While the electronic music culture in San Francisco runneth over with talent, most of the music-tech organizations, conferences and meet-ups in SF dealing with the industry transition to digital media largely ignores the electronic music community. And there’s a good reason. It’s confusing.
The genre, like classical or opera, is completely different from all sides, ranging from recording, digital distribution, digital retail and licensing to basic marketing methods and live performance booking. The scene, the culture, the multifaceted genre (within which, there are multiple distinct subgenres) is equally affected by industry transition to digitally focused efforts but carries with it the intrinsic requirement of specialization.
Electronic music, in a most general sense, requires different concentrations, pandering to different audiences, and writing genre-appropriate business plans. To help Electronic Music artists and DJs understand how to transition appropriately, Gregory Gordon (CEO & Founder, Pyramind) & Marisol Segal founded Flux Summit, a free evening event with a one hour discussion series lead by great minds in the industry around San Francisco, ending with TestPress.
SonicLiving), Craig O’Neill (Electronica Content Acquisition @ IODA), Lauren Segal – Avenna (NextAid), Shane Tobin (Mobi.TV), Brian Zisk (SF MusicTech Summit), Tim Pratt (dj Timmmii), Beni B (ABB Records), executives from Six Degrees Records, Elise Nordling (Noise Pop, Soma FM) and about 70 other local electronic artists from around the area.In attendance: Some of the SF music tech community’s brightest stars & indie innovators: Gabe Benveniste & Amy Miller (
Held at Pyramind, a lesser known music school gem of a place for any musician at 832 Folsom (at 5th St), Flux Summit’s marketing discussion was stacked with a well prepared moderator. Producer JBoogie was quick to remind artists in the audience that while he is online every day, he considers his online community a full time job. “You have to be on it. You have no choice” he said.
I think most of us know that already — but it’s always great when a successful artist reminds younger artists that he or she is taking time to communicate with fans via social network tools. Along those lines, the most important moment was when an artist rose from the audience to describe that maintaining her online profiles is a 40-50 hour/ week job in addition to her day job, as well as to writing music. “Who has the time?” she asked.
Other interesting points of discussion included a much needed warning to artists: Do Your Research. Are you a new age electronic artist sending your new album out to anyone you can, hoping to get a deal? Well, don’t. Just stop and stop now. The rock label doesn’t want your music. The rock blogger won’t like it. The country music podcaster won’t play it. Do your research and save time as well as the impending agony of silence or rejection.
While most of this advice transcends across genres, a big problem outlined for digital media-centric artists & DJs is the reliance on physical media by promoters and, surprisingly, Bay Area internet media giant Pandora. Segal twittered her surprise as she learned that in order for an artist to be considered for Pandora radio play, they must have a physical product (cd) for sale in the Amazon store.
While this makes some sense in terms of the validity of product, it poses a new problem for electronic musicians who are writing electronica tracks for primarily digital consumption, amid rising costs of cd production. Frequently, these are quality tracks and would fare well in an environment such as The Music Genome Project and the radio stations rendered from Musical DNA.
After the panel came the raffle and schmooze time, right before TestPress. Since the schmoozer was right after the marketing panel, most of the chit chat was about reliance on physical media perpetuating the biggest (and age-old) problem in music industry retail: the return policy. It is the bane of our industry.
See, like the literature industry, any distributor can return unused product at any time to a label or artist – and the label or artist then (by law) owes money for all the returned product. So, you see, money from physical distributors is never really there, ever.
On the other hand, digital retail is literally real money in the bank. No returns? No returns! This is the new music industry, no longer slave to shady distribution and physical retail rules, an industry of art which has used technology to create real money and real relationships for quality artists starting with the basics of consumerism: distribution, connectivity and happiness.
And then there was the Flux Summit cum shot: TestPress.
TestPress is simply the best kept musician’s secret in San Francisco. I’d heard of it, but never attended – such is the danger of being jaded. Little did I know I’ve been missing out on magic.
Here’s how it works: artists in San Francisco are encouraged to submit a track. The top 20 artists will then have their music heard and critiqued by highly renowned and respected industry leaders & producers. (Fans are also encouraged to attend TestPress to participate, discover new music and vote on their favorites.)
The panel of experts (Greg Gordon was quick to point out “we don’t like to call them judges”) on October 1st were: Jason Villaroman (Recording Engineer, Mixer & Producer for Black Eyed Peas & Will.I.Am, Grammy winner), Worthy (Dirtybird Records) and Emily Griffen (Microsoft Zune, Radio Producer, Sanguine Records). All artists then watch the audience experience their music and then the panel of experts rates the track on a 1-5 scale overall, and per category (vocals, arrangements, emotion, production, mix).
All of the feedback from the experts was harsh but meaningful. The lesson of the night from Villaroman was simple: “One thing that helps a mediocre track is vocals.” Another piece of advice about mixing? Always mix the hook louder than the chorus & verses, but keep the bass turned up.
When I left Pyramind at 11 PM, I felt like I’d been at school all evening. Music school. And so it came to be that with the magic of academia and the resulting implied futurism, this jaded music-tech San Franciscan once again became a patron of the musical arts, without spending a dime. The next Flux Summit and TestPress will be in 4 months, we’ll be sure to let you know well in advance so you can submit your tracks and reserve your seat at Flux. For fast updates, follow them on twitter.