SF Musictech is an annual convention where all sorts of people ranging from music industry executives and entrepreneurs to the artists themselves get together to present and learn about the music business how it relates to technology. There were several startups presenting what they can do for artists as well as established companies that continue their mark of excellence in services and reputation. I had the pleasure of attending this convention for the first time this year, courtesy of my employer Spinlet. It was a great day where I learned new things and met some great people. Here is my summary of the day:

Keynote

The perfunctory welcome and opening marks can make or break an event like this. Most people are excited, so all you have to do as a moderator is say a few words and get off the stage so it can begin. I normally wouldn’t spend too much time talking about the opening remarks, but a great quote caught my ear from one Brian Zisk: “[San Francisco is the] best place for music technology business“. I pondered this for a second and started thinking about all the great venues we have here in the city, from the small venues like The Independent and Slim’s, to the midsize places like DNA Lounge – up to the historic places such as The Warfield, The Fillmore, and Bill Graham. And let’s not forget the really big venues like Cow Palace and just across the bay, Overstock Coliseum. I also thought of all the great live acts I have seen, both big and small since moving here years ago, I can’t even begin to name them all. And when job searching last, just how many companies I courted that are involved in music themselves (the now all but defunct Myspace, Soundcloud, and other companies the industry relies on such as Twitter). Indirectly or directly, I would have to agree that San Francisco does have a certain allure to the music scene, rich in history and promising in future.

Web Audio

After the greeting, I hightailed it to the Web Audio API session. The first remarks assured me I was in the right place – ‘this is going to be a technical conversation, so I trust everyone in here has programming knowledge‘. Lucas Gonze, CTO of Official.fm and Boris Smus, engineer from the Google Chrome team talked about four emerging audio standards:

  • Web VTT (closed captioning)
  • Web RTC (Real time conferencing with JavaScript)
  • Media fragments API (Indexing media fragments across the web)
  • Audio API’s with HTML5 and new abilities there.

Closed captioning on the web is a very important concept for accessibility. Whether for music, online talks, or conferences,  imagine a simple JavaScript ability to caption content. There are some solutions out there now such as speakertext, but at the moment cost money.

Real time conferencing has huge potential. The main problem here revolves around latency issues, and how to monitor them. It was brought up that cell phones often have a higher latency than online options even by today’s standards, which is very interesting, although we just notice it more online because video lag is a lot more distracting than audio chop.

With media fragment indexing, you can have one application traverse several links, along with starting and stopping points in the middle of select audio or video. So think about a great mashup between ten Youtube videos, all starting where you specify, and jumping to the next at a random point you choose. This indexing can access all sorts of content on the web.

With new abilities coming online with HTML5, we can now write codecs in JavaScript. Other things are possible as well, as Boris spoke about gaining control of a PC’s microphone for added capabilities. We have only scratched the surface of what can be done.

The most important thought behind the audio API session is making your JavaScript faster and more elegant. One way was by employing worker threads to help with garbage cleanup and other tasks. Flash is still an ultimate resource when it comes to streaming, though with the current anti-flash trend, you may have difficulties with compatibility.

Nic Adler, The Roxie

Next up I listened to Nic Adler talk about how social media resurrected The Roxie theater. He made several great points, such as make sure you are on EVERY social network, and the benefits of creating a community with your competitors. For example, he followed competition on twitter, and on days the Roxie was dark, he would tweet what was going on at the the place down the strip. They ended up doing the same in turn, both benefiting from joining forces, which at first would seem to most as a bad move. he also told a story about how someone at the theater tweeted about their watered down drink, finding said customer with her ‘face down in a blackberry and empty glass on the table with a lime’ – it was a gin and tonic she was complaining about – and brought her a new, heavy pour drink. He called this a ‘money moment’, as the girl then went on to tweet about what just happened, immediately creating an online advertisement about how the guy in charge at the Roxie cares about it’s clientele. That alone is worth more than any advertising you buy on a billboard or in a magazine.

Digital Strategy

This session had several speakers: Rachel Masters from Red Magnet Media, Glenn Miller from Creative Artists Agency, Ted Cohen from Tag Strategic, Ethan Kaplan from Live Nation Labs, J Sider from RootMusic, and Ken Wagner from Smartley-Dunn Solutions. I don’t know if this session was compromised from the after lunch digestion taking place in my stomach (miso soup, vegetable tempura, and croquettes usually don’t slow me down that much), or the fact that the room was literally packed, but it seemed like the speakers were just throwing around buzzwords without much content. I just kept hearing ‘we provide strategy to our clients’ and ‘implementation of ideas’. All except for Ted cohen; who proved intelligent with two great quotes: “Know your competition and know why you’re better”  along with “Under promise and over deliver“. After about twenty minutes, I decided I wouldn’t last if I heard the words “facebook” and “Pinterest” again in such a short time and decided to catch the tail end of demos in the main room.

Demos

I caught only a few of these, but they seemed to center around apps creating a ‘music discovery game’ with an element of ‘I found this band first’-ness. Ultimately I wasn’t impressed by demos from Tastemakerx – ‘buy stock in the bands you like’ and Cred.fm – whose UI needs A LOT of work… so much so I’d rather not take a look at their product.

Being Social

This session was a roundtable of sorts about the social community and the web in general. It was a diverse group with a lot of opinions, but many good points, mainly revolving around establishing trust via online and offline methods and how is crucial to your branding. Without this trust and extra mile, you are only an online entity with little weight. Stefan Aronsen from SF Intercom made this great drawing of me saying “People will always get paid for stupid shit” meaning that, seemingly trivial things such as talking about your day on a Youtube channel, always have monetization potential if you know how to harness it. Sometimes all it takes is a clever idea. Pic courtesy of Stefan Aronsen:

Meet the New Boss, Worse than the Old Boss

David Lowery of Cracker fame hosted this quickie session relating to how the music industry has changed in regards of making money. He argues all the horror stories you hear about that evil behemoth ‘the music industry‘ aren’t really worth their weight – first of all, you only hear the bad stories, and secondly, with do-it-yourself online sales such as itunes, you may get a greater percentage of the proceeds (~60% versus ~30% from the big guys), but your publicity, sponsorship, and touring costs are all your own, therefore putting you at a disadvantage. I think he has a point, but I can’t help but think about all the ifs here. If the company puts faith in you, if they get your song on the radio (and other channels like Spotify and Pandora), and ultimately, if they promote you. Something about me just resists his premise that the artist is better off with a big conglomerate, but what do I know? Also, Mr. Lowery could have supported his assertions if he explained (or even mentioned) the ‘recoup-able’ parts of all those contracts big artists complain about.

API’s

This session had industry greats talking about their API’s for the net. Rahim Sonawalla from Rovi Corporation,  Ty Roberts from Gracenote, Andrew Mager from Spotify, Neil Mansilla from Mashery, Chad Taylor from Thrillcall, and Neil Tinegate from Open EMI all spoke about what things can be done through simple API implementation. I have to make a sidenote that Ty Roberts is a smart cookie, answering questions that I thought were beyond Gracenote alone. Several great thoughts came out of the session, such as monetizing mobile services with API’s is a very challenging model, basically because of network and visual space restrictions. Also, all the data that is being collected, by API implementation and by companies you’d never think of, is big money. Spotify along with BMW and Ford can all track your listening habits and equate them with factors such as time of day, speed, location, etc. The information collected is quickly mind boggling when linked up to create patterns. Ultimately this session had more of a commercial angle than a techie one. While I understand the ‘why’ here, the developer in me is more interested on how things are wired up versus ‘what we can do for you’ talks. One thing is clear: big databases equal big money.

Welcome to the Music Industry, You’re Fucked!

The great Martin Atkins! This was his presentation about his book of the same name. I owe an apology to my co worker Melissa Adair for missing her session to see Mr. Atkins, but this guy is spot on. Not only a legend in his own right, skating on the peripheral of the music industry as a pioneer in the industrial scene, but a hilarious, no- nonsense, intelligent person who has ‘been there, done that’. Most of his points were about how you fuck yourself over, with such truisms as not believing in yourself, placing blame, thinking that others care about what you do, not having a strategy, not doing ‘cool shit’, etc. He has a lot of advice for anyone in the music industry as well as artists in general. I haven’t heard one person make so much sense in an hour’s time since I last saw Henry Rollins speak. It was truly the highlight of the day.

Conclusion

The day was so packed with information that I am still downloading it days later. This convention is not one to miss if you are in either industry, especially if your company has any overlap. The host, the Kabuki hotel, does a great job accommodating so many people although the event may be outgrowing the space. I also met a bunch of people at the after party, all who were very interesting in different facets of the music and tech industries. I look forward to SF musictech ’13!