The fourth annual Next Big Nashville conference and music festival gathered some of music's most forward-thinking professionals to discuss the current state of the industry and how they are building new strategies. Three of the Thursday (Oct. 8) panels were tied together by numerous common themes.

In "I Have The Power!" moderator Ray Waddell, Billboard's executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment, talked with a group of agents about their changing role. In "Indie Evolution," John Turner (Thirty Tigers, Ow Wow Dang Records) spoke with innovators from the independent music sector. The "Everyone's An A&R Person" panel, Kent Marcus (KMM P.C.) led a discussion about today's major label A&R process.

1. Recorded music is a means to an end. "The album is another merch item," said New Frontier's Jake Kennedy. Future Sounds CEO Larry Little described how his company gave away music when an artist's song was used in a network TV show. In return for the freebie, Future Sounds collected new fans' email addresses.

2. Live music is the new artist development. Jay Williams of William Morris Endeavor told of how agents take cues from record labels less often. At first agents followed the label's lead, he said. Now they don't wait for the label's plans. "We've become a lot more creative."

3. It's noisy out there. "There's so much noise," said Red Ryder's Erik Selz of building a foundation in some markets, "that by the second or third lap a band can see a big drop." There's noise in recorded music as well as fans are faced with a dizzying number of choices and new faces. Strategies for rising above the noise are varied, but many are focused on grabbing a consumer's attention and making the most of that direct relationship.

4. An artist's talent and work ethic matter as much as ever. Panelists want to see an artist who will work as hard as they work and who are wired to be a musician regardless of chances for success. Young bands are playing for less money than in the past and may go through a period of giving away music in order to gain fans. Artists must have the dedication to work through those lean years while they try to gain traction.

5. Teamwork, in its many forms, is essential. Some agents highlighted the importance of an artist having a manager and a publicist - but not necessarily a record label. Others spoke of matching a young artist with a label and manager before going out on the road. Speaking about 360 deals, Atlantic's Steve Robertson said the collaborative spirit of the deals have made a positive impact. "The 360 deal has changed the culture at Atlantic and at most majors... at least the smart ones," he said.

6. Physical product still matters. "We want to make physical, tangible product as immediate as digital," said Ben Swank of Third Man Records. In the live market, bands use venue sales to compensate for lack of distribution in mainstream retail stores. Over the course of a year, those venue sales add to the artist's resume and bring in considerable revenue.

7. Everybody wears more than one hat. "We're not sure what a label means any more," said Bigger Picture's Bill Hein. "I see ourselves as a hybrid company." Even bands wear more than one hat. In some cases, a young band can really benefit when its members are experienced professionals such as studio engineers, publicists and marketers.

8. Direct-to-artist relationships are still evolving. Ticketing provides a great opportunity for a closer artist-fan connection, said Josh Brinkman of Monterrey International. Williams emphasized the importance of pre-sales and predicted Ticketmaster will be challenged by direct-to-consumer ticketing in five or six years. Communicating with fans is a mixed bag, but many panelists agreed that artists need to be comfortable in reaching out to their fans. "They need to put in the work," said Sugar Hill/Vanguard's Gary Paczosa.

9. Be authentic. From Twitter to songwriting, an artist must present an authentic voice to listeners. Communications like Twitter posts need to come from an artist who buys into the platform, urged Music Allies' Sean O'Connell. "The artist has to believe it."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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