5 Things I Learned at the 10th SF MusicTech Summit on 2/13/2012

by Gordon Elgart on February 15, 2012

Photo by Kara Murphy

Legal issues were all the rage at the SF MusicTech Summit, but I've never concerned myself much with the law in this area.

This week was the 10th SF MusicTech Summit at The Hotel Kabuki in Japantown, and while Spinning Platters has been covering this event since the beginning, this was the first time I personally got to attend. The event serves mainly as a chance for everyone in the music tech world to catch everyone else up on what they’re doing, congratulate themselves on how well they’re all doing, and look for money and engineers; however, sometimes you can learn things. Here’s what I learned.

Pandora wants to be awesome


Eric Bieshke of Pandora presented a look into the Music Genome Project which lies at the heart of what Pandora’s personalized radio does to play just the right song for you. It takes data from its staff of music analysts (which considers the music in a vacuum) with personalized data gathered by looking at your individual behavior (your thumbs up and down, how much you listen, how often you listen, among others) to create the perfect song at the perfect time. This is all done to satisfy a mysterious metric called “awesomeness.” I say mysterious, because while Eric was willing to answer any question regarding the definition of any other metrics, a question about how Pandora defines awesome was met with a “if I told you, I’d have to kill you” response.


I also learned: if you admit to knowing a Britney Spears song comes from “the new album,” people will laugh at you.


No one really has anything new to say about video


The video panel went over a lot of the same old ground. Video makers can be creative, they can go right to their fans, they can find different methods of reaching their fans using some live streaming sites. None of this was earth shattering. What was interesting was the dynamic between “the guy from YouTube” and everyone else on the panel. They know that YouTube currently has ALL the power in online video, but they all are afraid to admit this. The concept of a subscription model for the site seemed to send chills down the spine of the creators, but the stone faced and tight lipped YouTube rep wasn’t giving anything away. There were too many people on this panel for any truly in-depth conversation to come out of it. I probably could have chosen better here.


I also learned: YouTube has no intention of helping artists all that much. When Anton Patzner of Bay Area’s Judgement Day (see them this Friday) asked about a donation button for artists on YouTube’s site, it was suggested that he start this business himself.


No one wants to hear you rock the boat


The most interesting and personal panel I attended was a solo performance called “Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss” by David Lowery, lead singer and songwriter for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, as well as a teacher at the University of Georgia. He took the unpopular view that digital music is bad for artists, and explained it with some data he’s collected over the years. This was poorly attended, as it butted up against the “Afternoon Snack Break.” The takeaway is not to schedule an event that’s both contradictory to the pat-each-other-on-the-back nature of the day and up against free food. (Actually, scheduling anything against free food is a bad idea.) David gave me some great bits for my notebook:


  • Digital music companies and file sharing sites are making money off of “artist enabled content,” which is content created by artists, who are paid nothing (or next-to-nothing) for it.
  • Using Louis C.K.’s comedy special as an example that “the model works” for the music business is like saying that winning a million dollars in Vegas proves that “the casino model works.”
  • While selling digital music appears to give a bigger chunk of the pie to artists, eliminating the record label also means that the artists take on all the risk of paying for the recording and releasing of an album.




I also learned: David Lowery didn’t know that one reason artists such as Pretty Lights and Girl Talk give away their albums is because they use a multitude of uncleared samples, so by charging nothing, they can claim fair use. I wanted to ask him a question related to this, but time ran out, so I followed him into the hallway, and he gave me an “oh, interesting, wow” response.


I Should Have Been a Developer


If there’s one thing that stood out to me among the Tweets and chats and minature job ads spread around the event, everyone needs developers. If you’re a developer, you could have walked out of this event with a job; in fact, one company owner told me that he had, indeed, found someone that day to hire. We creative types are being left out in the cold. But at the end of the day, what will the tech companies be distributing if not creative work?


I also learned: there’s a lot of music nuts looking for marketing and PR work in this industry, so I shouldn’t feel so alone


There are some cool products out there


Spread around the coffee/break/open-bar-party-where-I-drank-too-many-Manhattans area (thanks Monstro, whoever you are) were product demos by producs that ranged from cool to OMG. My personal favorite product discoveries of the day were:


Jammit: This is an app that helps you learn music. You buy songs for it that are tied to a specific instrument (2112 by Rush for drums or Everlong by Foo Fighters for guitar are some examples), and then you can practice along with the app. You can mix your own instrument up or down, the rest of the band up or down, and it also provides the tablature. This is the app I wish I had when I were younger and learning to play drums. It’s spectacular.


Boombotix: I don’t think they had an official table, but they were all over the place. They make portable, artistic speakers for outdoorsy types. They look like vinyl figures, but actually provide a purpose beyond looking cool. You can buy mounts for bicycles, or just clip them on to your clothing when skating or skiing. (You can also take being the annoying guy on public transit to a new level by using these, but I don’t recommend it.)


Cred: This is a Facebook app that is the whole way there on concept, and some polish is going to make it excellent. It’s basically a music recommendation tool that scores how good you are at recommending music to people. You score points if people listen to what you suggest, and even more if those people suggest it to others. Do strangers find you and start listening to what you’re programming? More points. It has this cheesy 386/486 point-and-click adventure look about it, and I think they may work against it because it looks low tech and acts high tech.


I also learned: Coming soon from Miso Music is a music teaching app that actually recognizes chords. This will be the app you’ll need if you want to play sensitive acoustic guitar in your college dorm hallway.



Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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