Every year, hundreds of people from around the country (and around the world) come together in an effort to bridge the boundaries between music and tech at the annual San Francisco MusicTech Summit.
Nestled in the middle of San Francisco’s Japantown at the Hotel Kabuki, the event brings venture capitalists into the same room as independent musicians, hosting panels that focus on the music industry, start-ups, and everything in between.
I was invited to attend the conference, and with my background in music journalism, start-up companies, and as an artist manager, it seemed like the perfect place to see where these worlds collide, and what big bang might come as a result of that collision. Needless to say, there was a general sense of innovation, reassurance and outward ability that came from every person involved.
Among the topics present was a dialogue focused on the impact that the most recent Net Neutrality proposals would have on everyone within the tech – and music – industry. It was noted by one speaker that “Net Neutrality is the modern issue of freedom of speech and access that populates our lives today,” and that it deserves attention as so.
During one of the first sessions, the topic of the state of the music industry was brought into the conversation (as it always is), specifically focusing on what effect apps and technology have had on it. “The Internet isn’t ruining people’s willingness to go see live shows,” said Larry Marcus of Walden Venture Capital. “Some are even helping, like apps that direct users to live shows and concerts. We’ve moved to a more live music space. These build band-to-fan connections.”
Fred Goldring of Aficionado Media LLC added, “It’s the gold rush in music; people think they can make money in it again. Music is hot now.”
Other panels moved away from the topics of making money and generating revenue to consider the role of musicians, bands, and artists in philanthropic causes and working toward social change.
“We’re all doing something for the greater good,” said Frances Simpson of the UN Foundation. “We just need to partner up and figure out ways to give people a call to action to make a difference.”
Of significant interest, due to the large amount of people in attendance, was the “Building a Community For Musicians” panel, which featured SF Weekly music editor Ian Port and Tiny Telephone owner John Vanderslice, among other panelists. The panel focused around discussing the possibility of community space for musicians as well as opportunities for them to garner attention from fans and beyond.
“For bands to really get my attention, you’ve gotta be on Twitter and make music videos,” said Port.
John Vanderslice had strong opinions about the attempt to create communities for musicians in San Francisco. “San Francisco is done,” he said, “It’s toast. Everyone is out of San Francisco who is making records and touring.”
He then added, “Whatever is happening in San Francisco is not gonna slow down,” when asked about the addition of another Tiny Telephone studio in Oakland.
Despite the concerns about the San Francisco music scene, there seemed to be high hopes for where the music industry is going, and where it will end up. “People seem to be more obsessed with music than ever before,” said Vanderslice.
In the last panel of the day, “The Price of Music,” Ari Herstand, an independent musician, also continued talk of the upward trend of the music industry.
In a response to the concern that consumers have been conditioned to understand that music can be free and nothing more, he replied, “There’s a lot of money being made off of music, but we just have to know how to sell to music – we have to know what consumers want.”
While there were many questions answered by the conference – and even more that were raised – one thing is for sure: when it comes to looking at the Bay Area music scene and beyond, SF MusicTech has figured out the way to bring key players from every angle. In the different banquet rooms, one could see the massive amounts of tech software and applications that are either in existence, or being made, that all cater toward figuring out where the next branch and root of the music industry will go.
And while there’s tons of talk about the separation between the tech industry and artists, SF MusicTech works to abolish that thinking by bringing them into a room to hash it out with each other (and sometimes, literally, shout). After a year of talk about the tech industry’s huge role in the Bay Area arts and music scene, some notable artists leaving the city, and questions about the future of the music culture in the city, it’s reassuring to know that there’s an event to explore some of these concerns with those who are key in the discussions.