by Josh Gross
A journalist, an ad man and a tech innovator walked into a meeting room. They were quickly followed by several hundred attendees of the SXSW music conference, eager to hear their thoughts on constructive and disruptive innovation in the music business.
Moderator Jim Carroll—a journalist for the Irish Times, not the Jim Carroll of Basketball Diaries fame—framed the discussion by comparing the music industry to his own: media.
“The people running [those industries] are in their 50s and they're looking at their pension lines,” he said. “They don't want to rock the boat. People are afraid to make decisions because those may be the decisions that sank the Titanic.”
Carroll explained that like so many other industries, the entrenched elite clutch to old business models rather than looking forward to develop "Music 3.0." What's needed, he said, is for innovators to look for the "what if" moment, when revolutionary change is possible.
“Maybe we're looking in the wrong place,” he said. “The decisions may need to come from outside the music industry, where people see those opportunities.”
One of the presenters, Brooke Parrott, was on the panel to discuss just such an opportunity: her employer, songkick.com, which Parrott said was now the second largest concert website in the world.
“The ability of social [media] to instantly share music across the world is so important,” Parrott said. “But the live industry has yet to catch up it.”
Songkick.com aimed to conquer that disconnect with a product called “detour,” which is kind of like crowd-funding for tours, where fans can band together to sell out concerts that haven't even been booked yet. Once the tickets start selling, the bands lose the uncertainty of booking a gig in an untested market.
But more than just bringing bands to new markets, Parrott said it creates an especially electric connection between artist and performer because the fans are just as involved in the concert's existence as the band.
The panel's ad man, Finan Murphy, with Irish International BBDO, said that what this was really about was learning from the tech attitude of looking for a totally different way not just to do things, but of thinking about them.
“As musicians, you all try this anyways, 'what if,'” Murphy said. “It's just about taking that mindset and applying it to the business model as well.”
When Carroll pressed Murphy and Parrott on who those innovators would be, Parrott said she could see it happening naturally as younger people were cycled into the business.
Murphy didn't like that one bit.
“That'll take 20 years,” he said. “I'd hate to think that it [embracing change] is a generation away.”
Parrott responded that it can happen more quickly if musicians take charge of themselves, away from the industry—something they could do if they get past the stigma artists have about “being on top of their shit.”
“It's that thing about not being a suit,” he said. “You have to get over that.”
Pressed by an audience member on why artist-direct models weren't catching on, Carroll responded with what most would consider rage and the Irish just consider enthusiasm.
“It's the musicians that have the power. They hire the manager,” he roared. “They need to quit getting upset about things they can change.”