Lesson 1: We're all fucked. Lets play the Playstation instead Have you ever used Spotify with a small child? It's fascinating - I urge you to immediately. It's something I did over the weekend with my son and it was really thought provoking seeing his choices when told he could listen to virtually any song in the world. ever. I should preface this by saying that this is a kid who has pretty good taste in music - ACDC, Radiohead, Kids in Glass Houses, Prince to name a few current favourites (although I can't shake Nickleback) - and who knows a lot of current music too. Yet when faced with a vast database of music, his choices where revelatory: Gorillaz, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Trashmen, House of Pain (and indeed a lot of shit early nineties hip hop) Kiss, Guns n Roses, Dee-lite. How does he know all of this stuff? Most of it I own and love but not once for instance in the last four years has he ever heard me play Gorillaz out loud. And then it hit me - Of course; these are songs that while not on the stereo or the car radio are plastered all over some of the biggest selling computer games in after-school clubs and school common rooms all over the country. And this my friends is where the next generation of music buyers are forming their opinions on all things musical - in front of the Wii, shaking it like a Polaroid picture. The startling realisation hit me that perhaps for the first time, music as a commercial product is entirely irrelevant. Kids don't find new music from the radio, or from music television (does that still even exist?). Record shops are either closing down or realigning themselves to stock mp3 players, t-shirts, DVDs, computer games - any revenue stream to help them stay in business indeed in the case of HMV (which looked more like Tesco the last time I was in there) - and so the notion of a place to go to buy new music will be a dim and distant memory. So if that leaves no meaningful channel of communication engaged with kids (i.e. mass media,) no retail outlets to get the hypothetical products stocked in, and just 30 slots on Guitar Hero a year up for grabs - what odds on any new act making any kind of progress in their careers? A little while back a little known welsh (I believe) band called Attack Attack licensed a track from their demo box to Guitar Hero and while at the time I didn't think a lot about it, when you reflect on it, it could well prove to be one of the shrewdest moves a band could make. Before I witter on any further I must stress. This is not a postcard from the future. I recognise of course that on some level there will always be indie music. Unsigned bands will continue to book their own gigs and press up CD-Rs to sell at these little shindigs but ultimately is that as far as the resistance goes? Will there be any infrastructure left above that level to support an artists development 15 years from now? It got me to thinking that perhaps the best alternative for a label looking for new ways to release music and engage with the audience is to actually embrace the notion of computer games as method of delivery. What I have in mind is a product that in effect is a cross between running a record label, The Sims, Social Media and Garageband. How I see it working is like this: X band signs to Y record label. Y record label is an online netlabel. Band hands over a selection of say 15 songs. Y Label makes them available online in some form. Where this record label is smart however is that they are not alone in the task of promoting these artists. You see for an annual subscription of say £50 (again this is merely a number plucked for demo purposes), users are able to buy a virtual franchise of this record label and make use of the songs themselves. For instance - upon logging into the website, each user could say - use a Garageband plugin to remix and edit the 15 tracks handed over by the band. They could make remixes or rough radio edits, create club happy bootlegs or manipulate the music in a myriad of ways. Using natty javascript design modules they can create their own front cover and select their own track-listing and running order from the 15 tracks handed over by the band. Users can upload video clips to create their own music videos and virals and before long make tracks available for download and sale both as MP3s and indeed as Rock Hero 7 download files for other users to play on their Wii's and Xboxes. Where this model would come into its own would be that when the user has created their own version of "product" they then go out and using the social media plug ins promote "their" releases to their friends and peer groups, thus enabling them to not only promote the artist (indeed the more sales you encourage the more points you earn to spend on your own profile, unlocking extra functionality or enabling free track downloads) but also earn real money as franchisees and indeed earning money for X artist and Y parent label without them doing a thing. Of course this virtual franchise model has some very obvious flaws: quality control would be an issue, artists may well be reluctant to give over such vast swathes of the creative process to joe bloggs. Conversely though there are a lot of pros: each user becomes an ambassador for the artist and label and as such becomes a vital promotional tool for both artist and label. The reach of the labels social media network would stretch hugely, web views would rise (ad space anyone?) sales would in theory rise, bands would be able to work and promote themselves in multiple territories without leaving the house. Plus the real beauty of all of this would be - in my mind - that such an operation could potentially fund the more traditional parts of a label - physical product, touring etc beautifully with low ongoing costs once the initial development of the site and the software was developed. So would it work? is giving the general public the chance to "play" record labels going to revolutionise the way independent artists and musicians engage with and promote their music in the face of the death of the traditional record industry? Honestly I don't know but I would be genuinely fascinated to hear what people think. I'm a big believer in technology and the combination of the immersive qualities of programs like The Sims, Championship Manager and Secondlife would seem to suggest that there is a potential market out there for it. Say a label needed 50k a year to be able to do what it needed to, what's going to be easier to support that number in the coming years - 1000 game subscriptions a year or 5000 CD sales? You don't need a venue, a CD shop or a radio play to get this bands music out there... just a PC... Or an Xbox... Maybe in these times - when the rules of the game keep changing we need to stop playing the game and starting making our own rules. Game Over. Play Again? Image coutesy of Rethink, Canada & Sparrow Guitars