During the opening forum at the recent innovation “un-conference” Create Baltimore, we ran through the usual suspects of interest for potential sessions: transportation, urban farming, and education. There was a quick minute where we entertained the idea of ‘music.’ Unfortunately, there were no strong advocates for this topic. Where were the representatives from the music industry?
“They’re still sleeping,” a participant yelled over the crowd, and there was a murmur of amusement.
But where were they? Where were the innovators of music, and why weren’t they there?
I sought help from Jordan Goodman of BeatWell Baltimore and Patrick Lundberg, an editor at Vibe To This to discern why there wasn’t a stronger music industry representation when it came to cross-collaboration. It seems almost all of us – technologists, designers, artists, educators – are expanding our professional practice in order to facilitate change and community betterment. But where are the industry changemakers for music, and why aren’t they part of the discussion? Music is one of the few arenas that’s accessible to everyone — an international industry crossing all colors and cultures and boundaries. Did musicians feel they were beyond the need to evolve?
Both Pat and Jordan spoke about the evolution of the music business. While many musicians have changed their approaches to profitability, a greater number refuse to accept the demands of the new industry. Pat spoke of how tight-knit the local music community is, and explained that since so much of the industry has moved onto the internet, playing to 15-20 people in a boutique venue is more important than a bunch of people buying music on iTunes and never leaving the house to listen to it with others. Both Jordan and Pat used the word ‘insular’ more than once.
The term community came up quite a bit, and Pat reinforced the importance of organizations like WTMD – the Towson University radio station which promotes, supports, and encourages Baltimore bands and reaches out to the community through competitions, air time, and “First Thursday” free concerts.
Jordan spoke from the experience of his days on stage and explained, “In an era of Facebook and Twitter and self-promotion, people want to dance and be the stars with their friends instead of going to see stars on stage.” Immersion sells more tickets, and is therefore more desirable for venue owners. “We used to play for people who listened and didn’t just take pictures on their cell phones… People used to pay to see Kurt Cobain — a mythical person on a pedestal. Now people pay to see Skrillex.”
We talked about local venues like The Recher and Sonar — former Baltimore concert establishments turned into clubs. Jordan helped outline that music has become a business of the establishments. Owners focus on how to sell the most tickets, and the music business becomes an issue of preserving community, or selling out — without much chance for the middle ground.
I struggled to understand how musicians were expected to balance their craft with the demand for immersion and the reality of online sales. It turns out there are cross-pollinating business models. Jordan uses music to facilitate education, therapy, stress reduction, and team-building through BeatWell. BandHappy provides online music lessons, with ‘your favorite performer,’ allowing registered musicians to make extra money without compromising musical style or business values. GameChanger World, set to launch this spring, is a video gaming platform created by John D of the Skate & Surf Festival. This video game will push music through virtual incentives and awards. Think of playing your favorite videogame and redeeming points for discounted concert tickets or merchandise. The Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS) partners music with theater, producing performance and art you can’t simply download from the internet. These approaches continue to create tiers of affordability, letting musicians play and audiences choose how much, and to what financial level, they can participate.
As some musicians have become more creative and partnered with less traditionally defined fields, they have made their music more accessible. New methods of service delivery attract a greater audience. BROS, for example, sells out productions to those interested in music, theater, rock, and drama. Perhaps GameChanger World will receive downloads from people who aren’t interested in music, but really like video games.
As I learned more about the changing of service provision, I couldn’t help but equate the lot of musicians to a kind of gentrification; A group of artists once steady and predictable in the way they went about service delivery was now challenged and pushed aside by new methods of attraction and retention. To aid in the survival of the corner bar band and the late night Cat’s Eye Pub talent, musicians must continue to build an emotional attachment to the customer. In a world run by technology and convenience, a partnership is an inescapable approach to strengthening your fan base — your music community — and is achievable without compromising the sound you create on stage.