By Ewan Spence
The net may be changing things but music still needs people to perform
Twenty years ago we were told that Home Taping was Killing Music.
But if the SXSW Music conference is any guide then it is in rude health even though internet technologies are changing almost every aspect of music, and many are struggling to accommodate the change.
Five years ago Napster introduced the world to the first of many peer-to-peer (P2P) services via which people could find almost any track they wanted - but Napster gave no money back to artists or copyright holders.
"They said the internet was a fad five years ago," jokes George Searles from Limewire, a P2P service which includes a music store. "Now it appears that major labels are a fad. The internet has totally changed the game."
He believes that sharing music on the internet will become the default, and the objective for successful music companies is not to control, but to understand and monetise the sharing.
Cash and control
Sami Valkonen, head of global business affairs at Nokia recognised both the up and downsides of the explosion of music online.
"The market has grown, but so has piracy," he said. "There is less money in the system."
Angry Vs The Bear are using the net to build up a following.
Nokia's Comes With Music service is one of many looking to use the ideals of sharing, but still provide a return to those who own the rights to the tunes.
They hope to make people more comfortable in paying for music - a year's subscription allows you to download as many tracks as they wish, and is part of the price of newer music-enabled handsets. The Finnish company has spent a lot of time dealing with the major labels, and I asked what place the majors have in the digital music landscape?
"The major labels bring investment and value," he said, which allows them to advertise and promote new artists to an incredibly high level.
"The minor and independent labels are more agile, but have little financial clout," he added.
Some would argue that with an international reach and incredibly low entry costs, that the internet itself is the newest "major" label.
Countless bands continue to stay unsigned, while using their websites, Facebook profiles and MySpace Pages to stay in touch with their fans, market their music, and sell merchandise. The music is the sample, but capturing and nurturing fans so they are happy to support the band is key.
Belladonna are a noir rock band from Italy, who made their way to Austin to play to an international audience and promote their second album. They've had a number of offers to sign for a label but have turned them down every time .
"It's about control," says Dani Macchi of the band. "Every time it happened we had to put on the table all our integrity, and we were not prepared to do that. To do our music our way is the most important thing."
While most bands still look to being signed as the main goal, there are many that are following the route taken by Belladonna.
The internet allows bands to promote themselves and get the word out not just to their fans, but music lovers in general.
While Glenn Peoples of music blog Coolfer lamented on the loss of the small local record shop, and specifically the Store Clerk with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of music, he is pleased to see an explosion of sites talking about music either on a genre basis through sites like Brutal Death Metal, or the geographical basis, such as Janet Timmons "Out The Other" Nashville blog.
The net has meant the end for many local record stores
Blogs take the interaction beyond the traditional newspaper columns and add in conversation between bands, writers and the public, something vital to a healthy industry to allow discussions between the writer, the reader and the bands.
Mr Peoples believes that the blogs have helped grow the New York music scene thanks to this fast and direct promotional ability.
"There are a lot of venues flourishing in the Brooklyn area," he said, "and that's possible through the sharing of information online."
Many smaller SXSW Music venues did not announce their line-ups until three days before the event, confident that news of which bands were appearing would still reach the conference attendees, something unheard of even a few years ago.
The traditional route of touring and building up a fan base can now be accelerated by using the internet. UK electro-pop band Angry Vs The Bear formed just six months ago, applied to appear at SXSW, and are now showcasing in the city, along with more gigs in Chicago to boost their fast growing profile.
"It is a massive risk, and we are up to debt to our eyeballs," Dr Baron Darker, having financed this trip to America themselves, hoping to catch the industry's eye before they run out of money. "We believe in what we do" he offers as an explanation.
The internet offers many more tools to all levels of the music industry, and it is forcing everyone to look at how they conduct business. New business ideas will continue to appear as both publishers, and bands look to the internet to continue their growth.
It all comes down to people who want to play music, playing it for people who love music, and an understanding that everyone in the chain needs some sort of reward, be it through music subscription services, traditional album sales or online merchandise stores.
The business side of the industry will change, but the music stays the same.