Conventions & Awards

What you missed at Music Biz: AI, Intellectual Property & Data for Days

The topics of tech ecosystems and their impact on everything from intellectual property to economics were tangible, with a consistent buzz at the recent 2023 Music Biz Conference in Nashville, TN.

By David Benjamin De Cristofaro

The conference had a showroom element with various major record labels present (Universal Music Group, Virgin Records, Capitol Christian, and Bethel Music), a strong panel presence by data company Luminate and streaming platforms like Tidal, Spotify, and SoundCloud. A noticeable absence of major talent agencies and live promoters raised interesting questions about their historically slow adoption of tech and applications of data, and a presentation by representatives of Ticketmaster reaffirmed their value for both, as well as the case for the company to branch off on its own again.

The event panels were more hit-than-miss than other events like it, in fact, I have it slotted as the second-best overall conference in terms of panelists and conversation this past season after SXSW. The biggest challenge was there being so little breathing room between desirable talks to attend in the schedule, which was its biggest strength- meaningful current/forward dialogue with expertise in some of the most topical matters facing evergreen facets of the music business today.

Here are some of the things that stood out at Music Biz 2023:

Non-Stop Quality

With participation primarily relegated to members of the Music Business Association, the event refreshingly avoided the trapping one would imagine such a funnel would create, of making a limited and more siloed flow of information worth the price of admission. Instead, a robust environment awaited those in attendance.

Most panels had at least two or more voices speaking with industry-leading expertise to provide insight into current conditions while forecasting their future trajectory. While not every panel hit that way, most of them did just that. The only key weaknesses evident were some of the moderators and the occasional panel in a smaller space more suited for one of the bigger stage rooms, and a bit more non-music business-centric topics and programming mixed into the schedule than other events.

While one might wonder if an event operating out of Nashville could go toe to toe with ones like it in Los Angeles and Austin, Music Biz answered that question definitively, distinguishing itself as a tentpole music industry event that will guide conversations within music throughout the rest of the year.

Highlights and standouts included the overall event thriving under the non-profit Music Business Association and President Dr. Portia Sabin’s leadership, as well as strong showings and presentations by companies like the Billboard chart-powering Luminate and Tidal, quality panelists by way of SoundExchange such as Anjulah Singh and Soundcloud like Tracy Chan and Shauna Alexander, as well as numerous agencies and organizations.

Artificial Intelligence was a hot topic at Music Biz this year, and RIAA Chief Operating Officer Michele Ballantyne and NMPA Executive Vice President and General Counsel Danielle Aguirre intuitively unpackaged the impact of current technology like generative AI and its impact on music creators’ rights and policy during their AI-Generated Content & The Music Industry talk. Similarly, SoundExhange’s Anjulah Singh shined during Why Does the Music Industry Need More Metadata Integration? and Everything You Need To Know About Neighboring Rights panels.

A Backstage Pass: Analyzing Live Music’s Future talk presented by Billboard Senior Director for Live + Touring, Dave Brooks, featured key insights from the data side of live music as presented by Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Bandsintown, Fabrice Sergent. Among other data highlights were Music in the Metaverse and Beyond: Full Steam Ahead?, Physical Product Consumption Data Presentation, and From Sync to Streaming presentations by Luminate, as well as Chartmetric’s vibrant activation where people gathered to connect and collaborate, as well as to try out their recently acquired and relaunched OneSheet EPK generator for artists!

The need for more and more detailed metadata and metadata integration in music was also a common thread in the programming, providing one of the best moments during a Q&A following The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: How Technology is Reshaping the Music Publishing Landscape panel in which I asked what is a winning combination of existing technologies for identifying and tracking intellectual property across digital and virtual spaces for artists, to which Pex VP Product and Head Chris McMurtry of RME and CPA’s Steven Ambers answered succinctly.

“Open, clean databases and a fingerprint to track the audio associated with that data,” McMurty noted. “It’s really incredible how MLC has made their data available, adding our fingerprint to that data is making a huge impact.”

“A combination of the fingerprinting to the attributions of the underlying works,” Ambers added. “I agree with Chris also from the beginning stages, now you can take stems out of things and identify a stem early on and you can see it all the way through.”

Another great Q&A moment that provided an insightful and thorough answer came during the Redefining Music Licensing for Web3, Podcasts, and Beyond panel, courtesy of Vickie Nauman when asked about electronic artist Grimes’s offer to share half royalty payments with anyone who created AI music using her as the basis.

“I feel like artists are going to come out with a really, really wide range of approaches with AI,” Nauman shared. “I’m seeing more and more artists who are intrigued by it and see it as an extension of their creativity, of efficiency.”

UMG Continues Startup Support

Universal Music Group has continued its presence as an industry leader in working with music tech startups to create a participatory ecosystem in which new ideas, features, functions, and new businesses find a clearer path to working with major players in music.

Their Music Biz programming kicked off with a Startup Bootcamp emceed by Dmitri Vietze of Rock Paper Scissors PR and Music Tectonics, in which SVP, Business Development, Digital Innovation Bill Gagnon and Director, New Digital Business & Innovation, UMG Digital Innovation Cristina Pimentel providing an update on the label’s Digital Innovation Program and strategy as well as the ways in which UMG is working with startups globally

That presentation was followed by a selection of speakers (including experts such as Vickie Nauman of CrossBorderWorks) providing an overview of the top trending categories in music and music tech, an open forum Q&A with leading music-tech advisors, and An opportunity to connect with investors of varied backgrounds for insights, tips, and best practices for approaching funding. A music industry mixer capped the day, with tables of creative insights and strategies being shared in conversation saturating the room.

The Best Things About Music Biz

What stood out to me the most about the conference in equal parts were the strength of the standout panelists and what they contributed to key topical conversations, the competitive schedule quality, and well as the built-in gathering spaces facilitated by companies like UMG, The Orchard, Virgin Music, and Warner housed WMX. The downstairs lobby had the buzz of meetings that Pollstar Live! offers, though, unlike the former’s 2023 edition, the latter was in sub-context to competitive attendance of the panel rooms.

It also featured some of the better off-site post-event day mixers, though several being scheduled at the same time each night often made more for appearances than attendance. Nonetheless, in addition to the wisely on-site held UMG event, Downtown Music held a very convergent gathering of notable names in music and tech, and both Virgin and an Icelandic delegation both held notable gatherings as well.

What I think was the best thing for music was seeing new XR opportunities open possibilities for artists with labels like Bethel Music, services like The Orchard, and platforms like Tidal, as well as the potential for what it could mean for them in terms of engagement with people’s day to day lives. Suffice it to say, those moments being able to spring forth from conversations at Music Biz is an exciting prospect and it will be interesting to see what grows from it and how it impacts the music industry at large.

David Benjamin De Cristofaro is a recent grad ‘available-for-hire’ who achieved National success as an award-winning student of Music Business, Tech, Marketing, and Economics at The University of The Arts and Berklee College of Music. While in school, he met with members of Congress in advocacy with The Recording Academy, worked with some of the largest artists, tours, and festivals in Music, and on creative experience projects and solutions for NARAS, the Capitol Records Innovation Center, Fender, Bose, MusiCares, Spotify, and Republic Records. He has served as an international speaker at universities and conferences. He spent the pandemic writing journalism pieces on immersive and fan experience ecosystems and researching emerging ticket models + solutions, while also contributing to USA Today SMG.

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