Muve Music Has Balls, Everyone Who Works For Fox Is Apparently A Scumbag, And 8 Other Things I Learned At Rethink Music

It's easy to bitch about Rethink Music. After all; despite the promise to instigate discussion about where the industry is heading, a great deal of the two-day conference – which went down in Boston this week – consists of old guard industry blowhards denying that music faces any problems whatsoever. It's actually quite maddening; from their designer frames to unrelenting arrogance, the bigwigs live up to virtually every cliché that the business has ever been branded with.

With that said – there's an unbelievable amount to learn at Rethink, in fact so much that I'd assign it as a requirement for anyone who wants to thrive in the new music marketplace. Despite all of the shitheads in attendance, it's also packed with the sort of creative souls and benevolent young thinkers and musicians who – while they might not yet control the capital – are certainly directing us toward a new day. Watching somewhat closely, here's what I walked away with:

1. The guy from Muve Music has big brass balls that clank when he walks. His name is Jeffrey Toig, and it took about five seconds into his presentation for him to shit on Spotify and anybody else who's in his way. Muve is working the broke end of the digital divide, packaging music on hood phones for companies like Cricket. While the higher echelons of music tech developers and venture capitalists focus on device-savvy geeks, yuppies, and middle class consumers, Muve is “focusing on the segment on the market whose phone – not computer – is the center of their life.” Furthermore, their product is specifically built for cell networks. According to Toig, “this is a corner of the business that Spotify isn't thinking about.” As I approach my data usage limit for the month, I can't help but agree.

2. Biz Markie can cut some motherfucking records. Huge props to the Echo Nest for always tapping some sort of amazing talent to perform at their parties. A few years ago, they brought El-P in to rock a Music Hack Day. Last year, Ali Shaheed Muhammad touched the Rethink after-bash, while Monday night featured a DJ set by none other than the Biz. In a quick meeting outside of the rest room, I told Biz that he – along with Technotronic and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – was my first concert ever, at Westbury Music Fair about 20 years ago. He told me that he has the tape, so if there's anybody out there who wants to digitize some old rap show gold, let me know and I'll get you in touch.

3. Spotify is not the answer. At least not yet, as I gathered from a Rethink interview with the company's chief content officer Kenneth Parks. As my editor noted in a tweet, Spotify is brilliant, though they've yet to capture the hearts of artists. This public exchange didn't help matters, as Parks boldly proclaimed that no artists have been hurt by Spotify, and that their main problem is really just that they have to explain it better. Sort of reminded me of the last president talking about the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. Furthermore, Spotify isn't profitable yet – their “margins aren't super fat” – while at the same time it hasn't become any sort of savior for artists. All together, the whole thing kind of puts a damper on prevailing logic that there'd be more to go around once labels stopped printing albums and shipping them around the world.

4. Even the brilliant academics only half get it. One of the best presentations came from Yochai Benkler, the renowned professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Sporting black-on-black-on-black threads like Steve Jobs in lecture mode, Benkler applauded the Muve model – bundling music and cell service, embedding tunes into the flow and fabric of digital life – and chided evil artists and imprints for their litigiousness toward fans. Benkler also, however, noted that there have been cloud-based music models for a decade, and that – despite the likes of Spotify and Google Play just now entering the mainstream ecosystem – there's no need to talk about how those efforts can and should operate. It sounds like a good point – like when people acknowledge that e-reader technology has been available for more than 20 years. But what he's missing is that consumers weren't ready for the cloud until now, which is why it's absolutely critical to stop the bigs from taking full advantage before it's too late.

5. I loathe everyone at Fox. Of all the reprehensible scumbags who I saw speak this week, Twentieth Century Fox VP of Music Publishing Cathy Merenda was by far the most obnoxious. After introducing herself as someone who “protects” and “exploits” artists, she went on to say that it's hardly a top priority of hers to track independent acts down, get their paperwork straight, and pay them royalties. As if that wasn't bad enough, she soon after bragged that Fox was accidentally paid for a Beatles song they didn't own, and that they promptly returned the money. In other words – it's more important to make two billionaires and two dead guys richer, but working class artists should have to run through a gauntlet to get money that they're rightfully owed.

6. Some companies really do care about their audience (as opposed to just saying that they do and keeping number one in mind). Specifically I'm talking about Slacker, whose Rethink delegate, SVP Jack Isquith, was easily one of the most amenable speakers of the bunch. I'm not personally a Slacker user, as I like to choose my own music down to the track (never cared much for any sort of radio, or even live DJs, for that matter). But their custom curation model is honorable, so much so that I just downloaded the app for a spin. Isquith says that Slacker's “biggest challenge is ignorance – getting people to try it.” Mission accomplished in this case.

7. Kids and young people don't say “cloud,” or “digital music.” They just say “music.” Something that everyone should have probably already realized, but nonetheless another great point by Slacker Jack.

8. The mainstream media doesn't just celebrate mediocre artists – they eschew DIY indie acts more than I ever truly realized. This is what I learned from Linda Chorney, a Massachusetts-based Americana performer who got herself nominated for a Grammy despite never clocking one sale on Soundscan. It's a long story – and you should really hear it from her – but the moral as I interpret it is that know-nothing music journos don't really support the underdog so much as they shill for whatever acts their publicist friends push on them. For that matter, the general public doesn't care much either. People are okay with American Idol launching countless worthless careers, yet Chorney got death threats and a heap of hate for steering her own destiny. Shameful stuff, really.

9. Artists are still just slaves to a lot of these people. I don't need to call anybody out specifically on this one, but during a panel called “Team Building,” I realized just how brutal so many of them actually are. Talking about musicians like they're children who can't make decisions, one douche even claimed that attorneys and imprints work hard to build careers that will last well into the future. Yeah – either that or they sign them, feed them all sorts of hopes and dreams, and then shelve their projects indefinitely and deny them rights to their own creations.

10. Elbow grease is still the best tool. I learned this from the GZA, who I'd rank right up there as one of my favorite speakers along with David Viecelli of the Billionaire Corporation, who demonized entertainment marketing machines like SXSW and reminded us that “Doritos, Amex, and Budweiser have nothing at all to do with music.” GZA didn't give the most technological lecture, nor did he drop any arcane app knowledge on the crowd. But his stories of the nonstop Wu-Tang hustle – their promo van guys used to put in 1000 hours a week – and of how he's stayed relevant through the years offered the most important lesson that there is for artists, which is that hard work and plenty of it is the only answer, both in the past and looking forward. As for all of the other bullshit, GZA deposited his two cents in that jar years ago, and I agree with him completely . . .

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