"Nerdy is the new thirty." And just like that, Samsung's Michelle Engel helped kick off the 14th installment of SF MusicTech Summit - a bi-annual Bay Area conference that was held for the third time this year due to overwhelming demand from the music and tech communities. Developers, designers, VCs, industry executives, entrepreneurs, and musicians jam-packed San Francisco's Kabuki Hotel for sessions ranging from music production how-to's to discussions on utilizing digital technology to enhance a consumer-facing brand or career as an artist.
While it's impossible to capture every pertinent insight that occurred throughout the day, there are a few notable events worth covering. For those who missed a panel or the conference, altogether, registering for the newsletter or following the official SF MusicTech Summit Twitter account is highly recommended as the organizers will be releasing videos of the panels, in their entirety, along with a set of exclusive interviews from renowned music business experts in the next few weeks.
Digital music is an ever-evolving field and those who wish to enhance their careers can usually be found at SF MusicTech Summit. From TechCrunch's Josh Constine appointing himself the "Simon Cowell" of the Summit, with his brutally honest commentary, to an influx of women sharing their struggles and successes in an intimate gathering, hosted by Women 2.0, there are definitely a few highlights worth revisiting.
Women in (music) tech
If there's one thing the tech industry, in general, is in dire need of, it's more women. SF MusicTech co-founder Shoshana Zisk used her influence and connections to make a much-needed panel happen. For the first time ever, an intimate meetup co-hosted with Cindy Charles, of Women in Digital Media, and Sepi Nasiri, of the popular Women 2.0 organization, was held specifically for women to share their backgrounds and connect with each other.
The standing-room-only event of 50+ women was an open forum for introductions and idea-related discussions. One attendee, Melissa Morel, brought up the concept of indirect aggression against women (by other women), what it is, and how to stop it. Kyla Fairchild, of the influential roots magazine No Depression, countered the argument with the fact that she's started a regular women's meetup in Seattle and, thus, admonished many misconceptions they have about joining forces in the pursuit of success. Other attendees included Gracenote's chief recruiter who announced that she's "always looking for awesome women to join the company."
Funkmaster Flex forges ahead
The infamous Hot 97 DJ and artist has made a lucrative career for himself by pushing the boundaries of broadcasting. By convincing higher-ups to let him air live broadcasts from the clubs he was performing in, "Saturday Night House Party" was born. In a discussion with SoundCtrl's Jesse Kirshbaum, he revealed that this is what propelled him to become the premier artist on terrestrial radio. However, Flex also lamented that if they don't start adapting to technological advancements soon, "they're going to die."
Adapt is just what he's done as his exclusive Hot 97 interviews, freestyles, and related content are made solely available on his popular (to the tune of an estimated 10 million views per month) blog In Flex We Trust. His only qualm? The digitization of DJing "takes away from the craft."
Pomplamoose's Jack Conte on making music and monetization
Musician Jack Conte makes more than dreamy jazz-and-blues-infused indie pop with his partner Nataly Dawn. Turns out, he also enjoys making electronic beats using Native Instruments' suite of tools. He demonstrated some of the amazing sounds that can be created on the platform with a little bit of experimentation and consistent practice. In his words, "semi-modular synthesis is awesome."
In the Monetizing YouTube panel, later on in the day, Conte went on to praise the world's most popular video-sharing site as one of the most incredible platforms for audience-building. Monetizing that audience can come after it's established. The company he founded, Patreon, aims to help solve a profitability problem by transcending YouTube's traditional CPM ad revenue structure - by requiring that users assign a specific amount of money they want an artist to receive each time he or she creates a new piece of content. As Conte put it, "a creator with 100,000 (YouTube) subscribers has a football stadium full of people. It doesn't pay enough with ads to make a living."
Smule is steadily building its own social presence
Smule operates on the belief that music is about more than just listening; it's about creating, sharing, and, most importantly, collaborating with others. Since it was founded in 2008, its collection of music-making apps have been installed over 150 million times. As a result, over 1 billion tracks have been created and 1 million push notifications are dispatched on a daily basis.
Smule's CTO, Alex Li, talked about some of the more technical challenges of scaling such a vast amount of information in the cloud. His modus operandi: "Fool me twice." The first time there's a problem, solve it quickly. The second time, create a generalized solution. Since music is specialized, Li is not relying on social properties like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to instantly connect Smule's users. Instead, they're building out their own social network.
Hella Hack Oakland's grand finale
The three finalists from this past weekend's Hella Hack Oakland, the first-ever music hackathon held in the city across the bay, at Pandora Radio's headquarters, answered some tough questions about their projects from a relentless panel of judges. Soundtracking's Steve Jang suggested that Hella Bar incorporate foursquare's API into their app as Yelp's data tends to be a bit dated. While Video Machine won the judges over initially, this time around, Seth Piezas struggled to articulate how his creation was useful. Guilty Pleasures made everyone laugh, once again. However, only a few judges thought it served any purpose at all.
In the end, TechCrunch's Josh Constine gave all three teams a "zero" and "out of love" encouraged them to "build great things" in the future. "I wish you all a lot of luck." Alexandre Passant and Gracenote's Oscar Celma won the popular panel vote and received the $1,000 grand prize to continue building out their app. As a bonus, all attendees were schooled on the word "hella" - from its origins to actual meaning. Extreme.
It doesn't end here
Since music and technology play such a vital role in Bay Area culture, there's a whole week's worth of activities to enjoy outside of SF MusicTech Summit. Click here for more information on upcoming events including TEDxMarin and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival.
To view a set of full-sized photos from SF MusicTech Summit #14, click here.