Speaking at Facebook’s F8 conference, Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, put forward this simple idea; free music. His words “If it was up to me, I’d give away the next album and put it on every handset that I can put it on…” Not a bad idea, not only for the consumer but for the brand and ubiquity. “What we’re looking to do is not just about selling the CD or the digital file. It’s how many people can we get the music to. How many people can experience it?”
Lady Gaga is easily one of the worlds biggest pop stars and is pretty ubiquitous in western pop culture as it stands. It is therefore hard to believe that her management would still feel that they can get more people to experience her music, especially seeing as she had the best selling album of 2010 and once held the record for most YouTube views. This is extremely insightful on Troy Carter’s part and he has evidently seen that free music may be the path to ubiquity for recording artists.
As the music industry as a whole battles with the free music pirates, Troy is among the select few of the musical world realise that it is time for business models to evolve. As previously touched on in “Lessons To Learn From Dying News Papers” the music industry has a lot to learn from many other industries regarding evolution and adapting. Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to the state of the music business is the fact that the major labels have existed for some time now and are therefore fixed in their metric of performance; profit. This is perfectly understandable and in effect a very reasonable stance, they are a business after all, however, it is also very short sighted. Due to the nature of shareholders and investors the problem with many large corporations is that they want to know how much they can make today even if they could actually make more tomorrow by making a few sacrifices and investments today.
So what is the investment that labels should be making today? As identified by Troy Carter, labels should be investing in ubiquity. This may or may not be in the form of free music and may not necessarily have immediate returns, but in the long term could turn out to be a very savvy move.
If there is one industry that understands ubiquity as a long-term investment, it is social networks. As Facebook is still a private company it isn’t certain exactly how much they make but reports suggest they are profitable and have pretty impressive turn over. Twitter on the other hand is just finding it’s feet in terms of revenue streams but are able to charge $100,000 per day for promoted tweets. The key here is that both entities have recognised the vast importance of ubiquity. Facebook, which didn’t start making profit until 2009, now has over 750 million users worldwide, is about as ubiquitous as they come. What this essentially translates to is 750 million monetary opportunities.
So does Lady Gaga’s manager’s words have a leg to stand on. Let’s just imagine for a moment he managed to get an album on every handset sold in the first half of 2011. According to research firm Gartner there were a staggering total of 162 million smartphones sold worldwide in the first half of 2011 (54,301.4 in the first quarter and 107,740.4 second quarter (units in thousands)). That would essentially amount to 162 million monetary opportunities. How it could be monetised is a discussion for a subsequent article but this definitely illustrates the vast potential that the distribution of free music could have.