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Gerd Leonhard’s Open Letter to the Indie Musicians

Music2.0 and the Future of Music is yours – if you can resist the temptation of becoming just another music cartel.

On June 29, 2007, while at London Calling, I was invited to speak to a small group of indie record label leaders at the annual AIM / WIN
gathering in London. I took this opportunity to take a good look at
what needs to happen in order for the independent music companies to
actually take advantage of the new music economy that is unfolding
right now.   So… some of my thoughts are shared below.

 Today I want to present my views on what I like to call “Music2.0”
– the next generation of the music industry that is being created as we
speak. This new model is dramatically different: many old ways of doing
things, many old relationships, and many outmoded traditions cannot and
will not survive.

I want to seduce you, the leaders of the independent music
industry, to go down this new road with me, to take a leap, to leave
some of your assumptions and your ‘religions’ aside, and to make bold
moves – because this is required to turn this ship around.

Scott Fitzgerald, the famous novelist, said: “The
test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed
ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to
.  This will clearly be the music industry’s challenge going forward!

Technical and economic innovations have, for the past 10 years,
stripped away many traditions, social and economic hierarchies and
monopolies in the music industry, and if there is one thing we can say
for sure I guess that would be that it’s now show-time:
the music industry is finally reaching a major inflection point; 10
years after the first .com ventures shook the ground. It took a lot
longer than we all thought but it’s hitting much harder now: CD sales
are down between 20 – 40% YTD, and digital sales are not making up the
difference, any time soon – and the one-horse race with iTunes clearly
is a dead-end.

We are very quickly nearing a point to where we are forced to dive
into what I like to call “Music2.0” – a new ecosystem that is not based
on music as a product, but music as a service: first
selling access, and only then selling copies.  An ecosystem based on
ubiquity of music, not scarcity.  An ecosystem based on mutual trust,
not fear.

As Don Tapscott says, in his great book “Wikinomics” ,
we can think of Web1.0 – the ‘old’ web – as some sort of digital
newspaper, while Web2.0 is a canvas that allows information to be put
up, shared, changed, and remixed. It’s about the interaction, the
send-and-receive options that make it useful and ‘special’.  And in
music, it’s always been about interaction, about sharing, about
engaging – not Sell-Sell-Sell right from the start.

Stop the sharing and you kill the music business
it’s that simple. When the fan / user / listener stops engaging with
the music it’s all over. Today, you urgently need a canvas for music
not a one-way product (such as the CD).

Let’s face it: most ‘leaders’ of the major record companies as well
as some independents are, by and large, still in denial about the fact
that their unit-sales-based model is utterly broken and crashing
quicker than they can fathom, and many still hope for some magical technology solution to solve a business problem.

Billions of $$ have already been lost due to misguided strategies,
outdated policies, and lack of true leadership. Forgive me, but it’s
time to get your act together and do whatever it takes, not just what
fits comfortably into your current landscape – this is a make-it or
break-it moment.

How come many societies and PROs / MROs are still at a total loss when
it’s about ‘licensing the un-licensable’ (as my dear friend and
colleague Jim Griffin
puts it)?  1000s of companies with innovative business models are left
unlicensed, by default (or shall I say by design?), and most of them
have given up on even trying. Major money is left on the table due to
tardiness and internal squabbling.  Many of the traditional music
licensing organizations have utterly failed in their mission of making
music available – in fact, they have, by non-action, succeeded to make it unavailable. What you need now is action not continued excuses.

Today, we have the paradox situation that any startup that wants to
use music will not even try to go legal right from the beginning, since
there is no reasonable way of doing so. Look at the biggest exits in
this turf, during the past 2 years: myspace, youtube, last.fm – either
they did not bother with proper music licenses, or it was unclear if
and where and when they would even need one. Non-compliance succeeded
and was handsomely rewarded.

The music industry must admit that it has failed to act. Their
leaders’ clueless-ness, incomprehension and general lack of willingness
to embrace true change allowed the paying for music to become
voluntary. Congrats.

Don Tapscott points at the year 2006: the losers built digital music
stores, and the winners built vibrant communities based on music. The
losers built walled gardens while the winners built public squares. The
losers were busy guarding their intellectual property while the winners
were busy getting everyone’s attention.  Warner Music Group’s stock
nose-dived from $30 to $14 in less than one year; Google rose from $323
to $526, Apple went from $50 to $127.

For the independent music industry, the question is: which side do
you want to be on? Do you want to become another ‘major player’, and
stay stuck in music1.0, or do you want to lead the way into music2.0?

In this context please allow me give you a glimpse of the future, so that you can make some decisions based on what is coming.

1.    Within 18 months, in many key music territories around the
globe, wireless broadband networks and device-to-device ad-hoc networks
will connect every conceivable device with each other, as well as with
gigantic online content depositories – or shall I say switch-boards –
that will contain every imaginable song, film, or TV show.

If you think ‘sharing’ is a big deal now, wait another 2 years – it
will be 100x as fast and enabled on every single device (not just
computers). 3 Billion+ cell phones and 1 Billion+ music players will
connect seamlessly to each other.

Wireless broadband access and devices will become so cheap,
super-fast and ubiquitous that sharing content will become the default
setting, at very high speeds and with anyone that is close by. Search – Find – Select – Exchange. Click and get.

How can you monetize this? By licensing participation
and the networks and the devices that enable it.  You must license the
use of any and all music on these networks, and make irresistible,
irrefutable and compelling blanket offers to those that run it. These
license deals must be conversations not monologs. Not a stick to the
ISPs but a huge, shining and attractive carrot.

2.    10s of 1000s of new TV, online video, and gaming channels will
be born in the next 2-3 years – and all of them will need music to go
with the visuals. Millions of songs will be synched to video – this
market will positively explode. It may well be that those B2B licensing
revenues end up being more than 50% of your future income.

However, exploiting these opportunities will only be possible if an
efficient and frictionless system for transactions is available – this
is, imho, where the huge opportunity for the Merlin initiative (where AIM is a member) lies.
Think ebay+ chemdex +ricall + pumpaudio+.  Every $ invested in better
B2B processes will make 10s of 1000s for music rights holders… while
they sleep, or better yet, make more music.

3.    Streaming music, on demand, will be everywhere. On every website,
every widget, every mobile, every device – supported by ads,
sponsorships and commissions on transactions. Performance-based income
will surge beyond your wildest imaginations, But again, only if you
finally chose to play ball, to participate, to make irresistible
license and rate offerings, create reliable standards and go flat-out
for liquidity not try to maintain artificial scarcity.  BMI’s revenues
have grown from $630 Million in 2003 to $779 Million in 2006 – not bad
considering the overall demise of the recorded music market, at the
same time!  So read my mouse: It’s not the copy of the recording that makes all the $$$, it’s the use. In fact, the use of your music is the next big format you have been looking for.

4.    Rich media (i.e. ads with music, video, animations, audio etc)
will become the default advertising format for online advertising,
representing yet another huge growth opportunity for music. Soon, 10%+
of all ad-spending will be on the Internet; and 16% of all Internet ads
in 2009 will be rich media. With an estimated $ 700 Billion of global
ad spending by 2009, that means $70 Billion for online ads, and over
$10 Billion spend for rich media ads. 100s of millions of $$$ for music

5.    Digital radio will deliver 100% time- and place shifted music
experiences, stopping only a tiny bit short of becoming another iTunes.
The reality is that net radio is just another Tivo for music. Radio
will indeed become the feels-like-free, on-demand music box, once
again: the only remaining ‘Radio1.0’ factor will be that it will
continue to be curated and expert-produced, as well as taking in social
recommendation and smart technology agents. The best radio stations
will become very strong brands (Radio 1, KCRW etc), out-doing what used
to be record labels. How will you license Radio2.0 if you insist on
staying with a per-copy model?

6.    All music companies will become video companies, too – music
will be multimedia, by default (music + video + audio + text + games).
If you aren’t already diversifying into video and TV you really should.

7.    China, India, South America and Africa will explode with new
models of usage rights – bundles and flat rates based on access. And
guess what: they will indeed have those $100 computers that Negroponte is trying to bring to them!

But again, you will not have truly liquid (i.e. efficient,
low-friction, vastly scalable) markets until you allow, support, and
enable them.  You must swing this ship around, because right now, the
music industry is failing miserably: failing on technical and on
licensing standards, on flexible pricing offerings, on competitiveness,
on compatibility, on being trusted, on transparency.

The music industry’s past was based on:
•    Control
•    Exclusivity
•    Monopoly
•    Closed-ness
•    Guarding / Protection
•    Secrecy / Non-Transparency
•    Territoriality

Your future – if you chose to go there – is based on:
•    Openness
•    Total transparency
•    Peering
•    Sharing
•    A truly global outlook
•    Liquidity

I predict that as much as 60% of this new music business –  and with
that I mean a $100 Billion music business – will be independent within
3-5 years –  but only  if their leaders don’t follow the major labels
into LIKING CONTROL MORE THAN INCOME.   Update: watch this movie clip for more details 😉

Here are a few of my favorite bottom lines:

1)    The media ecosystem of the future is frictionless. That means
music anytime, anyhow and anywhere, ranging from free and ‘feels like
free’ to bundled, up-sold and premium’ed. Your job as a music company
is to do away with the friction, not to add to it, or even to re-insert
it: on the Internet, every hurdle is treated as damage, and the traffic
is simply routed around it.  Create friction and be side-stepped.

2)    It’s all about participation not prevention. Because of the
utter impossibility of maintaining any real hurdles, it is absolutely
crucial that you find ways to participate in any and all forms of
commerce that use music. Charge smartly for access but make music
available the same way that cell phone operators make cell phones
available: a very low-cost, irresistible way of engaging people… and
sell-up from there. Whether it’s streaming on demand, remixes and
mashups, play-listing and social network music applications, to
add-music-to-video, to digital radio – being part of it is what it’s
all about.

3)    Let’s face it: the web is like a giant Tivo, a huge recorder
or DVR – all performances are or can be recorded, all broadcasts really
are deliveries. You need to stop distinguishing between music ‘to keep
/ own’ and music ‘to listen to’ – our users have done this a long time
ago! License the USE. Share revenues. THEN upsell to ownership.

4)    Copyright is the principle, usage right is where you monetize.
Usage is where you need to focus your energies, not the ‘protection of
Intellectual Property’. This is a tough spot but again… do you want
total control, or do you want revenues?

5)    Very few things end completely when new inventions are taking
hold – usually, the market just grows larger. And it will be no
different here. Yes, the fax machine and the Internet killed the Telex
and telegraph, but we still have books even though we have Xerox
machines. CDs will decline, and may fade out  completely, eventually,
but nothing you do in digital music will completely wipe out physical
media. This is just another format, and it’s called ACCESS. And even
better: after you provide access, you can sell ownership again, too
(think HD!)

6)    Remember that the only real limit to growth, in music and in
media, is TIME. Media consumption will rise and rise and rise, as the
offerings become cheaper and more ubiquitous, and as more of the “Digital Natives”
consume multiple media at the same time. You are now engaged in a
battle for the wallet and the clock – but the clock comes first.  Mind
share means time-spend means money spend!  Again, this is where
attention translates into money, and this is why the first objective is
to get attention, and only then to get money. The biggest problem for
most artists (and their labels) is obscurity not piracy!

7)    Engage not enrage: stop anything that enrages the users. And do it now.

8)    Guess what: you can compete with free because what
you can offer is not free. Yes, a copy of a file is free. A CD burned
from another CD is free, a USB stick’s content copied to my computer is
free. But the real-life connection to the artist, the experience that
is happening around the music, the added values such as videos, films,
games, chats, books, concerts and merchandising, the context (!!!) –
all of that must not be free. You must stop the obsession with trying
to make money merely from selling copies, and instead provide access,
because only the legitimate and authorized source (i.e.
agent-label-manager) can provide the whole bundle of values that the
users, fans, the people formerly known as consumers, will buy.

Music2.0 is an unprecedented opportunity, very much like when music
when from acoustic to electric. Everyone wants music. More music is
used on more platforms, all the time. An unprecedented hunger for music
that you need to fulfill!

Finally, here are some challenges that I believe a music industry led by Independents must embrace.

1)    Once released, a recording becomes, in reality, available by
default and must be made ‘usable’ under a default license – all else
equals tacitly conceding that it’s free to use without permission. As a
result of such a new ‘default license’, some rights
principles that we have gotten used to probably won’t translate in this
environment – such as the moral right of deciding where you music is
being performed or maybe even otherwise used. However, I don’t think
this will apply to commercial use in films or ads – unlike the private
or semi-private use in UGC and web-generated content, and of course, to
public performance.

2)    The traditional definition of ‘copyright’ and ‘intellectual
property’ can, for the time being, not be the sole key to monetizing
your creations. Because it is no longer about copies, it’s no longer
about the right to copy, it’s no longer about reproduction – it’s about
how music is being used and how to participate in those much larger

Call it ephemeral copies, tethered downloads, rented media,
streaming, buffering, caching, storing, time-shifting, downloading,
ripping or whatever – the fact is that digital technology has done away
with the distinction of a so-called performance being different than a
so-called DPD (digital phonographic delivery). All computers – and that
means all cell phones, too ! – are by definition copying machines. As
overwhelming as this may sound, you must therefore discard the idea of
charging more to ‘keep’ music, as opposed to just ‘listening’ to it as
in radio. Instead, you must focus on charging for added values (such as
a better way to keep the music ;), and on collecting revenue at every
point of access, and then go from there. I don’t want to get into my
good old ‘music like water’ rant again, but charge for music like
utility companies charge for basic water & electricity service, and
then charge more for all the other options. The bottled water business
is a $100 Billion industry!

3)    Your revenues from selling ‘copies of songs’ will soon dwindle
down to maybe 30% of your total income – the rest will be revenues from
licensing, sync, performance, bundling, flat rates… revenue sharing and
the many other streams that are yet in their embryonic stages. Get busy
creating and supporting those new revenue streams!

4)    You can’t afford exclusive rights representation at high rates
any longer, unless these institutions give you 100% coverage and a
flawless solution.

5)    Forget territories except for when serving local repertoire
(which is on the rise, too). Most talent is global, and your audience
is global, or at least virtually local. Internationalize right from the
start and build systems that will support that. Build a worldwide
licensing and B2B-transactions system that makes all repertoire
available for all types of use, and build it quickly.

6)    Resist the temptation to do as the major labels have done
(e.g. extract huge one-off payments, extort equity shares, license at
unreasonable rates, refuse access for no reason but for market control
concerns, sue their own customers etc) – that is a certain death wish.
In fact,  now you can force them to follow you!

7)    Resist all attempts at locked / protected formats, and go for open systems.

)    Bundle and package music in new ways: with other services, with
other products. And prepare for the Flat Rate because this is certainly

9)    Remove any and all hurdles to complete market liquidity:
pricing inflexibility, lack of standards (technology), lack of
licensing transparency, territorial differences, monopolies.

10)    Embrace outsiders to jumpstart the music business. Niklas
Zennstrom disrupted the telecom business, Hotmail changed email,
Stanford dropouts started Google – the innovation often comes from the

Call me a Utopian, call me a Dreamer, call me a ruthless Optimist, but I think this is the Future of Music.

Gerd Leonhard, Basel, Switzerland, July 1, 2007

See lots more from Gerd at his Blog.

We Welcome Your Comments


5 replies
  1. John M says:

    great read! curious to know how it was received?

    the issue is that selling music is disproportionate
    with how easy it is to create and disperse.

    i don’t think you can follow a definite pinpoint-plan, but do believe frictionless, play-ball, user-friendly companies will win.

  2. Why I FAILED says:

    Music As A Service – Part 1

    In every industry, there are people who get it and people who dont. Gerd Leohard gets it.
    A self-described digital music and media expert, futurist and often quoted visionary and thought-leader, Gerd recently wrote an…

  3. brent says:

    That is a very thorough article.

    I’ve written a few articles on this subject matter. The times they are a changin’ and it’s truly exciting. These realities present so many opportunities for the industry. However, fighting the inevitable tide is a useless endeavor. Arming oneself with knowledge in an effort to innovate is a rewarding strategy. Plus…it’s FUN!!!

    Great work on this.

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