So I finally made it over to Seattle for a couple of panels at the Decibel Conference. The Decibel Conference is are a set of panel sessions that are held in conjunction with the Decibel Festival, an electronic music festival held every year in Seattle. I went on Friday, where the primary focus was the business of music.
So what was really different from this conference compared to say SFMusicTech is that the participants were primarily from the artist community, vs. technologists. This gives you a whole different perspective, and brings you down to earth compared to the technology conferences.
There were three panels I sat through and participated in: Changing Landscapes: How Will The Record Label Look in 2020, Music-as-a-Service: How The Music Stack Looks In 2011, and Lessons Learned: A Music Startup on Launch Day to Success.
So what did I learn?
- The industry is a mess (reoccurring theme…)
- There is a very large disconnect between the artists and the technologists
- The technologists think they have the answers, but the artists don’t know where to start, and some don’t trust the technologists; some even blame the technologists for the mess we are currently in.
- Music curation is a theme that keeps on coming up, be it as one of the roles of a label, or as part of that latest and greatest startup idea.
- We are in a startup funding bubble, especially in Silicon Valley!
The Record Label in 2020 panel was the most interesting, if for no other reason it was mostly a discussion amongst everybody in the room. Topics ranged from ‘will labels as we currently know them exist in 2020’ (answer, a resounding NO), to what is the role of the label (in the future, a curation filter). One of the big questions was how will artists and labels make any money. ‘Brand sponsorship’ was one of the answers, which then brought up the ‘are you selling out’ if you associatie yourself with a Brand (personal opinion, not really, we all sell our souls to some extent in order to pay the rent). I never really got a chance to get my theory across – you won’t make money off of your digital bits, but you can generate cash by tying your digital bits to ‘something of value’ – be it vinyl, a t-shirt, or ?? (but personally, not a CD – that is just a package for digital bits which doesn’t serve any value but to take up shelf space). In the end I think we could have kept on going for quite a while longer, and wish we would have.
I honestly don’t remember much about the ‘stack’ discussion – it was much more of a traditional panel, and I can’t say that any of the startups seemed all that inventive – they just talked about what they did, and tried to tie that back to the problems they thought they were solving; I didn’t feel any of them did that great of job of showing significant value to differentiate themselves from other players in their already crowded markets.
So the Music Startup panel was interesting just from the perspective of ‘holy shit, this sounds so 1999’ – how are you going to make money? Not a clue, and we don’t have to think about that now because we’re a silicon valley startup and we’ll figure it out but now we just need to get eyeballs. Yes, all true, but do you even understand what your cost structure is going to be and have a clue about how many eyeballs are going to be needed, and how much money Pandora has burned through getting to their IPO (which doesn’t even mean they have succeeded…)
So what do you think – what will labels look like in 2020? Are we in the middle of another technology bubble? Should I move down to Silicon Valley and try and get me some of that cheap money??