Last week, London’s Earls Court played host to “London Calling,” a newish (as opposed to a Jewish) music biz conference/expo/ showcase that claims to be “the dynamic new international event for artists, managers, labels, service providers, brands and the new companies building the future of music business,” but which was so dominated by the net, that I kept thinking I was at a computer trade fair.
At least half of the panels revolved around the web. The rest revolved around branding, marketing and corporate strategy…to the accompaniment of Joe Strummer revolving in his grave…talk about turning rebellion into money…
Thursday morning’s lineup kicked off with a panel entitled “Don’t Get Physical”…a sentiment not normally expressed in music industry circles… Featuring Derek Sivers, the President of CD Baby, its classification of all content and distribution as either ‘digital’ or ‘physical’ became something of a meme. During practically every conversation I had thereafter, someone would ask me “digital or physical”…to which I would respond…Jewish!
Another meme was “Music Like Water,” which was first published last year, in a book entitled “The Future of Music,” by Gerd Leonhard…though I think the idea was originally Handel’s… According to Leonhard, music should be free flowing like water, paid for by a monthly subscription fee, or music tax…sounds awfully like BBC Radio/the BBC license fee to me…or perhaps communism…
That’s not to say ‘music like water’ couldn’t work, it’s just that I live in London, a region that’s supplied by Thames Water, who, infamously, loose a quarter of their ‘product’ each year, through leaks in their crumbling infrastructure, so if Londoners had music like water, we wouldn’t be able to move for the CDs piling up in the street.
As well as memes there were also themes…yeah…I’m a poet… More dissonant than a 20th century composer, the two major ones were a) in reality, hardly anyone is actually downloading music and b) file sharing is killing music sales.
Theme a) came from the web analysts, who were busy banging on about a survey by Nielsen which suggest that of the entire UK online population, only 8 per cent favour digital downloads. Hmmm…is that the same Nielsen who have been getting American TV viewing figure completely wrong for the last 50 years? The same Nielsen, whose ratings have resulted in numerous shows being cancelled…the most famous of which, Start Trek, subsequently went on to become the most successful franchise in television history?
Theme b) came, unsurprisingly, from majors such as Sony, who despite having empires that include games, movies, DVDs, computers and mobile technology, seem incapable of realizing (or perhaps, more accurately, admitting) that the decline in music sales has nothing whatsoever to do with file sharing and everything to do with the fact that people (who, unlike global conglomerates, have a finite amount of disposable income) are spending more money on…games, movies, DVDs, computers and mobile technology…
Nowhere was the arrogance of the majors highlighted better than during Friday morning’s catchily titled panel, “Social Engineering: Case studies on how the pro’s have successfully marketed to online communities” (pro’s being short for professionals, not prostitutes…I’m told…).
Despite Jamie Kantrovitz, SVP Marketing, MySpace Europe, going to great pains to repeatedly and quite correctly point out that what drives MySpace is the communities it fosters, not the music it hosts and that, contrary to popular belief, MySpace Music is just a small part of the overall MySpace picture, Reggie Styles, Street Team Director, Sony BMG UK, insisted that the opposite is true. Imagine that…a major label not having done their research and completely misunderstanding new technology and the market place…
Friday afternoon’s panel, “Inside Broadcast,” also invloved talk of the need to foster online communities, this time from Dan Heaf, Head of Interactive, BBC Radio One & One Xtra, who also spoke about the need to move to a technology other than point to point for content delivery. This was echoed by the rest of the panel, especially Karen Pearson, formerly of The BBC and now of Red Bull Music Academy Radio, who illustrated the cost of peer to peer technology, with the example of a DJ she had assisted to create a podcast that has now become so successful it costs him GBP 350 a month in bandwidth charges.
Perhaps the solution is for the BBC to offer BBC license fee paying podcasters free space on their servers…or more precisely, our servers, since we’re the ones funding their seemingly limitless bandwidth and storage. Not only would this allow the Beeb to fulfill the stated aim of building online communities, but it would also enable them to provide us with even more bargain basement broadcasting…
At the end of the panel, I watched as Dan Heaf and a delegate from the BBC, who’d clearly never met each other in the flesh, exchanged contact details and arranged a meeting, so perhaps the BBC can’t afford to offer us free bandwidth after all, as, apparently, it needs to spend all of our money on tickets for trade shows in order to foster internal communication…
And so to the awards:
Most boring panel of the day and indeed the entire event was unquestionably “A Star In the East.” Here’s what the soundman made of it:
That said, it did manage to produce the second best quote of the event, from Russian panelist, Igor Pozhitkof, who said “Everyone who thinks of Russia as a land of piracy and corruption…is right!” Nice one Cyrillic.
Best quote of the event came from star panelist, Wayne ‘Mr. ‘laugh a minute’ Russo, CEO Mashboxx, who, when asked “What would you invest in if you had the money?” replied “Pornography!”
Biggest disappointment was the “Being a Dealer Masterclass,” which turned out to be about dealing music…
By contrast, highlight of the conference programme was, of course, “ The Big Interview,” featuring Karl Hyde of Underworld (who’s always good value for money) and Steven Hall of JBO, being interviewed by Andrew Harrison, Editor of Mixmag…for whom I used to write the music technology column, before setting up The Technofile.
The MC Rebbe award for most blatant plugging of a panellist’s company, goes to Matthew Honey, MD, Unique Broadcasting, who didn’t miss a single opportunity. Reeespect! My production company worked with Unique, a few years ago, on a project for BBC Radio Four, so I guess some of me must have rubbed off!
In between panels, I checked out the semi deserted expo floor, which included Pioneer’s Pro DJ stage featuring various DJs playing through Void Acoustics excellent sounding and very cool looking Air Motion speakers (I want some);
blueHippo Media’s stage, featuring various band showcases; Synthax’s stage, featuring demos of Logic and Pro Tools by training companies such as SAE and Technics DJ Academy; and a somewhat random mix of exhibitor’s stands that begged the question, who exactly is this event aimed at…and where are they?
Most of them, as it turned out, were congregating in the VIP area, largely because that’s where the bar was…rock ‘n’ roll. Whilst there I bumped into Ninja Tune’s publicist, who gave me ‘nuff CDs including Coldcutt’s new single “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” ZerodB’s album “Bongos, Bleeps & Basslines,” and Daedelus’ album “Denies the Days Demise.”
I also met superstar DVJ Kriel, whose set I’d been watching earlier on The Pioneer stage. He’d spotted me spotting him (not that I’m exactly easy to miss in my hat, coat and tullus) and came over for a chat, during which he told me about his forthcoming book ‘How to DVJ’, which will be getting a review on The Technofile soon.
Another thing that will be getting a review on The Technofile is Citronic’s wicked new PDCD-4. I was given an exclusive demo of the pre production model by Citronic’s MD, who explained that it combines a direct drive turntable with a CD player, allowing you to play both vinyl and CDs/MP3 CDs (simultaneously or individually) and to use the deck to scratch CDs. After the demo I was invited to gave it a spin and was seriously impressed. Because the vinyl deck is directly linked to the CD, it works absolutely seamlessly, at last offering CD DJs the full schmeer vinyl experience.
Each day concluded with a small choice of parties/showcases…at completely opposite ends of London (nice planning), at least one of which was delayed for two hours while people watched the World Cup (nice timing). With no information other than the names of the acts who were appearing, not even URLs, no travel information/directions, no map and no sampler, it’s hardly surprising that there was also no buzz surrounding these events and that some were poorly attended.
Although I had a good time and met the only two people in the biz I didn’t already know, the question is do we really need yet another music industry event? The answer is a resounding no! Musicians, DJs and producers are well served by ‘Sounds Expo’ and ‘PLASA’, established events that cost a fraction of the price to attend and cover everything that’s relevant to musical creatives. The music business is equally well served by ‘In The City’, which attracts precisely the sort of heavyweight players that were absent from this event and which sports an excellent pedigree…it’s twice had me as a panellist!
In attempting to distill all of these shows into one event, London Calling have missed the mark, as you can’t be all things to all people…or please all of the people all of the time…or any of the Jews…any of the time… and even if you could, firstly, as they say themselves in their badly organized show guide, London is already “…the Grand Central Station of vibrant music scenes,” which makes the event somewhat redundant and secondly why would anyone in The UK want to attend a music biz conference in London, when they can jet of to Miami, Cannes and Austin Texas, for the Winter Music Conference, Midem and SXSW…after all that’s what record company expense accounts are for…
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