Is Technology Making The Music Industry Better Or Worse?

Published on, June 2018

There seems to be a lot of people stabbing in the dark when in comes to the future of the music industry, but few as qualified as CHANGES Melbourne speaker Cherie Hu, who tells Daniel Cribb what we might expect moving forward.

The award-winning Billboard and Forbes columnist is coming off a month of non-stop conferences around Europe and gearing up for an appearance at new Melbourne music summit CHANGES in July, marking her first-ever trip down under after familiarising herself with some local talent last month.

“They were quite the…  spectacle,” laughs the US music writer and researcher Hu on catching Australia’s Client Liaison live at Primavera Pro in Barcelona in May.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference like [CHANGES], in that all the talks are just lightning-style, TED Talk-style — they’re 30-minute snippets, so I’m very interested to see how that will go,” Hu says.

As not only a writer but also a researcher, Hu finds that other conferences around the world don’t tend to go as in-depth as she’d prefer, something she believes the format of CHANGES has a chance to remedy.

“I moderated a panel at MIDEM in France about AI and music marketing and I thought it was a great topic, but the panel was so big and we only had half an hour and there were five other people on it, so we each only had a little bit of time to speak anyway,” Hu tells.

But that’s not to say the standard music conference format doesn’t have its benefits.

“If it’s done well, it’s really beneficial,” Hu emphasises. “I’m always very interested in debates; I definitely don’t think there’s consensus on a lot of things, including where the music industry is going. For example, what is the future of Spotify? What is the future of streaming? Is that the be-all-end-all solution? I don’t think everyone agrees on that and so at their best, I think panels highlight the fact that there are these competing or opposing views, in a respectable way.”

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Having embedded herself firmly within music and tech, and constantly travelling the world to attend conferences as a speaker, you’d struggle to find someone more qualified to discuss that future of music than Hu.

She’ll be giving a talk on Voice And The Rise Of Streaming Beyond The Phone, unpacking what happens when visual interfaces disappear and highlighting the fact that so much music marketing assumes that people are interacting with a stream through a screen when that might not be the case in the near future.

“What happens when people are requesting through voice? What happens when you can’t scroll through a list to discover music? What happens when video isn’t the centrepiece anymore?” Hu asks.

“Bose is building these smartglasses that involve augmented reality, but it’s all powered by audio, so there’s no visual component. It’s very early stages, but I think if you tap something on the glasses, or you make a gesture with your hand in some way, it’ll trigger a voice command.

“I demoed this at SXSW, so an example would be, you walk down a street in downtown Austin and you walk past a venue and you could preview music from the bands that would be performing there that night.”

The barrier of entry is now much lower for artists, but it means they have to work harder and be creative to cut through the noise.

“I met someone, also at SXSW, who records and uploads music to Spotify all on his phone. He has an 8-track app, two bandmates and a mic that’s affordable that you can plug into your phone.

“Then there’s a free distribution app called Amuse, which allows you to upload to Spotify for free, and they can do that in a day.”

On the flipside, it’s harder for a lot of bands and companies to actually make any money, even some of the biggest in the world, which is the biggest challenge Hu believes we face over the next 12 months.

“ was the hottest app a couple of years ago and it was most popular among young teenagers, so 12 to 15 years old. It was a lip-syncing app, so you’d take a selfie video of yourself lip-syncing to an excerpt from a song, and there were these young teenagers who had millions of follows,” Hu explains.

“It had the traction of Vine in that sense; people were building their own personality and brands off this. At SXSW, the head of said, ‘We still don’t actually have a monetisation model — we don’t know how to make money off this stuff.’”

It’s likely that Twitter shut down Vine because they couldn’t figure out how to monetise it efficiently, while Soundcloud was in serious financial trouble last year and YouTube keeps restructuring its paid subscription service.

“That’s just an ongoing challenge of these platforms that have a huge cultural impact and influence not being able to make any money, and I think that’s partly because the legal foundations are not really there and this is a trend across any industry where tech will be ahead of the law in terms of change,” she says.

“As the barriers to entry are lowering, more and more people will want to remix content, and more and more people will want to make their own derivative works off of music, and I think we should be enabling that. Gradually, the industry attitude is going more towards, ‘Yes please, make content from out content,’ as opposed to being fearful and being in takedown mode, so that’ll be interesting to follow.”

Head over to the CHANGES Melbourne website for more details.