What is a ‘values-based’ music industry anyway? BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch had some thoughts on that in his NY:LON Connect keynote this week, and he was followed by a pair of sessions exploring the idea in further detail.
Sania Haq, head of research at AudienceNet, presented her company’s latest insights into the values of the people who listen to our industry’s music, based on surveys in the US, UK, Germany, Nigeria, India, Japan and Brazil.
Much of it focused on Generation Z, who she said are “very expressive and very multi-faceted as people”, which means they respond positively to artists who share those characteristics.
“Across the globe, Gen Z appear to be less attracted to materialism… We are all reevaluating our lives to an extent,” said Haq. “While we’re not saying that they aren’t interested in fashion or money, etc, they seem less interested in that than other characteristics.”
“They’re hopeful, they have a lot of self-belief, and music that resonates and reinforces this, and helps strengthen this feels like the types of things they would really connect to,” she continued.
One thing Gen Z is not so optimistic about is the climate emergency though. “So anything the industry can do to really help people feel like they can contribute there, we feel will be very well received.”
Haq also talked about younger people’s attitudes towards social media, where they are important creators and consumers of content, which gives increased opportunities for artists to forge connections with them.
“Though they are our social superstars, they’re not bulletproof,” she warned. “As much as social media is a power of theirs, it’s also – we’ll stick with the superhero theme – a bit of kryptonite. It does harm them, and they are aware of that. And they’re concerned about the amount of time they spend on social media.”
“Implications here for the industry are, well, how can we make sure their experience in how they engage with music on social media is a positive one and it’s feeding them well, rather than adding to pressure.”
Gen Z and the slightly older Gen Y demographic see music as a positive industry for social change, concluded Haq. They want brands (music brands included) to be smart, and to have a social conscience.
“Especially in today’s day and age of cancel culture, it’s important not just to say that, but to act upon it, and to do it in a genuine way.”
‘Music is central to people’s lives’
Haq’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the values-based music economy, moderated by MQA CEO Mike Jbara.
He was joined by Nadia Khan, founder of Women In CTRL and chair of AIM; Susan Moultrie, SVP of artist initiatives and business administration at Sony Music; and Kevin Bacon, chief innovation officer at Family in Music.
“Music is central to people’s lives… and the generations that the industry is speaking to are quite open-minded about how they do things, and creative,” said Jbara by way of introduction.
“What I take from that is we shouldn’t assume traditional constructs or methods are necessarily burned into everybody’s conscious as the way they need to do things.”
The panel ranged across several different aspects of the music industry’s values, starting with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Khan, who has been one of the prominent figures in the UK music industry collecting, publishing and discussing data on the problems, and the progress being made in tackling them – for example her reports on representation on the governing bodies of the UK music industry.
“The new generation coming through, and people that are working now in the music industry, expect more,” she said, outlining the progress she saw in between her first ‘Seat At The Table’ report in 2020 and the second one in 2021.
More women are in board positions at these organisations, but Khan noted that there is still a lot of work to do, particularly for women of colour.
“The music industry does affect and discriminate against women, women of colour, anybody from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. All of those impact on people’s entry into the industry, and definitely succession through the industry as well to senior levels,” she said.
“The structural barriers are there and they’re still existing… We have to talk about succession. We have to talk about mentoring. We have to talk about bringing the next generation through. I do see change happening across the industry, but it’s slow progress.”
‘Whilst technology’s been great for the industry, it’s been pretty shit for the creator’
Bacon agreed that change at the upper executive levels of the music industry is important, and added that it’s also vital “to see change bolted in to new companies birthing, and not just on the exchanging of people’s roles at the top once these companies have become massive.”
Technology startups are one example. “It’s very hard to hire in that sector on diversity. It is possible, but it’s harder,” he said.
“But we need to see it bolted in from companies starting, not just exchanging people on boards. We need to see people growing into CTOs, CFOs, COOs, all coming from diverse worlds, and get it bolted in to changing culture.”
The conversation moved on to Bacon’s current startup, Family in Music, which recently announced plans for a new online music identifier for songwriters called MgNTa. He related this back to conversations about values: those relating to musicians’ survival.
“Whilst technology’s been great for the industry, it’s been pretty shit for the creator when it comes to getting paid, and none more so than the writer,” he said.
“There is often this gigantic mismatch between music companies that think they’re going into the tech space, and tech companies going into the music space that don’t realise we’ve got all these ancient rules! So there is this kind of chaos in the middle.”
“And you could say ‘well, people are manipulating the chaos and taking the value out’, and that may or not be the case. But one thing is true, and that’s that it’s not just a matter in this day and age where technology is leading us to plus-60,000 tracks a day being uploaded to Spotify,” he continued.
“We’re in a world now that is beyond anybody’s, I won’t say dreams, but idea of what this industry would be. The existing rails that we run on are becoming more increasingly unfit for purpose… There has to be a different way.”
Moultrie was asked about what Sony Music has been doing for its artists and songwriters, and she talked about stepping back to “look at the broad picture and focus on the artist and all aspects of their journey” to create a “three-legged stool” of support.
The first leg is Sony’s ‘Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program‘ which we reported on in June last year: a scheme through which artists who have not yet recouped the advances from their original deals can finally be paid streaming royalties.
The second leg is tools for musicians to have more insight into their music’s usage and the royalties deriving from it, and the third leg is a wellness and education program that launched in September last year, including counselling hotlines across the world.
“We’re hearing what our artists and creators have been asking for,” she promised, having already said that “the senior management team is willing to hear anything and everything in our attempt to find programs to help the artists”.
‘We generate more than two times the greenhouse gas emissions’
Another topic for the panel was the climate emergency, and the music industry’s efforts to become more sustainable.
The timing was fortunate: this week MQA launched a new ‘Sustainable Tech‘ page on its website claiming that “the environmental cost of today’s streaming-centred music business is twice as high as the CD era”.
“Today we are twice as polluting! We generate more than two times the greenhouse gas emissions as we did then, and that’s counterintuitive to a lot of folks, because you think about plastic, CDs, a lot of the other elements there,” said Jbara.
“We’ve all grown up in an environment digitally where we forget that the cloud is made up of cables and servers and energy generation. A very non-green, non-clean environment, which is why we have to be stewards of even the data utilisation in the digital world, if we really want to have a positive impact.”
Khan’s role at AIM has put her close up with the Music Climate Pact initiative, announced in December, which label bodies AIM and the BPI persuaded all three major labels as well as a number of independents to sign up to.
“Why that pact was unique: it aligned both majors and independent companies to talk about and address the environmental impacts in a collaborative way. That’s the importance,” she said.
“We need to accept that it’s a major issue, and we have that commitment now… it’s a really positive step forward for the industry, and I think collaboration is key to that.”
Bacon agreed on the importance of this issue, which has seen his company – like a growing number of other startups working with similar technology – move away from ‘proof of work’ blockchains towards ‘proof of stake’.
“People in bitcoin and crypto and blockchain have found ways of working which are a thousand times more energy efficient,” he said, adding that Family in Music has been talking to Brian Eno’s EarthPercent organisation about ways to support that.
These sessions were part of the ‘Values-Based Music Economy’ track at NY:LON Connect 2022, sponsored by MQA and Family in Music. You can read our full coverage of the conference here.