The Artist as Technology, Part 1: Breaking The Adoption Cycle

A first look at what happens when we market musicians like tech products. (Hint: we already are.)

Cherie Hu
Cherie Hu
Feb 19, 2018 · 16 min read
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Drake in the music video for “Hotline Bling.”

The perils of “artist productization”

In August 2017, Peter Hollens told The Verge what might be the best or worst thing about the music business, depending on whom you ask:

Optional reading list

For those who want to dive deeper into the frameworks I will discuss in this series, here are the primary resources from which I’ll be drawing:

The artist adoption life cycle

The first framework I’ll be discussing is the tech adoption life cycle, which was introduced in 1957 to describe the advancement of agricultural tools and has been adapted for nearly every technological paradigm shift since.

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Innovators

Innovators appreciate great music for its own sake. They are the gatekeepers for any new artists entering the market, and the other segments in the Artist Adoption Life Cycle deem Innovators competent enough to do early evaluations of new music for them. However, Innovators don’t necessarily have any money or funding to follow up on their evaluations, and are not powerful enough to dictate others’ buying decisions—that is a job for later segments in the cycle.

Visionaries

Early adopters, whom Moore calls “Visionaries,” are passionate about matching emerging artists with innovative, strategic business opportunities, and about conceptualizing high-visibility, high-risk projects to bring these opportunities to life. While they are in close contact with Innovators, Visionaries are driven more by business goals than by purely creative/music goals at the end of the day; the actual music itself is important only insomuch as it promises to deliver on a grand business-facing vision for the future. More importantly, unlike Innovators, Visionaries actually have ample funding to drive their goals forward, and therefore can have a tangible impact on ohers’ buying decisions.

Pragmatists

The members of the early majority, whom Moore calls the “Pragmatists,” are much less ambitious. Unlike Visionaries, Pragmatists are not aiming to become tech-savvy pioneers and make quantum leaps forward into the future, but rather care about incremental, measurable, predictable progress. Pragmatists want to invest only in proven market leaders, and are especially concerned with the reliability and support infrastructure around products, and whether such infrastructure can align with the products they and their institutions are already using.

…so what?

I recently had a conversation about DIY artist strategies with a friend who works in digital marketing at a major label, and she said something that I found really striking, and honestly shocking at first. “DIY careers are not about innovation,” she said. “It’s about putting a formal process and structure in place that enables you to achieve incremental, sustained growth, so you can get a critical fan base that enables you to do interesting innovations and campaigns later down the line.”


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