I used to love music. When I was a teenager, the way to experience music was to get my parents to drive me to the mall so I could visit Sam Goody and drop $20 on a CD. This was a substantial investment for me.

As a result, I usually only purchased one CD at a time and typically only one every month or so. That one album would constitute about 90% of what I might listen to for the next month. I would read the entire album insert front to back, memorize the lyrics, and pore over the artist’s thank you’s for additional clues as to what they were like. I listened to the entire album over and over again, not just the radio hits.

To this day, it’s striking to me that I don’t know the lyrics of too many songs that I discovered after I stopped buying physical copies of music.

By contrast, music today is incredibly inexpensive. I don’t actually have to pay a thing, just tolerate some ads and I’ve got any song I can imagine available on demand. But my experience of music now is profoundly different. I’m no longer invested in my music (in either time or money). What once was the cultivation of a personal catalog and a part of my identity has given way to cheap, easy access.

Better Technology ≠ Better CX

Technology has enabled an unprecedented level of access to music. The possibilities with today’s streaming services are actually unparalleled for both artist and fan, but currently, my relationship to it is transactional and commodified. Most of the music I listen to on streaming services is a disposable experience for me.

For the record, I’m not longing wistfully for some sort of return to the “good old days” of $20 CDs, but rather, advocating that we should be using technology to deepen relationships and create better experiences.

Maintaining Meaningful Relationships Between Artists and Fans in the Streaming Era I’m aware of a few music pioneers who are figuring out how to blend advancements in music technology while deepening meaningful relationships between artists and fans. Noisetrade.com is a great example of a site that’s fostering deep connections around music while maintaining ease of access to content. The site serves as a two-way platform providing value to artists and fans in equal measure. Fans can log their artist preferences and the site will regularly make recommendations for new artists based on your listening history. Many artists on the site make EPs or sampler compilations available to download for free in exchange for your email and zip code. Additionally, fans can tip artists as a means of support for their art, which really taps into the motivations of people who like supporting emerging artists. This is essentially a modern, crowd-sourced patronage model.

For the artist, this information is exceptionally valuable because it allows them to use the information for fan engagement and more importantly for planning profitable tours. Knowing where the concentrations of fans are allows an artist to plan shows that have much higher likelihoods of drawing enough fans to make money on tickets and merchandise sales (which is a far greater source of income for most artists than they could hope for from sales or streaming royalties).

NoiseTrade is admittedly niche and geared towards emerging and independent artists, as well as a smaller subset of fans that are interested in discovering new artists. But it serves as a great example of a platform that clearly understands and prioritizes customer experience, and is not just creating new technology for the sake of innovation alone.

In my opinion, this is the challenge in front of us as we seek to create compelling customer experiences. Our goal ought to be to facilitate a meaningful relationship between company/product/services and a customer. We should never substitute this with inexpensive and easy access. They aren’t the same thing.

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