Music Panel Interviews from Like Minds @ SMWLDN

There were some amazing events during Social Media Week London, and one of the most insightful was the Like Minds Music Industry day which saw two panels of experts discussing the way social & digital media has changed the game for everyone in the music business.

Right from the day Edison invented the phonograph, music and technology have been intimately entwined and huge industries have sprung up around recording, distribution and sales of music. As technology has changed so too has the nature of the music industry but the rise of the internet, file sharing, online distribution platforms and social media have probably led to the biggest changes in the industry.

The ease with which people can access music, either legally via iTunes, Spotify and other such platforms, or illegally via file sharing has coincided and perhaps been a prime mover in the drop off in physical music sales, much to the chagrin of those in the industry. But on the flip side the accessibility of digital recording equipment and the ability for artists to distribute their material worldwide without a record deal has opened up new and exciting opportunities for artists.

Chris Maples, VP of Spotify Europe modified two discussions for the day. The morning session covered the impact of social media on the music industry, and Chris was joined by Dave Haynes, Head of Business Development, Soundcloud, Dave Castell, Head of Music for Nokia, Zoe Lazarus from Lowe+Partners, Matt Brawn, the Head of Digital for Defected Records, and John Bartleson, Global Marketing Director, Telefónica Digital.

 In the afternoon things turned towards the future of social in the music industry with input from Andrew Ko, CEO of, Rafe Offer, Founder of Sofar sounds, JJ from The Art of Noise, Glenn Cooper, Director of Digital at Island Records and John Bartleson, Global Marketing Director, Telefónica Digital.

After the talks we grabbed some time with the panelists to delve deeper into the impact digital and social has had on their world.

Chris Maples, VP Europe of Spotify

TOA: Are we precluding the opportunity for HiFi Music through digital?
CM: There will continue to be a space for people to consume music on all levels. There are still vinyl junkies after all. The world has shifted so much now from where it was. The generations of today will hear a track and share it instantly. Their desire and requirement for immediacy is the thing that’s driving the industry however, at Spotify, we work really hard on the bitrate all of our music.

TOA: Music isn’t just about the tunes. First there were album covers then music videos. What opportunity does digital offer for an experience beyond the music?
CM: We try to provide a broad content basis, you can catalogue, find classical music, read about composers and the music that influenced them to give texture and depth to the experience. There’s also cover art. You’re completely connected, there’s an amazing amount of opportunity.

TOA: Who in the music industry is winning from the use of digital / social?
CM: The consumer is the real winner, without a shadow of a doubt, because there’s more music creation taking place. There’s always been manufactured music and that will always be the case, it’s not a problem. One of the most precious things of the past was giving someone a mix tape in an order you found compelling. There’s an opportunity to recreate that now.

Dave Haynes, Head of Business Development at Soundcloud

TOA: Do you think the digital creation & distribution of music denies the people the opportunity to listen to hi-fi?
DH: At SoundCloud we built a platform for creators and they care about the quality of their music. So we allow them to upload any file format they want, and then if they share the track with a contact then they download the original file. But when people are listening to the track on the site or via our mobile app we want to make that as easy for everyone as possible, so we don’t stream the original.
There are some interesting services like Neil Young’s Pono Service  which provides high quality music for a niche audience of audiophiles, but on the whole I think the debate about quality is a bit of a red herring. As long as the listener is getting a ‘good enough’ quality, the most important thing for them is accessibility to great music.

TOA: Do you think artwork is still relevant in the digital era and important to artists and labels?
DH: In the age of vinyl artwork was a real part of an artist’s release. In the digital realm it has lost its importance, but I think there will be a resurgence, especially as we see more music being played on devices that also have amazing screens, such as tablets and connected devices like TVs.
On the SoundCloud platform, we wanted to visualise each and every sound by showing you the waveform. This turns the sound into a truly social object and we allow listeners to leave timed comments along the waveform. The internet has become a very visual medium, so over time, I think you’ll see SoundCloud reflect that too. This year we’ve launched a couple of experiments with visual sounds and more visual profiles that have proved to be really interesting. But ultimately we’re a sound platform, and the unique thing about sound is that most of the time you’re doing something else in parallel and you don’t actually need an image.

TOA: There’s people that are in music for the money and there’s those that aren’t. Who’s benefited more from digital & social media?
DH: I think both. If you’re an established artist it’s about embracing the chaos and seizing new opportunities. Artists that are still focused on the old ways of doing things could be missing out. In my opinion there’s never been a better time to be an artist, and at SoundCloud we’re excited about our platform because it truly allows any creator to get their art out into the world and build an audience. Whether that’s just being listened to by ten close friends or family, or whether it’s reaching millions of people across the web, it’s hugely valuable.

Zoe Lazarus, Partner at Lowe Counsel

TOA: Has the music industry embraced ‘social’ properly?
ZL: No, generally no. Rihanna is a good example someone who’s doing it right. Björk’s done a good job too.

TOA: If focus has predominantly moved to the consumer space, what happens to the distributor?
ZL: The label can potentially be the focal point for the culture that backs the music and can have a role in that as a support structure. Unless they can do that and demonstrate added value they could have reason to be worried.

TOA: Does the digital streaming world deny us Hi-Fi sound quality? Do consumers realise?
ZL: To a certain extent yes but two parallel trends tend to exist. There will be one trend that goes forward towards better quality, creating better speakers & technology. Then there is the trend for appreciating low fidelity… such as cassettes coming back? That’s about bringing back a quality which is sometimes lost in digital production, an unquantifiable analogue quality that can be quite exotic. Music creation software now gives you the option of putting the ‘dirt’ back into your music.

TOA: There are people who create music to make money and then there are people who do it for the love of music. Who has benefitted more from the shift to digital?
ZL: It’s the same in most industries where the rise of social media does perhaps tip the advantage back to those that have something to say.

JJ from The Art of Noise

TOA: What is the Art of Noise?
JJ: A seminal ground breaking group of musicians and music technologists that influenced a whole generation of dance music.

TOA: Do you think that musicians have taken advantage fully of what social and digital allows them to? Is there more to do?
JJ: Certainly. The industry as a whole is notoriously slow to adapt to new trends.

TOA: What do you hope to gain from today’s panel discussions?
JJ: There are vague discussions about how the Art of Noise might reform. It’s a great way to get up to speed!

Andrew Ko, CEO and Co-founder of Moment.Us

TOA: What does Moment.Us do?
AK: We’ve created an app that automatically generates a playlist based on your location, activities and mood. The frustration of having a Christmas song come on in March was the inspiration!

TOA: What context does this bring to peoples music?
AK: Personalisation, relevance and an emotional connection

TOA: What does the music industry need to do in order to maximise digital and social opportunities?
AK: We believe that music is inherently social, and digital creates a way to aggregate everyone’s music. So the music industry needs to help cultivate an environment where startups can succeed in creating new technologies that will help bring value back to music.

TOA: Where does it leave the big labels if you’re doing the creation, or the artists?
AK: The big labels and artists are still needed because they are the ones that work together to help make the music that we all love. What Moment.Us does is gather unique information to help fill a gap for the industry in the way music is recommended in this digital age. We’ve given the power back to the curator, if it’s a DJ or an artist etc. We are answering the ‘for what?’ and bringing it into the mix. Instead of just having Dr Dre’s Top Ten songs, make a top ten for ‘in the sun’, for ‘NYC in winter’, or for ‘Friday nights’, for example.

TOA: What else needs to change in the music industry?
AK: There’s a lot of data out there regarding listening behaviour, but what’s missing is the understanding of why people feel like listening to a track at a certain moment. What the industry needs to change is the contextual element. Emotions and experiences always happen within a certain context.

Glenn Cooper, Director Of Digital at Island Records

TOA: ‘Shoppable Media’ – the idea that you can shop while you listen, or watch isn’t being done much in the music industry – will it be?
GC: It’s definitely interesting. We’ve tried some models in music videos a couple of years ago, but the engagement was pretty low as the technology didn’t work in the YouTube environment. It will always be a slightly difficult artistic issue because in many cases artists/video directors would prefer that the attention is focused on their ‘art’ and don’t want the user/fan engagement in videos interrupted.
TOA: Do you think that the value of the music is being undermined by digital?
GC: The different methods of digital consumption available are great for the consumer, but they do offer challenges to the Industry. Many people will listen to songs, playlists or compilations rather than full albums. However, if the body of work is strong enough, it will cut through. We just need to ensure the release strategy is right and that it’s ‘All killer, no filler’. Curation is also an important part of what we do now as an industry as are collaborations, both of which enhance the new music discovery process through digital.
TOA: What is the modern equivalent of the album cover?
GC: Digital and social are the modern day billboard for the artist. In the past we had gatefold vinyl and we still have the CD booklet to give you an insight into the artist through images, liner notes and lyrics. Now we have Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so the engagement is 24/7, 365 days a year. We have a challenge to get consumers to buy into more than just a song, hopefully the album and more importantly a long-term relationship with the artist.
TOA: Is there a place for Hi-Fi in digital music?
GC: Yes definitely, although the youth market is more focused on their mobile phones where the sound quality is compressed already and they play music with friends through the phone speakers. As an industry we need to cater for a multitude of tastes across the generations: audio quality and physical copies versus a la carte downloads versus streaming, and all at varying price points. It’s about understanding your artist, and your market.