Ed Note: I know Digital Music Forum West was two weeks ago. I make up for the tardiness with a whole lot of words, tediousness and shameless gushing.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, I attended the second and final day of the Digital Music Forum West. On the following Friday, when I returned to work, I put in my 2 weeks.Yeah, it was that good.
The Forum was, in essence, the culmination of everything this blog has thus far stood for. (Begin self-centered rant) See, I got into this whole digital media / consumer internet industry one pay period short of a full year ago. I got paid more than a few pay periods short of respect, but it didn’t matter because I fell in love with my job and I treated it as a self-styled graduate-level course in the digital music industry. Like the nerd I always wanted to be, I would brainstorm future business models… for fun.
So ANYWAYS, a few pay periods ago, the idea of ad-supported music streaming hit me like a ton of iPhone bricks, leading down a slippery slope of successive epiphanies and realizations that lead to an overall theory of free music. Soon thereafter, I read about the Imeem / SNOCAP ad-rev share deal. The future was now! I emailed a few big name journalists/publications I had communicated with, pitching them my hyper-ventilating angles on just how sneakily ground-breaking this story was. The most common response I got back was this: what does this have to do with iTunes? (oh, I dunno, the death of?)
And then the Imeem / Warner deal pushed through (major label!), and I still got more of the same responses from the techarrazi. So I thought, fuck this, I’m just going to start my own blog (this one) and write what had grown into a manifesto of a blog post (that one). See, not only had these techarrazi journalists, with portfolio’s full of gimmicky widgety reviews, ignore the ad-supported music angle, but I was based in LA, with nary a progressive consumer internet tech scene (key word: progressive). Was I the only one seeing this? Was I taking crazy pills or something?
Well, the responses I got from this blog certainly eased some of my lonely fears. But it wasn’t until I went to Digital Music Forum West that I learned that the free music model, as well as the attendant “convenience always wins” meme not only hosted a healthy scene of industry professionals, but had a whole bunch of flesh-and-blood visionaries on its side. Folks like Yahoo’s Ian Rogers, Imeem’s Steve Jang, eMusic’s David Pakman, TAG Strategic’s Ted Cohen, and Nettwerk Music’s Terry McBride proved to me that free-music advocates were not only brilliant abstract visionaries, but successful in the here-and-now.
And so I have decided to quit my job and finally plunge into the epicenter of the digital music scene, the Bay Area — job security be damned. It’s been on my mind for quite a few months now, and even this very blog is in some ways an attempt to scratch the itch. But this itch is a result of the digital media bug bite, and the scratching made it worse, before the Gigantor-mosquito of Digital Music Forum came along. And so I must leave.
So, having concluded this bloated, self-centered intro to Digital Music Forum, here were the highlights:
The State of the Digital Union Panel:
The kickoff panel of the DMFW, this panel definitely got the show off to an explosive start. On one side of the ring, you had the tag-team of Ian Rogers, GM of Yahoo Music, and David Pakman, CEO of DRM-free online mp3 slanger, eMusic, representing the progressive new guard. Literally, on the far right side of the ring, you had David Dorn, SVP of New Media Strategy at Warner Music Group, representing the conservative old guard. Poor guy.
As if smelling the bloodshed of the coming offensive, David Dorn (Warner) braced himself during his introduction, saying all the right things about experimenting online and rolling out cutting-edge digital distribution methods. Dorn name checked a laundry list of online initiatives. These included a iTunes promotions, MySpace promotions, the LaLa deal…
Oh except, that the LaLa deal was a quick and complete failure, and mostly because of Warner’s unreasonable royalty rates. It was at this point that I decided to intervene, lest Dorn try to pull a quick one in an effort to seem… cool. Luckily for me, the DMFW folks set up a big projector screen of audience-generated questions to the stage left of the panel, as submitted by real-time text messages. The set-up looked like so:
So getting back to the whole calling-David-Dorn-out-on-the-LaLa-deal thing, I texted in this question:
“David – Didn’t the LaLa experiment fail becuz Warner was charging too much 4 licensing / royalties?”
The question hung there like a trapeze elephant as the rest of the panel members closed out the pleasantries of their introductions, small talk, and polite chatterings. I’m proud to say, that when the moderator served up my question to David Dorn, the politeness abruptly ended and the old/new school schism cracked open. It sounded like this:
David Dorn: “I wasn’t aware that the LaLa partnership was a failure per se…”
Ian Rogers, nodding, with an, “are you kidding me” incredulousness: “Yes, it definitely failed.”
David Dorn: “I’m not sure you can label it a failure. I think maybe LaLa didn’t quite anticipate how big the demand was…”
Ian Rogers, sarcastically: “Oooo, what a surprise. People want free music?”
And thus began the great Ian Rogers show. As it turns out,
If you were a fan of my free music manifesto, you should definitely read Ian’s entry through. Anyhow, some select quotables from DMFW:
Referring the contextualization of the music distribution / listening experience:
“Everything happens in the gap between the music itself, and the people that listen to it.”
When prompted about the dominance of the iTunes player:
“iTunes is a fuckin Excel spreadsheet that plays MP3s.”
When someone lamented the Napster effect:
“Napster didn’t invent the ability to do P2P, it was inherent in TCP/IP. It was like throwing
in jail for popularizing the concept of gravity.” Newton
David Pakman of eMusic also had a whole mess of interesting points, no doubt culled from years of butting heads with major labels. One particularly interesting and generously paraphrased quote:
“The thing with major labels, you can impress them with really revolutionary, cool ideas about how to distribute and promote their music. And they’ll be like, ‘Great, sounds wonderful, I’m on board. Just get give us 70 cents per track and we’ll sign.’ And therein lies the rub.”
Meeting Ian Rogers Post Panel
Ian Rogers was to me the headlining star of this whole DMFW; a big reason I wanted to go in the first place. Soon after writing my free music manifesto, I started seeking out other like-minded people, and I stumbled upon this (see theory 1). So of course I did a little research on dude, and as it turns out, he was a way-back homie with my co-worker, MDA of One Block Radius. So before I knew Ian Rogers was some sort of big-time power geek, I emailed him with a link to my entry, throwing in the MDA reference for good measure. He actually emailed me back. So I was a bit curious what this Ian Rogers dude was all about. Suffice it to say, he didn’t disappoint.
So I went to say wut up.
Turns out he was a super popular guy, and everyone and their baby mama wanted to meet dude. When I finally crowd-surfed through to the front, he had some really interesting things to say.
Number one, he said he was pushing for a free ad-supported service as a corollary to their current paid subscription service. And if you read his blog, you would know that even he rails against the complicated, step-by-step mess of his own subscription service. Does this mean Yahoo is planning to unveil a flashy, ajaxy based application, much like imeem? Stay tuned, I suppose.
Number two, despite the frustrations working at Yahoo, things are finally starting to line up just right, and his visions are starting to come into fruition. Therefore, he sees himself at Yahoo for the long haul.
Number three, he couldn’t stop repeating how great it is to be a musician right now. He referenced his high school punk band; how growing up in a smallish
Number four, he was absolutely raving about our common friend, MDA. With wild gestures and overblown expressions, he began to recall his personal history with MDA, starting in college, and all the crazy music and various monikers that MDA had produced in his days. There were no more than two people in that whole conference that knew who MDA was, but that didn’t temper his enthusiasm, despite the confused crowd that surrounded him. As soon as he was done with the MDA spiel, I was suddenly the 2nd most popular guy in the room, with the proximate crowd begging to know, “what exactly is an MDA and where can I purchase one?”
Anyhow, overall, it was really cool finally meeting dude in person. He’s a very down-to-earth, unpretentious guy, despite his overwhelming brilliance and enthusiasm. He combines a whole bunch of qualities that I find comforting occupying the top spot at Yahoo Music. He’s technically brilliant, he’s socially brilliant, he’s a conceptual, visionary thinker, and most importantly, he’s a genuine music junkie.
You’d be surprised how rare this is amongst the digital media vanguard.
Social Media and Music Panel
I have to mention this panel because of the inclusion of Steve Jang, VP of Marketing and Biz Dev over at freshbreakfast’s startup crush, imeem. Like Ian Rogers, Steve Jang was for me a headlining, box-office draw of DMFW.
But unlike the Ian Rogers panel, the Social Media & Music panel was a lot more tame and a whole lot more boring. The IQ level on this panel was considerably lower. Josh Brooks of Myspace was clearly the mirage of an elephant on the panel. The moderator kept grilling him to get an insightful inside peek into Myspace’s plans and directions, and all Brooks could muster was some deer-in-the-headlights, buzz-word laden marketing mumbo jumbo. He was literally apologetic for coming with the superficial answers.
There was another feller by the name of Jim McNeil, who was trying very hard to be the firebrand on the panel, but came off sounding just plain obsolete. He harped on the lost art of cracking open a fresh LP. He couldn’t say enough negative things about social networks, but for all the wrong, confused reasons. And his alternative in a digital distribution world? Some mumbo jumbo about 100 page personalized websites, which I didn’t quite understand, and I doubt he did either. To me, it sounded like a really shitty social network profile.
So it was in this context that I saw Steve Jang: the bored prodigy stuck in a special ed class by way of a scheduling quark. When he finally did speak, it was clear he was the smartest guy on the panel, breaking down the value of data mining and providing intuitive social tools for contextualizing the music sharing, discovering and listening experience, and so on and so forth… all with a bored, matter-of-fact demeanor. The token contributions of the class genius that the instructor calls upon to herd the class discussion. His arguments would end all arguments on the panel, not so much because of overwhelming persuasion, but because he spun cognitive loops around them, after which they didn’t know how and where and if to object or agree or gather their equilibrium.
Actually, Chad Gibson (Group Manager for Zune) might have been a smart dude too, but he literally – LITERALLY – did not say one word after his sparse introduction. He edged out Steve Jang for “Most Bored Guy on the Panel” award.
P.S. I got a chance to meet Steve Jang after the panel, and he was a lot more animated and interested, mano-y-mano.
Terry McBride Keynote Speech
He’s the CEO of Nettwerk Music, based in
And then I heard him speak. Wow.
It’s sort of hard to describe in words the aura he brings to a geeky niche issue like digital music distribution. So I won’t try. I’ll just say this: if you ever have a chance to hear him speak in person, jump on it.
In the meanwhile, here’s a taste:
Some quick first impressions of other panelists / guests:
Ted Cohen, TAG Strategic: Pretty hip wit it for an old dude.
Tim Westergren, Pandora: Defeated. Self-deprecating. In a defeated kind of way.
Ali Partovi, iLike: For some reason, when I saw him from a distance in a dark suit jacket, I thought, wanna-be deuche bag. But then I heard him speak and he seemed more like a pretty chill music junkie. Very un-CEO like.
Jared Hoffman, Knitting Factory: Deuche bag.
David Marcus, Tickermaster: Deuche bag… is such a funny word.
Bruce Taylor, SNOCAP: Quiet and shy for a bullish-looking white male marketing exec.
Thomas Hesse, Song BMG: Cold, calculating, media-trained European assassin.
Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter: Enjoyable, entertaining, endearing… manifestation of the Napoleon complex.
Eric Garland, Big Champagne: Has all the traits of a popular male teacher that makes the girls swoon: young, funny, handsome and genuinely interested. School girls of America will tear when my future startup crushes his company. I will laugh the villainous laugh.
Something of a conclusion:
Music! Future! Yeah!