The Future of Music Summit, Summarized
How do you catch Craig Finn, Damian Kulash, and T. Bone Burnett all in the same day without getting overpowered by the B.O. of thousands of sweaty music-fest attendees? You put on your sport coat, grab your laptop, and head to The Future of Music Coalition's annual summit in D.C., of course. At least, that's what I did.
If the fate of an entire art form sounds like a tough topic to adequately address, it is, but the conference provides a solid platform for policymakers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and managers to talk about their latest gadgets, gripes, and tangentially related celebrity anecdotes. From what I gathered at the various panels I caught, the future of music looks a lot like the present, with slightly less downloading, a lot more streaming (especially if Spotify makes it to the States), and no way to replicate that magic era of the compact disc. Social media and digital distribution have replaced most of the traditional functions of a record label, except that coveted financial start-up capital and the still-useful curatorial stamp of approval. Business is rough but not impossible. Bands that write really great music and work really hard still have the best shot at making a living. These are not revelations, especially for the folks who follow this stuff seriously enough to go to a conference about it, but getting individual takes from panelists deep into their respective fields still makes for a stimulating discussion.
An in-depth analysis of all the panels that took place over a three-day event would be as laborious to read as it would be to write, so here are a few highlights instead:
-Amaechi Uzoigwe (of Definitive Jux) explained a massive surge in French hip-hop just developed due to a recent government mandate requiring radio stations play a minimum amount of French content. The sudden access to greater exposure for the more culturally relevant local artists was very well-received. Apparently, socialism has its benefits.
-Spott Philpott (of Merge Records) confirmed that Merge had in fact signed an artist off just a demo tape, but not in the past 12 years.
-Hank Shocklee (of The Bomb Squad) revealed his new-found love of Barry Manilow and his distaste for whatever music is the most successful at the moment.
-Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) declared his love for the new Black Mountain record and endorsed The War on Drugs (the band from Philly, not the endless waste of taxpayer money).
-T. Bone Burnett declared mp3s should be free because they are worthless and the future of music is analog. Considering how much revenue Burnett has undoubtedly made off of CDs and mp3, it seems awfully hypocritical to suggest bands go vinyl-only, but taken simply as a reminder to the tech-obsessed crowd that music transcends the latest iPhone app, it was a welcome cage rattle.
-Former GW student Zach Pentel (of 808 Management) explained to John Strohm (of The Lemonheads, currently a lawyer) that college students today—audiophiles please cover your ears for this part—primarily use YouTube more than any other service to listen to music.
-Damian Kulash (of OK Go), a D.C. native, recalled how he got a loan from Ian MacKaye at the age of 15 to put out a few records, right around when he was going to see Nation of Ulysses play in high school cafeterias. Kulash humbly explained he just happened to be into Cheap Trick and Joan Jett in the late '90s, when other locals were heavy into more abrasive material, and that pop affinity landed him a major label deal.
-Brendan Canty (of Fugazi) discussed his desire for more well-executed, high-quality YouTube videos of unusual artists around the world, mostly because a father of four kids just can't get out as often as, say, the drummer of a touring punk band.
-Mike Mills (of R.E.M.) hopped onstage at Black Cat with Damian Kulash, Bonerama, Hank Shocklee, Jonny 5, Jean Cook, Jenny Toomey, and probably a bunch of other notable musicians I'm forgetting about, to sing Neil Young's "Ohio," talk shit about Tea Party activists, and play bass on an encore of "Down By The Riverside."