Nov 2, 2016 Atte Hujanen
While the contemporary musical aficionados of the time probably did not grasp it, the industry was about to embark on more than a century of prosperous growth and seemingly never-ending new opportunities. Whether it were the roaring twenties and its jazz-craze or the advent of rock through the 50s and 60s all the way to the boy bands of the 90s, there was a well-oiled machine to spot, incubate, accelerate and finance these phenomena. As with any industry, there were many interpretations on how to navigate its waters and operate one’s ventures in and around it. Label execs of today still like to remind us how they were one of the first venture capitalists. Just like the venture capitalists of the tech world, some had more ‘founder-friendly’ views than others – just ask Elvis, 30 Seconds to Mars or Harry Shearer of the Spinal Tap fame.
However, nevertheless how one ran its business, it was still mostly the same business for everyone and it largely stayed that way for a long, long time. The talent was discovered and put out there, and the audience would consume whatever was offered to a varying degree of results. It was more about finessing the details and abstract aspects of the business that differentiated the successes from mediocre to minute results. You had a formula and it either worked or you adjusted it accordingly, but in the end you had a formula and the whole industry would fit inside of its boundaries. That was how the cookie crumbled all the way until the late 90s, the internet and three code kids with a hobby project that would eventually be called Napster.
The Fanning brothers, Sean Parker and a long line of others, including Kazaa founders Jaan Tallin, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, handcrafted a new reality that in just a matter of a couple of years brought upon more disruption to the music industry than all of its previous technological advancements pooled together. Whereas there had always been the individual storm in a teacup with radio, mechanical piano, vinyl, 8-track, cassette and the CD, there had never been a tech invention that the music industry was truly unprepared to deal with and use to its advantage. For the purposes of this post, since you’re reading this, we can probably assume that the rough general outcome of the years after Napster launched in June 1999 is a matter of well digested public knowledge. Thus, we can skip to the fact that today, over 17 years later, the Pandora’s box is still very much wide open and only gradually have we began to understand what kind of worms are crawling out of this particular can.
Just recently, the U.S. music industry body RIAA revealed that recorded music revenue in the U.S. grew by a staggering 8.1% in the first half of this year. Even more staggering was the fact that the single-digit growth was one of the best the industry has had in almost two decades, all the while industries in almost all other sectors have been multiplying or at least gaining strength thanks to the evolution of tech. The music industry has done almost the exact opposite, but precisely for the same reason.
The hypothesis here is that the ride is only gonna get wilder and definitely weirder now that the industry at large has caught up with the jive. If the past 17 years of the music industry started out with a piece of code crafted in the dorms of the Northeastern University, what do you think the next 17 are going to look like now that there’s a whole sector of companies out-innovating each other? Ladies and gentlemen, hold onto your hats as we take a peek at what’s to come through the peculiar eight ball that is Slush Music.
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