Why Music Services Are Wasting Time Recommending New Music – Forbes
Here’s a likely unpopular statement: No one wants to “discover” new music. We may say we want to discover new music, and certainly entrepreneurs/labels/music services…not to mention artists, have long tried to get consumers, to want new music, but the reality is we’re just not predisposed to do so. Companies — Spotify, Pandora, Beats, and others — that engage in this activity are fighting a losing battle.
This shouldn’t be surprising; we’re not really predisposed to want anything new.
Perhaps apocryphally, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 1 Certainly apocryphal: Edison Edison, “No one walking under a gas light, ever said, ‘You know what I want? A filament-based light.” Not apocryphal at all is Eric Reis’ theory: “You should never ask your customers, but you should always listen to them.”2 The implication, asking customers what they want is a useless exercise; they want precisely what they currently have.
Music follows the same process of any other product or service when it comes to adoption by a customer. Bands/companies/et al. can initially only manage to reach a small group of early adopters. Bands do this by playing live, putting songs on Bandcamp (etc.), and generally begging/cajoling their friends to support them. Same deal with companies. Only the best-funded companies can attempt to market to anyone other than early adopters.
The hope, of course, is that these early adopters become marketers/evangelists for the band/company, and in so doing shift the burden of promotion from the band/company to fans/customers. Certain companies — particularly “graph” companies (e.g. FB, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) — have the benefit of the network effect.3 Bands haven’t yet figured out this approach.
Cross the Chasm
In any case, network effect or not, in order to go from early adopters to a wider adoption, songs/bands/products must do one of two things:
1. Improve the customer’s life — if only at the margin — without forcing them to learn new skills
2. Improve their life to a material degree, even though new skills are required
Think, for example, of the adoption of the iPod versus the adoption of the iPhone/iPad. The iPod was not adopted anywhere near as quickly as the iPhone/iPad because, while it was undeniably a product that materially improved a user’s life, you had to learn new skills to gain the benefits.
The iPod in a sense flattened the learning curve for future products like the iPhone and iPad. People could easily understand these products by doing the mental calculus of: “It’s like an iPod, but with a phone [iPhone]/It’s like an iPhone, but bigger [iPad].” These devices adopted very quickly, because they improved the customer’s life, but did not force them to learn new skills.
We’re like Zeppelin meets De La Soul
Music follows the same concept. Artists themselves are forced to use the schema of, “Well, we’re sort of like [X], but with a a bit of [Y].” With “X” being a band that is more well-known than they are, and “Y” being a distinguishing feature that makes them different (and, one would hope, more appealing than) than “X.”4