We highlight the best panels and presentations from Day 2 of the Rethink Music Conference in Boston. If you don’t have time to read through it all, click on the presentation titles below to jump ahead. Stay tuned for my full review of Rethink Music's second year at the end of the week!
Day 2 Highlights
PRESENTATION: Artist Revenue Streams Project
w/ Kristin Thomson (Future of Music Coalition)
PANEL: Building an Artist Brand
w/J Sider (BandPage), Joe Killian (Momentum WW), Rob Stone (Cornerstone, Fader), Glenn Miller (CAA), and Geoff Cottrill (Converse)
PRESENTATION: The Future of Live Music
w/ Dave Viecelli (Billions Corporation)
PANEL: The Music Ecosystem in 2015
w/ Oliver Robert-Murphy (UMG), Seth Goldstein (Turntable.FM), Laura Saez (EMI), Elizabeth Moody (YouTube), Mike Bebel (Nokia)
When we interviewed Kristin Thomson back in October, the Future of Music Coalition was in the midst of a landmark research project designed to illuminate just how musicians make their livings in the 21st century. The earliest of those results have started to be published at money.futureofmusic.org, but Kristin Thomson and Erin Mckeown were kind enough to give us a walk through of some of their findings this morning.
It’s imperative to mention that FMC decided it was more beneficial to post their findings in a series of articles, graphs and charts grouped by category on their site rather than release one 300 page document. A few minutes on their site and you’ll agree with their decision; everything is conveniently laid out, and navigating the results is much easier and more intuitive.
Though Thomson only had a enough time to discuss a portion of the study’s findings today, she did not disappoint. One of the most thought provoking questions asked of survey participants was what musicians would do if money was not an issue. Not surprisingly, the top four answers to this question were more recording, performing, collaborating, and composing. However, the interesting part of the question lay on the other side of the same coin: what would musicians do less of if money was not an issue? The top four answers to that question were less accounting, fundraising, social networking, and career management.
The conclusion to be drawn from this info is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for musicians to be musicians and career managers, thus inferring that team members are still very much an important part of the equation when there’s money to pay for them.
So what about those team members? Kristin also threw a graph up on the projector stating that, when asked, musicians gave a multitude of examples of the kinds of team members that make up their camps. Thomson took those answers and displayed the 16 most common answered in the graph below. All team member data can be found here.
Kristin’s first example proved that artists need team members, and example two proved that they these team members need to be compensated somehow. The resulting quandary is how artists jump the gap from low income and self sufficient to an income level where they can pay the necessary team members. Right now, there are options out there such as crowdfunding, credit cards, and family money, but none are perfect. In fact, Mckeown cautioned strongly against treating credit cards as your band’s chief source of financing. Discovering the best way for artists to make this leap is still being figured out.
Mckeown made a point of saying that musicians are more than capable of learning accounting for themselves, and shouldn’t pay someone else to do it if they don’t have to. Additionally, it’s best for artists to start learning the financial aspect of their careers now because it’s only going to get more complicated.
In my opinion, this was one of the best panels at Rethink. Anyone who remotely follows the industry knows how large of a role brands play in the marketing of artists today, so it was nice to hear what some industry leaders had to say on the topic.
Rob Stone (Cornerstone/Fader) made one of the first important points in this panel, saying that, contrary to what some might believe, it’s often best for artists to say no more than yes when approached with branding opportunities. At the end of the day, it’s about aligning with the right brand for your band and message, not about partnering for something that amounts to a jingle for a company that has nothing to do with music. Just like for brands, it’s much more important for bands to focus on building a fan base over time rather than seeking out the quick route to fame. The phrase “staying true to yourself” was thrown around a lot in this panel, and the power of doing so cannot be underestimated.
Glen Miller of CAA expounded on this point, talking about his company’s marketing work with Katy Perry. Because Katy Perry builds her image around being larger than life, it would only make sense for her to go after marketing moves that perpetuate that image. To achieve this objective, Perry has done things like visit the Facebook office to pal around with Mark Zuckerburg, have American Express sponsor her VIP packages while on tour, etc. By setting the bar this high, Perry and her team have been able to effectively market her image of being larger than life without diluting it in the slightest.
Speaking of teams, Miller also talked about how it’s essential to have an efficient team as an artist: “Weeding out people that aren’t necessary in a team is a must, because you don’t ever want a vibe out there that says your team is hard to work with.”
The brand half of this equation was well represented by Converse CMO Jeff Cottrill. He continued to drive home the message that was hammered across in Seth Godin’s keynote address of marketing to your tribe. “For our brand, we celebrate our core audience of creative people. We talk to artists every single day.” Of course, Converse is an anomaly in the sense that most brands don’t invest so heavily in the arts as to have a recording studio where artists can come and record for free with Grammy winning producers and retain all of their rights. Nonetheless, understanding your core audience is just as imperative to bands as it is to brands.
Joe Killian of Momentum Worldwide cautioned artists that even though brands are happy to help artists out and facilitate any mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, artists should not expect brands to hold their hands and act as a label or as management moving forward. Brands have their own agendas too, which grow far beyond their needs for you as an artist. Keep that in mind should you form an alliance with a brand!
There was a great question from the audience at the end of this panel in which someone asked about making the leap from giving your music away for free to taking it more seriously and trying to turn it into a living. BandPage’s J Sider answered by saying “You shouldn’t be charging for your music until you can get 200 people to see you live.” He argued that until you have that size crowd coming to see you live then you’re not making enough money to seriously invest in your career anyway.
We tweeted that suggestion out and heard back from a few followers that they’d suggest even being able to regularly play to 500 or more before charging for the ownership of your music in any format. Every band is different in this regard, but we’d love to know what your strategy is. Leave us a comment at the bottom of this post if you’re so inclined!
After listening to the panel on bands and brands, it would be difficult to not be a little enthusiastic about the partnerships that have happened between these two worlds in the past and what's possible in the future. However, after the lunch break, audience members learned that Billions Corporation Founder David Viecelli had a different point of view.
Telling an anecdote about Mercedes doctoring the famous Che Guevera image to show his hat being branded with the Mercedes logo instead of the red star we’re all accustomed to, Viecelli argued that this was not too different than the giant Doritos vending machine at SXSW that featured artists playing in the area where food would be dispensed in a normal vending machine.
His point was that while brands may be beneficial in the sense that they provide extra marketing muscle and cash, they also harm musicians by making them seem reusable and machinelike. “Musicians are successful because they are not perceived as bogus,” he said. Viecelli believes that because brands now play a larger role in artist development than just marketing, they are no longer just a means to an end. Instead, he says that these partnerships rarely lead to long term, sustainable gains for the artist involved.
He then took it a step further by saying that not only can brand partnerships be harmful to bands, but that playing SXSW in 2012 is a waste of time because the festival is an exercise in marketing, not music. The same can be said for festivals, according to Viecelli. New bands are not going to receive the right kind or amount of attention at a big festival because they’re playing in the corner of a field in the middle of the day.
This debate against the alignment of bands and brands came as the back end to his thesis: The live sector of the music industry is doing just fine. Viecelli stated that “there’s still no better way for artists to separate themselves from the pack than to excel live. It’s in the live arena that the artist can be his or herself. It is the one essential foundation of a career in music that is entirely controlled by the musician.“
The numbers he has for his artists’ performance in the live arena go to show that artists will sell about how you expect them to, as long as a series of criteria are met, such as convenience fees being reasonable and merchandise being fairly priced. Viecelli is an advocate for attention being paid to the fan's experience from the moment they find out about a show to the moment they leave the venue. Evidence has shown that if artists give fans a premium experience, they are more willing to pay a premium price.
For the Nth time at Rethink, Viecelli also reiterated the idea of staying true to yourself, and not compromising your identity for a larger audience. This time, the analogy was spoken in terms of a pilot light and a burner: “Pursue your unaffected vision for the pilot light, don’t compromise your identity for the burner.”
Are you starting to see the pattern yet?
Though it took a while for this panel to move past the self promotion phase and get to what they thought would be a big part of the music ecosystem in 2015, it was worth the wait.
Laura Saez of EMI went into more detail about what she can see OpenEMI being used for in the future, but didn’t touch on anything that wasn’t covered in the OpenEMI presentation yesterday.
Elizabeth Moody of YouTube said that she was very excited about her company finally embracing their status as the number one destination for music online. YouTube has held that status for some time now, and the fact that they plan to act on it instead of just sit pretty with their crown should be good news to all musicians and music fans. On the musician end, Moody reminded the room that they had just made it easier to become a YouTube partner not more than a month ago, and that it’s now possible for artists to sell merchandise and physical format audio directly through YouTube. She said that one challenge lying ahead for YouTube is to figure out how to integrate this artist dashboard into their new user interface. YouTube is working on integrating with Google Plus and Songkick, the latter of which would help artists to promote their tours using the online video behemoth.
When thinking of the bigger picture, Elizabeth mentioned the need for artists and labels to stop thinking about music videos as they were made for MTV in the 90s and early 00’s. She thinks we’re coming upon a time where music videos will always be interactive with fans, and that will enhance engagement to an unprecedented level. This will in turn create more room for innovation in the online advertising space. An example of an interactive video that she eluded to is the short film by Chris Milk and Google based around Arcade Fire's song, "We Used To Wait."
Lastly, Elizabeth was visibly excited when talking about the possibilities of live streaming concerts via YouTube. This happens infrequently with big name artists right now, but what we’re currently seeing is really just the beginning of the possibilities. Once there’s a standard way to view these live-streamed concerts on a big screen, fans will be able to watch their favorite artists play live on their TV at home.
Personally, I’m not worried about this possibility ever replacing the live concert, but I can see why some are. How do you feel?
Seth Goldstein of turntable.fm talked about how he sees music becoming even more social in an online environment in the future. That’s the key ingredient to Turntable.fm’s success at the moment—music discovery via old school social dynamics. Seth explained that when you get up to DJ in a turntable room, you want to play something good so you don’t embarrass yourself. “If you play something that’s too obscure you don’t get any love and if you play something popular it’s just not that interesting and you don’ get love there either.”
Once turntable is able to properly secure the licenses needed for their service to be available on a global level, they’ll be turning people on to new music from different cultures all over the globe. This possibility combined with the rise of dance music and DJ culture (what turntable is best for right now) is what excites Seth the most.
Mike Bebel of Nokia talked excitedly about entering into the humming BRIC economies. Once someone is able to build a platform that helps the creators in these markets understand that they’re creations can result in enumeration, the global music industry is going to see a giant boom. This holds especially true as smartphones become increasingly present in these markets.
All panelists were thrilled with the simple fact that enabling growth in the music industry is now in our vocabulary. Ten years ago, that was not the case.
The Licensing challenges in a Global Community panel got caught up in the same trappings as earlier panels on licensing challenges, chiefly that of data and there not being one centralized database for all data to be accessed and acted on. However, there was one pearl of wisdom offered in this panel by the lawyers on board: Artists, you must make sure your various licensing deals are finished! If not, people who owe you money for the use of your songs won’t be able to pay you because your deals with them are never finished. Often times, these deals aren’t finished because clients run out of money to pay lawyers, but all the different piles of money you make from different resources could add up to a significant number in the end.
ReDigi CTO Larry Rudolph dissected his company’s service offering in front of everyone, the selling point of which is providing a marketplace for used .mp3 files in which the previous owner and the artist are paid. The way he explained it, it sounds like they’re doing a good job to make sure people aren’t just copying files and selling duplicates through the store, but I couldn’t help but think of all the ways it would be possible to game this system. Rudolph did not mention the cloud at all…would it be possible for me to just upload my library to my Google Music, iTunes, or Amazon storage locker, wipe them off my hard drive so ReDigi can’t see them and get away with duplication that way? What about if I stored all my files on an external hard drive, plugged that into another computer and just updated by iPod or phone’s music that way? As far as I can tell, ReDigi wouldn’t have any idea that the songs I’m selling on their service are located elsewhere too.
It will be interesting to see whether ReDigi is adopted amongst "mp3 collectors" who want to make some money from the music they're no longer listening to, and if so, just how sure ReDigi can be that duplicate files aren't hiding somewhere else in the user's musical ecosystem.