With the recent debates over the SOPA/PIPA proposals and the Megaupload shutdown, there has been a great deal of discussion of how much online piracy helps or hurts individual musicians. There are an endless number of stances on this subject, and it would be foolish of me to try and come to any solid conclusion on that for the moment.
However, these events have brought up interesting points on how to better handle legal streaming services so that musicians can benefit more. I believe a significant factor in illegal downloading is the eroded emotional connection with music. Having grown up during the period when this became prevalent, I remember a number of peers feeling swindled, due to the exorbitant pricing found in many retail stores. Where the fault lies for that is mostly irrelevant, as it effected everyone in the chain, from artist down to point of sale.
So I ask: if listeners felt a great love for the music they listen to, would they be less likely to illegally download songs? If they felt a deeper connection to the musicians and creators, would they understand that pirating makes it more difficult for these individuals to afford continuing to make the music they love?
This is where transmedia can step in. An important component for any modern campaign is a strong and consistent online/social media presence. I believe that, if listeners were given better opportunities to strengthen emotional bonds, they would be more likely to financially support musicians, be it through music sales, concert tickets, merchandise purchases, or any other number of ways.
I am an adamant Spotify user. It has allowed me the opportunity to try out many new musicians I hear about and, therefore, give me the confidence to buy even more music than I did just a year ago. However, I have seen a number of complaints from independent and label musicians (and even listeners) over the extremely low pay-outs. There are a number of factors wrapped up in Spotify’s deals with labels that I’m not privy to, however, I think there is a lot of room for really interesting improvements within the service to drive sales elsewhere.
Zoë Keating is an independent musician who was able to become a full-time cellist through the support of her listeners. She built a significant fanbase through word-of-mouth and a strong online presence, resulting in an astounding Twitter following of 1.29 million readers. She comments frequently on distribution methods and streaming, and recently linked to “8 Things Spotify Could Do Right Now To Show They Care About Musicians,” a list composed by Gavin Castleton.
While I think all the points are strong, I was most interested in three of them:
2. Allow artists to edit their own profiles.
3. Display links to artists’ websites, FB pages, twitter profiles, etc.
4 . Allowing users to “Like” and “Follow” an artist right from the Artist page.
I think these are excellent jumping off points for how Spotify could offer a better space for musicians to connect to fans through the service. Ideally, musicians would have full access to their Spotify profiles. As it stands, these profiles only consist of a biography, written by someone else, and a list of related artists. There is a lot of available space for new tabs:
There are a number of possible additions that would make it easier for artists to connect with their listeners and convey more meaning and emotional resonance to the music:
1. Social media links and/or feeds
I think Castleton’s point of displaying links to social network profiles, as well as the ability to immediately “Like” or “Follow” would be a great start. Showing a small feed of the musician’s Twitter feed, say, the last five tweets, would also give listeners a quick preview that would entice them to click through and follow. I am consistently surprised by many musicians’ feeds, and the vast array of topics they are interested in and comment on. It gives me a fuller picture of them.
2. Notes on albums and/or individual songs
A big pull for people to purchase DVDs as opposed to pirating films is the additional content. Commentary allows viewers to understand the process and the artists’ intentions better, and gives them a fuller understanding of the movie or TV series. I think this would be equally valuable for music albums. Björk has offered this in the past on her website, and the commentary ranged from technical to artistic. Spotify could offer this as text that could be read in a sidebar while music is playing, or, in an ideal world, audio commentary that could optionally play over the song. Users would feel they understand the music better, an understanding that may connect them more intimately to the songs.
3. Scrolling lyrics
Given that many people no longer buy physical packaging that include liner notes, most do not have access to official lyrics (if they are offered). They are forced to go to suspicious lyrics websites, where other listeners offer up what they think the words are. If they really want to learn a song, Spotify could offer official real-time scrolling lyrics as it is playing, encouraging them to sit on Spotify and play the song repeatedly through the service. The right-hand side can currently display a person’s People List. This space could also host scrolling lyrics when selected:
4. Music video gallery
While music videos are not as prevalent these days, many artists still produce them to be viewed online. Why not add an additional tab where users can view these videos? Visual storytelling is very evocative, and adds emotional layers to music for listeners. If Spotify does not have the capacity to host music videos, they could offer links, provided by the artists, for where users could view them.
5. Artist-curated playlists
I have seen musicians offer playlists on iTunes in the past, however it is not something that has seemed to persist. This is a great void that Spotify could fill. If there is one thing that fans want to know from musicians, it’s what music they’re listening to. Trent Reznor already does this as a user on Spotify, and he has thousands of subscribers. Artists could create playlists of music they recommend, music they believe is similar to theirs, or just whatever they happen to be listening to at the time.
This is all very blue sky approach, but I believe that most of this is very easily incorporable. The more costly features could even be restricted to Premium membership, thus subsidizing the expenses.
While this obviously would not completely turn the tide, I do think this would go far in rebuilding a user’s emotional connection to the music they take in. As listening is made a fuller experience, and they feel closer and connected to the creators, the pull between taking and giving will shift. Music will no longer be viewed as an act of consumption, but exchange. A sense of value is restored.