Music, Social And Mobile Front And Center

  • (l-r) D.A. Wallach, Ian Rogers, Seth Goldstein, Andrew Fisher, and Alex Isold
    Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

By Liz Burr

The third annual Social Media Rock Stars Summit was a success on a number of levels. Centering on a discussion surrounding how musicians can monetize and engage their audience through social, mobile and gaming platforms, panelists included Andrew Fisher, CEO of Shazam; Seth Goldstein, chairman of Turntable.fm; Alex Iskold, CEO of GetGlue; and Spotify artist-in-residence D.A. Wallach of pop duo Chester French. Topspin Media CEO Ian Rogers moderated the discussion.

The music platforms represented at this year's summit are a testament to key developments in how the digital space can empower artists and musicians. I've attended all three summits, and I think the dialog gets more insightful each year. What I like best is that The Recording Academy continues to advance the conversation about technology and the music industry.

Privacy was a hot topic, as panelists discussed the impact privacy may have on discovering and consuming music online. Wallach shared that he often plays a song 30 times in a row and has no shame sharing it, while mentioning other users may be embarrassed to disclose their listening history. Personally, when I love a song I play it over and over again and don't mind if people know this about me. The panel agreed that being able to manage privacy controls on a granular level is the best way to appeal to all users with various levels of privacy preferences.

One of the biggest changes in the industry in the last 10 years is the open line of communication between artists and their fans. Nowadays, artists can speak directly to fans through social media. For example, Lady Gaga can send instant messages to 19 million of her fans via Twitter. While this can be seen as a key innovation for artists, some panelists argued that social media eliminates the shroud of mystery used as a marketing agent for musicians and celebrities in the past. Still, musicians can use Twitter to make pithy statements or to remain mysterious depending on their use. The panel underscored the importance of artists staying true to themselves, and remaining authentic in whichever manner they choose to use social media.

Curation, discovery and monetization were key subjects in the discussion as well. Fans of artists can follow their GetGlue check-ins to learn what kinds of media their favorite artists consume. Celebrities can log on to apps such as Turntable.fm and DJ a room to show off their DJ skills. Due to the frictionless nature of sharing through social media, some members of the panel argued that humans are better curators than algorithmic methods. Fisher pointed out that even though they're not a traditional music retailer, Shazam sells 400,000 songs a day at the point of inspiration (when a song is tagged in their app).

Appropriately, fans had an opportunity to tune in to the summit via GRAMMY Live and send in questions via Twitter. On cue with the discussion of monetization, one submission questioned the fairness of Spotify's royalty rate, a much-dissected topic in recent months.

"I think it's fair," responded Wallach, who also serves as an advisor to Spotify. "There's a floor to what we pay people, but there's no ceiling. So as we scale, the effective payments that we make based on how much people listen to your music go up and up and up. And I think we're rapidly approaching a point at which the average listener to a song of an artist they like generates as much revenue over a fairly short period of time for that artist as they would if they purchased [the song] as a unit."

"You can't tell somebody what a good song is," said Fisher. "People have to feel that they've discovered the artist themselves. ... If they like it, and they feel like they have some ownership ... they're going to tell their friends about it. I think that's why [social media] is such an important category now."

In keeping with the event's themes of music discovery and using social media to engage artists and fans, following the panel guests were treated to a performance by Canadian artist Tara Keith, winner of the Hitlab Emerging Talent Competition — a perfect example of a social media rock star.