For all the well-intentioned talk on the Auditorium Stage at Techfest NW from four men who say they are working to build tools that will help make musicians more money, why weren't there many musicians around to hear it?
The roundtable discussion on New Northwest Music Technologies should have had a least a few representatives from the music community to hear what Rhapsody, CD Baby, Generous, and Lively have to offer. To be fair, it was 10 am in the midst of a huge music festival in the city. If I had my druthers, I wouldn't be awake at this hour either. Or, as former Gang of Four bassist and current tech gadfly Dave Allen put it, "All I wanted to do after every gig was get loaded."
But if folks like Lively's Zach Varnell have their way, what a band will be doing after a gig is retiring to the green room to help choose from smartphone photos taken by the audience for a slideshow they can buy afterwards, or helping sell a video or audio recording of the show that just ended. Or instead of shaking off a hangover the next day, monitoring sales on Generous, a platform co-created by speaker Andrew Sloan that uses the tiered incentives from Kickstarter to offer fans a pay-what-you-will experience.
The consensus in the room was that musicians have the mental acuity of a senior citizen when it comes to technology. Moderator Portia Sabin, the president of Kill Rock Stars, was particularly venomous on this point, relating a story of a musician friend who wanted to share a demo. "I said, 'Great, send me a Soundcloud link,'" said Sabin. "And she said, 'Oh I don't know how to use that.' And this was a major musician who has put out a lot of music in the past. You don't know how to use Soundcloud? I can't even deal with you right now."
The only person who came to the defense of musicians was CD Baby marketing director Kevin Breuner, who lamented about the poor user experience of many online services meant to support the distribution of music. But he was also quick to point out that many artists take an apathetic view of these services. "They tell me, 'Why would I put my stuff on iTunes? No one's going to find me unless there's some big marketing machine behind me.'"
What stood out was the idea that all bands need a "fifth Beatle," as Allen put it, to help with online sales and marketing. But all of these services that these folks were in support of seem to be meant for those bands who can afford a tour manager or social media team or a label who can manage sales of an instant live recording download after a gig or put together different packages of t-shirts and gewgaws to be sold alongside an LP. The bands without such resources or capital are left out to dry.
Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.