How is the rise of the on-demand economy affecting the music industry? Bas Grasmayer takes a look at several pioneering startups taking advantage of this change in consumer behaviour.
One of the most important trends in employment and services over the last decade has been the rise of the on-demand economy. A famous quote on the phenomenon notes how the world’s largest taxi company and accommodation provider, Uber and Airbnb respectively, own no cars or real estate. With an increasing amount of consumers expecting to be able to summon a driver, handyman, or cleaner with the tap of a button, we now see expectations to do the same in music.
"With an increasing amount of consumers expecting to be able to summon a driver, handyman, or cleaner with the tap of a button, we now see expectations to do the same in music."
Offline, yet online
At the heart of the on-demand economy is the reduction of friction. Friction is reduced by utilizing our steadily increasing connectivity. Uber wouldn’t really have worked without 3G, but it’s not just about connection speed or mobile devices. The fact that we’re in an always-on society is changing the way we interact with the world. For many years already, we know we have a computer in our pocket that’s always connected:
It changes the way we navigate cities, because we’re not worried about getting lost: we have Google Maps.
We look at the world differently, because we instantly know when something is ‘Instagram-worthy’.
Phone numbers are not that important anymore.
This means that even when we’re ‘offline’, we’re online.
As a connected society, we’ve gotten increasingly smart at dealing with strangers. Buying from eBay, ordering an unlicensed taxi with an app, or staying at a stranger’s house through Couchsurfing all seemed like innovative, fun, but crazy ideas initially. How could you know that you could trust someone? Over the years, companies have gotten better at finding ways to help people fish out the bad actors, but also in providing an insurance when something goes wrong. The same goes for consumers: we’ve gotten used to dealing with strangers online and we’ve become savvy, sifting through reviews before we commit to booking an Airbnb.
Risk in the on-demand economy
Companies like Uber have put pressure on discussions about labour rights and other legislation. Many on-demand platforms treat their workers like partners, which means they delegate the risk usually shouldered by the corporation. If the people offering their services on such a platform are actually partners, that’s ok, but if it’s more like you’re working for the platform than the client, then it’s not.
So if you’re a musician and want to try your luck in the gig economy, look for platforms that let you set your own conditions and prices. Here’s a run-through of a few of such companies.
"If you’re a musician and want to try your luck in the gig economy, look for platforms that let you set your own conditions and prices."
An underrated example of an important company in music’s on-demand economy is Fiverr, a platform where you can acquire services for $5. Fiverr is not usually associated with music, at least not by professionals, yet this is where people go to get someone to write a birthday song for a friend. It offers a plethora of other services, from jingles, to sound effects, mixing and mastering, to voice overs, and despite still being called Fiverr, the service lets you price more flexibly nowadays.
There have been a lot of attempts at ‘Airbnbs for music’: sites that let you book and review bands and singers. None have attained significant global traction yet, and some, like Gigit and Gigger, now appear to be defunct. Yet every country seems to have multiple variations of it, like Gigstarter and Plugify in The Netherlands.
A UK-based startup named Encore has an interesting spin on the concept, and is more akin to an Uber or Thumbtack for music. You explain what you need for your event, alerts are sent to nearby musicians, who then respond with tailored quotes. Their video explains it best:
The Kollekt.fm team, a music collection startup in Amsterdam, recently announced a new direction called Atmosphere. It’s a platform that connects stores and venues with music curators on-demand. Only recently launched, it’s already used by 84 venues worldwide. It makes perfect sense: curation is booming, and helping brands get connected to music experts is the next logical step.
"Curation is booming, and helping brands get connected to music experts is the next logical step."
Like Encore, the service lets clients explain their needs and then connects them to curators. It also lets curators set their own prices: “Some curators ask for around 150 euros per month, but we’ve had one slightly more famous DJ from New York ask for 500. It’s up to you.”
The on-demand economy takes reducing friction seriously. So seriously that Uber has already started experiments with self-driving cars, so they’ll be able to replace staff. It’s the ultimate disintermediation.
But music is something creative: so how could artificial intelligence ever replace humans?
What if all you need is a jingle for a video with holiday photos? Jukedeck can automatically generate music for such purposes. This means it’s in competition with some of the musicians on Fiverr. We are already competing with AI for our jobs.
The future of the on-demand economy
While AI-on-demand is real, there’s still plenty of work for humans. Many platforms are young and still scaling, which means we’ll see further growth in revenue for musicians as these startups get better at connecting clients and musicians on an ever-increasing scale.
In the meantime, musicians will get better at figuring out how to present themselves. Look at Kickstarter: the campaign quality nowadays is so high, because people have a lot of examples and resources to learn from. There are even crowdfunding consultants that help design campaigns.
The on-demand music economy will not be complete until we see a startup that connects musicians in the gig economy with people who can help them with their presentation. On-demand, of course.
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