The music industry’s generation gap
Two panels at Eurosonic illustrated some interesting generational gaps, especially when it comes to the live music sector
It looks like whoever scheduled the Eurosonic conference last week had a wicked sense of humour. In one room in the Oosterpoort conference centre last Friday, you’d a discussion about future music strategies, asking how companies can effectively organise themsleves to make the best of the digital future.
At the exact same time in a room just across the corridor, there was a panel titled the voice of the next generation in full swing. The main question there: the future of digital music business and rights management as seen from a bunch of youngsters. Two panels, roughly the same question, two very different approaches.
Moving between the two panels gave you sight of two very different big pictures. The panel on future music strategies featured Kees van Weijen (managing partner at PIAS Rough Trade and chairman of STOMP, the organisation of indie music companies in the Netherlands), Florian von Hoyer (group operational director at the London office of PIAS), Marcel Albers (White Mountain management company), Jeroen Bouwman (YouTube) and Robin van Beek (business development director at Global Music and Talent Agency), with Andrea Leonelli from Digital Music Trends doing the moderating.
The conversation here zipped around the full range of strategies which we’ve probably heard aired many times before. You’d the points around how to use technology to flog music, a bit of a slalom around the new revenue models which could be tapped, the lessons (both micro and macro) to be learned from the tech sector and the usual smorgasbord of ideas and topics. It was wide-ranging and informative, but there was little new to be gleaned here.
Across the hall, you’d six Dutch youngsters – Luca Naus, Jora Vullings, Chris Dekker, Romy Duijster, Timo Schapendonk and Kaz Gommans – getting gently pressed by moderator Arend Hardorff about a roughly similar suite of issues. Do they listen to the radio? What do they think about festivals? What kind of influence does their social network have on their music consumption habits? Do they pay for music? Are they signed up to any streaming services? How do they regard the positioning of brands in the music area?
What was interesting here was when the conversation switched away from money to motivation. A few of the panelists were much more enthused when they talked about how it was a desire for creativity which either made them pick up an instrument or go to see an act. The music business is far too focused on revenue, noted one panelist, and is far too traditional when it comes to how it goes about earning income. The younger generation went about making music because it was a means of expression and it did not matter that returns were not guaranteed.
However, don’t take this to mean we were dealing with some sort of utopian magical thinking. One of the panelists was also a musician and he noted that while making money was not the primary objective, he still had to eat bread. Generation Z may turn out to be a lot more idealistic and strangely pragmatic at the same time than the millennials currently holding sway. Again, it’s worth pointing out that like the panel happening across the hallway, there was little new or groundbreaking about what you were hearing, more an amplification and re-enforcement of what was already known.
That said, though, it struck you that there was much to learn from the fact that the two panels were scheduled simultaneously. The music industry, both live and record, talk a lot about wanting to know what the next generations think and feel and communicate about music. Yet much of this is lip service because the fact remains that the industry usually talks down rather than listens to this core demographic. It’s interesting to see the emergence of a new generation of music business company runners and operators in recent years and to observe how they operate within what is often a desperately conservative, traditional and Luddite sector.
Certainly, it was obvious from a few days in Groningen that the live industry remains resolutely old-school in design and bearing. It’s telling that there has been very little innovation or change or disruption here, especially when compared to the recorded music sector. The reason for this is simple: none of the players want change and the same hands control the steering wheel now as did 20 or 30 years ago.
There’s little call for change when the basic mechanics of the process – agent contacts promoter about an act, promoter makes an offer for the act, agent looks for more money, promoter pays more money – remain largely the same and it’s nearly impossible for new entrants to get in the game. There’s no urgency for any of the parties to do things differently or bring about competition because it’s a closed shop. You’ll find the same agencies working with the same promoters and festivals for years, nah decades, because that’s the way it has always been.
Sure, there are no doubt exceptions to this, though not many. The fact remains that you’ve a sector with two large international players, Live Nation (the mammoth company which has a hand, act or part in countless other entitles, from ticketing to festivals) and AEG (also well endowned with festivals, tours and anciallary business interests), and everyone, from artists to agents, wants to stay on good terms with them, their subsidaries and their vested interests.
Listening to the youngsters earnestly communicating their views on the acts they admire, the festivals they like to attend and how they find out about new music, you wonder if things will ever change and will their thoughts and opinions ever make it through to implementation. Will the music industry ecosystem still be the same a decade from now? Is the live music industry destined to remain the same, with the same players in position, until Judgement Day (when the promoters have to account for all those concert settlements with dodgy costs that they’ve done)? Will the fact that there’s no welcome or desire for change discourage those in Generation Z who might actually make a difference from getting involved in the business? Something tells me sadly the live music sector will remain a land for pessimistic rather than optimistic thinking.