Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon Recap Part Three: Social Networking, Metal Radio and Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959

CMJ Exhibitor's Loft

The second full day of the CMJ Music Marathon took place on Wednesday, October 21, 2009. Panels began bright and early (for this crowd) at 11am at NYU's Kimmel Center and continued to focus on helping musicians to succeed in the music biz. Topics ranged from artist management, to the ins and outs of major label contracts, to the independent music market. A few genre-specific panels touched on dance, jazz, and metal and Andrew W.K. gave a keynote presentation.

Here's an overview of what I saw and heard on Day Two of CMJ:

Watching Sessions at CMJ

iLike It When YahoogleMyFaceTunes...You Tweet

Unfortunately this panel about music and social networking left me rather bored, as buzzwords flew around the room and I had a hard time focusing on what was actually being said. I think I was negatively predisposed when things started out with this comment by the moderator, "...the panel represents lots of pieces of the value chain." Uh oh. We also heard about how musicians need to "communicate offers to monetize," and should be aware of their "core competency."

I'm never a fan of business lingo, so the usage of these terms seemed to just zap the soul out of the conversation for me. And we're talking about music, one of the most soulful creations around.

We also heard that "somebody's back end is another person's front end," which, happily elicited much laughter from the panel and audience.

Most interesting to me was the discussion of music bloggers. Panelist Jason Herskowitz argued that with the declining influence of radio, music bloggers "are like the new music directors." I'm sure that's true for a lot of people, with those blogs serving as an entry point into new sounds. Similarly, Edith Bellinghausen from Razor & Tie suggested that music blogs are the new music press today.

Metal Radio Panel (not pictured-Jen Graham)

Keeping Metal Radio Relevant in the Digital Age

I was excited to see this discussion, as it was the first radio-specific panel of CMJ this year. Although ostensibly about "metal radio," the conversation was really more about the transition to digital music (from CDs and vinyl) and how that affects radio stations. As in similar panels last year, it was pointed out that the transition away from CDs to digital music is inevitable, mainly because of cost-cutting measures in the record biz.

The benefits of digital music were touted, with Jen Graham from Metalblade arguing that with digital music labels and promoters are able to provide as many copies as they'd like to radio stations and there's no fear of "lost mail" as there was in the past with CDs.

Jose Mangin of SiriusXM pointed out that he initially had problems with digital releases, but has come to realize that "it's about the music," regardless of what format it's on. He did make the point (echoed by many radio programmers) that for him downloading an album is still "a lot of work."

Music promoter Dan Rodriguez said that he's gotten a lot of "angry emails" from stations who are against digital-only releases. He added, "I have people threaten to not work with me" because he isn't able to send them physical copies of new releases. He admitted that he does "tailor a list" of stations to which he sends CDs.

An audience member then commented that much of the ire from stations may be because the "technological solutions" for handling digital releases just aren't easy. He said that it's "super frustrating" and asked, "Why is the process so complicated?"

In addition to this lack of standardization for digital releases, some stations simply don't have the proper equipment to process the music. Dan said that he's heard from some college radio stations that they did not have the technology to handle digital downloads, telling the crowd that some stations have "Macs from the mid-90s," don't have CD burners, and some even have staff that say they don't know how to burn a CD or play an mp3.

The handful of Promo CDs that I Collected at CMJ
(note the CDs promoting the music of New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and Sweden)

The panel offered up various suggestions on how promoters and labels can streamline digital adds, including using the iTunes podcast feature or using one's own dedicated server.

Dan said that "there is no standard...for servicing radio digitally," pointing out that there are 6 or 7 different programs to faciliate it. Others use zip files and dedicated servers. He later said, "I wish there was an iTunes of radio servicing." (Hmmm....there's a business opportunity for Apple!)

From the discussion it also became clear that every station is different in terms of the information that they'd like to have along with a digital release. Some stations need to see all lyrics and album covers so that they can review the content for potentially objectionable material.

Many college radio folks in the audience also pointed out that they only add CDs to their libraries. So, for them, it takes time, work, and money to burn a CD. One Music Director said that she'd appreciate it if she was sent a "jewel-case friendly" info sheet along with the music, as she ends up having to cut things up in order to make them fit into the case.

Jose admitted that it still does benefit an artist to release CDs in addition to mp3s, saying that a digital-only release may hurt artists as far as radio goes, since often music can just get lost in a Music Director's email account.

The panel ended with much radio love, with promoter Alisha Turull (Heavy Hitter) arguing that "building a band" starts at radio. Jose added that radio play can end up leading to bands getting booked for national tours. Musician Carly Coma added that "because of the power of radio" his band had a "fan base" and people showed up when they toured Michigan.

It's great to hear that radio is still relevant to artists and fans; but I still find it sad to hear that physical music is increasingly seen as too much work for DJs. In the ultimate expression of the generational shift in how radio is done, Dan mentioned that when he had a college radio show he got "tired of carrying crates of music," so he ended up just doing his playlist in iTunes.

Timeless Miles: 1959- A Pivotal Year in Music

From metal to jazz! With my own station KFJC celebrating its 50th anniversary during CMJ, I was particularly interested in hearing more about the "pivotal" year of 1959 which saw the birth of not only KFJC, but also of some seminal jazz albums by Miles Davis. Panelists, including journalist Ashley Kahn, musicians DJ Logic and Q-Tip, and Miles Davis' son Erin Davis, talked about not only why 1959 was such an important year, but also why Miles Davis was such a revolutionary artist whose impact can still be felt 50 years later.

In discussing the albums "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain," the panel members pointed out that they capture a complete musical experience. Ashley said that in 1959 people weren't really crafting complete LPs that were meant to be listened to from beginning to end, as singles were the dominant musical form. Andre Torres added, "it's almost come full circle...we've sort of devolved back into...singles and snippets." He said, "There's something to be said [about a] 12 by 12 picture....[and] liner notes."

The panel also speculated about whether or not there were certain years or periods when creativity was at its peak. The years 1959, 1969, and 1989 were mentioned by Ashley as times when there were "explosions" of sounds or "cycles" of change in music.

At the end of the panel a representative from Monster came on stage to debut a new "high end headphone" inspired by Miles Davis and to raffle off CDs, DVDs, posters and T-shirts. It was a little odd to have a sales pitch (although they admitted that the headphones were out of the price range of most CMJ attendees) after such a thoughtful panel; but the awkwardness of that was assuaged for me when I learned that free CDs copies of "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain" were being given away to those who attended the session. For me that was the best freebie of CMJ.

More coverage of CMJ to come, including a recap of "College Day."

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09 panels and shows)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed

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