SoundBiz Music Conference in Detroit Focuses on Revivification – Don Was, Jeff Castelaz, Mike Jbara Speak

Music executives, lawyers and automotive industry leaders at this week's Crain's Detroit Business SoundBiz Music Conference said that Detroit, despite its fragmented resources, may be the key to saving the recording industry.

When Motown Records moved to Los Angeles in 1972, infrastructure crumbled, its largest industry required a federal bailout and the city went bankrupt. But the Detroit sound remains untarnished as the city moves toward recovery. Detroit native and Blue Note Records president Don Was said Detroit lacks a cohesive music industry like Los Angeles and New York, but the city's reputation carries weight.

"This is not the birthplace of crap music; artistically this city is on par with any place in the world and better than most places in the world," Was said. "The music business itself isn't centrally located so everyone has to really band together and work a little harder to make some noise."

Blue Note announced a licensing partnership with Panasonic Automotive at the event. The two companies will develop and co-market car audio systems and offer preloaded music on the cars with Blue Note's catalog, which includes Van Morrison, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

"We want to bring the raw emotion of a live performance to the interior of a vehicle," said Tom Dunn, director of marketing and new business development for Panasonic. "We want to try to establish an emotional connection with our customers."

Most new music is discovered in the car and automotive technology is prime space for the music business, said Elektra Records CEO Jeff Castelaz. "The future is here: We are standing in it," he said.

Mike Jbara, president of Alternative Distribution Alliance Worldwide, a subsidiary of Warner Music, turned a panel discussion into a call to action among several speakers, including music icon Seymour Stein, known for discovering Madonna, The Ramones and the Talking Heads.

Jbara said Detroit needs to focus on collaboration among the local players, and building on the already-strong points of the Detroit brand.

The connection between Detroit's music and automotive industry is proving to be big business.

Saad Chehab, president and CEO of the Chrysler brand, said the automaker's music-centric ads have received nearly a billion views on its YouTube channel.

Chrysler's success began with its "Imported From Detroit" advertising campaign, which kicked off with a two-minute commercial called "Born of Fire," using Detroit rapper Eminem, which aired during Super Bowl XLV in February 2011.

"The creative climate in Detroit is obviously very ripe; we need to invest and take two of our culture's most important industries (automotive and music) and move them forward together," Chehab said. "Detroit is obviously going through a lot of pressure. But remember, pressure is the incubator of genius."

Detroit's "Big Three" -- Ford, General Motors and Chrysler -- account for some of the largest advertising dollars in the country.

To the music executives from the coasts, Chehab said: "Detroit doesn't need you, but you may need Detroit."

Additional reporting by Ross Benes, Daniel Duggan and Nathan Skid

More coverage on music in Detroit at

Dustin Walsh is a staff writer for Crain’s Detroit Business.