MusicfestNW is midstream, with venues in the double digits, thousands of fans, hundreds of bands, parties both official and unofficial, sold out shows and shows with epic lines full of people attempting to storm the virtual barricades set up by the fire department.
But in the OMSI auditorium during the afternoon of September 6, in presentation being held at Techfest NW, there’s a slightly different mood. A powerpoint presentation by CASH Music, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping out clueless musicians, involves a massive-font statement that music is in dire peril, and that if the music survives, the artists might not.
CASH Money’s representative is up there complaining about Facebook. Specifically, he’s complaining that Facebook (like other closed networks) changes the rules whenever it wants, that it charges bands anywhere between $75 and $750 to “boost” a post about their tour to reach the same fans that already liked their Facebook. He’s complaining about what people complain about on Facebook.
The proposed solution, as all grand solutions, is bit nebulous, however: CASH wants to create an open web, with open tools, a community-based network that no one really profits from. It is a deeply optimistic plan, not unprecedented in a tech and software world that often runs on fumes of utopian ideals: the precept that everything from code to data to community itself wants to be free, and that free markets of ideas can organically create a better future. It's difficult not to be wholly in favor.
Musician Brooke Parrott’s presentation for web-music company Songkick was a little more direct in its solutions to musicians’ woes.
Songkick is testing out a new platform called Detour for musicians with more fans than resources. The idea is that instead of shoestringing their tours without budget or any notion whether anybody in Wilmington actually wants them to play, musicians can pre-fund tours by pre-selling tickets to eager fans who bid for hypothetical tickets: It's similar to Kickstarter, but for tours. It funded Andrew Bird's tour in Brazil; it funded a band I've never heard of in London. And from the looks of it, it's likely to be life-changing for the musicians once it gets rolling.
That is, it's likely to be life-changing for musicians who already have fans. If they don't... well... that's their own fault.
The late-afternoon music and tech panel among Tender Loving Empire's Jared Mees, Gang of Four's Dave Allen, Viva Voce's Kevin Robinson and CASH Music's Maggie Vail was, on the other hand, a mess. A very, very entertaining mess.
After moderator Ryan Wines laid down rules that no one could talk about either money or "the way things used to be", the rock 'n' roll panel did the most rock 'n' roll thing they could, under the circumstances: They talked about nothing but money and the past.
Jared Mees turned out to be exactly who you thought he'd be: The most reasonable man on Earth. He multiple times made veiled calls to the moderator, Ryan Wines of Marmoset, who cheerily shrugged while Robinson and Allen lobbed firebombs over the barricades.
"50% of my money goes to the devil," said Robinson.
"Everyone was talking about the mythical jukebox in the sky that had every song." said Allen. "Well, we have it, and everyone’s complaining about it."
"I’m gonna give out my home phone number," says Robinson. "I don’t care if someone calls me. Worst thing is I’ve got to hug someone’s neck."
"This is the last music-tech panel I will ever take part in," said Allen.
[Stay tuned to wweek.com for a recap of Kevin Robinson's thoughts about the future, music, Dave Allen, the uncanny valley, morals, profits, devils and illusions.]