In music, it seems like the “power” is just now starting to move to the edges of the network, rather than continuing to come from the middle, i.e., from central points or the heart of the industry. Network centers can be equated with the huge content hubs such as MTV/ VH1, Clear Channel, Infinity, the BBC, etc., or of course the major record labels and large retailers, as well as iTunes and maybe even Rhapsody and MSN. Network “edge-dwellers” are companies like Garageband. com, MySpace Music, XM, Sirius (soon to move into the center?), KPFA, Hearts of Space Radio, Last.fm and many others. Podcasting, blogging, and online networking are activities that are largely happening on the edges of the network. Thus, they are still mostly unregulated and represent a new kind of “bottom-up” phenomenon. The bottom line is that digital technologies are quickly doing away with the traditional hit-paradigm of “it must be huge to be successful” (and merit my attention) that was a default principle until just five years ago. Now you can publish your music and – provided you can get people’s attention – you can sell direct from your bedroom or parents’ garage. Granted, the numbers are not large yet, and it won’t merit a Fortune 500 company CFO’s attention, but more and more bands are starting to “get it” and are flocking to places on the edge of the network rather than trying to be in the center. Remember, that’s what it all used to be about: Get onto MTV, play at Glastonbury, get on the cover of Rolling Stone. In other words: be in the center, be famous, be huge – or be toast. Rolls-Royce or bicycles. Now, a whole new possibility opens up for artists and small labels: Life on the edge of the network is, indeed, economically doable. And in a few years, it may be lucrative, too. Niche markets can work. The much-lauded Long Tail in digital media makes it possible. MySpace.com has opened a huge can of worms here (now here is one company to watch – hope they don’t go the way of
Friendster ;-) – years after MP3.com, some of the very same thoughts are coming back in a new incarnation. Is the VC money indeed coming back, too, or is it just that we all have to come around a second time to prove that it can be done and that all those whacko dot-com music ideas were not entirely foolish?