With great streaming power comes great responsibility—at least that’s what I learned on Day 1 of Northside Innovation. The Williamsburg Hotel’s TNT Content Stage closed out its first day of panels with Creativity and Regulation: The Challenges Facing Content Creators, a discussion on digital tools for independent creatives and the adjustments required of artists, consumers, and regulatory bodies adopting them.
“We’re doing a lot of things that we couldn’t do back in the day,” said panelist Hank Shocklee, veteran music producer and sound architect for Public Enemy. “It’s changed the game immensely, because now artists can actually touch their audience one-on-one without any middlemen.”
In fact, last year the music industry saw its largest revenue jump ever, due to the widespread adoption of services like Spotify and Pandora in lieu of analog devices, traditional record labels, and other “middlemen” from back in the day.
In addition to reaching a broader audience, Pandora’s Head of Public Policy and Government Relations Katie Peters noted that these services lower the barrier of entry for artists in the first place, adding that virtually anyone—from a multi-platinum selling artist to a guy mixing tracks in his basement—can end up on Pandora by submitting content through the company’s website for evaluation. Songs that may never earn a minute of radio play can score chance listens and get thumbed up organically on the platform—gaining artists wider recognition and access to valuable analytics that simply would not be available otherwise.
With the recent influx of content on these platforms, however, come legal challenges of copyrighting and payment, the remedy for which Peters says is ultimate transparency; artists should know where their money is coming from and listeners should know that they’re accessing music legally, as well as how to pay for it. Unfortunately, in a soundscape saturated with “sampling” and devoid of a copyright database, it can be hard to track down the original creator to give credit (and money) where it’s due. Luckily, Shocklee noted, record labels have begun accepting the inevitability of streaming services, and are adapting accordingly with licensing and monetization tools such as Tracklib and Dubset.
The ripple of monetized streaming services doesn’t end with artists, either; if you’re like me and treat yourself to a $9.99 Spotify Premium subscription, you’ve already benefited from the democratization of the digital space, as more companies are expanding their offerings by breaking services out into levels tailored to consumers’ desired preferences and price points. Peters says it’s a trend we can expect to see more of, as user experience continues down a path of personalization.
As it turns out, the personal aspects of digital platforms are what keep consumers the most engaged, creating a more intimate environment between creators and consumers. Host and Executive Producer of YouTube’s Think Tank Hannah Cranston pointed out one of the most critical pieces of her success as a YouTube personality has been her authenticity.
“What you see from me on the Internet is what you get,” she said. “When I’m smiling or laughing, it’s because I think something’s funny…I’ve cried on camera. I think people feel that raw emotion and it’s different way to connect to your viewership.”
Just as streaming services offer direct contact between artists and their audiences, Cranston has been able to foster an unmediated experience for her viewers on YouTube, in turn allowing them to engage with not only her, but also one another in the comments section of her videos, on social media, or in chance encounters on the street.
On the flip side, however, the unscripted aspect of digital media can disincentivize certain conversations by posing challenges to ad friendliness. Cranston noted that some of her Think Tank episodes, including recent ones on the persecution of gays in Chechnya or the terrorist attack in Manchester, have been demonetized because of the sensitive nature of the content. Although it’s something to keep in mind, she said, it hasn’t actually been all that common given her weekly and yearly output. Most importantly, content creators shouldn’t be discouraged from speaking truthfully and passionately—especially on topics lacking mainstream attention.
Overall, panelists agreed that despite the natural hiccups of disruption and adoption of new tools, streaming services offer independent creators unprecedented opportunities to generate new market and revenue growth. Panel moderator and SVP of Government Affairs at Consumer Technology Association Michael Petricone put it best: the vastness of the Internet creates some of these problems, but it will also lead to their solutions.
Photos by Zane Roessell