Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first Chicago Music Summit put on completely free by the City of Chicago. It was a full day downtown on Michigan Avenue at the Chicago Cultural Center, a beautiful building overlooking Millennium Park. Overall it was an amazing event full of learning and networking. Here’s a brief review of my day and the sessions I attended…
Keynote Address by Common
The day started with a keynote address by the Chicago artist and actor, Common. He talked about growing up on the South Side and the importance to him of being from Chicago. Although it may seem Common’s musical career took off while he was still in high school, Common pointed out all the hard work it took for him to get the opportunities and breaks he received along the way.
The most memorable story he told was about lessons he learned while watching Kanye West showcase his new album to the press. Common discovered the importance of believing in himself and his music. He noted that Kanye had no problem in believing in himself! *lol* Common said that a new belief in his ability is what led to his rising success.
Overall it was a great opening presentation and something the artists in the room could really learn from.
First Session – Music Partnerships on the Web: Workshop hosted by YouTube
Let me begin by explaining that Google was the prominent sponsor of this event. I’m sure as part of their sponsorship they deserve a chance to host a session or two. But to call this a workshop was totally misleading.
The session ended up being a series of videos explaining how awesome YouTube is and how Karmin has reached meteoric levels of success all thanks to YouTube. The packed room was shown one example after another of viral videos we’ve all seen before. Yes, we get it. Psy has 1.7 BILLION views on YouTube, but please, show me his video again. GACK!!
Eventually Fred Beteille, product manager for YouTube, took the podium and gave us a taste of what we all wanted to know; how to monetize YouTube. But we only got a taste. No deep dive or anything resembling a workshop. Just another video (I guess what should I have expected from YouTube?) telling us that we can make money with YouTube. But not HOW to make money with YouTube.
I was then astonished to hear what Beteille next announced to the crowd. He gave us a sneak peek at the brand new YouTube audio library. I thought it was a very odd place to make such an announcement. Here’s a room full of artists who want to make money using YouTube and Beteille was essentially saying – artists, we don’t need you anymore – we have our own musicians/producers and royalty free music.
Everyone I spoke with after this session agreed that YouTube missed the mark. We all wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of monetizing YouTube but they gave us a fluff piece. Opportunity wasted.
Second Session – Website Demolition Derby
Up next was my favorite session of the day – website critiques! On stage was David Dufresne of Bandzoogle, Brian Schopfel of Eyes & Ears, Joe Delci of CIMM Fest and Jamie Ludwig of ChicagoMusic.org. The first three members all build websites for a living, while Ludwig is a rock writer. Since I help artists design and build websites I didn’t learn anything new about website design, but I found Ludwig’s perspective fascinating. As a reviewer of musical acts she is one of the target audiences we’re attempting to reach with our marketing. It was interesting to hear her thoughts on how she explores a new artist’s site.
The session was an actual live critique of several websites offered up by members of the audience. It was eye-opening to see the different designs. But indie artists still need to work on separating their art from the business side of music. I loved Dufresne’s quote “Your music is about your art; your website is about your business.” So true. It’s important to convey your brand through your website, but it primarily needs to function as a marketing and sales tool.
During the review the panel broke down sites from Jana, Christopher the Conquered, Why so White, Mucca Pazza, The Tiki Cowboys and more. A common theme was busy websites. Sites that had too many buttons, videos, players and graphics all competing for the viewer’s attention. Another no-no the panel jumped on was the dreaded auto-play. Especially the play button that is hidden somewhere on your site.
Again, my favorite session of the day.
Third Session – Album Release Strategies for the 21st Century
Here’s a session that quickly strayed off topic and didn’t return. The panel consisted of Vinny Rich of Creative Entertainment, Sarah Landy of Stache Media, Dana Meyerson of Biz3, Adma Pollack of Creative Entertainment and Ron Kaplan of Monterey International. A very well-respected group of people in the music business.
The topics in this panel ranged from YouTube views to booking a show to sending out a press release. It was all great information, but it was very haphazard and didn’t have a clear point. Unfortunately very little time was spent discussing how to release an album. Everything is marketing, so anything you do will tie into an album release, so I guess it all relates to a launch strategy. I just wish they had spelled it out step-by-step.
The one nugget I did take away was a statement Kaplan made, “Music is no longer the product; it’s the marketing.”
They did have a wonderful handout that outlined their big-picture strategy for releasing an album. It’s not so much a step-by-step guide, but gave some topics to consider such as physical vs. digital product, brand partnerships and cross promotion.
Interesting fact: of the 77,000 albums released in 2011, only 2,000 of them sold more than 200 copies. Wow! You really do need a plan.
Fourth Session – Open Source: Why it Will Save DIY Music Businesses
Panelists Maggie Vail of CASH Music, Justin Sinkovich of Columbia College and Jason Kunesh of Public Good Software discussed the use of open source software in today’s music scene. I’m very interested in this topic as I see open source programs creeping more and more into the mainstream of business.
For example, this website is built on WordPress, an open source platform; probably the most widely used open source platform in the world. Open source software is allowing musicians to create music, edit wave files, edit video and edit photos all on an extremely low budget. I was hoping this panel would address some of the cutting edge platforms in music. Although there was some discussion of software, again (and I know there’s a theme here) the panel took a hard right and ended up discussing marketing music.
Initially they discussed their own experiences developing and using open source programs, mostly in the areas of digital distribution. It was interesting, but didn’t really apply to the artists in the room. The panel attempted to open the floor up for questions but very few in the room had enough context to ask a relevant question.
The day ended with a massive networking event. I met more indie artists and loads of behind-the-scenes people. The City of Chicago put on a nice spread including local beer from Lagunitas Brewing and full array of wonderful food.
The room was packed and throughout the evening I was able to speak with several of the speakers I had seen throughout the day. What a great way to end the event.
So What’s My Overall Review of the 2013 Chicago Music Summit
I was super impressed by the first ever Chicago Music Summit. It’s something I would gladly have paid to attend but I was told by the organizers at the Chicago Cultural Center that the city is not allowed to charge for events without a mandate by the city council. So I guess it will always be free!
I certainly hope they put this event on next year. I’ll be there for sure. If I could change one thing about next year’s event it would be to kill the panel discussion concept. Without a strict moderator they tend to wander and have no real direction or take-away for the attendees. I would rather see a presentation put on by one person. Even though I only get one opinion, I at least get an organized thought process with an introduction, topic and conclusion.
But like any conference, the real value of this event is the people you meet in between the sessions. There were plenty of people there representing all areas of Chicago music business. I met people coming at music from the technology side, I met managers, I met reporters and of course I met plenty of indie artists. It was a great mix of people all looking for something different. And I think they all got what they were looking for. Kudos 🙂
THANK YOU CHICAGO!
See ya next year.