This summer it will have been 30 years since David Bowie arrived in Barcelona with his spectacular “Glass Spider Tour”. Viewed in retrospect, it was a tour that would fuel his reputation as a visionary of the future, a perspective that in the following decades would only be further reinforced.
In 1987 the music business was dominated by the record companies. The CD was quickly becoming the next big thing and recording artists received financial support from their record labels under the concept of “tour support” (it was assumed that concerts promoted record sales, rather than vice-versa). Within this context, David Bowie’s gamble became a revelation: he present a stunning mega-show replete with visual, musical, and theatrical elements. Ticket prices were set at an unusually high level (in Spain, twice the amount charged to see a band like U2 at the height of their success), and he had signed a major sponsorship deal with Pepsi for a world tour. This combination of factors became the key to the emergence of a live music business that, years later, would go on to replace record sales as the primary model for the industry.
However, it has now become obvious that, beyond just presenting a new format, the digital revolution would represent the greatest transformation experienced in the music business. And there again, Bowie took the lead with a whole range of visionary decisions. Between 1996 and 1997 he was the first major-label artist to use the Internet to release a single and to broadcast a live concert. And just one year later, he launched his own Internet service provider (BowieNet), which represented a milestone in creating a direct relationship between the artist and the fans. For about 20 dollars a month, subscribers received access to the network and a personal email account with the extension davidbowie.com. But the greatest value of the service was found in the special privileges the users were given: they could listen to unreleased music, buy concert tickets before anyone else, get backstage passes, chat with Bowie himself, attend exclusive concerts, and even write lyrics for his songs.
David Bowie was a visionary entrepreneur, who expressed concepts that were like premonitions regarding the effects of the digital revolution on the music business. The most essential of these was that the focus would shift away from the industry and its products to instead become centered on the consumers and their experience with an artist’s brand. This is the only way to explain the fact that in September 1998, the same year that Google was founded, he was using the Internet to establish links and loyalty with a participation-based community that could be monetized. Or to put it another way, he was already defining the essence of today’s music business.
Director of the Postgraduate Course in Global Music Business Management