TalibKweli
Nothing’s more disruptive than a recording artist who forsakes the big label and has even greater success than before. Talib Kweli shows us the money. Consumer brands should take note.

Radiohead got all the press for offering a “pay what you want” model for their music, specifically their 2007 album “In Rainbows.” But giving music away for free is nothing new; anyone who has ever walked the streets of NYC has, at one time or another, had a home-burned CD pressed upon you by a small team supporting an up-and-coming rapper. These CD’s are simply the grandchildren of mixtapes, which were the lube that brought hip hop into the mainstream, by getting performances out into the street.

The careful observer of Radiohead’s experiment will not get caught up in the hype, and will investigate whether or not the model was just a stunt, or if it really worked. Spoiler alert: it did. Check out more evidence here and here.

Which brings us to Talib Kweli.

As one of the leading lights of great taste in contemporary music, Talib Kweli is big. He’s not big like Taylor Swift or Maroon 5, but he has been a successful, well-regarded recording artist for a youthful decade and a half (plus more, but we try to be discrete here…). He does it by being true to himself and his music, allowing his fans to grow with him and to bring new listeners into his aural living room.

In this superb article in Medium, Talib tells the story from the standpoint of the artist…not the sales figures or the distribution, but the man who can see the trajectory of his career being tied to a major label ending in disaster, and cutting the cord before most might have.

However by 2008, it was no longer enough to let someone else control my online presence. As the music industry began to drastically decline, partially due to an ignorance about how the internet worked, it became clear to me that I’d better gain control over how I was being marketed and promoted digitally.

The beauty of a disruptive business model is not the buzz it creates, but the sustainability it engenders. Being disruptive shouldn’t be about deconstructing, it should be about reconstructing. Digital in general – and mobile in particular – have been highly disruptive because they enable the development of new consumer behavior patterns. These technologies bring the source closer to the consumer. And vice versa.

Increasingly the middleman has to work harder and harder to prove his value. That’s a good thing, because that value gets passed down to the consumer. If the middleman’s value can’t be proven – as Talib and Radiohead and other show us every day – then there’s no point in having the middleman at all.

Big brands should take note.