SF Music Tech: The Challenge To Creative Sustainability

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Earlier this week, we got the chance to hang out at SF MusicTech, talk shop, and demo some new projects. The theme of the conference may have been unofficial, but it was everywhere: how can technology support the arts?

And it was probably less of a question than a mandate.

The divide between Silicon Valley and the Record Industry is real, and obvious. During a panel on artist revenue streams, Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray slammed “opportunists on the Internet” who take advantage of artists, calling them “pimps.” The counter opinion, voiced by Steve Rennie, was, essentially, DEAL WITH IT SON: “the music part of the equation is not ever going to be what it was.”

Ray’s anger is not unjustified. We can’t blindly accept this break in the system. And we can’t innovate our way out blind. As Solveig astutely notes, Silicon Valley’s “refined air” isn’t always in tune with real market needs.

The second divide is between artists and fans. Revenue aside, common wisdom says that Internet innovation has brought creators closer to consumers, and brought consumers into the creative process. Has it? The Music Hack Day demos were beautiful and brilliant. And they also spoke to the alienation of performance, and the desire to break passive listening structures. EDM, as a genre, has been to pick up user collaboration, and adopt social traits. It is (its success is) a record industry anomaly.

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If you care at all about the arts (we do – a lot), you’ll understand that these rifts are not practical. And that creative products, within this context, not viable.

The big question from Tuesday: how do we make creative production more sustainable?

Props to Scott Fryxell for taking on this one. Copper, a new tipping platform, is notable for breaking down barriers to contribution. This is an everywhere record store, where the ability of a fan to contribute – on his terms – is only a click away.

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But there’s also a bigger issue at play. We need to make creative products more sustainable. We also need to sustain a creative culture.

Right now, much of the innovation focus is on the challenge of monetized digital distribution. But artists face significant challenges to distribution, before they have a product to deliver. If we, the Internet, want to support artists, we have some upstream questions to answer. How can we help artists solve for the problem of making stuff? How can we help them collaborate? What can we do to help fans discover new work? What can we do to help artists broadcast it?

In other words, we need to solve for sustainability at the product level. And we need to solve for sustainability at the process level.

We’ve been experimenting with this idea. Over the course of the year, we’ve been working on building an artist toolkit: powering collaboration with SoShare, discovery with Surf, broadcasting with Live, and monetization with BitTorrent Bundles. We’re not going to sit this one out. We’re going to find a way to make this work. Want to get involved? Visit BitTorrent Labs.

Matt Mason
Written by: Matt Mason

Matt Mason currently serves as Chief Content Officer at BitTorrent, Inc. He is also the bestselling author of The Pirate’s Dilemma, the first book in the history of the world to hit the number one spot on Amazon’s economics/free enterprise bestseller list and the rap bestseller list at the same time. He has written and produced TV series, screenplays, comic strips, apps and records, not to mention award-winning, global advertising campaigns. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, The Observer Music Monthly, Dazed & Confused, Adweek, VICE, and other publications in more than 20 countries.

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