How Mobile Has Changed Live Music

Sam Nachbarby Sam Nachbar, guest mobileTech Tuesday
(Cross-posted from The Appconomy)

In Part 1 of this Markets overview for the live music industry, we covered issues related to live music recording, promotion, and sales and the role of mobile technology.

In this post, we pick up on other issues that touch culture, process, and business practice changes that are occurring in the music business, and their impact by and for mobile tech.

4. New Venues Reinforce the Importance of the Live Performance

In keeping with the DIY ethic, all-age house parties with little to no entry fee are on the rise. An event like SxSW is perfect for observing this phenomenon. As musicians flood the city and the Red River district reaches capacity, promoters are forced to find alternative venues for showcases.

To help encourage the official events, while still giving breathing space to the unofficial events, producers like Southby are arming their audience with mobile apps. While the official apps for SxSW 2011 aren’t available yet, the 2010 offering – that provided easy access to rich media as well as the official conference guide of panels, venues, speakers, and other events – was a step in the right direction for arming visitors with one such valuable tool.

The satellite SxSW scene is arguably as large as the official showcases at this point and oftentimes these nontraditional shows are the most memorable. By circumventing the booking agents and label representatives, up-and-coming bands are finding ways to perform for their fans.

Building a direct connection with fans is always a challenge. Myspace made an early name for itself by focusing on music. Newer services, like VivoGig are providing a new twist by, adding music discovery to facilitated access to the musician, with the output being a crowd-sourced podcast.

Another interesting twist – and presently one of the most visited music blogs, La Blogotheque – is built around a weekly video series that follows different bands performing in public locations including parks, city streets, and elevators. The unpredictability of a public audience makes for unique moments, and a public performance in a nontraditional location can garner a lot of views on YouTube.

As the members of Atomic Tom can attest, today’s quirky moments can become tomorrow’s viral sensations. Their live performance video, taken on a train with the band members using instrument emulators on their iPhones, helped the band reach a considerable audience. A set of powerful music videos (on YouTube or other services), plus live recordings, and impromptu public performances, are now critical for developing bands. And if done correctly, they can lead to tour dates, licensing deals, and TV appearances.

5. Management Still Matters

While these methods are proven in developing small groups into mid-level bands, musicians still need to be signed in order to make a sustainable living. The good (and bad) news is there are more choices. Representation with one of the major labels is no longer necessary and signing with a mid-level label such as Sub-Pop or Matador works efficiently for a number of popular indie rock groups.

The irretrievable decline in the sale of physical albums has left major record labels wanting more of the artists share (including live performances and merchandise), and many musicians are seeking mid-level representation because of the comparably artist friendly contracts. Yet, when it comes to recording and ownership terms, musicians continue to misunderstand their rights.

6. Ownership of Creative Works Remains Complex and Critical

In this digital age, you wouldn’t think it, but bands remain largely uninformed and unconcerned with copyright. Unfortunately, by signing away their copyright (c) – and along with it, frequently, the rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and create derivative works and for the sound recording – artists in effect give away large portions of their future profits.

Most labels have an agreement with a licensing aggregator, such as The Orchard, which is attractive to new bands in the short term because it makes their music available for sale on iTunes and similar services. But over time, if the group becomes a success, the decision to forfeit © and other rights will harm the artist.

By signing a blanket license at the beginning of an agreement, musicians often limit the influence they have over their own recordings. Later, if a song is used in a television or radio commercial, the band will only receive a portion of the money made from the use. Blinded by the attractiveness of a record deal, musicians often limit their profit margins because of an initial misunderstanding or undervaluation of copyright.

Another common misstep involves intellectual property issues surrounding work-for-hire situations. The use of third parties such as employees, family, friends, and freelancers to apply artistic, musical, or graphical skills to the band’s projects may raise questions about the rightful ownership of the work. Musicians tend to have an aversion to contracts, particularly when dealing with friends, and this procedural misstep has come back to haunt a number of bands.

Apps like Quora and Formspring are providing some modest relief for this procedural misstep, by providing musicians easy access to networks of people sharing best practices and relevant experiences on these topics. And, while web-based, self-help services like LegalZoom offer a less intimidating, affordable way for artists to put in place basic protections.

Another enormous legal barrier that many artists face is the use of sampling. Electronic music and recordings that involve sampling are increasingly prominent. By not obtaining a license, artists using these snippets often infringe upon the copyright holders’ exclusive rights to create derivative works. Of course, various digital rights management (DRM) schemes provide some limited protection, but are relatively easily bypassed by samplers.

7. Creative Commons’ Licensing Unlocks the Openness of the Web

Many artists believe that copyright law is stifling creativity, and in response to this perceived lag in policy, an increasing number of musicians are opting to make their tracks available in the public domain. Sites like AudioFarm and BeatPick offer music published under Creative Commons’ flexible copyright licenses.

The royalty free recordings found on these and similar sites allow for companies to use the songs for internal use, such as corporate training and orientation videos, as well as externally, for trade shows, mobile applications, and company websites. These sites are easy to navigate, and while companies and small developers do not have access to the most popular recordings, Creative Commons’ copyright licensing has made it easier to find and legally use music.

Performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, however, are vehemently opposed to such sites and the efforts of the Creative Commons in general. In a recent fund raising letter to its members, ASCAP accused the Creative Commons of “mobilizing to promote ‘Copyleft’ in order to undermine our ‘Copyright’…and these groups simply do not want to pay for the use of our music” (Hypebot, 2010).

The choice for artists must remain on a case-by-case basis. Some see releasing under a Creative Commons license as a means to make content instantly more compatible with the open, unencumbered potential of the internet. Other musicians see ASCAP’s and BMI’s historical protections, as well as their membership services – like the former’s royalty/database app – as outweighing the benefits of increasing their song placements (and visibility) through the growing Creative Commons’ audio database.

In closing, we expect to see mobile and music continue to be intertwined, with more innovation on the way. Look for our reports from SxSW in March.

Sam Nachbar blogs on the music industry, including work for the popular LA-based music blog, and is a 2nd year student in the Digital MBA at St. Edwards University.


  1. Thanks so much for including us (vivogig) in this great post. There is some great information and very useful resources listed here. The future of music is looking very exciting and dynamic and we are glad to be a small part of it.


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