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Music

Pop and Policy - Live Conference Blogging

Posted by Jer / October 4, 2007

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Pop & Policy is the less sexy, more brainy arm of the Pop Montreal festival. It's a conference that works as a primer for emerging musicians and a discussion forum for execs, lawyers, and scholars interested in the state of the music biz. And, as the conference's ridiculously long subtitle suggests - "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, 100 Effin' Models for the Future of Music: How to Crash the Pricing, Uphold the Ecstasy, Radically Expand the Catalog and Finally Get Artists and Rights Holders Paid the Big Bucks." - it shows what happens when academics and musicians mix.

Like last year's event, the bulk of the panels are focused on how to make the music business profitable again (or, in industry-speak, to "re-monetize it"). It's 10 am on Thursday morning and I'm sitting in the first of several sessions about how to ensure labels, distributors (and oh yeah, artists) get paid.

This particular session is a policy heavy panel that's tackling broader issues of compensation for intellectual property. There's a general consensus that current copyright and other such legislation is sadly slow to adapt to the fast-paced changes taking place in music.

While reclaiming lost profits is a valid goal, it's certainly not the only one I can think of with respect to digital music. And all too often, especially on digital playing fields where ring tone makers, ISPs, labels and other players all want a piece of the pie, talk of profit usually obscures the fact that most musicians aren't making much of it. Luckily there's a panel on the subject tomorrow morning, led by a group of artists and open (free) to the public, so those who actually make music will get their say.

Apart from economic concerns, this year's conference seems equally fixated on bemoaning the rise of digital and extolling the virtues of analog. Wednesday's opening panel, fittingly held on the 25th anniversary of the CD's introduction into the marketplace, was basically a bashing of digital compression techniques and playback devices (there's an APB out for mp3s and iPod earbuds at this conference).
Wednesday's keynote, delivered virtually by Peter Craven in the UK, tackled the question of whether or not the CD was a suitable format to hold the intricacies of a cultural form as complex as music. The discussion that followed amongst the engineers, producers and musicians on the panel, raised further fears about what was being lost in the transition to digital music. The panelists (except for Karlheinz Brandenburg, father of the mp3, who stood out as an incredibly level-headed thinker on the idea of digital music) reluctantly conceded that digital is probably the future of distribution but they shuddered to think of it as the future of sound quality.

For these analog fetishists, digital files are harder and less stable to archive, they carry less information, less character, and ultimately less emotion. While panelists made valid points, the whole discussion seemed like what happens when you take Marshall McLuhan's the medium is the message to its extreme. The true emotional content of music, if there is such a thing, doesn't lie solely in the technologies that bring it to us. It hides in the chords, the voices, the riffs, and the ideas in each and every song. Ultimately, digital AND analog recording technologies modify the original signal. What we prefer comes down to personal taste and audiophilic tendencies. In other words, you can play me my favourite song on a record or through shitty iPone speakers. It's still my favourite song.

The Pop & Poplicy conference runs Wed-Sat at McGill's School of Music. For a full listing of panels and panelists, check out the schedule

Discussion

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