🔵 Reflections on 2023 and predictions for 2024
Plus, our most talked-about posts, and other newsletters you should be reading
Hi there -
Finally, the finish line! I will confess that it couldn’t come soon enough for me. 2023 has been a hard year here at Motive Unknown. A great one, don’t get me wrong: we are bigger than ever and doing more business than ever too, but my god it has been hard work getting to that point.
In general I feel that is a widely-held view of 2023. I’m yet to meet someone who feels it has been amazing. I suspect the wider state of the world is a large factor in that, as the relentless culture wars now explode into even more polarisation and hatred among factions.
But Network Notes is primarily a music industry publication, so let’s reflect a little on this year, and look to the next, in that context.
2023 was most definitely The Year of AI. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that the bulk of headlines in Network Notes has been something to do with artificial intelligence; they are probably correct.
That AI is one of those pivotal technological developments is something we can surely all agree on. Where things diverge is on just how it will impact us all, and I feel in that regard, polarisation has once again set in, such that the only views you see are either doom-mongering, or positing it as a kind of solution to all man’s ills.
On the music front this has been evidenced by things like the Eminem/Drake/Weeknd song cloning episodes, instilling a knee-jerk view that AI will suddenly render artists obsolete within years.
The reality, in my view anyway, is that AI is likely to bring in a new age of creative expression. The AI tools I have used in the music creation space have blown my mind, not because they made a whole song for me, but because they are simply making it easier to get where I am going. I can create synth patches more easily. I can create beats of more complexity with less effort. Crucially though, none of these things replace my own input as the creator. The outcome will most definitely be my work, not that of AI.
On a work level, we very much feel that AI has a huge amount to offer us. In the new year we will begin working on new tools that better aid our clients in their bid to understand exactly what is going in with their marketing campaigns, and AI will be a foundational part of that.
So perhaps 2024 will be the year where the polarisation around AI eases back, and more pragmatism emerges as the technology itself evolves. If that happens, the music industry - like many others - could stand to benefit immensely.
2023 was also a year where the whole “DSPs are bad for artists” narrative just became something of an accepted truth. It’s not that DSPs are bad; they’re just not great for a certain class of artist. To the surprise of some I’m sure, I have no issue with that; it is rare that any platform can please all the people all of the time.
What we need to see now is new forms of consumption emerging, and new platforms to speak to that.
I think we often forget that everything moves in phases. All formats have their day, and they then decline and sometimes die as a consequence. They are all mortal, and streaming is no different.
For me this speaks to a wider theme I expect to see through 2024: a quest for substance. The age of getting everything all of the time has been with us for some time now, and I think for a certain section of society, it is wearing thin. It is arguably why platforms like Substack are on the rise; people want that depth and focus on niche areas. Convenience dominated culture and how we consume it. Now I feel those days are starting to look numbered, and this is a good thing.
Similarly, I feel 2024 will see a move away from the social media we’ve grown used to - that of X/Twitter, Instagram et al - and instead will move towards more private, niche communities. If like me you were a web user at the turn of the century, you’ll remember the forums of old, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that surging back through 2024.
For musicians, I think this will all be a welcome development. I’ve said it before, but I genuinely believe that for 95% of artists, if social media vanished tomorrow, they would all breathe a massive sigh of relief. Ergo, a global move away from the social media norms of old may be a gift of sort to our industry as a whole.
Advertising is another area we are seeing huge upheaval in. Granted, it might not be the sexiest of areas in music, but it is nonetheless a massive underpinning around most campaigns. However the platforms themselves are shifting, and the direction they are going in will not benefit the music industry.
Peel back ten years, and Facebook (as it was then) was a gift to indie music labels. You could target incredible niche interests with pinpoint accuracy, enabling labels to reach exactly the right people, thus making budgets around online marketing highly efficient.
Cut to 2023/4, and those same platforms are now moving away from a world where you get to specify who you are targeting at all. The ultimate end point will be a world where you simply upload your ad creative, and Meta, Google or whomever will scan it (using AI, natch) and establish who the best audience is for this.
This will mean that creative will become more important than ever, especially in music.
Alongside that though, the world of “single, single, album”-type marketing may also get challenged. Meta and co want always-on advertising. Brands should be spending 24/7, and in the world of music, that is going to create problems.
This might not hit home in 2024; it could be something that really takes root in 2025, but I think the point to impress is that this is coming and it will happen. As such, you should be looking at your marketing strategies accordingly (and if you need help, Motive Unknown is here for you!).
On the whole then, 2024 may well usher in a fair amount of change in music. Perhaps not all of it will come to pass in the next twelve months, but we will see. The main thing is to understand and accept that change is coming, and focus on that within your respective businesses. That is what we are doing here at Motive Unknown, and I am looking forward to seeing how that shapes up through next year.
For now though, let me end this by thanking you all for taking time to read my writings. Since moving in October the readership has grown by 15%, which is a massive uptick. If we maintain that growth rate, we will be 60% larger this time next year, which is amazing. So thank you all for spreading word - I do appreciate it.
I hope Network Notes continues to deliver things worth reading in 2024, but until then, I hope you all have a wonderful festive break, and I’ll see you on the other side.
All the best!
📈 The Top 3 Editions of Network Notes for 2023:
As we only moved to Substack (thereby gaining a proper online home for the writing rather than it all existing only via email) this is only based on posts from October to December.
That being said, the stats on these suggest they reached far more people than any other posts this year, so I wanted to just reflect on which posts performed best - and why.
Let’s dive in:
👆🏻Hot take: this one spread far and wide, and I’m glad it did, as it was basically a call to not believe the pervading negative narrative on social media, but instead to look at the facts around Bandcamp’s acquisition by Songtradr. Here we are in December 2023, and Bandcamp is still an incredible destination with a fantastic team, so I feel those reports of its demise remain wildly inaccurate.
👆🏻Hot take: this was another piece that ruffled some feathers and clearly kickstarted some conversations among trade bodies and labels alike. I am glad it did, as I still stand by the points raised. The indies still desperately need some means to monitor commercially beneficial moves to make that also protect the indie ecosystem. Fingers crossed that comes in 2024.
👆🏻Hot take: the very first edition certainly caused some conversation, as we could see it reaching far beyond the main subscriber base. Really this piece presaged the one at #2, asking whether indie grassroots platforms etc should be protected.
📖 Three Other Great Newsletters You Should Read:
Having moved to Substack, I really came to find some amazing writers whose work I almost sit waiting for, such is my appetite for them. Here are three I’ve found invaluable:
Chris comes at the music industry from a very different angle to me, taking quite a data-first perspective. His work runs deep though, and I’m yet to read a post that isn’t brilliant. Eminently worth subscribing to.
Garbage Day, by
Ryan writes about internet culture, often looking at specific moments that have caught attention and digging into the real story behind them. Whilst Ryan is easy to read, his insights around internet culture are some of the sharpest I’ve come across. His “Duplicate, Infiltrate and Undermine” article lays out the exact strategy the right-wing is using the world over to gain a foothold and is my nomination for Article Of The Year (if such an accolade exists!). Essential reading.
Where Ryan Broderick writes about internet culture, Casey writes about what’s really going on at the biggest tech companies. His coverage of the Twitter/X implosion, not to mention the OpenAI debacle around Sam Altman’s fired/hired/quit/hired again moment, was deserving of an award, and Platformer continues to provide unprecedented insight as to what’s going on within Big Tech. Another subscription I’d say is essential.
Who am I and who are Motive Unknown?
Sometimes I’ll put some blurb in here to elaborate on who I am and what Motive Unknown does. Rather than repeat that, I figured I’d just embed our annual roundup of campaigns we’ve worked on this year.
As ever, thank you to our amazing clients. We are proud to be working with each and every one of you! 🙏
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