In November 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend the Billboard FutureSound conference. I say fortunate because events like this would normally happen without my knowledge as I’m a mix engineer and educator. Of course, issues in the industry directly affect us, but the influence on us is usually limited to something like checks coming a little sooner or later. This event, though, illuminated many aspects of the past, present and even future of the music industry.
The doom and gloom surrounding recorded music as a business has become the accepted sentiment when people talk about music in general. In listening to the professionals from labels, streaming services, and the app developers the industry showed promise for the future of music.
More specifically, attention is being paid to the experience that music can create. Speakers like Don Was discussed the protection of “authentic” music and the importance of fidelity as well as an emotional component to every element of music distribution (the Blue Note Spotify app was a key example of this). Emily White from Whitesmith Entertainment talked about how new approaches for aggregating information exposed untapped markets and helped bridge the gap between fans (sometimes in markets not believed to have them) and their favorite artists.
A major complaint, however, that kept surfacing was the lack of transparency that services had with artists. Data and its effect on how to best serve fans was echoed again and again as everyone from Jason Feinberg from Epitaph records to Jon Irwin from Rhapsody discussed the importance of finding and serving markets that want specific artists or content and data as the fastest way to do that. The idea that every service has figures that can be studied and hopefully shared to more accurately reflect the patterns of use of music in its constantly evolving ecosystem was a smart one. The way that discussions appear to be cutting through the layers of complexity in the business to allow artists to better reach fans, labels to better find those fans, and services to track and inform the other two how those fans interact with their services made the potential for the future look bright.
Software developers were seeking innovative approaches to reaching fans and deepening their relationship to music with services like Tixie, where fans vote for bands they love with the chance to win free tickets or Bandcamp, a community where fans buy music and merch directly from bands putting the money right in their hands. The combination of better assessment and communication across the different strata in the music industry and the move away from music as a physical product but now seen more as a service (with all of the associated components considered part of the music experience) make the whole enterprise of being in the music business a much more positive one.
A last observation I made was the elephant in the room of revenue sharing and fees. As data between services and bands becomes more available, perception and reality move closer and closer together. The current drama about services like Pandora and their fees will become less hearsay and more informed conversation as time moves on.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much music was the focus of the weekend, how fandom and artistry, art and fair commerce to support it were the topics explored, and solutions and not accusations were the means to do it.
As a lowly mix engineer normally not privy to the day-to-day issues the labels and artists have to deal with, I saw a hopeful future presented by the speakers and attendees of Billboard FutureSound 2012 and that bodes well for all of us.
Brian Markman is the Director of Education at the SAE Los Angeles campus. Visit www.SAE.edu for information on courses available at SAE (School of Audio Engineering).