SF MusicTech, December 2010
My first tech conference was working Comdex for IBM in 1993. My job was to show the research I was doing for the Indiana University Music Library which involved streaming Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” or Miles’ “Freddie Freeloader” (literally the only two tracks we had encoded for the demo) from an RS-6000 equipped with a “Shark Multimedia File System” to a PS/2 runing OS/2 across TCP/IP after doing a fake search in a primitive Web browser. It was one of the first “streaming media” demos, certainly the first one I’d ever seen. My job also involved me wearing an IBM polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants I bought at the Las Vegas GAP (I didn’t own any nice pants). My booth was right next to a booth where every hour Gallagher would run through a schtick which involved putting a typewriter, a TV, a Nintendo, etc into a box and pulling out a ThinkPad (oh and of course smash watermelons). I caught and joined him in the parking lot getting weeded. It was pretty damn exciting for a kid from Indiana.
But I spent the rest of the 90s not being invited to conferences and not seeking them out. I’d get asked occasionally to this or that and oblige when possible, but believe it or not I’ve never really considered myself a conference-goer. Once I was at Yahoo! Music doing the conference circuit became part of my job and I did my best. Still, I didn’t go to things I wasn’t invited to and generally tried to spend more time in the office and less time out on the road. The same has been true at Topspin. I know people think I’m some sort of conference whore but the truth is I say no way more than I say yes and only participate when I think it’s good for Topspin. My favorite part of my job is working with our team to grow the business; I fight hard to keep my calendar faced in toward the company as much as possible and not out glad-handing.
But there are a few great conferences in our industry, ones where I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get real work done every year. MIDEM is at the top of the stack, I get more business done there every year than any other conference. It’s been a real pleasure to work closely with MIDEM the last couple years as they broaden their outreach to entrepreneurs. I’ve made great friends and together we’ve done some real business (look for another big announcement built at MIDEM last year in January of this one). SXSW is probably second on that list given Topspin’s business. Unfortunately I’ve barely seen any music the last two years there but that’s because SXSW is non-stop grind for me each year. The last two years I’ve actually gone out of my way to *stay sober* the entire week just so I could make it through. It’s like running an ultra-marathon. I’m really looking forward to helping with the SXSW Accelerator program this year.
One event which has truly turned out to be excellent and I will go to each year invited or not is SF MusicTech. Brian Zisk and his team have grown SF Music Tech over the last few years into something which really embraces the spirit of where the industry needs to go, people who love music and people with talent in technology coming together, celebrating innovation, dealing with issues of copyright head-on, being honest about how we are and in many cases are not making money. They’ve done an incredible job pulling interesting and different people for the panels, not the same talking heads you see at most of the others (which is why they almost never invite me, I’m sure! I don’t blame them!). In the early days the gathering happened too frequently but they’ve slowed it down and made each event more valuable the last couple of years. It’s a simple, one-day event with two big social evenings. I’ve had incredible conversations with people way way smarter than me each and every time I’ve attended.
Brian reached out to me last week and asked if I’d help moderate a panel which was coming together unusually close to the start of the event. It was a panel suggested by WMG’s Ethan Kaplan and a good idea. It’s not a panel about Topspin’s direct-to-fan marketing approach, which hopefully is a good thing as my participation won’t be self-serving. Hopefully I can draw on my experience working with labels as they try to relate to the Internet starting in 1994 to pull some advice from the panel which will help others considering their approach to existing music companies. My notes preparing for the panel are below. Please come if answers to the below questions look interesting to you. Leave additional questions you may have in the comments and I’ll try to get them answered.
See you there,
What Music Companies Need From Startups
Startups often want to work with labels, managers, and other big companies in the music space. While the intent is almost always good, starting from a love of both music and technology, the approach often lacks enough insight into what these companies need to gain any traction. On today’s panel we’re going to discuss what these big companies actually *want* from startups and how various approaches might be received.
Our panelists are:
First of all, let’s learn a little about each of our panelists. Ethan and Aaron, can you tell us about your jobs at two of the majors and what sort of startups you generally come into contact with?
Rachel, tell us about your current company but also about the kind of folks you worked with when you were at Ning.
Ian, you work not only with labels but as you’re in the live space you work in the space of the 800 lb gorilla, Live Nation. What kind of large music companies do you find yourself dealing with at Songkick?
Ethan, what are some of the common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make when they’re approaching WMG? Aaron?
Rachel, how do you help broker and navigate these waters?
Ian, do you think entrepreneurs *should* try to work with these companies or should they build their technology so they don’t have to?
Aaron, can you give us a little detail on what your department does and what sort of technology would help improve your daily life?
What are some of the technologies used today by the music companies: labels, live, publishing, merchandise, etc?
How much development is happening in-house at music companies? Who is doing what?
Entire panel, is there a killer app no one is creating? Do you see a hole in the “big music companies need this” market no one is filling?