The Future of Music Summit, 2012

In November, I attended the Future of Music Summit, an annual conference that brings together musicians, policy makers, and technologists to discuss the issues influencing the creation and distribution of music. Major changes in the music industry set the stage for discussions that were often contentious, with many of the conversations focusing on policies governing the distribution of music over the Internet, copyright, and the royalties sought by both record labels and independent musicians.

The centerpiece issue discussed this year was the Internet Radio Fairness Act, legislation that promotes parity for royalty rates paid by Internet streaming-radio services like Pandora, which pay as much as five times the fees as competitors in cable and satellite radio. This year’s keynote speakers, Pandora founder Tim Westergren and Senator Ron Wyden (D, Oregon), both lauded the bill as a necessary enabler for future innovations for Internet music services. Here are links to a post by The Chicago Tribune’s music critic, Greg Kot (who interviewed Westergren during the morning keynote) and a transcript of Sen. Wyden’s afternoon keynote.

Also featured were some of the technologies built to support independent artists who choose to avoid signing with large record labels and instead release music on their own:

  • CASHMusic is a non-profit organization which builds tools like WordPress plugins that help musicians sell their music from their own sites.
  • PledgeMusic is a platform that allows musicians to sell music and merchandise directly to fans. Combining similar features from Kickstarter, iTunes, and Amazon, along with business strategy and marketing advice, musicians are offered an array of tools that allow them to connect directly with fans.
  • ArtistGrowth is an iPhone app that helps artists manage the financial and logistical aspects of their production and touring. The organization takes the approach that while the content side of independent music has exploded, few tools have helped musicians understand the business aspects of their work.

Considering that it’s still a huge challenge for smaller artists to generate both a fanbase and returns from releasing their music directly (a musician in attendance shared her spreadsheet detailing the royalties she received from Internet radio), it’s likely that more tools will emerge that help artists seeking to manage their own music careers.

Many in attendance were tweeting during the events, and you can catch up on the stream here, or view a Storify collection of tweets here.