Anyone familiar with the music industry knows: the last decade has seen a degree of change that is impossible to compare with any other period in its history. We’ve moved firmly into the digital age, with streaming revenue rising by double digits every year and accounting for nearly 85% of revenue in the industry.
More murky, though, is the impact that this shift to digital has on the music agent. Music management technology is on the rise, but these shifts are more than just tactical. In the age of digital music, the entire role of the agent has to evolve.
Fortunately, even as the industry continues to evolve with technology, agents can still claim a firm place in the music value chain. Their roles and responsibilities just need to (and have started to) adapt to the changing environment. At the same time, agents who understand the nuances of those changes can remain at the forefront of successfully managing their clients to success.
Where does the music agent fit in the digital age of music?
In today’s world of digital music downloads and social media platforms enabling artists to promote themselves, have you been wondering if the music agent has become obsolete? It’s a relevant question, though the simplest answer remains no.
Music agents are still relevant, but the ways in which they matter have changed dramatically:
- As artists increasingly flock to social media, agents uphold and protect their personal brands.
- As artists tour, agents use digital data to optimize their bookings.
- As audience expectations change, agents keep artists going with new trends.
The music agent, as always, is the representative and manager of the artist. As the meaning behind that core role has evolved, agents who can adapt to those changes in the following seven areas can continue to carve out an invaluable role for themselves in the larger industry.
1. Facilitating direct contact between artists and fans
Social media has been hailed as the future of the music industry, for more than one reason. In addition to offering new opportunities to distribute music, it has also provided a previously unheard-of engagement platform for artists looking to engage directly with their fans.
Today’s audiences expect artists to be on social media. They have become used to direct-to-fan engagement, providing both a challenge and an opportunity for music agents.
The opportunity? Agents can guide artists to better showcase their work and build a fanbase online. The challenge: they are no longer gatekeepers between artists and audiences, increasing the need to show tangible value to remain involved in the conversations.
When artists can engage with fans with little to no friction, agents have to show that their ability to strategize on the artist’s social media presence adds value that would be otherwise lost.
2. The increasing importance of a strong digital brand
As beneficial as social media can be for artists, the increasing noise and crowded environment can also become a challenge. Your neighborhood band likely won’t gain much of a following when engaging with celebrities is just as simple. That, in turn, requires agents to focus more specifically on helping their artists build unique and compelling digital brand identities.
In this environment, an agent’s success (and, by extension, the success of their client) might depend entirely on their ability to build that brand and manage the artist’s online presence. A strong understanding of digital channels, and how to best leverage them to help artists stand out, can go a long way toward justifying continued investment in engaging the agent.
3. Data-driven bookings based on digital analytics
The digital age has brought with it a revolution in analytics, thanks to what many experts call ‘big data’. Because most of our online actions and interactions are now virtual, we leave a data trail that leads to almost unfathomable amounts of information—information that is just sitting there, waiting to be analyzed.
In the music industry, that data can become invaluable to music agents looking to evolve their practices. Streaming platforms, social media, and even location-specific data from music venues can all be analyzed. Agents can then use that information in a wide range of ways, including:
- Finding suitable target markets to grow the fan base
- Optimizing the event booking strategy based on popular venues and locations in particular niches
- Identifying emerging artists based on social media chatter
- Tour schedules focused on the dates and times at which target audiences are most likely to attend
- And more
This data is available for any agent looking to take advantage of it. You just have to know where to look, and how to leverage it for improved decision-making at every level.
4. The evolving necessity of diversified revenue streams
That streaming has become the new normal in the music industry is no longer news. The impact of that massive shift, though, is still being explored, and the consequences for artists and agents alike could be massive.
Industry report after industry report shows that for artists, streaming doesn’t pay–at least not at the same level as concerts did. That’s why live music still matters, but it also requires agents to build more diversified revenue streams that rely less on a single source of income.
Beyond streaming royalties and live music events, artists still make money from merchandise sales. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Especially for smaller artists, selling original compositions or crowdfunding initiatives can be lucrative. Agents who are able to build multi-channel digital revenue streams have massive advantages over their counterparts still focusing on only one or two sources.
5. Embracing new technology for evolving audience expectations
New and emerging technologies are also making their way into live music performances. With these new technologies, in turn, come audience expectations that today’s agents have to be intimately aware of and familiar with.
Think digital avatars to create transformative experiences, like in ABBA’s 2023 tour. Or augmented reality to enhance the senses of fans, like Flume’s 2022 Coachella concert. Even entirely virtual concerts are now possible, thanks to virtual reality environments that cross national and cultural boundaries to allow fans from everywhere to experience the artist.
It’s vital for agents to embrace these immersive technologies. As they become more common, fan expectations of what a live show should be like–and what it’s like to experience it from afar–will continue to rise. Agents and agencies must adapt to a changing landscape based on these enhanced expectations.
6. New market opportunities thanks to increased variety
For artists and agents, many of the modern and technology-induced changes present themselves as a challenge. But it’s difficult to argue that for fans, they’re almost all positive. Part of that change is an increasing ability to test and tease music without having to pay for it, allowing audiences to gain exposure to a wider range of music styles, genres, and artists than ever before.
Think about the Metallica fan whose recommended Spotify playlist suddenly shows a local classic rock band. Imagine the 2000s rap fan who hears about the international hip-hop scene on social media and begins to listen in before making any type of purchase.
For agents, this flexibility opens new market possibilities. Where bands previously tended to be limited to specific niches and locations, digital means have the potential to rapidly expand their reach in both directions. Agents who can leverage that knowledge into better and broader promotion and marketing of their bands and artists can go a long way toward helping them break through and succeed.
7. Agility as a core skill in the music industry
The final area we’ll discuss regarding how the agent’s role is changing in the music industry’s digital age is also the most overarching trend. All of the trends and topics discussed throughout this guide require flexibility and agility—qualities that may not have been necessary in the past.
Agile talent agencies, like Goldengate, are able to continually adapt to their external environment and optimize their roles to navigate an increasingly competitive industry. Others, particularly those who cling to the status quo, may have a more difficult time.
That’s what makes agility a core skill for success in the modern music agent environment. Agents and agencies who can build resistance and seamlessly shift approaches based on new expectations, technology, and trends are able to continue their success even in the most competitive industry segments.
How music agents can prepare for the future of digital music
Thanks to rapid digital and technological advances, the future of the music industry is uncertain. But at the same time, for agents willing to embrace those digital shifts, this evolution brings at least as many opportunities as challenges for helping their clients—and their own businesses—succeed.
Getting there requires not just an in-depth understanding of the current digital trends and environment, but also the right platforms to leverage those opportunities. That’s where Prism comes in.
Prism is a music management platform designed by former music agents and veterans of the live music industry. It allows agents to engage with many of these trends, like enhanced tracking ability or finding new market opportunities. Ready to learn how our solution can help to improve your life and work as a music agent or agency? Get started by booking a Prism demo today.