Features November 9, 2017

The top takeaways from FastForward 2017

Image: Amanda Rose Photography

Music industry professionals and experts from a range of fields descended on the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam this past weekend for Fast Forward 2017. The boutique conference hosts talks, panels and networking events, exploring how audiences and professionals (particualrly those under 35) experience and consume music and technology, and focusing on the places where the two intersect and influence one another.

Here are some of the biggest themes and takeaways across the weekend.

 

Artists speaking at the event underlined the fact that live performance is where they make the majority of their money these days, and discussed how many of the current forms of digital broadcasting can dilute their earnings even if their music is being heard in more places.

  • Artists Melissa Bell and Sam Lee were less than positive about huge players Apple and Spotify, and on two separate panels, Bell and Anna Pancaldi both cited live performance as the most reliable income stream. “If there is one devil in this industry, I think it is Apple. That’s the real blood-draining life-sucking institution. I see the profit they’re making and where the investment goes back into music… I see the ecosystem that is the music industry: the importance of fostering talent,” Lee said. “I’m very into the supporting of new generations of music. Music is our huge export, so the investment into new musicians is vital. And it’s happening great in certain areas. But in terms of where the money is going out of the system and coming into the system, it’s just not fair.
  • A panel on the common areas between digital-native audiences for gaming and music also discussed licensing for background music on popular Twitch streams – is the exposure valuable enough?

 

The keyword for brand partnerships is “authentic”. Young people don’t appreciate being approached or directly marketed to, and are often cynical about branded events and collabs with artists.

  • Alex Clough from London agency Splendid told the Bands and Brands panel that 74% of the 16-39 demographic object to being targeted by brands on social media.
  • Brands should look to use their clout to support local communities and independent players, creating mutually beneficial and meaningful campaigns.
  • Artists looking to work with brands should be their authentic selves: “standing for something and sticking to it”. “Some artists will be drinking Red Bull on stage one week, and then wearing Doc Martens the next, and then crowdsurfing with Converse the next,” Clough said. “It’s the words integrity and credibility. Is it an artist that has changed their approach to music three times in three years? Or is it an artist that has done their time, played the sticky rooms, developed and started to get some buzz? That’s the sort of stuff brands like to work with.”

 

Radio and streaming representatives agreed that their relationship to one another is a mix of adversarial and complementary; they can influence one another and offer listeners different experiences, contexts and levels of control, as can other digital platforms and services.

  • Mixcloud’s Ben Lawrence told the Future of Radio panel that he saw radio role as one of discovery for audiences, while streaming was for following up on what they found and liked. Radio 1’s Kate Holder noted the limited space on the BBC made for tighter curation.
  • “Blogs and tastemakers: a massive, massive source. They can take bigger risks because there’s unlimited space on the internet, they can talk about lots of tracks… It means we’ve got lots of music at our fingertips that’s already been filtered by someone,” said Holder of picking music for Huw Stephens’ new-music show.
  • Shazam charts can push a song from the BBC Radio 1 C List to the A List, and predict future hits (Desiigner’s Panda was on Shazam’s chart for 20 weeks before it peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100).

 

Labels and promoters, similarly, find their interests both converging and competing.

  • Who’s selling what when an act has an album and a tour to promote at the same time? How do labels and promoters divvy up the spend and measure success? “The music industry is so siloed it’s just insane,” said Communion’s Claire Mas. “The record label’s like ‘what if my advertising money makes people buy a ticket?’ and the other way [the promoter] is ‘what if I’m boosting the album sale?’” said Mas.

 

What’s working in marketing? A combination of new tech and gut instinct.

  • Marketers praised video, VR and AR as a tool for promoting live shows and personalizing ongoing artist-fan relationships, while one FastFifteen session introduced Beacons – stickers that can beam notifications to phones in a venue or shop via Bluetooth.
  • The O2’s Emily Scoggins said the company has a social team out and about covering gigs, to make sure it has original video content. “It does wonders,” she said. “Video tells a story more effectively than a photo or a text update,” said Blair. “If you’re smart about it, you can let fans do some of the heavy lifting for you by tapping into the power of UGC… and making sure you’re building this community around you as an artist.”
  • “The obvious choice is live, but actually when you get into being creative with VR, it’s what can we do to increase that personalised relationship between the artist and fan?” Warner VP of digital Emmy Lovell said. “That’s the area we’re most excited about at the moment, and we’re doing lots of experiments with MelodyVR.”
  • But speakers from major labels like Sony and Warner/Chappell emphasised that when it comes to knowing what works, not much has changed: “For me, it’s always been about a really distinct and individual voice… that connects with you emotionally” said keynote speaker Mike Chappell.

 

With huge numbers of users engaging with specific platforms and disruptive tech showing young people more options and new business models, the onus is on the industry to find ways to reach those users in meaningful ways.

  • Startups give major players a sharp nudge, said Sarah Slater from Ticketmaster UK, citing Dice: “Our mobile game was not up to scratch at all… So being able to present Dice to the powers-that-be above has helped us massively up our game.”
  • A theme across the weekend was exploring the potential to take strategies from the gaming industry, including creating more exclusive content and opportunities to sell to the most engaged fans.
  • Another was siloing in the industry as existing and new players try to maintain their edge on competitors. “The industry as a whole is very fragmented, the live industry has been historically quite fragmented as well, and the challenge around data is everyone is competing essentially for the same email addresses, held in silos,” said live-industry consultant Gareth Deakin.
  • “I’d like to see more tools on the streaming services themselves. That’s a bit of a problem at the moment, so that when somebody’s discovering your artist, there’s some kind of features where you’re able to find out more about those artists and connect with them, without having to go to a third-party platform like Facebook.” said The Orchard’s Lucy Blair. “At the moment, that kind of artist connection on streaming services is completely lacking… there’s no context or interactivity around a song on a playlist… There’s a huge challenge there for artists and their teams about how do you go about building that connection on streaming services?”
  • “It’s all very well saying ‘I’ve got lots of listening there’ [looking at streaming analytics] but it’s about finding the promoters. It’s all very well having the numbers and figures and maps, and the grey areas and red areas. But actually it’s about having the people in place to go and do it,” artist Sam Lee told the audience at his panel. “Some of my best gigs in the UK have been where there’s an amazing promoter that’s built a community… That I think’s more important for artists more often, because that’s where you’re going to have a turnout.”
  • AiSolve CEO Devi Kolli told the audience at her keynote address that more than 16 million AR, VR and MR devices were sold last year, predicting a rise to 60 million next year, an increase in the importance of smart glasses and an eventual $35 billion+ market. “It’s very important that we start realising how important these technologies are going to be, and how mainstream they are likely to get,” she said.
  • Samantha Kingston from Virtual Umbrella warned against innovation for innovation’s sake – authenticity matters here too, as new tech should be used to offer experiences that are genuinely great and tools that are genuinely useful, not just as a novelty – Jon Davies, director of EU partnerships at Shazam, held up the company’s partnership with Snapchat as an example of something that’s working for both the businesses and audiences.

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