This year’s Future of Music Policy Summit was the 15th ever and best yet. Musicians, songwriters, artist advocates, music managers, industry leaders and academics from around the world came together for two days of discourse on—you guessed it—the future of music. Though the discussions got pretty feisty at times, the overall vibe was one of collaboration and optimism.
Monday’s panels opened up with a jarring conversation about the state of New Orleans’ cultural scene in the decade since Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent infrastructural failure. Panelists like Mardi Gras Indian Chief Howard Miller, Treme writer Lolis Elie and attorney and advocate Ashlye Keaton took the stage to discuss the myriad ways New Orleans musicians are still recovering from the storm’s fallout. The panel was an effective lesson on consciousness-raising and coalition-building beginnings within New Orleans traditions such as the second line and the various social aid and pleasure clubs. Attendees were rightfully shocked to learn of a ordinance that passed which bans live music in the French Quarter. When an audience member asked what the New Orleans community intended to do about this, Keaton set the mood for the rest of Summit by stating firmly: “We’re going to fight it. And we’re going to win.”
Up next was a special live taping of music podcast “The Future of What,” created and hosted by Kill Rock Stars president Portia Sabin. Sabin interviewed tUnE-yArDs mastermind and FMC board member Merrill Garbus about everything from the creative process to maintaining personal relationships as a touring artist. Both this session and the New Orleans talk made it clear that the 2015 Summit would be artist-centric, despite being an industry event. Many audience members and panelists made it clear that without music, there is no industry.
Monday’s “The Future of Music Education” panel was moderated by Ken Umezaki and featured educators who work with a variety of students. The panel stressed the importance of meeting music students on their level. To inspire lifelong musical learners it’s beneficial to let kids play music they actually like. No offense to Bach, but elementary school kids may not be immediately able to grasp his genius. The panel also explored new technologies and modes of collaboration to establish the next generation of creativity and leadership in music.
Artists are becoming increasingly engaged on the issues that impact their livelihoods (we love this); the “Herding Cats” panel proved that the stereotype of the aloof and uncaring musician is outmoded. Artists want to be fairly and transparently compensated for their work and their voices are crucial to any conversations about policy and the music marketplace. Our own Kevin Erickson discussed the need to “un-invisible” artist voices, and several participants, including R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs and musician Tift Merritt, said it all comes down to perception. We need to make it clear that music creators are the ones who power this industry, and they must be able to participate in the value generated from their work.
The musician-packed “Time Management” panel provided a fascinating look at how artists handle a staggering number of to-do items, whether or not they have managers or teams to assist. When it comes to balancing roles and tacklling tasks, efficiency is the name of the game; some abide religiously by their Google calendars, others de-prioritize partying, some simply lie on the floor for ninety minutes in order to open the channels of inspiration or to simply decompress. Moderator and FMC consultant Kristin Thomson made the excellent point that many of the everyday tasks artists must deal with, like updating social media, didn’t even exist ten years ago. And it’s a good bet that there are more on the way.
“The Songwriters Conversation” was moderated by our CEO Casey Rae, who began the panel by admitting that he was ‘obsessed’ with the plight of the non-performing songwriter and how they find ways of being compensated. Shelly Peiken, writer of hits like “What A Girl Wants” and “Bitch,” as well as her composer husband Adam Gorgoni and Songwriters Guild of America president Rick Carnes, discussed diminishing royalties as a result of streaming and other industry changes. Panelists hit on another major Summit theme: transparency. This conversation revealed that transparency in deal terms, rate structures and payment obligations would be a huge step in making the system more fair for songwriters.
Social technologies play a massive role in fan engagement and career development; FMC board member Benji Rogers moderated a packed panel on how to use these tools effectively. Bryan Calhoun and Kevin Wyatt noted that it’s all about being strategic. The more personal and targeted, the better. However, social success doesn’t always happen in traditional ways: Daoud Tyler-Ameen from Art Sorority for Girls happened upon a huge fanbase on Tumblr, which he managed to harness for impact elsewhere. Sometimes trial-and-error is necessary to make an impact in a crowded marketplace.
On Tuesday, the focus was data, data and more data. Benji Rogers pulled double-moderator-duty for the “Direct-to-Fan” talk that explored ways of drilling down further into one’s fanbase. Breaking from the gatekeepers of old, like labels and retailers, is a tough sell for many artists. But it pays off for clients of Jay Coyle and Ryan Chisholm: 17 percent of fans identify as “superfans,” and they’re responsible for 61 percent of music consumption. Being more data-efficient and targeting fans directly can mean reduced overhead and more cash in artists’ pockets.
The “Data Flow” panel explored how far behind the music industry has fallen in terms of managing data, and the infrastructure necessary to get up to speed. Vickie Nauman moderated a conversation that ranged from the much-ballyhooed blockchain to unclaimed black box revenue, which amounts to a whopping $2.1 billion per year. So whose responsibility is it to report metadata? The unfortunate reality is that, for now, artists need to be their own watchdogs. From there, it’s about demanding that our industry partners adopt data standards and work towards reliable data sets about copyright ownership and creator information.
Next up was a fabulous conversation between artist managers, moderated by Whitesmith Entertainment co-founder Emily White. Appropriately, every panelist was from a different country; each had different commission percentages and different ways of describing their job and each had different but equally important advice. Jason Burns gets inspiration from other managers and campaigns; Nick O’Byrne creates a spiderweb of exposure; Han Buddie advises against labels altogether, preferring to seek out third party distributors himself. And you can bet former Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner had valuable insight culled from many years in the trenches. Peter said that the modern music industry wasn’t necessarily better or worse, just more confusing. Here here!
For Summit’s keynote conversation, Casey spoke with Panos Panay, the founding managing director of Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, teasong out a lot of interesting parallels about the nature of inspiration, creativity, problem-solving and business. Musicians and entrepreneurs aren’t so different—in fact, musicians ARE entrepreneurs—they simply need the right toolbox to succeed. The discussion also focused on transparency, the evolution of digital music and how today and tomorrow’s music entrepreneurs are redefining participation in the music industry.
Streaming seems to be on everyone’s minds these days, especially services like Spotify, which has faced criticism for how it compensates artists. Sharky Laguana of the band Creeper Lagoon kicked things off with a fast-paced and often hilarious presentation about how the “Big Pool” method of royalty calculation causes problems, even on for the platforms. (Amusingly, his talk involved making Secretly Group’s Darius Van Arman pretend to be Nickelback, in order to drive home more serious points about how to structure payment in a way that rewards artists and fans.) Toolshed founder and FMC board president Dick Huey helped steer the conversation along, with Content Creators Coalition president Melvin Gibbs drawing plenty of applause for his artist-centric viewpoints.
Next up was the launch of the Artist Revenue Streams Portal, an interactive website put together by our crack team of coders and project leaders. The new portal allows users to engage with the tremendous amount of data from our Artist Revenue Streams study, which makes it easier—and more fun—to compare your experiences with those of other creators, or examine data in all kinds of interesting ways.
Summit wrapped up with serious fireworks (or just plain fire) during the “The Wisdom of No, the Power of Yes” panel. Casey even had to step in as “backup moderator” when the conversation devolved into high-volume crosstalk between Jeff Price, Jim Griffin and Tim Quirk. Topics ranged from music as property, data integrity, streaming transparency, market failure and what frameworks can produce fair payments to creators. Wherever you fall on any of those issues, the ‘talk’ definitely kept folks awake after two days of intense examination of the issues impacting musicians and songwriters.
We owe a thousand thank-yous to everyone who participated in the awesomest Summit ever. Thanks to our partners at Georgetown University for providing us with such wonderful facilities, and to Gypsy Sally’s and the Gibson Guitar Showroom for hosting our respective Monday and Tuesday after parties. Thank you to our board members for their infinite wisdom and programmatic assitance. Thanks to every speaker who offered their time and talent to the event. Thank you to our tireless volunteers who showed up early, stayed late and kept everything on track. Thanks to our amazing sponsors, who made it possible to offer artist scholarships and student discounts. Finally, thanks to every attendee for being part of the dialogue. Summit is a true community experience, and we thank each and every one of you. Stay tuned for the video archives of all the panels and presentations!