The Dawn of a New Creative Economy
Smartphone tools and direct-to-fan services give today's innovators an edge over the incumbents. Prepare for a talent explosion.
We will soon enter a new creative economy.
Creative talent is surging back to life as the cost and quality of production and distribution falls to a level where artists can finally build direct relationships with their audience, change the balance of power with labels, studios and publishers and start to make real money from their work.
By 2015, there will be more than two billion smartphones in the world. Almost all of those devices will pack a smart keyboard, speakers that support wideband audio, back and front-facing cameras, beamforming microphones and HD video. These are power tools for creative producers and with a legion of post-production apps alongside them, these devices have empowered a new pool of talent.
The wide availability of these tools doesn’t necessarily mean that in 2015 design, art, media and other creations will be any better than before. But when you marry this proliferation of content to distribution platforms with unprecedented reach and interactivity like YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and Wattpad, it changes the way creative talent can emerge and grants artists a power that they have never had before - the power not just to be direct, but to be direct at scale.
The nay-sayers will continue to argue that the new platforms only perpetuate artistic penury and that they just replay the unfair economics of the past, but this misses the point. There is no doubt that these massive, global and mobile platforms are still largely promotional but the key difference is that this is promotion that comes with opportunities for artists to build relationships embedded with their content. This chance to build and maintain direct, continuous and authentic audience engagement is game changing.
In 2015, the battle among the major creative platforms will no longer just be about reach - it will be about tools. Early winners such as iTunes and Amazon will increasingly be at a disadvantage if they continue to allow platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitter, Spotify, Wattpad and others take the lead in building better and better tools for creators. Artists are starting to build enormous followings on social platforms and with increasingly sophisticated tools for fan management emerging, the chance to build relationships which lead to transactions is growing.
Talents such as British spoken-word artist Suli Breaks, whose YouTube videos have been seen 15 million times, are building dedicated online fanbases. Artists are emerging from social platforms in the same way that Justin Bieber sprang from YouTube and Lorde from SoundCloud and Spotify, and are being folded into mainstream media machine.
But in 2015, greater opportunities will accrue to talent such as violinist Lindsey Stirling who might never have found a mainstream audience, yet who has translated her five-million-plus YouTube followers into a superb career with superior economics. The game has changed - ask Notch from Minecraft, who has the whip hand when he negotiates with LEGO for toys and Warner Bros for movies.
This new generation of artists will not entirely turn their backs on smart publishers, studios and labels but the conversations will be changing and they can and will be expecting a lot more from the relationship. Artists can come with so much more to the table now and that changes the dynamic completely. In some ways this is not dissimilar from the changes we have seen open source, app stores, accelerators and crowdfunding platforms bring on between entrepreneurs and VCs.
Smart artists in 2015 will be using promotional platforms to build an audience and tools like Kickstarter and Patreon as a matter of course to underwrite their productions. Any conversation with a label, studio or publisher can then start based on “so what can you do for me?”. Look at an independent artist like Macklemore who won 4 Grammy’s in 2014 and has sold over 1 million albums using the promotional juice of YouTube and Spotify to build reach and loyalty but then selectively used label services - in their case radio - to take their products the extra mile and generates two Billboard Number 1 hits.
From 2015, you better watch out! You may be one of the first 500 fans to follow the next great artist, you may be able to see Bastille play Pompeii to 80 people at a Sofar Sounds before they became mainstream. So stay alert because you will be part of the movement which will see Macklemores emerging in every genre and in every form of the arts. You will back filmmakers on Kickstarter who will go straight to Netflix and beyond. You may be one of the 20 million reads that writers like Brittany Geragotelis generate on Wattpad. This is the year that artists and their fans change the power dynamic forever and lay the foundations for the new creative economy.
This story was originally published in Wired Magazine, available as an app on iTunes.