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An Empowered Future for Musicians

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Guest post by Matt Urmy (@matturmy), Founder and CEO of Artist Growth, for sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank.

I would never presume to be able to provide truly valuable insight into the values and philosophies that shaped the business models of the music industry from previous decades. I simply do not know enough about it. And today, there are many areas of the industry that I would not be qualified to give a keynote speech about, such as copyright law, or royalty rate negotiations for online radio. Despite this, I am asked almost daily to answer questions regarding the state of our current industry, and make forecasts as to what I believe the future holds. It's a fun question... but divination is a risky business.

One topic that I feel is of utmost importance to the future of our industry moving in a healthy and sustainable direction is the empowerment of today's working artists.

Throughout history, social empowerment has taken many forms: the right to vote, the right to an education... even the right to decide where to live and raise your family. In the music industry today, we face a new and urgent need for the educated empowerment of our working artists. Not only does our industry need it, but I would argue our society, and the future of its evolving culture is in desperate need of a newly empowered creative class.

Artists must be enabled to become participants in the design and infrastructure of the new business model. Does this mean that artists should be writing bills for the Senate on royalty rates? Probably not, but it does mean that their participation in the debate should be supported, and their perspectives should be reverently considered by those who are designing the tools of tomorrow's industry, especially with regard to technology.

Part of this empowerment will happen in the halls of Congress (hopefully), and part of it will come from emerging technologies, and even more precisely, the trend of these new music technology services integrating with one another to bring new and unprecedented levels of user experience and customer service to fruition. This is the developing area of the music industry that I have placed myself right at the center of over the last year.

We need an unprecedented level of integration in music technology services, and with that, a model will emerge from the chaos that could potentially become an example to other industries on how to sustain business in the age of the cyber cloud.

Another point that I believe to be critical to the success and sustainability of our new ecosystem is that the new technology-based model not be designed by technologists alone. Only a cooperative initiative of technologists working directly with artists, and the business operators, will create a system that enables sustainable growth in all sectors of the industry.

We need to engage the market in a manner that removes the mundane and overwhelming aspects of using and managing music technology, and provide access to actionable data that affords artists and their teams the ability to strategically execute business plans, and lead the discussions that frame the negotiations with their investors, be it angel funding, a record label, or patron fans.

In short, as technologists it is our responsibility, and should be our pledge, to establish and maintain a sustainable, scalable ecosystem that establishes a fresh and streamlined portability of data. I believe that through partnership we foster an increased drive towards profitability and a healthy market where the force of competitive energy drives the pursuit of more innovation. As long as we remain true to one of the most core values of our renaissance, which is that we build this new industry model with a strict commitment to serving artists, not just profiting from them, then we will succeed.

The goal of our innovation should be to create services that do not impede upon the artists' time that is committed to the development of their craft and creative processes, but rather provide services that offers incentives to artists for participation in the shaping of their individual business plans and the industry model as a whole. We should strive to do so without preventing them from focusing the majority of their energy on the processes necessary for them to do their most important work — bringing music into our world.


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