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Bursting The Music Tech Bubble

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Popping_The_Bubble
That tech people
and music people live inside rarified bubbles
should
come as a surprise to absolutely no one. If you’ve ever set
foot in Silicon Valley, or Brooklyn, or Silver Lake, you know just what I’m
talking about — young, over-educated people jabbering
on about a hot new app or band

               
                 
                 
                 
                 
       

Guest Post by Cortney Harding on
This Week In Music Tech

When they leave that bubble, it’s usually to marvel at how
gosh-darn quaint everything is — “look, Tim, a phone that’s not
a smart phone.” “Wow, Betty, compact discs. I thought these
things disappeared ten years ago!”

I get it, and I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m in India right
now (and I promise this won’t be another “white person goes to
India and has feels” post) and on the way here, Air France lost my bag.
A conveyer belt broke in Paris, and it took three days for my
stuff to finally get to me. Meanwhile, I was waiting on hold
and posting tweets that took hours to answer. Ten years
ago, I probably could have shrugged all this off.
Now,
I was furious. The last time I was in California, I rode in a
car THAT DROVE ITSELF. You’re telling me a conveyor belt broke
and that was what screwed everything up so royally? Really?

And that’s light years ahead of India, which is great in many
ways but somehow hasn’t figured out that roads should maybe
have lanes and they’re not appropriate places for cows, humans,
and dogs to wander around. I know I sound like an awful spoiled
Western brat, but after coming close to death by
bull-hitting-car, it’s a little hard not to be a tiny
bit critical.

I mention all this because we, as music tech people, need to
stop and recognize that we’re way, way ahead of everyone else
(or behind, if you’re one of those people). A buddy of mine
shared some work he’d done recently with me, and he found that
huge numbers of people still listen to terrestrial radio.
Still! With the annoying ads and silly DJs and ten song
playlists, people still listen. There are times when I
feel like a manic cult leader repping streaming
music
apps
— a better way is possible! You don’t
have to live like this! You can’t possibly enjoy hearing that
jewelry store ad again, can you?

But I guess people…do. The vast majority of the world is OK
with stupid ads on the radio, with equipment that breaks and
takes ages to fix, with driving next to cows. Every so often,
though, something breaks through this and a new
technology does really change the game.
Netflix is an
example of this; Uber (for better or worse) is another. But so
far nothing in music has come close. Spotify has come close, but so far the only
market it has managed to conquer is the Nordics — great, but
not representative of the wider world.


Music-industry
The biggest problem facing music
startups right now is not artist payouts, or label deals — it’s
the fact that they are just too damn insular. I’ve been to many
streaming service offices, and most people there are under
forty and live in major cities. Spotify has hundreds of people
in NYC but as far as I know, only one person in Nashville. The
might have campus reps at more rural schools, but those kids
only focus on converting other students, not the townies.

I originally had high hopes for Beats to crack the mainstream,
because their marketing played so close to the center. They had
football stars and Ellen DeGeneres on
their side; how better to hit middle America? Alas, they also
had a too-clever-by-half product and quickly disappeared into
Apple-land — it remains to be seen what their new iteration
will look like, and what sort of traction it’ll get. Every
other company reeks of cool, which is fine if all you want to
capture is that market, but I’m guessing they want bigger
things.

It all comes down to this — was the lack of on-demand
streaming music really that big of a problem for most
people?
For people like me, it was huge, and I’d be
really bummed if it went away. But for most people, who still
listen to the radio and have maybe shifted to Pandora…maybe it
wasn’t a big deal. Maybe streaming services are solving a
problem where there wasn’t one to begin with.

This gets back to my central point — we all need to
start getting outside the bubble more.
It can help us
manage expectations (or make us more driven to solve problems)
and it should help shape our thinking when it comes to the
problems we actually need to solve. There’s of course the
Steve Jobs and Henry
Ford school of thought that customers aren’t smart enough to
know what they want and need to be told what they need, but I
don’t think works most of the time.

All I know is this — despite everything, the world is still
moving really slowly. Ubiquitous wi-fi service is still a
fantasy (at least, it’s my fantasy). There are no apps to track
lost luggage and airlines can and will just disconnect your
calls and ignore your tweets. People still shrug and listen to
the morning zoo. Those of us who want to solve this would do
well to realize that we’ve got the bring the rest of the pack
with us, and find a way to communicate openly with them and
show them a better way is possible. Otherwise we risk
staying in our bubbles, on the grid and yet fully disconnected
from reality.

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