Whilst mulling the latest Spotify story, this time of Paul McCartney’s streaming services takedown, I got to thinking about just how great a role direct-to-fan (D2F) services could play in broadening the fan experience around music and how it could also solve – or at least contribute heavily towards – this image problem streaming services currently have with artists in particular.
Spotify – as ever, being the dominant platform news-wise – is an excellent case in point. Despite various major label execs coming out in support of them (and indeed other streaming platforms), artists in particular are not necessarily buying in. Some are, but as long as you have high profile detractors like Black Keys, you have a problem here. The majors owning a stake in Spotify handed artists a stick to beat them with amid accusations that labels are lining their own pockets and not passing sufficient revenues back to their bands – and if anything that argument appears to be gaining traction.
This then, is a perfect example where the integration of D2F services may help provide not only a superior experience for fans, but also go some way to fixing Spotify’s PR issue around their support for artists.
But how could this work? Whilst musing this with fellow Music Ally contributer Eamonn Forde, a few potential scenarios arose:
1. D2F offers within the main Spotify client
Pros: complete integration with Spotify as a service, maximum visibility for he D2F offers.
Cons: too few D2F offers relative to the immense catalogue present on the service (meaning any column showing availability of D2F offer would look fairly underpopulated), no means to implement in an eye-catching, appealing manner.
2. D2F offers within dedicated artist Spotify apps
Pros: excellent for high-profile artists (e.g. McCartney), much better means to place D2F offer in rich-media environment to really sell it in.
Cons: doesn’t scale well, only matches offers on a per-band basis, requires fan to use app to be aware of D2F offers.
3. Dedicated D2F Spotify app
Pros: could use Last.fm integration to match D2F offers to your musical graph, rounds up numerous offers into one place making for an easier way to find out what’s available and of interest.
Cons: less visibility than option 1.
On paper at least, the third option would be the most effective, though in theory there’s nothing to stop option two becoming a reality as well. Paul McCartney is a very timely case in point: what if he had, for example, launched a Spotify app that explored all his music (or even just focussed on the latest release) and coupled that with D2F offers via Topspin just as he does on his website? That would surely have provided a more positive and engaging experience for fans, building on streams with further sales of anything from a cheap download to the deluxe 180gsm vinyl package.
Writing in his recent Music Ally article ‘The Other Retail‘, Eamonn offered the following on D2F: “With or without formal industry involvement (be that labels or the charts), this is a revolution that is well underway. The old industry can work with this new retail ecosystem and learn from it – as well as offering its own help. It would be unfortunate if it spun off further into an Us/Them situation and this other retail remains underground, alien and unreported.”
In their MIDEM whitepaper The Real Cost of Direct to Fan, David Riley and Sam McGregor argued that “The major loser in this scenario will be casual music fans. As artists become more ensconced into their own fanbases and ‘preferred customers’ retail will inevitably move focus towards popularist titles and other forms of media”
With both those sentiments in mind therefore, the integration of D2F into streaming services like Spotify wouldn’t just ease this artist revenue issue for the host service; it would also make that vital connection between mass market consumption and the direct retail from the artists themselves. In turn, this would breathe further life into both markets and boosting the consumers experience with it.
So: who will be the first companies to take steps to make this happen? Only with Rdio readying an aggressive European rollout (that has already begun in Germany), you can bet a battle is coming in streaming music services and it is features like this that might well help provide the winning strategy.
Footnote: it did occur to me that the entire service outlined in point 3 above could probably be offered by Last.fm as a feature of their app. After all, they hold the key to this by matching your music tastes to available offers. It would round out their app experientially, provide a greater connection between deluxe (or even low-entry download-only) D2F offers and generally ensure a better experience for all. Last.fm: take note!