SF MusicTech Summit 2014 Liveblog


That’s a Wrap

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along with our liveblogging. We met a lot of incredible people, learned about a lot of great companies, and you’ll be hearing about them over the course of the coming weeks.

We’re very excited to see the culture of musicianship starting to mature and embrace the new world of technology that is transforming every industry.

The New World of Music Value

The question posed by Shinal: Will the majority music transactions be direct-to-fan eventually?

Diamond: “It’s up to artists to individually engage their audience.”

Herstand “Spotify made a huge misstep by being so opaque and not allowing indepedent artists to know what they were making or where the money flowed.”

Emily White is trying to make sure independent musicians understand that “rightsholders” are the ones who get paid, and currently, it’s not musicians who are the majority rightsholders of music… though that may change. Spotify is the service “she’s been waiting for

White and Ari both drive home the point: Don’t complain, offer an alternative or tell the people responsible for your unhappiness why you’re unhappy.

The Price of Music: What Should it Be?

Panelists include:

MODERATOR: John Shinal, USAToday
Ethan Diamond, Bandcamp
Ari Herstand, Ari’s Take / Musician
Emily White, Whitehouse Entertainment
Elliot Cahn, Esq., Elliot Cahn Management

Bandcamp has doled out $70MM to artists since their inception. Big applause.

Bandcamp’s Diamond: “The price of music should be whatever artists want to charge, and whatever fans want to pay.”

Herstand is reminding the room that there’s a new generation of musicians that didn’t grow up on the “old system”, and the only world he’s known has been direct-to-fan.

Emily White: the idea that people aren’t into music anymore because there are other media to distract them “is just not true.”

Diamond: “Fans really get something out of supporting the artist,” so we needn’t wring our hands about filesharing or free music.

We’re struck by the tone of this panel. Even last year, both musicians and industry professionals seemed still hung up on the piracy issue. This panel is really trying to get across the idea, “Hey, Napster was 15 years ago when some of us were in high school. It’s important to learn from the past, but we’re far, far beyond that.”

Herstand: “I make more merch money when I’m sitting in a room with 25 people than in front of 500 people” because the fan/artist relationship is stronger and more intimate.

Ari Rocks Out

We’ve been to a bunch of music conferences, and it’s funny how little music there actually is. Sure, there are always events that happen at venues outside of the conference, but those events tend to happen all the time anyway.

Ari Hertsand of Ari’s Take performing a song at the end of the day is the perfect almost-end to a conference that is really about the value that musicians bring to the table, and the value technology can bring to music.

It’s All About the Relationship

Choi gave a great breakdown of why for musicians, it’s all about the relationship:

“My favorite hairdresser is not my favorite hairdresser because they are the best at cutting hair. They’re my favorite hairdresser because they make me feel like I made the right choice.”

How to Get Musicians Excited About Business?

We asked the panel how to get musicians into learning about the business side of things when many artists think they’re compromising their integrity by even considering business.

Stull had much to say on how this is a cultural issue and a “disservice musicians do for other musicians.”

Vanderslice recommends ever “Artists are in fantasyland and it’s hard to bring them down to earth.”

Making Music Communities Work

Kaplan: “There’s a huge opportunity for gathering spaces and meetups which can happen today because of the Internet.”

Choi: “You kind of have to say yes to everything that comes your way” as a musician, which means it’s hard to find the time to do active community-building. Choi recommends that you “build your social time within your gig” so that you can have more time to build your community.

Kaplan is talking about how he built enormous musician communities online like Fandalism. He highlights two key ingredients: the “showoff factor” (musicians want other people to know they’re musicians first and foremost) and an invite-only mechanism where users invite their five best friends. This way you’re not marketing, you’re really building a community.

Choi: Musicians need to go beyond just networking with other musicians. “When you force yourself to leap into a community that’s not your own there’s something magical that can happen.”

Building a Community For Musicians

Panel includes:

MODERATOR: Ian S. Port, SF Weekly
David Stull, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Minna Choi, Magik* Magik Orchestra
John Vanderslice, Tiny Telephone
Philip Kaplan, Fandalism/DistroKid

Choi: “When I think of building community for musicians… it’s operating in a non-commercial area… how do you build community amongst people who don’t have to play music to pay their rent.”

Kaplan: Three kinds of music communities:

Scene Communities – Comprised of a social scene… every show had 7 or 8 bands because every knows each other. (Oh yeah, we’ve been there.)

Real Communities – Networking between like-minded individuals spread out across multiple geographies.

Online Communities – Combination of scene and real community that lives online.

Stull: we need to educate musicians on how to build communities, find what’s unique about their art, and find like-minded people globally.

Vanderslice: Community can be about filling a void and providing a service that solves an existing problem.

Stull: “Wherever artists congregate you should buy real estate there because in 20 years artists won’t be able to afford to live there.”

The Piracy Crusade

This panel features Aram Sinnreich, Rutgers professor and author of the book The Piracy Crusade, which we recently reviewed.

Sinnreich pointing out that the real problem is that we always frame our conversations on music by treating it like an entertainment product, when it is so much more than that.

“Piracy is a phantom threat that doesn’t exist” and we need to stop believing the false narrative that piracy is destroying music. The real threat is to society because the piracy crusade ruins creativity and innovation. Aram has plenty of research to back this up as fact and not an opinion, and his book punches holes in the RIAA narrative.

Aram is going through a case study of Uplister, an innovative company that was quashed by the music industry for no good reason other than corporate greed.

Aram is too good a speaker to type along. We’re fascinated. And he’s mostly going over content in the book… so read the book!

A Conversation on Copyright

This panel includes:

Professor David Nimmer, Irell & Mandella
Cydney Tune, Esq., Pillsbury

Nimmer is often cited as the world’s foremost copyright expert.

Nimmer clearly explains the pre-1972 situation: pre-’72 records are subject to state law, those after are federalized. Therefore, pre-’72 recordings are not covered by the DMCA, a federal law.

Tune: “Copyrights are very complicated and that’s why we love them.”

Ari Calls out SoundExchange

Ari Herstand of Ari’s Take questioning SoundExchange’s Prendergrast on how they plan on cleaning up data, because he is seeing big discrepancies on what he gets paid as an independent artist not represented by a big record label.

Prendergrast says that SoundExchange is working hard to do this, even though they clearly failed in Ari’s case.

It’s pretty obvious that the RIAA-created SoundExchange has a massive transparency problem that it’s too slow to address because of pressure from the major labels that control 70% of the global rights to music. Independent artists are getting screwed out of money because of this.

One Wish from the Copyright Office

Google: Facilitate online licensing and give us data.

SoundExchange: Terrestrial royalties for sound recording owners.

Pandora: Transparent database of records.

Pandora: Even when transparency exists, the data is bad. This is particularly true with relation to ISRCs, which are extremely difficult for small webcasters to track.

Safe Harbor & Pre-’72 Sound Recordings

We apologize if any of this legal-speak is confusing you, we don’t have time to explain right now, so Google it!

Google’s Lipsztein: “We need clarity and uniformity around how copyright is treated” with regards to copyright enforcement.

“If the purpose of copyright is to incentivize the creation of creative works for the widest dissemination to the public” then federalized pre-’72 content make sense, because it’s already created.

Rights Data Debacle

Pandora’s Harrison talking about the gross inadequacy of licensing information provided by PROs.

“Anytime Beethoven is played on a radio station, Beethoven is listed as the recording artist.”

SoundExchange’s Prendergrast says it’s going to take a long time to get all the rights data cleaned up, but they’re working hard to do that.

Greenstein reminds artists to sign up with SoundExchange, there may be money there waiting for them.

If SoundExchange had their way, we would have much fewer digital service providers, says moderator Greenstein. “SoundExchange likes to kill kittens” (by kittens he means small web services).

Pandora would not exist today “had the CRB rates established in 2007 gone forward.”

Prendergrast: “There should be an ability to designate certain settlement agreements as non-precedential.”

Licensing Deadlock

It’s Harrison (Pandora) vs. Prendergast (SoundExchange at the licensing showdown. Moderator suggests artists stand on one side of the room and technology companies on the other. Big laughs.

Google’s Lipsztein talking about the operational challenge maintaining content stability and platform stability with all the confusion around licensing protocols.

“If we’re going to have a market in which folks actually compete, we’d like to not see the behavior” as in the ASCAP case, where the judge raised the issue of collusion between PROs and publishers.

Consent decrees are the hot topic at the moment.

Lipsztein: “transparency into the repertoire of the PRO” is required for Google to manage content.

Harrison: “If what you have transparency into is crap, it doesn’t help you that much.”

Greenstein: creating a directory of all rightsholders sounds like the perfect job for Google. “It’s a huge data task”… there’s a limitation in that Google is not the ones who own the stuff, and it’s their responsibility to get their houses in order, not Google’s.

Hot Topics in Music Licensing

This panel includes:

MODERATOR: Gary Greenstein, WSGR
Chris Harrison, Pandora
Leo Lipsztein, Google
Brad Prendergast, SoundExchange

See the Future of Collaborative Composition with Soundation

Because we’re so excited about the product, we took time out to meet Soundation CEO Bill Bryant to talk about what we think is the future of collaborative composing and recording.

Bryant built a platform that allows artists to actually record music in the cloud. Right now, it’s focused on EDM, and Bryant is a sample expert who worked on Garageband and a slew of other high-profile projects. The platform is monetized by selling collections of samples that artists can use in the online multi-tracking interface.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg with Soundation, though. Integrated with the platform is support for Google Hangouts. One of the biggest insights from our conversation was that composition — particularly in electronic genres — is mostly done in isolation. The “chemistry” enjoyed by musicians who work collaboratively is nearly absent from electronic composition. Soundation solves this problem by connecting multiple creators through Google Hangout, as they all collaboratively use the platform to make music.

And it goes on… there’s a Soundcloud-like feature that allows artists to share their music, and the catalog is massive already. Hundreds of thousands of original tracks have accumulated, and more come online by the hour. Bryant told us they’re currently talking to digital music distributors to allow Soundation artists to put their tracks on iTunes, Beats, Spotify and all the major retailers/streamers.

The most incredible part of Soundation may perhaps be that it’s free. It’s not just another tool for musicians, it’s a tool for everyone. You can be a complete amateur who has never composed a song before, and after an hour or two on Soundation, you’ll be able to share your first original song with friends.

Bryant told us they’re currently looking for their first round of funding. We wish them luck because we want to see this platform continue its explosive growth.

Tune in over the coming weeks to see a video demo of the platform given by the CEO himself, using the Google Hangout feature to collaborate with us, composing a song in real-time.

Music is Important in Effecting Social Change

DJ Skee is now an ambassador to the UN. That’s a pretty strong start to a panel on how artists can effect social change.

Potts points out that musicians can “Turn every show into a benefit concert” by integrating a charity/activism donation as merch addon.

Potts: “Fans constitute 85-95% of carbon emissions on every tour”, artists can lessen impact by suggesting public transit and carpools.

Murray is talking about being pleasantly surprised by Pharell’s virality. Ka-ching! However, “It did not raise as much money as we had hoped, although the progress was very encouraging to all involved. “It was magical.”

DJ Skee: musicians have the “attention of the youth” and there is a responsibility to use that platform to push good causes.

Simpson: “If we’re looking for a recipe for success… authenticity is the starting point, partnering is important.”

Potts: For some reason, everybody wants to work with Bruce Springsteen — tech companies and charities alike. On why he is not the ideal choice for activism: “I love Bruce, you love Bruce, your kids don’t know who the fuck he is.

Find those strategies that are effective but don’t take a lot of time to produce.

Watson is driving home the point that experiences need to be really unique (not just a stock handshake backstage) to get big donations from wealthy fans. “It doesn’t have to be a full benefit concert, it can be something easy.”

DJ Skee: Artists who think of charity integrations as a marketing scheme come off as inauthentic.

D’Alessandro on artists starting their own charities: “You don’t need to have your own foundation to have an impact… it’s a lot of work.”

Potts: “We [often] don’t do activism until the artist reaches a certain stage… working on these issues can help you engage your fans, even on an emerging artist level. 80% of consumers say they will buy a product that is affiliated with a cause.” Artists can think of the activism and charity as part of their content stream and marketing.

Cause Celebre’

Getting ready for our 10:40 panel on building charity and activism efforts around in music. This panel features:

MODERATOR: Jan D’Alessandro, Backplane
DJ Skee, SkeeTV
Erin Potts, Air Traffic Control
Frances Simpson, UN Foundation
Katelyn Watson, IfOnly
Lars Murray, Columbia Records

More Inspirational Stuff from Conte

“I’m not taking a salary from Patreon, I’m making a living by using the service myself.”

“Our most successful artists are podcasts.”

Music Theory Maestro

We’re already fans of Furmanczyk’s work to provide free resources to teach musicians music theory.

Furmanczyk relating his personal experience battling a serious disease that almost killed him. He’s talking about how this experience made him realize how thankful he was for his music education, and how fortunate he was to receive it when so many go without the basic necessities of life. So, he dedicated himself to educating others.

“Really think about the person you have in mind when you make your content”. He’s lamenting that a lot of the free resources for musicians actually try to sell you something.

Furmanczyk dominated the “How to play piano” search term by focusing 100% on helping other people.

He’s being super-honest and saying that his 10MM views was a “fluke” and he “doesn’t know why he’s here.” Big laugh.

Eyegroove’s Holy Moment

“Why did we kneel when we put the record on? It’s a holy moment.” Eyegroove founder Snibbe is talking about the lack of interactivity in modern music listening, compared to the hands-on, tactile and interactive past of the music industry, citing sheet music and LPs.

Snibbe did the Biophilia app with Bjork, a groundbreaking project where each song was also an interactive visual experience. He’s saying that he was ahead of his time, and it’s going to take 4 or 5 years because of distribution and production limitations.

Gotye “probably stole all his software, I’m pretty sure… with $500 in equipment you can make the top song in the world.”

You don’t just have your studio, but “everyone’s studio” on your computer… with stolen software, of course.

“Music video is bigger than video itself… 30 out of 30 all-time top YouTube videos are music videos.”

Snibbe: The fastest growing social media site category is not Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, it’s “Other”.

Snibbe’s Eyegroove app is like a “selfie music video” creator. The app includes lots of effects and brings in music from SoundCloud… most people use it to create music videos of themselves lip syncing to their favorite tracks. Kind of like a competitor to Vine and and Instagram, specifically for fan-made music video. Pretty cool!

Snibbe gets a huge laugh from the crowd: “there’s a twerking cat video in here… you’ll have to download it for yourself”.

There is a running joke that the slow internet is due to someone BitTorrent on the hotel wifi.

Eyegroove app does hashtags, but “We don’t have any comments because people just insult each other.”

Why 10 Million Views is a Stupid Goal

“100,000 views should be enough”

Conte is essentially saying trying to get 10 million views on YouTube or going “viral” is like competing with network television. Only the topmost percent of YouTube stars can compete with this.

Views are becoming like record sales, and musicians are falling into the same trap of trying to be “YouTube” stars.

Showing an artist that gets millions of views with a capella covers of video game songs: “Niche doesn’t even begin to describe this.”

Conte’s last YouTube Check? $249 for 1 million views.

“It’s not about the number of views but the strength of the community around the views.”

Patreon is Conte’s company, and it’s one of our favorite new services. He’s showing off how artists can make 100x what they make per person from YouTube views.

“The view is a worthless currency.”

Getting to 10 Million Views: Presentation and Conversations

This panel features:

Jack Conte, Patreon / Pomplamoose
Andrew Furmanczyk, Furmanczyk Music Academy/Versal
Scott Snibbe, Eyegroove

Jack Conte is showing off his collection of Craiglist-source gear that he bought for $50, saying “Barrier to entry these days is just about zero.” He’s talking about how his video went viral — being at exactly the right place at the right time with a YouTube cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”.

Opening Remarks by Brian Zisk

Founder Zisk has taken the stage and is name-checking a slew of new digital music startups making the scene. The most interesting highlight? Zisk teasing that LyricFind is making a big announcement today that will “change the face of music lyric licensing.” Slyde is also launching today with “music singles & exclusive content directly from artists, for free.”

Zisk just led the room in a primal shout… well, two primal shouts.

Ready to Begin

We are almost ready to begin here at the SF MusicTech summit. The seats are filling up… and the free Wifi is slowing to a crawl, so please be patient as our updates might take a few minutes to make it through the pipes.


Welcome to our liveblogging coverage of the 15th annual SF MusicTech summit.

Soon we’ll be starting here with the opening remarks from founder Brian Zisk.

There are many panels today and only one Songhack reporter, so if you’d like to get a preview of which panels we’ll be at check out our preview of the summit.