new music formats panel

We’ve moved from a music industry based on physical sales to one driven by streams, but that’s surely not the end of the road. What are the new music formats looming on the horizon? A panel at the NY:LON Connect conference in London discussed the topic.

Chaired by Reed Smith partner Sophie Goossens, it included Nikisha Bailey, GM of Nvak Collective; Alex Kisch, EVP, business development & affairs and general counsel at Vevo; and Simon Scott, CEO of Cirkay.

“For me, change always happens in this space with a combination of technology putting the business model under threat,” said Scott. “If technology puts their [rightsholders’] business model under threat, they really react, because fundamentally they’re good business people.”

Scott pointed to current uncertainties around the existing streaming model – from whether it’s generating enough revenue and rewarding artists fairly to whether it’s making music a background noise for many people – and also cited artist burnout and new technologies that enable transparency and direct relationships between artists and fans as key trends.

“When you put those things together as being the drivers of change, my general view would be if you start assuming it’s going to change a lot more than you really think it will, and then work back from there, you’ve got a chance of being successful,” he said.

Bailey agreed that digital burnout, where artists hit a wall of trying to serve all the streaming and social-media platforms that drive the current industry, is a big issue.

“Definitely artist burnout is a thousand per cent accurate. You have to do something for TIkTok, for Instagram, for Twitter, for YouTube,” she said.

web3 technologies and the communities built around them could be seen as just more weight for that pile of responsibilities, but Bailey said she was optimistic that instead they will give artists a chance to hone their efforts and build their fanbases.

“Having a dedicated audience, they know they’re going to find you at your Twitter Space on Fridays, they know they can go to your Discord… and that allows you to focus on being an artist,” she said.

“It really allows the artist to take ownership of who they are, their brand [by] being able to build out these different communities… It creates that direct relationship with your fan. To be able to go in and sell it [your music] to 1,000 people, versus getting a million views on your TikTok or going for a playlist. It’s really creating this niche environment for your fans to go to.”

Kisch, meanwhile, talked about Vevo’s experience of seeing music videos re-emerge as a big content category on televisions as the biggest trend his company has seen in recent years.

“Every platform is kinda like TV,” noted Bailey. “TikTok, you’re scrolling constantly. Instagram, you’re scrolling constantly until you find something that you want to watch!”

The panel moved on to creative AI technology, and the impact that this may have on artists and fans alike. Scott cited musician Holly Herndon’s Holly+ project as a reason for optimism.

“Creatives will use it as they see fit. That’s someone taking the technology and being creative. There’s going to be a lot of that. Creative people will be as creative as the technology at their disposal allows them to be,” he said.

Scott warned that “businesses will continue to try to use AI to disintermediate creatives, or what we traditionally think of as creatives”, but also flagged up a more positive trend he hopes to see: “Ai to help the complex fan[base] management… the moderating and the management of those communities. That’s an area where it will probably be a lot of use.”

Kisch agreed that AI’s potential is cause for excitement and careful thinking alike. “There’s certainly some great, helpful, efficient toolsets that could be useful going forward for things like production music libraries. It creates tremendous efficiencies there,” he said. “But as Simon says, it disintermediates a whole slew of creatives who are producing those libraries.”

New formats panel at NY:LON Connect

Bailey raised the topic of virtual, avatar artists, including the controversial FN Meka project from 2022, and suggested that the demand isn’t currently there.

“Your fans aren’t AI. Your fans are real people! At the end of the day, people want to be connected to real music,” she said. “People weren’t ready for that [FN Meka]. If we’re creating these AI artists, there are actually real artists behind the music who have real lives and real experiences that come through in the music. There’s a way until we see that [AI/virtual artists taking off].”

She agreed that AI’s use to help manage fan communities could be really helpful. “It’s definitely something that we’re moving towards. Right now you have all these eyes on you. If you have millions of followers and hundreds of millions of streams, there’s no real way to know who those people are. That’s where I think AI can be impactful.”

Scott noted that a music industry revolving around community management will require different skillsets and systems: it’s fundamentally different from one based on driving streaming subscriptions, especially for artists whose communities grow large.

“I’m going to go and build a relationship with a million, two million fans at scale globally? That’s really difficult!”

The panel ended with some talk about NFTs, with Bailey explaining that where she has seen success is careful building: starting with a smaller number of tokens (and thus fans in the ensuing community) and growing slowly but surely.

“Eventually you have these 5,000 dedicated fans who are looking for your curated content, for that specialised experience for them,” she said. It’s a model that doesn’t necessarily need expensive marketing campaigns. “Right now, we’re still relying on the fans who are in this dedicated group to bring others in.”

The panel agreed that the potential of NFTs is in these fan communities, rather than in making quick bucks through sales. Kisch suggested that NFTs can fulfil a similar role to a shelf full of vinyl records: a showcase for the music someone loves.

“There are fewer opportunities in the streaming world to show off your fandom, to have your record collection on display for people to see,” he said, before delivering a warning.

“NFT as investment vehicle – and that’s what gets a lot of chatter today – I don’t think at scale that’s sustainable. It really becomes more NFT as expression of fandom, as a collectible. And part of parcel of that has to be your ability to brag, to show off.”

Bailey agreed, and said that NFTs unlocking rewards and experiences will appeal most. “For me it’s being able to have that early access to the artists that I love.. to be the first one in and having that direct relationship. Or feeling like I’m one of the first to have access to this artist that I love everything about.”

Meanwhile, Scott counselled that whenever new technologies are used, they must fit the artist and their fanbase. He cited Discord as an example. “I can see Discord with a dance act. I can’t see Discord with an Elton John fanbase. How you navigate it is just too much of a paradigm away…”

The NY:LON Connect global music summit is run by Music Biz and Music Ally. This year’s event is held in association with Orfium and Viberate, and hosted by Reed Smith. The Changing Nature of Music Formats track is sponsored by Vevo. You can find all our coverage of the conference sessions here.

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