Tech companies are diversifying. Should record labels take them on at their own game?

Melody VR

Under coronavirus, many hard-pressed music biz executives may have taken on a side gig. But now it’s started happening to technology companies as well.

Everywhere you look, digital firms are widening their remit as the industry places bets on where things might end up once we settle on the exact format of this new normal everyone keeps banging on about.

One thing seems certain: home entertainment is going to be bigger than ever. So MelodyVR snaps up Napster; eMusic launches a livestreaming platform then Amazon Music formally links up with Twitch to do the same; TikTok gets into distribution; and every music streaming site is pouring millions into podcasting, regardless of whether the listener numbers actually stack up.

Some of the most familiar companies in music have been doing this for ages, of course: YouTube pioneered livestreaming long before Covid-19 changed the game and TikTok is trialling a streaming company in some markets. But by the time the much-vaunted ‘Apple One’ subscription (probably incorporating music, TV, news and more) bundle arrives in the autumn, it will be obvious: most of music’s biggest digital players are actually happy to be jacks of all trades.

Most of music's biggest digital players are happy to be jacks of all trades – is there still room for someone to be master of one?

Music Week

But is there still room for someone to be master of one? After all, Spotify’s market-leading status is in no small part down to it being able to concentrate purely on music streaming, rather than the hardware/software hybrid models most of its rivals were pursuing.

In a way, the diversification explosion reminds me of the way record labels prioritised 360-degree models in the Noughties as their core recorded music business suffered. You don’t hear much about such deals nowadays, as a revival in fortunes means they can concentrate on what they do best.

Labels once owned distribution too, of course, and you wonder how many are eyeing Disney+’s video subscription success, which shows that a relatively narrow, but utterly essential selection of content can still mean big business. 

Would anyone be bold enough to give it a go in music? Would people be prepared to pay a premium rate for exclusive access to the full catalogue of, say, The Beatles or Taylor SwiftTime will tell, but in the age of the ultimate side gig, surely anything is possible…

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