What Do Music Fans Want To Own, and Why?

I‘ve spent my teenage and adult life obsessing over my music collection. Meticulously arranging hand labelled tapes and CD’s was FUN, but when the same job arrived for mp3’s and my collection swelled to 125gb’s, it became a massive chore. But I still felt compelled to own something, and so I continued for many years, wasting hours arranging an mp3 collection I’d not paid for. I passionately argued that I’d always want to own what I listened to, until the Spotify mobile app made that notion extinct.

I now have no need to own every piece of music I listen to, but is owning nothing enough? Who wants to own music, and what does ‘own’ really mean anyway? Nobody ‘owns’ TV shows, so why do some pay Sky £50 /​ month? If nobody’s going to own anything, what are people going to pay for?


PART ONE : What Do We Desire?


To answer these questions, we need to identify three key ways in which we desire music. Individually we are a mix of all three, with differing quantities of each.

Easy Music

The overriding desire in everyone is that we just want to listen to the music with as little effort as possible. For most people, the strength of this desire means their needs are met by switching on the radio, and purchasing one CD a year in Tescos or Walmart. Others may be more committed to spending far more effort and cash, but the want for easy music remains no matter how obsessive the fan is.

Understanding Music

We don’t just want the music, we want to make sense of the music within a wider space, and to understand it. Traditionally this is provided by the artwork, lyrics and credits, or a pricey boxset detailing info on the musicians involved, their backstory, influences, references, vision and its place within a genre. We would then leave this product environment and read books, magazines, and seek public reaction in conversation. Today, their online equivalents (webzines, social media etc) are not as distant from the product’s environment as they once were, meaning huge potential exists to produce variants of these traditional ways of understanding music, and use them to influence the fans. Exploring these opportunities is a seperate essay in itself, so let’s not for now.

Music as a Badge

We want other people to know who we are, and why. Since the birth of pop in the 1950’s, music has given people the opportunity to do just that by offering ways to wear your musical taste as a badge. Often, metal fans are easy to spot at a festival solely because of their appearance. A shelf of CD’s or vinyl, a Ramones t-​​shirt, a Justin Bieber pillow case, or a bedroom wall full of posters are common ways people identify themselves. Whilst these will never be wholly replaced by a digital equivalent, there are still modern ways of complimenting them. Ringtones and callback tones, PC/​phone/​tablet backgrounds, publishing last fm charts, personalised web browsers, and even our list of favoured artists on Facebook are the result of this desire to define ourselves. MySpace has been replaced by a combination of Facebook and other music streaming sites, but the only aspect not widely replicated is the idea of personalising a space that reflects who you are, an area we may see more development on in the future.



So how do each of these desires affect the fans need to own something?

Make Music Easy, and Work Better.

The main reason we want to own music is because it enables us to listen to it with ease. Casual fans don’t necessarily want a CD, they just want to own the right to listen to it whenever they want, and to KNOW it’ll work. Spotify Premium should not be viewed solely as a streaming service, as the offline app allows you to download and store music on your phone within seconds, after which you can listen to it whenever and wherever you like. But how do we, the fans, get convinced? Entice us in for free, then make it work better than a CD.

Combine Gracenote mood info and location based services, so when switching on Spotify in your local gym a random ‘Fast Beat, Uptempo’ playlist will automatically start, with a beat linked to our pace. Likewise, automatically give us party tunes on a Saturday night and chill out tunes on Sunday morning. Don’t ask what we’re feeling because we probably don’t know; guess and get it right. The technology exists, it’s just not worthwhile selling it to the fan yet because there’s no great way to do so. Make music work BETTER and EVERYWHERE, and we’ll pay a premium for it.

We don’t want to own the music, but we want to own the right to listen to it, especially if it works better.

Help us Understand Music

Those that strive to understand music use streaming as the start of a journey that will see them interact with it in a variety of ways. This is not just for music enthusiasts or snobs. Young girls want to “understand” everything about Justin Bieber (apparently he loves seals) just as much as a Dylan fan wants to understand his lyrical references. Remove the barriers to this understanding and not only will fans create a deeper bond with the music, but they’ll also come to value the ease of access to it.

Some sites have started on this path. MOG show reviews and user comments whilst you stream songs, and has the potential to be the more legal Hype Machine for the new decade (if they could sort out the site’s usability). Before eMusic lost its way, I was a happy customer for over two years due to the editorial that surrounded my browsing. Spotify have brought downloading closer to the listener by pairing with 7Digital, coaxing the fan to take the next step in their journey. Repeating this approach with physical product (I would buy 10 times more vinyl if I could do so with a few clicks from Spotify) is an obvious step, but we need EVERYTHING closer to the music. I would pay a monthly premium to have versions of the following embedded in my Spotify, or just one click away : Pitchify (with offline reading options), Songmeanings, LastFM stats, Songkick, any of the Echo Nest apps (Discovr, ex.fm Blogfinder, and many more), any app that tells me what musicians I’m currently listening to and what else they play on, mFlow, links to Amazon eBooks, even a direct link to Google streetview (or better still Historypin) allowing me to stroll down Penny Lane as I listen to it, or through my childhood memories accompanied by music of the time. The possibilities are endless.

We don’t want to own the music, but we want to own easy access to the information that goes with it.

Sell Badges, Giveaway Music.

Fans will always want to use music to identify themselves, so give them ample opportunity to do so. Use streaming to upsell to CD’s, vinyl, t-​​shirts, gig tickets, pillow cases, duvet covers, pencil cases, posters, and every other conceivable piece of merch, with just a few clicks. The streaming site gets a % of the final sale, and the provider puts its product in front of millions of new fans; the perfect way to combine the Freemium and Upselling models.

But importantly, this also needs to work the other way around. Place value on the badge, and offer the music as a bonus. Music no longer has to come on a CD, with the use of a QR Code there’s now no reason why it can’t come with a packed lunch box, hoody or poster (an idea I’ve already discussed when exploring the importance of trials within the Digital Economy Act).

We don’t want to own the music, but we do want to own something that helps us define ourselves.

So how do we do all this? Well that’s a different discussion completely. Luckily, I’ve been kind enough to tell you how, in my next post on How To Make The Perfect Music Service.

One Comment

  • Hi Chris-​​-​​ Read both this post and the one on making the ‘perfect music service’. You’re certainly right that it’s impossible to please everyone. What music services can at least do, however, is focus on pleasing artists who use them. That’s what we’re doing at Public Records. Hopefully, fans and more will follow in our artists’ footsteps.

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