We learned many things at the inaugural Music Week Tech Summit Together With O2 last week. See this week's print edition of Music Week for more on that but – amidst all the stunning new developments on offer and the pithy soundbites from the stage – one thing that really came across was that, now music has fully gone tech, there’s no going back.
Lord knows, the temptation for putting your feet up and letting streaming do the hard work after so many years of decline must be almost overwhelming. But that – at least according to the scores of heavyweight digital music biz and technology players assembled at the Summit – would be a mistake.
The history of digital products shows us that long-term dominance of a sector or even a format doesn’t happen. Some people thought MySpace and MP3s would last forever, but the tech world doesn’t work that way. Disruptors can get disrupted, innovators can get out-innovated if they take their eye off the ball.
So, whether it’s social media or streaming, no one should be thinking that the current way of doing things will last forever. There are people out there working on all sorts of products and projects that could have a profound effect on the music biz. So it’s important that the music business gets its retaliation in first and makes sure it is leading those discussions, rather than being potentially at the mercy of outside agents once again.
Those moves are already happening to an extent, with the major labels expanding their development remit into start-ups and media companies. But every music company should be following suit, while – as Kobalt's chief technology officer Rian Liebenberg noted in his fascinating keynote on Kobalt's status as a tech leader as well as a music biz innovator – the relative scarcity of CTOs at music companies suggests tech isn’t yet hard-wired into management structures.
That seems likely to change in the future; just as few music companies these days will be content to sit back and see what impact VR or AI has on their business rather than get involved early on the development curve. As Warner Music Group CEO, recorded music, Max Lousada told Music Week in our exclusive cover story earlier this year: "You see the Morgan Stanley predictions that the music industry will be worth X in 13 years time. Well, a lot happened in the previous 13 years that we couldn’t predict. What is my worry? That we become overly reliant on one format shift, when actually it’s a seismic cultural shift and we don’t fully represent that in the make-up of our companies.”
Of course, the sun may never set on Spotify or Facebook’s empires and the music business may never find itself disrupted again. But given how few people saw the developments of the last 20 years coming, I’d say that’s probably not a chance worth taking. Time and technology wait for no one.
* To catch up with everything that went down at the Music Week Tech Summit, click here. To read the best quotes from the event, click here. To read interviews with some of the key speakers, click here. And to subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.