Critics, filters, blogs, aggregators, economics, long-form… Gawping into the future.
We weren’t visionaries. We were sixteen year olds with dial-up modems.
It wasn’t a start-up.
It wasn’t a “blog”.
There wasn’t an “exit strategy”.
Or business plan.
For starters, it was impossible to envisage the next few months, let alone the next fifteen years. When we started Drowned in Sound back in October 2000, we were young, excited and optimistic music fanatics. All we knew was that it was an exciting time and there were no rules.
The team who first got involved in the site met through internet forums for bands like Radiohead, My Vitriol, Muse, and Reef. We liked the general music discussion boards, and we wanted to start our own, without the doctrine and limitations of needing to be a super-fan of just one act.
We also missed the recently dead-pooled Melody Maker’s irreverent but smart reviews.
It might sound ridiculous now, but one of the main motivations was the competition. Our favourite bands were often ridiculed for having fans like us. Some of us felt we could save people-like-us money buying the NME for the live ads, by simply announcing tour dates as news stories. Information was scarce back then, and it’s funny now to think what it was like online before all acts had websites. This was long before Songkick, Last.fm and a bajillion other listings, ticketing and live-music related services with millions being invested in them existed.
Above all, we knew that fanzines fit the digital world like one of Jacko’s gloves. We also knew calling ourselves a ‘digital fanzine’ was a bit of odd. We wouldn’t be taken seriously by the music industry, for starters. Little did we know that 15 years on the upper echelons of the music industry still wouldn’t really take sites like ours all that seriously — and yet they still fly journalists around the world for half a page of “print” coverage as it’s sometimes cheaper than taking out a half-page advert, but we’re getting distracted…
The reason I’m providing this back-story context is that the past always informs the future. Here, with my experience of the past 15 years (which is almost half my life) is what I think/hope/dream the next decade and a half might bring to things music and media related… Or rather, it’s a bunch of shit I’m frustrated about now, and a few vague solutions.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a billion times: Virtual Reality is the future. Whether VR will finally arrive depends on a lot of factors.
Not too sure how this will impact music journalism, but it’ll definitely be more interesting to watch an interview from a writer’s POV and feel like you’re actually meeting someone whose music you adore.
Personally, I’m more excited about R2D2 like projections coming from your watch. Why not nerd out and make your own hologram?!
So your start-up takes other people’s words and specialism, but doesn’t feed anything back? And you’ve raised how much venture capital? GET IN THE SEA.
Add-value, provide some economic solutions and we will all be biting your gold-plated arms off.
Stop telling me I need to spend thousands on video content or create a new business model, because if the New York Times, Murdoch, and The Guardian can’t make editorial work online or in tablet apps, what hope do small publishers have?
In the business world, there are costly R&D departments. Consultants come at a huge expense. At the top of 100s of pages of data, researchers will provide an executive summary. Sometimes this is a one sentence conclusion, but getting to this string of words cost thousands, sometimes millions.
Unlike CEOs, readers are not used to paying for “content”. Part of the problem is that everything online is the same 1s or 0s. A BuzzFeed listicle is on-par with one of the lengthy Buzzfeed longreads (or BuzzReads as they have annoyingly named them). One required infinitely more time and resource to research and compile (not that we’re belittling how long it takes to create the perfect animated gifs), and both have different consumption times and a perceived sense of value.
(Sub-thought: Would you pay for BuzzFeed if it was behind a paywall?)
You could argue that communicating something in 4000+ words or a hefty book, that could be distilled into a single infographic is lunacy. You, Author of lots of words—much-like this blog — are not communicating as succinctly as you could be in 2015.
‘Added value’ is a complicated concept. Both the long and the short, the quickfix and the leanback to soak it all in, have their time and place. However, when ‘time is money’, could the ideas be back to front in the digital age? Wouldn’t we rather hear the finished mix of a single than the 72 guide vocals? Would we rather hear the abridged audio book for a fee than get the much longer one with more waffle for free? (Which is precisely what Wired editor Chris Anderson did)
As the recent ad-blockers topping the iOS charts revealed, people will pay a premium to get rid of the clutter. To speed up a service. To get cut to the chase.
In the future we could see infinite jukeboxes available for free, but a premium charged for a ‘filter’ or ‘curator’ — i.e. a digital radio DJ — to just deliver the stuff worth hearing. 99p for a Drowned in Sound playlist of 99 songs, and 10p per week to get the 5 best new tracks? £10 for our 100 best albums of the year? It’s a bit better value than £120 for a load of music you’re never going to listen to isn’t it? Then again, who will you pay to find a curator like us? Will we be paid to be exclusive to one service — I’m quite a bit cheaper than Zane Lowe…
In terms of words, perhaps a Reddit-like ‘frontpage of the web’, like AOL used to give you when you signed in, with a ‘best of the web’ compilation highlights sponsored by brands, could see publishers and writers paid, in the same way acts get paid for being included on a NOW album or having their song synced on a TV show. Makes far more sense than everyone commissioning new things, which exist elsewhere. Seems like, with FaceBook introducing InstantArticles and Apple launching their News product, this idea might not be too far off. The model already exists in compilations of writing in books and even in some instances with airline magazines recommissioning “content”.
Want an ad-free service? Then find something you value and support it or it won’t be around for much longer.
The Guardian has been trialling a sort of members club idea, but imagine if the KickStarter model of fan-funding was applied to editorial? What if, rather than sharing, 500 users said they’d pay 50p each to market a story they enjoyed? What if 5000 people paid £10 each to fund an investigation into David Cameron and the pig?
At the moment, we’re expected to pay on the back-end by buying books based on Atlantic cover stories or not at all,but pitching ideas to the crowd, in a time of petitions-for-everything, doesn’t seem bonkers.
Whether this works for music is another matter. As sites slowly fizzle out and fade away over the coming years, perhaps people will begin to value them a little more.
Fan The Flames
Fanclubs are probably the future of publishing and music and everything.
Criticism and commerce don’t really mingle. They both need each other but it’s like a distant marriage. Perhaps we’ll see critics become more like personal stylists, and readers begin funding the people whose gib they like the cut of.
More likely we’ll be seeing a lot more Red Bull Music websites as the sites and blogs we love begin to vanish, as talent and credibility is subsumed.
50 Cent None The Richer
Money on the web is wonky. Micropayments could and should work, especially if the App Store model is slowly applied to everything, but this is a fool’s errand.
For the past decade or so I’ve waited patiently for the Facebook LikeButton to be sponsored, and for 1p for every like goto approved publishers. I’ll probably be waiting another decade for this…
Display Your Taste
Hi, who are you? Can’t believe how hard it is to contextualise your taste, still.
I wanna come around for a cuppa and flick through your record collection, but if it only exists ‘in the cloud’ then :-/
Last.fm and ThisIsMyJam was a start, but we can do better Internetz.
eBay Scores For Critics
People really didn’t like the idea of Peeple — an app that was like Tripadvisor for humans. And yet, services like this have existed for Tradesman online for ages.
One thing we do value is trust.
How do you work out if you can trust someone’s opinion online?
You can look them up, but that takes a lot of time. It should be easy to get a quick summary of every music critics’ hits and misses.
Finding the voices that are consistently in tune with your tastes used to be easier and being exposed to writers who will challenge, confound and excite you used to be easier. Now, ever mutha has an opinion.
If someone says an act is about to be massive, have they ever been right before? When a writer says an album is a 5/5 or 10.0/10.0, then you need to know the last three times they gave something a 10/10 it was something you also like. If they say everything is a 10/10, every minute of every day, should you trust them?
eBay seem to have sussed this out, and if we’re going to continue to get critical opinions and things filtered, then these scores could be really important to helping us save time.
From these scores, we can then personalise our incoming feeds, find new voices we might agree with and also seek out disparate experts who can help us escape our silos.
All-Time Most Read
Can’t believe there isn’t one website where you can see The Greatest Hits of every website.
Not just their best rated records, I want to know what people really love about each site. In much the same way a hit single leads you to a singles collection, then into the back catalogue, then every website should have the same ‘get to know us’ sensibility.
We tried out a version of this idea at the foot of our website.
Things “We” Need To Fear
Or at least consider.
- The dominance of the 1% of artists, and the way in which even mid-level acts are becoming unsustainable niche concerns.
- Newness being next to godliness. Greatness is all that really matters.
- Increased reliance on social networks to reach our readers — the economic model of promoting ad-supported words is completely illogical.
- “Native content” becoming all there is.
- The war for “exclusive content” removing all critical teeth.
- A generation of Harry Potter book-readers not ever reading anything exciting about music.
You can follow me on Twitter as @seaninsound or follow me here on Facebook. Some of the topics from this piece were discussed in the latest edition of the Drowned in Sound podcast.