SF MusicTech is a conference that addresses the innovations and problems in today’s music industry, especially as they pertain to new technology and social media, and it returned this past Tuesday, October 1 for its fourteenth iteration at the Kabuki Hotel. As one might imagine, there are plenty of battling opinions, especially when it comes to the question of fan engagement and the value of music.
One panel addressed the pros and cons of the integration of art into music festival experiences. Panelists included festival heavyweights like Leo Nitzberg of Goldenvoice (and who is also affiliated with FYF and Coachella) and Freddy Hahne from the Black Rock Arts Foundation (from the legacies of Grateful Dead and Burning Man). The conversation was largely not tech-based, as the audience might have expected. However, given the new innovations within the tech-based art as a component to the festival (some being the famed Tupac hologram and Superfly’s Pretty Lights cell phone show at this year’s Outside Lands), the panelists examined the importance of art as integral to festival-goer’s overall experience. As Joegh Bullock, of anonEvents and Burning Man said, “Sometimes art is the thing you can’t afford but the thing you need the most.”
The presence of these artworks at festivals and the general cultivation of an environment that caters to attendees’ different senses—for example, Outside Lands’ Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Choco Lands, and their numerous art installations throughout the park in addition to the music itself—has become the bar set for a successful festival. A multi-sensorial experience satiates music lovers, as Connie Zawaduk, of non-profit festival Shambhala noted: “We create a utopia—the place we want to live in.”
The festival panelists embraced the notion of music as a uniting force, and many of them spoke about how their companies give back to their communities. It was romantic, sure, but earnest.
Next was the Digital Marketing panel, which was made up of young industry innovators, including power players at Columbia/Sony, Island Def Jam, Crowd Surf, and Social Sound (Cisco Adler, who was scheduled to appear, couldn’t make it). They discussed their struggles and successes (but mostly successes) in executing online marketing campaigns utilizing new and established social networks, from SoundTracking to Snapchat to Twitter to Spotify’s new applications. They each ran through their most lucrative social media strategies—it was informative, absolutely, but completely dispassionate.
With the exception of Xavier Ramirez at Social Sound, who seemed to have more of a respect for fan engagement and satisfaction than the others, the Digital Marketing panel seemed to lack motivation to engage with listeners on a human level. Constantly referring to their artists’ fans and followers as “consumers” and “subscribers,” they seemed fixated on the endgame payday rather than the virtuous fundamentals of music creation and the musical experience. The perpetual notion of music-as-product is killing its artistic subsistence, and as passive fans we continue to encourage it.
There is hope though. As evidenced by a slew of new companies emerging in the industry whose work revolves around sanctioning a simple, honest musical experience, like Sofar Sounds, DeliRadio, and many of the Festival panelists, music still thrives as a piece of art with aesthetic significance—not just a digit on a Soundscan report.