By Jerry Dawson
As the second decade of the new millenium presses on, doomsday reports of the music industry’s decline are proving themselves false. A Nielsen SoundScan report from 2012 shows that overall sales in the music industry are the highest they’ve ever been, with digital sales growing, and physical CD sales shrinking. None of this is news. The pop, hip-hop, country, rock and increasingly, electronic music stars of today are losing nothing off of music’s switch from a physical to digital commodities. These artists with established fan bases can make money on concert tickets, royalties, licensing and merchandise. The Internet simply increases their exposure to fans; social media leads the charge without the artist or label having to do much. But for the new artist, the same climate that allows him to spread his name and music for free across the Internet can make cashing in nearly impossible.
Two rising vectors–the current music fan entitled by definition and the talented but struggling new artist–meet at the point of two new businesses: Stageit and Ziibra. These companies offer artists new ways to commodify music, and they provide fans with a community and a product not available elsewhere on the web.
Regardless of age or music preferred, one thing remains true about artists and fans: the relationship between them is most acutely felt at the live show. Sure, bands tour non-stop, but tonight could be the night that the band busts out the obscure last track off their debut album. Maybe the band will play my request if I yell it loud enough (and it happens to be on their setlist already). We could even sneak up front, or backstage. The live show is so powerful because it is a once-only experience, and it is artist-fan interactive. Evan Lowenstein’s startup Stageit has found a way to provide both of these benefits over an Internet connection.
Stageit puts the excitement and novelty back into the music listening experience, but still captures the convenience and immediacy favored by the online music fan. With Stageit, fans pay a small fee to watch an artist perform live in an intimate setting. Sounds like any show at a local venue, right? But with Stageit fans watch via their computer, and artists use a webcam to stream the performance. Fans can often pay whatever they chose to pay, and they can tip artists for a great performance. The excitement and novelty are derived from the fact that Stageit provides one-time performances, which are never archived. See it on Stageit, or you missed it. As Stageit’s CEO & Founder Evan Lowenstein told Kickshuffle’s Chris Borchert, “giving an artist the ability to do the ‘now you see me now you don’t’ scenario helps a lot with the relationship between the artist and the fan.”
It is Lowenstein’s last idea, “the relationship between artists and fan,” which fuels another company commodifying music in a new way: Ziibra. Based on a perusal of their website, it seems that Ziibra wants to foster a close relationship between artist and fan by providing fans access to music, merchandise, tickets, and interactions with the artist, all for a yearly subscription fee. The fan can choose how much he/she wants to spend based on how much access to the band he/she would like.
The benefit for the artist is at least twofold: receive funds in order to go on tour, record a new album, and eat; and build a legion of fans who are there from the ground up and have a place to connect with other fans of the same artist. Ziibra describe the community benefit on their website, saying, “The important thing is to provide a place that [fans] can call their own under your flag.”
Discovering music for free is great, but the truly powerful experiences between artist and fan should come at a cost. It was only a matter of time before sites like Stageit and Ziibra found ways to provide both fans and artists with what they deserve–quality experiences, and compensation for sharing time and talent. “You get what you pay for,” will never be truer as fans, artists and new businesses learn how it applies to the music industry.