Rethinking the Music Industry

Nick Susi
May 10, 2012
Seth Godin started off the conference by talking about dramatic shifts towards the long tail effect in the music marketplace.
Anita Elberse (left) moderates the Building an Artist’s Brand Panel. Panelists include Joe Killian, Glenn Miller, J Sider, and Rob Stone.
Christopher Kaskie speaks on Pitchfork’s presence in the music industry and being able to “cut through the noise.”
GZA the Genius speaks on staying relevant in music.
DJ Spooky gives a presentation on making music.
Andrew Hampp moderates the Intersection of Content: Music + Video Panel. Panelists were Rio Caraeff, Junior Goris, Robert Fernandez, Nils Gums, Amy Heidemann, and Nick Noonan.
Finding a Future in the Clouds panelists include Jeff Toig, Zahavah Levine, and Jon Vanhala.
Bill Werde (right) interviews Willard Ahdritz, founder and CEO of Kobalt Music.
David “Boche” Viecelli speaks on the future of live music.
Linda Chorney speaks about how she garnered a Grammy nomination through the use of social media.
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi
Photo by Nick Susi

With showcases by rising indie artists, app presentations by hackers, and panels by progressive executives, the last week of April in Boston belonged to Rethink Music. The conference, presented by Berklee and MIDEM, commenced with an inspiring keynote speech by author Seth Godin. Godin discussed the industry's shift from scarcity to ubiquity, where artists are challenged to maintain the attention of fans in an era of limitless choice. He stressed the importance of artists recognizing their niche audience and understanding how to effectively manage their tribe.

Jim Lucchese, CEO of music intelligence company the Echo Nest, gave a talk entitled Music and Technology that examined social playlisting as the future of music apps. In an interview after the presentation, he discussed the increasing popularity of subscription services.

"I like Spotify's approach," said Lucchese, "but they have got to find a way for more people to pay."

Spotify has been continuously accused of dismal payouts to artists. Moreover, their revenue has shown losses in the millions in 2011, and additional losses have been projected for 2012.

"Muve Music is interesting," continued Lucchese. "They are doing it right. Their goal is to target lower income people, and the music is bundled into their phone service, so it feels free. Those guys are definitely far ahead of others. You'll see more bundling of music with mobile and TV subscriptions in the U.S., but doing these deals with carriers takes a long time. Bundling will be a big driver of subscription services."

During a panel on Building an Artist Brand, Rob Stone, founder and co-CEO of Cornerstone Promotion and FADER Media, discussed the importance of partnerships between artists and brands, but artists must recognize when a brand is not the right fit for themselves and their fans.

"I think the consumer is now more accepting of artists working with brands," Rob said in a later interview. "We have always looked at it as the power is in the artist. Not every artist is for every brand. If there's a launch party, and there's horrible execution—the stage was wrong, the venue was wrong, the acoustics were wrong—that is not a win for the brand or the artist."

Rich Holtzman, artist manager at the Artist Organization, explained how most traditional management companies are led by a few central managers, with other acquired managers revolving around them. With the Artist Organization, however, the company's members operate as a collaborative team with a shared element to their commission.

"We develop their business on a full level, where we know we can get a lot more income for the client from various different revenue streams," said Holtzman. "It's looking beyond music."

Holtzman further explained their strategies for capitalizing upon niche opportunities, saying, "With Portugal. The Man, there's The Fantastic The, which is John Gourley as a visual artist. We're going to launch that, and that will create a whole new revenue stream for him. We'll open up fine art. We'll open up pop art. We'll open up merchandise. We'll open up opportunities for him to do editorial work for brands. I think there's really an opportunity to grow that business. Each client is different, so you've got to figure out what is the specialty of that artist and try to do it. John Legend is one of our clients, and everyone knows him as a big pop singer, but he also does a huge amount of business as a speaker. He goes from campus to campus and conference to conference speaking. He does really good business that way. What is the talent of our client here? That's how you rethink it."

During the panel Cutting through the Noise, Chris Kaskie, president of Pitchfork, offered his insights on how his online publication has risen to the top of music news and reviews. Kaskie explained how Pitchfork has been rethinking its platform and extending beyond the boundaries of the internet.

"Now that we have a festival, that helps create a tangible environment for people to engage with what we do and what we're covering," said Kaskie. "We don't have a magazine or anything. There's no way to touch Pitchfork. You can't pick up something and say, 'Oh, this is Pitchfork.' The festival is a way for us to celebrate the music that we're covering all the time, as well as see the community that is our readership. It's our way of creating a tangible experience with Pitchfork."

Overall, Rethink sparked a thought-provoking conversation. Participants emphasized that artists must have a true understanding of what their fans want and how to think outside the box to keep those fans engaged. From the consumer perspective, music continues to become easily accessible and increasingly social, fulfilling every nook of personal taste.