AUSTIN, TEXAS --- Can social media save the music industry?
I've got a three-word rhetorical question in response: Are you crazy?
A panel of tech-savvy executives tried to frame a more nuanced answer Tuesday on the closing day of the South by Southwest Film and Interactive conference. With 2,000 bands and artists descending on Austin in the next couple of days to play the South by Southwest Music Conference, the issue couldn't have been more timely.
Most of the panel consisted of execs from relatively new ventures. Only Seth Hubbard, label manager of Polyvinyl Records, was part of a company that existed in the 20th Century, and could conjure up a time when "digital" meant compact discs and not much else. Now, he says, labels and bands live in a world where "bite-size info on Facebook and Twitter" is essential to an artist's livelihood, because "most people don't have the attention span" to absorb anything more.
Despite his skepticism, Hubbard says that his artists' Facebook accounts are key to directing their audience to buy music and merchandise and attend shows. "The bands with the most success are having a conversation with their fans." What's lost sometimes, he said, is that the music must come first. "Good music will prevail ... all this other stuff is secondary."
It was a point amplified by Jason Herskowitz of official.fm. Echoing a theme sounded by producer T Bone Burnett at the 2010 Future of Music Conference, Herskowitz asserted that today's social media darling is tomorrow's has-been.
"In 10 years we'll be talking about Facebook the way we talk about AOL today," he said. "It is quickly becoming less and less cool ... it's where my 70-year-old parents hang out. It's like shopping for records at Wal Mart."
Herskowitz made a few waves with those comments, but his point was well-taken. Artists would be foolish to ignore social media, but nor can they depend on it to build their future. Social media "opens up communicating directly with fans" in an unprecedented way and it can "create transaction opportunites," said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire, "but it's not a silver bullet" that can save the music industry.