Sunday, 4 January 2009

Nine Predictions for '09

1. Politicians & Professional Musicians vs The (Pirate) People: Governments to legislate against P2P
A levy for access? A tax on anything with a hard disc? Paying for large volumes of data transfer/bandwidth? However it happens, it looks most likely to finally happen this year, especially now that the active dialogue between the music biz/government and the ISP's is ongoing. Industries like TV and Film, which are worth so much more than the music business, are finally feeling bruised by the peer-to-peer pinch. If China and Cuba can block sites, there's no reason this won't begin to happen here. I was startled when I went to Havana that the few with access to computers couldn't use Vuze, etc, as I thought Castro woulda been all for free films, music and tv for all. It's on Obama's agenda and listening to Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham at In the City it's clearly on the UK's agenda, if the industry can find a coherent voice and demand a solution, too.

I know this is contentious but as someone who has consumed music as I've wanted it, on-tap, for over a decade now, I can't see it continuing. I've also worked in a record store which closed down and invested in a lot of creativity, been close to a lot of aspiring and breaking musicians, and I find myself increasingly fearing for the future of music and film, especially with it continuing to be a profession. The web is great (obvs) but it's also munched away at the money jars which once funded the most innovative souls. Musician's can't just give everything away and something has to give.

The building of a big-ass firewall will hopefully mean more of a middle-ground between what was 'illegal' and sensible co-operative ways to help creatives (like Muxtape) and copyright holders come together. Nokia's Comes With Music and Spotify are fantastic starts to proceedings and Amazon's "iTunes-killer" is great, but none of these sites can yet offer a compelling alternative in terms of quantity, quality (of sound or ease of consuming an acts entire catalogue, for instance) nor any kind of experience to consume or explore music. People are fine to pay for water, gas and TV licenses, and now the internet should be seen as the same. If you use it a lot, you pay for it... and people understand that with mobiles.

The winners of the war against both iTunes and the freeconomy of P2P will offer every kind of access option from all-you-can-eat by the minute, hour, month, year; by track, by album, by artist, by label; 500 track credit, with ads, ad-free, mp3, lossless, flac, discounts for drm, premium price for the top 1000 albums, etc, etc. This is something I'm going to be investigating and developing a beta for a community & editorial 'social store' throughout 2009.

[Speaking of Spotify I have about 20 invites left, leave a comment with some of your predictions below if you'd like one]

2. Mmmmovieporium: Film/TV digital stores

With the public's appetite for iPlayer and Apple offering some content via iTunes, it seems ruddy obvious that someone will pop up and offer a compelling, easy to use method of watching and downloading tv programmes at an affordable rate. Wouldn't be surprised to see a Nokia Comes With Music package bundled with a cinema membership (say £20 per month for discount cinema entry and Netflix-like credit). Fingers crossed the BBC will, as expected, begin to offer their back catalogue at a cost or with ads, so I can watch The Young Ones whenever I want. Combine a service like this (which I guess is what CBS, Joost, Hulu, etc aim to do) with a style recommendation system and my love of tv and film will soar.

3. Creative Clunk: Recession/High Unemployment = Good For Creativity
Sorry, I know it's considered a little wrong to find a silvery string of saliver glistening in the bleak clouds of financial Armageddon but here goes.. If reading about the foundations from which the music I love grew, before it obliterated a path to another year zero, it's that highly volatile times have led to great music, comedy and innovation. Perhaps it's the fact people have the time (freedom) to chase their dreams. Maybe it's the lack of consumerist culture. Or praps gloom-mongering forces people to refocus on a point to existence, to aim for infamy or seek salvation in escapism, but whatever it is, with times of extremities comes a desire to create and innovate.

With the web making everything possible in an instant, we could be seeing a deluge of experimentation and made for the masses music, technology and othersuch stuff, hitting our hearts and minds before the year is out. We should also find the surreal and overblown shunting all this dull realism from the mainstream.

4. Techtonic Spew: No More Silly Start-Ups
Never-ending credit is over. Companies with seemingly no point, who hope to mature into a fine wine, decades from now, will begin to scutter back to trying to make a quick buck elsewhere. Instead, I suspect a heap of companies will pop up, offering us simple, instantly obvious, functional uses (like saving money), which could, combined with the aforementioned freedom, mean that 2009 is the year we see a rapid but sensible shift in what's possible online. For instance, we're looking into a price comparison service for music as I can't find one anywhere.

However, the contrary part of me feels that perhaps we'll see more idiots than ever trying their arm, making it hard to find the truly great new things on the web/in the world but one thing is for certain, the tech 2.0 movement will continue at an unrelenting pace but only the greatest will survive. Development is gonna be key in 2009 and we'll see things mutate and evolve until they are great, rather than waste a lot of other peoples money before they have chance to charge at the elite niches (no longer known as nerds), who've become the litmus as well as the trusted gatekeepers to the masses when it comes to the web, gadgets, tv and music.

I suspect anything involving cloud-computing (like Google Docs, Spotify, Soundcloud) and converging all of your online consumption and expression (like iGoogle, Friendfeed, elements of Facebook) will grow and grow this year as people attempt to streamline and manage their time better - which is good news for the folks at Lifehacker (their 'Upgrade Your Life' book was one of the best geek reads I had in '08!).

5. Authentic Karaoke: More re-unions for re-unions sake

Or rather, for money, because the back catalogue lucre of the 'remastered for CD'-generation dries up. The media love a good re-union as it means they can talk about things they know has found an audience, rather than modern music which has an audience they don't reach in these fractured times. Re-unions also are great to distract the media from being obsessed with the constant churn of new-new-new bands who never end up doing much but releasing disappointing albums before critically ignored follows lead to them breaking up. Plus there's nothing more real than seeing authentic karaoke by the creators of the original songs.

6. The Money Business: Brands to replace record labels
Starbucks got in and out too early (yet managed to release everything from Paul McCartney to Sonic Youth) and Bicardi barely dipped in a toe during '08 but both brands felt the value of music help their brands, either by association or by defining who they are.

I wouldn't be surprised if headphones and speaker systems started coming with music subscription (Bowers and Wilkins speakers already do this). Whilst the likes of 02 are sponsoring venues (taking over the Academy's from Carling), labels and record stores are struggling and closing. With labels not being able to commission the creation of music and little in the way of remaining high street outlets to buy music, it makes perfect sense that the likes of Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and American Apparel will follow the lead of Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Walmart and the supermarkets, taking selected racks of records relevant to their audience. It wouldn't be a huge leap for these kinds of companies to pay a little extra (probably covering the acts marketing spend, with combined ads) to have records exclusive for the first week/month, maybe even bundled in with your purchase if you spend over £20. Plus there's the whole WiMax, instore wifi offering limited to location releases which could bring back the pilgrimage to obtain your favourite acts new album (i.e. get the new Muse album from Stonehenge, sponsorsed by National Express?!).

Would also make sense to see the cover mount trend expand. Someone like Prada could be giving away an act like The Kills or Hadouken's next album with Dazed & Confused, Ray Ban praps giving away Annie with the Guardian and taking the newspaper and advertising-doesn't-work-anymore-vs-No-Logo conundrum to an interesting new plateau. With lots of capable music biz staff being made redundant and acts finding themselves dropped, with records made and ready for release, it's exciting times for these kindsa artist-brand partnerships.

7. Records Records: Labels as Labels
Yet, with the demand for physical product plummeting, the savvy companies will be sponsoring/rebranding labels and giving music away online or with players. It makes more sense for them to do this rather than hiring teams themselves and relying on developing new businesses - someone like Swarovski to buy up imprints of Emi, rather than put on their annual Fashion Rocks party? It's not that crazy but things will need to get a little worse before they get better.

The savvier labels will be pushing their label as a brand, offering direct-to-consumer streaming access or the ability to download their entire catalogue for a cost. Labels could become their own stores and conjoin under shopping centre-like umbrellas (which I guess in essence is the idea of MySpace Music and taking their videos off of YouTube).

8. Auteurism: How to do the thing you love...
A career as a musician is no longer really an option. The cost, and therefore risk involved to develop a career is gargantuan and the demise of the 'record business' seemingly imminent, makes investing in the future, with the current business model, a right ol' muddle and pretty much a non-starter for acts without media hype, for labels full of also-rans who once had media hype and 9/10 acts being ("loss-leading") flops. The live industry doesn't seem to be investing in developing careers so it's going to be down to musicians and managers to find the money. They'll need to cover the costs of recording, mixing, mastering, touring, marketing, plugger, pr, videos, artwork and having enough saved up to give them the time so as not compromise their time (months off to record and tour don't fit with many/any jobs). It takes at least (3 months and £30k to release a debut album properly and a helluva lot more to push it to a larger audience... so either acts have to go folky or amateurishly diy solo projects or they'll need to find money from elsewhere, as even if they do get signed, it won't be for very much.

Obviously no-one should be making music to make money (that's what some of the business is there to attempt to do) but it's not unreasonable for a musician to earn a basic living, doing something they have to do and we love. The rise of musicians as DJs has been a nice little cash-in-hand earner for a while, as has the hand to mouth existence of bands with bundles of t-shirts but it's not enough to do it yourself and do things well enough to build a career of your dreams. Records require teams of experienced and specialist people to help the act rise above everyone-else-with-an-internet-connection to begin to reach more than a few thousand people (although apparently 1000 True Fans is all you need).

This gives acts a few options:
a) spread things thin and give yourself loads of time to develop outside of the public gaze for a year or two whilst working/being a student
b) work to make music: part-time jobs to scrape by (Bat for Lashes or cram months of highly paid flexible work around making music (just as long as it doesn't make for trite Enemy-like lyrics) and take entire months off to create or tour.
c) for fear of becoming an amateur stuck in a nine-to-give and become an auteur: make money to fund recording/living by being on tv (i.e. Tony Wilson on Granada to fund Factory Records or Frederick Bang of Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man on Mtv2), Dj, modelling, starting clubnights (which is what Kaiser Chiefs did, as well as taught at Art College, ran venues, etc), do odd jobs in the music biz (it's funny the people you meet on receptions and in post rooms), write songs for other people (The Darkness funded their launch by doing jingles), write (Andrew Bird probably gets paid for his New York Times column) or find ways to create 'things' which your fans will want to buy because you've made them... even Mozart had to make music other people wanted him to make to afford him the freedom to do as he pleased.
d) sign on, cop out... struggle.

Relevant read: David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists

9. Hoverboards R Us
Some random technology I'd like to see:
- R2D2 style phone projections to replace touchscreens.
- A version of StumbleUpon and GoogleReader which tells me what people like me are reading and rating that it's worth reading on the web.
- Google brain implant so I don't need to remember anything, and so that my brain syncs with my iCal and Googlemaps, getting me to meetings via my Hoverboard whilst I sleep/read.
- Pay £2000 for a computer and get a new machine every 2 years when technology upgrades, rather than having to buy something new
- P2P on Crackberry
- A style app which scrobbles every taste I like and recommends me food and drink on menus and provides recipes to make things just as I like them
- Jetsons style food pills to make eating breakfast on the bus to work a lot less messy
- Obama to declare compulsory global national holidays to watch An Inconvient Truth, The Wire and West Wing


Anonymous said...

Very interesting Sean. I wish I'd known you in 1996 before I embarked on adult life! The 1000 true fans hyposthesis appeals as I'm engaged in a bit of crowdfunding at present. Some very acute trendspotting here. Shall we check back this time 2010 and see whether they transpired to be prophetic? Happy new year.

witholearyinthegrave said...

I cant wait for The Wire holiday.

I predict:

1. Twitter to get everywhere as people begin to work out new ways of using it.

2. Lots more of Fergal Sharkey telling us why P2P is wrong.

3. The Andrew Lloyd Webber - Eurovison entrant to fail miserably.

4. The Guardian to fall in love with Generation Kill.

5. Duffy's real age of 42 to be revealed in early August (sorry, I can't be any more specific).

A Spotify invite would be great if you have one cheers.

lovelessrapture said...

I'd love a spotify invite. :D

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