Through inviting progressive, cross-industry professionals, academics, musicians and Berklee students, the Rethink Music Conference in Boston highlighted the friction and progress of our current industry climate into two days of high-level discussions. For tensions and concerns surrounding artist development and marketing, global licensing and the future of the music business there needs to be various forums like this and we were very happy to be a part of it. Keynote speaker and marketing guru Seth Godin started the conference with a compelling and inspiring look at the music business’ rise to ubiquity out of what was historically a culture of scarcity. He offered enlightening but easily graspable advice to the general crowd to start “marketing to the weird” and pushed for a focus on “finding your tribe” for an alternative look at success in the mass market. Although his speech was directed towards musicians it was clearly ‘rethinking’ the culture of the industry as a whole and provided a great start to the discussions. Other interesting conversations came from those looking forward to the Musical Ecosystem in 2015, GZA on Staying Relevant and the group Finding a Future in the Clouds.
Prior to the two days of panels, The Hackers’ Weekend invited the developer community to take center stage to present their own ‘rethinking’ of music applications. At the end of 24 hours of intense coding on various music companies’ APIs, these young talents come up with a number of great ideas mainly focused around playlists, lyrics and social engagement. The winning hacks were: Kinect Bomba – where dancing in front of a Kinect controls the music, The Byrds and The Bee Gees – allowing a playful application that highlights songs popular at the time of conception and Concert Playlist Generator – helping live music fans easily listen to tracks on Spotify from upcoming gigs tracked through Songkick – perfect for pre-concert listening. 7digital was partial to the application Hiptapes, a music marketing app that allows artists to create a unique QR code to link to dynamic content for concert calendar and artist merch. We loved what this does for artists in the increasingly important DIY marketing landscape and the possibilities for fan activity with numerous options of engagement. We awarded the Hiptapes developers with a discount off our commercial API licence to help them get this off the ground should they chose to turn it into a real business. Here’s to forward thinking innovation!
Licensing Challenges in a Global Community
While music licensing can easily be a cure for insomnia, this post-lunch panel discussion on the topic managed to keep everyone’s attention focused on friction points, challenges and solutions across publishing, data, and settlement to content rights holders. Everyone agreed that a fair and equitable payment for intellectual property is the end goal, but there were many perspectives on which problems could and could not easily be solved. The panel included Richard Conlon, Senior Vice President Corporate Strategy, Communications & New Media at BMI, Steven Masur, Senior Partner at Masur Law, Cathy Merenda, Vice President of Music Publishing for Twentieth Century Fox, Vickie Nauman, President, North America for 7digital, Philippe Perreaux Founder of Rightsform and Rightsclearing, Jay Rosenthal, Senior Vice President & General Counsel for the National Music Publishers’ Association, and was moderated by Don Gorder, Chair and Founder of the Music Business / Management Department at Berklee College of Music.
After agreeing that the main licensing snarls revolve around data management, lack of resource and cross-border rights, all of the panelists spoke candidly about the extremely difficult realities of these problems. Jay Rosenthal noted that publishers seek faster payout and more transparency from labels, leading Steve Nasur to explain that the labels often have unfinished deals due to lack of resource. Cathy Merenda recalled returning a Fox check for a Beatles record they didn’t own the rights to and their dependence on intermediaries, and Richard Conlon echoed concerns of doing business in various regulatory environments and across borders in an increasingly globalised world. Our own Vickie Nauman commented that high-complexity/low-margin business affects the viability of new music services, explaining how many “get stuck in the tar-pit of licensing.” She went on to explain how 7digital works as both a licensor and licensee allowing new services and start-ups more ramp up time for their projects while admitting that 7digital doesn’t really eliminate the complexity, “we just take it on”.
Is there a global solution to all this tangled mess? Progress is being made – deals are being done, and thought-leaders continue to identify both problems and potential solutions. But there is still a lot of work ahead. In the meantime, companies passionate about music continue to plug away at licensing to keep up with the advancement of technology and consumer demand. It is reassuring that music is in high demand and should increase payments for rights holders including artists!