The Music Product Manifesto – Guest Blog

Refe Tuma

By Refe Tuma

The latest music business report from the Forrester Research Group hasn’t produced the kind of buzz that the last one did. That’s likely because while the previous report did have some solid ideas, it wasn’t the answer people were looking for.

The report is called Music Product Manifesto: The Product Features That Will Save Recorded Music. (I know – I hate titles like that too.) This time around researcher Mark Mulligan focus on music product innovation. “In 2009, the album celebrates it’s 100th birthday and yet remains the centerpiece of the recorded music product portfolio,” Mulligan writes. “The time has come for a radical overhaul of the recorded music product range.”

Consumer needs, not business needs.

Mulligan introduces his recommendations with “six fundamental consumer ‘rights’” that he believes should be the foundation of all future music product innovations. I’ll give you the six bullet points and focus in on a couple of them that I think are worth examining further.

  1. The right to great customer experiences first (and business models second).
  2. The right to unique music experiences.
  3. The right to share in the creation process.
  4. The right to share [music].
  5. The right to fair use of technology.
  6. The right to be social.

The first one may seem like kind of a ‘duh,’ but in Mulligan’s defense this point has been largely missed by most of the record industry. I appreciate that he took the time to spell it out because he is exactly right. A business model is useless without costumer buy in. Figure out what your customers want and give it to them – that’s the model the industry needs to embrace.

Number three is huge. I’ve written before about how important I believe it is for fans to have the freedom to remix and mash up the music they love. The promotional value and increased fan engagement that can result from allowing your fans to share in the creation process are opportunities that should not be missed. More on this point later.

Four, five and six are somewhat related. The report makes the argument that friends and family are “one of the most important sources of music recommendations.” Music products should leverage this, not attempt to squash it. “We’re looking for cross-service sharing to become the glue that holds the digital music marketplace together,” the report states.

This is something that the blogosphere has been preaching for years, so it’s nice to see an ‘official’ report in agreement. However, Mulligan is unwilling to to all the way. “This doesn’t mean full interoperability,” he writes in the very next sentence. “But it does entail creative solutions, such as one-play-only streams and downloads. In other words you can share a track with your friend, but as soon as you listen to it the file self-destructs like a new assignment from the Impossible Mission Force. People are going to LOVE that.

Future Music Products

The remainder of the report lays out a series of predictions and recommendations regarding what future music products should look like. The big theme that runs through each of the nine or so items is interactivity. Consumers need to be given stuff to do while they listen to music. Videos to watch, games to play, social media to update and tools to remix and mash up. “Music’s ‘lean back’ nature has allowed it to be shunted into the background by more interactive entertainment,” writes Mulligan. “Next generation music products need to thrust music into the interactive age, delivering multiple interactive music experiences that demand listener’s attention!”

Instead of simply purchasing music files, listeners would download something more like an application that contained all the functionality laid out in the above diagram.

I think this is a big step in the right direction. It takes advantage of a wide range of technologies to create a more immersing experience for the listener. The center of this experience is still music, but not necessarily recorded music. All of the different mediums are represented: live performance, studio recordings, written lyrics, music videos, etc. Extras that aren’t strictly musical would be included as well, such as interviews, photos, and games.

All of this would be integrated with social media allowing real-time sharing. One significant benefit would be that the ability to share and communicate around an artist’s music could potentially strengthen the fan community. That sense of community is so important to building a solid fan base.

Here’s a close-up of the proposed remix function:

Adding value or diluting music?

One question that this report raised for me is whether this additional functionality might add value to music as a product at the expense of the integrity of music as an art form.

It was hard at times not to read this report as if it were saying that the industry needs to recognize that music has been relegated to background ambiance and borrow from other forms of media to get people to care about it again. Yet, in a lot of ways that may be true. It’s easy to blame file sharing and piracy for music’s waning cultural influence. But in today’s interactive, multitasking world it is getting harder for music to compete. Mono-sensory art is so last century!

“Music companies must remember who their competing against,” writes Mulligan. “This isn’t a fight to be the ‘iTunes killer’ – rather, it’s to be the ‘P2P killer’ and an ‘apathy killer.’” He goes on, “To compete against this ‘axis of digital music evil’ and truly differentiate themselves, new music products must offer excitement and uniqueness.” In other words, future music products can’t just be about the music anymore.


Philosophical concerns aside, Mulligan is absolutely right that the recording industry needs to start delivering what fans want if it hopes to find a sustainable business model. I think the example he presents does go a long way toward responding to the way fans have shown they want to engage with music. Mulligan doesn’t really address how he would monetize these products – subscriptions? Maybe the app is free and the content is pay per download? Or the other way around? Yes, I know I just said that giving fans what they want should come first. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to generate revenue. Maybe that will come in a future report.

Written by Refe Tuma for Creative Deconstruction

Posted by Dexter Bryant Jr. [d.BRYJ]
Powered by d.BRYJ Music Media Group.

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