In a debate streamed live yesterday titled “Has tech killed the music industry?” — which you can watch in full below — panelist and artist manager Scooter Braun proclaimed, “It’s not about addressing ‘Will the music industry die?’ That’s a dumb question and I think everyone in the room agrees with me. It’s: How are we going to adjust to an evolving industry?”
The discussion brought together some of the music industry’s most vocal commentators: Amanda Palmer, Will.i.am, cellist Zoe Keating and Braun beamed in via Google Hangout while Imogen Heap, Songkick’s co-founder Ian Hogarth, Spotify’s artist advocate Trevor Skeet and Vevo’s SVP, International Nic Jones spoke in front of a live audience in London. This was the first of an online content campaign produced by Virgin called “Disruptors,” which will address a variety of topics, starting with the music industry.
The result was a conversation less about rehashing how technology has disrupted the music industry and more about the importance of factoring the needs of artists into new business models and creating a healthy ecosystem for content creation.
Of the eight panelists, four were artists themselves (five including Spotify’s Skeet, an artist himself) and, beyond Braun, the artists dominated the lengthy discussion. A question echoed in nearly each part of the conversation was, simply: How do we include the voices and needs of artists into this business?
Zoe Keating, a frequent advocate for artists’ digital rights, said that although she supports streaming services and owes advances in technology for the ability to create and distribute her own music, embracing new technology shouldn’t have to mean embracing payment methods and deals that are the same or worse then the models that preceded them. “This new ecosystem is in it’s infancy and that’s why we have a chance to shape it before it all gets baked in,” she said. “Corporations have a responsibility not just to their shareholders but to the world at large. And I think to artists.”
Also speaking to the responsibility to include artists’ voices was Braun: “The last time things changed dramatically, which was iTunes, the labels had a voice at the table and the artists didn’t,” he said. “In sports you have the player’s union, on Wall Street there’s someone watching. We’re talking about a billion dollar industry with music where no one is watching. It’s the wild wild west, you get what you negotiate.”
Though often touted as an example of crowdfunding success, Amanda Palmer herself brought up the “possibly unfixable” problem of where to find the money to fund art. “As bad and clunky as the major label system was, you still had a constant influx of capitol backing from those giant, sometimes soul-sucking, systems back into content creation,” she said. “And one weird thing is that iTunes, Apple, Spotify, Google, Youtube — all of the people who are profiting off of artists from the small level to the huge level — aren’t really feeding very much back into the creation of new content… Wouldn’t it seem that the place that is making the lions share of the profit should actually be putting money back into the creation of contact [in order] to have a healthy ecosystem?”
“Somebody is monetizing it… somebody is getting paid a lot of fucking money,” said Will.i.am. His best advice to his fellow artists and panelists was to surround themselves with smart people and invest in technology and hardware. “We can sit here and complain or we can go out and find some motherfucking geeks,” he says. “’I’ve Got a Feeling’ is still the number one downloaded song of all time on iTunes — but I made more money with my equity in Beats.”
Braun said the biggest problem tech companies have is not showing enough respect to artists. “If artists aren’t in the know, they are going to kick your ass. And I learned that as a manger.” He recalls sitting with “the three biggest artists on YouTube” at an event celebrating the launch of Vevo and asking, “’Did anyone from Vevo call you guys?’ They said no. And no one called me either.” Braun said that, because the industry is focused on short term goals, conversations on behalf of the artistic community aren’t happening. Jones of Vevo says “We want to be what the artists want. But the ultimate aim is: We’re trying to monetize a business and trying to do that the best way we can.”
The artists on the panel were eager to let companies know how they could be better serviced. “If Shazam connected to Spotify, connected to Songkick, if they all connected to each other and then could give artists that information, then we could really be empowered and choose how we navigate through this brave new world,” said Imogen Heap, later adding that she would be willing to go online once a week to just talk through these issues with technology companies and labels.
Keating agreed in simple sum; “Just include us.”