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The Culture of Music Consumption: The Changing Trends and Indie Label Management

Abstract

The nature of music industry has created a scenario where only management savvy indie labels ends up successful in the music marketing. Management dilemmas associated with production and marketing of music are critical for any successful indie label. This report explores the link between modern sales techniques and consumption culture for the indie record music products. It presents the link between popular culture and the marketing and promotion of an indie label. It therefore presents the following objectives:

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  • To learn how to formulate and implement management and marketing plans for the successful marketing and promotion of the band
  • To establish specific steps that Elusive records should take in order to make successful penetration into the market
  • To establish a ground for cultural brand building in the label company

The research design is basically qualitative focus group discussion, which has been accredited with the promotion of sense of being together. The selection of respondents was also based on the category of rock lovers, clustered in 6 groups, with each group comprising of six members.

Proper management plan is critical in the management and marketing of modern music sales. Many record labels, both major and indie records are able to sell their music through a licensed channel of distribution, with properly organized distribution channels leading the way in raking big in income.

Considering the fact that many respondents in this study preferred purchase of music at favourable costs other than the ad-supported music, Indie record labels should therefore focus on the modern approaches like Spotify (Cellan-Jones, 2009). This approach gives an opportunity to highlight the valuable aspect of new album, with respondents preferring to purchase new music through it.

For effective marketing, it is important to notice the value of consumer response. Consumers respond to new music as a result of the intensity in which it has been advertised. Many respondents acknowledged that listening to music is influenced by the culture of public hype, a factor of the way people talk about the new music. This literally boosts sales of the music in question in an astronomical perspective. An indie artist should therefore focus on the cheaper ways of advertising. Additionally, personal selling was found to be a very important aspect of music marketing. Some of the main approaches that are used in this dimension are aimed at acquiring new fans. Furthermore, personal selling gives the sellers opportunity to support the buyers with critical information on the music usage. A good percentage of respondents stated their desire to get first hand information about the release from the producers, hence highlighting the importance of personal selling or face-to-face approach of sales. In this study, it was also revealed that many music consumers respond to sales promotion of new music. Such approaches seemed popular for the existing fans who felt the need to purchase the whole albums of their preferred musician. This is an important phenomenon for the music marketing as the loyal customers form the base for success of not only an indie label but for all levels of music. It is therefore important for the management of any indie label to embark on the study of the changing music culture in order to accomplish the marketing goal and management success.

Introduction

Music and culture has been known to go hand in hand since time immemorial. At present, the changing nature of the music industry has presented a new challenge and opportunities to the new artists and their bands: breaking into the limelight and making their music known in the industry dominated by major labels (Salmon, 2007). The popular culture seems to work for the major labels, who have found ways of cashing big on the music sales. However, the independent record labels have got a reprieve with the emergence of digital distribution of music, with some indie labels like Arctic Monkeys raking in big through online sales of their hit album, Favourite Worst Nightmare (Salmon, 2007). Despite the notably successes, many new artists and bands still find themselves rushing to present their new demo tracks to the recording companies with high hope of making a kill out of their creative works, but this effort is not reflective of the sales return as only a handful of these bands and their artists end up successful. These disappointments have led to the rise of many independent labels trying to penetrate the market with their music records with no attachments to the mainstream recording companies. However, the same story of failure has faced several independent labels, with no apparent explanation for the source of the failure. Despite this background failure to many independent labels, some have thrived beyond other people’s expectations.

How do others succeed where many have failed? What actually differentiates the successful organizations from the failed ones? Pose this question to any person and the most immediate and quickest answer you’ll ever get is most likely related to the management or more pointedly, ‘it’s the manager’s ability!’ why is this notion rampant? In fact, it is not a strange rejoinder to connect the success or failure of an organization to what the manager did or failed to do. However, it is critical to note that the music industry has drastically changed, both in marketing and production. All these changes are attributed to changing music consumption and production culture. Initially, the record labels raked big in physical sale of music through established dealers. Currently, the mergence of advanced technology has in essence changed the culture of consumption, with the modern technology savvy consumers preferring online transactions to purchase of CDs and DVDs.

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This report explores the link between modern sales techniques and consumption culture for the indie record music products. It presents the link between popular culture and the marketing and promotion of an indie label. It therefore presents the following objectives:

  • To learn how to formulate and implement management and marketing plans for the successful marketing and promotion of an indie record label
  • To establish specific steps that Elusive records should take in order to make successful penetration into the market
  • To establish a ground for cultural brand building in the label company

Methodology

Design

Qualitative focus group method of data collection was used because it gives opportunity to explore areas in an open manner with no limit of closed questions that normally characterizes quantitative research (Yalom, 1985). Focus group is defined as a “carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perception on a defined area of interest in a permissive area and non-threatening environment” (Krueger, 1994, p.118). Yalom (1985) also states that in order to promote discourse, focus groups encourage a sense of being together, mutual support and very nature. In music, culture and attitude is very critical in the promotion the musical discourse. Focus group can provide information about the attitudes and feelings of participant, since people tend to disclose more about themselves in various ways and they would be able to talk freely about their experiences. This aspect is critical in that respondents were able to divulge information about their experience in the purchase of music. That is, it offered explanation why they preferred one method of purchase to the other.

Sample Selection

In this qualitative research, one of the factors considered in conducting focus group is the number of participants in each of the groups. In this line, I chose 6 individuals to participate in each of the 6 groups. Generally, the difficulty of assessing the many groups demands that a considerable number is chosen, hence the choice of 6 which I felt were manageable. Again, the appropriateness of the participants to the topic is important for the acquisition of relevant data. The groups’ members comprised of carefully chosen rock music lovers, whose opinions would give the most relevant information needed for the research goals. The groups were similar in their composition that entailed a marketing segment of rock music fans. Each group took an average of two hours in the discussion. In the discussion, the groups concentrated on the aspects marketing, i.e. what makes the people buy indie records and not established; what makes them buy specific indie records and not others. Other areas discussed were related to the aspect of culture; whether culture had influence on what they purchased and their behaviours towards new music from indie labels. Krueger (1994) states that any researcher using a focus group approach have to be concerned with how appropriate the participants are to the topic being researched. It therefore informed the idea of choosing the rock music lovers or fans for that matter.

Although qualitative research method is useful in many aspects as earlier highlighted, it has one main disadvantage that makes many researchers avoid it in favour of quantitative research method. It is noted that the findings of qualitative research cannot be adapted to a bigger population with equal certainty that the result would apply at similar degree as it would happen to quantitative research. This is largely because the research findings are never tested to establish whether they have statistical significance or the findings were simply as a result of chance (Krueger, 1994).

Literature Review

Culture and Successful Indie Labels

As mentioned earlier, successful independent labels are numerous. Recently, Arctic Monkeys (Domino) is ruling the billboard chart with their Favourite Worst Nightmare album, their second since they started off (Salmon, 2007). Salmon mentions many other independent labels such as Block Party (Wichita), Kaiser Chiefs (B unique), Maximo Park, etc (Salmon, 2007). In fact these groups have discovered their secret to success and have tried to build this culture of success by making their indie labels identical with the nurturing of the talents in a long term basis. These artists have made it unique considering what Salmon (2007) states “their being artists, songwriter, and record label are all rolled into one.” Of course the success or failures of others can have the possibility of defining the future of the upcoming labels, if they will follow the failure path or the success path. How the popular culture can determine the success of an indie label, and more specifically my label of choice, Elusive label is the main concern.

Basically, it’s a common knowledge that popular cultures influences what is to be produced and consumed. However, no literature at least to the best of my knowledge that will explain how culture presents the platform for struggle and possibility of success for an indie label. In the modern culture, music has gone online. The point is how the popular culture of online music purchase has influenced the success of such indie labels like Arctic Monkey. This would influence the possibility of Elusive Records taking this advantage to promote their Elusive brand.

Technology and Successful Indie Labels

In this perspective, it important to note that increased use of technology in the music industry has presented a new form of challenge as well as befits to the music industry. According to Schermerhorn (1996, cited in Flint, 2002) technology is the combination of knowledge, equipment and work methods used to transform resources inputs into organizational outputs. It is possible to argue that there is no sector that has been transformed in the last decade like music, thanks to the digital technology. At the same time, the culture of contract management between the artists and the indie label company is important. It is therefore worth noting that the control of the network relations, integrated cost management systems and talent management pursuits are equally important in the management of indie label (Flint, 2002). The success or failure of a new venture is directly linked to the management’s ability or inability to instil the necessary culture since they are in full control of the resources necessary to do this (Davis, 2007).

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Traditionally, a record label is responsible for the sale of music products, either in the form of hard copies in the form of CDs and DVDs or in digital form where they can approach the process through internet music downloads (Flint, 2002). In this form of cultural distribution, the record company has the legal authority to collect all the revenue generated from the music sale, where they subsequently use the income to pay the artist, song writers, and sales agents and make the profit from all these deductions (Flint, 2002).

The other source of revenue normally comes from royalties and record playing, with radio and televisions stations leading the pact. In most cases, the radio stations analyze the contents of the music to ensure that it goes in line with their culture (Chatman, cited in Davis, 2007). According to Davis (2007), the content analysis will determine whether your music will be played in a particular radio station or not. Davis (2007) says that analysis of content is a recognized qualitative technique, which historians have applied in their analysis as well as study of literature recorded including films and television programs.

The technological usage in the marketing is said to have changed the structure of marketing against big labels, hence giving the new record indie records a reprieve in the music industry. The availability of digital distribution has given indie labels an opportunity to reach wider market than they could in the earlier years. This is because it requires little infrastructure. Today, music consumers have array of options to acquire any music they want, considering the numerous high tech enabled gargets with options for downloads, uploads, podcasts, webcasts, MMS, SMS, etc.

Even though, this modern musical purchase culture may have created a lot of benefits to the modern musical industry, it has never been a bed of roses despite the fact that it presents a sure way of building fan base, and reduced logistical nightmare of CDs and DVDs distribution. However, it is argued that not all is bed of roses for the independent labels as it has presented a new form of challenge as well. Schermerhorn (1996, cited in Flint, 2002) states, technology is the combination of knowledge, equipment and work methods used to transform resources inputs into organizational outputs. It is possible to argue that there is no sector that has been transformed in the last decade like music, thanks to the digital technology. It is therefore worth noting that the control of the network relations, integrated cost management systems and talent management pursuits (Flint, 2002). But currently, selling large quantities of music records require the support of secondary sales channels like press and radio for publicity, the ability of the artist to tour various marketing venues. According to Salmon (2007), artists and groups like Lilly Allen and the Arctic Monkeys may be presented to have shot into fame faster than anticipated, but a lot of expensive approaches to marketing have been used behind the scene to uplift their status. Such approaches led by press ads and personal appearance to jogs have bolstered their presence and closeness to fans, who tend to attach themselves more to artists they can easily identify with.

Established and Indie Labels, and the Recording companies

New bands efforts to rush to present their new demo tracks to the recording companies with high hope of making a kill out of their creative works is attributed to the culture of quick success that some musicians or record companies have got (Flint, 2002). However, this effort has proved counterproductive as many artists do not manage to contain the hype that was characteristics of their first release (Salmon, 2007). This could explain why this kind of failure was rampant. Historically and as expected, these disappointments created the many independent labels, which have tried to penetrate the market with their music records with no attachments to the mainstream recording companies. Despite this background failure to many independent labels, some have thrived in the seemingly impenetrable market, creating cultural success.

Salmon (2007) says the possibility of defining the future of the upcoming labels is dependent on the failure path or the success path the present independent. How the popular culture can determine the success of an indie label, and more specifically my label of choice in subject to discussion as will be revealed in the subsequent discussion in this report. Popular cultures influence what is to be produced and consumed (Davis, 2007). The performance indictor of an indie label is the ability to present an integrated approach to marketing (Cellan-Jones, 2009). So how can an indie label increase record sales? Salmon advises that the best approach is to have a digital strategy that would go in line with the physical design. Although some labels may deem it fit to solely rely on the digital setup due to its minimal cost requirements, the need for legal issues pertaining to business.

Available Opportunity for Indie Labels

Association of Independent Music (AIM) has presented an opportunity for new labels, with opportunities to belong to the global body known as World Independent Network (WIN). Through this body, the musician has the opportunity to access the global music licensing agency (Merlin) that deals with independent artists (Flint, 2002). Many established Indies like Beggars Group and PIAS have already signed to the body (Flint, 2002). Basically, being members of these groups enables an artist to increase his or her international penetration and thus worldwide increase in record sales. Furthermore, the recent partnership agreement between Merlin and Snocap to have presented good news since it would make it possible for the two organizations to “fast-track indie label repertoire into Snocap’s virtual MyStore initiative, hence giving the indie labels opportunities to generate revenues following an initial collaboration between Snocap and MySpace” (Cellan-Jones, 2009).

The other critical aspect is the culture of social networking sites that have presented another important aspect of music publicity. The sites have offered many indie and independent labels to put their products for downloads, helped them advertise their tour and performance dates Even though it’s highlighted as one of the most critical aspects of modern music marketing, observers insist that an indie artist must be prepared to do more other than posting of his or her MP3. Many successful indie labels have applied social networks such as MySpace, Last.fm, Youtube and Bebo as part of their larger marketing mix, where the right categories as well as genres are used to describe the release, with the right keywords in place; the record labels are able to sell their music at no additional costs to their potential buyers.

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Digital shops have also presented wonderful arena for selling music. Successful indie labels have also made use of services of digital shops like Tune Tribe. In such approaches, the artists are able to establish their own price for downloads, and still own 80% of the total royalties. Additionally, these sales are reflected or rather reported in the official music charts, hence raising an indie record’s status. Still, Tune Tribe also offers services like catalogue delivery to the distributors or simply provide their sites for uploads of the music label.

Creation of an own website is also another way of profile building. In this way fans are able to get fast hand interaction with the artists, get new release as soon as it is out as well as keep abreast with the artist’s tour dates, thus increasing the positive relationship between the artists and the fans. Salmon states that the website should have ability to include photos, contacts, gig information, message board, and the artist’s MP3 songs (Cellan-Jones, 2009). This can be done through conversion of audio music into MP3s then uploading the files to by the use of relevant programs such as FTP.

Discussion of Research Findings

In the early part of this decade, many music lovers could spend up to an average of $100 in a month in purchase of CDs, DVDs and digital downloads. One respondent acknowledged that the culture of music purchase has changed drastically, specifying that he used to spend more than $150 per month to buy music, a trend that has dramatically changed since in the last 5 years. This is because the music business has changed with many record labels losing big to the online free downloads or minimal cost of purchase, hence freezing the revenue income.

In a particular group, the discussion dwelt on two critical issues on the future trend for the music industry as a business venture; the difference between those who listen to music supported by the ads for free and the ones willing to pay to listen, without any ad attachment. Majority of the respondents were for the latter, unanimously agreeing that they would prefer ad free music where they pay moderate amount of fee to listen to music. Still, quite a good number of respondents would not mind ad-supported music for free. The main concern that the respondents expressed is the whether these services would be offered on the move.

Critically, many online music providers are working on the possibility of providing music through the use of such applications such as iphone, where music lovers would listen to their music of choice while on the move. According to the discussion by a particular focus group, it was established that the culture of consumption are changing where consumers are more interested in the model of music subscription which enable them access all forms of music at ago, unlike the traditional transaction where one-pay-per-purchase model. The idea of bundling all the music into such gargets as broadband and mobile phones seems to interest many music consumers.

Basically, it is interesting to note that most of the focus groups revealed a trend where spotify applicants as well as free music users prefer to access new music through spotify, more frequently than the music they already store in their laptops. This particular trend has exposed the need for indie labels to increase their online exposure. For instance, one respondent, John Moore, 24, is a big music lover. He has over 25GB space in his laptop filled with music. Despite all this, he has embraced Spotify, with intention of exploring new music that comes into the market. He categorically state that one of his main interest is indie records that seem to be in short in the traditional distribution channels. He further specify that when he was young he preferred sharing of files through the relevant sites, a trend that has lately changed with his interest shifting to buying of music from iTunes to ensure he gets quality product.

How can an indie label like Elusive make more money from the sales of their music online, despite the inherent challenges? While this may look obvious and a straight forward question, it is critical to acknowledge that music business has eluded many individuals, especially new artists. In a broader perspective, song writers cash in from the sale of their written songs, while artists would cash in from the recorded songs as well as live music performance. Record companies on the other hand get their share of music from the sale of these music records. For an indie artist, it is thus important to unlock ways in which money can be made from the three sources highlighted above. In this scenario, it is principally an artist, a song writer, a marketer and a performer rolled up into one thing. It therefore follows that for one to make good income from the sales of this music, business must be arranged in a logical manner.

An indie record label’s main purpose is thus to maximize its sale of productions in any form that will deem profitable, whether through traditional approaches like CD, DVD, or through digital file downloads through internet as the medium of distribution. In most instances, record companies own the rights for distribution, hence generate in income necessary to pay the artist and all the contributors.

In the study, it was revealed that consumers respond to new music as a result of the manner in which the music has been advertised. The six groups concurred that listening to music is influenced by the culture of public hype, a factor of the way people talk about the new music. This literally boosts sales of the music in question in an astronomical perspective. One respondent recounted how she became addicted to music after seeing the way people responded to the music in a concert. She further stated that when she listened to the music for the first time, she never generated much interest because according to her, the “release seemed off the hook”. This kind of culture is not unique to this respondent since many people acknowledged that at one time or the other, they behaved in such a manner.

In another rejoinder, most participants agreed to have favoured personal selling as to influence their buying habit, especially on the new form of music. In many occasions music consumers would want to ask questions as concerns the new music. Some of the main approaches that are used in this dimension are aimed at acquiring new fans. A good percentage of respondents stated their desire to get first hand information about the release from the producers, hence highlighting the importance of personal selling or face-to-face approach of sales. In this study, it was also revealed that many music consumers respond to sales promotion of new music. Such approaches seemed popular for the existing fans who felt the need to purchase the whole albums of their preferred musician. This is an important phenomenon for the music marketing as the loyal customers form the base for success.

Many respondents revealed that they became attracted to know more about a particular release after it’s analysis on the radio or televisions. Traditionally, TV and radio stations played mostly established record labels’ release. According to one respondent, it is easy to understand the content of the new release if it is analyzed by popular radio and TV stations. This is a culture that is rooted so deeply due to the personal attachment between radio listeners and TV viewers, and the stations hosts.

Digital distribution has given indie labels an opportunity to reach wider market than they could in the earlier years. Basically, this method of distribution requires no physical infrastructure hence appropriate for indie labels which lack financial muscles enjoyed by major labels. Today, music consumers have array of options to acquire any music they want, considering the numerous high tech enabled gargets with options for downloads, uploads, podcasts, webcasts, MMS, SMS, etc (Cellan-Jones, 2009). This development enables indie artists to develop management strategies that would befit the marketing goals for the indie label.

Conclusion

The culture of music buying and listening has drastically changed in the recent past. This has been attributed to the increased use of new technology in the distribution of music. Although it sounds like an easy process, this phenomenon has presented a new challenge and opportunities to new artists and their bands. Due to their large financial muscle, popular culture seems to favour major record labels, who have found ways of cashing big on the music sales. This does not mean that independent labels have all their ways blocked against their ability to sell their music and succeed. This study revealed that with proper strategy and cultural approach to the music sale, Elusive record label is able to sell and give major record labels a run for their money.

The emergence of online music download, though became tricky even for the major labels’ music sales, has presented a kind of a marketing that is most favourable to the indie records who could not afford the cost of physical distribution. Against the free internet downloads that ushered in the new technologies for music distribution, at present, many record labels, both major and indie records, are able to sell their music through a licensed channel of distribution, with properly organized distribution channels leading the way in raking big in income.

The good news is that majority of the respondents in this study preferred purchase of music, albeit at favourable costs other than the ad-supported music. One main reason that would make them embrace online purchase is its ready availability without hustle, hence reducing the logistical problem of physical purchase. It was also noticed that many music lovers were pro the idea of providing all the music into one gadget with a strategy of bulk sale, that is, the use of subscription instead of on purchase. In this approach, it is important to acknowledge the importance of making music in bulk for subscription, for this is what is popular with the modern consumer. The emergence of many spotify users is also important in the development of music for sales. As an indie label, this approach gives an opportunity to highlight the valuable aspect of new album, with respondents preferring to purchase new music through this approach, with iTune leading the pack as the legitimate providers of music.

In the marketing front, this study revealed that consumers respond to new music as a result of the intensity in which it has been advertised. Many respondents acknowledged that listening to music is influenced by the culture of public hype, a factor of the way people talk about the new music. This literally boosts sales of the music in question in an astronomical perspective. Many other respondents acknowledged that at one time or the other, they behaved in such a manner. Other than advertising, personal selling was found to be a very important aspect of music marketing. Some of the main approaches that are used in this dimension are aimed at acquiring new fans. A good percentage of respondents stated their desire to get first hand information about the release from the producers, hence highlighting the importance of personal selling or face-to-face approach of sales. In this study, it was also revealed that many music consumers respond to sales promotion of new music. Such approaches seemed popular for the existing fans who felt the need to purchase the whole albums of their preferred musician. This is an important phenomenon for the music marketing as the loyal customers form the base for success of not only an indie record like Elusive Label but for all levels of music.

Acknowledgements

I hereby give thanks to the team that supported my study. Foremost is my Professor who handled my proposal with professional diligence and gave me appropriate advice as concerns the project. Secondly is the team that accompanied me during the data collection sessions. It is through their professional assistance that I was able to collect the reliable data presented here that eventually culminated into an appropriate data analysis.

Reference List

Cellan-Jones, R. (2009) Will Spotify change the music biz? News dot.life, BBC News.

Davis, M.B. (2007) Doing a Successful Research Project, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillian.

Flint, T. (2002), On the Road: Running your own record label.

Krueger, R. (1994) Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Salmon, R. (2007) Starting your own record Label: Mraketing your music in a digital world.

Yamon, D. (1985) The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, New York, Basic Books.

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