By Ernesto Lechner
A provocative discussion about the future of the music industry presented by none other than legendary journalist Tom Brokaw and Ron Conway, special advisor to venture funding firm SV Angel, was the highlight of the GRAMMY Foundation's 15th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon & Scholarship Presentation held Feb. 8 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Informed by the dry wit and deep insight of these two industry veterans, the panel captivated the hundreds of people who attended the event. Instead of adopting the cliché, apocalyptic viewpoint that the digital revolution represents the end of the music industry and media as we know them, both Brokaw and Conway underscored the thrilling possibilities of a new landscape that continues to evolve right in front of our eyes.
"For a journalist to use Twitter, he still needs to have something to say," said Brokaw during one of many memorable reflections. "And that tweet, no matter how long its characters, will still need to have a beginning, a middle and an end."
"Twitter gives artists and musicians the opportunity to communicate with their fans without the intervention of a PR agency," added Conway. "The medium has changed. Now, you can have an open discussion with your own audience."
Moderated with sensitivity by Brokaw's daughter, interactive content consultant Andie Simon, the discussion touched on a variety of fascinating topics: the current disadvantages of traditional media models versus digital journalism; the idea of using the Internet as a useful tool to discover new music; and the growing need for trustworthy sources of information.
"These days, some guy sitting in his underwear in a basement could invent anything and, with the hit of a keystroke, disseminate it as objective news all over the Internet," said Brokaw, eliciting a wave of laughter from the audience. "It's difficult to catch up with that. The universe of information is virtually unlimited now, and that reality poses a challenge."
The luncheon also included a brief but impassioned speech by President/CEO of The Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation Neil Portnow, as well as the presentation of the 2013 ELI Service Award to notable entertainment litigator Chuck Ortner.
Providing more food for thought, the five finalists of the annual Entertainment Law Initiative Writing Competition scholarships shared their papers with the audience in the form of video presentations, including competition winner Tyrone Scott, whose winning piece was titled "Saving The Modern Record Industry: Parnership And Fiduciary Duty Between Labels And Artists." The quality of the concepts at hands was outstanding — ranging from novel ideas to how to monetize the art of the mashup, to a visionary plan for funneling unclaimed digital royalties into high school music education programs.