Social Music Summit – Impressions

Digital Music East Social Music Summit – February 22-23, 2012

I was really curious about what people would talk about at a “Social Music” conference, so since it was near by I decided to attend and see what folks had to say. One of the conference topics had to do with new technology, and that’s what nailed my interest. This isn’t going to be a full report, but I just wanted to pass on a few impressions.

In this context, “Social music” doesn’t mean cotillions or campfire sing-alongs, it means music that’s largely supported through and distributed by social media, “social media” being largely Facebook and Twitter. Most of the presentations and panels involved one of two (and sometimes both together)  themes: There’s a daunting amount of music available, both free and for purchase, via the Internet, and Social media is (they believe) an effective way of steering people toward particular music or artists. It turns out that the new technology here is primarily in the area of tools to help search for music, pre-program music according to the listener’s taste, and assisting in clearing rights for distribution so music can become available for distribution quickly and responsibly. The ten dollar name for this is that might be familiar to you is “asset management.”

As you might expect, a lot of the discussion was focused on how to make money from music today. Selling individual songs via the Web is barely beer money for all but the top selling artists. What’s important is getting new music into the ears of a fairly specialized listening demographic which is primarily young, active, impatient, and is pretty selective in what they like and dislike. This is where Facebook (and I’m using the name generically – there are other ways of identifying and associating with others who share your musical tastes) is important. The target demographic is those who might see what their Facebook friends are listening to right now (there’s an app for that) and decide to check it out.

Radio is alive but is no longer a significant way to expose listeners to new music. I guess we all knew that about commercial radio, though I personally get a lot of mileage out of listening on-line to college and community radio stations. Internet radio (the tabletop appliance) has its place, but more likely among the less hip, people who want to turn on a station and listen all day rather than surf the dial. Hey! That’s me! There are services that feed these radio channels who are scrambling for material, licensing, and listeners.

“Rights” took up a good chunk of the program with topics such as the continued value of licensing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, etc.) versus the trend toward artists directly licensing their own material. Copyright didn’t escape scrutiny either, with some spirited discussion about what’s right and what’s wrong with our copyright laws. The answer, it seems, is that it depends on which side of the fence you’re sitting on. Unless it just slipped by me, I was surprised that nobody brought up the subject of the longevity of a music copyright (currently 70 years after the death of the creator).

A precious few speakers talked about how artists and musicians can make money with their music by taking advantage of these new tools. It seems that their best use of the Internet tools is, as you might imagine, for publicity and not for direct music sales. Building a following on Facebook is important to the touring musician who can target publicity to fans near where he’s playing. The money for music artists is still in gigs and product sale at gigs. If you’re just making music in your bedroom and never play out, your best bet is give away some samples and sell CDs through an on-line storefront. There’s a lot of tech work that needs to be done to set up and maintain a strong social media presence. Some musicians thrive on it, others detest it. An interesting point made by one speaker is that managers and agents, too, will need to get hip to the potential uses for social media to promote their artists. There seems to be a wealth of information about how to do it, but a great shortage of people who will just do it for you if you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself.

This may be a jaded view from an old radio listener (me), but it seems that the best way to make money with music in the connected era is to develop the killer  application that will give people instant gratification when they want to hear music, and have it become successful, and sell it to Google for $40 million. Then you’re making money. All in all it was an informative conference for me. I learned a bit more details about some things that I’ve known about but haven’t used (Facebook for one), and the presenters and panelists were all really up on their subjects.

The organizer: Digital Music Forum East  Perhaps they’ll post some video highlights


About mikeriversaudio

Helping people getting their studios together has been a passion of mine for more than 30 years. Get yours together.
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