Music vs. the music industry

Some excerpts from an interview on the future of the music industry. I was being specific about one industry, but I think it applies to just about everything:

The music industry is really focused on the
‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the
greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute
as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your
goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician.
There’s never been a time like this before. So if your focus is on
music, it’s great. If your focus is on the industry part and the limos,
the advances, the lawyers, polycarbonate and vinyl, it’s horrible. The
shift that is happening right now is that the people who insist on
keeping the world as it was are going to get more and more frustrated
until they lose their jobs. People who want to invent a whole new set
of rules, a new paradigm, can’t believe their good fortune and how
lucky they are that the people in the industry aren’t noticing an

I define a tribe as a group of people sharing a common culture, a
goal, a mission, probably a leader. There are tribes of people – like
the ones who go to South by Southwest – who are connected because they
want to remake the music industry. There is the tribe of people who
follow Bruce Springsteen and will pay unreasonable amounts of money to
hear him live and compare playlists. The important distinction here is
that music labels used to be in the business of grabbing shelf space,
on the radio and in the record store. Now, the music industry needs to
realign and be in the business of finding and connecting and leading
groups of people who want to follow a musician and connect with the
other people who want to do the same…

In the ‘70s or ‘80s you listened to a song because “everyone else” was
also listening to it. That’s the definition of pop music. In those days
we defined “everyone else” as people in our high school or people who
listened to WPLJ. Now, “everyone
else” is not defined by where you live or what radio station you listen
to. It’s defined by which horizontal or vertical slice of the world you
connect yourself with. I might listen to Keller Williams
because everyone else in my world includes frustrated Deadheads. We
don’t have new Grateful Dead to listen to, so everyone else in my
circle is listening to Keller Williams, so he is pop to us. He’s not
pop to the kids at the middle school who have never heard of him,
right? So you end up with all these silos and niches and lots and lots
of ways to look at the world…

Digital is about to surpass the CD, and once
it starts to happen it’s going to happen faster and faster and faster.
The more interesting thing to me is who is going to control the
playlist. If there is an infinite amount of music available – and I
would argue that as soon as the amount of music available exceeds the
amount of time you have in your life, that’s infinite – somebody will
have the leverageable spot of deciding what to listen to next. And it’s
unclear whether someone will charge to tell me that or will pay to tell
me that. It’s still up for grabs in every one of these vertical silos.
Who are the tastemakers and how do these ideas spread? The analogy I
like to give is if you’re an author and Oprah Winfrey calls, you don’t
say, “How much are you going to pay me to go on your show and give away
all the ideas in my book?” In fact, if you could you would pay to be on
Oprah. For a really long time the music industry has had two minds: On
the one hand, they would pay money to be on Clear Channel or MTV; on
the other hand, they would charge you money to hear their music in
concert or out of your stereo. Those days are all getting intermingled
now. “I am the program director of my radio station, so where’s my

R&G: When a band brands itself, there is a credibility issue with their fan base; they run the risk of being perceived as a sellout.

Seth: I think the first thing I’d ask is, “perceived as a sellout by whom?” Some people say Patricia Barber
is a sellout because she’s a popular jazz musician as opposed to a
starving jazz musician. But the people in the crowd don’t think that. I
think selling out is largely about expectation, about being transparent
and telling the truth to your audience. When Talking Heads went
from being unsuccessful at CBGB to being really successful on MTV and
making a movie with Jonathan Demme, some people said they sold out.
Other people said they wished they were more pop-like. I’m not sure
that’s something that needs to be at the beginning of the conversation.
I think that what you have to do is make it clear to your tribe and to
yourself what you stand for, and do that.