Have you noticed that the new iTunes logo is a circle with a musical note and no longer has an image of a CD? Did you hear the new Macbook Air won’t have an optical drive? All signals point to the fact that Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) thinks that CDs are a thing of the past. While many are quick to point out CDs still have their place as a cheap mode of storing data, I can’t help think of past mediums for storing music that were replaced over time.
The physical CD will inevitably be gone like floppy drives at some point in the future and we will consume all our music via downloads—music will be transferred exclusively through bits not atoms. There will be no mass distributed physical form of music. The question we can’t answer is how long the shift will take, but Steve Jobs and Apple seem to want to push this gradual shift along at a steady pace, inserting a dagger into the life of the CD at any possible time. Apple’s tendency to embrace minimalism in design will keep moving us one step forward in technology and away from CDs. The iPad doesn’t even have a USB port, so we can’t be surprised that optical drives are no longer a requisite for computer hardware in Apple’s new product lines.
If artists can’t convince fans that music should be purchased in the physical form, then the price of music makes its way down to zero. Because people don’t think of music as a physical object in the same way they did in the past, there is a gap in the market for what artists can sell to their fans in the physical form. This means artists have to become innovative in their marketing techniques. Either you have to sell other physical goods like merch or you have to sell access (e.g. backstage passes, exclusives, etc.).
In an interview this week with musician and entrepreneur Chamillionaire, venture capitalist Mark Suster discusses with the rapper the various ways to market to a fanbase. Despite music moving from CDs to online data transfer, there is still a viable market for physical goods for music fans. This doesn’t just mean merch like T-shirts, but also unique items that can make stand out as an artist—one example of this would be a flash drive with your music, but the flash drive is designed to look like a machine gun. Anything that looks cool and makes fans keep a physical item will make you better able to attach your music and image as an artist to a physical object. If you can somehow connect your music and DVDs to a physical item that cannot be replicated through peer-to-peer sharing sites or iTunes, you will have a better chance of selling your work to your fans. Provide an experience!