The future of music? Songwriting droids and the growth of streaming…

We Are Robots 2017I recently took a trip to the Old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane to explore We Are Robots 2017, a four-day festival asking one, deceptively complex question: what is the future of music?

As I entered the cavernous halls, white brick walls bedecked with the flickering and beeping of music-making machines and flashing lights, I felt a certain eerie chill. The unlit corners of the space made me feel like I was walking into the unknown in more ways than one.

We were treated to an excellent array of sound art installations, mainly courtesy of the Hackoustic Village collective. Trying out the new Ableton Virtual Reality headset/handset was a real treat (and I'm proud to say I just about worked out how to play the beginning of Counting Crows "Round Here" on it). One of the most popular exhibitions used giant inflatable shapes (spheres, cubes, etc) whose movements triggered the music playing in the room. Picture people rolling giant inflatable dice around to make cool sounds...

The festival combined these installations, showing the technological developments that might define the future of composition and production, with a series of panel discussions from industry experts. Here they teased out ideas of how broader music business methods - whether in marketing, management, songwriting or education - might evolve. Unsurprisingly, the growth of streaming (taking over from digital downloads and physical sales) was threaded through all the discussions. Jade Avia from Capital Xtra made the point that young consumers now feel empowered to tailor their own music tastes unique, rather than being played what they should listen to on the radio, or need to pigeonhole themselves within more specific genres. This will likely see less and less emphasis placed on traditional promotional methods, such as press and radio. Furthermore, this has unlocked the potential for any new hit song to become truly global, in the vein of Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" (despite much of the song being sung in Spanish, a foreign language for most of the people listening to it).

Another key development - as Sainsbury's have just announced their Own Label vinyl record label - is the growth of brand involvement in financing and dictating musical releases. Does this represent some commercial 'evil', or merely a solution to a growing problem? Chris Tams of British Recorded Music Industry advised new artists struggling to get off the ground to target brands for sponsorship (along with the more traditional arts funding routes). Especially given the proliferation of new music and festivals, and the fight for attention amongst the 'noise', these artists or events have to find more creative ways to attract an audience and create for them a distinctive experience. This is something that the Indian music industry has always been ahead of the curve on, especially for companies banned from traditional advertising (i.e. alcohol and tobacco). Obviously, this brings a caveat with it - the importance of retaining your integrity and identity with the brand's involvement.

While we may not be closer to understanding how music and songwriting itself will develop over the coming decades, a thought-provoking event certainly helped to elucidate the key trends in the industry. For those artists and businesses paying close attention, these changes can provide a wealth of opportunity.


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