Lessons from the Music Industry for all businesses

You may have heard recently about Beyoncé’s surprise release of her latest self-titled album. 14 songs and 17 accompanying videos appeared on iTunes on the 13th of December with no previous warning, publicity campaign, or even hint to suggest anything. This, as you’d expect in the age of the internet produced a response from the world that could probably be described as hysterical.


The release for instance generated over 1.2 million tweets in just 12 hours. That’s over 100,000 an hour. The Guardian labelled the release and its nature as a “Beyoncégeddon”.


Why, though, release an album this way in the 21st Century? A lot of us would think that with services like Twitter and omnipresent pocket devices there’s always another creative leap to make — another way to make something generate a response that grasps more people; one that makes more hype than the one before it. Yet, as Beyoncé has proven and as a lot of effective creative campaigns often do, often better is not bigger, but smaller. Or in this case nothing.


On the release Beyoncé is quoted: "I miss that immersive experience, now people only listen to a few seconds of song on the iPods and they don't really invest in the whole experience. It's all about the single, and the hype. It's so much that gets between the music and the art and the fans. I felt like, I don't want anybody to get the message, when my record is coming

out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans.”


And this is a point, iPods and the digitization of music have done wonders for who can have it and how much of it they can have. Everybody has and loves music with their iPods. Do you remember when there wasn’t so much music, and when we didn’t all have white cords trailing out of our ears? Music — because it wasn’t always around and so easily purchasable and downloadable — was valued much more highly. There was less of it so the same music was listened to a lot more. Ultimately, it probably meant a lot more.


But how does that relate to releasing an album with no previous warning or ad campaign or press release? First of all, it changes the focus of the release from being a single to being the album and its entirety. Unlike most album releases — which have at least one song released before the album — this brings the focus to the entire thing. This invests the listener in the entire experience rather than just “a few seconds of song.”


As well as this, the unexpectedness of the album works surprisingly well in an ideal growing 21st century. Instant gratification. Sure — releasing a single to announce an album and all of the other conventionalities that come with it works fine. Listeners get more and more excited as the days countdown to the release, but somehow when you’re not expecting something it means more than if you were expecting it. Being able to download an album five seconds after you’ve heard about it seems much more unique an experience — and one which creates more hype than attempts at creating it.


However, of course, this kind of unconventional release warrants a somewhat special album, and that’s where the ‘visual’ idea goes to ground, expanding the realm of a typical album and almost giving it another dimension. ! !


The great reviews and continuing hype show that this is definitely a great album, but what does it say about the music industry overall? Is music as a form of art being harmed by its digitization: does it mean less because it’s so easy to get? While this seems like a rhetorical question it’s one that we may well get an answer to in the foreseeable future. Many of the entertainment industries are facing a business model that is dying because of the Internet: when your product is easy to steal you probably need to make it easier and more beneficial to buy. With services like Spotify, Pandora and others becoming more and more popular it seems like music will only become more and more easy to consume and more instantly gratifying.


What does that mean for music as a form of art and about many of the other industries and businesses that are finding their traditional models shaken by the Internet?

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