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
On My Way to Music Biz 2019
Tomorrow I’m heading to Nashville for the Music Biz 2019 conference. This is my third year in a row and it’s by far the conference I look forward to the most. Everyone attending is laser-focused on working toward a better music industry and the vibe is buzzing and inspirational. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in Nashville, either — a fun city that I love visiting.
I’ve been back from Austin and SXSW for over a week, but I’m just now feeling refreshed and up to speed. It’s taken a little while to process everything, as is always the case with these industry conferences and their non-stop agendas. A short recap, you say? Okay, here you go:
This is the year I attended SXSW solely as a music business professional. Previously I was an artist, performing at various showcases. Then my only worries were finding my way to the label-provided hotel room, doing well at the gig, and hanging out and having drinks with various music friends also in town. This time I flew to Austin to get down to business. I went to catch the mood, feel the vibe, put a wet finger to the wind to determine where it’s all going, and network network network. I’m not sure if I’m any wiser about the future direction of the music industry and I didn’t meet as many new people as I thought I would (though I made a few great new friends), but I’m satisfied with my SXSW experience.
It was maybe a decade ago that I last made it to SXSW. It’s difficult for me to understand how much things have changed (and grown) as I never went to the actual conference. But when I told people that this was my first time in ten years, the reaction was always “well, it’s different” followed by an exasperated look of ‘whew.’ I won’t lie — it was busy. Everywhere you looked you found small groups of people with badges hanging from their necks. There were also ride-share scooters all over the place, and often the sidewalks and pathways were clogged with semi-inebriated attendees perilously dodging on-foot people like me.
When most people think of SXSW, they think of all the bands. I mainly partook in the actual conference, checking out panels and having a few scheduled ‘mentor sessions.’ Those sessions were opportunities to sit with a person of note in the music industry and pick his or her brain for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, but I came prepared with set questions for the veteran music publishing professionals I spoke with. It seemed like a brain-numbing exercise for the ‘mentors’ as the sessions were one-after-the-other, fifteen minutes in-and-out. ‘Speed dating’ was mentioned more than once. I did get some value — it’s like asking a lawyer that burning legal question that’s been sitting in the back of your brain, and without incurring the hourly rate.
There were some meaty panels, too. I wish I had gone to more, but I ended up mostly running around finding people and having last-minute meetings. I checked out an in-the-weeds panel about contract negotiation (totally my kind of thing) and a terrific panel about how label A&R has changed over the past several years. My friend Craig Snyder was the moderator for the latter, and there was a bit of enlightening information thrown around. Notably, Island Records’ Alyssa Castiglia — a proponent of data tools — put to rest the myth that modern labels now sign acts based on data alone. Instead, data is used to spot trends as they happen, guiding the type of artists for a major label A&R scout to seek out.
And of course, there were bands. 8D Industries flagship band, Monta At Odds, performed — with a new singer and drummer — and sounded excellent. This band is transforming/mutating in real time, and there will be new recordings by the end of this year to document these changes. Other fun bands I saw included Mary Lattimore (sunset by the lake with bats in the air!), The Comet Is Coming, Heart Bones (Robbie Hardkiss and I were laughing our asses off), The Octopus Project, Anemone, and Palberta. It may seem like I saw a lot of bands, but my efforts paled in comparison to my badge-wearing peers.
I’m glad I went, and I’m happy I’m home. I’ll be back next year, I’m sure. And now I’m gearing up for the next conference on the agenda — Nashville’s MusicBiz 2019 in early May. Reach out if you’ll be there, too.
- Continuing the story from last month, I spent the early part of May nursing my wounded eyeballs and anticipating a new pair of contacts to help correct my keratoconus. For the past several years I’ve used hybrid lenses for my special vision needs, which were prescribed early in their development. My new eye doctor (who is fantastic btw) recommended a more recent contacts tech, these intimidating scleral lenses. I say intimidating as they are much larger than my hybrids, and they are hard enough to tap on (while the hybrids were mainly floppy, only hard in the center). The first few days with the scleral lenses were hell as my right eye was still somewhat injured and not happy about this unfamiliar lens. Lots of pain in the first 48 hours or so. And removing the contacts with a mini-plunger was a whole new thing for me — I could use my fingers to take out the old contacts — and that took a bit of getting used to. But I am pleased to say that after a few weeks of trial and (lots of) error I am on board with the sclerals. They are comfortable, and I believe I’m getting better, clearer vision than before. The eye saga continues.
- Good thing I got the eye issues worked out as in the second week of the month I was off to the MusicBiz 2018 conference in Nashville. This is probably my favorite industry conference, partly because it’s amicable and casual, and partly as it’s in the always fun city of Nashville. I took in a lot of panels, with Monday’s offerings being the highlights — the ‘Legal Summit’ panels were all educational, and the new ‘Podcasting Summit’ panels, hosted by Jim Griffin (my favorite panel moderator), were excellent. The issues of music licensing in podcasts were covered in depth, and I appreciated the dive into the weeds. I hung out a bit with Craig from ReverbNation and Mike D. from Chicken Ranch Records (who I’ve known since my stint in college radio when I was like 19) and caught up with longtime friends/Nashville residents Jamie Blaine and Terry Grant. I also floated around some new ideas as to where I’m taking 8D Industries, and everyone I used as a sounding board was receptive and encouraging. Stay tuned.
- As I’m getting ready to leave for the airport Mike D. asks, “do you have time for a drink with Tyler Mahon Coe?” Thus, on my way out of Nashville, we stop at a local dive bar and have a great conversation with Tyler, who hosts the brilliant Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast (as well as the hilarious Your Favorite Band Sucks podcast). I wrote about Cocaine & Rhinestones in last month’s entry, and Tyler’s show helped me get through the worst days and nights of eye trauma. It was cool to be able to let Tyler know this in person and to relate my podcast-inspired experience listening to Neil Young’s On The Beach for the first time. Tyler was as knowledgeable and cool to talk to in person as you might imagine. I’ll continue to follow his work, and he’s planning some exciting things.
- I’m only home from Nashville for three days, and then I’m off to Scotland. This was a long-planned vacation with my spouse and my mother, to be tourists and explore the history of the Scottish east coast. My mother has ancestors from the region (and, of course, so do I), so she was interested in seeing it all. We had a fantastic time — I recommend Rosslyn Chapel and Sir Walter Scott’s house if you’re visiting and want some history. I also had time to find my old friends Jaco (Jaco & Co) and Iain (Funky Transport). It’s been too many years since I’ve spent time in Scotland, and this vacation inspired me to plan regular visits once again. My favorite home away from home.
- What I Read This Month:
- What I Watched This Month:
- What I Listened To This Month:
- A Few Other Things I Enjoyed This Month:
Questlove’s “Creative Quest” talk at Google
When America’s Hottest Jazz Stars Were Sent To Cool Cold-War Tensions
Pirate Radio Stations Explode on YouTube
How The Kent State Massacre Helped Give Birth To Punk Rock
Ornette Coleman – The Atlantic Years
My Dad Painted The Iconic Cover For Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ And It’s Haunted Him Ever Since
Yuri Suzuki’s Musical Appliances Are Designed To Enhance Your Mood
Glenn Branca: Punk Composer Who Turned Minimalism Maximal
Elliott Sharp Remembers Glenn Branca