If you want to know where the music industry is headed, use your eyes not your ears. That was one of the big messages coming out of the San Francisco MusicTech Summit yesterday, a day-long conference held at the Hotel Kabuki in the city’s Japantown.
As recording artists, agents, and concert producers grapple with the huge changes that technology has wrought on the music industry, they are learning to embrace the social media tsunami that is driving consumer tastes. “The experience is very different now,” said Ty Roberts of Gracenote. He pointed to a belief that most music followers only know ten to twenty bands or artists really well. The rest of the artists fall into swirling mass of single songs that new tech tools can deliver at the tap of a screen or click of a mouse.
The days of buying a vinyl record or even a CD have been replaced by “instant music,” easily available from any one of thousands of websites. “There’s more music uploaded to the Internet every day than you can listen to for your entire life,” said Max Weisel of Relative Wave.
And perhaps more significantly, musical tastes are becoming more heavily influenced by the visual media that promotes various artists, old and new. At Live Nation, a major website for concert goers, employees there can track rising interest in a particular artist based on who is being featured in a widely watched TV program such as the Super Bowl or the Grammy Awards. Or, as Ethan Kaplan of Live Nation Labs pointed out, users will go to a concert and post a photo on Twitter or Facebook of an emerging new musician or group with a link to their music. All of a sudden, that one visual image can spread rapidly, driving interest among friends that wasn’t there before.
Interestingly, the place that young people are going more frequently to find new music is not the radio (e.g. Pandora), but YouTube. “It has become the ‘go to’ place to search for music,” said Kaplan, who compares the online visual experience to pulling out a record and listening for songs you like.
An example of an artist who jumped out of obscurity into the video mainstream is Austin Mahone. The 16 year old singer got his start livecasting his performances using Ustream. He then parlayed that visibility into a McDonald’s sponsorship, jumped to YouTube, and now has over 2 million followers.
The rising influence of the visual image to drive today’s music can also be seen in how artists are branded. At a heavily attended conference session yesterday, Nick Adler, the brand manager for Snoop Dogg’s Stampede Management company, described how Snoop was one of the earliest users of Instagram, which provided the then fledgling photo sharing site with an important boost. “In all honesty, I think we built it,” said Adler of the now Google-owned company.
Another participant at the panel discussion yesterday was Will Hoover of GoPro. His cameras are being increasingly used to record or live stream concerts, sometimes going into unchartered tech territory. Hoover made his point by referring to a now legendary video clip where Carter Beauford, the drummer for the Dave Matthews Band, actually inserted a GoPro camera in his mouth and broadcast the view as he banged away. “Everyone now has an opportunity to create killer content,” said Hoover.
As attendees moved through the crowded halls from session to session at the San Francisco hotel yesterday, there was a distinct feeling that despite all the disruptive turmoil technology has created, change has pumped new life into the music business. And if there will be any winners who emerge, it will be by reaching those who not only listen to the beat of a different drummer, but watch it as well.