Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Don't be a stain on the carpet

Some of my best friends work in the live music industry, which once a year convenes in London for the International Live Music Conference (ILMC). At the most recent of these shindigs back in March, I found myself involved in any number of fascinating conversations with a variety of agents and promoters from all over the world. These are the sort of masters of this peculiar little universe who move and shake with abandon, and on whose whim careers can made or broken, in much the same way curiously, as might have been said of record moguls in the past.

Interestingly, I found myself thinking that a lot of what I was hearing could just as easily have been said by those same record industry bigwigs 8 or 9 years ago, when they were still riding the crest of the tail end of the CD boom and believed themselves to be bulletproof. I heard talk of the search for the next global superstar (have these people really not read The Long Tail yet?), of a business that was secure in its own invincibility, of reckless profiteering in the secondary ticketing market without considering the consumers perception of the artists, the longevity of their careers and certainly without concern for the long term damage to consumer confidence that such behaviour will certainly cause.

As I heard all of these things I found myself thinking "have these guys not been paying attention"? It was PRECISELY this sort of arrogance that brought the record industry to its knees, and there is no reason to think that exactly the same fate might not befall the live business.

This is what I know. In the music business (in fact in pretty much ANY business), the ability for fans to have a direct emotional and commercial relationship with the artist changes EVERYTHING. The value chain has not so much been shortened as blown up.

There are a plethora of middlemen and gatekeepers in our industry. Record labels, publishers, the media, collection societies, booking agents, promoters, sponsors, merchandisers, aggregators, distributors.. I could go on and on, but here's the thing: None of these people have a divine right to earn a living, or even frankly to exist. In a direct to fan world there are only 2 people who matter. The artist and the fan.

Everyone else in the value chain who is not actively adding value is merely a stain on the carpet and should be wiped away without a second thought.