Music 4.5 – a rundown

TechEye was invited along to the first ever Music 4.5 conference in London’s Mayfair yesterday. The official blurb says “tune into the new sound of opportunity.” The reality was a day full of PR pitching, lopsided ‘debate,’ and eventual farce – with blips of some really cool tech inbetween.

We were hoping for a story, but really, this event was for venture capitalists looking to chuck their money at start-ups. Here’s Tamlin Magee’s take on the day:

After the press sign-ups, caffeine hits (listed on the Cavendish conference centre as being about five quid a head, blimey) and awkward morning schmoozing, attendees were herded into the dungeon, like a stream of geeky cattle, for the opening proceedings. We were treated to a five minute hello by stern-faced, austere Steve Mullins of telling us all to switch our phones off, right next to two gigantic screens projecting and presumably encouraging Twitter posts. It was only 9am and I needed a Brand-e.

Next up Grauniad hackette Jemima Kiss chatted to Feargal Sharkey, formerly of the Undertones and Brian Message of the Music Managers Forum. Feargal reckoned despite all the doom and gloom about the music industry, it’s never been a better time to be a fan of music, while Brian couldn’t stop mentioning acts that served as his clients. Kate Nash, Kate Nash, Kate Nash. Call me “bittaaaa” but I didn’t buy it.

At about half past 9, the first of two case studies-cum-pitches happened. We liked these. Nikhil Shah of Mixcloud started with a well presented powerpoint fest about his company’s tech. Mixcloud focuses particularly on widgets that deliver radio and podcasts rather than individual songs and has seen benefits from this model. Interestingly, while many of us bash MySpace, it’s a big market for Mixcloud: about 40% of their embedded widgets on the site have a click back rate of 40%.

RjDj showed off its product next. The company’s spokesperson was softly spoken and hard to hear, but the product spoke for itself. It’s an iPhone application that filters and changes whatever audio or song you’re listening to according to your surrounding environment. There are a bunch of different ‘scenes,’ as the RjDj lot call them, that you can put on top of the original app. Shaking or moving your iPhone in different directions relates directly to the music that’s playing and starts up different beats or synths. This video explains it better. It’s been used professionally by Little Boots and Imogen Heap with plans for other artists to get in on the action. While we can’t imagine everyday appeal, it’s really interesting and looks a heap of fun.

EyeSee: I’m going to gloss over the panel discussions because they weren’t really discussions. They either went nowhere, went way off topic or were a polite and dreary line of people telling us about their company. We’ll name and shame the offenders. The first one was called “Music is worth nothing – deal with it!” and was chaired by Dan Cryan at Screen Digest. The panelists were Chris Carey, of the dreaded PRS for Music, Ben Drury of 7Digital, Jeremy Silver of the Featured Artists Coalition, Seth Jackson of Indie Mobile and Entertainment Group and Brittney Bean at Green House Group.

Thankfully for the first ‘panel’ the Tweet projectors were left online, leading to giggles from bored hacks. Typically, the most discussion at this time was going on not by the panelists but by the Tweeters… and the discussion was mostly about which hashtag should be used.

Coffee break and then back into the dungeon for two further case studies. We were treated to a very bored looking DJ Chris Coco talking about the importance of social networking and engaging with fans with Darshan Sanghrajka of The House London. To be fair, the presentation was funny and well put-together, but it didn’t really tell us much new. Except for Chris confirming that a lot of celebs you see engaging with fans on Facebook or Twitter are actually managers because, well, who’s going to know? And who cares, anyway? They’re only fans.

Astounding Noel Ernest Edmonds lookalike David Kaplan waffled on for a bit about his project, PureSolo. The case study was called “Getting the basics in place and engaging with big media brands.” We’re not entirely sure what PureSolo does and neither was the VC we were sat next to, but apparently it’s just signed to be in every single primary school in the UK.

Another wasted opportunity for some genuinely interesting comment from interesting entrepeneurs at the next panel discussion. All interesting companies. Dreary speakers named and shamed again: Erik Nielsen of Wingnut Music, Nic Howell at New Media Age, James Proud of Giglocator, Shamal Ranasinghe of Topspin, Susie More of BrandRock and Billy Grant of 2point9.

Shortly after noon was the absolute highlight of the day, chaired and arranged by Julia Shalet (@jewls) of The Digital Youth Project. Music tech start-ups pitched to a cross section of teens from different backgrounds.

RjDj as we mentioned above had the first pitch. He shyly tottered about on the stage, looking awkward, and said “So.. do any of you like.. rap music?” Big Cringe of the Day #1. A Hackney teenager who went by the name of Shivz stepped up and tried his best to have a go over the beat RjDj set up, which was hugely reminiscent of a school Casio keyboard’s “Hip Hop 3” setting. Asked about the product afterwards, Shivz said, “It’s alright.. But I’ve got a blackberry though.”

A cute Swedish goblin who ran CitySounds.FM pitched to the group next. City Sounds is a website that aggregates the popular music being played in a city and compiles a top ten based on that. It went down well.

TubeRadio impressed the group with its software. It’s a website that searches YouTube for songs and music videos and lets you save them to playlists with an interface that looks remarkably like iTunes.

Last and quite least was Zova, which aims to train users at football by way of music. The teens weren’t amazed, and as @JamesBarton said on Twitter – “Zova? or just buy a samba track from iTunes for 79p.”

The clear winners were CitySounds.FM and TubeRadio according to the panel.

Other highlights at the conference included One Bird Records‘ interesting model, which is to exclusively release singles and only in the digital format. The label launched just last week so it’s hard to tell if it will be met with success, but it is already in talks with Puregroove and Rough Trade to stick artwork on the shops, in the guise of a 7-inch vinyl sleeve, but with a digital download code inside instead of a record.

Mike Butcher of Techcrunch Europe chaired a bunch of quick-fire pitches at the end of the day. They were: – A management website to keep on top of every logistical facet of a band, from budget to merchandise. – An attempt to easily merge social media with user generated audio recordings.
Sleenk – A web and phone app that will suggest music from your library based on mood.
Close Call Music – Which will offer exclusive digital downloads from live performances you attend.
Cloud Speakers – A website which is attempting to aggregate an extensive list of music news and reviews from a huge range of sources.
Tunerights – Aims to ’empower’ artists and fans by allocating shares equivalent to monetary and creative input.
Decibel – Provides extensive artist information in an mp3 database.
Psonar – Cloud storage for music files.

Mike Butcher and Jemima Kiss closed the conference with a few words, before inviting Shivz back up to speak. At this point it felt exploitative and more like the teenager was being used as a kind of court jester to entertain the crowd. Mike asked him derivative questions which he duly answered. But he didn’t seem to mind the attention one bit.

We caught up with Julia Shalet from The Digital Youth Project after the show. She told us she wasn’t entirely happy with the way Shivz was put on a pedestal, and apparently some of the other kids from the teen panel were a little upset.

Overall, the conference was a good first attempt, and brave considering it was an all dayer. We feel as if it lacked direction, but it was great to see so many enthusiastic music start-ups. The panelists seemed to have a negative perception of the music industry in general, something which the old-hands we talked to when the show was finished completely disagreed with. Except for maybe EMI.

So what did we learn from the whole event? It was kind of like a ten-hour “kids say the funniest things.” So, we’ll leave you with a quote from star-of-the-show Shiv’s Twitter page. “F*** DEM MAN WEN I BLOW ITS PEAK FOR U AMA PUNCH U UP !!!” What a lovely young man!

EyeSee: Nikhail at Mixcloud pinched our friend, the editor of Disorder magazine’s bum at the Gibson studios after party, it is alleged.