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indii app can help with Cambridge music scene

Tantris is one of the band's featuring on indii
Tantris is one of the band's featuring on indii

Mick Venning has run Orchard Cottage Studio in Willingham for 19 years, and in that time he’s seen the music industry adapt to the digital era in ways which suit the industry rather than the artists they promote – so he’s launched a new app called indii to restore the balance in favour of musicians.

The story is pretty well known: in the early 1990s, sales of CDs were stratospheric. Then came Napster, which totally changed the way music is consumed following its arrival in 1999. Downloads became mainstream following the launch of Apple’s iTunes in 2003, pushing down sales of CDs to the brink of extinction: today more vinyl records are sold than CDs. In 2008, with the arrival of Spotify, the model for music consumption changed again: streaming content became the norm, and downloads became secondary.

However, as Mick – who was the singer and rhythm guitarist for local band, Hazard, before switching to the recording side in 2000 – points out, streaming platforms don’t pay much. In fact the artist gets just $0.0044 per play on Spotify and $0.0007 on YouTube.

Local band The Fifths: indii designed their artwork on the free app as part of its inclusive functionality
Local band The Fifths: indii designed their artwork on the free app as part of its inclusive functionality

“If you look at it in terms of the average annual wage in the US,” he says, “which is $1,472, it takes around 364,000 qualified streams every month on Spotify for an unsigned musician to earn an average wage, and on YouTube it’s 2.1million qualified streams.”

So for the rights holders of an album to earn $10 from Spotify – the cost of most digital downloads – an individual user would have to stream the tracks on it 1,190 times. And in 2017, the average Spotify user streamed 1,036 songs – and most of them were by Ed Sheeran.

Clearly this is not a sustainable business model.

“98 per cent of musicians have zero income,” Mick says. “It presently only makes financial sense as a musician if you achieve tens of millions of plays, that’s not good – and the new revenue model has an impact on what you hear, 90 per cent of musicians from the previous generation wouldn’t stand a chance today or get anywhere.”

Creator Mick Venning of Orchard Cottage Studios. Picture: Keith Heppell
Creator Mick Venning of Orchard Cottage Studios. Picture: Keith Heppell

The disconnect between artists and fans is what indii is aiming to rebuild. As music became commoditised, the human dynamic – the connection between a band and its audience – got lost. This might partly explain the revival of long-playing records: vinyl is acoustically a far superior experience of course, but it also means artwork, liner notes, photos... the kind of intimacy between the artist and the music fan that digitisation has removed.

“If someone doesn’t do something like indii, there won’t be any musicians,” is how Mick puts it. “You’d get people just doing it for the love and unfortunately love on its own doesn’t necessarily mean good music.”

One other thing music fans also need to bear in mind is that the whole industry has entered a dangerously unstable situation: there’s a structural fault in the business model. Spotify has never made a profit, it lost $662million in 2016, and $1.5billion for 2017. Part of its problem is that 200,000 songs a week are uploaded and just storing them takes up a vast number of servers – pretty costly, both environmentally and financially, especially given that shedloads of the tracks on there will never be listened to.

“You can go into a studio, record something, put it on Spotify, and it’s out there,” Mick says, “but we’re being bludgeoned to death with rubbish and eventually that causes disengagement.”

Maybe Spotify will never turn a profit. Maybe the whole edifice will come crashing down. Maybe that would be good for music lovers. And maybe indii is a way of re-engaging whose time has come.

It’s certainly been a while in the making – I first spoke to Mick about it two years ago. Why did the app take so long?

“We started off with quotes from someone in Cambridge,” he says. “It was fairly horrific price-wise, so we tried a couple of companies in London, liaising via Skype, then we thought we might as well try everywhere, and ended up with the Indian company Hidden Brains, who were outstandingly brilliant and one-fifth of the price.

“Development was scheduled for three or four months but ended up at well over a year.”

Hakeem Steele Lewis: artwork design within the indii app
Hakeem Steele Lewis: artwork design within the indii app

So how does it work?

“Indii makes money by selling the artist’s music, so you can buy via the app.”

It’s only available on the Apple iPhone at the moment.

“With Android you have to do it all over again – the Android version is booked in for when we’re ready to go.”

It’s still early days: the Apple-based app was launched earlier this month.

“About 85 per cent of mobiles are Android but 90 per cent of all mobile revenue comes from Apple. Apple means bigger revenue but a smaller audience.”

There are 50 artists signed up to indii so far. “We got two more this week,” says Mick, who works with his partner Mandy. “We’ll plod on until we get... all of them! It’s just Cambridgeshire at the moment, London is a much bigger area. We’ll probably do the Midlands or the north next.”

The app is mostly suitable for musicians who play live. When they sign up, the artists get a load of flyers they can hand out at gigs, and that builds the artist-fan link. “indii uses geolocation so you can see everyone in the area who’s gigging. It’s interactive in that the artist has access to a back panel, so you can do a live blog.”

Interface links fans and artists
Interface links fans and artists

The app is both a newplatform for selling music and “allows artists to have videos on, which is usually expensive”. The videos can be played from the preview screen. “The app automatically creates videos – that’s unique.” Worth the price of entry alone – although in fact the app is free of charge.

One of the other nice touches is that the app creates artwork for a band – see right for examples. It will pick an image and develop a logo within the app so you don’t have to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a designer.

It would seem Mick has developed this product because he, like many others who love music, wants to encourage the grass-roots indie music scene that nurtured him during his formative years, and now he’s keen to return the favour.

“The whole thing is based on the artist’s audience,” is how he puts it. “Without an audience, at the moment indii may not be for them.”

With promotion from Cambridge-based marketing agency Honest, and a classy slice of app technology that will find a home among music fans and musicians alike, indii has made a great start. As Mick says, “There’s some brilliant musicians about”. Now they have a better chance of not only being heard, but getting the just rewards for their talent and hard work.

Studio-ready: indii can also create a video on the app to match your music. Picture: Keith Heppell
Studio-ready: indii can also create a video on the app to match your music. Picture: Keith Heppell


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