An Empowered Future For Musicians

5879918261_9850cb8112Guest post by Matt Urmy (@matturmy), Founder and CEO of Artist Growth, for sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank.

I would never presume to be able to provide truly valuable insight into the values and philosophies that shaped the business models of the music industry
from previous decades. I simply do not know enough about it. And today, there are many areas of the industry that I would not be qualified to give a
keynote speech about, such as copyright law, or royalty rate negotiations for online radio. Despite this, I am asked almost daily to answer questions
regarding the state of our current industry, and make forecasts as to what I believe the future holds. It’s a fun question… but divination is a risky

One topic that I feel is of utmost importance to the future of our industry moving in a healthy and sustainable direction is the empowerment of today’s
working artists.

Throughout history, social empowerment has taken many forms: the right to vote, the right to an education… even the right to decide where to live and raise
your family. In the music industry today, we face a new and urgent need for the educated empowerment of our working artists. Not only does our industry
need it, but I would argue our society, and the future of its evolving culture is in desperate need of a newly empowered creative class.

Artists must be enabled to become participants in the design and infrastructure of the new business model. Does this mean that artists should be writing
bills for the Senate on royalty rates? Probably not, but it does mean that their participation in the debate should be supported, and their perspectives
should be reverently considered by those who are designing the tools of tomorrow’s industry, especially with regard to technology.

Part of this empowerment will happen in the halls of Congress (hopefully), and part of it will come from emerging technologies, and even more precisely,
the trend of these new music technology services integrating with one another to bring new and unprecedented levels of user experience and customer service
to fruition. This is the developing area of the music industry that I have placed myself right at the center of over the last year.

We need an unprecedented level of integration in music technology services, and with that, a model will emerge from the chaos that could potentially become
an example to other industries on how to sustain business in the age of the cyber cloud.

Another point that I believe to be critical to the success and sustainability of our new ecosystem is that the new technology-based model not be designed
by technologists alone. Only a cooperative initiative of technologists working directly with artists, and the business operators, will create a system that
enables sustainable growth in all sectors of the industry.

We need to engage the market in a manner that removes the mundane and overwhelming aspects of using and managing music technology, and provide access to
actionable data that affords artists and their teams the ability to strategically execute business plans, and lead the discussions that frame the
negotiations with their investors, be it angel funding, a record label, or patron fans.

In short, as technologists it is our responsibility, and should be our pledge, to establish and maintain a sustainable, scalable ecosystem that establishes
a fresh and streamlined portability of data. I believe that through partnership we foster an increased drive towards profitability and a healthy market
where the force of competitive energy drives the pursuit of more innovation. As long as we remain true to one of the most core values of our renaissance,
which is that we build this new industry model with a strict commitment to serving artists, not just profiting from them, then we will succeed.

The goal of our innovation should be to create services that do not impede upon the artists’ time that is committed to the development of their craft and
creative processes, but rather provide services that offers incentives to artists for participation in the shaping of their individual business plans and
the industry model as a whole. We should strive to do so without preventing them from focusing the majority of their energy on the processes necessary for
them to do their most important work — bringing music into our world.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Sidewinder.fm is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.

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  1. Firstly, organizing musicians is a lot like organizing migrant farm workers. Most musicians are too busy trying to keep their heads above water financially and keep their creative spark alive to be political. The organizing movement needs a dynamic, articulate and visible figurehead. I don’t think David C. Lowery is it. Much as I respect his passion, he is too angry to be an effective Cesar Chavez. Somebody smart and diplomatic – who is an actual musician like Lowery – must step forward bear the standard for working musicians, champion their cause. Musicians unions have not been effective in working the licensing, compensation and technology issues. I don’t believe representation is currently happening effectively in the halls of Congress -witness the strong condemnation by some artists groups of the IRFA. Why were these constituents not at the table when this bill was being written? Why was their input not solicited earlier in the political process? Broken process.
    Second, the technology and platform providers (read: every company involved in writing software that has anything to do with creating and distributing music, from Avid to Google to Spotify) need to get together and hammer out an API that effectively allows the exchange of relevant metadata so the product (a song) can be tracked from cradle to grave – from production to consumption. It’s byzantine how the system works now. This is a standards creation problem, it’s been tackled before in the tech community (from telephone service to operating systems and application software). It certainly wouldn’t be easy, but it is possible for key stakeholder company engineers to get together and map out flowcharts and design a software system that works so money can flow semi-transparently from consumer back to creator. Of course, the business model needs to work, and that is the problem. Many of the current players have competing financial interests, but perhaps everyone will see eventually that we all lose if nothing is done to create a better technological solution: artists, technology platform providers, consumers, and the labels/middlemen.

  2. I agree with you, and there is strong evidence that the leaders of music tech companies are getting together to map out an integrated ecosystem (and there is a lot more data to port and track then just the life cycle of a song), so I am very encouraged. Musicians have been bearing most of the weight of the industry’s chaos, and I view it as imperative that we design tools that relieve them of that burden and streamline the processes of working for a living in this new paradigm. Thanks for your comment!

  3. One of the biggest problems is that listening to music has become just another spoke in a multi-tasking universe. There was a time when the purchase and subsequent listen to a new record was an activity in and of itself, a period of time that was set aside, protected and valued….

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