Our intrepid reporter offers up more compelling CMJ panel coverage from the wild, untamed conference rooms of NYU’s Kimmel Center. In this installment, he listens in as panelists talk about “the MySpace” and–to finish things off–the world of the almighty blogs.
Catbird CMJ 2007 Totals:
Number of Panels Attended: 8
Number of Bands Seen: 2
Number of Drive Like Jehu “Yank Crime” Sweatshirts Seen: 1
Number of Double-Takes Done After Walking Past A Guy Wearing A Drive Like Jehu “Yank Crime” Sweatshirt: 1
Panel 1 – Friday, October 19. 10:30am
Music Business Primer: Digital Distribution
A session focusing on the online music market, digital music outlets, blogs and other digital distribution options.
Panel 2 – Friday, October 19, 11:45am
DIY or DIE
This panel will discuss independent record label management with artists who have made it on their own, with special focus on whether or not the traditional record label model is still relevant in today’s changing music industry.
Panel 3 – Friday, October 19, 1:15pm
Major Label Dilemma
Representatives from major and indie labels confront the inevitable ultimatum facing industry constituents. Should I deal with a major label, an indie or just go for it on my own? This panel explores the major label response to changing technology, pros and cons of working with an independent label and the impact of digital technology on the major vs. indie debate. The discussion will include analysis from varying points of view including that of the artist, the manager, the radio promoter, the label manager, the marketing director and more.
These three panels may have had three discrete topics according to the descriptions, but I tellya–there ended up being a hell of a lot of overlap, to the degree where my morning felt more like one long, contiguous session. And here’s the main point that came out:
“PEOPLE, YOU GOTTA TALK TO THE KIDS ON THE MYSPACE.”
Music Business Primer: Digital Distribution
In the morning’s Digital Distro session (moderated by Tunecore’s Jeff Price), the focus of the discussion actually centered on “online marketing” more than “digital distro” per se (which is totally fine, and which had the added bonus of making me feel okay about blowing off the 2:30 “Marketing” panel). The panelists briefly explained their individual services, and though there were two digital distro guys on the panel (in addition to Price, there was Tim Mitchell of IODA), one hardware guy (Keith Washo of SanDisk), and two service/marketing guys (Mike Eldredge of Fuzz, Paul Wright of MediaGuide), the most interesting input came from musician Xander Smith (of the band Run Run Run), as he was able to talk about some of this stuff from a “band’s-eye view.” I think he actually even said, “Online marketing is everything to my band.” What struck me was how, in a time when most people are preaching “sneaky” marketing, forced grass-roots “viral” campaigns, and/or otherwise gaming the system, here was a guy proving that, in the end, the best way to succeed is just to be genuine, be sincere, and put in the work (and yes, it is work) necessary to engage the fans. In other words, “YOU GOTTA TALK TO THE KIDS ON THE MYSPACE.”
DIY or DIE
The DIY panel, moderated by IndieHQ.Com/Suburban Home’s Virgil Dickerson, featured Tom Gates of Nettwerk, Cortney Harding of Billboard, and Nick Young of the band A.i. (not to be confused with Sasha Frere-Jones’ all-black R&B/funk-soul band, Ui). Gates and Harding both had some interesting input (including Harding’s assertion–which I totally agree with–that a huge portion of the whole “success equation” is dependent simply on chance and luck), but again, in this panel, it was the musician who offered up the most interesting point of view. In this case, the (pun intended) Young musician was able to detail a long and convoluted story about what his band experienced while being aggressively courted, schmoozed, and signed by a major, only to have their record lost, shuffled, botched and buried once they were “in.” Yes, I realize that’s not a new or unique story–but that’s not my point. My point is that holy cow all this crazy major-label shit is still happening! Insane, I tellya. Utterly insane. Anyway, the kid’s band is now going it alone, releasing their new album via Tunecore, and, I would assume, TALKING TO THE KIDS ON THE MYSPACE.
Major Label Dilemma
Moderator David Purcell, ESQ, of NYU announced right off the bat that this wouldn’t be a panel doing an “indies vs. majors” debate, because that was a debate that had been “done to death.” Instead, the focus of this panel was to be “the business of being an artist in today’s marketplace.” On the panel were Stu Bergen of the Independent Label Group, Jason Fiber of Superfecta, Steve Savoca of Domino, Anders Johansson of Universal Sweden, and “Shane” from imeem. There was a lot of discussion of how label/artist relationships have been structured historically, how they’re changing/being done now, and how they’ll need to change moving forward. Ultimately, this lead to a question I’ve been pondering lately: “What exactly is the role of a label anymore?” Time was, a label would scout talent (no longer needed; Internet), advance money/studio time (no longer needed; ProTools), manufacture and distribute physical product (no longer needed; iTunes), and then market and promote (still needed). So my thinking was leading me to conclude that the labels of the future are, for lack of a better term, simply marketing companies. But after this session, I had to reconsider; it’s all quite a bit deeper than that. Although an artist can now easily self-record, self-release, and self-promote/manage/book etc. (via contracted services), the labels (well, the good ones, at least) will always be able to offer an artist the benefits of their industry knowledge, experience, and relationships, and for that reason, the concept of “the label” will remain relevant. At the same time, we’re losing the concept of the label as a “mark of quality;” we’re on the way to a future in which an album’s label will matter to the consumer about as much as a movie’s production studio does (“Dude. I totally only see movies that are distributed by Lion’s Gate. Lion’s Gate-distributed movies totally rule.”). Oh yeah, and I almost forgot: someone in the audience asked the panel about their thoughts regarding the social networking services, and whether or not artists and labels should focus any efforts there. Know what the response was? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with this: “SHMEOPLE, YOU GOTTA SHMALK TO THE SHMIDS ON THE SHMYSPACE.”
And so, as my weeklong sojourn in CMJ panel-land began to draw to a close, a gentle rain began to fall, and I settled in for the capstone panel:
Panel 3 – Friday, October 19, 3:45pm
The Almighty Blog
This panel explores the power to make or break artists that increasingly lies in the hands of influential bloggers. This discussion will feature some of the world’s most respected bloggers as well as representatives of traditional media outlets hashing it out over the legitimacy of blog-power.
Let me preface by saying that for someone like me, who has been observing this stuff with a nitpicking, micro-level view (yes, sad/pathetic, I know) for quite a long time, this panel didn’t get to touch on much more than a fairly general look at the music blogosphere. In the end, that was probably a good thing, because that precludes me from writing some 90-paragraph/Marathonpacks-length rambling dissertation. The panel was moderated by Wired‘s Eliot Van Buskirk, had blogger representation from FreeIndie/Limewire blogger Mike Frankel, Music For Robots’ Mark Willett and “honorary blogger” Anthony Volodkin of Hype Machine, plus Karen Lieberman of Sony BMG, and Jaan Uhelszki of Rhapsody. They discussed music blogs in the following contexts: value(?), integrity(?), social/community aspect, professionalism(?), and monetization. It was interesting. Someone should have live-blogged it.
And then, toward the end, Eliot opened it up for questions, at which point an eloquent young man stood up and graced us with the following:
“Yeah, so, uh, like… um…. I have, like, um, two questions, or, uh, like a two-part question? And you can, ahem, you can, like, just answer, like, one part, or, um, like, both? Or, um… like, I guess, or, um, not answer either part or, um…. whatever. So, like, uh… blogs. Um, like, you know, like, Pitchfork? Like, um, how do blogs, er, I mean, like, um… how does Pitchfork fit into, like, everything? Do you guys, like, um….hate them? Or like, um… do you like them or, uh, hate them, or what? Or, like, whatever? And, um, my, uh…. my second part? So, like, uh, the future? Like is that gonna be, like, uh… podcasts, or video, or whatever? Because my friend like, he has a video, and uh… like, is the future in blogs gonna be like, uh, like podcasts, or like, uh, whatever? Or, um, whatever.”
I believe the children are our future, folks. Let us heed this young man’s powerful message. Let us look to the future with an eye on tomorrow, but with one foot planted firmly in today. Let us be respectful of those that have come before us, while blazing a new path forward with our music blogs, and our “like, um, podcasts,” and our “uhh… videos or whatever.” Let us never forget our roots, and let us never forget the value of honest, hard work. Let us build a new nation of music lovers, with a focus on community, and respect, and a drive for greatness. Let us reclaim music as something valuable and meaningful, and worthy of deep-listening, and let us nurture the artists, and cultivate an environment of openness, and innovation, and an eternal reverence for the Art. And people, let us talk to the kids on the MySpace.