We’re living through a music tech revolution – and it’s just getting started
Ahead of the release of the TMN 30 Under 30 shortlist tomorrow, last year’s Readers’ Choice winner, Josh Simons, reflects on how much has changed in 10 years, why creatives have more control than ever, and why a couple of years in the music industry is like a lifetime.
It was only 10 years ago, almost to the day, when Inertia Records released my band Buchanan’s first EP to physical stores all around the country. It was an exciting time. We had spent a year building a team focused on moving units off JB Hi Fi shelves into CD players and cars around Australia, off the back of an all-too-important triple j radio addition. We also made the front page of the iTunes Store – Spotify was yet to launch for another 13 months.
Fast forward just two years to 2013 as we were getting ready to release our debut album, Human Spring. The physical release was a mere footnote and collectable for fans who pre-ordered it via PledgeMusic, and all our energy was now focused on securing editorial love from Spotify, with streams overnight seemingly the new metric of success and virality.
In hindsight, it was an awkward if not unfortunate time to be a breaking artist, as the industry was going through its most significant adjustment in over a decade, and independent artists were forced to adapt or die.
The point? Two years is a very long time in the music industry.
The role of technology in music
Ten years on from that first EP release and I am now the CEO of Vampr, a music-tech self-service platform helping artists network, build a team, distribute their music and publish their works.
The relationship between music and technology has historically been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Napster killed CD sales, turning the music industry on its head; on the other hand, music-tech has since made it cheaper than ever to create original world-class tracks, distribute your release and build a fan base – all from the comfort of your bedroom.
In many respects the vision for Vampr, and one of the problems we are trying to solve, came about from my frustration as an artist dealing with the constantly moving goal posts that technology and innovation presented. Think you’ve mastered your Facebook game? Move aside, it’s all about TikTok now. As an artist, it was both necessary and exhausting just trying to keep up.
Even now managing my legacy catalogue, it can still be a hassle trying to keep up with 10+ accounts in the name of ensuring my music is accessible on all the latest platforms. Distributor? Tick. Neighbouring rights collection service? Tick. Getting verified on Spotify? Linking your Apple Music artist account to your distributor profile? Posting variations of the same content to all your various social media accounts?
It’s a helluva lot of work for anyone, let alone artists, who in an ideal world would be left alone to focus squarely on creating the best music and live show experience possible.
So where’s the good news in all of this?
In the past couple years we have begun moving real-time through a revolution which is seeing many of these services and tools converging – and the end result is there’s possibly never been a more exciting time to be an artist.
Bundling and the convergence of music-tech tools
As with most industries, when a service becomes replicable enough, the costs come down for all parties, and competitors inevitably emerge in droves, driving down costs even further.
Take music distribution for example: for less than $1,000 you could start up a music distribution company and offer distribution services to emerging artists. The secret sauce, and the path to profit, will likely be your artist acquisition strategy which will usually resemble some kind of artist services offering, to give you a competitive edge. For artists, this is great news, as the cost of distribution is now negligible in your overall release budget.
So when companies like LANDR, which started out as an online mastering solution for independent artists, delve into the space of music distribution, it isn’t all that surprising.
As an artist, if I can log in to one less platform to handle all my musical affairs, not only am I saving time, but I’m probably also saving money by not paying an additional service provider.
If I have a viral hit on TikTok and am not yet signed to a label, why might I entertain an offer from a major? It may very well include a handsome advance, however it may also lock me into a five-plus album deal all-the-while sacrificing ~50% of my future profits.
On the other hand, I could instead secure a proportional-to-existing-success advance from a distribution company offering financial services, while keeping 90% of my royalties in perpetuity.
This is the future which artists now live in – it’s a future of opportunity and choice. I firmly believe that many of the next Olivia Rodrigos or Justin Biebers will remain independent accordingly. Midia Research has confirmed as much in multiple reports showing royalties paid out to independent artists increasing as a proportion of the entire recorded music industry year over year for the past several years.
This is the two-sided opportunity we’ve been tapping into with Vampr. The likes of LANDR, Splice, Songtradr or any number of other music-tech companies will almost certainly keep adding to their list of artist services – often through M&A – in a bid to keep users glued to the brand, and while that’s a great thing for the indie artists already using those platforms, our firm belief is that for early-stage musicians, the first step in a sustainable career is making life-changing connections.
In practice, this means offering them a niche social network designed to serve musicians’ needs first, from which all these other services can later be offered as add-ons as their career evolves and demands it.
Self-service, as opposed to artist services from a label or distributor, is now a truly viable and exciting career option and choice for independent musicians.
People come to Vampr early in their career because the vast majority of creatives either require or are in desperate need of that magical collaborative partner who they can start writing and producing music with. Or perhaps they’re further along in their career and in search of a larger team and network to help take their vision to market. Either way, the solutions exist already, but it’s merely step one in a much longer journey.
The inevitable next step, and it’s already happening, is the convergence of these self-service artist tools onto a single platform; an opportunity with limitless potential, and perhaps the next major revolution (or ‘major’ upset) to face the music industry.
To bring it full circle and speak from my artist perspective: If something like a Vampr acted as my incubation space, where I was able to build a network horizontally and manage all my socials, and then that same network began to offer distribution, a marketplace, publishing solutions, master classes and advance payments based off of my performance data – well that becomes a no-brainer.
We’re in an era of music-tech convergence and artist control – what a great time it is to be independent.
Josh Simons is the co-founder of Vampr and was last year’s Readers’ Choice winner for TMN 30 Under 30.