Fast Company

A New Age of Art: SF Music Tech Founder Brian Zisk

Since the invention of the MP3, the landscape of how music and money are in these times made have been drastically altered. Record companies that were unconquerable giants faded into the past like dinosaurs. It seems like each month now there is a new digital tool that makes music creation, distribution and video more dynamic. But its also more confusing. Brain Zisk founded SF Music Tech to help tech people, artists and industry folks stay alive and in the know. I spoke to him recently, and this is what he told me.

Adisa Banjoko: What motivated you to do the SF MusicTech Summit conferences and what are objectives of the events?

Brian Zisk: There was a clear need for this event. The music industry is changing rapidly, and the best innovation was originating from entrepreneurs and developers from the Bay Area, the region which leads the world in the development of new technologies. Yet, we were all traveling to places like Austin (SXSW) and France (MIDEM) just to have meetings with each other. When I launched the SF MusicTech Summit, where the world could instead come to us, it was an instant hit. The objectives of the event are to bring together the thoughts leaders from the entire music industry ecosystem, to exchange ideas, present new technologies, and network in a conducive to dealmaking environment. It is truly heartwarming to hear of all the SF MusicTech Summit attendees that found jobs, launched new businesses, obtained funding, or formed joint ventures at our show. That's what we're all about.

What can we expect at the usual SF Music Tech event?

Brian Zisk: We have 75+ speakers, 3 sessions simultaneously all day, and an expo area. Sessions includes new product and technology demonstrations, elevator pitch workshops, panel discussions, and conversations with thought leaders. And of course, a couple of parties! The music industry is large, and encompasses everyone from venture capitalists, to major label reps, to electronic music artists. There's something for everyone. Topics this time include Artist Revenue Streams, Mergers & Acquisitions, Digital Sheet Music, Music Discovery & Recommendation Services, Lyrics, The Future of Music Publishing, Musical Instruments, Video, Tools for Your Band, and many more.

You've been able to secure some pretty high powered innovators and thought leaders at your events. What were some of the biggest breakthroughs at the previous panels that you recall?

There are major breakthroughs at all of our Summits. Some of the biggest that come to mind include Google doing deals for their music service at one Summit, and then rolling it out at the next one, and Pandora announcing new partnerships for rolling out their service in cars. It is always awesome when featured rock star speakers talk about what they're working on rolling out, folks such as like Ben Folds, Stephan Jenkins (Third Eye Blind), Del the Funky Homosapien, Jack Conte (Pomplamoose), Michael Tilson Thomas (SF Symphony), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston/Aretha Franklin), and more.

What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of net neutrality and how that affects the future of music?

The Future of Music Coalition, a non-profit I co-founded, is in favor of net neutrality and is actively advocating for Internet freedom and equality for all musicians. We launched "Rock The Net" Campaign, a nationwide coalition of musicians and labels that support an open Internet, with founding artists with founding artists R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Kronos Quartet, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Boots Riley, OK Go. Future of Music Coalition has long advocated for policies that help artists reach potential audiences without the bottlenecks and gatekeepers so common to the original music industry. Our support of the open Internet reflects an ongoing commitment to a legitimate digital music marketplace where artists have access and fans can find the music they want. For more info visit: http://futureofmusic.org/issues/campaigns/rock-net.

What panels are you most excited about with the next SF MusicTech Summit event?

Brian Zisk: I'm always most excited about the Elevator Pitch Session. I'm the host, and any and all attendees are welcome to come up to the mic and present an up to 1 minute elevator pitch about their company, project, or idea to connect with others who may want to work with them. I get to learn about the fascinating people and projects in our audience, and I also get to help connect folks, which I love to do.

While there are various mainstream discussions on music and technology, what aspects of the topic do you think people should be trying to learn more about?

Brian Zisk: While the music industry is long established, it is the individual entrepreneurs and developers who are creating better and move valuable listening experiences and who are the driving forces towards a better musical future. While many of the rights holders have been insisting on absolute control, this has precluded lots of opportunities. As the rights holds move forward with loosening their control, these entrepreneurs will be more able to move the entire music industry forward.

Any final words?

Our next SF MusicTech Summit is May 9, 2011 at the Hotel Kabuki in see you there!

Follow us on Twitter: @sfmusictech.com.

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