Each SF MusicTech Summit has a different flavor. After fifteen seasons, the conference has addressed all the hot topics in this tumultuous industry: streaming services, discovery, tech and social media integration, rights and royalties battles. Some summits have been more optimistic than others, but all have emphasized the importance of community during this era of massive change. In the shadows of both the Beats-Apple deal and the since-dissolved talks between SoundCloud and Twitter, this year's conference seemed especially focused on Davids working with Goliaths.

We heard from the creator of beautiful iPad app Pacemaker, the first DJ app to pull from Spotify's 20 million-song library. They worked closely with the company to enhance its API, and the result is both stunning and groundbreaking: Pacemaker is the first app allowing users to stream two songs from Spotify at once. Creator Jonas Norberg also spoke of the good that a giant like Spotify can do: "In Sweden we went from the country paying the least per capita [on music] to the country paying the most."

Net Neutrality

The event also featured an impassioned panel on net neutrality, in which several speakers shared personal stories of the dangers of cable monopolies. "The startups are going to be the ones who hurt the most," said Engine's Julie Samuels. "The Netflixes can afford to be in a world where we don't have equal access." Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive reiterated that "allowing little guys to come up in the world is absolutely critical."

The session was filled with practical ways to get involved in the fight for open Internet, and it called attention to existing efforts with governments. "I hate to say write your Congress person," said Kahle. "No. Show up on their doorstep."

Indeed, many sessions at this year's summit focused on that especially formidable Goliath: government. In addition to the "Net Neutrality" panel, there was a session on copyright; two sessions on licensing, one focused specifically on licensing for games and apps; and another on piracy—a much-discussed topic during an event so focused on unearthing new revenue models. One of the hottest panels of the day, "The Price of Music: What Should It Be?", called out piracy (and the treatment of Napster in particular) as a failure of the industry. "We should have been monetizing fans," said Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment and Readymade Records, "but we were suing them." Earlier in the day, Native Instruments' Mate Galic mentioned that he considers piracy a promotional tool: "We grew the company with piracy."


Clearly piracy isn't as black and white as we once thought, and several speakers hinted that streaming royalties might be another topic that goes the way of the illegal download. Rather than maligning that dismal $.0006-per-stream (ish) revenue, lets think of new ways to give artists value. After all, "most independent artists aren't making the majority of their money on sales of music. You've got to look at the full picture," said artist and blogger Ari Herstand.

Understandably, data is emerging as one way to fill that void. Spotify already gets data from Next Big Sound, and that information could prove considerably more valuable than a miniscule royalty check. One speaker suggested that Pandora may be shortly following suit, offering its own set of analytics for musicians. BandPage has already found an interesting way to use data to increase revenue: they've partnered with Rdio to capitalize on what they call the 'moment of intent'. When an Rdio user searches for an artist, they'll be presented with information from that artist's BandPage profile—from special ticket packages to upcoming shows to merch. And thanks to Rdio's user information, they can cater BandPage's offerings. Is that user a super-fan who streams an album ten times a day? Let's show them a deluxe package. Do they listen to similar artists? Let's show them upcoming concerts. It's a smart way to monetize fans who have already expressed interest in that band.

"Fans want to support the music they love"

There was one speaker at the Summit who wasn't ready to abandon the notion of paying for music. Bandcamp's Ethan Diamond had some heartening statistics about downloads on his platform: on average, Bandcamp users spend about 50% over the asking price for an album. He rightly said that "fans want to support the music they love", and as such suggests that "streaming isn't necessarily a done deal".

Whatever the future brings in that regard, one thing is undoubtedly true: there will always be people who love music, and there will always be people to support the artists making it. Even though SF MusicTech Summit represents many facets of the music business, there's no question that they're all working to build a healthier industry. From startups to major labels to tech behemoths, everyone in this increasingly complex ecosystem is fighting to bring together music and fans.

Photo: SF MusicTech Summit