Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Noise Pop Crowd Gets Schooled in Music Biz at Industry Noise 2010

On Saturday, February 27th I headed over to the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco for the 2nd annual "Industry Noise" conference. As I mentioned in my summary of last year's conference, this event is a descendant of the Noise Pop educational sessions that have been taking place pretty much every year since 2000. This year it cost participants between $65 and $115 to sit in on panel discussions, hear keynote presentations, and get advice from mentors in the music biz during the day-long conference.

Perhaps making it easier for working folks, Industry Noise was back to being a weekend event (last year it was on Friday). According to the schedule handed out at the event, "The focus is independent music, technology, and the path we're on as musicians, music lovers, industry schmucks, and tech geeks."

The festivities began at 9:30 in the morning and ended with cocktails at 4:30. I was there for the morning sessions and here are some highlights:

Morning Speaker: Josh Freese

Josh Freese Chats with Ashli Lewis

The morning began with a pretty interesting on-stage conversation with musician Josh Freese. Ashli Lewis interviewed him, asking him to share tidbits from his music career. From their discussion we heard about how his professional music career began at age 12 with a stint playing on the Tomorrowland Stage at Disneyland. He worked with Dweezil Zappa while in his teens and soon after joined the Vandals. These days he's a member of Devo, A Perfect Circle, as well as the Vandals.

Having performed on more than 300 albums (he's worked with Nine Inch Nails, Cher, Megadeath, Joe Cocker, Social Distortion, and many others), Ashli Lewis compared Josh to the legendary session drummer Hal Blaine.

However, the main reason that Josh was at Industry Noise was to talk about his innovative method for marketing his own solo album "Since 1972." When he heard that his release from 2000 was still selling (albeit to maybe one person a week), he started to think about how it would be great to meet the people buying his album to thank them personally.

From that kernel of an idea, he brainstormed a bunch of outrageous packages that he could offer to fans in order to both market his new album and get some publicity. Prices ranged from $7 to $75,000 for simply a digital download of the album ($7) to experiences with Josh. He offered up opportunities like drum lessons, lunch with him at the Sizzler, miniature golfing with him and some other punk/new wave legends, a private tour of Disneyland, ownership of his Volvo, to a chance to have an entire EP written about you and have Josh join your band for a month.

Never Trust Anyone Over 30

Twentysomethings Panel

The next session that I attended was a panel discussion about how young people are helping to change marketing and technology in the music industry. Surprisingly, during this panel I heard some mention that radio was still a relevant marketing tool. When asked about their suggestions for marketing a band like MGMT, Justin Little from Zeitgeist said, "their success has been based on radio." His suggestions for them included that they should "go obscure virally," but that they should also allow some of their album tracks to "develop more organically...even at radio...before it goes top 40."

The panelists contrasted their affinity for technology with the old guard's discomfort and lack of understanding. Eric Frederic of the band wallpaper said, "old industry doesn't understand the way things work on the web." He added that it's best to capitalize on web buzz by getting a release out soon after. Ty White from Topsin Media added that even coming up with a band name and an album name should be optimized for the web and search engines, pointing out that the GIRLS' record "Album" probably suffered lower sales just because the artist name and record name are so generic.

Ty also pointed out that as young people in the industry, "We start with fewer rules," adding that "it's possible for someone our age to never have purchased music" and that just being aware of that helps him to be a better marketer.

All of the panelists acknowledged that new technology tools come and go and they are able to adapt to these changes. At the same time they admitted that there is still no perfect social media solution for bands, with Ty complaining that although Facebook "feels like MySpace 2.0...it's a necessary evil." Eric added that Facebook is great for "engaging with fans," but that it's not a great resource for compiling tour dates, music clips, etc.

Keynote: Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields

Claudia Gonson Chats with Yoshi Kato

The final session that I attended was a keynote conversation with Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields. Music writer Yoshi Kato talked to Claudia about her dual role as band member and manager for Magnetic Fields. She's been playing music with Stephin Merritt since she was a teenager and has been managing him for almost as long.

Claudia admitted that she sees herself more as "management" than an "artist," and describes her job as akin to "running a restaurant," with the constant stream of demands, conflicts, and logistics. At times, though, Claudia has had to stress about both of her roles as artist and manager; which she said can be difficult to juggle. She said that the band actually fired her as tour manager once and her story about taking phone calls while on stage during sound check was a reminder to her that sometimes she had to focus on one job at a time. She explained, "I do turn my phone off now when I'm in the band onstage."

At the same time, though, Claudia pointed out that many musicians find themselves having to manage their own careers; so that balancing act is quite common. (The panel prior to this also mentioned that technology and websites like Facebook and MySpace have made it much easier for bands to market themselves and manage their careers.)

I was endeared to Claudia when she gave a shout-out to college radio. When describing the early success of Magnetic Fields she talked about the Boston scene, saying, "College radio is great guys...it's just great. That college kids listen to this much radio...and now it's online."

The remainder of the day included mentoring sessions with music industry folks (from labels, management, publishing companies, etc.), a panel about running one's own label, a workshop for aspiring producers, a panel full of artists (moderated by DJ/Live 105 Music Director Aaron Axelsen), a discussion about social media, and a panel about the future of the industry.

Previous Noise Pop 2010 coverage:

Noise Pop 2010 Has a Glamorous Start with Yoko Ono at the Fox Theater

New Wine Documentary "Blood into Wine" Chronicles Arizona Winery with Rocker Roots

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