Marketing music products alongside emerging digital music channels Esmée had been working in the music industry as a marketing director for a small and successful independent record label for over fifteen years before deciding to study at university. She had witnessed many changes in the music industry over her career, the most significant of which was the transition from selling cassettes, vinyl records and CDs at retail to selling digital music online. She had observed that the music industry had not taken much notice of the potential for marketing and distributing digital music online until Shawn Fanning developed his peer-to-peer (P2P) file trading application, Napster, in 1999. While the music industry focused on shutting the service down, Napster became even more popular with music fans and consumers who were interested in discovering and sharing new music and creating custom compilations or playlists without having to buy entire albums.
Early on, Esmée had decided that she needed to understand why Napster was so popular and consumers so enthusiastic about sharing music online. She decided to download the Napster application and was surprised to find older songs that were no longer available at retail, previously unreleased recordings, alternative studio versions and bootleg recordings made at live concerts. While searching for and downloading music, Esmée also began to interact with communities focused around their file trading activities. While the music industry viewed Napster and other P2P file trading applications with deep suspicion and focused on the issues of piracy and loss of royalties to shut them down, her interactions with P2P file traders provided her with significant insights into how the consumer’s relationship to music was changing. P2P file trading applications and other digital music technologies represented new ‘meanings’ for music fans and distinct new channels for music marketing and distribution. As online music sharing became even more popular, Esmée observed that both major and independent record labels continued to struggle with and resist the very technologies that were fundamentally redefining their industry.
She was puzzled by this and wanted to develop a more consolidated understanding of the current state of the music industry and to gain in-depth knowledge of the potential that new technologies had for transforming the entire industry. Nearing the end of her studies, Esmée spent many weeks struggling with identifying the focus of her final research project and thinking about how her own value systems and beliefs were likely to impact on her research. She reflected that in the programme’s Innovation and Technology Management module, she had learned about the technical and strategic issues of digital music distribution involving content creators, artists, record companies and retailers.
After reading Premkumar’s (2003) article ‘Alternate distribution strategies for digital music’, Esmée realised that success in digital music distribution hinged on the music industry’s ability to identify and address the new marketing and sociological issues associated with the consumer’s switch to new forms of music consumption and that record labels would need to re-evaluate their current practices in the context of these new technologies and channels for music marketing and distribution. Additionally, while reading for the Leadership and Organisational Management module, she had come across Lawrence and Phillips’ (2002) article on the cultural industries in which they observed that despite the social, economic and political significance of the cultural industries, management research had neglected to focus their efforts on cultural production. They argued that there was a need for empirical research into the organisational and managerial dynamics of cultural production and had found that even where it had been studied, many management researchers had failed to appreciate the particular nuances and dynamics that characterise these industries.
Esmée arranged a meeting with her supervisor and outlined her realisation that ‘managing’ in the cultural industries related less to producing products and more to creating, managing and maintaining the meaning or ‘symbolic aspect’ of the product. She explained to him that this was especially relevant to the music industry’s transition to digital music technologies and that her final project would focus on how traditional marketing departments in record labels could approach redefining their notions of ‘music products’ while adapting to emerging digital music distribution channels.
This would entail understanding how the process of symbol creation and the management of meaning by record labels would need to be managed in order to adapt to the emergence of new symbols and potential meanings enabled by the development of new digital music technologies. She added that her experiences as a marketing director provided her with unique insights that would inform and guide her research. Her tutor responded by commenting that her research project sounded interesting and relevant and that, in his opinion, the best way forward would be to adopt a positivist research philosophy using a survey strategy and administering a questionnaire to marketing personnel across major and independent record labels in order to produce data suitable for statistical analysis.
After the meeting, Esmée reflected on her tutor’s comments. She was surprised that he proposed adopting a positivist philosophy. Based on her previous experiences with peer-to-peer communities, she believed that adopting an interpretivist philosophical stance and using unstructured interviews would be more suitable for her research project. Esmée contemplated how she should communicate this to her tutor and how she would be able to convince him that approaching her research project as an interpretivist and using unstructured interviews would be preferable and just as rigorous an undertaking. References
Lawrence, T. and Phillips, N. (2002) ‘Understanding cultural industries’, Journal of Management Inquiry 11: 4, 430–41. Premkumar, G. (2003) ‘Alternate distribution strategies for digital music’, Communications of the ACM 46: 9, 89–95.
1 Why is it important to consider epistemology and ontology when undertaking research? 2 What will Esmée need to do in order to respond or challenge her tutor’s assertion that she adopt a quantitative methodology? 3 How does Esmée understand the role that her values play with regard to her research project?