SF Music Tech Panel: Lack of Disruption in Music Technology

By September 12, 2011
sf music tech logo

Musicians, marketers and startup founders discuss what can disrupt the music tech business, along with social media and what has not been changing for the better.

At this year's SF Music Tech Summit, musicians, startups and industry experts converse on the relationship of music and technology and their mutual influential effects. In today's panel "Lack of Disruption in Music Technology," we discussed the general structure of music tech - there is a formula where startups need a venture capitalist, and have to pay for content licensing. Moderator Dave Allen of NORTH and founding member of the band Gang of Four, and the rest of the panel, address the paradigms of the current online music culture.

The general environment is one of plenty - listeners have plenty of channels to access music, musicians have plenty of tools to get their music out their. As Allen points out, the only scarcity in this area is attention - with so much available, all actors in this sphere can suffer from information overload.

Yet many problems are not new ones. As mentioned above, Allen suggests that the general structure of starting out in a music startup is essentially the same for everyone - you have the VC and licensing fees. Alex Ljung, founder and CEO of SoundCloud, adds to this sense of continuity with the thought that not much has changed even in the last fifteen years from a technical approach - you have a button that you push to play a song. But how do you make that compelling, and differentiate that process from all the other people? These executional difficulties are universal, and the differentiation process is what gives us so many approaches and opportunities for disruption.

TAG Strategic VP of Marketing Corey Denis sees many musicians that do not know how to market themselves, and have difficulty in choosing promotional strategies. Musicians have to choose what social media works for them according to their personality - while some may love to use Twitter, its not for everyone. Its "for the musician who likes to go to the merch table after a show." Social media has created a participatory culture, and for many creators it interrupts their creative process. For music listeners as well it interrupts their process - some fans want to participate less.

While a main complaint addressed in this panel is the lack of innovation in music tech, Denis also brought up that coverage has not brought attention to acts of disruption. It took years for the compact disc database to be constructed on an altered version of the Dewey Decimal system. This major project had the affect of universalizing CD encoding in the big shift away from discs to mp3s and digital song distribution.

Back to the issue of choice proliferation, Jesse von Doom, co-executive director of CASH Music, predicts that simplicity will be a point of differentiation. As shown by Apple, making a device that works smoothly and is easy to use can make it a paradigm in the industry. In his experience, the complaint he hears most often is, "I want to, but I don't know how." This translates into a collapse of the distance between content creator and technology platform. If companies like SoundCloud provide an open platform, then a variety of tools can be developed for that platform, and this openness, von Doom suggests, benefits innovation and musicians. Artists have more access to these tools and the entire process becomes more egalitarian.

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas