With Teeth: In Praise of Live Nation Labs

Ever since Live Nation snapped up Big Champagne I’ve been following their movements to see how this story would to develop. Its been incredibly interesting too: having brought in Eric Garland and his team, they then hired former Warners CTO Ethan Kaplan. Since then they’ve also acquired Setlist.fm, a service archiving and retaining gig setlist data – a perfect fit for the world’s largest ticketing company. And that’s just the first investment, as the newly-named Live Nation Labs has been allocated an investment fund to further seek out and acquire complementary services.

It feels strange to apply terms like “bold” and “visionary” to this move on Live Nation’s part. In many respects – at least to myself and my peers in the tech/music arena – this isn’t either of those; if anything it seems like the most obvious move in the world to make. But look around: is anybody else doing this to this scale, or with such focus?

What excites me about Live Nation Labs is that as a company Live Nation have accepted that they need the best minds out there, and they’ve sought them out to oversee this venture. Kaplan and Garland (and the rest of his team at Big Champagne) are brainiacs: sharp minds who strike me as huge music fans (lest we forget Kaplan started out running the REM fanclub!) but tech people first and foremost. They’re not stuffy corporate types; interact with any of these guys on Twitter and they’re approachable, accessible individuals.

Critically, they are also known and respected in the tech community and as such, they come with credibility. That is a key issue here, as the major labels in particular have faced issues to date with developers perceiving them as the Big Bad Wolf, interesting only in exploitation and not partnership.

The other shrewd play in this is that the Labs team are looking to the fairly small-scale companies; they are seeking out the great ideas, not simply buying in the biggest players. This is timely, as we are reaching a point where more and more talk is of convergence among different services as only the dominant survive. The recent acquisition of Posterous by Twitter (ostensibly a talent buy-out that might well see the blogging platform shuttered soon) is a good case in point: you know the Posterous team wouldn’t have accepted the offer if they seriously thought they could take on Tumblr or WordPress.

Ultimately the key point every large music company – or even every large brand – should be taking from the launch of Live Nation Labs is this: there are innumerable ways in which you can further extend the experiences around your product, and in aggregate those experiences can make a massive difference to your visibility and reach. Embrace developers and seek out the brilliant ideas. As large companies, you have the resources to finance the development of these ideas further – and once they are developed, yours are the rewards to reap by presenting more ways for people to connect with your product.

Or, put more simply: developers are your friends, not the enemy. Don’t see them as the people building the next thing to undermine your IP; see them as the transformative ingredient to taking your business to the next level. Live Nation have – and I’ve no doubt they’ll be rewarded greatly in due course.

Sermon over!

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