October 10, 2012
Jared Leto at BoxWorks: Musicians continue to struggle with the Internet
October 9, 2012 | By Ron Miller
Big disconnect between artists and technology
On Monday at the BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, a Hollywood panel featuring musician D.A. Wallach and actor and musician Jared Leto, along with Josh Kline from Final Draft and Chris Kantrowitz, CEO of Gobbler, discussed the struggles artists, Hollywood and big media continue to face with technology and the Internet.
Wallach says part of the problem is that key distribution channels are still blocked to artists. "Key touch points with the audience are not things we control," he said. What he means by this is that iTunes, which continues to be the main distribution channel for mainstream music, doesn't share data with artists beyond pure sales numbers about the music it's selling.
He says the problem is exacerbated by the fact that major ticket selling sites, which control information about the audience attending live shows, are just as bad when it comes to sharing and this is a huge issue for artists who are completely disconnected from their fans.
"Artists want to build a more connected relationship with their fans," Wallach said, "but most don't have the data at their disposal." He added, "And this is a problem because a fan who downloads a song is more likely to attend a concert." From a pure business perspective, he says, the artist is being locked out from that direction connection.
Leto said when it comes down to it, most record companies are marginalizing the artist and pigeonholing them in the artist role. "Most record companies would rather the artist shut up and make art." When it comes to technology though, Leto believes that artists have a role to play here and he thinks by letting artists have at technologies like cloud storage, it could bring an elegance that is lacking from most engineering talent.
To illustrate this, he pointed out that in the early years of the camera, it was used mostly by scientists and engineers, but when artists picked it up and figured out shadow and light and composition, it all changed. He believes a similar dynamic could work in technology.
Kline, whose company makes software to generate Hollywood scripts in the right format, says Hollywood is slow in general to adopt new technology and is resistant to change. "Left to their own devices," he said, "they would still be using 35mm cameras and linear editors." He says for the most part it is the artists who push the changes. Filmmakers want to play with the new toys, so the studio IT departments are forced to figure out how to support them.
While I can't argue that Hollywood is slow to change, especially around digital distribution, the Internet gives artists a chance to create and distribute their work without having to beg to the media giants to get this done. When I suggested this to the panel, they didn't disagree that the Internet had democratized participation, but they felt to a person, that it had watered down the product by giving anyone, regardless of talent, a voice.
They wondered where the great works of the Internet distribution were to be found. Where was the "War and Peace" or the next great composer. As one of the panelists explained, perhaps it's because there is so much content, it's harder to find the gems then when there were just a few.
It's worth noting, however, that in a recent BBC interview, musician and innovator Brian Eno took a different view of the Internet from the artist's perspective. "I must say of all the musicians I know, I don't really hear anyone saying, 'God I'm out of a job now because of the Internet.' I haven't heard anybody say that ever."
But this panel shows that the struggles and tension we see in the enterprise between change and innovation and traditional ways of doing things, whether that's making records or movies, or moving to the cloud, is the same kind of struggle that artists face when trying to create and sell their work. And technological disruption accelerates and exacerbates these issues.