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🔵 Artist subscriptions, and what the music industry could learn from Substack
There's ways to do subscriptions well - and I'd argue Substack nails that
Hi there -
In yesterday’s Network Notes I included a piece from Mark Mulligan, looking at other ways artists could generate income, suggesting that the future of earning money from music might lie beyond streaming platforms, and one thing he mentioned was subscriptions.
The keen-eyed among you might leap up at this point to suggest that Patreon has been around for some time now, and has hardly taken off to the degree it was expected to. On that point you would be right, but I’d counter by saying that Patreon just isn’t that great a platform. There, I said it.
This all made me think about Substack, the platform that delivers Network Notes, and why I switched to it. Substack has become a home for many writers, and with good reason.
What is worth considering is that writers of all sorts - though quite definitely music writers - have really taken a kicking as the likes of Meta and Google robbed websites of ad revenue and torpedoed many a journalists’ living in the process.
In the face of that, Substack has risen up as a kind of platform and social network that enables writers to write with minimum friction, and easily charge for that too if they wish to. However it also understands the nuances of upselling premium subs, particularly in the sense that it isn’t a simple case of “pay or you don’t get to see anything”.
In fact, Substack has exceptionally elegant ways to gently gatekeep things. I could, for example, charge for Network Notes, but only have, say, the Wednesday and Thursday editions available to Premium subscribers. Even then, I could go one step further and allow free subscribers to just read these intro editorials, but perhaps not the rest of the newsletter.
On top of that, Substack has a great built-in social network type of function, which allows writers to recommend one another, tag one another and more, such that discovery is turbo-charged.
As a consequence of that, for what it’s worth, subscription rates have increased tenfold since moving here. This all works, and works very effectively. With fairly low commission rates and (I would imagine) fairly small teams involved, the sums really add up too. If I could get 3,000 people paying £4/mo for Network Notes, I believe I’d be making about £120,000 per year, and that’s after Substack has taken its cut.
Applying this all to artists, I find myself thinking that actually the perfect subscription platform for artists just doesn’t exist as yet. What Substack has enabled is that very positive networking effect, something that the likes of Patreon fail to do. On Patreon, everyone is an island; artists are using the platform, but in a manner that doesn’t recognise that anyone else is doing the same thing. Substack recognises that the best recommenders for writers are… other writers (though readers can also recommend too, FWIW).
I firmly believe there is a market in artist subscriptions. As ever, the real win is not the tech platform hosting it, but the work the artist puts in to deliver genuine value to fans. I made the same point at an MMF conference panel I was on earlier**: marketing hasn’t changed in 70+ years. It is about hard work to establish connection, and you don’t get that just by using a new tech platform. You have to recognise what your fans want and super-serve that.
That being said, the platforms could do so much more to recognise that fans love many artists, not just one, and to play an active role in encouraging fans to support other artists. This is what Substack has understood: writers enjoy recommending other writers. It has a very benevolent vibe where people want to help each other up.
That, in my view, is something the music industry needs to really think about and start incorporating. Better subscription systems could exist that play far, far more to a kind of network effect that sees everyone benefitting accordingly. It’s what Substack does extremely well IMO (and I now have our own growth stats to prove it!) and I think if that could be replicated into a music space, artists might well find means to generate quite meaningful income.
Have a great evening,
** my first in about six years - did I get blacklisted from conference panels?! Perhaps it is an ego-centric rant but I’d argue someone who runs a marketing agency that’s working with about 25 indie labels, including some of the largest out there, which has been across six UK #1 albums in the last 12 months or so, as well as working with the likes of the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams, as well as Run The Jewels, Underworld, Moby, Jungle and more, might just have some good insights to share. 😡
🎶 listening to “Three Seeds” by Richard Houghten. This one came to me via the excellentpublication. Richard’s music is laidback guitar melodies over drum machine beats. If you’ve ever heard Tommy Guerrero, it is definitely in a similar space. Just a stunning, melodic listen that really grabbed me. I love it.
🤖 playing with Playlist AI, an iOS app and ChatGPT plugin that claims to generate significantly better Spotify and Apple Music playlists via AI. I suspect it might be having some issues as GPT has been upgrading ahead of its new features launching, as my experiences have been underwhelming, but I remain hopeful that it can get sorted and something like Songza, which I still miss all these years later.
An irony I see around me now is that music is everywhere, and yet the storytelling around music - those personal tales about why an album means so much to someone, or how it affected them, or otherwise why it just warrants anything from 30 to 90 minutes of your time - seems to be getting harder and harder to find.
So, I have started a second publication,, which will highlight albums considered by the author to be a slept-on classic; a real gem worthy of your time.
I also won’t be writing this one alone. No, I have asked all manner of friends and colleagues across the music industry to also get involved.
Stories from the Music Industry:
“It’s common for us to see fraud between 20 and 60% of all streams on multiple distributors, month over month. We’re seeing massive amounts, and some big names that you would not expect,” said Batey, adding that the highest he’s seen is 74% in one month.
👆🏻Hot take: headline-grabbing stats, which is all great for Beatdapp as an anti-piracy business, but unless distributors are named and shamed this feels a little pointless.
The fund will skip dividends until at least its next financial year to preserve cash; that’s on top of the cancellation of the last quarterly distribution. The infuriating detail is that the blame is being pinned on an increase this year of $23m to $68m (£18.5m to £55m) in so-called “catalogue bonuses” – a form of performance-related payment dictated by past acquisition agreements.
👆🏻Hot take: a damning read courtesy of The Guardian, though IMO it misses a lot of key points - e.g. the appointment of two Round Hill execs to the board, as well as the complex details around any attempt to sell Hipgnosis Songs Fund off.
After launching its artist-centric payment model, Deezer unveils new brand identity and redesigned app
“We have transformed Deezer over the past two years, and today marks a key milestone as we introduce our new identity and logo, while showcasing how our product is evolving into a platform where people can experience and live the music in a way that cannot be found anywhere else,” said Jeronimo Folgueira, CEO, Deezer.
👆🏻Hot take: Deezer continues its (arguably) comeback. Very interested to see how this new positioning translates relative to future growth.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
Google is rolling out new generative AI tools for creating ads, from writing the headlines and descriptions that appear along with searches to creating and editing the accompanying images. It’s pitching the tool for use by both advertising agencies as well as businesses without in-house creative staff. Using text prompts, advertisers can iterate on the text and images they generate until they find something they like.
👆🏻Hot take: I am curious to see how this will shape up. Also curious to see what, if any, costs will be incurred, as Google is certainly charging a pretty penny for access to its Duet AI platform elsewhere.
The new rule applies to advertisements on Facebook and Instagram that contain “realistic” images, videos, or audio falsely showing someone doing something they never did or imagining a real event playing out differently than it did in reality.
👆🏻Hot take: admirable but I just cannot see this being well implemented. Which is not slightly on Meta I might add; it will just become harder and harder to stop this stuff before it gets out and does damage.
Facebook alone accounts for nearly 60% of the total amount, with €1.7bn in penalties. Adding to Zuckerberg’s woes, Meta’s platforms combined have reached €2.5bn. TikTok has received the third highest amount in fines, at €360mn, while X (formerly Twitter) has only amassed €450k. Meanwhile, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit, and LinkedIn have not been charged.
👆🏻Hot take: given GDPR has been perceived as toothless by some, it’s overdue that we get a general round-up of who has been fined, along with the reason and the amount. Arguably no shock to see Meta up there as the worst offender.
Need something else to read? Here you go:
The brain’s perception of time is abstract. Here's what happens when it gets seriously distorted
👆🏻Hot take: a fascinating insight into what happens when your brain fails to measure time properly. Way more interesting than you might think.
From a complement to fries to a hint of acid on upscale dishes, balsamic vinegar is one of the world's most recognisable condiments. And yet, many have never tasted the real thing.
👆🏻Hot take: well, you live and learn…!
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