I also posted this on my website.
I recently attended the Grammy MusicTech Summit, a 2-day long music business and technology conference. It was an awesome experience for me, as I learned a ton, and I was WAY out of my comfort zone, which forced me to be more outgoing than I usually am. Some things I noticed:
- Surprise, surprise, the record labels are not looking for any radical change.
- There was a great panel with solely record execs, and one of the startling things I heard was “we haven’t changed very much over the past 10 years”. Umm, what?? Labels should be saying “yes, we have changed a LOT, here’s why and here’s how”. Not one of them did that.
- A rep from one of the four “majors” was there (Warner Brothers). Now don’t take me wrong, this guy was very smart and knew his stuff. However, I did not once hear the word “connections” from his mouth. I heard a lot about statistics, merch, iTunes, record sales, merch, how many people they sign, merch. Oh, did I mention merch? You get the idea.
- Record labels LOVE the idea of a vinyl comeback. I do as well, but not for the same reasons.
- This panel did make me rethink my position on record labels. The Sub Pop rep really puts in perspective what it’s like to be a working band: wake up at 6am, drive. Do interviews on the whole on the way there. Radio interviews when you arrive. Party. Do it again. The time for business and organizing simply is not there.
- Unfortunately, what they did not do was show why an artist who hired people to do those things independently would be better off with a label. At least to me. Wake up guys, “legacy” doesn’t mean what it used to be.
- Contracts and lawyers are very important
- The panel on “New Media Contracts” frankly, scared the shit out of me. It was very alarming to see how out of touch I was with the legal side of the industry.
- Bands need to be more involved
- Like it or not, this is a business, not solely art. Bands today cannot be afraid of the marriage of art and commerce. Bands who take heed the advice of tending to their brand and their fans will be much better off than those who do not.
- As much as the new system has changed things, the old things are still most important.
- To me, this is the most important concept I took away from the conference. Yeah, there are a ton of new ways to distribute music and protect it, but it really doesn’t matter until you have something to protect and distribute: good music. The number one priority should always be making great music and working hard. Part of this is touring. No matter what, if you’re not touring or between tours, you are probably not a full time musician.
- What about connections?
- This is something I was sad to see so neglected. A lot of the record labels were like “whoo email lists”, but I think it goes beyond that these days. Message boards I think should become increasingly popular, and if not that, foster commenting (Mike Shinoda is a great example).
- Transparency is important.
- Another missed opportunity, a lot of the labels still want the “mystique” of artists to be maintained. Now, this is a great point if your artist is a dickhead or dumb as hell. Slim Moon, a very experienced and savvy music exec, said “I think that some bands are too transparent, they reveal too much of the personal side that directly conflicts with the image they’re trying to project”. Great to say, but I can’t think of any reason why an artist, when capable, shouldn’t communicate directly with fans. With fans having more and more options every day to both find other music and download the stuff you like, you have to give them a reason to listen. When you mass mail, you get someone interested. When you respond to an email, respond to a comment, you hook them.
That’s the bulk of it, I could write a ton more, but this post is long enough already. On a more personal note I would like to give a sincere thank you to Derek Sivers. This guy didn’t know me from Adam, but I emailed him a couple of times before the conference, and the first day I had a nice long lunch with him. For one of the few times in my life (from an adult at least), I felt like my opinion truly mattered despite my age.
If you want to learn social skills, watching Derek Sivers would never be a bad idea. Great listener, very smart, and doesn’t discount anyone. I hope that if I become as successful as him, I’ll stay as grounded and nice. Plus, the guy sold his company and put almost ALL of the profit (22 Million) into an account that will go to indie musicians when he dies. Who the hell is that charitable and nice?
All in all, a great experience and I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the future of the music industry attend this conference.
For another summary, go to KEXP’s blog.