Ad-supported digital music models won't save the day for indie labels. But ratcheting-up the dialog with ISPs and carriers may be just the tonic to ensure better rates for content, attendees at AIR's inaugural Dot Bleep digital and mobile conference learned.

"We need to offer more compelling services. There's so much enthusiasm for music out there," Beggars Group's head of digital Simon Wheeler said during his Nov. 24 keynote interview. "That's something we should all be very optimistic about. This year we're starting to see good signs. If there's no value in music, why do we get contact from 50 new companies a week trying to license our content? And why is there so much venture capital money around?"

However, ad-supported music offerings were "still very young," he noted. "People shouldn't get carried away with what it could do for the music business."

Mark Kneebone, chairman of Independent Music New Zealand (IMNZ) and owner of the Tardus Music label, added: "Ad-supported music is a great opportunity which hasn't fired yet. But it'd be wrong to dismiss it just yet. It's still the wild, wild west in the digital world. But it has to be a sign of healthy that people are still trying to find ways to monetize music."

Not all the panels forecast a rosy future for ad-funded models, in Australia at least. "The Australian market is too small to support it. I don't see it [working]," said Rubber Records managing director David Vodicka.

Wheeler also declared that the independent community's digital rights agency Merlin would prove to play a critical role for the indies in the online space. But he said labels had their own role in forging bonds with the technology side.

"We need to talk to them in their terms,” he said. “If we can do that, we'll have a much more satisfactory relationship. It's hard for big companies to get their head around dealing with the indie sector. Bringing ISPs into the value chain is a great way to approach it. But not all of them are interested."

IODA founder Kevin Arnold quipped, "We're capitalists in the U.S., so we don't give a crap about the arts, right? Hopefully we'll see something like the three-strikes rule in France happen there soon. We've been suing people for a long while. Maybe we should be sending them letters instead."

The conference, organized by the Australian Independent Record Labels association, was held Monday at Melbourne's The Toff In Town venue, and coincided with the third annual AIR Awards.