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Gamers: The new frontier of music’s fan-centric growth

Cover image for Gamers: The new frontier of music’s fan-centric growth
Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

Music companies have begun to realise that as their industry has grown, it has also transferred much of its previous fan value into the subscription and song economy. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent halt of live music events (which, since the advent of streaming, became music’s key way of monetising fandom) increased the urgency with which monetising fandom in the digital era needs to be addressed by artists and their representatives.

Games are a prime example of an entertainment sector that has managed to shift from monetisation of engagement towards monetisation of fandom. Gamers are now accustomed to fandom-centric spend and given the strength of the overlap between music and games consumers, the latter provides an ideal destination for music artists to commence their journey towards fostering and monetising digital fandom. Now is the time for music companies not just to work out how they can participate in the games industry’s fan economy, but to learn how to bring some of its practices into the music industry.

MIDiA’s new report titled ‘Music & Games: A new way to play’ dives into:

1)    how these underlying dynamics came into effect (the reasons)

2)    the uniquely valuable music and gamer fandom overlap (the opportunity)

3)    examples of how this opportunity can be actioned by artists and their representatives (case studies on tactics)

What music can learn from games

While the music industry’s fandom monetisation capabilities were put on hold, games never stopped in its ongoing transition from monetising consumption to monetising fandom.

A testament to this is the rise of in-game spending, and most importantly, the cosmetic (not progress-related) part. Due to their interactive nature and the ability to build worlds where entertainment communities increasingly reside and socialize (not just ‘play games’), games (and gamers) have become the ideal destination for the music industry to reinvent the way it monetises fandom in the digital era.

Many artists have been able to monetise virtual online performances through tickets, fan contributions, virtual and real merchandise and in some cases, sponsorship and advertising revenue. What is more, to achieve this, there are multiple options now; artists do not necessarily need to sign with an agent, travel the globe on tour, sign a record deal or give away their copyrights. They do not have to gain a million streams, tens of thousands of followers or get tracks onto top playlists. They do not have to run the treadmill of endless radio and press promotion.

Fandom over reach

Instead, artists can use live streaming performances to focus on the three elements that drive a new and better relationship with their fans: instant global reach, community development, and direct monetization. As they do this, many artists are realising that audiences of hundreds can be enough to put on viable online performances, where they can make more money in a three-hour session on Twitch than they can from one million streams.

In this era, where monetising engagement is becoming commoditised and positive sentiment (fandom) becomes the new growth frontier, it is increasingly important for artists to find one thousand (or even a few hundred) people who LOVE them enough to actively support them by allocating money and attention, rather than chasing one million people who simply find a song ‘good enough’ not to skip to the next one on their playlist). In this sense, the overall size of a partner platform’s user base is becoming less important than the opportunities which the behavioural make-up of these audiences can unlock – and the tools provided by that platform to unlock them.

Until recently, platforms with heavily gamer skewing audiences, (e.g., Twitch) have been thought to only be partially useful and only to a specific segment of artists. While the first part of this sentence holds true, the second no longer does. In the era of fandom monetisation, a gamer-centric audience on a platform can actually be more of an opportunity than a limitation for artists.


Gamers are the most valuable consumers artists can reach in the digital era

Contrary to the traditional belief that gamers are a niche segment suitable only for young male-skewing artists, today’s gamer snapshot much more closely resembles the general public. Games and gamers have been closing the gender gap, as well as extending cross-generational appeal, with both trends set to continue.

Not all music listeners play games, but nearly all gamers listen to and spend money on music. So much so, that certain gamer segments (e.g., the highly-engaged, high-spending games aficionados) spend more time listening to music than the average music streaming subscribers. What’s more, they are also likely to spend more on fandom-related products, with 20% of gamers buying music merchandise compared to just 8% consumer average. In many ways for music artists, gamers provide the lowest hanging fandom monetisation fruit in the digital era.

Thus today, nearly all artists can find a sweet spot within particular games communities, be it via partnering with games directly or taking their fan-building and monetisation strategies onto platforms with gamer-heavy audiences and fandom monetisation-friendly infrastructure.

Stepping outside music’s comfort zone

Music has typically treated other entertainment formats (e.g., games and video) largely as a promotional tool to drive engagement. But with platforms now enabling more direct conversations, distribution and monetisation tools than ever before, there is an opportunity for music artists to transform visual and personalised content from a marketing tool into a fandom building and monetization vehicle.

To address this opportunity to its full extent, artists and music companies will need to step outside of their traditional comfort zone of catalogue licensing and look to leverage the newly emerging direct-to-fan infrastructures. The key is to embrace building new experiences which play into the wider entertainment needs of digital consumers (including digital expression, co-creation, direct fan relationships and direct fan monetisation tactics), rather than trying to square the circle of fitting traditional models into new consumer trends.

Download the report and explore how artists like MXMTOON or Johny and Heidi are already reinventing music fandom strategies for the digital era.

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