Eliza Doolittle at The Ultimate Seminar

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Saturday the 22nd of November was a gloomy, grey day. At 11am I was still at home cleaning up my room when my classmate, Miyoung Gu, texted me. ‘We are already here and there’s a long queue.’ She was waiting in line to get into The Ultimate Seminar, an event where established music industry figures – record company executives, established songwriters, A&Rs and more – share their insights to an audience of aspiring music professionals. For free.

The event was held at University of Westminster’s Little Titchfield Street Campus. I did not try to catch up with Miyoung who’s already there from the start of the seminar. Instead, I had planned which panelists I wanted to see. One of them is Eliza Doolittle.

A young British singer-songwriter, she is known by a lot of people as that singer who collaborated with Disclosure on ‘You & Me’. Aside from that song, she has also released a number of successful hits such as ‘Skinny Genes’ and ‘Pack Up’. Her panel at the seminar started at 3pm. At that time I was already seated among the audience, eager to hear her speak.

Kwame Kwaten, the co-founder of The Ultimate Seminar, moderated the panel with Doolittle. Kwaten opened by asking, ‘young and new in the industry, what pisses you off?’ Doolittle responded by saying that the tension between art and business can be painful at times. There’s a lot of pressure for her to create hits, and not just to make music.

Eliza Doolittle and Kwame Kwaten at The Ultimate Seminar (22/11/14)

Eliza Doolittle and Kwame Kwaten at The Ultimate Seminar (22/11/14)

Doolittle then went on to talk about her influences. ‘Most stuff from my childhood stay in my soul,’ she said. Doolittle named Lauryn Hill, India Arie, Destiny’s Child, Spice Girls, and Janet Jackson as artists that have had a long influence on her music. She is also privileged to have been mentored by seasoned vocal coach Mary Hammond.

As with most musicians, she found it hard to name her top three favourite albums. She listed Destiny’s Child’s ‘Writing On The Wall’, D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo’ and Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope’ as her favourites, but also noted how important Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson have been to her.

Kwaten asked her about the importance of corporate gigs – shows that are either sponsored by or performed for a company. Kwaten elaborated that in today’s live circuit, it is rather hard for musicians to survive just using their tours. Doolittle said that corporate gigs are quite important, especially if the brand does not infringe her beliefs. Appletiser, a sparkling soft drink manufactured by Coca Cola, is one of the brands that has partnered with Doolittle in their campaign. Doolittle also told the audience of her experience in corporate gigging in which the brand requested her to ‘do one tweet’ as part of the contract. In the end, though, customers value genuinity. ‘Brands don’t wanna come across as fake,’ Doolittle said.

A lot of British artists consider themselves successful when they have penetrated the American market. Doolittle, however, said that she felt no such pressure. ‘I wanna go everywhere, but in the US it’s quite tough as radios want you to just play one specific genre of music.’

Doolittle did a lot

Doolittle did a lot

When asked about her career highlights, Doolittle picked a show at Montreal, Canada, to be the best. ‘The energy from myself and the audience was just amazing. I felt like I was the artist I’ve always wanted to be.’ She also pointed to working with Disclosure as another one of her career highlights. The collaboration with the electronic duo enabled her to also be alongside other artists she likes such as Sam Smith and Aluna George. As for her career low point, the moment when her creative control was taken from her was such a point.

Doolitle felt the need to share how much of a pain record labels are. ‘If you, as an artist, is not connected to a label, that’s a good thing.’ Kwaten asked Doolittle if she has any advice for the industry. She said that the industry needs more young, music-loving individuals and the business people should not hold them back.

The best part of the talk was when Kwaten posed this question: ‘how do you stop the label from influencing your third album?’ Doolittle replied, ‘I left them.’ Kwaten jumped out of his seat (literally) and made his way to the exit, before coming back to the hall a few seconds later. ‘I’ve never felt freer,’ Doolittle said, ‘I can create music from a pure place for the first time ever.’ Doolittle had not announced this news before, so it was an exclusive update that The Ultimate Seminar attendees got. And with that, the talk with Eliza Doolittle finished.

Considering how most of the music industry’s revenue does not go to the artists, their insights reveal how creativity struggles to stay alive despite the commercial pressures. In a corporate context, music is brutally undervalued. It is often used as a tool to sell something else. But there are passionate artists whose love for their music – and the people who appreciate them – is greater than the desire to increase their revenue. These artists, especially those that have a wide scope of influence (a.k.a the mainstream ones), should be championed.

Oh, I managed to take a picture with such an artist before she left the building.

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City Showcase’s Finding The Future: Talks On Live Music

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Following my previous post on City Showcase’s ‘Finding The Future’ seminar, I will now recap the two other talks that I attended. I could not come to the seminar on Friday, so I only came to the Saturday one. Plus I only attended two sessions: ‘Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music’ and ‘Live Music: The Lifeline Of The Industry’. Those two address my interest. I don’t think I’ll write any hit songs soon, so I’m not attending a session about it.

‘Backstage Pass’, the first talk, was quite insightful. Claire Horseman (Managing Director of Coda Music Agency), Gemma Gilford (General Manager of The Borderline) and Rebecca Kane (General Manager of The O2) were the panelists. Paul Hutton (Co-Director of Metropolis Music) was in the panelist line-up that was published on City Showcase’s website, but he wasn’t present that day.

The session opened with the moderator, a representative from City Showcase, asking each panelists to introduce themselves and their work. They all provide a detailed introduction. Claire Horseman was nominated as one of the recipients of UK Music’s Women In Music Awards. Hearing her describe her job and accomplishments, it can be understood why. Coda Music Agency represents over 500 artists globally, including Rudimental, Emeli Sande, and The xx. Recently, it has partnered with Paradigm, a US-based entertainment talent agency to broaden its portfolio.

Horseman gave a bit of her career background. Her start in the music industry was when she worked on reception at Profile Records. She then worked at club promotions and marketing at independent labels before securing a job at BMG and later Sony, where she worked as the Head of Marketing for Columbia and General Manager of Deconstruction. To her, record companies do not have an easy-going atmosphere. She said that in record companies everyone works hard but also plays hard, which probably shapes the extravagant lifestyle image that most people had in mind. Horseman also set up her own marketing consultancy company before finally taking up her current position at Coda.

Speaking about the culture of Coda, Horseman mentioned that it is a people-person company. Much of what they do revolves around building and maintaining relationships. They work closely with promoters to build artists and put on events. Normally they would create a two-year plan to develop an artist. However, each artist is bespoke, so Coda has to treat them differently.

Gemma Gilford got the second chance to speak. Borderline, the club she is working in, is one of London’s nicest small-to-medium sized venues, which can accommodate around 300 people. It is located in Soho and has a distinct tex-mex feel. EMI used to have an office on top of the venue, so the space was often used for the label’s showcase gigs.

Gilford’s day-to-day work is pretty hands-on. She needs to ensure that everything in the venue is safe, customers are feeling comfortable and the staff can work effectively in a hectic environment. It is this ethos that gained them the trust of big companies (Marc Jacobs, Nike, Spotify) to put on shows using their ‘corporate budgets’.

When it was Rebecca Kane’s turn to speak, she basically echoed what Gilford and Horseman had said regarding work culture. The main difference would probably be the scale: The O2 Arena is the world’s busiest music venue anyway. With 9 million annual visitors and aiming to increase the number to 20 million, it takes serious work to keep The O2 at the top. Kane attribute much of The O2’s success to the team that she is working it. For instance, she mentioned The O2’s Festivals and Events Director, Milly Olykan, who is instrumental in looking for content from all over the world. She brought Sundance to the O2 and since then they began thinking of creating contents of their own. Country 2 Country is one of the fruits of their work.

Panelists of 'Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music'

Panelists of ‘Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music’

Kane told the audience that the British Music Experience, an exhibition at The O2 is now closed. She revealed that an Elvis exhibition will take its place soon. They are currently working to bring amazing artefacts, film screenings and tribute performers to the space. ‘There’s a lot to celebrate Elvis coming into the building’, she said.

The moderator asked the panelists regarding their opinion on agents. Horseman said that an agent is usually the artist’s first point of call aside from the manager. She also stressed that there are no traditional routes anymore, so a band can be successful without an agent.

Kane told an interesting story about Pharell Williams and his agent, John Giddings. She said that Giddings was at a meeting with Kelis, another artist he represents, when he saw a man laying on a sofa. Giddings asked, ‘who is that?’, and Kelis replied ‘it’s a bloke called Pharell Williams. You should be his agent’. For fourteen years Giddings guide Pharell. It was because of Giddings’ work that Pharell could play two nights in a row at The O2 a few months ago. The singer thanked the agent at the show.

As the digital revolution has influenced the industry in tremendous ways, the moderator asked the panelists for their opinion on this issue. Gilford said that social media has turned people judgmental and enabled them to give instant comments. She said that agents, promoters and venue managers need to have a tough skin in facing the rapid flow of criticism.

Horseman said that digital tools definitely help her work, but she emphasised on the importance of getting on the phone. Coming up with decisions and creating opportunities can be done faster when people talk on the phone instead of waiting for hundreds of emails and replying them one by one.

An audience member asked the speakers as to what specific marketing tool they found to be the most effective. Kane mentioned that The O2 has an audience database, which enabled them to do specific customer targeting. For instance, the database can tell them that people who watch Justin Timberlake won’t buy a Jack White show ticket. Kane also said that more people would go to shows when they know if it’s happening, so a precise targeting would help them inform (and influence) the right people.

Merchandise has been an integral part in a band’s marketing strategy. It has also often been used as an income stream that supports touring. Gilford mentioned that many rock and metal bands fund their tours completely through their merch revenue. Kane added that it is important for musicians to put a lot of care and attention when crafting their merchandise. It should be an extension of their musical work, and not just some boring design or logo offshoots by uninspired designers. Florence Welch is an example of an artist who adds her quirkiness to her line of merch. They felt genuine, so she would always sell out her merch.

When the seminar finished, I had a chance to ask the panelists some questions. I asked Horseman whether they are up for getting good bands from countries like Indonesia to play in the UK. She replied by saying that Coda currently focuses on UK acts, but there is a directory of agents which can be used to find who’s interested in bringing Asian acts over.

The second talk had an impressive line-up. I would say that I decided to come because I wanted to hear those people speak. Leo Nicholas (Spinefarm Records’ Label Manager), Scott Witters (CEO of Glownet), Stefan Heller (Carrier Relations Head at OpenMarket), and Ivor Wilkins (Director of MAMA group) were the panelists. Liz Stokes, the editor of Record Of The Day, moderated the talk.

From left to right: Scott Witters, Stefan Heller, Leo Nicholas, ivor Wilkins, Liz Stokes

From left to right: Scott Witters, Stefan Heller, Leo Nicholas, Ivor Wilkins, Liz Stokes

True to the talk’s title, Liz opened by asking each panelist ‘will live music save the industry?’ Stefan Heller said ‘I think it’s crap. It won’t save the industry’. Leo Nicholas elaborated by stating that the revenue from live music will never completely counterbalance the decline of the industry. According to Ivor Wilkins, the live show market is currently saturated.

Liz then asked whether new bands can make money in the live sector nowadays. Everyone said ‘no’. Witters argued that it is so because the price of live music has gone up disproportionately to ticket sales. He suggested that if new bands want to be noticed by booking agents, they should not send demos as it is a waste of time. Instead, they should offer the booking agents their audience, composed of the scale of their fanbase and the scope of their audience, which are best reflected through their online presence.

When asked whether there are funding schemes that help young bands, Heller replied ‘yes, and they’re called record labels’. Witters mentioned that brands like to invest in young bands, but only if they can create an impressive social media traction.

Still related to social media, Witters said that it is important for bands to get an expert to handle their social media work. If they do it themselves, then they would not have the time to make good music. Witters told that in the US, where he is based, bands do a lot of text message promotion through certain companies. The other panelists and some audience members became curious about it. He explained that since text messages are more direct, it can grant the bands more following. However, there is also the risk of overexposing themselves.

One thing that I should mention is that I looked forward to hearing Leo Nicholas speak about metal. His label represents artists I like such as Electric Wizard, Killing Joke and Rammstein. Liz asked him whether there’s more pressure for a niche genre like metal to survive in the live circuit. Nicholas responded by saying that going on tour and doing the ‘toilet circuit’ (small shows where the bands hardly make any money) is what metal is all about. Metal bands need to consistently put themselves out there, until perhaps an agent stops them for overexposing themselves.

The metal man in the panel, Leo Nicholas.

The metal man in the panel, Leo Nicholas.

Livestreaming gigs have become an issue discussed a lot in the past three years. The panelists were asked if they think that the technology brings positive impact to the industry. Witters said that livestreaming is good as long as gives the artist receives money from it. However, he stressed that it can never replace actual live experience. Livestreaming can be too overproduced and in actual gigs people can do stuff that they can’t do at home. ‘People buy tickets to our festival even before we announce the artists, so it shows that people are going for the atmosphere and the experience, not necessarily the music’, Witters said. Wilkins agreed on Witters’ point, saying that the excitement of being in a live gig, something that he has loved since punk’s explosion when he was sixteen, is the most crucial element.

Closing the talk, each panelists were asked if they are optimistic about the industry. Witters said ‘yes’. Heller said ‘maybe, because it’s really about the individual business models and how they get customers to spend, not the industry as a whole.’ Nicholas said ‘yes’. Wilkins’ response was longer. He said that he would love to see more companies investing on the grassroots level. He criticised Live Nation for building a business model that just takes new acts when they are famous and successful with little concern for nurturing them from the initial stages of their career.

City Showcase’s Finding The Future: ‘Business Models Online Presented by PRS For Music’

City-Showcase

‘Finding The Future’ is a series of music workshops hosted by City Showcase between the 13th and 15th of November 2014 in Regent Street’s Apple Store. The speakers range from A&R people, booking agents, label managers to marketers, researchers and many more. They also have a hot new artist performance at the end of each day.

Due to conflicting schedules with my university timetable, I could not attend every sessions. I applied for a session on the first day and two sessions on the last day. Thankfully, those two are the ones that I am interested in.

On Thursday the 13th I arrived at the Apple Store at 6.50pm with my friend Aynsley. We met a uni coursemate, Chris, at the store entrance. He had attended the previous sessions and was about to go home. But then he asked:

‘Does anyone of you have a camera phone? Mine’s out of battery’

‘I have’, I replied.

‘Okay, come with me’.

The seminar space

The seminar space

Chris took us to where the workshop was happening. It was at the back of the 1st floor of the store. We passed rows of iMacs, iPhones, hordes of customers and energetic Apple salesmen to get to the area. In contrast to the all-white backdrop of the Apple Store, this section was coloured with purple lights. Chris wanted to take a photo with Mo Pleasure, a producer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, and Earth, Wind and Fire. A lot of people are queuing to have an audience with Pleasure. Suddenly, a lady cut our queue. I didn’t notice immediately as I was surveying the location and the people attending. And then Chris poked me.

‘Did you hear that?’

I said, ‘what?’

‘She said she’s the ambassador for music in China or something’. Chris was referring to the lady who cut our queue and was talking with Pleasure. That did sound interesting, but I didn’t know what to say. When she finished talking with Pleasure, Chris told me to approach her.

‘I don’t know man, I got nothing to say.’

‘Come on, man. In these events you gotta pay attention to conversations and approach people.’

‘Still, I don’t know what to offer.’

Chris was annoyed, so he walked away from the queue and approached the lady who already took her seat. Turned out she runs a consulting company that is trying to introduce British music to China. She gave us her business card and we wrote our names and contact details on a receipt paper. In retrospect, that was a bit lame. We talked for a bit regarding musicians in our university and if we could help out with her project.

Funnily, I was quite excited that I got a chance to talk to her. I thanked Chris ‘for creating the opportunity’ and he replied with ‘go f**k yourself’. Haha.

Anyway, the session was about to begin. Aynsley and I walked to the registry to get the event brochure and Chris went home. Most of the seats were filled, so we ended up sitting at the front row. It was so close to the stage that my knees touched it.

The session was titled ‘Business Models Online presented by PRS For Music’. Mark Mulligan from MIDiA Research was speaking throughout the event. Mulligan opened by introducing MIDiA, himself and what he would be discussing in his talk. Mulligan is a music industry analyst and consultant with 15 years of experience behind him. MIDiA Research provides music industry research, analysis and reporting service. As the title suggests, his session was about the online music business environment.

Mark Mulligan of MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan of MIDiA Research

Mulligan said that until Napster, music is about scarcity. Nowadays, there is no such thing as content scarcity anymore. In fact, there’s too many music choices that we end up having no choice at all. He called this phenomenon the ‘tyranny of choice’. It is the big challenge that the industry is facing but no one has managed to tackle it.

His presentation slides were full of interesting information. On one of the slides, he proposed that we are entering the fourth phase of digital music. The first phase was in 1999 with the rise of piracy networks, a period where we were given fixed access to music. Then we have fixed portability when iTunes came and download stores came into prominence. The third phase was the fixed streaming era, triggered by Spotify’s launch. Finally, we have arrived at the so-called ‘fixed discovery’ phase, in which most of music-listening is focused on curated and ‘listen’ services. What he meant by that are music services that understands how listeners – humans – want to consume and discover. Beats Music is one of the key players in this phase.

Four different phases of digital music

Four different phases of digital music

Mulligan went on to explain the revenue situation in the digital music sector. Digital music has not yet got a firm foothold on a global revenue basis. The market share for physical music is still larger than digital music in most areas of the world. He showed a graph illustrating the market share in various countries. On one end, we have Japan where physical music still account for around 90% of the market share. On the other extreme is Sweden, where Spotify was born, where only 10% of the market share belongs to physical music.

Streaming states

Streaming states

An issue of everybody’s confusion is ‘why is Japan not adopting digital music?’ It was at this part of Mulligan’s presentation that audience began asking questions. Why is a nation as technologically advanced as Japan still stuck in a format of the past?

Mulligan responded by saying that in Japan there are a lot of artists with a cult following who release album in several different versions, each with a different perk (DVD, freebies, bonus tracks). One of Japan’s most popular music groups, AKB48, allow fans to vote who will sing on the next single. In order to get the voting slip, the fans must buy the album. Thus, there are heaps of AKB48 CDs in the bin because those guys only buy them to vote for their favourite member. Oh, Japan.

One of the most interesting bits of Mulligan’s presentation was when he began talking about the ‘forgotten fans’. Mulligan showed a slide on behavioural music segmentation and attitudinal music segmentation. Behavioural music segmentation measures the time consumers spent on music versus the money spent on music. Attitudinal music segmentation looks at the relationship between how much consumer value music in life and whether they consider music worth paying for. On both segmentations, 30% of the market is filled by a consumer group called the ‘forgotten fans’. When it comes to behaviour, the forgotten fans spend a lot of time on music but are not willing to spend a lot of money. In terms of attitude, they consider music to be important but not really worth paying for.

The other segments in the behavioural graph include passive majority (47%) who spend a lot of money on music but only spends nearly half the time that forgotten fans dedicate to music. As usual, there is the aficionados (17%) category who spend a huge portion of their time and money on music. Interestingly, there is a segment labeled the collectors (6%), who spend the most money on music yet the time they spend on music is equal to the passive majority.

On the attitudinal music segmentation, aficionados make up for 39% of the market. Disinterested customers, who think that music is not important and not worth paying for forms 11% of the market. The passives segment, where music isn’t a huge part of their life yet considers it worth paying for, makes up 17% of the market. There is a small segment of 2% called the ‘passive buyers’ who considers music really worth paying for, but don’t really see music as something very significant.

Going back to the forgotten fans, a segment of particular interest, Mulligan stated that the industry tend to neglect them. Mulligan argued that they do not spend a lot of money on music simply because they haven’t found what they want yet. These fans want simplicity when they are oppressed by the tyranny of choice. It is also worth noting that the forgotten fans tend to be female, whereas a typical aficionado would be a male.

After talking about music’s customers, Mulligan went on to talk about the revenues of different music services. He showed a chart which illustrates that some services like music videos and interactive radio reach a wide audience, but their financial contribution to the industry is small, measuring at less than 250 million Canadian dollars. Premium subscriptions’ contribution is nearing the 500 million Canadian dollars mark, yet their audience reach is extremely small. Paid downloads still contribute the most, weighing more than 1,5 billion Canadian dollars, and has an audience almost as large as interactive radio. However, downloads’ revenue is decreasing.

Investment in digital music when the big 3 services are factored out.

Investment in digital music when the big 3 services are factored out.

Looking at the trend, it is reasonable to see why a lot of investments now go to the streaming services. Mulligan presented another interesting slide which shows how digital music investment looks like when the big three streaming services (Spotify, Deezer and Beats) are factored out. The big three services drive the drastic growth of investment during the Cloud Years (2009-2013). In 2013, the total investment almost quadruple the amount during the peak of the dotcom years in 1999.

Mulligan’s last part was supposedly the one filled with bad news for the music industry. As a lot of the attendants were musicians and songwriters, Mulligan presented a bleak picture for them. It is a rather known fact that the top 1% artists receive more income than the other 99% combined. However, the story got darker as Mulligan revealed that 76% of the global music industry’s revenue goes to the non-artists, which include labels, stores and promoters.

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Artists’ success strategies

It is both an exciting and critical period for music. Streaming services are dividing opinions, clouding the industry’s ability to see the future. There is a shift from valuing the content to focusing on the platform which delivers it. However, at the back of all of those debates, more investment went into the industry than ever before.

Gig Story: Sofar London (5 Nov 2014)

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They say the only music format that can’t be pirated is live music. I think it’s true. No matter how advanced your camera and microphones are, you simply cannot recreate the magic of being there in the moment, right when the music is playing. Sofar Sounds is a testament to that notion.

The premise of Sofar is simple. You sit in a living room with around 50 other people. You watch the musicians play. There are cameras taking footages of the show, but other than that you ought to put your phones away and respect the music. No ringtones. No vibrations. Or clanging cans. Just the music. This raw simplicity is what makes Sofar unique.

The Bonfire Night entry of Sofar London was in a flat in Hackney. And it’s not an easy area to get into. As Rafe Offer, Sofar’s co-founder himself put it: ‘it’s fucking hard to get here!’ It’s a 10-minute labyrinthine walk through numerous alleys from the Hackney Central overground train station. On the gate of the flat were Sofar posters. There were people by the door holding the guestlist. In order to attend a Sofar gig, you have to apply on Sofar’s website beforehand. Thousands of people apply every month and Sofar can only accommodate a few of them. A spot at a Sofar night is highly demanded in cities like London, where the movement first started, to the point that they aim to have a gig every night.

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Your neighbour’s gig

While the flat did not belong to Rafe – it belonged to a man named Jo, who’s got an impressive book, record and photo collections – he was hosting the night. In between phone calls and chats he made sure that everyone on the guestlist could get in and find a spot to sit. He opened the night when everyone was settled.

Rafe told a bit about Sofar’s story. It was born out of his frustration with live music. Stadium shows are great, but to him they lack the personal connection that intimate gigs offer. Gigs at small venues like bars are also losing their charm as the audience tend to focus more on their smartphones and drinks rather than the music. So in 2009, Rafe and his mates decided to put on a gig and invite serious music lovers to come and watch. They recorded the gig and uploaded them to YouTube. Out of his expectation, Sofar blew up. More than 100 cities are now hosting Sofar gigs. Rafe even lost count.

Rafe Offer

Rafe Offer

Several ‘big names’ have played Sofar. Karen O played the New York version in August. Hozier, a rising star in the UK circuit, surprised Manchester folks when he played there a while back. Even Bastille owed their success partly to Sofar. However, it is important to emphasise that Sofar isn’t about big names. It isn’t about who’s headlining and who are the ‘warm-up’ bands. It’s about detaching the musicians from all of those labels and let the music actually speak for itself.

The acts playing tonight were not announced beforehand. Only two posters in the room showed the names of the acts. There is the issue that whenever a gig is being put on, people will ask ‘who’s playing?’ and decide whether to come or not based on it. By keeping the acts secret, Sofar attempted to get rid of our biases and kept music appreciation pure.

Sofar's show bill

Sofar’s show bill

Laish, the moniker adopted by singer-songwriter Daniel Green, was the first act to play. He’s got a beautiful backdrop: a bright lamp, an open window and occasional fireworks. For a set filled with poignant folky tunes, it was splendid.

He sung warm, stripped back tunes with his acoustic guitar. There was one song about his friend who has a gambling issue and another on how badly musicians get paid. My favourite song is probably ‘Warm The Wind’, an appropriate title for a cold night.

Baby do not forget

Love is a work in progress

Love is an object

For the second half of the set, a female vocalist, who had been sitting in a corner not too far from Green joined him. She added a layer to the vocals, which was nice. Another interesting thing was how they were not using any microphones. All of the vocals we heard were straight from the source – unplugged and untainted.

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Laish

With only a five-minute interval, the next act was ready to play. It was Moses Sumney. He’s a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles and has toured with Karen O. He’s pretty funny too.

‘When I looked at the poster and saw Laish on it, I thought that is the best description of me, because I’m not actually from LA.’ (LA-ish. Capisce?)

The audience laughed for a good half a minute before he proceeded with the set. One of his most interesting songs was ‘San Fran’. It was about a deteriorating friendship with one of his mates. Karen O got him to play that song on her set and from then on it became an essential tune in his performances.

Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney has a strong, soulful voice. On one song he played around with dynamic vocals, shifting between whispering and articulating his words loudly. He pulled it off perfectly.

After Sumney’s set, Rafe announced a twenty-minute break. It was a chance for the audience to use the toilet, get more drinks and chat amongst themselves. The people beside me pulled out two boxes of sushi from their bag and started eating them. Meanwhile, I only brought a bottle of water.

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Laish and Sumney hanging out after their set

Before the set restarted, Rafe told the audience that Sofar could only happen because of the donations that have been given to them. When I received the e-mail saying that I’ve been selected to attend the gig, there was also a link to donate. The donations go to cover production costs like videography as well as to support the musicians. Rafe referenced Laish’s song about musicians not getting paid well and he said that we could make a difference. He went on to pass a hat to an audience member and whoever wants to donate can put their money in the hat.

There were three scheduled acts that night. But an extra act, Only Wolf, was put in the slot. I love how spontaneous the night can be. Before Laish’s set, I heard Rafe saying ‘there’s a singer from Canada on the door. Can you please get him?’ Even Moses Sumney told the audience that he was asked to play just two or three days prior to the gig.

A cool-looking guy with a beard and round, thick-framed glasses, Only Wolf – the alias for Sean Parker – is from Vancouver. He stood in one of the corners with his guitar and an amplifier. Due to the minimal equipment that night, he couldn’t have multi-layered sounds for his psychedelic folk music, which is how he usually performs them. When he finished his one-track set, he showed the audience his newly released vinyl album (translucent coloured LP!). He also said that he would really appreciate anyone who’d ‘pay for the rides in Hyde Park’ for him.

Only Wolf

Only Wolf

To Kill A King concluded the night. They are a five-piece band: one singer, one guitarist, one keyboardist, one drummer and one cellist. They’ve toured the US and the UK and will play Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March 2015, but their label kept asking them to play ‘living room gigs’ like Sofar.

To Kill A King

To Kill A King

Although they have five members, their performance was as warm and intimate as the solo acts before them. On certain parts of their songs, the entire band hummed and I could see a lot of people smiling and nodding their head during these parts. I was particularly drawn to the cellist, who was amazing at providing the rhythm while occasionally being infectious with melodies. They played some new songs that they haven’t recorded, so it was a privilege for the audience to hear them.

Packing out

Packing out

Everyone seemed pleased at the end of the night. Some approached the musicians to thank them. Others talked to Rafe, and one person passed the hat filled with bank notes and coins to him.

It really was one of the most genuine, powerful gigs I’ve ever been to. I focused on nothing else but the music. As much as I wanted to take notes on my phone to write this story, I couldn’t. Then again, my story can’t fully convey what the experience was like.

Because you simply have to be there to enjoy the music.

EVENT STORY: Capital List Meets Kickstarter – ‘Kickstarter For Technology Project’

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What happens when you have an idea, and you’re obsessed with it, but you don’t have the funds needed to turn it into reality? Some people would propose that Kickstarter is the answer.

Still fired up to attend as many music, tech and start-up events as humanely possible (my body, university timetable and wallet enabled me to attend one, so far), I surfed Twitter and found out that Kickstarter is putting on a series of events in London. The events are pretty diverse as well, ranging from a film festival to a seminar for game developers. The one that caught my attention, though, is this one.

I looked up the three Kickstarter projects that are to be featured on the session. I like Kano, ‘a computer anyone can make’, in particular because it makes programming looks so fun. They presented it as a learning tool-cum-toy for children, but I believe adults can benefit from it too. I started learning to code in Codecademy recently and it really helped me understand some unfamiliar (and to some extent, abstract) concepts. So I am definitely excited for any innovation that can make learning the language of the future (when will we speak in codes?) easier.

Anyway, ‘Kickstarter For Technology Projects’ was hosted by Capital Enterprise on the 13th of October 2014 at The Bakery, an open innovation marketplace for brands that has a co-working and event space. It is only five minutes away from Old Street station, still within the appropriate radius of the Silicon Roundabout. RSVP is free of charge, which is certainly a nice perk.

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The event kicked off at 4pm. I sat next to a guy who came there for his PhD research. He pointed towards a lady in black standing by the screen at the front and asked me, ‘that’s Stephanie, right?’

I answered, ‘I guess?’

‘I hope I can ask her some questions later.’

Stephanie Pereira is Kickstarter’s International Partnership Lead. She is here in London from New York to moderate the various discussion sessions that Kickstarter is holding.

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A question & answer session with Stephanie

A representative from Capital Enterprise opened the event. He started by briefly introducing the speakers and outlining the agenda of the day before making the audience introduce themselves. He asked, ‘who’s in here with a start-up or project idea?’ A lot of people stood up.

Then he asked, ‘who’s got a physical project that you can drop on your foot’ and ‘who’s got a digital project that you can’t drop on your foot’. There was a more or less equal amount of people from both categories.

‘Okay, so who has used Kickstarter for their project?’ A few people remained standing.

‘And who can be persuaded to use Kickstarter?’ Some people who sat raised their hand.

‘Finally, who has funded a Kickstarter project’ There was a number of people who raised their hand and some people also admitted to having funded more than one project.

After the mini audience introduction session, it was Stephanie Pereira’s turn to speak. She introduced Kickstarter, its features, as well as its founders. I just knew that all of the three founders came from a creative background like music, writing and design, not a business or even tech background. Way to go in building optimism.

Stephanie presented some interesting statistics. Out of all the backers (people who fund Kickstarter projects) 60% of them are repeat backers, which corresponded to the session earlier where some people in the audience raised their hand when asked if they have funded more than one projects.

A lot of people are hooked to Kickstarter because it has become more than just a crowdfunding website. It is an environment for people to discover exciting projects. Some of the projects that fall within a category tend to also branch out to other categories. Games, for example, which is one of Kickstarter’s most backed categories, like to work with people in the film, technology and arts categories.

The emphasis on creating an environment is the highlight of Stephanie’s presentation. She showed a quote that said: ‘when it comes to projects to manufacture and distribute, hardware, gadgets and other products, it is important to make sure backers know what stage of development the project is in’. Kickstarter values honesty and transparency, that is why they really encourage projects to not just have a compelling promotion material like videos and offering rewards to attract backers, but to also maintain a healthy communication with backers through project updates. Every Kickstarter project is a story and it is important to bring people who back your project into your creative process, giving them insights on how you turn the idea into life.

When Stephanie finished presenting about Kickstarter, she called the three British entrepreneurs who have done a successful Kickstarter project to the front. To simplify the introduction process, she played the project video of each Kickstarter.

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The three case studies subjects (left to right): Kevin Haughan, Yonathan Raz-Fridman, Lucy Lynn-Evans with Stephanie (standing) as the moderator

Kano’s video was played first. There was a confusion on how to pronounce ‘Kano’. Yonathan Raz-Fridman, the founder, insisted that he wants to stick to the original Japanese way of saying it, pronouncing the ‘a’ like you would in ‘car’. Stephanie’s having a bit of a problem as she pronounced the ‘a’ like the ‘a’ in ‘cane’.

Kano’s video was shot in the playground. I suppose they want to show that adults can still play and have children’s sense of wonder – hence, adults can use Kano too. At one point, Yonathan pronounced ‘Kano’ like ‘cane’ in the video, making some audience members chuckle. The video showed them traveling the globe to test the idea on children from many countries. Kano can be used to create games like Snake or Pong, and it is really cool to see the inventor of Pong giving his thoughts on Kano on the video.

The next video is by SAM Labs, who created an electronics development kit fused with the concept of the Internet of Things. Kevin Haughan, one of SAM’s founders, was not in the video but he was sitting on the panel chairs. SAM hardwares can be attached to anything from your door to a toy car and each piece is connected to the software, allowing you to code and control the actions you want the hardware to perform.

Last up is Veglo. Despite having the simplest product, it is surprising how useful it can be. Velgo created the Commuter X4, a ‘wearable fibre optic rear bike light that helps drivers judge the distance, width and speed of cyclists.’ Commuter X4 was born out of the founder, Edward Ward’s realisation of how vulnerable cyclists are when he was hit from behind and thrown into the road. London has a lot of cyclists (maybe not as many as Amsterdam’s and still ahead of Jakarta’s attempt to turn cycling into more than just a fad) ranging from the suited professionals on Boris bikes to the fixie-riding hipsters of Shoreditch, where the video was shot. There is clearly a market here. Ward wasn’t present on the panel, though, but he was replaced by Lucy Lynn-Evans, the Head of Growth at Veglo.

When all of the videos had been shown, each project representative talked about how and why did they set their funding targets and how did they get people to pledge for their project. All of them said that they based their funding target on the cost that needed to be covered. Yonathan from Kano elaborated that he wanted to put a number that that they think they can achieve. Kano’s target was $100,000 (they use dollars for funding). If they hit half a million dollar they’d be extremely grateful. And if they hit a million dollar – which they did – everything will make sense. Yonathan said that once you passed a certain tipping point, you will definitely be sure that your product is not just viral but people actually want to use it.

Stephanie asked some questions regarding project updates and pledge rewards. Kevin from SAM Labs said that they need to build stories based on their update instead of just listing the improvements to their product. Yonathan said that one of the most important things he can teach anyone is to maintain a good communication with backers. He also mentioned that instead of having a lot of reward tiers, it is better to keep things simple and give rewards that have values. ‘By the way’, he said, ‘people love stickers as rewards.’

The most interesting part of the discussion, however, is when the speakers are asked about their outreach strategy. Before a Kickstarter campaign is launched, each project needs to be socialised to the market or to a group of influential people. Yonathan said that they researched journalists talking about successful Kickstarters and the Twitter accounts of key people and presented Kano to them. If it weren’t for the initial awareness that they raised, they wouldn’t have been confident with receiving funding within 18 hours – which was illustrated through a chart showing the increase of funds pledged to Kano over time.

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Kano’s funding progress chart

SAM Lab’s drastic initial funding was due to a coverage by TechCrunch. Kevin said that they just sent a press release to TechCrunch and hoped for the best. And that hope didn’t disappoint.

I haven’t talked much about Veglo here, but it is worth noting that, according to Stephanie, 75% of projects on Kickstarter are on Veglo’s level. What she meant by this is that a vast majority of projects only require (and acquired) funding below £20,000. Kano and SAM Labs are way above this level.

There were some interesting information on Veglo’s presentation. There was a chart that showed that 91% of bikers are men, but the majority of Veglo’s pledgers are women who wants to buy Commuter X4 for their son or husband. Veglo’s Lucy said that there is a lot of potential in gifting, which is one of Veglo’s competitive advantage.

The audience was finally given the chance to ask some questions to the panelists. One guy asked Stephanie if people actually build their business model around Kickstarter, meaning that they have Kickstarter’s crowdfunding as their sole source of capital. Stephanie said, ‘yes’, and she can even show a list of projects that do. She went on to elaborate that it is so because Kickstarter is not so much about making money, but it’s about crafting a project.

Another guy posed an interesting question regarding a project’s duties to their backers, referring to how Oculus Rift ‘betrayed’ their backers when they were bought by Facebook. Does the duty to their backers stop after they give them the rewards? Stephanie replied by saying that a Kickstarter funding is only about bringing a project to life, not about getting a stake in any company. I’m not sure if that response shuts the whole Oculus Rift-Facebook debate, though.

The most interesting question, however, is on the campaign expenditures. As all of the speakers have shown, they created a video alongside other promotional means. What this means is that they had incurred cost even before starting the campaign. The person who asked the question said that a lot of people think that crowdfunding is where you can just go in and expect to get money. In fact, you need to spend some first. And this guy wanted to know how much.

Yonathan responded by saying that Kano does not live and die on Kickstarter. It is just one of the paths they could use. They have a team that have planned deliverables and should one of them – for example Kickstarter – fails, they have others. He did reveal that Kano spent $30,000 on direct cost, which includes video as well as travel expenses when they did research on countries like Israel, USA and South Africa.

Yonathan stated that it is important to think of their core competence and work hard on it. They can then hire people outside for skills beyond theirs. Lucy from Velgo added that they cut down costs by turning down offers from advertisers.

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Post-discussion networking session

This pre-campaign cost is the issue that many people fuss over after the event. I talked to a guy from Italy who just came to London the day before to seek funding for his start-up. He is building some device that help people track their exercise progress in the gym. He was considering Kickstarter but was turned off after realising that promoting your project to get pledges (before you even receive any) require a lot of money.

I hung out for a while after the event because of the free snacks and drinks. I managed to ask Lucy some questions regarding keeping your ideas safe. After all, if you publish your idea on Kickstarter, people can look at it and copy it. She said that any preventive measures like patents and copyrights will definitely help. Kickstarter doesn’t assist you in those areas. But she said that the positive impact you get from disclosing your idea is greater than negative impact. She explained that if someone were to copy your idea, they would have had to spend at least the same amount of time, energy and money that you did – plus they would have to quit their job. If you really pioneered the idea, you’re automatically ahead of any imitators.

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The wall of fame

Most people only stayed for less than an hour after the discussion ended. After taking some pictures of the event space, I left.

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How does The Bakery works?

I should’ve brought a better camera next time.

EVENT STORY: Music 4.5 – ‘Smart Radio: Beyond Playlists & Promoting The Future’

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Indonesian version – Click me

Going to networking events is one of the most crucial things to do in the music industry. Many players invest a lot to be able to attend MIDEM, SXSW, Music Tech Fest and other big name events to get their name out there. 

Unlike the events I mentioned, Music 4.5 is much smaller in terms of scale. It is an intimate seminar that is complemented with networking sessions – most notably the one at the end. There are only about 200 people in the room, including the speakers and organisers. Being small in scale meant that each seminar addresses a specific issue. For the 23rd September 2014 entry, the theme is ‘Smart Radio: Beyond Playlists & Promoting The Future’, which is basically about where digital music platforms like online radio, playlists, and – most importantly – streaming are going.

This is my first experience in attending a music networking event, and the invitation came suddenly. I was in the middle of a lecture at noon and one of my bosses sent an e-mail regarding the event. Since it was only two hours away, I said ‘thank you but unfortunately, I can’t come’. My boss insisted: ‘oh, no worries. You can still come at 2.30pm or 3pm’. Plus, I don’t need to pay for the tickets if I come as the company’s employee. So I said, ‘yes’. I rushed home after the lecture to have lunch and prepared some stuff.

Before leaving the house, I realised that I didn’t have a business card. Since one of the speakers is a podcaster, it will be great if I can promote my podcast to her. But I don’t even have a piece of paper with my podcast’s logo and link on it.

I texted a friend in Indonesia who gave me some stickers of his band when he was visiting London. I asked: ‘hey, can I use your band’s sticker as a substitute for my business card? I won’t say that it’s my band, but I’ll try to use it in a conversation about Indonesian music’. He said, ‘yes feel free to use it. But c’mon, just print some business cards, man!’

It took around 40 minutes to get to the building. I missed the registration session and most of the opening remarks as I was 10 minutes late. Two of my bosses are already inside and they saved a seat from me. It was on the second row from the front. The person sitting directly in front of me was Simon Cole, the CEO of 7digital.

Thankfully, I didn’t miss any of the speakers. The first speaker was Iain Sawbridge, the marketing director of blinkbox Music, a streaming service owned by Tesco. His presentation is titled ‘Music to the Mass-Market’ but it came across to me as a sales pitch for blinkbox. There were a lot of note-worthy information on Sawbridge’s presentation, though, most notably the emphasis on an ‘easy, “human” streaming service’, which blinkbox claims to be. He also elaborated on the blinkbox-Tesco partnership, stating the fact that 80 million UK household owns a Tesco Clubcard grants them a competitive advantage.

The next speaker was one of the more interesting ones. He stood out among the strapped-in-suit-and-shirt majority. His sweater reminded me of Tycho’s cover art for their ‘Dive’ album. He had a cap on and was wearing a bunch of necklaces. I had expected the music industry to be rather casual in terms of dress code, and it seemed that the people who wear their music is still a minority. Fair enough, it’s a seminar for music professionals, not a gig. But then what was this guy trying to say through his outfit?

Anyway, the guy I am talking about is Nikhil Shah, the co-founder of Mixcloud. If you haven’t heard of Mixcloud, it’s an online music service that allows users to upload and stream DJ mixes, podcasts, and radio shows. Barack Obama uses it. I don’t use it very often, but it’s a pretty popular service in the electronic music sector.

Shah opened his session by saying that he will talk about curation. 10 million monthly listeners trust Mixcloud’s curation expert. Shah even said that the service managed to become a great platform for subcultures like fans of aquacrunk or chillstep. The power of music as a social identifier has translated into online mediums and many services should get a grasp of this.

Shah also quoted Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson who said that 80% of the music we listen to are played by someone else – leaving only 20% of free space for us to curate our own music. How do services filter and recommend content is the big question Shah posed, which I think is a crucial question in a time where music selection is almost limitless.

Following Shah is the presentation by an award-winning podcaster named Helen Zaltzman. I’ve never heard of her before, but as I mentioned before, her being a podcaster made me look forward to hearing her talk. It’s a pretty fun session and a large portion of it was dedicated to stories of how did she start with podcasting and how did she end up making money from it. The funniest bit of her session was when she played a jingle for one of the advertisements on her podcast that mentioned the word ‘scrotum’. She seemed to be proud of it.

The next speaker is 7digital’s Simon Cole. He probably has one of the most intimidating looks in the entire room – to me, at least. But his presentation is the most insightful. He opened by proclaiming that ‘algorithms can do anything, but human beings can entertain’. It’s one of the quotes that I kept thinking about after the event ended. Algorithms are irreplaceable in the way they scale. Human curation are irreplaceable in the way they surprise and excite. The key is to find out how to combine both elements.

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Cole showed a fascinating pyramid showing where do people consume music. I’ll outline the pyramid below (although not in a pyramidal format)

  • 77% of listeners consume music at Home
  • 51%: Car

————-

  • 17%: Work
  • 14%: Walking
  • 9%: Club (and similar places)

———–

  • 8%: Gym

 

The places between the dashes are where mobile listeners consume their music and it is a market that 7digital and many other services are trying to tap into. He also mentioned that the industry came up with a unit of measurement called ‘stream equivalent album’ (SEA) to gauge how much stream is needed to equal the sale of one album.

A panel session is introduced after Cole’s presentation. Sawbridge, Shah, Zaltzman and Cole took the panel. It was moderated by Peter Warren of Future Intelligence and Resonance.fm. To make things simple, I’ll list down the bits of information that I find very interesting from the panel session.

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Iain Sawbridge

  • On offering free stuff when a lot of people are willing to pay for content: ‘I’m willing to do that.’

Nikhil Shah

  • On offering free stuff: ‘Listening isn’t getting easier, but people have better attitude now’.
  • On the success of podcasts: ‘Podcasts are iTunes’ hidden gem’

Helen Zaltzman

  • Her podcast went to #21 in the UK chart in the 1st year
  • She took note of journalists who talked about her podcast to track down where is the market
  • Turns out her podcast is very popular in Luxembourg. So she went there and promoted the hell out of it until it got to #3 over there.
  • In essence, the podcast’s promotion is pretty much word-of-mouth

Simon Cole

(This man has the most interesting things to say)

  • On coping with the speed of change in the industry: ‘You have to create a platform that’s flexible enough to change and have a team that is responsive to the changes in the environment’
  • No one in the content industry (music, drama, books) that’s successful has ever asked what the people before them did and giving more of it. Giving people content that they don’t know they need or want until you offer them… now that’s a content creator’
  • He said that if you stream a playlist, you listen to it by yourself in your own time. On the contrary, listening to radio evokes a tribal/communal feel as you listen to the songs at the same time as many other people.
  • ‘Back catalogue is a hidden gem in any industry’. He used the example of playing old Madonna songs on the radio to push the streaming for her back catalogue.
  • A lot of people who listen to a Saturday 60s music program use BBC Playlister. This shows the power of back catalogues and that technology is not only about those listeners under the age of 30.

The entire panel sessions is quite heated, mainly with Cole trying to prove his fascinating point. But the gist of it is how streaming is becoming more and more like radio and what should online music services do to cope up with the changes.

A coffee and tea break session followed. They served a really nice variety of cookies. I managed to grab some – I really liked the pecan cookies. I approached Nikhil Shah to take a picture with him. He’s really friendly and even asked about a person from my office whom I never met.

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After the break, the second-half of the seminar kicked off. I forgot to mention, but the chair of the day is Cliff Fluet of Lewis Silkin and Eleven. Fluet introduced the next speaker, Andy Puleston, who is the Head of Interactive for BBC.

Puleston talked about the pressures in the music business today. There is an explosion of choice, the decline of youth listening hours, new business models and the relevance of the content offered. One of BBC Playlister’s key features is to have artists as playlists curators. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been very successful as evidenced by Bastille’s profile only having 961 followers, which is a surprising statistic.

After Puleston concluded his talk, Cait O’ Riordan, the VP for Shazam’s Product for Music and Platforms took the booth. I was quite excited for her presentation just because she’s from Shazam.

The presentation was about how useful Shazam’s data can be. The answer is: really useful, particularly for labels and digital platforms offering music. Cait mentioned that what people express when tagging tracks on Shazam is not ‘tell me the song’s name’ but rather ‘I like that track, tell me the name’. The difference is crucial as it provides the basis for the tagging data that Shazam collects – data of people who actually love the track. Shazam’s tags data can be used to predict how big a track will be. Some interesting graphs were shown, such as how Clean Bandit’s ‘Rather Be’ progresses from being a C-list (not so popular) track to being an A-list (very popular) track. There was also a chart that shows the tagging habit in different countries.

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The last speaker in the seminar is Charlie Lexton, Merlin’s Head of Business Affairs and General Counsel. Merlin is a global rights licensing agency for independent labels. Despite having the most exciting presentation title – ‘The role of promotion – if the end-result isn’t someone buying?’ – I found his talk to be the least interesting. It could be due to his delivery, or because I was still thinking about the cool stuff I heard in the previous talks. Nevertheless, I managed to pick up some good information from his session. 

Lexton talked about the role of promotion specifically in streaming. He proposed that promotion in music used to be a cause-and-effect scenario. Free music was given as a promotion, which led to commercial activity (the sales of music). This model made sense before the digital era. Streaming supposedly changed this scenario as it substitutes both the traditional promotion channels (radio) and the retail channels.

Before the second panel discussion session, a guy from Spotify was supposed to deliver a presentation. Due to some reasons that wasn’t disclosed to the attendees, he couldn’t come. So the seminar progressed into the panel discussion immediately after Lexton’s presentation.

The most memorable question was posed towards Puleston’s claim that ‘new business models’ are one of the pressures in the music industry. Given that BBC is a public company, the person who asked the question seemed to be puzzled by what Puleston said. Puleston replied that BBC’s missions include boosting the UK economy as well as giving the public access to new technologies. Being aware of the pressures in the music business will inform them on how to achieve those missions.

Some interesting questions were posed towards Shazam’s Cait O’Riordan. Someone asked if Shazam uses its technology and data as an A&R tool to discover unknown, independent bands to which Cait replied ‘yes’. Cait mentioned that young people tend to tag songs repeatedly to show how much they like the song. So there is so much information contained within Shazam’s tags that is not merely just a ‘please tell me the song title’. Furthermore, Shazam also finds out what device was used to tag the track, adding more depth into their data.

When asked whether playlist is becoming the new album, Charlie Lexton said ‘no, they’re totally different’. But he said that playlists can drive sales. He also said that it is ideal to have a level playing field in the music business game. This can be achieved by charging the same amount across different platforms (Spotify, Deezer, etc.)

Personally, I think the first half of the seminar is more interesting. The second half is rather heavy and dull at times, although there are valuable informations as well.

At the end of the seminar, everyone went into the building lobby for the networking session. And like all networking sessions, you get to jump from one circle of people to another, listening to what they’re talking about and occasionally jumping in the conversation. I was hooked at the table serving free drinks and snacks for a while before joining my two bosses. We talked about some interesting things from the seminar, which I hope can be developed into an article for the company. I had a chance to talk to Ben Graham, a journalist from Strategy Eye who interviewed Evan Stein as well.

Drinks kept on flowing. I guess this is a pretty solid first experience at a music networking/seminar event.

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//

See?

Menghadiri ajang-ajang networking adalah hal yang sangat penting di industri musik. Banyak pelaku industri rela mengeluarkan banyak uang demi bisa hadir di MIDEM, SXSW, Music Tech Fest dan berbagai ajang papan atas lainnya untuk mempromosikan dirinya.

Berbeda dengan ajang-ajang yang saya sebutkan, Music 4.5 berskala jauh lebih kecil. Ia adalah seminar intim yang disertai oleh beberapa sesi networking – terutama di sesi terakhir. Hanya ada sekitar 200 orang di ruangan itu, termasuk para pembicara dan panitia acara. Karena ukurannya kecil, setiap seminar membahas isu yang spesifik. Untuk sesi seminar tanggal 23 September 2014 ini temanya adalah Smart Radio: Beyond Playlists & Promoting The Future’ (Radio Pintar: Di Luar Playlist & Mempromosikan Masa Depan), yang pada intinya membahas ke mana platform musik digital seperti radio daring, playlist dan – yang terpenting – streaming akan mengarah.

Ini adalah pengalaman perdana saya dalam menghadiri ajang networking musik dan undangannya datang ke saya tiba-tiba. Siang itu saya sedang berada di kelas dan salah satu bos saya mengirim e-mail mengenai acara ini. Karena hanya ada dua jam sebelum acara dimulai, saya menjawab ‘terima kasih, namun mohon maaf saya tidak bisa datang.’ Bos saya bersikeras: ‘tidak apa-apa. Kamu bisa datang jam 2.30 atau bahkan jam 3 sore.’ Saya juga tidak perlu membeli tiket bila datang sebagai karyawan. Maka saya bilang, ‘baiklah.’ Saya buru-buru pulang untuk makan siang dan menyiapkan beberapa hal.

Sebelum meninggalkan rumah, saya sadar bahwa saya belum punya kartu nama. Salah satu pembicaranya adalah seorang podcaster, maka saya ingin mempromosikan podcast saya kepadanya. Namun saya bahkan tidak mempunyai selembar kertas dengan logo dan link podcastnya.

Saya mengirim pesan ke seorang teman di Indonesia yang mengunjungi London beberapa waktu yang lalu dan ia memberi sejumlah stiker bandnya kepada saya. Saya tanya: ‘eh, gua boleh pakai stiker band lo sebagai pengganti kartu nama ga? Gua ga bakal bilang itu band gua, tapi gua bakal pakai di percakapan mengenai musik Indonesia.’ Ia jawab: ‘pakai saja, santai. Tapi lo bikin kartu nama lah. Tinggal print aja.’

Setelah perjalanan selama 40 menit, saya tiba di gedung tempat acara diselenggarakan. Karena telat 10 menit, saya kelewatan sesi registrasi dan kata pengantar dari panitia. Dua bos saya sudah di dalam dan mereka menyimpan satu kursi untuk saya. Kami duduk di barisan kedua dari depan. Tepat di depan saya adalah Simon Cole, CEO 7digital.

Syukurnya saya tidak kelewatan satu pun pembicara. Orang pertama yang melakukan presentasi adalah Iain Sawbridge, direktur marketing blinkbox Music, sebuah layanan streaming milik Tesco (perusahaan supermarket di Inggris). Presentasinya berjudul ‘Music To The Mass-Market’ (Musik Untuk Khalayak Umum), namun sangat terkesan seperti promosi dagangannya. Meski begitu ada beberapa informasi yang saya catat, seperti penekanannya pada pentingnya memiliki layanan streaming yang sederhana dan ‘manusiawi’. Ia juga menjelaskan mengenai kerjasama blinkbox dengan Tesco. Menurutnya, fakta bahwa 80 juta rumah tangga di Inggris memiliki Tesco Clubcard adalah keunggulan blinkbox.

Pembicara berikutnya sangat menarik. Ia menonjol di tengah kerumunan orang-orang berpakaian rapih dengan jas. Sweater yang ia kenakan mengingatkan saya akan sampul album Dive’-nya Tycho. Ia memakai topi dan sejibun kalung di lehernya. Saya kira industri musik akan bersikap cukup santai terhadap cara berpakaian, namun ternyata orang-orang yang ‘mengenakan musik’ masih merupakan kelompok minoritas. Okelah, ini sebuah seminar, bukan konser. Namun apa yang orang ini ingin sampaikan melalui pakaiannya?

Orang yang saya maksud adalah Nikhil Shah, co-founder-nya Mixcloud. Bila anda tidak tahu apa itu Mixcloud, ia adalah layanan musik daring berbasis komunitas di mana penggunanya bisa mengunggah dan mendengarkan DJ mix, podcast, dan acara-acara radio. Barack Obama menggunakannya. Saya jarang menggunakannya, namun Mixcloud sangat populer di skena musik elektronik.

Shah membuka sesinya dengan memaparkan bahwa ia akan berbicara mengenai kurasi. 10 juta pendengar memercayai ahli-ahli kurasi Mixcloud setiap bulan. Shah juga mengatakan bahwa layanannya berhasil menjadi wadah bagi subkultur-subkultur seperti para penggemar musik chillstep atau aquacrunk. Kekuatan musik sebagai simbol identitas sudah menjalar ke dunia maya dan layanan-layanan musik harus memahami hal ini.

Shah mengutip Fred Wilson dari Union Square Venture yang mengatakan bahwa 80% dari musik yang kita dengarkan diputar oleh orang lain – menyisakan hanya 20% kebebasan bagi kita untuk menciptakan kurasi musik pribadi. Bagaimana layanan musik menyaring dan merekomendasikan konten adalah pertanyaan besar yang Shah ajukan, dan menurut saya pertanyaan itu sangat krusial di era di mana pilihan musik sudah hampir tak terbatas.

Setelah Shah adalah giliran Hellen Zaltzman, seorang award-winning podcaster, untuk menjabarkan presentasinya. Saya belum pernah mendengar namanya sebelumya, namun seperti saya bilang tadi, saya tertarik untuk menemuinya karena ia adalah seorang podcaster. Sesinya cukup seru dan sebagian besar dari presentasinya adalah kisah tentang bagaimana Zaltzman memulai karir podcasting dan bagaimana ia menghasilkan uang darinya. Bagian terlucu dari presentasinya adalah saat ia memutar salah satu jingle iklan yang disertakan dalam podcast-nya yang menyebutkan kata ‘skrotum’. Sepertinya ia bangga dengan jingle tersebut.

Pembicara berikutnya adalah Simon Cole dari 7digital. Perawakannya membuat saya segan terhadapnya. Namun presentasinya paling penuh wawasan. Ia membukanya dengan menyatakan bahwa ‘algoritme mampu melakukan apa saja, namun manusia bisa meghibur’. Kalimat itu melekat di pikiran saya hingga acara selesai. Algoritme tak tergantikan dalam caranya mencakup skala yang luas. Namun manusia mampu menawarkan kejutan. Kuncinya adalah mencari titik imbang kedua elemen itu.

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Cole menampilkan piramida yang menggambarkan bagaimana kita mengonsumsi musik. Saya akan tampilkan piramidanya di bawah (meski tidak berbentuk piramida. mohon maaf)

  • 77% pendengar mengonsumsi musik di: Rumah
  • 51%: Mobil

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  • 17%: Tempat kerja
  • 14% Sambil berjalan
  • 9%: Klub (dan tempat-tempat serupa)

—————————————

  • 8%: Gym

Tempat-tempat yang diapit kedua garis adalah di mana pendengar musik mobile mengonsumsi musik dan inilah pasar yang 7digital beserta banyak perusahaan lainnya ingin tembus. Cole juga menyebutkan bahwa industri musik mencetuskan sebuah unit ukuran yang disebut ‘Stream Equivalent Album’ (SEA) yang mengukur berapa jumlah stream yang dibutuhkan untuk menyamai pendapatan dari penjualan satu album.

Sesi panel dibuka setelah presentasi Cole. Sawbridge, Shah, Zaltzman dan Cole menduduki kursi panel. Sesi tersebut dipandu oleh moderator Peter Warren dari Future Intelligence dan Resonance.fm. Saya akan jabarkan setiap hal yang menarik di sesi tersebut melalui poin-poin berikut.

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Iain Sawbridge

  • Mengenai menawarkan konten gratis di saat orang-orang sudah mulai ingin membayar: ‘Saya rela melakukannya’

Nikhil Shah

  • Mengenai menawarkan gratisan: ‘Mendengarkan musik tidak menjadi semakin mudah, namun orang-orang memiliki sikap yang lebih baik sekarang’
  • Mengenai suksesnya podcast: ‘Podcast adalah harta karun rahasianya iTunes’

Helen Zaltzman

  • Di tahun pertama ia mulai, podcast-nya menduduki peringkat #21 di chart Inggris
  • Ia mencatat jurnalis mana saja yang membicarakan podcastnya agar ia bisa tahu di mana pasarnya
  • Ternyata podcast-nya sangat populer di Luxembourg. Maka ia pun pergi kesana untuk mempromosikan karyanya hingga ia menduduki peringkat #3 di chart negara itu
  • Pada intinya, podcast-nya menggunakan promosi mulut-ke-mulut

Simon Cole

(orang ini menyampaikan paling banyak hal menarik)

  • Mengenai cara bertahan di industri musik yang berubah-ubah dengan cepat: ‘Anda harus bisa menciptakan layanan yang cukup fleksibel untuk berubah serta memiliki tim yang cekat dalam melihat perubahan di sekitar’
  • ‘Belum pernah ada orang yang sukses di industri konten (musik, drama, buku, dll) dengan menanyakan apa yang orang sukses sebelumnya lakukan lalu memberikan hal yang sama.
  • Menawarkan konten yang orang tidak tahu mereka inginkan hingga anda sodorkan kepadanya…. saat itulah anda baru menjadi pencipta konten yang sejati’Menurutnya saat anda mendengarkan sebuah playlist, anda mendengarkannya di waktu anda sendiri. Di sisi lain, mendengarkan radio menimbulkan rasa komunal/kebersamaan karena anda medengarkannya di saat yang bersamaan dengan banyak orang lain.
  • ‘Katalog lama adalah harta karun di industri manapun’. Ia mengambil contoh memutar lagu-lagu lama Madonna di radio untuk mendorong jumlah streaming katalog lamanya.
  •  Banyak orang yang mendengarkan program musik tahun 60-an menggunakan aplikasi BBC Playlister. Ini menunjukkan bahwa katalog lama masih berpengaruh dan teknologi musik bukan hanya untuk konsumen di bawah usia 30-an.

Sesi panelnya cukup panas, terutama karena Cole kerap berusaha memaparkan poin-poinnya yang menarik. Namun intinya adalah tentang bagaimana streaming lama-lama menyerupai radio dan apa yang harus layanan musik daring lakukan untuk bertahan di arus perubahan ini.

Setelah sesi panel selesai, hadirin pun diberi waktu istirahat untuk minum teh, ngopi, nyemil dan menggunakan kamar mandi. Panitia menjajakan beragam macam kue – menurut saya, kue kacang pikannya enak sekali. Saya menghampiri Nikhil Shah untuk berfoto dengannya. Ia sangat ramah dan bahkan menanyakan soal seseorang di kantor saya yang belum pernah saya temui.

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Waktu istirahat pun habis. Babak kedua seminar dimulai. Saya lupa sebutkan, namun kepala seminar hari itu adalah Cliff Fluet dari Lewis Silikin dan Eleven. Fluet memperkenalkan pembicara berikutnya yaitu Andy Puleston, Head of Interactive dari BBC.

Puleston berbicara mengenai tekanan-tekanan di industri musik hari ini. Pilihan musik yang meledak, menurunnya waktu mendengarkan musik di kalangan anak muda, model-model bisnis baru, serta relevansi konten yang ditawarkan hanyalah sebagian dari tekanan yang ada. Salah satu fitur utama BBC Playlister adalah playlist hasil kurasi para artis. Sayang sekali fitur ini kurang sukses. Pengikut playlist-nya Bastille yang hanya berjumlah 961 orang adalah salah satu buktinya. Statistik yang mengejutkan, sebenarnya.

Setelah Puleston menyimpulkan presentasinya, saatnya giliran Cait O’Riordian, wakil kepala dari bidang Music and Platforms-nya Shazam untuk mengambil mimbar. Saya semangat untuk mendengar presentasinya hanya karena ia dari Shazam.

Presentasinya mendiskusikan seberapa bermanfaat data yang Shazam miliki. Jawabannya: sangat bermanfaat, terutama untuk label dan layanan-layanan musik digital. Cait menjelaskan bahwa apa yang orang ekspresikan melalui tagging (memencet tombol Shazam untuk mencari tahu judul lagu yang sedang didengarkan) bukan hanya ‘beri tahu saya judul lagu itu’ melainkan ‘saya suka lagu itu, beri tahu saya judulnya’. Perbedaan yang krusial karena ia menunjukkan dasar dari data tagging yang Shazam kumpulkan – data orang-orang yang memang menyukai lagu tersebut. Data Shazam bisa dipakai untuk memprediksi akan menjadi seberapa populerkah sebuah lagu. Beberapa bagan menarik ditampilkan, salah satunya adalah bagaimana ‘Rather Be’ oleh Clean Bandit beranjak dari lagu di daftar-C (tidak terlalu populer) menjadi lagu di daftar-A (sangat populer). Ada juga bagan yang menunjukkan tren tagging di berbagai negara.

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Pembicara terakhir di seminar adalah Charlie Lexton, kepala Business Affairs and General Counsel dari Merlin, sebuah agen lisensi global untuk label-label independen. Meski judul presentasinya paling menarik  – ‘Peran Promosi: Bila Hasil Akhirnya Bukan Seseorang Membeli’ – saya merasa presentasinya kurang memikat. Mungkin karena gaya penyampaiannya atau karena isi presentasi-presentasi sebelumnya masih terngiang-ngiang di kepala saya. Meski begitu, saya tetap mencatat beberapa poin penting dari presentasinya.

Lexton berbicara mengenai peran promosi secara spesifik di ranah streaming. Ia mengajukan bahwa dulu promosi di musik adalah sebuah skema sebab-akibat: musik gratis dibagikan sebagai promosi agar kegiatan komersil (pembelian musik) bisa terjadi. Model tersebut masuk akal sebelum era digital. Streaming (katanya) mengubah skema tersebut karena ia menggantikan jalur distribusi dan promosi tradisional.

Sebelum sesi panel kedua dibuka, seharusnya ada presentasi dari seorang perwakilan dari Spotify. Namun karena satu dan lain hal yang tidak diungkap kepada hadirin, ia tidak bisa hadir. Maka seminarnya pun langsung berlanjut ke sesi panel setelah presentasi Lexton.

Pertanyaan paling menarik adalah respon terhadap klaim Puleston bahwa ‘model-model bisnis baru’ adalah salah satu tekanan yang kini ada di industri musik. Mengingat bahwa BBC adalah perusahaan umum, orang yang melontarkan pertanyaan tersebut mungkin dibuat bingung oleh klaim itu. Puleston menjawab bahwa misinya BBC mencakup mendorong ekonomi Inggris sekaligus memberi publik akses kepada teknologi-teknologi baru. Sadar akan tekanan-tekanan yang ada di industri musik dapat membantu BBC mencapai misi tersebut.

Beberapa pertanyaan menarik dilontarkan kepada Cait O’Riordan dari Shazam. Ada yang bertanya apakah Shazam menggunakan teknologi dan datanya sebagai alat A&R untuk mencari band-band independen dan Cait menjawab, ‘ya’. Cait juga menyebutkan bahwa anak muda suka menekan tombol tag Shazam berkali-kali untuk lagu yang sama untuk menunjukkan betapa sukanya mereka terhadap lagu itu. Maka, ada banyak sekali informasi yang terkandung dalam data Shazam yang bukan hanya sekedar ‘beri tahu saya judul lagu itu’. Terlebih lagi, Shazam juga melacak perangkat apa yang digunakan untuk melakukan tagging.

Saat ditanya apakah playlist adalah album yang baru, Charlie Lexton menjawab, ‘tidak, mereka sama sekali berbeda’. Namun menurutnya playlist mampu mendorong penjualan. Ia juga menyebutkan bahwa memiliki arena bertanding yang imbang adalah ideal di industri musik. Hal tersebut bisa dicapai dengan cara menaruh harga yang sama di layanan yang berbeda-beda (Spotify, Deezer, dll.)

Secara pribadi, saya rasa bagian pertama seminar lebih seru. Bagian kedua cukup membosankan, meski tetap ada informasi-informasi berharga yang saya dapat.

Di ujung seminar, semua orang beranjak ke lobi gedung untuk sesi networking. Dan seperti networking-networking lainnya, anda akan melompat dari satu lingkaran obroloan ke lingkaran yang berikutnya, mendengarkan percakapan yang bervariasi. Saya terpaku di meja yang menjajakan cemilan dan minuman gratis sebelum bergabung dengan bos saya. Kami membahas isi seminar tadi yang semoga bisa diolah menjadi artikel untuk blog perusahaan. Saya juga sempat mengobrol dengan Ben Graham, jurnalis dari Strategy Eye yang pernah mewawancarai Evan Stein juga.

Minuman terus mengalir. Nampaknya ini adalah pengalaman perdana di acara networking/seminar musik yang baik.

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Music Metadata Man: Interview with Evan Stein, CEO of Decibel Music Systems

ES

Indonesian version – Click me

In a time where it’s so easy to get information, the important thing to consider is what information do you want to get. We are often bombarded by a lot of information that we do not need, which prevents us from getting what we do need. It also takes a lot of time to organise your digital content subscriptions and collections. To have someone to do the organising sounds like a very neat idea.

The case gets even more complicated in music as the industry is volatile to changes. There’s been a lot of progress in the past few years. The rise of the streaming services, decline of physical sales and the increased number of music being produced as home studio software become more advanced and affordable, are common music headlines. In short, too much stuff is going on in music right now.

Enter Decibel: a London-based music metadata company with the mission of building the largest and most in-depth music database. I had the chance to talk to the start-up’s founder and CEO, Evan Stein, about their ambitious project, the London start-up scene, and some artists which might be of interest to you.

Q: Tell us about the company

A: The idea behind Decibel is to provide an infrastructure, because we’re reaching a point now where physical products are going away. There used to be a time when you could look at a record cover and read about what you’re listening to, or to find out about it before you bought it.

You would also have beautiful art, but when you turn them into a CD it shrinks. And then you turn them into a digital file and it disappears altogether.

So, if you’re listening to a file somebody sent you, what are you really listening to? Is it The Beatles? Is it a cover band who sound exactly like The Beatles? The context means a lot.

At first I thought it would be interesting to have the information from the cover inside the musical file. Then the project grew a great deal. It turns out that when you put the information inside the computer, you can do things with it that you wouldn’t be able to do before. So the product we’re working on now is much better than the one I had imagined at the beginning. Let’s say you have a record collection and you have all these bits of sleeve notes and information on each album but they’re not really talking to each other. When you put them inside the computer you can say ‘okay, I want all the people who played this song’ or ‘everything this bass player did’. So you can aggregate the search, and it is quite interesting.

Q: What initially drove you to start the company?

A: The strongest driving factor was that I had 5000 CDs at home and I couldn’t find what I was looking for. The computer is the ultimate search machine and I made a rule for myself that this large collection had to be digitised before I was allowed to listen to it anymore. The CDs that come into the house get digitised and I get data out of it.

Taking it farther, if you think about large collections it could be my large collection, it could be a store, or something online like a streaming service, and you want to be able to get through these things very quickly and get to exactly what you want. If you have searches, indexes and things like that, you go right exactly to what you’re looking for or something that’s like what you’re looking for instead of standing on a chair and saying ‘oh, I just need one more minute’ or ‘oh, damn, I can’t find it, bear with me’. So the computer is the perfect tool.

Q: A lot of people are more familiar with sites like Allmusic and Discogs that also provide music data. What makes your company different?

A: We furnish our own API, which means that people can write their own applications and do whatever they want to do with the music information.

There are sites like Allmusic that are very editorial-based and you can read a lot about the music. The thing is, when you’re dealing with data as pure data, which is what we do, they can be translated into multiple languages. You don’t necessarily have to speak English to reap the full benefit. There’s a market out there of people who would rather just read in their own language, or to not have to read-read-read to get to what they’re looking for. We use the search information for navigation and the thing is the thing. What I mean by that is let’s say your name is Joe Smith and there’d be 50 people with that name but we know who each of those is and if you’re looking for that name in Chinese, we can translate it into Chinese. It becomes much more computerised.

Allmusic is wonderful. It’s a port of the coffee table book that you used to have, the really nice big beautiful Allmusic guide that you buy in the bookstore. They did a really terrific job porting it to the web. But on the other hand you have to know English to read it. These are two of the issues we solve: fast navigation and translation into multiple languages.

Q: When digital music wasn’t as prevalent as now, what convinced you that music metadata is valuable? And what makes you think that other people can be convinced as well?

A: First of all, I didn’t need to be convinced. I used to work at the Library of Congress in the music archive. This is kind of my life. As a musicologist, just looking at things and trying to find out more about them is really important. One of the main functions of learning about music is that you learn about it. It’s very important where it came from, what you’re listening to, and all that information.

I think metadata is more critical now because physical CDs are disappearing. You really need some kind of a guide to tell you what it is and metadata is the thing that guides you along so you can find what you’re looking for. If you can’t find what you’re looking for you can’t listen to it. I just came to the opinion that this will become more important as more of the tracks went digital. And sure enough there’s plenty of websites and people who are interested in metadata.

Q: Tell us about the start-up culture in London

A: London has a fairly vibrant start-up scene for Europe. The only thing is that the investors in Europe are more cautious than the ones in the US. They’re much less willing to take risks.

You have to be a lot more focused if you’re working in London. But certainly a lot of people come from all parts of Europe to be here and you could go out every night of the week for a start up event and you don’t have to do any work. You can just go from event to event.

Q: Is there a culture of collaboration between start-ups or is it mainly just one company minding their own business?

A: There’s a lot of networking. You can never do everything all by yourself. My job at the beginning was not to only share the idea with people but also to put together a company. So there were various events that I would go to. Some of them have a lot of people who look cool, you know, they go to these events to look cool but they have no particular start-up in mind. They just think that it’s a cool thing to do and a nice way to pass a Friday evening. And other people are very, very focused. You tend, after a while, though, to not go to start up events anymore because running a company is running a company. It takes a lot of time. It takes all your time and a little bit more.

Q: About your main product, can you tell us the ways in which your API has been used?

A: The main use of the API would be if you’re selling or playing or streaming MP3s. People want this kind of store-front. You used to go the record store and you would find a skinny guy in a t-shirt who will tell you all about the records. There’s no such thing as record stores anymore. Almost. The people in record stores are seemingly less and less thrilled to be working in record stores. If you ask ‘so, what’s this record?’ they’ll say ‘well, some people like it, some people don’t.’ That’s kind of like fortune telling. Not very helpful.

The thing is, there are several ways you can get information on music. One is by recommendation, some social graphs on things like Amazon. For example the last 50 people who bought this album bought this next album, so you can try it. If you’re social and similar enough to everybody in their sample, that’d be good.

And then the other way of doing [finding information about music] is by doing your own research. People who are into specific types of music, let’s say metal, they know what they want pretty much but they wanna know it’s available and that’s particularly helpful. So in specialist websites people can use the Decibel search engine, come up with a track, pair it with their inventory and you can download it. So that’s one of the uses of the API.

The API is also used for research applications, for instance cataloguing. We have an application at the British Library where people are cataloguing their own collection. They do that quite a lot and they use our information to find out more about their own properties without having to type these things in.

There are additional uses that haven’t been tapped yet. Things like digital radio, so something’s playing on the air and you ask ‘oh, who’s that playing the bass?’ 

One of the great things about having an API is that if somebody has an idea for using all of this information in their app, they do something called ‘white labelling’. It looks like their application but it’s really ours inside. It’s just one more building block that they use.

People can do anything they can imagine. Actually, one of the most difficult jobs we have is telling people what they can imagine because you don’t just create something from nothing. A lot of the stuff that we do is devoted to giving people ideas on what they can do with our API.

Q: I read in an interview with StrategyEye Digital Media that your API is also used to distribute royalties. Can you tell us about that too?

A: Ah, what do you know. Sorry I forgot.

Well, another use of the API is, y’know, we know who performed on what track and this is very, very interesting for certain people like agents who work for performers. Some of the jobs they do is to help with concerts and things like that but also something like ‘ah, I represent Lady Gaga and she played the tuba on these 14 tracks. Give me my money!’ They make sure that the musicians are getting paid.

One of the lines of business we have is that people get paid because we can tell the royalty agencies what tracks people actually played on because we break down music into that type of detail. We want to know every thing in the session and we want to know what the supporting person did. We want to know what they did under this name or their aliases. So yeah, people are using Decibel API to collect royalties that their clients deserve.

Q: What’s the most surprising use of the API that you have seen?

A: At Hackatons we had this thing where you put your birthday to find the artists you share the birthday with. We’re looking into all kinds of stuff now. The night is young. For instance, we’re excited about using GPS and phone apps where you can pass by a building and ask ‘hmm, was there a music here?’ And you know, 20 paces down the line Jimi Hendrix used to live there or something. That is altogether possible. Hopefully people are gonna start surprising us.

Q: Tell us a bit about your office. What kind of culture do you have here?

A: We have a room full of smart people. And smart people like to be smart. We work a lot with consensus. People get to take individual areas of responsibility and people are encouraged to take responsibilities for things. For example, we have a guy named Paul who’s working on classical music. He’s mapped out the plan and he’s going ahead with it. He’s got a degree from Cambridge in musicology and the guy knows what he’s doing. So, y’know, leave him alone. Let him get on with the job. 

Everybody here in this room, unless I’m mistaken, is pretty super. They don’t need guidance.

Q: Can you name your Top 5 records? If it’s too much then you can do it genre-wise, or sub-genre-wise.

A: Well my genres are generally jazz, classical and the insultingly-named ‘world music’.

One of my favourite records, and this is totally arbitrary, is Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Pure Ella’. I can’t listen to it enough. If I listen to it 100 times a day I wouldn’t get enough of it. It’s just voice and piano.

I like Fats Waller very, very much. Who else do I like? I like many things that I don’t even know where to start. Thelonious Monk….. I’m just talking about jazz at this point. John Coltrane is totally amazing. Yeah, don’t get me started [laughs].

Q: What do you want to see in Decibel in the future?

A: What I want to see in Decibel is when we no longer do only popular music but we’re doing music that people wouldn’t find in any other search engine or information service. If you take a country like Jamaica, where people used to just go to the beach, but through very, very careful marketing, reggae is now one of the most popular types of music in the world. People sleep all day so they can go to the club at night to hear music. I would love to do that with some of the other countries that are musical powerhouses. To take a small example of the country of Indonesia, which has this amazing music which not enough people hear. Or places like Senegal where it’s just an amazingly musical culture. Or Brazil. To help out in that way so that more of the local musicians show up in the search engine and some really good music get into the ‘mix of everywhere’ regardless of language or national barriers. That’s far off but that’s one of the things I’d like to see.

Q: Finally, do you have any advices for start-ups?

A: In terms of people starting companies, they should. In the US people have a very good attitude. If the company flops, they just pick themselves up and start another one. It’s always good to have a good idea. It’s also good to have a product that people like. 

It’s not about selling. A lot of people are very pompous that they ask ‘oh, what’s your exit strategy?’ With this company I have no exit strategy. I don’t want to sell the company. I’m so happy working here and I hope this goes on for a long time until I’m too senile to do anything else. Basically enjoy what you’re doing. Do something that nobody else has done and you’ll be alright.

//

See?

Saat mendapatkan informasi adalah hal yang luar biasa mudah sekarang, sangatlah penting bagi kita untuk menimbang informasi apa yang ingin kita terima. Sering kali kita dibombardir oleh informasi-informasi yang tidak kita butuhkan, sehingga kita malah tidak sampai ke tujuan yang kita mau. Menyusun layanan konten digital juga memakan waktu. Memiliki seseorang yang mau menyusunnya untuk anda terdengar seperti ide yang baik.

Kasusnya menjadi semakin rumit di industri musik yang sangat mudah berubah-ubah. Ada banyak sekali perkembangan di beberapa tahun terakhir. Bangkitnya layanan streaming, menurunnya penjualan produk fisik musik dan meningkatnya pemakaian software yang membuat proses produksi musik menjadi lebih mudah dan murah hanyalah sebagian dari berita-berita terkini soal musik. Intinya, industri musik sedang ramai-ramainya.

Masuklah Decibel: perusahaan metadata musik bermarkas di London yang memiliki misi untuk membangun database musik yang paling lengkap dan mendetil. Saya berkesempatan untuk berbincang dengan penemu dan CEO start-up ini, Evan Stein, mengenai proyek ambisiusnya, skena start-up di London, dan juga beberapa musik yang menarik.

 

Q: Bisa ceritakan apa itu Decibel?

A: Ide dibalik Decibel adalah untuk menyediakan infrastruktur karena kita sudah mencapai titik di mana produk fisik musik semakin berkurang. Dulu ada masanya di mana kita bisa melihat sampul rekaman dan membaca tentang apa yang akan kita dengarkan, atau mencari tahu mengenai rekaman tersebut sebelum membelinya. Dulu rekaman juga mempunyai gambar di sampul yang indah. Saat formatnya berubah menjadi CD, gambar tersebut mengecil. Kini saat kita mengubah rekaman menjadi format digital, gambar tersebut hilang seutuhnya.

Jadi, bila seseorang mengirimkanmu sebuah file, apakah yang sebenarnya anda dengarkan? Apakah itu The Beatles? Apakah itu cover band yang sangat menyerupai The Beatles? Konteks sangatlah berarti.

Pada awalnya saya rasa memindahkan informasi-informasi seputar musik yang saya dengarkan ke dalam file adalah hal yang menarik. Dari situ proyeknya berkembang pesat. Ternyata saat saya memasukkan informasinya ke dalam komputer, saya dapat melakukan hal-hal yang tidak dapat saya lakukan sebelumnya. Jadi produk yang kami kerjakan sekarang jauh lebih baik dari yang saya bayangkan pertama kali.

Misalnya anda punya koleksi album yang masing-masing memiliki liner notes, mereka tidak berbicara satu dengan yang lain. Namun saat anda memasukkannya ke dalam komputer anda dapat bilang ‘oh, saya ingin cari semua orang yang memainkan lagu ini’ atau ‘semua yang pernah basis ini lakukan’. Pencariannya menjadi lebih menarik. 

Q: Apa yang pertama kali mendorong anda untuk mendirikan perusahaan ini?

A: Alasan terkuat adalah koleksi 5000 CD saya di rumah dan saat itu sulit sekali untuk mencari apa yang ingin saya dengarkan. Komputer adalah alat pencarian terampuh dan saya membuat aturan untuk diri saya sendiri bahwa saya harus memindahkan koleksi saya ke dalam perpustakaan digital sebelum saya mendengarkannya. Setiap CD yang dikirim ke rumah saya digitalkan dan saya menyarikan data darinya.

Kalau anda bicara soal koleksi yang besar, koleksi tersebut bisa koleksi pribadi saya, atau koleksi toko, atau koleksi daring seperti layanan-layanan streaming, dan anda ingin bisa menyusuri koleksi tersebut secepat mungkin agar dapat menemukan apa yang anda cari. Jika anda punya alat pencari seperti indeks, anda dapat sampai persis di tempat yang anda inginkan dan bukannya malah berdiri di atas kursi sambil berkata ‘oh, beri saya satu menit lagi’ atau ‘sial, saya tidak bisa menemukannya, mohon tunggu sebentar’. Jadi, komputer adalah alat yang hebat.

Q: Banyak orang lebih mengenal situs-situs seperti Allmusic dan Discogs yang juga menyediakan data musik. Apa yang membuat Decibel berbeda?

A: Kami membangun sebuah API yang dapat orang lain gunakan untuk menciptakan aplikasi-aplikasi yang memanfaatkan data musik kami dengan cara apapun.

Situs-situs seperti Allmusic sangat berbasis redaksi. Masalahnya, saat anda berurusan dengan data sebagai data murni, seperti yang kita lakukan, mereka dapat diterjemahkan ke dalam banyak bahasa. Anda tidak perlu fasih berbahasa Inggris agar bisa mendapat manfaatnya. Ada pasar di luar sana yang ingin bisa membaca informasi tersebut dalam bahasa mereka sendiri. Datanya adalah datanya. Maksud saya adalah, misalnya namamu Joe Smith, bisa jadi ada 50 orang lain lagi dengan nama yang sama dan kita tahu siapa saja mereka. Bila anda ingin mencari nama tersebut dalam bahasa Mandarin, kami bisa menerjemahkannya ke dalam bahasa Mandarin.

Allmusic itu luar biasa. Ia adalah wujud baru dari buku panduan oleh Allmusic yang dulu biasa kita beli di toko. Mereka memindahkan buku tersebut ke dalam Internet dengan sangat baik. Namun anda harus bisa berbahasa Inggris untuk membacanya. Selain navigasi cepat, inilah isu lain yang kami pecahkan: penerjemahan data ke dalam berbagai bahasa.

Q: Saat musik digital belum se-dominan sekarang, apa yang menyakinkan anda bahwa metadata musik itu berharga? Dan apa yang membuat anda berpikir orang lain bisa diyakinkan juga?

A: Pertama-tama, saya tidak perlu diyakinkan. Dulu saya bekerja di pengarsipan musik Library of Congress. Inilah hidup saya. Sebagai seorang musikolog, mengamati sebuah rekaman dan mencari tahu lebih banyak mengenainya adalah hal yang penting. Salah satu fungsi mempelajari musik adalah anda dapat belajar mengenainya. Dari mana rekaman itu berasal, apa yang anda dengarkan, dan informasi-informasi serupa lainnya sangatlah penting. 

Saya rasa metadata menjadi lebih penting sekarang karena CD benar-benar menghilang. Anda butuh sebuah pemandu untuk memberi tahu apa yang ingin anda dengarkan dan metadata mampu melakukannya. Jika anda tidak tahu apa yang ingin anda dengarkan, maka anda tidak dapat mendengarkannya. Saya beranggapan saja bahwa metadata akan menjadi sangat penting karena semakin banyaknya lagu yang berwujud digital. Dan ternyata cukup banyak juga orang-orang yang tertarik dengan metadata.

Q: Bisa ceritakan mengenai skena start-up di London?

A: Di Eropa, London adalah salah satu kota yang memiliki kultur start-up yang cukup hidup. Salah satu hal yang mencolok bagi saya adalah bagaimana investor-investor di Eropa lebih waswas dibandingkan dengan investor Amerika. Mereka kurang berani untuk mengambil resiko. 

Anda harus lebih fokus bila bekerja di London. Namun tentu saja ada banyak orang dari segala penjuru Eropa yang datang ke sini, sehingga anda bisa pergi setiap malam ke acara start-up dan tidak usah bekerja sama sekali. Anda tinggal melompat dari satu acara ke yang lain.

Q: Apakah ada budaya kolaborasi antar start-up yang hidup di London?

A: Ada banyak sekali networking. Anda tidak akan mampu melakukan segala sesuatu sendiri. Pekerjaan saya bukan hanya membagikan ide saya dengan orang-orang yang tertarik, namun saya juga harus membangun sebuah perusahaan. Maka dari itu ada berbagai acara yang harus saya datangi. Di beberapa acara ada orang-orang yang datang hanya untuk terlihat keren namun mereka tidak memiliki ide start-up sama sekali. Mereka menganggap acara-acara tersebut sebagai sarana yang keren untuk menghabiskan malam Sabtu. Di saat yang bersamaan ada juga orang-orang yang sangat, sangat fokus dengan apa yang mereka lakukan.

Setelah periode waktu tertentu, anda tidak pergi ke acara-acara ini lagi. Menjalankan sebuah perusahaan memakan seluruh waktu anda.

Q: Mengenai produk utama anda, bisa jelaskan bagaimana API anda digunakan?

A: Fungsi utama API Decibel adalah bagi anda yang ingin menjual, mencari dan mendengarkan MP3. Dulu saat anda pergi ke toko rekaman anda akan menemukan seorang penjaga toko kurus yang akan menjelaskan kepada anda segala hal mengenai rekaman tersebut. Sekarang toko rekaman sudah tidak ada lagi. Hampir lenyap semuanya. Orang-orang yang kini bekerja di toko rekaman terlihat semakin tidak semangat dalam menjalani tugasnya. Bila anda bertanya ‘jadi, album ini seperti apa?’ mereka akan menjawab ‘beberapa orang menyukainya, dan beberapa orang tidak.’ Itu seperti membaca ramalan, sangat tidak membantu.

Ada beberapa cara untuk mendapatkan informasi soal musik. Cara pertama adalah melalui rekomendasi, seperti yang dilakukan oleh website seperti Amazon. Misalnya 50 orang terakhir yang membeli album ini membeli album yang berikutnya. Bila anda cukup mirip dengan orang-orang di sampel itu, ada kemungkinan anda akan menikmati album tersebut.

Cara yang berikutnya adalah dengan melakukan riset sendiri. Orang-orang yang menikmati jenis musik yang spesifik, seperti metal, sudah tahu apa yang mereka inginkan. Namun mereka ingin tahu apakah yang mereka cari tersedia. Maka di website-website spesialis pengunjung dapat menggunakan alat pencarian Decibel untuk mencari lagu dan mengunduhnya. Itulah salah satu fungsi API kami. 

Fungsi berikutnya adalah untuk keperluan riset dan penyusunan katalog. Kami memiliki aplikasi di British Library yang membantu orang menyusun katalog koleksi musik mereka. Informasi yang kami sediakan memampukan mereka untuk mengenal lebih dalam properti mereka sendiri.

Ada banyak sekali sarana yang belum dijelajahi, contohnya radio digital. Misalnya anda mendengarkan sebuah lagu di radio dan bertanya ‘oh, siapa itu yang memainkan bass-nya’, anda bisa mencari jawabannya.

Salah satu hal terbaik dari memiliki sebuah API adalah jika seseorang punya ide untuk menggunakan semua informasi yang kami punya, mereka akan melakukan sesuatu yang disebut ‘white-labeling’. Dari luar terlihat seakan-akan mereka yang menciptakan keseluruhan aplikasi tersebut, namun sebenarnya ada kami di dalamnya. API kami menjadi seperti salah satu balok yang mereka susun.

Orang-orang bisa menciptakan apa saja yang mereka bisa bayangkan. Sebenarnya, salah satu pekerjaan tersulit kami adalah memberi tahu klien-klien kami apa yang mereka bisa lakukan.

Q: Saya baca wawancara anda dengan StrategyEye Digital Media yang menyebutkan bahwa API anda juga dipakai untuk membagi-bagikan royalti. Bisa jelaskan mengenai itu?

A: Ah, iya. Saya lupa.

Benar, karena kami mempunyai data mengenai siapa yang berpartisipasi dalam sebuah lagu atau rekaman, orang-orang seperti agen yang bekerja untuk musisi tertarik untuk menggunakan API kami. Mereka bisa berkata ‘ah, saya yang mewakili Lady Gaga dan ia memainkan tuba di empat belas lagu ini. Berikan uang saya!’ Mereka memastikan para musisi menerima bayaran.

Decibel menjalani jalur bisnis ini karena kami mampu memberi agen pengumpul royalti informasi yang luar biasa mendetil. Kami ingin tahu semua hal yang terjadi pada sesi rekaman dan apa saja yang setiap peran lakukan. Kami ingin tahu apa yang musisi ini lakukan di bawah nama aslinya atau di bawah nama samaran. Jadi begitu, orang-orang memakai API Decibel untuk mengumpulkan royalti bagi mereka yang layak menerimanya.

Q: Apakah aplikasi API Decibel yang menurut anda paling menarik?

A: Di Hackathon (ajang di mana para programer berkolaborasi dalam menciptakan beragam macam software atau aplikasi), kita sempat melihat aplikasi yang memampukan anda mencari tahu musisi-musisi mana saja yang lahir di hari yang sama dengan anda.

Kami tertarik dengan banyak hal. Malam masih panjang. Contohnya, kami tertarik untuk memakai GPS dan aplikasi telepon yang bisa anda pakai saat melewati sebuah gedung dan bertanya ‘hmm, apakah pernah ada musik di sini?’ Dan ternyata, 15 meter ke depan ada tempat yang pernah ditinggali Jimi Hendrix. Hal ini sangat mungkin terjadi. Saya harap orang-orang akan mulai mengejutkan kita dengan kreasi-kreasinya.

Q: Ceritakan mengenai kantor anda. Budaya seperti apa yang kantor anda milikii? 

A: Kantor kami diisi oleh orang-orang pintar. Dan orang-orang pintar suka bersikap pintar. Setiap orang diharapkan untuk mengambil tanggung jawab untuk bidang mereka masing-masing dan bekerja atas dasar kesadaran mereka sendiri. Sebagai contoh, ada Paul yang mengepalai proyek musik klasik. Ia sudah memetakan rencananya dan ia sedang mengerjakannya. Ia memiliki gelar S2 musikologi dari University of Cambridge dan ia tahu apa yang ia lakukan. Jadi, biarkan saja dia melakukan pekerjaannya.

Setiap orang di ruangan ini, bila saya tidak keliru, cukup super. Mereka tidak butuh bimbingan.

Q: Bisakah anda menyebutkan 5 album favorit anda? Bila terlalu sulit anda bisa melakukannya berdasarkan jenis musik.

A: Musik yang biasa saya dengarkan adalah jazz, musik klasik dan ‘musik dunia’ – yang menurut saya menyandang nama yang menghina.

Salah satu rekaman favorit saya, dan ini benar-benar spontan, adalah ‘Pure Ella’ oleh Ella Fitzgerald. Saya tidak akan bisa puas mendengarkannya. Jika saya mendengengarkannya seratus kali dalam sehari, itu masih belum cukup. Rekaman tersebut hanya berisi vokal dan piano.

Saya sangat, sangat suka Fats Waller. Siapa lagi yang saya suka? Saya suka banyak sekali hal sampai saya tidak tahu harus mulai dari mana. Thelonious Monk… Saya hanya bicara soal jazz sekarang. John Coltrane sangatlah luar biasa. Yah, jangan pancing saya [tertawa].

Q: Ke depannya, apa yang ingin anda lihat di Decibel? 

A:  Saya ingin melihat Decibel mengerjakan proyek-proyek di luar musik pop, yakni musik-musik yang tidak biasa orang temukan melalui alat pencari di Internet. Mengambil contoh negara seperti Jamaika, di mana orang biasa mengunjunginya untuk pergi ke pantai, namun melalui pemasaran yang hati-hati reggae kini menjadi salah satu jenis musik paling populer di dunia. Orang-orang tidur seharian supaya bisa pergi ke klub di malam hari untuk mendengarkan musik. Saya ingin mendorong negara-negara lain yang juga memproduksi banyak musik bagus. Mengambil contoh kecil, Indonesia memiliki musik-musik luar biasa yang tidak banyak orang ketahui. Atau tempat-tempat seperti Senegal yang mempunyai budaya musik yang luar biasa. Atau Brazil. Saya ingin membantu musisi-musisi lokal tersebut untuk muncul di alat pencarian daring dan berbaur dengan musik-musik lain tanpa memandang batasan bahasa atau negara. Perjalanan masih jauh, namun saya ingin lihat itu terjadi.

Q: Terakhir, ada masukan bagi mereka yang mau memulai sebuah start-up?

A: Orang-orang harus membuka usaha mereka sendiri. Di Amerika, mereka memiliki sikap yang sangat baik. Bila perusahaannya gagal, mereka langsung bangkit dan memulai usaha baru. Sangatlah baik untuk punya ide yang hebat. Dan sangat baik juga bila kita bisa menciptakan produk yang orang lain suka.

Menjalani Decibel bukan berarti ingin menjualnya nanti. Banyak orang bertanya ‘apakah strategi jalan keluarmu?’ Saya tidak punya jalan keluar. Saya tidak mau menjual perusahaan ini. Saya sangat bahagia bekerja di sini dan saya harap ia akan tahan lama hingga saya sudah menjadi terlalu pikun untuk melakukan banyak hal.

Pada intinya, nikmatilah apa yang anda kerjakan. Lakukan sesuatu yang belum pernah orang lain lakukan dan anda akan baik-baik saja.