I’m forever being asked what I think the new ‘model’ for music business will be. The trouble is… there isn’t one.

ModelsOne of the most common questions (upon which there are many variations) asked by musicians and independent music companies concerns what the new business model will be.

I’ve been asked whether ‘the Radiohead model‘ is the way forward, whether ‘the advertising model‘ or the reverse auction is the right answer, or if there’s some new model just around the corner that we’re not seeing yet…

Music Industry’s next top model
Obviously things are changing… but where will it all end up? To quote Chris Griffin, where’s the chase and how can we cut to it?

Smart people are being paid big money by large corporations to anticipate what that model will be, and even smarter people are trying to create that model. But the idea that there will be one new model that we will eventually arrive at is errant nonsense.

I’m not going to tell you these things are wrong per se — just that they’re not the answer.

A quick Google search for a new music business model reveals in excess of 65 million possible contenders. Amie Street tops the list, which suggests that the best bet is one in which price increases with popularity. But ancillary revenues also feature, as does social streaming — along with something worryingly capitalised as ‘The New Century‘ business model (‘Brave New World’, anyone?).

But here’s the thing: it’s not as easy as staring into the crystal ball and predicting the next model… and there are a couple of reasons for that.

Music Ecology
The best way to think about the changes that are happening as a result of changing technologies is to think about those technologies as environments. We were in an ‘electric’ environment characterised by radios, televisions, records, and home stereo systems. We’ve moved into a ‘digital/online’ environment.

Once you have it in your head that we’re now in a different environment, lessons from the fields of ecology, anthropology and biology start to take hold. In an ecological system, certain larger organisms dominate, while smaller organisms tend to fill the little niches. The relationship between them is symbiotic.

But when the environment changes, the different organisms have to adapt to the new context. Some organisms that had been on the margins of existence flourish. Others, that had been dominant, start to lose their hold and have to take up smaller and more specialised positions. Other organisms come into the mix, either from the outside or springing up seemingly from nowhere.

New way of thinking
You can see how the analogy works. But the way in which an environment impacts upon its inhabitants depends very much on two factors:

1) The characteristics of that new environment
2) The creative adaptive response of those inhabitants

So, to my mind, asking what the new model will be misunderstands both the characteristics of the new ‘online/digital’ environment (hint: it encourages complexity), and the creative adaptive potential of the organisms within it.

I’ll say more about this in the next few days, but my central idea is this: the online environment is a space within which a far greater array of both large and small species can co-exist. We were once inhabitants of a stream, but that stream has now become a river, and we’ve just hit the ocean.

Here’s the important bit: abandoning the search for The New Model opens up the way for creative and potentially lucrative customised solutions and new music strategies.

There’s no new model. There are only creative ways to adapt. And in order to do that, we’re going to need a big piece of paper.