NARM’s Bill Wilson: Music, Investment, Innovation & The New Music Business

This guest post comes from NARM's VP of Digital Strategy and Business Development, Bill Wilson on the first day of NARM's Annual Convention in LA.

image from The sound of schadenfreude is deafening. "The music business is dead." "The companies aren't changing." "The licensing and acquisition of music products is a third rail to investors."  I understand, I used to be right there. For a few years after I put a proverbial bullet in my indie label and jumped into the startup world, I wrote for a small music blog, casting aspersions at the parts of the system that I knew, and even at the parts I didn't. Then I did something unique - I actually jumped in, head first. First working at a major label in mobile sales and business development, and now at NARM, running digital strategy and biz dev for the music business association. As we begin our annual convention, I wanted to discuss music, investment, and innovation and what we're doing at NARM to help build a forward-thinking music business.

Someone recently brushed me off and said "nobody's investing in music anymore." I'd counter that by telling them to look at the very public reports of significant investment in companies like VEVO, Spotify, Rdio and Beyond Oblivion. While I'd agree that the current landscape isn't fueled by bubble-driven investors with X multipliers and a quick flip in their eyes, there are strategic, passionate people putting some serious skin in the game for master recording-related ventures. Existing players are making significant internal investments in innovative new music products and services. I'm sure our keynote speaker Roger McNamee from Elevation Partners will have plenty to say about that in his address and interview with Ted Cohen during our morning session on Thursday, May 12.

But, the greatest unsung heroes of music investment are the companies who aren't on front page of the WSJ. They're in incubator spaces or small lofts around the world, like our Music Startup Academy partner in NYC.

I'm describing NARM member companies like 955 Dreams — the development company behind The History Of Jazz iPad apps — that have created an amazing, immersive coffee table book-type music experience. Their recently released “On The Way To Woodstock” has topped the App store recommended and sales charts for months. An experience where user engagement is high, and conversion of sales to iTunes is in the double digits.

There are plenty of other examples from other companies who'll also be participating in our Music, Video & Mobile Phones: How The Screen Is Changing Music panel at our event, such as MXP4, Viinyl, and Songpier. 

In the traditional music market, there are still large players (Target, Walmart, Best Buy) and there are multiple layers of smaller and intermediary players. NARM has served these segments for over 50 years through the development of the Online Distributor Database in 1996, the implementation of a security system to tag pre-recorded music, and the facilitation of the voluntary parental advisory program, just to name a few of many industry-wide initiatives the Association has undertaken.

Over the last two years, NARM has focused on building the same support infrastructure that replicates that experience on the digital side, for the download storefronts, streaming companies, app developers, and yes - the labels. We're working to help all of our partners reduce costs, be better informed, and build ongoing relationships with each other to advance the business of music – no matter what the format or delivery method to the end consumer.

At this year's NARM, our Digital Think Tank meeting will meet some of the ongoing challenges head-on. The Digital Supply Chain & Operations Group will evaluate NARM's new product data platform, which integrates fully cleansed and normalized product metadata, discuss implications of the WIPO IMR and GRD initiatives, and continue examining the adoption of the DDEX metadata standards. The Product Development Group, responsible for putting together the Music Startup Academy series, will be planning how to educate more companies on the ways they can get "on the grid" and provide a clearer roadmap for any level of entrepreneur to connect with the legacy music biz.  We'll also be kicking off our Music, Gaming & Apps Group, as well as a starting heady discussion around Archival and Contextual Metadata in our two newest ongoing action groups.

Is the industry going to change and become 100% investor- and entrepreneur-friendly overnight? Will upfront payments go away and licensing catalogs become as easy as plugging into a universal API tomorrow? No. But with companies like The EchoNest and IDJ creating new platforms for easier content licensing, EMI taking ground-breaking steps in their publishing licensing for digital distribution, and NARM trying to clean up and pre-empt distributed problems around operations, we've begun a dramatic and positive change in the way the world of the innovator and the world of music biz can work together. 

Viva La Music Biz.

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