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A new era of music fluidity is here

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Photo: Dids

Photo of Tatiana Cirisano
by Tatiana Cirisano

What do AI Drake, adaptive music, and TikTok open-verse challenges have in common? All reflect a major shift of music consumption from a passive, static, and uni-directional experience to an active, dynamic, multi-directional one. More and more, today’s music listeners want and expect to go beyond consumption, whether that means remixing a track, turning it into a meme, contributing to an open-verse challenge, or using artificial intelligence (AI) to create songs sung by their favourite artists. 

MIDiA has analysed this shift over the past few years (and MIDiA’s Mark Mulligan predicted it years before that). AI’s current breakthrough moment is the final missing piece to complete the puzzle. A new era of music fluidity is now here, and it will change everything about music creation, consumption, and culture.

Music has shifted from a static experience to a fluid one

In the old world, artists created songs behind the scenes and released the finished products in their final form to listeners, who had limited ability to impact the process or engage with the artist. But four major factors have disrupted this standard:

  • Technological advancements have massively lowered the barrier to entry for making and releasing music

  • Social media platforms have brought artists and listeners closer together, and opened up a space for consumers to showcase their creations

  • In the fragmented, saturated music landscape, artists need to cultivate fandom to break through the noise

  • The rise of “creator culture”, in which new generations have come to expect more control over their entertainment experiences

In the new world, many artists market the creation process as a product of its own, and often invite fans to participate. The release of a song marks just the beginning of its life, after which it is iterated upon, again and again, by listeners. This opportunity is exploding as ever more consumers are empowered to take up music-making. So fluid is music consumption becoming, that we are even seeing the emergence of music that adapts in real time to the user and their environment (i.e., Endel, Reactional Music).

We have been here before

Of course, this shift has been happening for some time. Remember how big a deal it seemed when, in 2016, Kanye West edited songs on The Life of Pablo after the album had already been delivered to streaming services? But the blurring of lines between creator and audience, and dissolution of the “finished product”, is actually a return to the further past. Prior to the 20th century, when the only way to experience music was to hear it live, music was a participatory experience at all times. The recorded music era, and particularly streaming, have given consumers access to a high-quality, vast catalogue of music — and at the same time, expanded the distance between audience and artist. That distance is now being diminished once again.

Embracing fluidity

The new era will require adjustment from all sectors of the music industry. Here is what we can expect:

Rightsholders: Labels and publishers will need to slightly loosen their grip on IP in order to enable new licensing frameworks for derivative content, which will ultimately result in more revenue and fandom-building. This includes everything from licensing consenting artists’ AI vocals, to enabling fan-made merchandise and taking a cut of sales.

Creator tools: As more average consumers take up music creation as a form of entertainment and social activity, the total addressable market (TAM) for the creator-tools and services industry will only continue to grow. Companies in this space will have a wider spectrum of segments to cater towards, from consumer-creators to hobbyists, passionate enthusiasts, and professionals.

Social platforms: Social platforms will eventually move to integrate music creation and re-creation tools, similar to what Snapchat has done with Minibeats. This will require new music licensing structures.

Artists: Not all artists will feel comfortable with these blurring boundaries. However, as fandom becomes ever more crucial to breaking through the noise and monetising a music career, artists who can lean into this fluidity will have an advantage.

Streaming services: Especially as streaming services crack down on AI-generated music, we may see a forking of music between streaming and social platforms (where the majority of consumer creations will live). On the other hand, streaming platforms could go in the opposite direction to align more closely with creation and recreation. For example, Spotify already owns music-making software Soundtrap, and ByteDance is developing music-making products to add to its ecosystem of TikTok and Resso.

This shift will rattle the music world, and it will take time to figure out the best path to formalise and monetise these new behaviours. But embracing this shift could enable deeper music fandom, new revenue streams, and a thriving, innovative music culture. As the saying goes, there is no use trying to fit the genie back in the bottle. In this case, the best thing for music may be to let the genie out.

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