New Fans, New Plans: Open Music Initiative Kicks Off Fellowship Program

Bryan Parys
July 15, 2016
OMI student fellows
A panel of artists interviewed at the OMI kickoff at the MIT Media Lab
Panos Panay, founding managing director of BerkleeICE
Michael Hendrix of IDEO speaks to the OMI fellows
The Open Music Initiative's 18 fellows kick off their fellowships with a day of panels and demos at the MIT Media Lab.
Artists discuss their perspective on equity in the music industry. From left: Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Fields); Ami Spishock, (manager for War on Drugs, Grizzly Bear, and others); Marie Lang '16 (Mar | Co); Melissa Ferrick, Berklee professor, singer-songwriter; and Kyle Thornton '16 (Kyle Thornton and the Company)
Panos Panay, founding managing director of BerkleeICE, addresses the OMI fellows.
Michael Hendrix, partner and managing director at IDEO, instructs the fellows about his company's "design thinking" approach to projects.
Tiffany Knight / IDEO
Tiffany Knight / IDEO
Tiffany Knight / IDEO
Tiffany Knight / IDEO

A month ago, the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) launched the Open Music Initiative (OMI)—a think tank that convened leaders and practitioners from all over the music industry: from artists to major labels to music tech startups. To build on this unprecedented gathering, BerkleeICE and design-thinking firm IDEO recently selected 18 young entrepreneurs to take part in an intensive, three-week fellowship program to further research the topic of equity in the music industry. The fellows represent a range of expertise, from music to technology to design, with a strong showing from Berklee and Boston Conservatory and other institutions such as Brown University, and the University of Baltimore. The fellowship kicked off with a day of panels and presentations at MIT’s Media Lab.

According to Panos Panay, founding managing director of BerkleeICE, this convergence of academia and the music industry is unheard of in the media space and "brings together the entire value chain of the industry.” As a result, the initiative is “creating a discourse that, frankly, I’ve never seen in any music industry event, and a lot of participants feel that this is very unique and very different,” said Panay. One of the industry attendees, Christy Crowl, founder and CEO of the nonprofit startup ProMusicDB, said she "was encouraged to see the collective interest in improving the future of music for artists and fans. If I were one of the Berklee ICE fellows, I would be highly excited at the prospect of contributing something into an ecosystem that is so ripe for change."

A New Kind of Consumer

While the point of the OMI is to focus on addressing thorny, hard-to-explain issues within the music industry—including copyright law and the lack of a universally agreed upon method of data collection—event cohosts IDEO framed the kickoff under the banner of the “new fan” to help the fellows keep in mind where the consumer base is and where they want to go.

Grace Nicklin, design lead at IDEO who emceed the event, began the day’s sessions with video clips of young music fans speaking about what was important to them—and the results were thought-provoking to say the least. Some of the video interviewees seemed reticent to even embrace the term “fan” because it suggested too much of a close allegiance with a particular artist, while others self-identified as “superfans.”

Further, while the more passionate fans want to support their favorite artists, it doesn’t mean they’re buying albums, sometimes simply due to the space the music occupies on their data plans. Other times, they claim to support bands by spreading the word to their various networks, or “proselytizing as payment,” as Nicklin later described it. “In their eyes, they’re still doing something that they feel is morally aligned,” she said, and concluded that these responses “produce more questions than answers,” but that this would be nutritive food for thought as the fellows dive into their research.

From the Makers to the Movers and Shakers

On the other end of the chain, the last panel of the morning included a range of professional artists, allowing them to chime in on their impressions of issues such as payment equity and building relationships with their fan base.

“It’s rare that you go to one of these events and you hear from fans, and even rarer to hear from artists,” Panay said, reflecting again on the unique perspective that BerkleeICE is casting on the conversation. “Ironically,” he continued, “they’re the only two actors that matter in this entire game.” It’s this focus that will no doubt continue over the next few weeks as the OMI fellows develop their research into findings and recommendations.