SF MusicTech Summit

February 20. 2012 | By Katie

There’s only one thing that could make the SF MusicTech Summit better: time travel. The tricky thing about reviewing the day-long conference is that every panel is illuminating, every presentation filled with innovators. Not only should you hear it all (for the sake of a good report), you want to hear it all.

Without that particular piece of technology (maybe they’ll demo it next time?), I was left to my own schedule-devising devices. After September’s conference, I developed a handy trick to determine which panels I’d attend: close my eyes and point. This less-than-scientific method still managed to reveal some overarching themes last time around; collaboration, communities, and empowerment (of users, bands, and brands alike) seemed to be the orders of the day. The music industry was clearly in the midst of a massive transition, but the conference left me with a vague idea of the ultimate goal.

This summit—the tenth such MusicTech event—was another thing entirely. It felt as if the honeymoon period had passed; rather than focus on the theoretical, discussions frequently turned to next steps and tangible strategies. It seemed telling that the What’s Next panel featured Larry Marcus, a venture capitalist who focuses on “sprout stage” investments (post-product development). The Entrepreneurship and Digital Strategy panels were chock full of practical nuggets—about funding, analytics, business development. If there was any guiding theme for the event, it was just that: practicality.

The beauty of this focus is that it signifies an industry on the rebound. The ninth MusicTech Summit may have been hopeful, but this conference was dominated by companies in the trenches, turning those hopes into commercially viable realities. Ian Hogarth of Songkick, speaking on the Entrepreneurship panel, cited this inspiring statistic: his average user goes to 70% more shows the year after they start using the product. (Several panelists noted the importance of “numbers, numbers, numbers.”) He and other Summit speakers are developing new models for success; as Eric Ferraro of LeClairRyan wisely mentioned, “don’t look at the content as the [only] thing to be monetized.”

While revenue generation for artists themselves is still a tricky subject, music technology continues to strengthen and stabilize. There remain many open issues (including the growth of streaming, the shift to mobile, and ongoing licensing/ownership battles), but the innovators in attendance last Monday seemed deservedly confident. They’d jumped through hoops and over hurdles, and had helped launch a new era. The tenth SF MusicTech Summit was celebratory, yes, but also got down to the nitty-gritty—and anyone looking to start their own business learned from the best.

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