- 18 Nov 14
Over the last three years, Dublin’s Web Summit has catapulted itself right to the forefront of the tech world’s consciousness. It’s some achievement, says DANNY WILSON, although our man does have some reservations...
This year, when its doors opened, tens of thousands of lanyard-draped laptop botherers poured into the RDS to shake hands, pat backs and maybe, just maybe, get that American lad ostentatiously smoking a cigar the size of an infant’s forearm to throw a couple of hundred grand into their app. The one that’s “like Tinder but not Tinder.”
As the summit increases exponentially in scope, the sheer variety of businesses in attendance has mushroomed hugely. This year, countless new start-ups of every ilk imaginable took stands. In itself, this should be a good thing. Navigating my way around the RDS, however, I wasn’t so sure. Was I alone in feeling that there was something depressing about the atmosphere?
For a start, the vast majority of attendees seemed to have drunk the Kool-Aid and got high on the notion that, ditching the suit means that they are somehow operating on a more respectable moral level then the Gordon Gekkos of yore. Well, maybe they are...
And yet, whenever a broader social or philosophical issue was broached in a talk, it seemed to be immediately shunted to one side, as the focus switched back to how, exactly, one might go about making money out of the internet – any and all quandaries of conscience notwithstanding. As speech after speech washed over the masses, intently bent over their smart phones, tweeting about how they are at the Web Summit or taking photos to illustrate this fact in glorious Technicolor, one talk started to feel nigh on indistinguishable from the last.
The spectre of the late Steve Jobs loomed large over the event, as speakers eagerly set out to establish themselves as the new celebrity entrepreneur du jour. Web Summit mastermind Paddy Cosgrave, meanwhile, confidently occupied the gargantuan main stage, pointing out that the event was spawned from a Ranelagh apartment not too far from the summit site itself.
The Music Summit took place on the final day of the event. The industry is in flux, as it grapples with the implosion of physical sales and the ever-changing shape of music consumption in web-world.
In fairness, the day got off to a promising start as Roland Lamb of Roli led a remarkable display of the Seaboard, an instrument that draws inspiration from the traditional keyboard but re-imagines it as a kind of soft, continuous surface. The Seaboard has the capacity to offer a more delicate response to pressure on keys and also the technology to emulate the sound of any existing instrument, and take it off in new directions.
This remarkable instrument blurs the line between electronic and acoustic, and raises questions about what, in the future, it’ll mean to “play” any one instrument. This is fascinating stuff for anyone who is actually interested in music – though, as the day wore on, it became ever clearer that the art form itself was very low on the massed throng’s collective agenda.
Lamb was one of the few people that, to me, seemed excited about making music, as opposed to the business of selling it. The buzz word was ‘monetising’: that’s what the Music Summit was really all about.
Perhaps most telling of all was the fact that one of the few people who delivered a speech that reflected the significance of music, or indeed art of any kind for that matter, was Jeff Jampol of Jam Inc, a company that specialises in preserving the legacy of acts like The Doors and The Ramones.
Jampol spoke frankly about his disdain for the callously business-orientated idea of bands as brands, a view that caused a ripple of discomfort through the audience, who had spent the day thus far talking about how best to go about making brands and bands indistinguishable.
When it appears that the only people concerned with artistic credibility are those representing bands that don’t exist anymore, then we might be in trouble, folks.
At the same time, there were plenty of sources of enthusiasm. Jimmy Chamberlin appeared on stage to the strains of Smashing Pumpkins hit ‘Today’.
“I love this; the drums are the best part,” he joked. The former sticksman now pours his time into his position as CEO of LiveOne, and credits being in the group as a key learning experience.
“We saw so many bands in Chicago come and go, losing all their money,” he recalled. It prompted him – and bandmate Billy Corgan – to treat the band as a business, though it never came before their art.
“The love of music begat the business,” Chamberlin added. “It wasn’t the other way around. Billy and I had a deal: if we had to sit through a marketing meeting to plan a single, we would just go write a better song!”
Those sentiments were echoed by Adrian Grenier. Perhaps best-known as Entourage’s Vincent Chase, it was in his guise as founder of Wreckroom Records that he appeared here. The New York-based label has given Grenier an inside-track on the patterns of the industry.
”The days of private jets and cocaine are over. Emerging artists are focusing more on music again,” he said, before adding – with tongue firmly in cheek – “Except for Kanye West!” He also said that bands are “looking for smaller intimate gig experiences,” rather than the massive arena productions which lead to a lack of connection. Grenier did add a word of caution, to mitigate against the increasingly definitive statements about music’s future.
“There is so much change,” he pointed out, “that it’s hard to say where the industry is going. We’ve only just begun.”
I didn’t go to the Web Summit with an “impress me” attitude. But seeing the people that pull the strings behind the music industry generally display such an abject lack of interest in the music itself had an effect on me akin to seeing how sausages are made. I’m afraid it wasn’t very good for my appetite.
See hotpress.com for Web Summit photo galleries