Adam John Williams performing with his Quirkuitar invention at Music Tech Fest
Go back just over 100 years or so and have a look at the Music Industry. You’ll see printers putting dots on paper.
Return to the present day, and you can still walk into a shop, buy a piece of paper with dots on it, take it home, and play it on the piano – but it’s no longer the main way in which music is produced, distributed and consumed.
It’s a matter of ratios. When people talk about “the music industry”, they’re usually talking about the dominant popular cultural and economic form of music. There was a moment where that tipped over to the record business – and for good reason. The Electric era allowed for amazing artists and performers to record and distribute studio-crafted works that bridged art and commerce in unprecedented ways. And for most of the last hundred years, the recording business has been central to the discourse of “the music industry”.
You’ll read a lot in the news about YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Soundcloud, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Nokia and other tech giants “negotiating with the music industry” over one thing or another. But that’s not actually what’s happening. Those guys ARE the music industry. They’re negotiating with record companies. Where “the music industry” is located has shifted again.
How do we know? Consider the value – economically, culturally and socially. Digital technologies have become the main way in which people get value, generate meaning and make money from music. Technology is The Music Industry. And, like the sheet music that preceded the record business, it’s no longer a matter of sitting down passively consuming. The technologies that are already available to us, and that are being invented daily, provide more and more ways for music to be something participatory, not simply mass produced.
But whether in the Print, Electric or Digital Age, the music industries have always been complex and diverse ecosystems. The same is true today. More so, in fact.
And all this is interesting because it demonstrates where the greatest opportunity for music now lies. The real opportunity for music lies in the culture of digital environments. It lies in digitally-mediated experiences. It lies in many-to-many forms of communication. It lies in interactivity and collaboration. While artists will make art and consumers will consume it – that dynamic has become far more interesting and complex than ever before.
At Music Tech Fest we’ve found that a combination of digital and physical technologies – software and componentry – provides a space for new modes of expression, a sense of immediacy and whole new types of musicality. We’ve discovered “Gunk” – Geek Punk. Rough and ready musical outpourings using tech. Forget three chords – here’s a Raspberry Pi, an accelerometer and the Soundcloud API. Go form a band.
Music Tech Fest brings together a global community of hackers, artists, record companies, academic researchers, inventors, publishers, developers, composers, and, of course technology companies. Together, we are the music industry ecosystem… and it all comes together as a piece of performance art. We’re seeing rapid technological innovation in all aspects of music: composition, performance, recording, distribution, media, promotion, collaboration, participation – even in the sheet music you take home to play on the piano.
Perhaps most excitingly – the opportunity is incredibly diverse – and the potential for groundbreaking innovation is virtually limitless. Rather than a small group of dominant major players, this is what the music industry is now: a global community innovating new ways for people to create, share, experience, enjoy and make meaning from music. It’s where the action is – and frankly, it’s where the value is.
That’s why we’ve partnered with the London Symphony Orchestra and are hosting our festival at their home. That’s why we’ve invited the record companies as well as the people who publish the sheet music. That’s why we are working with the people who make all the components and APIs that allow for new inventions. That’s our community.
And that’s why Music Tech Fest both celebrates music innovation and provides a platform for the invention of the future of music: we love the music industry.
Andrew Dubber is the director of Music Tech Fest, and an advisor to Bandcamp, Stromatolite and Sonaris. He is the founder of New Music Strategies, a pan-European digital music strategy think tank and consultancy group; the author of several books about the music industry; and a frequent keynote speaker at music industry events worldwide. He is also Professor of Music Industry Innovation at Birmingham City University. Be sure to follow him on Twitter!