Changing Media, changing music

April 4, 2011 in -e.showcase

uk_musicBy Hugh Jordan. Developers are the new rock stars. Seriously. Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music, couldn’t believe what he was hearing either, but the other panellists at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit last week were adamant – in the 21st Century, techie equals rock star.

There was a lot the panel – made up of Clive Dickens, COO of Absolute Radio, Paul Smernicki, director of digital at Universal Music, Dave Haynes from Soundcloud, and Feargal Sharkey – agreed on. The success of Spotify, for example, the abundance of talent in UK music right now, the importance of investing in IP going forward. One thing, however, stood out above all else. A debate about the future of the music industry for once had a palpable sense of optimism.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” said Smernicki. “It’s easier to get hold of music than ever before. People can get music when they want it, where they want it and how they want it.”

Haynes agreed. “We have almost reached the pinnacle of music consumption. The next revolution will be people wanting to create their own music, just like the way we take pictures now.”

Streaming services were viewed as the way forward, in the near future at least.

“Streaming products are going to become even bigger,” said Dickens. “Teen consumption of Spotify is bigger in Sweden than consumption of music radio, and Sweden tends to be a few steps ahead of the UK in terms of digital services.”

Further praise for Spotify’s model ensued, albeit mixed with a few testing questions about exactly how much artists made from Spotify plays – deftly avoided by Smernicki (Universal Music has a stake in Spotify). Things were looking positively… well, positive, in fact, until Sharkey brought the room down with a bump.

“I cannot sit here and pretend that free downloads have not had an impact on the industry,” he said. “Media legislation, drawn up in 2000, a huge document, did not even mention the Internet – they simply couldn’t work out how to regulate it.”

Sharkey’s tone seemed to stir doubts in Smernicki. Suddenly, the hallmark pessimism of music industry discussions over the past few years began creeping back in.

“The problem in the digital sector is that there are a million different platforms,” Smernicki explained. “And bricks and mortar retail is still the core of [Universal’s] business… Digital is looking good but we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Smernicki then made perhaps the most perceptive comment. “We need to move consumers away from the idea music is something you buy and own, to the idea that it is something you rent… [Universal] still measure success by album sales, Spotify and others measure success by market share.”

And any risk the afternoon might end on a less than supremely optimistic note was quashed by Haynes, who talked excitedly about the role developers will play going forward. Then again, he’s a right to be excited; he’s a rock star after all.

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