This week, New York City plays host to the Latin Alternative Music Conference, a five-day gathering of leading artists, label execs, journalists and programmers from the Spanish-language alternative music scene. We made our way up to the Roosevelt Hotel on East 45th Street yesterday morning to check out the panel on Engaging Your Audience And Monetizing Music, where eight representatives from companies like YouTube, Grooveshark and Twitter (as well as a couple of artists) talked about the future of how musicians and the industry build audiences and run a viable business.
Things kicked off with a discussion about online streaming and advertising as sources of revenue. Even though music sales increased last quarter for the first time in a while, most of the panel members agreed that streaming and advertising will continue to climb in terms of monetization. Jack Deyoung, head of Grooveshark’s label and artist relations departments, said that the music streaming site is working to connect artists and labels directly with their advertisers to drive revenue straight to them. Earlier, this year, the site recruited bands like Metric and Interpol to talk about which groups they were seeing at this year’s SXSW for an MSN ad.
For most of the conversation, the industry folks deferred to and referenced the two artists on the panel: Henry D’Arthenay, who fronts Caracas, Venezuela’s La Vida Boheme, and DJ Toto Gonzalez, who’s better known by his stage name, Mr. Pauer. D’Arthenay (who, along with his bandmates, wore a paint-splattered getup to the panel, saying, “We’re fans of Jackson Pollock”) said that artists today are more willing to partner with advertisers than they were in the past. “We deal in a business of perception,” he said. “Brands seem less evil these days.”
Gonzalez knows a thing or two about partnering with brands, having been featured as the download of the week on iTunes back in May. “You have to understand what’s going on in the music business and understand what tools you have,” he said. “It’s a learning experience.” The reality is, artists now have to be aware of how to manage their brand, hire their own managers and publicists, and make their own industry connections. “If you don’t have it, get around people, friends, who can do it,” Gonzalez said. “Be aware of who’s next to you. What does he do?”
The panel spent much time talking about how artists, labels and promoters can use social media as a means of getting publicity, even revenue. “Back in the day, musicians were bigger than life, in the way that there was no conversation,” said D’Arthenay, whose band is very active on Twitter. “Nowadays, it’s one of the best times to be an artist.”
Last year, La Vida Boheme released its debut LP, Nuestra, as a free download and advertised it on Twitter, Facebook and Myspace. “It was the best decision,” he said, “because the people who really liked it, they came back and bought it” once the physical edition was released. As word of the band spread online, D’Arthenay and his bandmates went from playing shows in front of 20 people to booking full tours and even playing a free show for 10,000 fans in Caracas last year. Growing his band’s profile this way “takes more time,” he said, “but it’s worth it.”
Jim Mulhearn, marketing director for RootMusic (which runs the BandPage app for Facebook) brought up the point that artists should engage with their audiences months, even years before they start asking them for money. This builds what he called “emotional currency,” the sort of buy-in from fans that lets a band like Radiohead release an album for a pay-what-you-want download. Mulhearn said artists should keep listeners updated when they’re recording an album, releasing videos and photos from the studio to show how hard at work they are. “You have to give a lot more if you want them to get invested.”
Toward the end of the panel, YouTube and Grooveshark got put on the hot-seat as moderator Josh Norek (VP of Nacional) asked how sites that host user-generated content should respond when unauthorized copyrighted material pops up on their pages. “We have people working night shifts to make sure DMCA notices are responded to quickly,” said Grooveshark’s DeYoung.
YouTube has a Content ID feature that flags copyrighted content and lets the owner either claim it and receive its advertising revenue (which is why videos like this have ads on them) or take it down altogether. Glenn Brown, director of business development for Twitter, suggested that if artists come across copyrighted material that they weren’t originally planning on monetizing (bootlegged concert videos, a live cover, in-studio videos), they should just view it as a promotion device.
“When you block it, it’s always a mistake,” D’Arthenay agreed, adding that, regardless of how a band markets itself, it has to first create worthwhile music. “Content is still the basis,” he said, and in a day and age where it’s much easier to record, promote and distribute an album, it’s crucial for artists to maintain the quality of what they’re putting out. “You have to make sure it’s something worth listening to.”