JIM CARROLL ON THE RECORD
Musical.ly is the latest bit of tech to take off while the older players look on in wonder
Many different services have claimed to be “the future of the music business” since On the Record began.
Every so often, something along the lines of Spiralfrog, Lala and PressPlay would come along, and we duly kicked the tyres. A few months later, most of us had completely forgotten about them and had moved on to the next future-of-the-industry pitch. The pages of Wikipedia are now littered with the painstaking minutiae of these applications, from their brave initial claims to their short shelf-lives.
One of the things most of these failed initiatives have in common is that they heavily involved the music business. While there’s also a tech component to consider, the fact that the music business had underwritten the process was akin to the kiss of death.
Most were dead on arrival because the music business has never traditionally bothered to listen to music fans, the people who actually buy music and support musicians in the first place. It’s always been top down, always “we know better than you”. Even when they’re involved with a winner – say Apple’s iTunes store or Spotify – there’s whinging, moaning and backbiting from the gallery because someone else is involved.
In the case of the musical.ly app and its 90 million users, the people who are involved are young music fans, and they’re not overly concerned with the music business. Of course, now that the app is proving to be a success, the industry are all over it like a rash.
There’s little remotely groundbreaking or sci-fi about the musical.ly app, which began life as an instructional tool called Cicada before changing course. It allows users to create videos where they lip-synch to tunes of their choice. The clips are short and snappy (15 seconds or thereabouts) and a wonderful mess of youthful exuberance and giddiness.
Over the past few months, articles such as this one have began to appear to try to suss out why the video-making app has been bossing around longer-established and better-known properties. Every single day, around 10 million videos are uploaded by musical.ly’s users, 60 per cent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 20. That’s a serious metric no matter how you look at it.
But there should really be no surprise why musical.ly has proven to be such a hit. While the traditional music business gatekeepers bemoan the fact that things are not how they used to be (HMV shutting up shop; people pirating the new Frank Ocean albums; the charts in complete meltdown), everyone else is getting on with things, with music very much at the heart of so many different exchanges.
That’s something that the tech folks were quick to see: the huge pulling power of music when it came to getting people engaged and involved. Again and again, we’ve seen tech players using music as a shortcut because they know people are deeply immersed in music as a badge of identity or as a soundtrack to project a certain image to their social networks.
When musical.ly came along, offering a simple and easy way for music fans to show off the music they like or love, it was no surprise that people flocked to it. The app has created a community of like-minded souls who want to goof around with videos and create their own snapshots of their favourite music.
It’s the latest iteration of something that has been happening for decades. This time, though, it’s music fans rather than the music business who are doing all the heavy lifting. It won’t be the last time we see that either.
There’s little remotely groundbreaking or sci-fi about the musical.ly app. Yet eEvery single day, around 10 million videos are uploaded