FastForward: 7 things we learned about the future of releasing music
Yesterday marked a rewarding day one of Sydney’s inaugural FastForward; the future-focused music industry conference series visiting Down Under following success in Amsterdam and London.
Music industry professionals across all sectors gathered at UTS Aerial Function Centre in Broadway to hear keynotes and panel discussions from speakers representing The Music Network, Sony Music Australia, Warner Music Australia, Billboard, BMG, The Hit Network, Optus Stadium, Ticketmaster and Live Nation (to name a few), as well as get hands-on on with the latest cutting-edge tech demos, participate in ‘FastFifteen’ discussions and more.
Here are our top takeaways from the most explosive panel of day one, The Future of Releasing Music moderated by Van Picken, Founder and Director of Comes With Fries and featuring the formidable radio host Ash London of Hit Network; Ben Godding, Marketing Director of AWAL; electronic duo Set Mo; and Head of Digital and Business Development at Warner, Simon Cahill.
1. Artists should be supported to become more innovative in how they release their music…
Simon Cahill said that teams need to provide artists with the flexibility and resources to be innovative and “take more control over their careers”.
Set Mo’s Nick Drabble and Stu Turner are releasing one new song on the first Friday of every month in 2018 – totalling 11 tracks – in place of a traditional album release cycle.
“We wanted each [song] to have its moment to shine, but we felt that if we put it all out at once people would pick their two or three favourites and the rest just gets forgotten.”
The electronic duo also raised that streaming platforms mean that if artists put everything out at once, they reduce the number of opportunities for the songs to get playlisted. “If the album comes out in June, by July it’s forgotten”.
In terms of remuneration through the new format, “We don’t really see a disconnect between the more traditional structure and what we’re doing. If anything we’re seeing a more steady income flow as we’re putting out music and touring on a very regular basis.”
Ben Godding from AWAL added: “Artists need to be equipped and empowered to use their data. Simple things like the time of day your fans listen can be incredibly influential.
“This education, combined with transparency from the services themselves, is key for building, sustainable long-term careers.”
2. …but organisations still operate within the traditional machine
The industry needs to adapt to the speed at which audiences are changing their consumption patterns, and the innovative ways artists are releasing their music. Technology now means that musicians don’t necessarily need “to be signed to a major, or a distributor or even putting through an aggregator to actually service us music,” said Van Picken.
While this is good news for artists who wish to stay independent and control all facets of their music, Ash London admitted that while it isn’t ideal. “The reality is, I still operate within this big, evil, commercial machine. So this is the way we do it and the way we have done it for so long, and I may not agree with it and may butt heads often, but I’m a very small cog,” she remarked.
3. Streaming is not the death of radio
London also said that while audiences are consuming across multiple platforms, “people still get in their car and switch on the radio to find new music”. Commercial radio’s audience of 18- to 24-year-olds has increased from 76% in 2016, and is now at a four-year high, with Cahill adding that “what we’re streaming is not actually taking away from radio, it’s actually adding value”.
“People will Shazam something and add it for later; they’ll come back, they’ll put it into a playlist; they’ll consume different things at different times of the day in different ways. Music has never been listened to as much as it is now.”
4. We need to stop reacting to data that we don’t understand
London joked about her dislike of publishing videos in bite-sized chunks because the face-value data shows that viewer’s attention spans are microscopic and there’s a push to follow trends – “that’s how the kids are doing it”. Cahill agreed, saying that while a post may get a million views, “if you look at the real data that might be a three-second view, with 82% on auto-scroll, 95% sound off. We need to stop reacting to data at this level and step back to understand what the real numbers and the real metrics are.”
Education for those coming through is key: something everyone agreed on is the need for knowledge so industry workers can wrap their heads around more than just the initial metrics. “It would be great if we could get a level of knowledge there industry-wide… because the hardest thing is trying to talk to an artist or a manager and trying to explain… what isn’t relevant and do something valuable that builds a brand.”
5. Artists are the new influencers
The next gatekeepers driving the discovery of new music are the artists themselves. The trend is led by heavyweights like Taylor Swift, who Tweeted a new Spotify playlist and “legitimately, within three weeks, most of the songs on that playlist I was hearing on the radio,” enthused London. Closer to home, Courtney Barnett’s playlist tell me what you’re listening to has a lot of clout within the independent sphere, championing local acts like Totally Mild, Miss Blanks, Sunscreen, Rachel Maria Cox and more.
6. Audiences are too scattered – bring back the fandom
Set Mo laments that their fans are disjointed, which makes it incredibly difficult to communicate with them. They are continuously posting about their #trackamonth because they can’t assume that “every Set Mo fan knows about it because we posted at the start”.
Plus, “While someone listens to you weekly or daily on Spotify, they might not follow any of your socials”. The solution? “We’re going back to the mailing list, so we don’t have to worry about the algorithms when they change… you can’t invest too heavily in any one [social platform].” A dark laugh suggests no one is Facebook’s biggest fan right now…
7. The Future Is VR
Standing on stage with your favourite artist. Air drumming along in the studio during recording. Heading to Coachella without ever getting out of your PJs. These are all fan interactions that will be possible, and much sooner than we think. And “people can actually just move in with Set Mo,” jokes Drabble.