By Bruce Britt
It was the grungy, flannel-flying '90s and after years of dreaming, I finally decided to start a band and take a stab at musical renown. Long story short: I learned that being a singer/songwriter only looks easy. In reality, it's hard. Like, real hard.
Being a musician is still no weekend in Paris, but the advent of digital technology has enabled both young and seasoned artists to reach fans at every stage of their careers. This industry-shaking paradigm shift took center stage Feb. 8 at the 4th Annual Social Media Rock Stars Summit, held at the Conga Room in downtown Los Angeles.
Titled The Music Industry, Then & Now: How Digital Changed The Game, the highlight of this year's summit was an hour-long panel featuring some of the industry's most progressive and socially connected entertainers. Listening to this year's panelists, which included GRAMMY-winning artist Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and current GRAMMY-nominated songwriter/producer Om'Mas Keith, I couldn't help but think how much more I could have accomplished if only today's technology was available "back in the day."
Panelist Dorothy Hui, Roc Nation vice president of digital marketing, noted that while the Internet has always been a place for communicating, organizing and distributing promotional materials, the Web is now an end-goal into unto itself.
"Between YouTube, ad-supported streams, digital downloads [and] bundling music with tours … I think we used to think of marketing in a very linear way, which was promotion, airplay, video airplay, and trying to drive unit sale," said Hui. "Now, we have YouTube as a major platform for discovery."
Other panelists noted that social media has changed the nature of music stardom, perhaps even driving a stake through the heart of the reclusive, mysterious artist of legend.
"We don't live in a world where everything is hidden until it's finished, and then released as a complete package," said Alexander Ljung, founder of SoundCloud. "It doesn't mean that the long-form disappears. It just means that we live in a world that is much more conversational."
Panelist Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy Theatre, views data as a major music marketing driver for the future.
"I think we're going to release certain things to certain segments of the fan base," said Adler. "Maybe this person loves the single, but this other person loves the long-form, and kind of identifying that and having more personal product relationship."
The summit kicked off with the GRAMMY Music Tech Lab, which The Recording Academy hosted in conjuction with Zuckerberg Media and SoundCtrl. Professionals from the music and venture capital worlds were on hand to meet five hand-picked online entrepreneurs, including the force behind startups Pheed, Mixify, PledgeMusic, BuddyBounce, and GRAMMY Amplifier. Judging from these respective sites, the trends in social media are in artist discovery, providing "venture capital" tools for artists to fund recording and touring projects, and centralization — i.e., one-stop sites where fans can directly access everything from video, audio, photos, and more from their favorite acts.
Two-time GRAMMY-winning Linkin Park vocalist Mike Shinoda was on hand to announce that he was selected as the first ambassador/mentor of Centerstage, an innovative online platform designed to provide professional mentoring and exposure to unsigned musicians that's powered by The Academy's GRAMMY Amplifier program.
Where was this technology when I needed it in the '90s?