2012's CMJ Music Marathon kicked off with a series of panels that cut straight to the chase: Music Journalism Exploded looked at the spider web that is today's music press; the Silverboard Room project with Daniel Glass and We Are Free execs examined artist development; and the Connective Tissue Between Content and Advertising panel focused on music placement. Here's a recap:
Music Journalism Exploded
CMJ 2012 began Tuesday morning with a looking at the hornets' nest that is often today's music media. SVP for MTV News Benjamin Wagner moderated a panel titled "Music Journalism Exploded," featuring panelists Maura Johnston (recently departed music editor at the Village Voice), Jessica Robertson (director of content at MTV Hive), Caryn Ganz (editor-in-chief Spin.com), and Bill Werde (Billboard's Editorial Director).
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The discussion covered a spider web of topics from the current hall-of-mirrors state of "the music press," social media and career opportunities for fledgling writers to the balancing act of generating traffic while having deeper analysis and the overarching editorial goal to make a publication succeed - or fail - at a time of great uncertainty in the industry.
Addressing the seemingly endless well of sites practicing what the panelists referred to as "re-reportage," angling to be the first on a developing story, and the often inaccurate stories that result, Ganz described a typical visit to her RSS reader. "I see the same headline 30 times, and everyone is getting it wrong."
Werde described his editorial mission in light of that fact: "There's a ton of sites out there who don't mind getting it wrong. Many brands would rather be first. At Billboard we get it right."
While Robertson described the practice as a "hamster wheel," saying publications were angling to be "if not first then at least second or third, to capture that SEO traffic," going on to say that the diminishing returns of a me-first strategy could lead to its readers jumping ship towards more consistently accurate environs.
Johnston advised a measured approach: "The carrot will come, and be more tasty" if the time is taken to fully capture and contextualize.
Billboard editorial director Bill Werde (left) with Spin.com's editor-in-chief Caryn Ganz at CMJ's Music Journalism Exploded panel. (Photo: Katie Chow)
As to how to combat the me-first mentality, Werde explained "When we're [Billboard] not first, we are going to figure out the best way to approach the meat dress," referring to Lady Gaga's now-famous garb at the 2010 MTV Music Awards.
Ganz emphasized that re-reportage "doesn't have to be evil," stressing that a novel contextualization of an already popular story, like SPIN's take on Trent Reznor's return to a major label can provide value where others may have missed it.
Johnston succinctly explained the importance of deeper analysis over dismissive drivel: "Saying 'this sucks,'" she said "is fucking boring."
In terms of what doing it right means there wasn't always a consensus. Johnston's "dashed-off" piece from earlier this year, "How Not to Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide" was "great from a traffic perspective" and addressed a critical blind spot in the larger musical discussion - a win for readers and executives alike. But SPIN's massive feature on the influences of Animal Collective, the "Centipedia" was "not as big of a win as we wanted," said Ganz of the feature which took up the majority of a SPIN senior editor's time over the course of weeks. "I would discourage my staff from doing something like that," said Werde, "it's a business."
As to the perennial question of how to "break in" to paid writing work, Werde had perhaps the panel's best piece of advice: "jump from space..."
Silver Boardroom Meeting: Project Development
The Silver Boardroom meeting with Glassnote's Daniel Glass (center) and We Are Free's Jake Friedman (right). ( Photo: Maverick Inman)
At a conference table populated by young business students, with a wide view of the Freedom Tower in the background, Daniel Glass - founder of Glassnote Records (Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Childish Gambino) - along with Jake Friedman and Jason Foster -founders of the management company We Are Free (Beach House, Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer) - led a new sort of panel for CMJ: the "Silver Boardroom Meeting." The concept is meant to facilitate discussion between the music business leaders of tomorrow with those of today, though the end result was less participatory than perhaps intended.
Glass began by showing an extended video presentation that covered several of his artists, which he uses to show off new talent to radio directors, magazine editors, brand executives, and anyone else who might be interested in furthering the career of an emerging band. "The whole spend there was one to two thousand dollars You can rub two sticks together," Glass said. "Money doesn't make the world go around."
After introducing himself, Jason Foster explained the most important aspects - or aspect - of furthering artists' careers in a saturated market with a point that came up time and time again: "The marketing plan of our company: get people to see our bands live." he said while adding what he looks for in an artist: "It has to be a really good, live, touring act."
The panel's other major theme was having a holistic, artist-centered approach to marketing. Friedman explained that artists "are better at talking to fans than anyone else." Stressing that their job is to allow for breakthrough moments in artists' careers, such as the Glassnote band Daughters' recent appearance on Late Show with David Letterman. Glass said that artists "need to drive [their promotion]. When you manipulate, then you're in the "X Factor" world - not the world I want to swim in. Make sure they have a vision."
Foster lamented the loss of band mythologies amidst the glut of information available to fans (a similar sentiment was expressed during the music journalism panel earlier in the day), again furthering the idea of an artist-driven approach to 'making it' and cautioning against over-exposing a band. "I think the world loves things they find themselves." Friedman said. "As an artist you have all the resources. Write songs. Play shows." Simple as that.
The Connective Tissue Between Content and Advertising
At "The Connective Tissue Between Content and Advertising" panel, moderator Antony Demekhin (director of strategy and content at Music Dealers) led a discussion on the process of getting an artist's music into the relatively lucrative world of advertising placements. Panelists Corey Denis (digital and social strategist at Toolshed), Marcie Allen (president of MAC Presents), Ryan Fitch (music producer at Saatchi & Saatchi), and Dan Burt (music producer at JWT) explained the broad strokes, repeatedly stressing the importance of a good fit between a song and/or artist and the particular campaign at hand.
"It depends on money, sound - every project's different," said Fitch.
"The type of brand is not important - the client and the creatives involved are what's most important," Burt said, explaining that an agency's creative team is regularly tasked with the "soup to nuts" of a campaign - including, perhaps most importantly, the choice of song.
While ad execs like Fitch and Burt may hope that the artist behind a certain perfect song is independent, for budget concerns as well as the ease of working with a particular artist, they maintained that the driving factor is how well the music fits a particular campaign - meaning you likely won't hear Biohazard in an ad for a Caribbean Cruise Lines.
On the other side of the discussion, Denis explained the process of being the artists' representative to brands or agencies looking for a music placement. She said it was as important for the band to "piggyback" on a brand's choice of song, using the momentum and exposure to further an artist's career. "Figure out who, and where, [the artist is]" and position them appropriately on medias social and otherwise for the maximum return. Summing up the discussion, Demekhin asked: "Is your music appropriate for advertising?"