SF MusicTech Summit 2012 Highlights – How to Get Your Music Heard Online!

The SF MusicTech Summit was held at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown on Tuesday October 9th. Dubspot writer John von Seggern attended the summit and brings back some pro tips about making your voice heard above the din of the Internet’s vast music marketplace…

Organizers Brian and Shoshana Zisk started the SF MusicTech Summit in 2008 to bring together thinkers, visionaries, artists and business people in the music technology space, explore the current state of the digital music industry, and look at where the music business might be heading in the future as it continues to evolve. It has been held approximately twice a year since then, and this year’s was the eleventh event in the series.

Having attended the summit last fall–I was invited to join a panel on “New Technologies for Musical Self-Expression”–I was excited to go back this year and hear about some of the latest trends.  Although the panels and talks at SF MusicTech are oriented more towards industry insiders than the general public, I heard a lot of great recommendations this year for musicians and artists trying to promote their work online and make themselves heard by fans. Here were some of the highlights and new things I learned, highlights from the panels on Artist Tools and Digital Marketing in particular.

the Artist Tools panel at SF MusicTech 2012

Get Your Music Heard Online

- Obviously social media channels like Twitter and Facebook are crucial for any artist trying to get heard today, but one thing I heard emphasized repeatedly at MusicTech this year is that it is very important for the artist himself or herself to talk to fans directly through social media. Some artists think that they will get better results by having a publicist or manager post regularly for them and handle online communications, but what fans really want is the direct connection with an artist, and when it’s not really the artist posting they can quickly tell. The Glitch Mob come to mind for me as a recent electronic act who have used social media to communicate directly and effectively with their fans. Most recently the Mob did an interview directly with fans on reddit and answered questions about their creative process and production techniques.

“The more you show who you are, the more the fans will relate.” – Michael Franti of Spearhead

- Speaking of YouTube, I also heard Theda Sandiford of Universal Republic Records (subsidiary of Universal Music Group) mention that YT is now the biggest source of revenue from streaming music online, bigger than Spotify or any of the other dedicated streaming music services. So even if you release your music through TuneCore or other online music distributor and get it on all the major online retail services (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.), you still need to be on YouTube to promote yourself and to get paid for streams. (You won’t get paid unless you start a channel on YouTube and opt-in to their partner program, so make sure to check this out if you don’t know about this yet.)

“YouTube is the new MTV – it will one day be the #1 revenue source for copyright holders.” – Jeff Price, founder of TuneCore

- Twitter and Facebook are essential but it is also important to look for newer media trends that you can use to your advantage–one panelist I heard recommended getting on Instagram right now for example, its user base is huge and getting huger but there are still relatively fewer musicians using it to promote themselves, so more chance to draw attention to yourself.

- The idea of a “post-literate social landscape” was mentioned as well: words are still important in promoting yourself but videos and images become more and more important all the time. Posting images can be a great way for artists to connect with fans in creative ways; I heard one band mentioned who had taken pictures of themselves having fun or sightseeing somewhere in each city they visited on tour, giving their fans the feeling that the band was actually making the effort to experience each place a bit and not just passing through overnight without caring where they were.

photo of the main room at SF MusicTech taken by Michael Franti (from his Facebook page)

- In connection with promoting your music on Facebook, the concept of Facebook EdgeRank was emphasized. What does this mean? Basically, when you post something from your band’s Facebook Page, not all your fans will see it–Facebook will only show it to a certain % of them in their News Feeds. If you post items that get a lot of “Likes” or comments on FB, your Edge Rank % will increase, so it is in your best interest to pay attention to the kinds of posts  your fans like. EdgeRank Checker can tell you more about this if you’re interested.

- As far as hosting your music online for promotional purposes, most panelists seemed to look at SoundCloud as a standard at this point. Several mentioned how easy it was to share and embed songs and playlists using SoundCloud so that other sites or blogs could host them when writing about the music, and also said that most people working in music are comfortable with SoundCloud.

- At the same time, in spite of all the social media channels and sites that are available, one panelist also emphasized the importance of maintaining one central web location that ties it all together, hosting your blog, calendar, photos, videos, music, merch, and everything else in one place. Generally this will still be an artist website rather than a Facebook Page or Twitter profile, and WordPress was mentioned as a great free hosting alternative to get started with if you don’t currently have an artist website.

The Bottom Line: Where Are We Heading?

The bottom line I heard from many people last year and this year was that the future of the music industry lies increasingly in selling promotional and other services directly to musicians for a modest fee, rather than investing in artists in return for future income, the old record label model that prevailed before the Internet came along and changed everything. The future for artists is going to be much like the present: using the services available to promote yourself and get the word out about your music, taking advantage of sites like the ones mentioned above as well as services like Topspin, Bandcamp, BandPage, Onesheet, and others. If you don’t know what all of these are, it would be a good idea to start investigating them now and learning about how they can help you make your musical voice heard online.

Watch The Panels Yourself

The next best thing to being there is seeing the video, and fortunately the MusicTech crew have already uploaded some great video of some of the panels and presentations. (Note: I was unable to get these videos to play in Firefox when I last checked but they seemed to work fine for me in Safari, so try another browser if you are having problems.)

As mentioned above, one of the best panels I heard was called Artist Tools, featuring representatives from online music sites SoundCloud and Bandzoogle, digital music business news site Hybebot and others discussing the wealth of tools available for artists to promote themselves these days.

Another highlight of the conference was hearing a talk on the “future of music and technology” with SF hometown favorite rapper/singer/musician Michael Franti (founder of the band Spearhead), followed by a short guitar/vocal performance. You can watch the whole session online, including Franti’s performance.

Michael Franti of Spearhead

You can also listen to audio from past summits on the SF MusicTech SoundCloud page.


Dubspot editor John von Seggern has been producing and performing music with computers since his first DJ gigs in 1999 with his Hong Kong-based group Digital Cutup Lounge. Since then he has played techno at massive underground parties in China, remixed major Western pop artists for the Indian music market (and vice versa), designed orchestral electronic sounds and effects for the Pixar film Wall-E, and presented his anthropological research on music technology at academic conferences. He has authored two instructional books about computer music production and performance as well as the manual for Native Instruments’ popular software synthesizer Massive.

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