New York Music Daily

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Running the Rapids of Global Music Industry Change at the Inaugural Mondo Conference

Logistically speaking, the biggest takeaway from last week’s inaugural, five-day Mondo music business conference was that future attendees will need a buddy system. There were simply too many panels offering ready intelligence, inspiration and food for thought for any one individual to take in alone. Ambitious musicians and entrepreneurs planning to attend next year’s conference – and another is scheduled for 2017 – should bring a wingman or woman to cover as much ground as possible. And when there’s a lull in the action, double up with your bandmate, or manager, or subcontractor, and then discuss afterward. The roughly $250 per person it’s going to cost is a real bargain.

And make sure you explore outside your own turf. Even if you don’t like heavy metal – one of many specific genres covered in detail at multiple panels – or, if like most musicians, you don’t consider EDM to be music at all, you should still investigate how it’s being sold. If it is being sold at all – there wasn’t time for this blog to venture that far out.

Pretty much everybody who’s anybody – Spotify, Tunecore, Vevo, NPR, many streaming services, publicity firms, licensing agencies, booking agents, boutique label people, lawyers, educators and lots of touring musicians – were represented among the panelists. Likewise, attendees ran the gamut, a global cast, on the young side but with many grizzled veterans of an earlier era humbled by the changes of the past fifteen years or so, and just as hungry as their younger counterparts. The major labels may be dead in the water by their own admission, running on fumes and at ten percent of capacity, but people are still making money in music. Maybe not Wolf of Wall Street skrilla, but there are plenty of bands on the road who don’t need dayjobs.

What is the state of the industry at the moment? Sheer chaos. What was fascinating to witness was the degree of disagreement from market to market, and to weigh the credibility of opposing opinions to fit different individual models. According to one articulate panelist, in hip-hop, if you can get $10 out of one email address, you can monetize that for another $130, on average. Did you know that in the folk music world, physical cd’s are still a viable revenue stream, and not only as merch at shows? There wasn’t any one panel – at least that this blog got to cover – where this was stated outright, but in 2016, the inescapable and rather triumphant verdict is that niche rules.

The other ubiquitous meme was “across all platforms.” With a little help from their friends or bandmates, maybe, any artist can be on every major and not-so-major streaming service around the world. As one oldster put it, getting a track on a hot Spotify playlist in 2016 is like having your cd on a Tower Records endcap thirty years ago. Everybody agreed that Spotify is the world’s most important radio station: growing at a rate of 1.7 million PAID subscribers a month, not to mention the tens of millions who use the free service. And as far as terrestrial radio is concerned, one promoter noted that while there are still a small handful of commercial stations that play good music, all the action is in public, nonprofit or college markets. And that action is still viable, especially for emerging artists, since even the smallest labels, and booking agents, and licensors, are crunching numbers like crazy, parsing the flood of data available for even the most obscure acts.

By contrast, many of the big-business panels reflected a circle-the-wagons desperation. Everybody in that world seems to be up in arms over last year’s US Department of Justice consent decree, which simplified licensing by streamlining deals via rights administrators like ASCAP or BMI rather than through what in many cases can be multiple publishers. There was also an entire panel devoted to removing unauthorized videos and streams from the web – akin to Donald Trump asking people to take unauthorized “Trump in 2016” bumper stickers off their cars. Even according to Universal Music’s own survey, one in four artists has zero interest in being signed to a record label. Considering how many wannabes there still are out there, that’s a seismic shift.

Happily, the conference had very few vestiges of smarmy “I did blow backstage with Skynyrd at the Fox Theatre in 1974” insider smugness. Panelists interacted enthusiastically with the crowd, exchanged emails and such (Superphone honcho Ryan Leslie gave out his cell number – for those who don’t already have it, it’s 646-887-6978, and don’t abuse it). As one talent agent put it, this is the era where instead of screwing your neighbor, you give them a leg up because it will probably come back to you someday.

Ambitiously – and this conference is all about ambition – the conference was held not in some scuzzy Midtown hotel but at NYU’s comfortably airconditioned flagship building, the Kimell Center on Washington Square South. NYU students are a friendly bunch – maybe because they aren’t treated like criminals the second they cross the security gate – and the staff there follow suit.

The after-conference parties were excellent (but be careful, you don’t want to get so hungover the next day that you miss a useful 9 AM discussion or networking opp). Unfortunately, this year, the music wasn’t. Of all the acts scattered across various showcases in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a grand total of three – retro 60s garage rockers Del CaesarNew York chamber pop regulars Elizabeth & the Catapult and the subversively theatrical Killy Dwyer– offered anything more than what would probably clear the room or make you tune out after thirty seconds. But that’s to be expected at a first-year conference. There are still legions of clueless Taylor Swift and One Direction wannabes out there without benefit of either Swift’s relentless stage parents, or boyband velvet mafia. As the conference grows, and one assumes it will, the music will improve. And music at these events is an afterthought anyway – in New York, there are good bands playing all over town every night. Events like this one only come around once a year. It’ll be fun to see how far it’s grown next time around.

The Attacca Quartet Make a Strong Segue with Visionary Art-Rocker Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Radio City

No less august a figure than ELO’s Jeff Lynne had asked the Attacca Quartet to open his sold-out stand at Radio City this past weekend. The string quartet responded with an ecstatic, robust performance that, while tantalizingly brief, threatened to upstage the headliners. It was as much a testament to the group’s ability to connect with an audience most likely unfamiliar with their repertoire as it was Lynne’s confidence in his thirteen-piece band’s ability to pull off a similarly electric set of ambitious, iconic chamber pop and art-rock hits.

The foursome – violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee – spiced their set with codas by Haydn and Beethoven, practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing to such a vast audience. Beyond that, they impressed with their choice of material, opening with John Adams’ acerbically percussive miniature Toot Nipple, then a bit later slinking up his Alligator Escalator with its steady, apprehensive drive out of a rondo of sepulchral high harmonics. It was arguably the high point of the night. While the group could have taken the easy route with standard Romantic repertoire, or the ostentatious one with, say, Bartok, they cemented their cred by showcasing material from their pals, emerging composers Paul Wiancko and Michael Ippolito. Stark low-midrange washes and enigmatically lively exchanges held the crowd’s focus before the headliners hit the stage.

Opening with a low, ominously swirling vortex of sound – one of several recurrent tropes this evening – Lynne and company launched into the stark, misterioso intro to Tightrope, the uneasily dynamic, Dvorak-influenced first cut on the group’s platinum-selling 1976 New World Record. The only remaining member from the band’s several chart-topping 70s lineups is keyboardist Richard Tandy; the rest of Lynne’s merry band is on the young side, and they were stoked to the nines to be able to share the stage with one of the greatest rock tunesmiths of alltime.

They didn’t play Do Ya – the cult favorite by Lynne’s previous band the Move which ELO reprised much more ornately for an American audience – and that worked out for the better, since they didn’t use it as a segue like in years past. In lieu of that, they took an extended romp through the galumphing, phantasmagorical outro of 10538 Overture, the alienation anthem that opens the band’s 1972 debut album. Other than that and Tightrope, the night’s only other deep cut – an epically pulsing take of Secret Messages, title track to the band’s 1983 album – also rose out of a stygian reflecting pool.

The crowd saved their most heartfelt ovation for a particularly gorgeous, majestic version of the 1974 ballad Can’t Get It Out of My Head, lit up with terse Tandy keyboard flourishes that held very closely to the kind of fun the band would have with it onstage forty years ago. Otherwise, the band’s two additional keyboardists, as many as four guitarists at once and a couple of backup singers over a hard-hitting but swinging rock rhythm section brought new energy to Lynne’s already hefty studio arrangements.

The one new song in the set, from the late 2015 release Alone in the Universe, was the Lennonesque, autobiographical piano ballad When I Was a Boy. Otherwise, this was a clapalong show. The band followed an inspired version of the bluesy, minor-key 1976 kiss-off hit Evil Woman with a similarly terse performance of their 1973 British hit, Showdown. Their late-70s disco era was represented by the bouncy Shine a Little Love and All Over the World as well as a hypnotically spiraling run through Turn to Stone, from the 1977 double album Out of the Blue.

The rest of the set drew on fun, imaginatively orchestrated arrangements of radio hits including Livin’ Thing, with its slithery violin solo; a boisterously strummed Sweet Talking Woman; and the stately, angst-drenched ballad Telephone Line, shimmering with surreallistic, melancholy keyboard textures. They closed with the crescendoing pastorale Wild West Hero and then a full-length version of Mr. Blue Sky – a nod to a well-known jazz standard – and encored with an expansive cover of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, a popular FM radio staple from 1972. Throughout the set, Lynne sang strongly, from the bottom of his formidable baritone, to the falsetto he used with such frequency in the late 70s. It would have been a treat to hear Eldorado, or Kuiama, or similar early material voicing his visionary; dystopic worldview. Guess we’ll have to wait til next tour for that.

The Attacca Quartet’s’ next New York performance is on October 21 at 8 PM at Holy Trinity Church, 3 W 65th St. where they’ll be performing works by Beethoven and Caroline Shaw. General admission is $20.