After a miserable travel day (storms over Charlotte) I made it to Nashville and participated in what is perhaps my favorite music industry conference, Music Biz. I like Music Biz because all the attendees are laser-focused on making the music industry better — though like in politics, our definitions of ‘better’ might wildly diverge. There aren’t people hanging out wanting to see their favorite bands, and there isn’t a film, tech, and gaming festival running in tandem. It’s just music industry folks meeting music industry folks and talking about the music industry,
Music Biz is a barometer for how people are thinking about the industry. In retrospect, only a week later, the conference seems like a snapshot of the state of the business of music in 2019. And this year, more than any other year I attended, that state seems pretty good. Attendance was supposedly at a record level, and buzz about the future overshadowed complaints about the present.
Last year the Music Modernization Act was a ‘fingers crossed’ topic, and this year there were multiple panels on how to prepare and utilize it for increased royalty. There was much talk about how smart speakers will influence and aid discovery, something I was bearish on before but now I’m sufficiently intrigued. New technologies I sampled involved enhanced streaming fidelity and improving a fan’s immersion through interactive ‘liner notes’ functions, both fan-centric efforts. The IFPI gave an optimistic presentation showing dramatically rising music revenues across the globe. And, though there was still talk of playlists, the conversation was mostly about how a band’s overall presentation across channels — digital and IRL — is key, rather than tips on gaming an algorithm.
Sunday was the first day of Music Biz, which is new as all the years I’ve gone things started on Monday. This change threw things off a little, starting with my first breakfast meeting turning out to be a brunch meeting. Sunday also included presentations from almost all of the significant DSPs — Spotify, Amazon, Apple, SoundCloud, and YouTube. There wasn’t much new in the actual presentations, but I did find the Q&A portions informative in the recurring themes of the questions (though not all the DSPs included Q&A). Spotify’s Q&A theme reflected frustration with playlists, showing how an emphasis on this aspect makes it the primary concern of Spotify’s music creators. And then Apple Music’s Q&A embodied a different frustration: artists wanting access to more data and customization of their profiles. Paraphrasing one artist’s comment to the Apple team, “I’d love to push my Apple Music profile but, as an independent artist, Spotify allows me to add so much more of my information.” This complaint is understandable as Apple Music is positioning themselves as the artist-friendly DSP but don’t seem to be walking the talk. I hope the team picked up on this and quickly implements helpful new tools for the artists using the platform.
And with that, another Music Biz sealed and delivered. I’ll be returning next year, no doubt. In the meantime, some things I learned:
• Get in early the day before. My Airbnb check-in was 3 PM so I should have taken advantage of that and gotten in at that time and just chilled out. Or I could’ve done fun non-business Nashville stuff (like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which I still haven’t visited). Instead, I opted to fly in the early evening and, because of flight delays, I didn’t get into bed until nearly 1 AM, and I couldn’t sleep from all the leftover travel stress. It took me almost 48 hours to feel normal again.
• Writing on business cards is a pro move. At SXSW, as I chatted with a new contact, he pulled out a pen and started writing about our conversation on my business card. That stuck with me, and I copied this tactic at Music Biz. Now I have a stack of business cards with scrawled notes about how I met each person, what we talked about, and if there’s anything, in particular,-requiring follow-up. A game-changer.
• Another pro move: getting back to the hotel/Airbnb by 10 PM. Conferences are exhausting, especially for introverts (raises hand) who require precious time alone after a day of networking and non-stop chat. There are VIP parties and drinks with friends and pop-up industry