Music rights management is complex and muddled, highlighted by the complexity involved in something as simple as giving away downloads.

Music triggers deep emotions, instantly, before we even have a chance to consider what we are hearing.

In his book The Music Instinct, Philip Ball explains that "music is so fundamentally important: no other stimulus comparably engages all aspects of our mental apparatus, and compels them to speak to each other: left to right hemisphere, logic to emotion".

Advertisers understand this power; music has been an integral part of most consumer marketing campaigns, not only in TV and radio but also at the point of purchase. In a recent report, Forrester Research found that 65 per cent of brands plan to spend more on their music strategy in 2010 than they did in 2009.

We are consuming more music than ever before. Most of the growth has been fuelled by technology and efficiencies brought about by file compression, broadband rollout, the falling cost of storage, the explosion in social media and the rapid growth in mobile digital music devices.

As a result, it has never been easier to publish or access digital content, and the past five years has seen the emergence of hundreds of digital music services, allowing users to discover and have unbridled access to music on a hitherto unthinkable scale.

Consumer expectation and behaviour have evolved in parallel with these advances in digital technology. Consumers are no longer willing to wait for arbitrary release dates six weeks after a song is radio-playlisted. They don't understand why a record comes out six months earlier in one country than in another.

As an industry, we might know there are good reasons for it, but, guess what: consumers aren't interested in our reasons. They know they can probably find it on the internet somewhere, so why wait? Their attitudes to recorded music have changed dramatically over the past few years; many no longer appreciate or understand the value of music and use illegal sites and P2P services to download it for free.

So, consumers love music more than ever, and some clearly expect to access it for free. The opportunity for brands to become part of this equation and appeal to a broad audience seems quite obvious.

It's clear that music is already an integral part of most ad campaigns, and that some brands have moved to offer free music, albeit on a limited scale.

But consumers don't just want that one track, chosen by that one agency for that one campaign. The growth in online music services and download stores is not about single artists; it's about accessing all of the music, all of the time.

As we move towards 100 per cent digital music consumption, brands can access new and powerful tools with which they can creatively and cost-effectively engage with customers whenever, and however, they listen to music.

At 7digital, we power many services for a range of clients, from ISPs and consumer electronics manufacturers to FMCG brands. We have built subscription, loyalty, honesty-box pricing, streaming, advertiser-funded, consumer-funded and every Frankenstein-style hybrid service imaginable.

The most recent trend we've seen is the shift towards equipment manufacturers embedding music services into the devices and applications themselves. When combined with greater connectivity to the internet, this creates a huge opportunity for such brands to become a ubiquitous part of consumers' overall music experience.

Unfortunately, it isn't as straightforward as you might think. The sheer complexity involved in something one might think is simple, such as giving away a free download with, say, a bar of soap, highlights how unnecessarily complex and muddled music rights management currently is.

Putting to one side the permissions, consents and opportunism of the stake-holders, the simple reporting is actually complicated. Each track has to be accounted to six separate collecting societies, five of whom will confirm it is not a track they represent, but want it reported nonetheless. The rapidly evolving digital environment and the legacy framework are incompatible, and sorting it all out is a full time job. But that's our problem, not yours, and we're used to it.

Don't be put off by the complexity; the opportunity is vast. Once, music was really only used as a soundtrack to the ad. Brands with bigger budgets could consider sponsoring an event or festival alongside an ever-growing number of cluttered and disparate brands. If more significant budget became available, then a major sponsorship or endorsement deal could be struck around a specific artist. While perfectly good for some brands, these options are expensive, and depend on a brand absolutely understanding the relevance of particular artists to its target market. In today's world where your dad is listening to Elbow and your daughter is going through a Hendrix phase, simple segmentation based on a perceived artist's fan base and appeal will not deliver the expected result.

As well as providing a relatively cost-effective solution, digital offers incredible metrics. Not just what people downloaded, but what they searched for, what they previewed, what they liked, disliked and what they recommended to their friends.

Brands can now be seen as enablers, without detracting from, or superimposing themselves upon the music. They still need to consider what best fits their core values, but by helping consumers discover, share and enjoy music - irrespective of what each consumer ultimately chooses - they can add real value for their target audience.

The demand for music has never been stronger, the technology has never permitted it before, but at last there is a very real opportunity to give consumers exactly what they want. All of the music, all of the time.

If consumers want music for free, why not help give it to them?

- Stephen Somerville is the commercial director at 7digital.


  • Music connects with our emotions and is more popular than ever. Technology has helped make it a more integral part of our lives
  • Successful digital music services bring discovery and choice
  • Consumers want music all of the time
  • Brands have a clear opportunity to provide music and music discovery services.