New Music Seminar executive director Tommy Silverman (left) interviewing Spotify board member Sean Parker. (Photo: Todd Owyoung)
New Music Seminar founder and executive director Tommy Silverman's interview with Sean Parker, tech titan, executive general partner of Founders Fund and Spotify board member, was rather sedate and predictable with two notable exceptions: Parker's endorsement of the Universal Music Group-EMI merger and his embracing a "bundled download" option for Spotify.
The session began with Silverman asking Parker about what he saw as two themes at the heart of the New Music Seminar -- "sharing and collaboration" -- and how his endeavors with Napster and Spotify used these elements. Parker answered that sharing and collaboration have always been a part of music, but that a more recent fear-based mentality in the music business conspired against these forces. Parker cited music executives who still have secretaries print out emails and send them via dictation. He framed this tension as "young bucks waging war against an old guard," which is what he says led to the "catastrophe" that has been the music business over the past decade.
Much of Parker's talk sounded familiar Spotify themes; the importance of portability and access; having an upgrade path to subscription; how legal and social music services are helping to combat piracy; the importance of having product vision; and the notion of ongoing licensing negotiations.
One digital music model Parker said he favors, that hasn't gotten much press and may be in Spotify's future, is the notion of 'bundled downloads." This option, which he said Spotify offers in Europe, would allow users to stream music while also having a monthly allotment of downloads -- a model that eMusic and other services have offered in the past.
The other big revelation came at the very end of the Q&A when Silverman asked Parker about his take on the Universal-EMI merger. Parker said, "speaking as a non-representative of Spotify" that after "twelve years of the music industry languishing," and being in a "difficult transitional period" Universal buying EMI would "ultimately be a good thing for an industry that needs leadership willing to drive change."
His answer came as something of a surprise considering the anti-competitive objections many have leveled against the merger. The heads of both Universal Music Group and EMI are expected to appear before a U.S. Congressional hearing Thursday to argue for the proposed sale. Both Lucian Grainge and Roger Faxon will act as witnesses in support of the sale before the Senate antitrust subcommittee, while Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff will also appear at the hearing to back the bid.