New Music Seminar 2013 – Tuesday

Tuesday started off pretty much the same way as Monday, at the New Music Seminar, once again live from the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The kick off panel for the day was “Building the $100 Billion Music Business”, which featured several heavyweights in all aspects of the record business, including legal and branding, moderated by Ralph Simon (CEO, Mobilum Global). The discussion not only centered around the figure of $100 billion, but how collectively the industry can hit that number, and when. Currently the record industry is estimated to be a $23 billion a year business and expected to climb to around $30 billion by this time next year. According to the panelists, the obtuse obstacle will be managing the evolution of streaming and subscription music, essentially the concept of access over ownership for the consumer. Although the panel was fairly upbeat, one would have to wonder if behind boardrooms and shareholder meetings, there was a sense of nervousness of being left in the dark like when napster bankrupted the “industry” overnight about 13 years ago, as the streaming and subscription business still contains a bundle of unknown factors. During the panel, Axel Deezer (CEO, Dreezer) and Michael Abbattista (Spotify) led the conversation in the direction of the future, as both companies lead the charge to music access through subscription and streaming, which has taken Europe by storm and is slowing starting to become a major player here in the states.

I did skip the A&R panel, who I believe process the most powerful and influential jobs in the record business, but the panel I looked forward to the most of the entire conference,the Independent Label Movement panel, had a conflicting time slot in another room. Besides, just because A&R executives have every starving artist and manager out there begging for their attention on a daily basis, doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve mine. The Independent label panel was probably the most relevant of the entire conference, as more artists from indie labels are dominating the charts as of late, such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, and Mumford And Sons. An interesting discovery from the independent label executives was their very functional, very tame relationship with the major record labels, as almost all the indies rely on the majors for radio exposure and promotion in a limited form. The indies’ major concern, how to maximize and stay relevant in the streaming and subscription business, which is a legitimate concern given the scenario where a very powerful manager or a larger social media fanbase could essentially make the indie record labels not needed and/ or obsolete. It is important to note, the independent hip hop industry was unrepresented on this panel.

I mistakenly attended the booking agents panel next, which was not only a snooze fest, but also a side of the business that has not changed much over the last few decades beside promotion delivery and reactionary steps to contemporary trends in music consumption. Not to say that their jobs are irrelevant or not needed in the music business, I just do not believe they are the superior talent evaluators they claim to be, but rather a middle man that can be fired at any time, as most do not hold the artists contractually connected to the agencies or promotion companies. The booking agents panel was only bearable because it had an amazingly hilarious lead in from Martin Atkins, who delivered a sermon titled “Welcome to the music business, you’re fucked”, that included props and a light-hearted plea for artists to be self- motivated and determined.

To close out the New Music Seminar was the Reasons To Be Cheerful panel, where “music label leaders plot the course for a better music industry”. Panelists included big shots Craig Kallman, who runs Atlantic Records, and Monte Lipman, who runs Republic Records. The record label executives had an understandable sense of confidence, considering the push towards music streaming and subscription means the master ownership of content has regained its value away from piracy. Although there was no new revelations in this panel, it was highly entertaining to hear their collective war stories, which included Monte Lipman’s account of the signing of Korean sensation, Psy and the development of his international hit, “Gangnam Style”.

The New Music Seminar ended shortly after the last panel, with closing remarks from executive director, Tom Silverman, who also runs Tommy Boy Records. It’s clear that this conference is starting to regain its former position, and I expect that the New Music Seminar will draw on that appeal, and be even bigger next year. Although I disagreed at times with the mostly older panelists, I believe this conference is essential and the panel formatting allows for the best way to consume and interpret information, conversation.

A full schedule with names of the panelists can be found here: http://newmusicseminar.com/2013confschedule/

 

New Music Seminar 2013 – Monday

The New Music Seminar, once the most important music gathering in the 1980’s, makes it’s fourth installment of the newly revamped conference at the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The seminar brings together everybody in the record business; executives, producers, managers, artists, songwriters, media, and the consumers themselves.

The seminar officially kicked off Sunday, June 9th with a cocktail party and the start of the New York Musical Festival, but the real information and start to the seminar came Monday morning, with the State of The Industry keynote. The opening keynote featured a panel of executives including Rio Caraeff, the CEO of VEVO. The keynote, like most of the day at the New Music Seminar, had a continuing theme; a bunch males over the age of 40 giving their opinion on where they think the music industry is and headed toward.

Most of the opening keynote talked about maximizing each consumer’s revenue potential value in a world where the consumer wants to pay less or nothing at all. John Sykes (Clear Channel) and Frank Cooper (Pepsi) rounded out the opening panel, as the three men talked about the consumer at length, maximizing consumer experience, maximizing consumer value, blah blah blah. As a 24 year old, it seemed as if these three executives were just out of touch and a few steps behind their driving consumer age group of 14-30 years old, in an attempt to regain the industry’s old profit margins with an evolved consumer landscape.

It seemed fairly obvious where these executives assumed we were heading, internet radio and music subscription. However they failed to realize that the consumer is already there and has been there since Spotify launched about two years ago in the United States, or perhaps even earlier with YouTube and Pandora.

I next attended one of the saddest events of the day, the music subscription panel, where again, more middle aged men, as hip as they can dress, talked about music subscription and the future of retail music. Included in the panel were executives from Warner Brothers, Sony, Rhapsody, WIMP, Slacker, and Spotify. Spotify re-established in my eyes its status of the new heavyweight in music. Spotify’s representative (Sachin Doschi) emphasized that the music industry needs to embrace the idea of free music, using the free model as a springboard for a collection of services, restricting strategic features such as mobile access in order to entice the consumer to pay a small amount and supplement the remaining costs in advertisements, for example.

An interesting moment on the this panel, came when an audience member asked about Apple Radio, which was being announced in California while the New Music Seminar was in full swing. Almost immediately, the entire stage tensed up, it was like watching an over protective boyfriend get jealous when an attractive male walks past their girlfriend, holding on to dear life, hoping their girl doesn’t wise up and trade in for a better partner. Only this time around, the beautiful male happens to be the most profitable company on the planet, and their girlfriend represented their respected companies hoping to have a fraction of the staying power of Apple and their large fanbase. None of the panelists including executives from Sony and Warner Brothers wanted any part of the question. It’s also worth noting the two leaders in subscription music and streaming were not present in this panel, YouTube and Pandora.

Speaking of YouTube, they were up next with their “Changing the Music Game” Panel, complete with a 4 minute opening video. After listening to their two representatives Vivien Lewit and Brian Heenigan, its pretty clear that other than Apple, YouTube is biggest player in music. Although YouTube’s revenues and profit margin do not come close to Apple’s or their music retail powerhouse, the iTunes music store, YouTube dominates social relevance and cultural impact. As demonstrated in their opening video, YouTube has not only created internet celebrities from viral videos, they have also been responsible some of music’s biggest acts and singles including; the launch of Justin Bieber’s career, the rise of the “Harlem Shake”, and the global dominance of Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, to name a few. A lot of record companies fail to realize that YouTube has by far the largest userbase in the United States and possibly the world, with 1 billion users a month by some estimates. A service that is almost entirely free to it’s large userbase, which is a vital part of the company’s long history of success. YouTube has put the user first, and forced advertisers to adjust their campaigns and essentially pay the video – sharing site to keep 95% of their videos free, in exchange for access to the large audience.

To close out the day, “The Great Debate – Singles vs. Albums”, which included an all star panel of; legendary rock critic Robert Christgau, Yeasayer drummer Anand Wilder, revolutionary record executive Jay Frank, and producer Niles Hollowell-Dahr. The latter two taking the sides of singles. Once again, this debate echoed what had been brewing all day, the old model versus what’s actually taking place. The consumer has decided rather decisively that they prefer smaller albums (if any) and more singles, as evidenced by musicians such as Rhianna, Flo Rida, and Katy Perry, coupled with the overall trend of singles outselling records 11:1. Wilder and Christgau made the usual argument of art this and art that, but at times they were hilariously mocked by the moderator, Billboard’s Bill Werde, as well as the opposing side (to the audience’s pleasure) as being out of touch and holding onto the album as sacred.

Niles Hollowell-Dahr, the breakout star of the day, emerged as the voice of the audience and most of his oral offerings were met with cheers from the crowd, as well as another sip from his Tequila he was blatantly drinking throughout the panel. Niles’ main point; change with the times in order to reach a mass audience, which he argued was the true goal of art and the reason they were all there. Agreed.

A full schedule with names of the panelists can be found here: http://newmusicseminar.com/2013confschedule/

Industrial Capitalism and the Hip Hop Music and Culture Industry

I was just browsing videos on YouTube. I came across this interesting video that made me think. Our economic system is composed of various competing producers who sell commodities for a profit. In the case of hip hop, the product is a medium but also an ideological cultural appropriation. This is a strange concept of late capitalism that deserves close inspection. When we buy from competing producers we also buy into a culture or lifestyle. Ideology has thus permeated into our very day to day lives. We are defined by which commodities we buy and which producers of those commodities more specifically. Ideology as the expression of false consciousness, the ideas being imposed through propaganda, is essentially what the culture industry is. Beyond the commodity itself, the cd, dvd, mp3 player and so on, exchange value is also dictated by the labor of the artist. A blank cd will cost less than the latest Nicki Minaj album. But what use is it to us? We pay extra for our own indoctrination into an oppressive system that everyday reminds us of what we’re not allowed to be. In any case, I am seriously digressing here.

By establishing that hip hop music that is sold for profit is part of the culture industry, that sells media and propaganda, we have to acknowledge two things. The first, briefly, is that the commodification of cultural production is a double edged sword. The reappropriation of cultural knowledge by capital’s own process of commodification occurs as mass pedagogy and through the process of mass production and replication. Our histories, broadly and specifically/subjectively, are burned as shadows onto the artists themselves.

But the real point I wanted to make is that as a consequence of this, the market becomes balkanized to the extent that it’s foundational constructs are threatened. In any industry, the companies must compete not only with each other but also with competing interests themselves within an even more generalized industrial framework. An individual may forgo purchasing a laptop and opt for a smartphone instead, while the capitalist must remain aware of the fact that the rules which govern the laptop market may not necessarily translate neatly to the smart phone world.

So from time to time you will see cooperation instead of competition between competing forces of industry. If laptop sales drop, the capitalists class may opt for less aggressive inter competition to bolster sales against competing products of somewhat different industries but that can fulfill the same use value. In the case of this video, the hip hop industry, normally divided along regional lines, namely the South, the East Coast, the West Coast, and apparently the Midwest as well, put aside their difference and release a single in an effort to boost sales of rap and rap only. Although the whole national market is represented, what is not included are other genres or cross genre acts, metal, country, rock, blues, jazz, classical etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I would have gone with Texas instead of Atlanta. Another possibility is that this may just represent the same label across different sales regions. I’m not feeling motivated enough to find out for sure. Read it either way, but verify if you’re making a specific claim. I see that at least two major labels are represented, Sony and Vivendi, if you want to consider it in imperialist terms, you’re looking at Japan and France. Also, it’s worth considering that Sony teamed with BMG, a German company. Another important consideration is the fact that artists often change hands between labels operating within the region and that this video is from 2009. Wikipedia associates Jermaine Dupri with Sony but that’s today, it may have been different four years ago. A more detailed look may reveal more of these sorts of capital flows, indicating through the art itself, the economic forces that shaped its creation. This more or less brings us closer to situationism by creating the possibility for détournement to occur.  Funny, and here I thought I was being such a good Marxist!

Ok here’s the video. I like it!

And here’s the same idea, but focused in the lone star state!