Regular readers will be familiar with the mantra that I and my colleagues repeat: we are leaving the distribution era of the 20th century where music revenues were based upon selling units and entering the consumption paradigm, where monetizing consumption will be key to future success.

I recently came across a case study that illustrates well just how far along we are in the transition from a consumer perspective, if not yet from a business model viewpoint.

Armin van Buuren is a leading dance music DJ and producer, but unless you are Dutch, or a dance music aficionado it is unlikely you’ll be too familiar with him. Hailing from the Netherlands van Buuren has been producing music and DJing since the mid-nineties. Throughout the noughties he went from strength to strength, in no small part due to a very savvy use of digital technology including a weekly radio show (A State of Trance) that is syndicated across multiple analog and digital stations and platforms and reaches a weekly global audience of 40 million.

This context is important because van Buuren understands the importance of building an engaged digital audience. Which brings us onto the case study: his track ‘In and Out of Love’ featuring vocalist Sharon den Adel. The official video currently has 50.5 million views on YouTube. There are an addition 3.3 million unofficial video views of the track, of which 0.5 million are remixes and live versions. So that’s a net total of just under 54 million views.

Consider those numbers for a moment. The biggest ever selling global single was Elton John’s Candle in the Wind in 1997 with 37 million copies. The biggest that the noughties had to offer was Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’ with 12 million. Even Lady Gaga only made 11 million with ‘Poker Face’. Getting to number in the UK charts can be done with less than 25,000 if you catch the charts on a bad week (Orson did it with just 17,694 in 2003 with ‘No Tomorrow’).

There are of course plenty of artists who’ve got much bigger play numbers on YouTube than van Buuren (Lady Gaga is currently over 107 million with ‘Just Dance’) but for a relatively niche genre artist to get 50 million plays illustrates where momentum is with digital music and the power of an engaged digital following. Indeed Forrester’s Technographics consumer survey data shows that nearly half of 12-15 year olds in Europe watch music videos online but just 15% of them pay to download.

Monetizing consumption and engaging digital audiences isn’t just some long term aspiration, it’s the overriding strategic imperative of the moment. Failure to do so will simply pave the way to BitTorrent and RapidShare for consumption generation.