Step up, grab the mic and own your voice.
Guest post by Lars Murray, founder of Nodisc.
Lars Murray is a strategist, marketer, creator, and connector with a track record of opening new revenue streams and opportunities for partners, clients, and artists. He is currently occupied with startups and consulting with a focus on voice and audio. At Pandora from 2014-2018, Murray led the effort to unlock the value of its scale and unique technology. Murray has deep experience in the major label, independent label, and digital development sectors. Connect with Lars at the Music Tectonics Conference, October 28-29 in Los Angeles.
Recently, Dmitri Vietze posted about “Music Like Water,” a concept that has largely been realized in the streaming era. It flows freely, and all you have to do is pay the bill every month. Music is also ambient, like air, with algorithms helping manage your musical environment almost everywhere — in homes, offices, shops, hotels, and public spaces of all kinds.
It’s very easy to play music via voice commands (Spotify, Google, Pandora, Amazon and Apple are on the case), and music is by far the #1 use case for smart speakers. This should come as no surprise to any fans of music. Or technology.
But this seamlessness also presents a new complication: How will artists represent themselves in a screenless interface?
Don’t tell me artists will fade away. In fact, don’t tell that to the Swifties rushing to Taylor’s defense, to the KPop Armies conquering the globe, or even the hordes who are still packing arenas and stadiums to see Dead & Co. 25 years after Jerry Garcia passed on. They all want something more than a personalized mobile version of the W Hotel Lobby.
The other side of the question is: How will fans connect with artists when they are communicating via voice, with no screen to look at?
One of the biggest stories of the last couple of years in technology and music has been a proliferation of smart speakers in the home—there are an estimated 100 million of them in homes right this minute.
But voice isn’t just about smart speakers, it’s also about phones and any other devices (like automobiles) where you can now use your voice instead of a keyboard or your thumbs to request what you want. This is the biggest interface revolution since the smartphone; maybe since the dawn of the web. And it’s Global. It’s exploding in the USA, but also in places where literacy rates may lag, or where phones have WiFi and a voice assistant, but no touch screen. Folks don’t need to read to ask smart assistants for help. But they sure will expect answers (young kids already do!).
Every media platform that has launched successfully in the past 25 years has enabled artists to provide these answers directly to their fans. Websites, email, YouTube, and social channels have all facilitated direct creator-fan connection. Voice should, too.
What do you want people to know when they ask their assistant about you? Right now, Alexa and Google just read out Wikipedia, which won’t say that you have tickets on sale for a show fifteen miles away, that you have a new single, or that you just got back from a weekend in St. Bart’s with Tay-Tay.
Nope. It’s time to start thinking about how and when you are going to represent and contextualize yourself in voice-driven environments.
With no screen, there is no visual prompt. No album cover, for sure, but also no clickable menu of choices. No Instagram photo. That photo of you and Taylor hanging together on a yacht is going to have to take the form of an audio shout-out from you, her, and the captain.
The good news is that there are lots of places folks can ask about you. If your song comes up on Pandora and fans want to know when you are coming to town, they can ask Alexa or Google on their phone. If they are watching TV, they can shout to ask their smart speaker what you are up to. In their connected cars, they can ask their voice assistants about your latest album. But right now, the most common answer that fans will get is “I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.”
Attention, artists! You and your fans both deserve a better experience and we are here to help! There’s never been a better time to step up, grab the mic and own your voice. Not Google, not Amazon. Not Apple, and certainly not Facebook. You can and should take all opportunities to work with them, but you need to own your voice so you can tell your people what you want them to know — that you have a new single, a new collab, a new tour, a new reissue, a friend with a killer song they must hear, or even what you like to eat. Eventually, you may want to converse with fans, though maybe that’s a bridge too far (Spoiler Alert for Black Mirror S5E3).
As you can probably tell, I get very excited about the challenges and the possibilities here. Which is why I’m deeply immersed in developing solutions for artists. The ultimate example of this is what we call a microcast. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Now, not every artist has the time and energy to commit to a weekly podcast, no matter how "micro.”
The first step is to show up in voiceland.
For that, my partners at Voxally and I have developed Voice Drop.
Let’s start with an experiment: Try asking Alexa, "What is up with Richard Thompson?"
Alexa will answer you: "Richard Thompson OBE (born 3 April 1949) is an English singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He made his début as a recording artist as a member of Fairport Convention in September 1967. He continues to write and record new material regularly and frequently performs live at venues throughout the world. His songwriting has earned him an Ivor Novello Award and, in 2006, a lifetime achievement award from BBC Radio. Thompson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to music. Many and varied musicians have recorded Thompson's compositions."
That is accurate. And it tells a fan nothing A) they don’t know already, B) that Richard Thompson needs them to know and C) that they want to know!
Now, add this skill and try asking “Alexa, ask Voice Drop about Richard Thompson."
You back? Well, I’ll cut to the chase.
Did you know he was on tour earlier this summer in the US and now is out in the UK? That his 70th Birthday party is happening at Royal Albert Hall in September featuring special guests? Did you know his latest album, 13 Rivers, came out last fall and critics loved it?
Alexa didn’t tell you that, and she sure didn’t suggest that you listen to it. But Voice Drop can. That’s because Voice Drop is designed to be the official voice of the artist. Artists who use Voice Drop can control what Alexa tells the fans, or better...answer in their own voices! (This has a magical effect on fans — we’ve seen it in action!)
That’s what you want a smart speaker to do! To tell you what you want to know right from the horse’s mouth. And then send you to the right place to find the treasure (Amazon Music, Spotify, Youtube, ticket sites, etc.)
As an artist, you deserve that control. Right now Voice Drop is doing free trials (by invitation —hit us at firstname.lastname@example.org), but we are banking on the fact that it will be worth a small subscription fee for an artist to control this, without fear that Big Data will exploit your and your fans’ info or let you build their audience and then start selling access to that audience back to you.
Nope. Voice Drop’s motto is “Own Your Voice.” And we mean that literally.
For someone with more ambition in the world of voice, there is the microcast. PopCult Worldwide recently launched our first artist microcast with Interscope recording artist K.Flay. My partner Dennis Scheyer is a gifted producer of audio content. He works closely with K.Flay to help her realize her vision of a 5-10 minute weekly “show” produced specifically for Alexa and Google assistant users. We are two episodes into a 20-week series, wherein K.Flay explores her process in creating her new album, checks in from the road, interviews fascinating musician friends like Bishop Briggs, and even delves into quirky subjects like canned food. It’s a deeply personal expression for her, and it hits her fans literally where they live. She has thrown herself into it, and she has created a real treat for her fans and for the curious who might not know that much about her.
But don’t take my word for it: On Alexa “Alexa, enable K.Flay Show.” On Google “Hey Google, talk to K.Flay Show"
The world is at a critical breaking point. In the next 5-10 years, voice interfaces will supplement and in some cases even replace screen interfaces. For the first time, the creator's voice has the potential to become — literally — the creator’s primary voice.
Here comes voice, and if you’re an artist or music marketer it’s time to pay attention.