With the mountains of media attention dedicated to the story, you couldn’t fail to notice that Jay-Z unveiled Tidal last week, his new artist-owned subscription streaming music service.
Debate still rages around the PR launch itself and the company’s speculated business model, but what does seem clear is that Tidal aims to give fans a deeper and more complete music experience than simply audio streaming. While we don’t yet have specifics, it is thought this will entail a variety of artist-focused media content and exclusive access for subscribers – from ‘windowed’ album launches and video to editorial and live events – on top of the already publicised 'high-fidelity' sound quality.
Jay-Z hinted at what this might look like in a recent Billboard interview, when he spoke of how the service could provide fans with unique artist access beyond the traditional album cycle: “What if it’s a video offering tickets to the next concert, or what if it’s audio or video of the recording process? It could be anything. It could be them at home listening to songs that inspire them.”
Whatever form it ultimately takes, one thing is for certain: free music consumption is now firmly part of worldwide culture, so it will need something extra special to convince music fans to attach a value to what they’re accustomed to getting at no cost.
Tidal’s promise of an enhanced music media experience does appear to be a trend that many other big industry players also see as the way forward.
Take Apple, for example. As far back as September of last year, Bono flagged that plans were already in place at the tech giant to create a “new way to package and present an album”, where fans can “play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad”. It is now envisaged that Apple’s new Beats-integrated subscription-only streaming service will launch this summer, and a broader media experience will form a major part in its proposition.
Rumours that the company’s executives are already approaching big name artists to tie them into exclusive deals, along with the high-profile hiring of seasoned big star interviewer Zane Lowe, lends further credence to the belief that elements such as extra video and editorial content will provide fans with a richer experience to help them “get behind the songs”. Apple’s iTunes Festival could also play an important role in attracting subscribers with exclusive live events opportunities.
Universal Music Group (UMG), the world’s largest record label, has already publicly backed Apple’s forthcoming service, as well as throwing its weight behind Vessel, YouTube’s subscription-based competitor in video that has stated its intention to exclusively ‘window’ music content.
Spotify, too, is extending its media offering to users by significantly upping its game in video, with its album launch series The Drop just one example.
There is a growing view that, in order to get today’s consumers to pay for music, you need to provide an experience that goes beyond audio, and centres around exclusive access to their favourite artists. What’s more, there is plenty of empirical market evidence to support this theory.
A recent report by MIDiA Research pointed out that while super fans drive 61 per cent of all music sales revenues, many have been reducing their spending, trading down from multiple albums to 9.99 subscriptions. Yet they still want more from their favourite artists and are willing to pay for the privilege: 45 per cent think music is more than just the song, that it is also the artist’s story and 18 per cent would pay for an interactive artist app.
Music artists today are like any other celebrity, and fans want full behind-the-scenes access. Exclusive music video content and interviews can help deliver that experience, as well as live performances and exclusive sessions. Indeed millennials (18-34 year olds), the key demographic when it comes to music content, consume more video than any other demographic, and behind humourous short clips, music videos are most likely to be shared (52 per cent), according to the IAB.
With video on course to represent 79 per cent of global web traffic by 2018, original high quality video must play a central role in the music experience for fans.
Music consumed via any medium or live in person is an experience that stays with fans, and with millennials spending less money on products and more money on experiences, and concertgoers attaching a $2.60 value to an exclusive song download from the show – more than double your average iTunes song download, there is strong evidence that consumers are willing to pay for music content packaged in the right way.
While it’s not yet clear how exactly brands will fit into these new business models, it would be presumed a more bespoke approach will need to be taken. Either way, the lessons are the same as for streaming platforms and the wider music industry: creating memorable music moments and media experiences, that offer unique artist access, is a powerful way to engage and drive value from today’s young consumers.
Richard Cohen is CEO of music media company LoveLive