The effect on SME music production companies of changing patterns of digitial media consumption & distribution : an exploration of consumer preferences, technological trends, & competitor behaviour. (The Student Perspective)

Student: Steffan Thomas
Company partner: Sain Records
Academic Supervisor: Dr Eben Muse

The Project

My KESS project is in partnership with Sain records, the project is looking at monetisation of digital music and its distribution, looking at iTunes and how we can use sites like Spotify to develop a sustainable industry long term.

How will I do this? With a consumer survey we will ask Sain’s consumers what exactly they are looking for from digital music:

o How they want to engage with it
o The frequencies with which they engage

New skills

Starting the PhD has opened up new challenges to me in terms of academic discipline; my PhD is a project that spans across two disciplines: the Business School and the School of Creative Industries, though the PhD itself sits within the Business School. From an academic development perspective having those two schools of thought has certainly helped me shape what I want to do in the future. My biggest challenge has been to deal with statistics, having never done statistics before it’s proving quite a headache; however it has given me a different skill set when thinking about solving certain issues.


From a personal development perspective, having hands on industry experience alongside the academic experience means that my long term prospects will be improved, I’m not limiting myself to an academic career or an industry based career. Also in working with two schools it has opened up more opportunities for me; I have been able to present in conferences that cover two areas, which in itself is an opportunity to learn.

I have been lucky to have been invited to present to non-academic audiences at industry based events, which have included the Bangor Leadership and Management course and a business breakfast series. I’ve also presented the research to other companies in and outside the area about this specific type of digital marketing.

The project has also challenged my perceptions of how people use music or buy music, it’s come as a shock through the literature and been backed up and confirmed by the surveys about just how willing people are to pirate music and that level of expectation for free music available on line, and it wasn’t something that I had anticipated.


My path to KESS was a little different to the norm as it was following on from a KTP (Knowledge Exchange Partnership) project. I’d been working on the KTP for two years prior to KESS with the company Sain, that project looked at the commercial development of the company, what this meant in practice was that I worked with the company to develop their website, their download stores and data structures. Now with the KESS project we are looking at how we can best utilise these commercial tools in order to make the most of the digital opportunities, it has felt like a natural progression from the KTP.


Future research opportunities

An area for further research most definitely would be the legal aspect of Welsh music today, especially looking at intellectual property, though this area contributes in part to my research there is a lot more work that can be done in this area. As part of my PhD project I have been working over the last 12 months with the Coleg Cenedlaethol Cymraeg, organising a conference which will take place this October (2013), specifically looking at intellectual property law in the music industry.

Benefits to the company

I think that there are a number of benefits for a company to work with a research partner, especially for a small company like Sain. In being a small company they have generally had to follow the larger companies in the industry in terms of development, working with a research partner has allowed them to see new ideas implemented much sooner. The company is constantly developing and as soon as something comes out from the research we try and implement it straight away. Working this way has meant that the culture of the company is beginning to change as they are far more open to new ideas and are far freer with their marketing.

An example of this would be when we worked on an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) campaign, we were looking at the key words that people use to find music; what we found was that half a million people a month in Wales alone are searching for sheet music. This was something that Sain weren’t particularly promoting although they’re a publishing company and own 18,000 published tracks that they could potentially sell as sheet music. As part of the project I built a new sheet music download store which meant that the company could sell their sheet music; it’s costing them absolutely nothing to put those up online but it’s bringing in a new revenue stream each month.

It’s amazing that during the project we have managed 70% growth with online sales for the company in the first year after re-launching online, with a further 15% growth the following year; the social media is continuing to grow in terms of the engagement that we are getting online.

Benefits as a researcher

The KESS project has benefitted me greatly as a student studying for a PhD; the travel budget alone has allowed me to access things that would never have been possible if I were self-funding. It’s allowed me to attend international conferences and make links internationally that are benefitting my research right now. I am able to test my data with other countries that have similar niche music industries and is giving my research an added dimension and a perspective that I wouldn’t have been able to get if I were self-funding.

As a researcher working with a company it has given me three major benefits:

The ability to work on a piece of research that is relevant and not just an academic exercise, it is a living breathing piece of work where I see the impacts that my work has on the company.

I have access to real live data, which is something that can be quite challenging.

The KESS project has given me an insight into industry and academia, having a company partner has given me a test bed for any new ideas. It’s great that I’ve got a relationship with the company whereby I can go with new ideas and implement them straight away to see whether or not they work.

Benefits to all 3

In terms of what people involved have gained, I think all three partners (the company, the academics and myself) of the KESS project have certainly benefited at some point in the process, which is a testament to the project.