In a nutshell, to kill the major label run music industry, startups will need to:
- find great music from people who aren't assholes
- let people do cool things with that music
- let users share what they create
Find great music from people who aren't assholes
By assholes, I mean people who will sue you for using their music in your startup, which probably makes this first step the hardest. You can't have a great music startup without the music and more than that you need good music.
We've seen sites before where anyone can upload their music and let people play it for free. It's a nice idea and sites like that are a great outlet for musicians. But there's one huge problem - most of the music sucks, and listeners can tell that right away. There are no filters or gatekeepers and that's one thing major labels are very good at. They act as a filter that stops you from having to hear all the out of tune, talent-less wanna be stars who have no idea how bad they really are.
So the startup that wants to disrupt this industry will need to find a source of good music they can use without worry until they are big enough to have the music come to them. Right now, it looks like Soundcloud, with their excellent API, might be that source. There's a lot of high quality, well produced music that mostly independent artists and labels have put there with the purpose of being shared.
Ideally, once big enough, the startup could become the equivalent of a label, in the sense that it would be the first place up and coming artists would submit their music to in the hope of being "discovered". The startup would in turn fulfill the filtering, distribution and publicity needs that labels currently provide.
That would be one big nail in the coffin of the major labels, when artists are bypassing them to submit their music to startups.
Let people do cool things with that music
This is what startups are good at. I'm always astounded by the cool things hackers can do with music. The major label run music industry is bad at this, and has been very slow to adapt to technological change.
Here's an example of their backwards thinking, even when trying to move forward:
I was at first pretty excited to hear that major label EMI was partnering with the cool music API startup, EchoNest. I couldn't believe a major label was making some of their catalog available to developers to put to use building music apps. And then I read the details. If you use their music, EMI will have the power to approve your app, publish it themselves, and take a huge cut of any profit your app makes. Sound familiar? The labels want developers to become their slaves just like artists have always been. It's the only way they know how to operate. No thanks.
So it's up to startups and developers to build cool things with non major label music that lets end users do cool things with non major label music. Let users remix, chop up, speed up, slow down the music. Let them make videos, make radio stations, make ringtones. Let them wear music, let them see music, let them feel music. I am confident we haven't even begun to see the cool things hackers will let us do with music.
And maybe if it's cool enough the majors will come begging to let you include their music too.
Let users share what they create
Letting users share what they create may seem obvious in this day and age, but if there is one thing the music industry hates it's sharing. To them, sharing is the root of all evil and a lot of their money, time and effort has gone into putting an end to it.
Unfortunately, because of the RIAA and their campaigns of suing people, your users will need to be confident that your service is legal and they won't be sued for using it. Parents will want assurances that the site their teenager is using to remix music won't somehow cost them their home.
So make sure it's legal, and then make sure users know its legal.
Let people share what they create without fear of reprisals and they will come running to use your service.
Well, this is always the hard part, but it seems to me that if you can get the first three parts to work, then this should follow. Build a compelling product that puts power in the hands of users, not in the hands of the major labels and they will thank you for it. Get them all on your side and some money should follow.
If you've read this far, thanks for your time. I have a lot more to say on this topic but wanted to get some thoughts out there. We're starting to put some of these ideas to work over at songspin.fm. We have a long way to go, but it will be worth it.
contact me: james at songspin dot fm