Academic journal article Management Dynamics

Music's Manumission: Strategies for the Music Industry in a Digital Era

Academic journal article Management Dynamics

Music's Manumission: Strategies for the Music Industry in a Digital Era

Article excerpt


With the advent of the digitisation of music, a revolution is taking place in the music industry. For the first time musicians have the ability to market and distribute their music directly to the end consumer. At a keystroke, the virtual stranglehold enjoyed by the traditional musicindustry role players has been swept away, and they are increasingly seen for what they really are - middlemen who provide neither an individually-tailored personal experience, nor one that is fast, efficient and cost-effective. Introducing ideas from service simultaneity and dramaturgy, this study provides a simple yet powerful model for the conceptualisation and redesign for role players in the music industry. It is argued that those that are successful will be those who focus either on standardisation of activities in a back-office environment (a "music factory"), or high customisation of activities in a front-office environment (a "music theatre"). Those who cling to the outdated model so long enjoyed by the major role players in the music industry are doomed to obsolescence. While the lessons are specific to the music industry, there are broader implications for many other kinds of firms as well.


Once upon at time, not so very long ago, information was enshrined in physical objects. Thus, music was inextricably linked to its physical medium - be it vinyl or tape. Consequently, music was marketed and sold like any other product. However, with the transition from analog to digital, coupled with the rise of fast-processing and distributed networks, music has been essentially uncoupled from the physical medium: music has become disembodied. The increasingly frantic and rapacious attempts by intellectual property holders to hold on to the physical "property" metaphor are the stuff of daily headlines. So if music canno longer be treated as a physical product, how should it be viewed? This study argues that a service perspective (cf Vargo and Lusch, 2004) sheds valuable light on to the challenges faced by the music industry.

From a marketing perspective many argue that services are different from the marketing of physical products. "Services" are broadly defined in economics as the non-material equivalent of a product; they are generally intangible, perishable and heterogeneous. In terms of service strategy, it is those organisations at either end of a spectrum that attract the most attention. The sheer efficiency of fast- food outlets like McDonalds and Prêt-aManger are held up as marvels of modern service production, while great dining establishments such as Gordon Ramsey in London or Heston Blumenthal's "Fat Duck" (where such dishes as egg and bacon ice cream or snail porridge are served) command the attention of the world's top restaurant critics.

Organisations in the middle of the spectrum are generally in trouble neither offering a high- value customised service or an efficient, cost-effective one. Marketing experts might argue that this is because they are "poorly positioned" (Ries and Trout, 1982), but this is an oversimplification. In many cases the problem won't be fixed by clever advertising or promotions, or anything as straightforward as a paint job for the building or new uniforms for the staff. The admired organisations at the extreme ends of the spectrum apply more than simple positioning as something "done to the mind of the customer" (Ries and Trout's definition of positioning, 1982). They do much more to the processes that they use to deliver want satisfaction to the market, and are especially adept at streamlining processes in ways that deliver value to customers.

This study illustrates how some simple principles from operations management, services marketing, and the theatre can be applied to the music industry in order to position it at one or the other end of a spectrum. The initial analysis notes two seemingly disparate observations from sociology on the one hand, and the services marketing literature on the other. …

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