Disruptin’ The Peace: Virgin’s Debate On Music and Technology

Just under a month ago, Virgin Records held a live debate to kick off the Virgin Disruptors series in London during the label’s 40th anniversary exhibition. The topic at hand, which is near and dear to Quantone’s heart, dealt with the relationship between technology and music. A panel of key industry players, ranging from artists like Amanda Palmer and will.i.am to social media platform founders Nick Jones (VEVO) and Ian Hogarth (Songkick) were posed with a single idea: technology has changed how we discover, consume, and enjoy music, but is it killing the music industry?

New Platforms and Connections

\r\nKey portions of the debate dealt with the new platforms consumers use to interact with artists. According to artist Imogen Heap, who has been working in the industry since the mid 1990s, the old playing field was much simpler. An artist sold CDs and toured where sales were highest. Today, the new platforms like Twitter and various streaming services have created a more complex playing field that artists must learn to navigate in order to be successful. As per will.i.am’s argument, technology has democratized music for both the artist and the consumer. Whereas the industry of the past was dominated by big companies like RCA, artists today can use the Internet to their advantage in promoting themselves. Scooter Braun, the mega-manager of acts like Justin Bieber and Psy, acknowledged that these new platforms allow for a direct connection between artists and fans that musicians of the past would have killed for. Trevor Skeet (aka Yung Skeeter), an artist and artist advocate for Spotify, added that musicians need to learn how to use these new platforms to their advantage and cater directly to their audiences. From the social media platform perspective, both Nick Jones and Ian Hogarth argued that technology has been a boon rather than a boor to the industry. Jones argued that platforms like VEVO facilitate music discovery via music videos as opposed to inhibiting it. As for Hogarth’s Songkick, it was created with the purpose of getting the consumer away from the computer and in front of the artist to create an authentic experience. According to Hogarth, Songkick users go to roughly twice the amount of shows within a year of joining the service, which reveals how technology becomes an amplifier for music.

Artists and Monetization

Perhaps the biggest issue discussed in relation to the intersection of music and technology was the monetization of today’s industry. Amanda Palmer, who began as a performance artist, expressed concern that streaming platforms and digital music retail harm the flow between capital and content creation, which results in an unhealthy ecosystem. Whereas the old label system had many downfalls, it still enabled a constant influx of capital back into content creation for artists. Additionally, would the artists who chose not to rely on technology and social media have a voice or be completely lost in the ever-growing tech wave? Zoe Keating, a renowned cellist with a core following, approached the topic from a different perspective, as she argued that streaming services and digital retail can be positive, especially for niche artists like herself to nurture their fan bases. She pointed out how she uses such platforms to connect to and create something with her fans. At the same time, she acknowledged that the payment landscapes of some services leave the artist out of the equation. Additionally, she wished artists had more say in what brands or products were associated with their music via advertising on sites like VEVO and Youtube. Braun offered similar concerns, although he noted that the current payment system is not the status quo, thus it’s important that artists demand a change and for these services to bring artists into the conversation. The artists present were asked what else they wanted or cared about from technology. Keating freely admitted that she wanted data more than money to understand her fans and their listening habits better. Imogen Heap wanted more transparency from these companies along with a way to curate and use it to her advantage. will.i.am echoed a similar hope, but he also called for power within the industry (or what’s left of it) to go back to the artists.

Where Do We Go From Here?

At the end of the debate, there was no single answer that could determine the fate of the industry. Whereas artist will.i.am argued that the industry as we know it is dead, most participants agreed that technology overall is beneficial to the music industry so long as it is used in the correctly. It allows for artists to be musicians in a completely new way while also nurturing relationships with fans. The industry now is an environment in which the consumer has the most power in choosing where to get music from and how to interact with it. The most insightful statement of the evening that sums up the conversation came from Braun as he discussed the industry as a whole. Despite the flux of the industry, everything still comes down to the music that is made and how artists deliver it to their fan base. Most importantly, self discovery remains the same, although some music lovers might argue it has improved thanks to new technology.   Did you watch the debate? If not, watch it here and tell us what you think on Twitter! Simply tweet @quantonemusic and include #virgindisuptors.   -MEF

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