Content: A world-class product or service.
  2. Commerce: A way to make money off that product or service.
  3. Community: A loyal group of customers that are borderline evangelical (think Apple users) about your product or service.

While most businesses like to spend their time focusing on the first two elements (content and commerce), Dell argued that community was actually the biggest and most important piece of the puzzle, and with good reason. With so many great products conveniently available online, if the customer has little-to-no background knowledge on what you’re offering, chances are price is going to the determining factor in where he/she chooses your product over your competitor’s. The customer’s loyalty can shift in an instant, regardless of how great your product or business plan is. Michael Dell was never able to build that solid community. But when we look at companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, it’s clear some people have. And they are ruling the game.

The Future of the Music Industry

It’s clear that the future lies in the art of building communities in the music industry. No one at RCR Recording Studios will claim to have all the answers, but we’ve seen what can happen when bands and artists stop competing for less and less dollars being spent on music, and start working together. Grassroots movements have taken hold all over the nation. You can throw your music up on Itunes or MySpace or any of dozens of music sites for consumers to listen to and use social media sites such as Facebook to drive traffic to those sites. There are unprecedented opportunities for collaborations and cross promotion. Imagine five to ten bands within similar or complimentary genres all working together to promote each other to their respective fan bases.  Would it be hard to believe that people can like more than one band at a time?  Is it hard to imagine that they might be enticed to buy more than one album at a time?  Perhaps those same five to ten bands could pool their resources and put together a compilation album in which each band gets one to two songs on it.  We live in the age of music singles as it is, so why not capitalize on that trend?  You could release three or four albums a year using that formula and keep your music fresh and up to date for the ADD generation instead of every two to three years as has been the common practice.

The future of the music industry rests on the shoulders of the individual groups banding together to raise the tide for all ships.

Cary Crichlow, Senior Producer and Engineer
RCR Recording Studios