The Music Industry Is Desperate For A Few Good Technologists

from the oh-really? dept

Earlier this week I attended the latest version of the always excellent SF Music Tech conference, that always tries to bridge the gap between the music industry and the tech industry. The two sides are often seen at odds, even though I think that’s a simplistic (and often just incorrect) assessment of the situation. Whenever I attend events like this, I try to wait until the end of the day to see if there were any particular themes that became clear over the course of the event. This time, what struck me, is how much technologists are in demand from the music industry folks. On one of the early panels, someone spoke of the need for better communication between techies and music folks (and someone else mentioned the general culture clash, and the inability to understand each other). However, where it really became clear was in the various meetings and one-on-one conversations I had throughout the course of the day. It was really stunning. I’ve never had so many “music” related companies all ask me (variations on) the same question: “Do you know any good technology people who might want to come work for us.” By the end of the day I was laughing every time someone asked me that question. It seems clear, these music startups are all desperate for tech help.

I’m curious as to why this was so pronounced. It could be that (as always!) good techies are hard to find. These days, there’s tremendous demand, and the magnetic pull of jobs at Google, Facebook and Twitter often feels like it’s sucking dry available technologists for startups. But, at the same time, I also wonder if the music industry’s history in the tech world is impacting things as well. The history of music-related startups is littered with companies sued by record labels or crushed by overly burdensome rules. I would bet that a lot of smart techies recognize this, and don’t want to touch anything that might involve having to go up against (or even “partner”) with the legacy music industry. There’s plenty of interest in music, but working in music innovation just seems like a hassle that’s probably not worth it for many technologists who have other options.

It seems like yet another unfortunate legacy of the industry’s decision to treat the changing marketplace as an “us vs. them” sort of thing.

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Comments on “The Music Industry Is Desperate For A Few Good Technologists”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Well, yes, but we don't want to work for "them"

Consider me: 30 years of experience as a programmer, system administrator, network architect, software developer, project leader, etc.etc.etc. — all of it on the ARPAnet and Internet. 45 years of experience as a musician, including classical music as a child (w/competition), rock, folk, jazz since on 3 different instruments. Music collection and music-related book collection that is overflowing the room it’s in. I own 7 keyboards, 5 guitars and listen to music constantly. Yadda yadda.

So I could make a pretty good argument that I have a deep grasp of technology and music, not to mention considerable expertise with both.

But I won’t work for the bastards that are trying to destroy the Internet: I consider them mortal enemies. I don’t care how much money they’d pay me: the answer is no.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well, yes, but we don't want to work for "them"

“But I won’t work for the bastards that are trying to destroy the Internet: I consider them mortal enemies.”

I think you kinda missed the point that MM is making.

“The history of music-related startups is littered with companies sued by record labels or crushed by overly burdensome rules.”

The people asking for techs aren’t the ones who are doing the suing, they’re the ones who are being sued. The innovative techs don’t want to work for these startups because they know that they will likely get crushed by the record labels lawyers and hence working for these startups doesn’t seem like such a good idea. So, instead, they find alternative, like Google.

Nick Taylor says:

Well, at the tender age of 46… and meeting my first computer at 16 – I’ve got about 30 years programming experience.

I’m also a musician, played in various bands in the UK/NZ… been around the block etc. Got a pretty good grasp of both music and tech I guess…

… But I won’t work for the bastards that are trying to destroy the Internet: I consider them mortal enemies. I don’t care how much money they’d pay me: the answer is no.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

The sick fucking joke that is their "us vs. them"

It seems like yet another unfortunate legacy of the industry’s decision to treat the changing marketplace as an “us vs. them” sort of thing.

What the hell is it with them (or the “us” in the “us vs. them” equation ? this includes the RIAA, MPAA, various performance rights groups, etc.)?

They bully ordinary citizens, small businesses, charities, internet service providers, and their own artists. They push around Congress and encourage Congress to push around other countries who fail to fall in line. They wave around “poor artists” as if they were so many starving children being hustled by Sally Struthers.

They do all of this lawyer-aided and Congress-abetted bullying and yet they still have the temerity to constantly play the victim.

“Our rights aren’t being protected.”
“Our works are being infringed on.”
“The internet owes us a living.”
“Our industry, much like copyrights themselves, should be allowed to continue indefinitely, despite better models and attitudes on display elsewhere.”
“Why won’t somebody do something about stuff?”

They’re like professional victims. You know, the kind of people who always know how to find the iciest bit of pavement in the parking lot. The ones who claim that a 5-mph collision resulted in a multitude of injuries and permanent unemployment. The ones who ignore every return policy and berate and shame customer service employees into obliging every ridiculous request.

It’s exactly the same goddamn thing. These groups are the part of the world that only takes and never, ever gives anything back. They can always find they way they’re being screwed, however minutely, in every situation. The entire world revolves around them and if they’re not getting their way, there’s litigious hell to pay.

They don’t want things to get better or easier for the artists themselves, much less the end users. Every work of art, whether it’s a song, a movie or a book, should be mutilated by regulations and stipulations and fine print until all joy has been sucked out the experience and all that remains is a soulless product devoid of beauty or life.

This is the world they want: a perpetual motion device that spins “useless” artistic endeavors into the only thing that really matters: money. Money that can be double-dipped, triple-dipped, quadruple-dipped and fed into the vindictive, gaping maw of self-entitlement and greed.

They don’t need a techie. They need Rumplestiltskin.

JesseJ (profile) says:

techies and music

hmmm . . . in like spirit. I’m nearly 63. Have played drums and other instruments since age 13. Have had a Phd. in Electrical Engineering since age 27. Worked with computers all my life. Still play drums. (DO NOT INSERT
musician/drummer joke here). Was surrounded by ARPA developers before there WAS an “internet”. The internet was designed NOT to be destroyed. Anyway, I see the intersection of music and technology as resembling “Kurzweil”. What’s money got to do with it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: techies and music

How do guitarists get the best handicap parking spots? They put a pair of drumsticks on the dash.

How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to change it and the other two to talk about how much better Neil Peart could have done it.

Seriously, still a drummer at 63 is impressive. Bravo.

lostalaska (profile) says:

I would rather jump into a swimming pool of razer blades then.......

Having worked in IT for 15 years now I would rather spend the rest of my life demoted to doing phone support hell for clueless users then ever have to deal in any way with the music industry.

I had a friend making a documentary (late 90’s) and wanted to be above board with the whole thing so he started looking into what it takes to license an obscure jazz song from the early 1940’s. He wound up with two different companies and an estranged relative all claiming rights to the music all wanting vastly different sums of money for him to use a 30 second clip during some montage scene in his documentary. After months of wrangling back and forth over it he finally just gave up on the idea of licensing that song and instead used some old blues recordings from the turn of the century that claimed to be in the public domain, most likely less than 500 people ever saw his documentary.

BTW, I think a lot of “techies” are into music and making it. I play bass, a little guitar and used to be able to keep a few basic rhythms/beats going on the drums. I generally enjoyed the audio engineering (recording) end of the whole thing. The ill will created over the years by the music industry trying to proclaim that all the fans are thieves and exaggerating the impact of the internet’s impact on the decline of music. The basic point is the music industry can’t ever look toward the future because they’re only ever focused on the next fiscal quarter. That and try and do anything revolutionary with technology and music and their distribution systems and you’ll get stonewalled. Remember all the gnashing of teeth by the music industry when iTunes (a legit way to download music) was trying to take off. Apple literally had to bribe the music companies to get them on board. What’s the point of working for someone who will fight you tooth and nail if you want to innovate?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: I would rather jump into a swimming pool of razer blades then.......

Having worked in IT for 15 years…

Obviously not in programming, else you would know the difference between “then” and “than.”

There are quite a few programming languages that do not include “then” statements in the lexicon. It is entirely possible he has been programming using those languages.

I always thought the “then” statement was entirely redundant and inefficient, and that languages that strived to remove these redundancies were better overall than those that left them in. Sure, as a programmer you understand the if … then … else construct, but it is not necessary for a programming language to be so rigid in its lexicon.

Tom The Toe says:

Why in the World would I want to do that?

Why would I want to go work for an innovative startup in an indusry that the only thing they can do is get sued for being innovative. Until there is a massive change at the upper levels of the music industry the only thing a great music/tech partnership can do is to create a resume’ generating event for me.

EE says:

As an out of work engineer, I wouldn’t jump into bed with this bunch for less than 100k a year plus benefits.

I can just imagine it. I’d be going into work everyday, thinking up new innovative ideas, writing proposals, and being told no every time because it is not as profitable on a per customer basis as CDs were in the 90s. blech.

Can you even imagine trying to raise capital for a start-up with these jackals hovering in the background? Ugghhh Even if there was a profit to be made after the major labels looked at your balance sheet and adjusting their licensing fees accordingly, would it be worth it? Any major outside investor would and should be wary of jumping into the shark infested pool that big music has turned the internet into. Even if you find a profitable and legal business plan, who knows when the content industry will next complain to legislators that their industry is dying and all they need is to outlaw your business plan to save it.

I continue to hope that all the hype they generated about their “dying” industry is true, and they will go out of business. Then (maybe) we can have a sane conversation about the current state of copyright with rational players. However, that is probably a pipe dream. Oh well.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Gonna Cost You

With the way the RIAA et al has sicced their lobbyist and lawyer dogs on the tech industry as a whole for the last 10 years, hiring technologists isn’t going to come cheaply – significantly above typical pay for the qualifications. Can they afford it, when they’re already cash-strapped and cutting costs everywhere else?

A couple years ago I did an April Fools prank on my blog where I said I was hired by MediaSentry, and that my soul was worth $140k. A couple of my readers (also professional technologists) agreed that they’d sell their souls for $140k, too.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re: Gonna Cost You

…and does any of that technology actually make it to market without being sued out of business by the RIAA or heaped so high with licensing fees that it limps along unprofitably until it ultimately goes bankrupt?

Indeed, there’s no shortage of foolhardy people willing to attempt to revolutionize. But they rarely succeed, for one of the two reasons just mentioned.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gonna Cost You

…since I failed to make it clear how we went from hiring difficulty to lots of willing people, I’ll explain it here.

The major record labels have made a LOT of enemies in the tech sector, and people who are highly adept at technology generally do not like them; but that’s okay, because the said major labels don’t like the ideas people highly adept at technology propose, either (for reference on that topic, check out lobby group sites such as the Copyright Alliance blog).

Nevertheless, there are plenty of people looking to try something new and creative. These are generally the ones that start companies that get sued out of existence by the major labels.

About the only safe place for technologists in the music industry these days is in indies that are willing to experiment with drastic changes. Because these indies are small, this drastically limits the significance of such work, and any attempts to export novel technology to bigger labels generally results in the above paragraph.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gonna Cost You

Yes, the technology has made it to market. There’s so much in music that doesn’t involve licensing music. That’s the point I’m trying to make. People who want to work in music technology are out there. And they are creating the technology. I’m not sure who is looking for music tech people and can’t find them, so I am asking where they are looking.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Gonna Cost You

Here’s a link to the group.

It’s primarily for people in Colorado (we meet monthly), but we have invited a few people from outside the area to join if it is likely that the Colorado members will be connecting with them in some capacity (e.g., at a conference).

The group is closed to avoid spam and to keep it curated. It isn’t for pitching your company to get business.

But if you or someone you know is looking for music tech people and wants to participate in the group, joining the group might be an option.

Boulder has a lot of tech networking opportunities and is the home of TechStars, so there is a natural fit among tech, creative, and lifestyle folks (i.e., music, sports, healthy living, beer). This group is an extension of the kinds of interactions we want to encourage.

Why Boulder Is America’s Best Town for Startups – BusinessWeek

Boulder Startup Week | May 18-22, 2011

The pursuit of happiness – CBS News: “If happiness is a state of mind, then Boulder is its capital.”

Some Utopian says:

everyone gets the point, for different reasons

#18 – you posted the same comment in #9. Music Hack Days are definitely a great example of innovative things happening at the moment. But those aren’t the same people clamoring to work for the record labels. Labor supply isn’t the issue, see above. See also “open source.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: everyone gets the point, for different reasons

I brought up Music Hack Day twice because I am curious whether the people saying there are no techies willing to work at music companies have been to Music Hack Days and tried to hire people attending there.

Perhaps the people having trouble finding people to hire haven’t been looking in the right places. If they have gone to Hack Days and made their pitch and then have gotten no takers that’s a different matter.

Actually I’m part of a group in Boulder whose goal is to bring members of the music communities, tech communities, and creative/marketing fields together. The group is growing.

Eric (user link) says:

There is Harmony

As the newest member of the RootMusic team, I can tell you that the whole tech industry (not just music tech) is in a high-growth phase. The biggest problem that most startups face is finding enough quality developers to meet their growing need to jump on exciting opportunities.

I can also tell you that music and technology are a natural pair. Of course things are bumpy — the industry and consumer expectations are changing faster than any large organization can keep pace with, and the major labels have a genuine need to develop new business models in that quickly changing environment in order to survive and stay relevant.

All startups are risky, but a startup that is tasked to work with content controlled by major labels, cater to indie musicians, keep up with consumer expectations, and deliver focused products that meet all of those sometimes conflicting needs is a very rare thing.

Those of us working in this industry are going all in, and frankly, there just are not that many companies out there who seem to be playing all the right cards at the right time.

I believe that RootMusic is in a unique position to tackle all of these problems in ways that nobody else can, and as it happens, we’re hiring, too. If you’re one of the many developers who love music, and love JavaScript, send us your resume.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: There is Harmony

I’ll add to the discussion that it isn’t just about music start-ups. Finding good people is a challenge for lots of companies. And what people try to do to matchmake between companies and people is to create events that bring them together.

Silicon Milkroundabout: Forget the banks, join a start-up. Songkick Blog: “Anyone who has ever run a start-up knows that one of the biggest challenges is finding truly exceptional people. Start-ups have the odds stacked against them from day one ? over 80% fail ? and the experience of trying to create something from nothing has been likened by Reid Hoffman founder of LinkedIn as jumping out of an aeroplane and trying to build a plane on the way down. That means that world class developers, who can be orders of magnitude more productive than the norm, who get excited about truly audacious challenges are not just helpful, but a necessity if you?re going to succeed.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

You don't need major labels

Here’s a new start-up that is going after an under-served niche.

Every Week, 30,000 Stages Are Left Unfilled… – Digital Music News: “The NuevoStage system allows venues to list empty dates, and bands can pitch themselves and rally fans to fill targeted slots. Ultimately, if a band sells enough tickets, a gig is born – but the venue and band don’t have to get linked to start the selling process.”

What I am trying to do with my comments is to get people to realize associating music technology with major labels is a bit shortsighted. There are and will be music technology jobs that have nothing to with major labels.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: You don't need major labels

You know, that’s actually a great news article. But I would be concerned if places such as ASCAP don’t come in to collect licensing from places such as NuevoStage.

I assume all of these venues are already paying ASCAP/BMI/SESAC. They are being used for music, just currently not every night. So if they have any music at all, the PROS have come calling.

Anonymous Coward says:

A lot of the commenter’s miss the point here. It’s not the big label guys that are trying to hire tech people, it’s disruptive startups that are. What Mike was saying is that those startup folks can’t get people to work for them.

I’d speculate this is due to fear the whole project will get slapped down by the labels. So, the heavy handedness of the labels is preventing people from even getting started innovating in the industry. I doubt this will upset the labels at all and is in fact a welcome consequence.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not the big label guys that are trying to hire tech people, it’s disruptive startups that are. What Mike was saying is that those startup folks can’t get people to work for them.

I’m not sure I’d go work for a startup depending on major label support either because I’d question the business plan of that startup. Why try to create a company with built-in obstacles? Why not build a company around music that you can acquire for free or around some other aspect of the music business that doesn’t require dealing with major labels?

It seems to be to be backward thinking to even contemplate a company where the major labels play a role. So rather than complaining about how they have stifled innovation, do something else. Create new music instruments. Create new music apps that let more people make music. Create new ticketing and marketing systems for live music. Find ways to get more music into the educational system. Expand ways for artists to get funding. And so on.

The reason I am so gung-ho about Music Hack Day is that it is a vast experimental system. Most of the ideas don’t have significant commercial potential, but it gets people thinking about what they can do.

Catherine (user link) says:

I completely agree with everything you said here. The music industry is so behind the times with tech that it is forcing high-in-demand bands to drop their labels and pursue online and tech methods of distributing their music, which is actually getting them more money and publicity. Meanwhile, music streaming technology is being released day after day by extremely credible companies like Google, Rhapsody and Amazon, yet they are still under fire by the music industry. I’ve written a post about this on my blog, which I have linked below if you’d like to check it out. Great article!

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