New York Music Month Conference Highlights City's Bustling Music Tech Industry

New York Music Month Conference
Antoine Braxton/Tell-A-Vision Films

L-R: Shira Gans, Senior Executive Director, Policy + Programs, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; Judy Tint, Clinical Assistant Professor of Music Business, NYU; Larry Miller, Clinical Associate Professor & Director, Music Business, NYU Steinhardt; Anne del Castillo, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; Justin Kalifowitz, CEO, Downtown Music Holdings & Co-founder, NY is Music

More music-related digital services companies have gotten their start in the concrete jungle than in any other city in the world.

"Who needs Silicon Valley when you have Silicon Alley?" That was the question posed by Shira Gans, senior executive director of policy and programs at the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), to kick off the third annual New York Music Month conference on Tuesday (June 4). This year's theme, Innovation at the Intersection of Music + Tech, pried at the ways technology is impacting the biz overall. But it also highlighted New York's growing influence in the music tech scene.

Today, more music-related digital services companies have gotten their start in the concrete jungle than in any other city in the world -- and more than in Los Angeles and San Francisco combined. According to the MOME, New York City’s music ecosystem supports 60,000 jobs, $5 billion in wages and $21 billion in economic output. The community includes local innovators like Downtown Music Publishing and music platforms Splice and Audiomack, all companies that took part in the conference. 

"New York is the intersection of music and tech," said Downtown founder and CEO Justin Kalifowitz. "If you look at the rest of the major music markets combined, it doesn’t touch what we have here."   

The time to capitalize on that growth is now. Kalifowitz, who also co-founded non-profit NY Is Music, adds that the music industry is finally starting to get a grasp of new technologies after nearly two decades of disruption and uncertainty.

"Now, we have a whole generation of music executives who never knew a world without music on the internet. They only knew a world of streaming music for how they would think about business," he added. "I think for a lot of the younger generation, technology is not a friend or a foe -- it’s just there to utilize."

He's also excited by how social media and other connective technologies have enhanced opportunities for collaboration, amplifying creativity in the process. "Now, everything is a collaboration, whether it be on the arts side or the business side," he said. "And when you have folks collaborating from all over the world, from different genres, time zones and cultures, you are pushing creatively the outcome of what music can be."

Matt Pincus, who served as founder and CEO of SONGS Music Publishing until its sale to Kobalt in 2017, is also optimistic. "Technology companies and music companies have been staring at each other wondering what to do with each other," he said during a fireside chat with Larry Miller, director of the Music Business program at NYU Steinhardt. "But now they’re starting to intersect in really meaningful ways."

In Pincus' view, the music distribution channels at play in the digital age have finally been established. The next challenge, he said, will be revolutionizing the process for how talent gets discovered and how records break. While creators now have more tools than ever to make, share and promote their music, that also means the market is more saturated than ever. 

Miller made a similar point: "On the one hand, it has never been easier to create music and to make it theoretically discoverable on every platform and every territory in the world," he said. "But [technology] has created a heightened noise level that has made it super challenging for consumers to do anything but gravitate to the most popular songs."

And while online avenues have largely "decimated" the middle market, Pincus thinks it will soon be reconstructed by companies like 88rising, the Asia-focused mass media firm behind artists like Joji and Rich Brian. 

For now, there are still growing pains. Grammy-winning mastering engineer Emily Lazar, who founded New York recording facility The Lodge, complained that the current DIY-focused industry has put pressure on artists to become jacks of all trades -- but masters of none. "The world today is glutted with mediocre music made with mediocre engineering," she explained. "There’s more quantity than quality."

Her advice: "Bring other people into your rooms with you who have expertise and who have an opinion different than your own," rather than trying to handle everything yourself.

Thankfully -- as many speakers agreed -- no city knows how to overcome struggle like New York. Pincus even believes that the recording studio industry, which has migrated to Southern California in recent years, will return to the East Coast soon. Why?

"There’s a certain groundedness to New Yorkers that have to tough it out in this environment, where it's high rent, difficult to find a job. That for the music business, is particularly well-suited," Pincus said to applause from the crowd. "Businesses like Splice and Audiomack, a dozen more, all have a New York attitude and a New York spirit to them."


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