Lessons for B2B Media from the Music Industry

This week, I want to take another look at lessons we can learn from changes in the music industry. So sit back, relax, and get ready to rock…

If there is one single theme that runs through all the changes I am about to discuss it is this: discerning “just good enough” from truly “high quality.”

So many things can be described as being a “quality” product or service. But in B2B media, in music, and in any serious field, there is a world of difference between a “quality” product, and a product of “the highest quality.” In most cases, merely having a “quality” product or service equates to “just good enough.”

There is simply too much competition out there, and as we will see for the music industry, many are experiencing seismic shifts to how business gets done.

Part 1: Music Distribution and Discovery

I used to be one of those record store regulars… stopping by constantly, chatting up the staff, and eagerly awaiting some obscure British 12″ single that contained an extended version of some song. But all that has changed, thanks to the Internet.

The fact is, many of the record stores I used to frequent have closed.

Distribution has changed. The power awarded to gatekeepers has changed. Finding new music used to be based on real conversations with music store employees, friends and magazines. Gone… all of it. And you have to look at this power shift and wonder, how does this affect other industries?

But its not a sad story. Now I discover more music, more easily. I can preview all of it, instantly, anytime, anywhere. I can find small bands who don’t have big record label contracts – I can find what bands are about to break big. And not only that, but I can purchase it anytime, and it is always in stock.

And it is inherently social: I can check music blogs; chat with other fans of obscure bands; and in some cases, reach out to the band themselves.

25 years ago the Walkman made music personal… the web makes it communal again.

The record stores I went to were certainly “quality” establishments, but in the new market, they are simply “good enough,” when compared to new services and communication tools. To truly get the “highest quality” experience in discovering and purchasing new music, I have to go online.

Part 2: Reporting on Music

In 2008, everyone is a reporter. The clearest example of this is a phenomenal video sent to me by Peter Welander,
Editor, Process Industries for Control Engineering. This is a video of the band My Morning Jacket, which is comprised of hundreds of individual videos shot by the audience. What does this mean? It means that there is no single authority. That there is no single “official” view on an experience. Life is a shared experience, and new media has allowed us to realize this in new ways.

Once a band plays a show, you can often go to YouTube the next morning and find fan-shot videos from it; you can go to music blogs and find photos and recaps of the performance; you can get the perspective from dozens of fans, almost instantly.

For a casual listener, a 500 word mention in Rolling Stone 8 weeks from now, might be “good enough” for them. But for those who are in the industry, or those who look for the best way to find reporting on music… the Rolling Stone model is simply “good enough.”

Even if you look at an industry-insider brand like Billboard, how can their live reviews department possibly keep up with the aggregated reviews of thousands of fans across the country reporting on these bands?

(just a side note here: Peter Welander’s daughter Betsy is featured in the video as a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony. She also got to interview the band, which you can see in this video.)

Part 3: Tools to Listen to Music

Back in November, I wrote about my obsession with stereo equipment, and my three turntables. Well, since then, I have purchased two other turntables, both of which are a level beyond what I had before. I want to explore this obsession, and where the different lies between “quality,” and “THE HIGHEST QUALITY.”

It’s not hard to find music, and not hard to find quality equipment to listen to it on. But what separates a $300 turntable from a $20,000 turntable? And I am sure most of you are asking, “Why would anyone buy a turntable nowadays?”

In terms of music, and my obsession with stereo equipment, it comes down to this: when I listen to Neko Case, I want her in the room with me. I want to feel the presence of the drums in the back of the room, I want to understand the dynamics between each band member. I want the music to be alive. Simply put: I want it to be an experience.

A lower end stereo can give me 90% of this experience – but it is that last 10% that separates the good from the great. The “nice to have” from the “totally transcendent.”

How is B2B media any different?

Part 4: The Music

I would argue that new media, and all of these networks have brought more great music to the forefront, and allowed niche acts to thrive without needing record labels to support them.

These same networks will bring other content and services to the forefront of our industries. New sources, new services, new competitors.

This means that the landscape under which we operate will continue to shift.

I constantly find new music that puts a smile on my face. Here is what I am listening to now:

Part 5: The Most Punk Rock Thing B2B Media Can Do

When people say “punk rock,” they typically mean “authentic,” so much so that it is downright challenging. Thinking about a punk rock example, I can’t help but come up with Green Day’s song Good Riddance (Time of Your Life.) You know the song, perhaps you even danced to it at your prom.

I like this song not just because it is a great song, but because here was a band who was called a total sellout – who was challenged to prove that they are really a “punk” band, and not just a teeny bopper MTV band. What did they do? They wrote an acoustic ballad with strings – the most anti-punk song. And it was brilliant.

The lesson: look beyond expectations; look beyond trends and the status quo; look beyond buzzwords and best practices.

Asking the audience what they want does not always work – because they don’t know what to ask for. They ask for the familiar, the thing that fits you into easy to understandable labels… in the great vanilla of the media world.

Finding “the highest quality” is about constantly rethinking how things are done, how we relate to our audience, what they need, and how we work. It is about stripping away complexity. It is about not hiding behind a structure. It is about being authentic.

And it is most certainly about having fun.

Rebel Rebel in New York City. I can’t tell you how many hours and how much money I have spent in this store.

The empty remains of Kim’s Music & Video in the West Village. I love how the spotlights only enhance the emptiness. Many good memories in this store.

The vinyl section of Virgin Megastore in Union Square. A ton of new music is still released on vinyl.

I got to see Neko Case perform at the Tarrytown Music Hall. This is what I want my stereo to sound like.

Nottingham Interspace with an SME V tonearm, an SME 3009 tonearm, Black Diamond Racing record weight and Roksan Corus cartridge
My current turntable setup: a Nottingham Interspace with an SME V tonearm, an SME 3009 tonearm, Black Diamond Racing record weight and Roksan Corus cartridge. This table sings.

Some new vinyl I am listening to.

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