The music industry was turned on it’s head near the turn of the century when Napster and peer-to-peer file-sharing essentially ended what had been a gilded era of $20 CDs being sold with two radio hits at a massive record store. That all changed as the P2P network and then the rise of torrents increasing pushed music online and into the digital realm. As bands and artists saw their discographies pilfered by online “pirates,” new strategies were put in place, grandmas were arrested and Steve Jobs convinced everyone to start selling their songs for a dollar apiece, the album format be damned.
While that sequence of events has led to exponentially more free music than we’ve ever enjoyed, it has also meant declining revenue for labels and artists who have had to innovate and experiment with new strategies to keep the game going. One of the more interesting ways I’ve seen this happen is the way heavy metal group Iron Maiden recently turned the tables on the pirates, by analyzing where their music was downloaded on the popular BitTorrent download client to decide where to route their next tour.
The logic was simple: if they’re willing to steal the music, they probably like it a lot. MusicMetric, a UK company that specializes in analytics for the music industry by capturing everything from social media discussion to traffic on the BitTorrent network, crunching the figures to determine an act’s popularity in certain locales. “Having an accurate real time snapshot of key data streams is all about helping inform people’s decision making. If you know what drives engagement you can maximize the value of your fan base. Artists could say ‘we’re getting pirated here, let’s do something about it’, or ‘we’re popular here, let’s play a show’,” said Gregory Mead, CEO and co-founder of the London-based firm in a press release.
While it first was reported by Complex and Rolling Stone that Iron Maiden actively used this information to route their latest tour, the band has since denied anything of the sort. While their dates seem to have coincided with MusicMetric data suggesting large fan bases in South and Central America, where they have since played several successful shows, the band is not ready or willing to be the poster child for mining piracy data into usable information.
About a month ago I posted a story about comedian Russel Brand releasing his latest stand up via popular torrent search engine The Pirate Bay, utilizing the site’s popularity to push his product for free, which he also interestingly sold as well. The UK seems to have the first fascination in manipulating piracy networks for their own gain, which may be a sign of the digital age ravaging the old guard in a country where 70% of independent record stores have closed. It seems to be getting to the point of adapt or die, who would have thought it’d be Iron Maiden’s lead to follow?