Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, November 13, 2015

Moment of Truth: 8 Thoughts After SF MusicTech

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 2:35 PM

click to enlarge sf-music-tech-summit.jpg

Moment of Truth is SF Weekly's Hip-Hop column, appearing every week on All Shook Down. 

SF MusicTech descended upon the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown for its 18th Summit this past Tuesday. This was an opportunity to get a snapshot of the crossroads between tech innovation and musical creativity in our unique Bay Area climate. On the surface, SF MusicTech wasn't much different from other tech conferences, pinning together like minds to foster business connections and deal-making. But it was unique at its core, in that it put the music industry at the center of every single discussion. 

I largely looked at the day from my hip-hop lens, but often stepped outside of that to fully appreciate what went down across the board. With that, here's some highlights:

A disconnect exists between tech companies and artists

From the minute I arrived and sat-in on the tail end of a panel titled "Social Media & Fan Engagement," this divide was a prominent theme of the day. Singer Ledisi was talking about how she's highly interested in technology and started fielding questions from people who were interested in how to get their technology in the hands of an artist. There's clearly interest on both sides of the spectrum, but a communication gap exists that's slowing the growth of new technologies focused on helping artists build their brand. 

“There’s value in understanding how to relate to artists and understand what it takes to work with them in creating music that enriches our lives.” 

Former Warner Bros and Beats Music rep Brian Harris Frank, dropped this gem confirming my early suspicions. This dude truly understood the gap between tech and content. In fact, he called it a "chasm." And it opened up the idea for me that what a lot of these emerging companies really need, is human capital that understands the mindset and demands of an artist. How can we create resources for artists, if they're not fully invested in the ideas? How can artists make the most of these emerging technologies, if they're not speaking the same language as the creators and agents of said technologies? 

Vinyl sales are popping off and are a major source of income for artists; perhaps more than streaming royalties

In the first half of 2015, vinyl sales grew to $226 million, while ad-supported streaming (the free stuff, not the premium subscriptions) generated $176 million. Maybe you saw articles floating around that vinyl sales had surpassed free-streaming revenue about a month ago? There's been a 900% increase in vinyl sales over the last decade. I can keep spewing stats, but what does it all mean? Essentially, an impressive demand for tangible music sources like records, is not only alive, but also growing. And while artists are getting squeezed out by fractional payouts from streaming, vinyl is a viable way that they can make money off of selling their music. 

Sub Pop Records founder Bruce Pavitt's new company, 8Stem

I loved hearing this guy talk — let's be real, he's a legendary figure in the history of indie rock. 8Stem allows you to manipulate tracks once you've purchased them. What I like about this idea, is exactly what I love about sampling in hip-hop and electronic music: The original notion that the music-making process doesn't stop once it's pressed on a record. Sampling changed music forever and 8Stem looks to apply a similar concept to an mp3. "A 17-year old might not want to pay $1.50 for a track on iTunes, but maybe he/she would pay $1.50 for a track that he could manipulate," Pavitt said. It essentially keeps the artist involved in the process of remixing their music and is an interesting idea coming from one of indie rock's pioneers, considering that it'll mostly affect hip-hop and electronica.

Also, shouts to Pavitt for perhaps the most hilariously accurate quote of the day at the "Future of Indies" panel. When discussing marketing strategies for indie artists: "How you get attention is almost as important as being talented… Just ask Courtney Love.” BURN.

click to enlarge "The Future of Indies" panel - ADRIAN SPINELLI
  • Adrian Spinelli
  • "The Future of Indies" panel

Hip-Hop is lost in the indie fold. Is there really a plan in place that's mindful of hip-hop?

While panelist Molly Neuman, of the American Association of Independent Music's (A2IM) cited that "total market share of indie labels is now at 35 percent," I wondered where hip-hop fits into this mix? It seems as if the tendency of independent hip-hop is to be gobbled up by major labels, maybe even more so than indie rock. Where are the labels like Sub-Pop, Matador, and Secretly Canadian of the hip-hop world? Aside from TDE Records, I'm hard-pressed to think of large-scale viable hip-hop labels that dominate the scene, the way Rawkus and Okayplayer did in the late-'90s/early-'00s. The panel seemed lost when I asked them this question, but I'm not putting this on them. Hip-hop that rises to the top gets snatched up by majors because tapping into millennial audiences is where the dough is at — and nothing reaches millennials on a broad scale quite like hip-hop. Somehow, independent hip-hop has gone too far underground and is just a different animal. 

Old school radio is on another planet

In the darkest and realest symbolism of the day, an older gentleman stood up to aggressively ask the "Future of Indies" panel why they hadn't spoken about radio at all? While there were actually a few nods to radio throughout the hour long panel, the man's self-serving approach — which included polling the 200+ person audience on whether or not they listen to radio — made him seem like "the voice of music's past." It was an uncomfortable moment for everyone in the room as he just short of verbally attacked the members of the panel. He probably did his cause more harm than good with his actions, when rather than opening up a constructive debate on the role of FM/AM radio, he just ranted and came across like a "crazy radio person." Working together is the answer my friend, not resistance to change. 

"Instead of looking at streams as royalty payments, look at them as when you created raving fans"

TechCrunch's Josh Constine, moderating the day's final panel on "Artist Strategies" dropped the above quote, my favorite of the day. I'm on board with this statement and look at streaming services as merely an access point for artist's music to be heard. I say artists ought to bank whatever they get from these streaming services and focus their energy on creating new revenue sources. Use and abuse the streaming services to get their music heard by as many people as possible and then look for other ways to engage fans, that can in turn better help them make a living as an artist. Things like crowd-funding campaigns tied to unique and engaging experiences for fans are relatively untapped. Fans want to feel closer to the artist and there's only so much they can accomplish in that regard through streaming music. Taking advantage of the ease of access to the music and focusing their energy in other sectors. Like many of the services that were being pitched at the conference, for example.

Take an artist like Ryan Leslie, who gets pinged when someone buys his album and has technology at his disposal where he can call the buyer up and randomly thank them after a sale. How mindblowing is that? Sure, Leslie is backed by investors, but who's to say small artists can't send a random shout-out e-mail with a live iPhone photo to a fan who just bought their album on BandCamp? This is a time where artists can exercise much creativity in how they market themselves. 

The coolest product of the day: Electrospit

I was randomly introduced to rapper/singer Bosko, who was showcasing his portable talkbox-like ElectroSpit. It eliminates the cumbersome tube and equipment associated with the voice-filtering talkbox that's been around for decades. Someone needs to call Peter Frampton up after watching this. In a world where auto-tune and voice manipulation is a significant part of hip-hop production, there's a lot of possibilities for ElectroSpit. Peep Bosko in the short video below and tell me this isn't awesome. 

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Adrian Spinelli

Adrian Spinelli

Hip hop and sandwiches.


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"