Just a quick look at album sales will tell you that increasingly we live in a music world where the single song is king and the album is feeling more and more unnecessary. According to the RIAA, album sales fell 11% last year after falling about the same amount the year before, and there’s no signs of a turnaround on the horizon.

CD sales photo

The trend actually had its seeds way back in 1998 with the introduction of the MP3, then caught fire in 2003 with the launch of iTunes, as a fans everywhere rebelled against high-priced CD albums that were perceived to contain lots of filler material. After all, why pay for 10 songs when there’s only one that you want anyway?

Yet the album won’t die in the minds of artists, bands and record labels as we see more, not fewer, released every year, with the vast majority having virtually zero chance of ever being heard outside of the artist’s immediate circle of fans and friends. To many in the music business, you’re not a legit artist unless you’ve released an album, despite increasing evidence that the format is fast turning into a historical relic.

That said, just about every artist on the planet is also aware that to gain any traction in the music world at all, your music has to be on one or all of the streaming services, and that means you’re serving up singles, not albums.

And that’s the struggle for the music business in general, knowing full well that the audience has moved on yet not being conceptually able to let go of a format that’s been passed by, at least from an artistic standpoint.

Art aside, there was a practical feature to the album which was responsible for the good time cash cow days that began its slow ebb in 2003. The beauty for artist and label alike from a business standpoint is that they could sell music in bulk. The consumer paid for a lot of music that she may never use since only one or two songs may be of interest, yet everyone still got paid for the other songs attached to the album as well. Is there any wonder that the consumer wanted to unbundle the songs from the album format? Why pay for something that you’re not going to use, especially if the cost for the ones you don’t like is the same as for your favorites?

So the music business spent years profiting by selling things that their customer didn’t want or need. For the album buyer it was almost like buying a lottery ticket with every album. You knew the one or two songs that you wanted, and just maybe you’d get lucky and find another worth listening to that made it worth the required investment in the other songs.

Enter The Uber-Fan
Hardcore fans are different though, as they’ve always been willing to make a sometimes blind investment in an artist by purchasing just about everything available in search of a gem that only they would find shiny. It’s like buying lottery tickets in bulk – the chances are good that you’re going to win something, it just might not be enough to cover what you put into it.

One of the downsides of a $9.95 streaming music subscription is the fact that for all its convenience, it doesn’t provide an opportunity for that uber-fan to purchase additional products even if he wants to. 61% of the market, according to Midia Research, is willing to spend more on their favorite artist but are no longer given the opportunity because there’s just not another product to sell in the digital music economy. There’s cash left on the table that we’re walking away from.

That’s why a concept for a new app-like interactive format put forth by Midia’s Mark Mulligan called 360º Music makes sense. It gives the true fan another opportunity to invest in the artist, but without having to play the “will I like it” lottery.

Interactive Artist Subscription (Source: MiDiA Research)

A New Format
The basic idea behind 360º Music is that the fan pays an ongoing micro-subscription of only $1 per month directly to the artist in exchange for a sort of mini-app that not only provides additional exclusive music content but non-music content like artwork, photos and videos, as well as a social stream. While hit artists usually provide this engagement anyway across different platforms, 360º Music would provide a single platform where it all could happen, and the fan would pay a small monthly premium for it as a result.

While the format is not without its licensing challenges and probably won’t progress far in its present form, at least it’s forward looking in addressing both the needs of the fan as well as the artist and label. By providing another product besides streaming, an additional revenue stream can be created, yet the fan’s needs would also be met.

The music business has always been driven by technology and has been rewarded with increased profits most of the time it’s invested in its future. 360º Music may not be the product that returns the music business to its glory days, but a new yet invisible technology is surely lurking somewhere in the technological shadows that contains the industry’s next format. Hopefully what emerges is something that sparks the fancy of the fan by providing additional access to the artist while growing beyond the outdated constraints of the album.

– Bobby Owsinski is the author is 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media. Read excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com