Friday, August 6, 2010

Can Positive Deviance identify successful outliers in the music industry?

Positive Deviance (PD) is an approach to problem-solving that has proven to be highly effective at facilitating systemic social change in situations that appear hopeless or intractable. The basic idea is simple: focus on the successful exceptions, not the failing norm. In their fascinating book, The Power of Positive Deviance - How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems authors Jerry Sternin. Monique Sternin, and Richard Pascale, present case studies describing applications of PD including; arresting the epidemic of childhood malnutrition in Vietnam, reducing the practice of female circumcision in Egypt, and decreasing infection rates in US hospitals.

"The basic premise is this: (1) Solutions to seemingly intractable problems already exist, (2) they have been discovered by members of the community itself, and (3) these innovators (positive deviants) have succeeded even though they share the same barriers and constraints as others." -The Power of Positive Deviance, Harvard Business Press, Boston MA 2010 

PD is a 'bottom up' approach driven by the community itself. Facilitators do not act as experts but ask the questions that will help the community identify its own successful outliers. Once the community has discovered how its own members are able to succeed against all odds, they can scale these solutions and integrate them into their culture.

While the music industry is much too eclectic and broad to apply this approach unilaterally, it occurs to me that a PD perspective can be helpful in identifying successful trends. Clearly, the DIY dream will not replace the traditional record industry, but nonetheless, individual success stories can scale across specific industry segments. Professional musicians continually adapt their career models to accommodate disruptive changes in technology and business.

What’s working for you?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Record Labels & Modern Music Industry Careers

In the DIY discussions of the last ten years the utopian idea that artists somehow don’t need "record labels" has been promulgated as the beginning of a new era, but how that career management void would be filled has never been entirely clear. In the most general sense, a “record label” is the total, organizing, business entity that markets an artist, directs their career, and distributes their music. Whether a boutique imprint run by the artist themselves, or a larger partner entity or team, the basic model is the same and the need has never gone away.

The downfall of the major record label system has largely been driven by a lack of scalability and a serious loss of the musical vision that started this industry in the first place. In the Fifties and Sixties record labels were more genre specific and run by business people that were fanatical about the music they sold. Years of consolidation and a focus on generating profits by selling new formats, as opposed to creating extraordinary new music, made the industry less competitive in the face of rapidly developing digital technologies. The label business became dependent on creating massive profits from international mega-hits. The ‘middle-class’ models for marketing artists to smaller, dedicated, sustainable audiences fell by the wayside. For example, jazz, roots, or classical musicians who at one time maintained longstanding relationships with independent labels began bouncing from imprint to imprint as these once highly focused companies were assimilated by the corporate borg, soon disappearing altogether.

Today an artist starts as their own label (whatever that may look like), learns the business, and grows into the right partnerships as their career develops. There is a greater need than ever before for independent record labels, that are focused, frugal, and run by smart business people who are absolutely passionate about the music they promote. It takes a strong, dedicated team to build and sustain a music career amidst all the noise of today’s world.