I had too many great sources for my first-ever music feature in Boise Weekly, which came out in newsprint yesterday in Idaho. So I wanted to share a few more things these folks told me on the record. First of all, my title for the piece was “The Future of Music Will No Longer Fit Into the Containers of the Past: Strategies for Working Musicians from Industry Innovators at SXSW.”
Had to cut my opening line: “Sixth street is the cultural center of Austin, Texas, a city whose identity as “live music capital of the world” is now a registered trademark, just like its favorite slogan “keep Austin weird.””
One of my favorite things that Leeor Brown of Terrorbird and Friends of Friends told me about Been Meaning to Tell You, the latest record by Ernest Gonzales is: “It’s only a month later and Ernest’s amazing album is not a brand new record anymore! Four stars in Urb is already old news. I can’t go back to NPR a month later and be like, would you write that up again?”
Page from Ernest Gonzales' book
My friend Casey Rae-Hunter, communications director for Future of Music Coalition said: “When you look at the mobile space you’re going to be seeing people are going to get really used to accessing music in the cloud. They might eventually get used to not even ‘owning’ a digital file. Or maybe they will download it and they’ll have it on their home computer or stored on a server somewhere, but they’ll be able to access it via broadband or wi-fi or cell network on all of their devices.
“Apple bought Lala, and they may introduce a ‘cloud locker’ component to their iTunes service. That would let you play your stuff on any Apple device from wherever you are.”
My friend Eddie Sumlin of A Visual Sound didn’t make it into the piece at all but added: “I think the future of music is gonna be about creating authentic experiences. Radio is dope. I listen to people all around the world because I respect what they program. I go see certain artists because they bring a certain type of thing live. They do something that you could never experience digitally.”
Casey also said: “One reason the major labels are struggling is that they kind of lost the ability to inspire fans. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to compete with free. Well, you have to be able to sell to the hardcore fan. What the industry might need to figure out is how to monetize the behavioral activities the customers are already engaged in. And that’s the expectation of access on-demand. It’s conceivable that consumers will embrace streaming pretty much across the board if the business models allow it and the stuff is licensed and available. There’s an entire new generation that simply wants to be able to get what they want when they want it on whatever gadget they’re using. And it would be an added benefit if they wouldn’t get sued and it compensated artists.”
Finn Riggins rock out in a parking lot
I asked Bryan Calhoun, VP for new media at Sound Exchange, what he was doing ten years ago when Congress created the nonprofit royalty-collection agency. He replied: “Roughly ten years ago, I was doing A&R and marketing for record labels. There are hardly anymore A&R people period. With all the tools available to people, everybody can record, release and market themselves. Barriers to entry were still there ten years ago. The big problem now is getting above the clutter. So how do you stand above the rest, get into a position to make a living from your music? 2200 bands showcasing? What’s the end goal? Getting signed to a major record label? More and more people don’t see that as the holy grail anymore. Many artists and managers are looking forward to their contract expiring so they can do their own thing.”
Of working for Sound Exchange, Bryan told me: “I’ve got probably the coolest job. I contact artists and tell them I’ve got money to give them. Our board of directors is made up half of label people and half of artist people. Those are the people that get paid from Sound Exchange so it is in their interest to do their job efficiently.”
I asked Priya Dewan, US label manager for the mighty Warp Records, about their acquisition of new artists to the label. She said: “We’re constantly looking for new talent and signing new talent. New artists and existing artists putting out great new records… We can’t count on our back catalog. The more new cool and fresh new artists we get the better our chances are. People come to us because we have such a great roster.”
I asked how the Internet’s openness has contributed to Warp finding new musicians.
She said: “We’ve got specific sites that we visit to find out about up-and-coming artists. Talking to other artists, going to shows, reading blogs. A combination of things get us interested in the artists. Anybody who suggests a good music blog to me gets added to my Google Reader. I check that once a day. A lot of times our artists tell us about new artists. We get at least 10 to 15 demos a week on a slow week, physical and digital. When we put out a Grizzly Bear or Battles record, we’ll get a whole lot of demos that sound like them. I can’t think of an unsolicited demo we’ve listened to, where we called them back, and it resulted in signing.”
There was also more I was going to write about Finn Riggins, but Boise Weekly editors felt there had been a lot of coverage of their trip to Austin, so I kept it narrowed down to a partial list of their team and the story of vocalist/guitar player Lisa Simpson seeing some talented buskers. The one other funny thing she told me about sixth street in Austin was about a guy running down the street, pulling up his shirt to reveal a ‘Truffle Shuffle’ and yelling, “MTV Spring Break!” She said she looked at this dude, flashing his chest, and thought, “Is that for real? What is he on?” Ah, sixth street during SXSW. I miss it already.
View of 6th Street from patio stage of The Wave