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The Cloud From Both Sides

I got home late Tuesday night from the 10th annual Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit, three days packed with panel discussions, interviews, networking, and some great music. I’ll be decompressing for a couple of weeks, but here are some initial thoughts and a bunch of notable quotes.

As a general matter, there seemed to be a little less certainty about where things were going, and a little less optimism that things were going to get better right away for working musicians. It certainly wasn’t doom and gloom, but more a recognition that the entire paradigm of being a professional musician is changing fast in a world where the purchase of recorded music is now a voluntary act and where there is more music than ever being created and released.

There were the usual cutting-edge peeks at how folks are making things work: Rapper Oddisee was dazzling in describing his use of tracking software to maintain direct relationships with his fans, as well as the need to regularly turn it all off in order to go about the business of creating music; Erin McKeown, who’s been there and back, confidently eschewed the need for record labels; fan-funding pioneer Jill Sobule and video genius Damian Kulasch (OK Go) described their joy at being totally independent and in control of their careers; self-described super-nerd Jesse von Doom ( talked about the struggle of working-class musicians and his company’s quest to give them the tech tools to make it all work; Canadian Member of Parliament and former punk rocker Charlie Angus was awe-inspiring as he talked about the role of the Internet and music as vehicles for change.

There was plenty of dissonance: Obama’s new cabinet-level IP enforcer Virginia Espinel awkwardly spouted talking points about the administration’s IP strategy and said very little in her 20-minute speech; Facebook and YouTube made disappointing presentations that were little more than sales pitches designed for numbskulls; and T-Bone Burnett stunned everybody by proclaiming the future of music was analog, not digital, and that new artists should not put their music on the Internet. After the shock subsided, most folks decided that T-Bone’s talk was brilliant performance art; in any event, he was such a lovable curmudgeon that everybody loved him even though nobody agreed with him.

All in all, there was some consensus: Physical music media is dead, except as a market segment for collectors, audiophiles, and people who need bling. The future of the music industry lies in the cloud, with always-on subscription music services that wirelessly deliver whatever music you want to wherever you are (interestingly, even the RIAA representative, who’s been so smarmy and belligerent in the past, seemed to agree with this concept). The music-consuming public is roughly evenly divided between folks who are indiscriminate and just want music delivered to them and those of us who are active, fervent listeners and fans. And for this latter group, the future of music is all about social media.

Here are some money quotes:

Erin McKeown: “Don’t sign with a label. You don’t need it.”

Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records): “A lot of people don’t give a shit about music . . . On-demand is only going to be for the most active listeners.”

Dina LaPolt (attorney): “Labels don’t even call themselves labels anymore—they’re ‘multi-rights management conglomerates,’ which is a really bad way of saying you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”

Hank Shockley (Public Enemy/Bomb Squad): “My son’s 11 and he hates the shit I listen to, and that makes me happy. And I hate the shit he listens to. And that’s great! Barry Manilow came on yesterday on my iPod and I’m like, holy shit, this is good!”

Charlie Angus (Canadian MP): “To all who say the Internet is killing the music industry, I was there in the analog days, and it sucked. . . . You can lock down all the content you want, but that doesn’t mean artists are going to get paid, and you’ll only create a criminal class of people who just want to enjoy their culture.”

Chuck D (Public Enemy): “The other day I saw a terrebyte you could hold in the palm of your hand. And I’m like, just what the fuck are we talking about now? The question for the next 10 years is how do you become the number-one fan of your number-one fan? Stalk your fans.”

Jim Griffin (Onehouse): “The music industry has got to become more like a woman and less like a man. Amazon’s like a woman—it remembers your name, your phone number, and your likes and dislikes.”

—Paul Rapp

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