will.i.am, BlackBerry and the future of music distribution

With his BlackBerry firmly in hand, Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am hopes to change the way his music finds his fans.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
3 min read

It's easy to dismiss a celebrity product endorsement as an empty money grab, but not so when the celeb is Black Eyed Pea's frontman will.i.am and the product is his BlackBerry. When speaking about his phone there seems to be an honest affinity between the man and the brand, a relationship he plans to capitalise on as a means to communicate directly with his audience.

Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am with his diamond-encrusted BlackBerry Bold (Credit: CBSi)

"I've been using them since the very beginning, I'm a BlackBerry fan-fan," said will.i.am.

At one time this may have meant will.i.am used the same PDA handsets as the rest of world's crackberrys, but not any more. Now he wields two highly customised, one-of-a-kind BlackBerry smartphones, one with a sapphire battery cover, the other with a dazzling trim of diamonds. Not the sort of phones you'd want to leave behind after a night boozing up in a German beer house.

As a self-confessed BlackBery addict it's not surprising then that will.i.am has chosen the BlackBerry platform to launch an app for his internet side-project, a social-networking creative collaboration tool called Dipdive. Making the most of the BlackBerry proprietary push notification system, DipDive lets users push files back and forth, letting friends and admirers listen to tracks you're working on, or critique your latest photos.

Between Dipdive and the in-built BlackBerry Messenger app (available on all new BlackBerry phones), will.i.am feels he has found the perfect way to communicate directly with his fanbase. Sharing thoughts and messages and even clips of his works-in-progress is only the beginning. With his BlackBerry in hand, will.i.am wants to change the way people listen to his music.

"I don't ever want to put a CD out, so why not create, put it on my phone, and then potentially what will happen is that all the people who like my music can just follow my phone."

It's not just about creating a digital revolution, it's also about changing who his customers are too.

"People always wants to be entertained and listen to stuff, but not everybody can afford a subscription. I'm just putting myself in the shoes I was in when I was in the projects, when I would listen to music but I didn't buy it."

People listening to new music but not paying for it may sound like a vote for music piracy, but according to will.i.am there is plenty of money to be made in the music industry by artists without having to turn their fans into customers. Forming relationships with brands and creating revenue through advertising streams could replace the store-front purchase of music.

"The new model will be relationships with brands. Our whole radio system is based on RCA's [Radio Corporation of America] contracts for lacquer and vinyl, so that when they play your song on the radio the artist don't get paid. Radio Corporation of America owns that technology, so the thing you need to do now is help tomorrow's artists, you need to create the new paradigm, that's what I want to do with Dipdive."

This new distribution model isn't too different from the model being used by thousands of creative software developers who are distributing their work for free to smartphones, but monetising their efforts through advertising, or like free-to-play online music services like GrooveShark and Guvera, which stream music for free with an ad-supported revenue model. This system would see artists get paid while we listen to the fruits of their labour for free, and would make artist's responsible for nurturing their audience in order to maintain a valuable return for advertisers.

The Dipdive app is available through the BlackBerry App World as a free download, or can be accessed through your web browser at dipdive.com.