The past five years have seen a real change in how people make music, driven for the most part by smartphones and tablets, and the apps we run on them. But while the shift has been driven by technology, the impact of it is not only changing how users make music but also the music technology business itself.
Music apps exist across a wide spectrum – from complex prosumer apps to ones such as Smule’s Magic Piano, which is much more akin to a gaming experience. But it is this spectrum that has allowed users to access making music in a way that makes sense to them. It might be by using an app to help them learn the guitar or it could be by using apps to make beats on the train to work. But the technology allows users to access their creativity on their terms because apps are immediate and often focused on making or learning music rather than on learning how to use the software.
But this has consequences. Users now expect low prices for apps compared with desktop software. Users expect an experience that does not rely on them having to spend hours learning how to access the software, and developers are responding with interfaces that deliver on expectations.
This is good, right? More people making music, more apps to play with and prices coming down. Well, it works to a point. The past five years have taught users that you pay once for an app and can expect free updates forever. Of course, that is great for the user, but not so great if the app is your business. This is more problematic if your business is in the desktop music-software space, where upgrade pricing is accepted by the user community. Moving to mobile not only reduces your pricing and margin but also cuts off a proportion of downstream income, as you have no simple way to price for upgrades.
Users pay once for an app and expect free updates forever. Not so great if the app is your business
So, on the one hand, mobile has brought new customers who want to make or learn music and, on the other, it has shifted their thinking and behaviour, changing the business model for the developers who make these apps. It is fair to say that it is an interesting time to be making music software, as the type of relationship we have with mobile users is already being felt in the desktop world. Software that could be sold on the desktop for $50 can be sold on mobile for $10 and, while freemium models have not taken off in many areas of the music-app world, people are experimenting with them.
As with any emergent market, the dynamics are shifting. The technologies are evolving rapidly and the user community is expanding and changing. Developers are not only reacting to it but experimenting in terms of both their products and their business models.
The question is: what will the market look like in the next five years and how will models need to change to adapt to it?
Ashley Elsdon is the founder of Palm Sounds
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