Welcome to the “no excuses” era of music: A world where your resources are virtually unlimited, leaving you with the entirely responsible for making or breaking your own future.
April 23 at 9 a.m., academics, musicians, entrepreneurs, and music executives gathered at the Hynes Convention Center for the second annual Rethink Music Conference, a three-day event of speeches, performances, interviews, workshops, panels, and competitions aimed at encouraging innovation in the music industry.
“Don’t blame the man. Be the man,” said Roger Brown, president of Berklee College of Music, in his opening remarks. This sentiment would be reiterated throughout the day: speakers commented on how technology and social media are being used for innovation and how it is imperative to adapt in the game of self-promotion.
Author and orator Seth Godin started off an inspirational speech with a bleak idea: The music industry used to be “perfect,” but is no longer. He reminisced about the times of limited bandwidth on the radio, when only a few stations were available and consequently, a select few artists had an avenue to play their work. He also cited vinyl records as a positive because they were made to be worn out eventually, forcing the consumer to replace them.
Basically, a select few musicians were frequently promoted by record labels who chose them, and these artists sold large quantities of records. He said the structure worked beautifully until ubiquity became the norm.
“We demolished every element of scarcity,” he said, and as a result, people have endless choices.
With the rise of the Internet, he said, the music industry has a new problem: “The challenge now is selling to people who want to be sold to.”
According to Godin, mass marketing is losing effect because there is no longer a distinct definition of “normal.” To respond, he said, we must market to specific “tribes” of people with common values. But first, there has to be an artist, which Godin defined as someone who does something before anyone else. Fortunately, he said, rigid music executives don’t necessarily decide the options available to today’s artists.
“No one is going to pick you,” he said. “But we just made it really easy for you to pick yourself.”
Lawyer Ken Hertz gave his take on consumerism, the state of the music business, and music marketing.
“The record sales business is doing just fine,” he said, acknowledging Seth Godin’s talk from earlier. “Nobody should shed a tear for the record business.”
He noted that the music business works with a lot more than just music nowadays.
“Music is the best way to sell other stuff,” he said, listing celebrity musician-sponsored products like headphones and fragrances.
Music and Video Panel
In a panel on the fusion of music and video content, Billboard correspondent Andrew Hammp posed questions to YouTube sensation Karmin and manager Nils Gums, Junior Goris and Robert Fernandez from artist Pitbull’s management team, and Rio Careoff, president of online video host VEVO. The group discussed the rise of music videos as a platform for promotion.
“Advertisers didn’t perceive music videos to be anything special,” said Careoff. As a result, VEVO has branched out, creating its own VEVO-sponsored content with the artists its hosts.
Karmin is a group that is part of their promotional LIFT program, in which VEVO provides viewers with content including interviews, live performances, and behind-the-scenes footage.
For Careoff, his company is based on one question: “How do you create value from billions of people around the planet who love music?”
The Beacon was able to sit down with Karmin for a few minutes to discuss their burgeoning career. Although the band got its start on YouTube, they said they’ve since migrated to Twitter, too.
“It’s so much easier when you’re on the go,” said Amy Heidemann.
But what got the couple noticed in the first place?
“Being a personality, being real,” she said. “You do need something out of the ordinary. When you look at me, you don’t think, ‘She’s gonna start rapping Busta Rhymes.’”
However, coming from unconventional beginnings can cause skepticism from some new listeners who doubt the group’s musical credibility.
“We get put in this box, and it’s been fun to kind of bust out of that box,” Heidemann said.
At a radio performance that morning, she said she felt that the people there doubted them.
“I don’t know what they expected but we were rockin’ out,” she said.
The band’s second album, Hello, comes out May 8.
Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie
The Beacon also met up with Chris Kaskie, president of music critic site Pitchfork. He spoke about keeping up with new platforms.
“That’s always a struggle,” he said. “You just have to experiment. Social media is a new beast for us.”
The company does stay connected with fans the old-fashioned way too, through their festival. Kaskie explained that unlike a magazine, Pitchfork cannot be physically experienced otherwise.
“There’s no way to touch Pitchfork. That’s the way we can… see the community,” he said. “It’s our way of creating a tangible experience of Pitchfork.”
Hacker’s Weekend Winners
Rethink Music’s Hacker’s Weekend, a timed competition where computer nerds rush to create the hottest new app, gave winners the opportunity to share their ideas for new music technology with the Rethink Music audience.
The first group incorporated the idea of bonga latin dancing with Kinect for Xbox, making it so that each specific movement of the body generates a different sound from an instrument.
One frequent concert-goer solved her own pet peeve of having to manually generate playlists of the bands she plans to see. She synced her concert website’s RSVP status with Spotify to create a list of songs by the headlining and opening artists of upcoming shows; she can get amped for the show while deciding whether or not the first few acts are worth going early for.
The last presenter got quite a few laughs for creating a website (thebyrdsandthebeegees.com) that takes people's birthdays and generates hypothetical stories of their conception with matching Spotify playlists. (The presenter’s own playlist included Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”)
The conference gave the impression of a music industry desperately looking forward, trying to find the most innovative way to incorporate music and technology to keep up with the ever-diminishing attention spans of music fans.