Embrace the chaos, or be consumed by it. The future of the music industry lies in the hands of those labels, artists and individuals that are brave enough to relinquish control today....

At first I wasn't sure what I'd found. A Google search for a post I was working on for The Viral Garden led me to the site TheDonnasMedia.com.
A few minutes of poking around the site revealed a multitude of unreleased concerts, demos, and videos for the band The Donnas. Literally hundreds of concerts and videos and songs all available for download. For free. Even CD liners were available to accompany each concert. A haul of free music like this has rarely been seen online since Napster was shut down in 2001.
But I was struck by the fact that there were regular updates posted on the frontpage of the site, with time-stamps going back for months. This intrigued me because it seemed almost impossible that the band couldn't know about this site, and all their music being literally given away.
A little digging revealed that the band is not only aware of the site, but they openly encourage everyone to download their music from TheDonnasMedia, and also encourage their existing fans to upload any unreleased music from the band that isn't already on the site. A fan of the band, Mark Leaphart, has devoted much of his time to the upkeep of the site, and the band views him and the site as their marketing partner in growing the band's fanbase.
The band's manager, Molly Neuman, told me why: "We want our fans to get into the music and also support us by buying our records. We trust that our fans won't abuse the availability and that makes for a great relationship."
Looks like the idea is working, since I'm now blogging about it.
And more than anything, this move by The Donnas to build their fanbase by giving away their music, represents the new mentality that's moving across the industry. Fans are being empowered. No longer is control something that artists and labels fight to maintain, instead innovative labels and artists are finding ways to share that control with their willing communities of marketing partners, also known as 'fans.'
And when you mention innovation in the music industry, you have to start with Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride. The music industry has always thrived on control and order. Control of how music is marketed, and how it is distributed.
Terry thrives on disruption.
For their new release Barenaked Ladies Are Me, Terry persuaded his client, The Barenaked Ladies, to make the release available to customers in literally every form available, and imaginable.
"With Barenaked Ladies Are Me, we have 29 songs, but over 250 assets when we count up the various versions (studio, acoustic, live, ringtones, multitracks, fan mixes). Then combine them with all the various formats (vinyl, CD, USB, 5.1, digital) and then put them everywhere (traditional store, all digital DSP's, live venues, band site, Starbucks & so on).", Terry explains.
Additionally, for Barenaked Ladies Are Me, every track's 'pro files' are made available, meaning that any amateur DJ can take the song and dissect it and remix it to their heart's content. Such a move would scary many labels to death, but Terry sees it as a natural extension of ceding control to fans that want the music on their terms.
"This is all based on a simple principle, put the music where the music fan spends their time and allow them to consume it how they want," Terry adds.
And he also does something a bit unusual for the music industry, he reaches out to bloggers such as myself.
"We see bloggers as music fans that love to communicate on a personal level, thus I think they should be treated with better communication than the traditional type of journalist who does it as a paid job."
Then again, bloggers have always been waiting and willing marketing partners for labels and their artists. But instead of seeing bloggers as a potential(and much more credible) marketing partner, many labels and artists are still reluctant to empower bloggers to market for them.
But the good news is that even this previously neglected area of music marketing is being tapped by smart marketing firms such as OnTargetMedia, which specifically involves bloggers in the marketing process for the artists they represent. Jason Feinberg at On Target says that the firm specifically searches for bloggers that are fans of the artists they represent, and tries to develop relationships with them.
"Instead of making blogging fans speculate (or be uninformed) about an artist or release, we can directly provide them the information that they and their readers are interested in. By giving bloggers access to digital assets as well as the artist, we're implementing a grassroots promotional vehicle that everyone in the chain can benefit from. The key in success here is relevance - we want to create goodwill and a sense of community, not be seen as merciless promoters that are aiming wide versus a targeted approach."
Jason explained that bloggers are offered exclusive content, and even interviews with the artists that they are fans of. The beauty of this approach is that Jason realizes that these fans are going to naturally want to talk about their favorite artists, he simply gives them the tools to be empowered to become marketing partners for the artists that On Target represents.
Which is the key. As in many other industries, the music industry is struggling to deal with a rapidly changing environment where the customer holds increasingly more control over the future direction of the market. The smart players such as Nettwerk, The Donnas, and On Target Media are embracing this change, and empowering their fans by freely giving them what is already theirs.
Embrace the chaos, or be consumed by it. The future of the music industry lies in the hands of those labels, artists and individuals that are brave enough to relinquish control today.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier