Is music ready for its craft beer moment?

Edwin Schroter
Craft beer has taken the world by storm. Sold on the basis of its quality and non-corporate pedigree, the once-niche market now turns over around $20bn each year – more than the entire global recorded music business. Could independent music take inspiration from this trend and capitalise on the public’s thirst for something authentic and organic? The MD of independent music powerhouse [PIAS], Edwin Schroter (pictured inset), believes it can. In an exclusive blog for MBW, he calls on his fellow independents to think big, get organised – and to plan something spectacular for 2016…

As I reflect on another eventful twelve months in the music industry I have a nagging concern – one that’s been growing over the last couple of years.

We can send binary code around the world at the touch of a button, post instant information on social media in a nanosecond and segment our audiences into highly targeted groups.

An explosion of available data has provided us with the ability to measure, analyse and optimize revenues, but are we bewildering and overwhelming both artists and fans?

At a time when the music industry seems focused on appealing to a lowest common denominator, mass-market audience I sense a real opportunity for us, the independent music sector, to highlight our many qualities and our uniqueness.

“The music industry seems focused on appealing to a lowest-common denominator audience. I sense a real opportunity for the independent sector to highlight our uniqueness.”

By doing this maybe we can go some way towards converting future music listeners into fully engaged and active independent music fans who will act as evangelists for what we do.

As we obsess about how best to understand and harness the digital marketplace, perhaps it is time to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Perhaps we need to consider different ways of doing things. Perhaps some of us in this industry should consider different approaches to releasing music, optimising revenues and measuring success.

In my opinion, we need to better harness our collective independent spirit to help shape our own diverse ecosystem and consumer awareness.

Interest in independently-produced music is simply not at the forefront of music fans minds as much as it should be. We lack a cohesive strategy to not just cater for but also win over consumers.

We do great things as a community – events and initiatives such as Record Store Day, The AIM Awards, The Independent Label Market and Independent Label Week, but we lack an overarching strategy.

All these individual activities are great but are they bringing some additional value or just catering to the same people that are already engaged?

How do we turn some of the huge numbers of habitual digital music streamers into conscious consumers that get engaged with a ‘craft’ industry?

I choose the word ‘craft’ deliberately. I believe the growing craft beer industry is an example of how we should be promoting ourselves.

“The growing craft beer industry is a perfect example of how we should be promoting ourselves.”

As an industry made up of owner-operated, small businesses – much like the independent music sector – craft beer microbreweries have done incredibly well in a market previously dominated by mass-produced brands.

As with musical genres, the spectrum of craft beer is as very broad; all breweries and beers have their own brand values and dedicated fans.

More importantly though, in a world of ubiquitous mass production, craft beer customers are taking an increased interest in the ethical practices, philosophies and values of those they buy from.

They are conscious consumers.

There is something very unique about independent music culture. A non-conformist, risk-taking, maverick approach, which has a strong narrative and legacy that appeals to music lovers.

Music fans, real music fans, understand that. It is vital that in the rush to commercialize and monetize our music that we don’t forget the importance of having a clear vision and a defined philosophy.

Our biggest mission is to make other people as passionate about independent music and its culture as we are.

Instead of constantly fighting against major label-dominated decision making in the music industry, maybe it is time to create a different environment altogether. A place where we can cater for both artists and consumers in a different way, where real album formats are treated with the same importance as streaming, where labels are seen as valued curators and where physical record stores are rewarded for helping to maintain a diverse culture, localized approach and multi-format industry.

Ultimately it needs to all be a bit less about stats, data and disruptive new business models and a bit more about our own special culture.

Streaming, for example, will play a huge part in the future of music listening but it doesn’t encourage music fans to engage with the detail behind record releases.

“Instead of fighting major label-dominated decision-making in the music industry, perhaps it’s time to create a different environment altogether.”

Without physical artwork, the listener is not given easy access to such information as the producer’s name, the studio where the record was recorded, the name of the record label and so on.

These elements give music a context and provide a richer, more immersive experience are no longer as much a part of the music listening process as they used to be. And that means that the obsessive music fan, the core customer for all of us in the independent sector, is not being properly provided for.

We have to work harder and be smarter about promoting the culture of independent music.

The time is right for building on our community’s success. We need to make music fans aware that a vibrant music climate – especially one that is increasingly focused on discovery – needs authentic and trusted labels. Labels who work hard for their artists, provide them with fair deals and invest blood, sweat and tears into their careers.

Next year we will certainly need to use our powerful collective voice again to take a stand on important industry-wide topics such as freemium and windowing, as well as keeping the pressure on the likes of Google and Pandora to play (and pay) fair.

We should also start working on a well-thought-out, collective promotional campaign to create awareness and stimulate a healthy engagement with independent music culture among music fans.

By focusing more on what makes us different and special, by coming together to put together a strategy that celebrates and promotes our unique culture, we will foster a healthy fascination and love for independent label culture.

In turn that will become an authentic and meaningful story about our community, which will go a long way to driving our success moving forward.Music Business Worldwide

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