Insights on the Digital Music Business

By Estella Zhang Qiming

“Looking Back, Looking Forward: My Experience and View on the Digital Music Business” was a webinar held on 21 August 2020. It was graced by Seth Schachner, Managing Director of Strat Americas, a Los Angeles-based consultancy that provides strategic guidance and helps clients with media and technology partnerships. Seth is an experienced business development executive who, prior to his current designation, spent eleven years with Sony Music. He has also served as Chairman of Florida’s Film & Entertainment Advisory Council, guiding the state of Florida on state film and entertainment growth strategies.

Attendees included students from Peking University with a desire to learn more about the digital music business and how to best position themselves for roles within the industry.

COVID-19 has decimated the live music scene, causing artists to be in need of new sources of income, such as live-streaming. Becoming increasingly commercialised, the live-streaming sector now provides avenues for artists to connect with their fans online and generate other forms of income.

At the same time, managers have also been required to be more strategic, in terms of adapting to new digital trends and diversifying revenue streams for artists, to tide through these times and also prosper in the future.

As for customers, streaming habits have drastically changed across all platforms. However, these changes vary by markets, age groups and time periods, and must thus be analysed separately.

The biggest problem faced is piracy – both digital and physical piracy. Professionals in the business have tried to solve such problems through technical barriers such as legal battles against piracy. Personally, I feel that as long as we offer customers a reasonable price and ensure that the application is easy to use and compatible with their needs, people will be willing to pay for it.

The business has already transitioned from involving primarily downloads to involving mostly streaming services. Streaming is no longer a completely new business. I have identified four big areas that will come into play in the future:

The first area is social music – people can sing alongside each other, even alongside artists, “live”. Examples include Smule and Snapchat.

Secondly, we have live streaming. This includes live online concerts which have a lot of potential for development.

The third area is artificial intelligence (AI), which has a lot of potential too. Bots can be created that can emulate artists and interact with fans to promote new materials. Customising playlists and improving song recommendations will also be possible using AI. Additionally, AI has the potential to contribute to the advertising side of the streaming business, in terms of customising advertisements for customers.

Lastly, people can look forward to the increased presence of streaming in social gaming, with examples including Fortnite and Minecraft Festivals.

Other sectors such as virtual reality also have the capacity to create cool virtual concert experiences, but they are less promising in the digital music business as compared to the four aforementioned areas of expansion.

The most important ingredient is experience. I started with finance and analytical roles at Fox, and then delved into the digital world with stints at Sony Music and Strat Americas. My vastly different experiences have allowed me to learn about a lot of things, from financial models to the world of digitisation. Having experience will empower one to build new profiles, move out of one’s comfort zone and try new things. It will also allow one to pick up new skills and train one’s intuition. Every market is different and functions differently too – experience can help one to better understand different markets and modify one’s approach based on the specific market at stake.

Another thing to keep in mind is to maintain close relationships with your colleagues and university friends as they will be your biggest business partners – these relationships will come in handy in the future.

Firstly, identify and learn more about the big and small players in the business. Secondly, identify your expertise and strengths, and discover where you best fit in in this business. At the same time, contact and make connections with different people regularly. Lastly and most importantly, as mentioned earlier, gain more experience.