Back in July, a small article slipped onto my radar. Hamfatter, a UK-based indie band appeared on a television show where inventors pitch their business plans to 5 multi-millionaire entrepreneurs in an attempt to convince them to invest in their projects. After pitching (playing a single song) one of the investors, Peter Jones (background in mobile telecommunications, television, media) offered a 75k pound advance for the recording of their next album in exchange for 30% of all future revenue. [Video of the negotiations is below].
One of my good friends is very active in the music industry. She’s a lawyer by trade and a total evangelist for emerging talent in the indie music scene. After many talks, it’s clear to me that the music industry is broken. While everyone focuses on the sexy issues like artists’ rights (intellectual property) and distribution (illegal downloads), one of the most broken aspects is the lack of process and information for emerging artists.
When you think about it, the issues encountered by a startup indie band are remarkably similar to those faced by any web startup: funding, distribution and execution.
Trends are similar too. The barriers to entry for musicians looking to produce content, connect with other aspiring artists and build companies has never been better. At the same time consumers have been empowered to find and discover new music using the web and social-recommendation services like Last.fm. Consumers also have much better access via improved content delivery platforms, audio quality and video.
So what is the problem? Isn’t there a better way here?
Over the years music has remained institutionalized. Information and ultimately power is controlled by the just a few major industry players. While web 2.0’s technology renaissance has empowered fledgling bands with more tools to create and more access to audience the necessary structure and processes haven’t followed suit. There is no clear path or model for translating these new tools into meaningful ways to advance a new band. What Radiohead pulled off, was made possible only by its past successes.
What music needs is an incubation model like Y-Combinator. It needs a Venture Hacks. Music has yet to undergo a similar democratization of information made possible in web/tech by transparent venture bloggers and sites like TheFunded. Where is the TheFunded for record deal terms?
Incubating emerging music talent seems to me just one of several industries that has the potential to undergo change similar to what we’ve seen in the web startup space. I believe we should be applying the most successful of those models to industries desperate for a similar revolution to take place.