Lots of Thoughts on the Billboard Future Sound Conference (#futuresound)

So I have spent the last two days stuck in a room full of music geeks discussing the future of music.  It was a blast!

First off, a big shout out to Hypebot for the pass to the conference, without that I could not have justified going.

So the name of the conference was “Future Sound”;  however there were a few tweets from the conference commenting on that it should have been called the ‘Current Sound’ conference.  While in many ways I agree, I also think the characterization is unfair in that all you have is the current and using that to try and project forward – I guess a bit more ‘projecting’ and a little less ‘look at this great thing I built’ may have helped.

So what is the future of music?  It’s a place where content creators, rights holders, content users, and consumers all get along and cooperate; where everybody gets their share of the pie, and if doesn’t take a law degree to understand what is going on.  Yea, right, we’ll have that right after world peace.

So I didn’t get to the conference until 4:00 on Thursday (darn SFO weather, always fly into SFO as early as you can because it’s not a matter of if , but how long you will be delayed).  I did get there in time to hear Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy talk.  It is clear from his presentation that Pandora totally sees itself as a radio replacement, trying to be a better radio than radio; my reaction to that was where the hell is radio, and what would happen if it did get it’s shit together and did something interesting, could it kick Pandora into the ground?  Pandora being a better radio than radio show just how far radio has fallen, I personally get bored with Pandora after a half hour of listening, then again, I get bored with commercial radio after fifteen minutes.  All I can say is thank god for living in Seattle and having KEXP.

Next up to the podium was Rick Farman from Superfly Presents – you’ve probably never heard of him, but you have heard of his creation – the Bonaroo Music Festival.  I really liked where he was going, trying to take the ‘trust’ that has been created as the curator of these festivals, and extend it to the rest of the year.  I was able to have a short discussion with him at the cocktail party, and really liked where they are going.

Last up for the day was Steve Greenburg of S-Curve Records talking about the changing landscape of the music video.  He then went ahead and showed the video they had just completed for one of their bands – it was a combination video and game.  It was very cool and highly engaging, but what I wrote down in my notes was “couldn’t get music placed in game so created their own!”  OK, maybe that’s not fair, but I have to ask the question of how much did that cost, and is that sustainable?  Yes, it gets you noticed for five minutes, but can you build off of that.  What happens when everybody is doing this, and you know longer standout.  It’s like the world of artist apps – for a while everybody needed to have one but once everybody had one, whats the value (that discussion came on day two…)

So it was a great first day – they were touching on lots of my themes – radio, or the lack there of, trust, and the creation of that trust through non-traditional ways; this is great.  I drank to much at the cocktail party, had lots of great conversations and lots of encouragement on what I’ve been working on; I then wondered down to the Gordon Biersh brewery under the Bay Bridge, and sat out on the deck and drank more beer and had a heart attack on a bun  (the hostess looked at me strange when I requested the deck since it had been misting every once in a while; I informed her I was from Seattle and she smiled and found me a table…).  It had been a great day, but the beer was off the the burger wasn’t anything special.   Little did I know that would be the theme for the next day.

So day two started out with Ian Rogers interviewing Seth Goldstein of Turntable.FM, perhaps the hottest music startup around right now.  I found it interesting that Turntable is pursuing licensing, but Seth’s reasoning appears sound – they can only serve the US market using statutory licensing, and have had to cuttoff access to anybody outside the US (of which there were many); it will be interesting to see if they can get that user base back by the time they get the licenses.

So in many ways the highlight of day two was listening to Daniel Glass.  Daniel is a ‘old time’ music guy that gets it, and is having loads of success doing things the old fashioned way at his label Glassnote Records.  His advice – listen to your kids, hire young interns, and try to stay small.  “People want honest and authenticate records, that is why Adelle and Mumford and Sons are at the top of the charts”.  I hope he is right.

The next panel was by far the most contentious – lowering the barrier to licensing.  David Israelite of the NMPA gave a short ‘teleprompter’ talk on the changes the NMPA wants to see in order to simplify the problem of licensing publishing rights – basically forcing the creation the creation of a small number of ‘designated agents’ that a publisher would need to join in order to get paid for the use of their works – basically duplicating what the performance agencies (ASCAP/BMI) have done on the performance side of licensing.  Les Watkins of Music Reports Inc. doesn’t like his proposal, and by the end they were starting to get into it.  The way I see it is pick your evil – a ‘performance society’ model becomes self  serving and inefficient, the private model like Music Reports, well they are just as self serving, but maybe a little bit more efficient.  The current mess of trying to track down publishing rights or risk getting sued because you couldn’t find them, that just doesn’t work.  I think there needs to be both a carrot and a stick to get the publishing industry to move into the modern age.  This conversation then dovetailed into a Sound Exchange presentation.  There was only one thing in this that grabbed by attention – an initiative to create a ‘repertoire database’.  Could this be that magical authoritative data source of who owns what?  That would be nirvana, but I’m not holding my breath…

So the next several sessions were based around social music.  So I can go on a tirade here, but I have already started another post with a working title of ‘Social Music – What if my Friends Suck’.  Here are some bullet points from these sessions:

  • Muve Music – Music service for people that live on their phone, not their computer.  Very nice play in conjunction with Cricket Wireless, very nice way of finding a niche (but very large niche) and filling it.
  • Soundtracking – ‘Share the soundtrack of your life’ – ‘We are about expression’ – and so is Twitter, and we all know how much meaningless chatter goes on there…  Yes, I am sounding my age here, scary.
  • Myxer – Thanks for sponsoring lunch, but you must have done to good of a job feeding me, because I can’t really remember anything from your presentation except being amused by your CEO talking on stage and your evangelist standing at the podium running the demo on his iPad and looking kind of like a frustrated DJ trying to get the mix to work.
  • Slacker Radio – “It’s more than an algorithm”.  They have real music programmers – professionals, people, I may have to give them another look and see how well they utilize those individuals.  Thanks for the free month coupon.
  • Ticket Fly – “40% of ticket inventory goes unsold!”.  Anybody that puts pressure on TicketMaster is alright in my book, you know how many concerts I have chosen to skip because 20% plus fees has put it out of my comfort range?
  • Shazam – Have great click through rates on their song identifications, but is that enough?  Doing interesting promotions with artists (but how many can afford to pay for that?)
  • Reverb Nation – “There are fans for every artist, you just have to find them”.  OK, maybe not everybody, some of us just suck, which is why we are building music companies instead of playing music…

So after all the presentations came the second most contentious panel – “Cost of Content”.  This was fun as you could tell all the speakers were holding back less it ended up in the back alley in a fist fight.  You had the UMG guy defending the company and stating that they have become much more flexible, and the tech company CEO’s agreeing, but not really.  You had Charles Caldas of Merlin acting like the kid that always has to play second chair and thinks he deserves to be in the front with the big boys.  Key quote from Charles was that he was “frustrated with the majors desire to shape what think a service should look like” – how are we going to innovate when we aren’t allowed to step out of the box.  UMG countered that they are being a lot more flexible and are doing the deals, and it was pointed out that part of the problem was that the labels were being overwhelmed by the number of startups coming to them looking for licensing.  Jeff Smith of Smule had a good point – “Kids aren’t going to pay for music directly, how do we get them to pay for it indirectly” – I had to retain myself from jumping and running on stage and go into a tirade – someone gets it!!!!

The last panel of the day was around “The Developer Sandbox”.  EMI and Echonest announced their partnership, and there were a couple of app developers talking also.  Not very interesting – why would I build an app for one of your artists?  I’m sure the Paul Lamere will probably build some cool things with that data at the next music hack day, but per my earlier comment about apps is if everybody has one, why would I want it?  There were several tweets about not wanting anymore ‘single purpose apps’.  Agreed.  And App developers are not going to solve your problems for free.

By the end of the conference I felt like there was something missing – and even after five miles of wandering around San Francisco and two blisters later, I still haven’t quite figured it out.  Maybe it was the lack of the discussion about the artist – they were hardly mentioned.  Maybe it was the lack of discussion around what really could the future look like to get us to the nirvana where the artists and the fans are as close as possible, and there aren’t so many damn people sucking money out of the middle.  We have a bunch of people throwing shit at the wall, but quite honestly, I’m not seeing much of it stick.

About Craig Huizenga

Geek, dad, entrepreneur, cook, wood worker, cyclist, and music freak. View all posts by Craig Huizenga

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