Gentleman, scholar, early-adopter, thinker and doer. Syd Schwartz is truly one of the finest minds in Digital Music. The long time EMI senior executive flew the major label coop last year, and formed the strategic digital marketing agency Linchpin Digital. We interrupted Syd’s half-vacation this past Tuesday night, and discussed Spotify, Apple, piracy, the role of labels, and naturally, prog-rock.
Isquith: Hi Syd
Schwartz: Hello Jack
Isquith: So, where are you today?
Schwartz: San Francisco, CA
Isquith: Of course, just about ground zero for the Digerati.
Isquith: (all respect to Brooklyn & Sweden)
Isquith: Work or pleasure or a mix?
Schwartz: A mix…out here with my family but doing a slew of meetings while I’m here
Isquith: cool….So Syd for the benefit of those who haven’t had the pleasure of working closely with you…can you give us 140 characters or less on what you are up to these days?
Schwartz: Linchpin Digital creates business opportunities and marketing strategies around the relationship between fans and entertainment properties.
Schwartz: I founded the company after leaving EMI last year.
Isquith: succinct and on message. (I’m having a “thinking about politics/being on message” day watching Rahm Emanuel getting elected mayor in Chicago).
Schwartz: we live in interesting times
Isquith: It’s fascinating to see the value equation move towards fans.
Isquith: Can you talk about that for a sec?
Schwartz: Yes…the days of content creators producing one “product” (I do try to avoid using that term when referring to music, hence the quotes) to sell to the mass market are over
Schwartz: Artists have lots of different types of fans
Schwartz: So determining what offerings are most valued to which fan groups is a challenge for the artist
Isquith: As an ex-Label exec, and a early adopter…how do you see the role of labels changing?
Schwartz: Labels have historically run into challenges because the resources (particularly in the digital groups) tends to cluster around album cycles
Isquith: Take that a step further….do you think fans are through with albums?
Isquith: Or is it a timing thing….i.e. artists are open for biz 24/7/365?
Schwartz: Unless the label has a “360” deal or other arrangement with the artist, their focus is generally on selling units of recorded music, and that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Artist require a lot more from partners, so labels need to provide ongoing ranges of services that address the artist’s audience 24/7/365
Schwartz: And most labels are not staffed to handle that
Schwartz: To the question about fans and albums…again, different fans want different things
Isquith: interesting for sure. Especially as labels shrink…so there are less bodies, people hours, and overall resources to spread around.
Schwartz: Some want a more complete body of work (aka an album), some want only a song or two.
Schwartz: And the promise of the Internet was the democratization of distribution and the ability for artists to do it all themselves
Isquith: OK, lets move to a more radical concept…are labels as we know them even needed?
Schwartz: What artists often need is a team or at least someone with some understanding of the space to help quarterback a strategy.
Schwartz: Companies like The Orchard, Topspin, Bandcamp etc can all do great things, but if the guy who is driving the van, selling the t-shirts and handling the sound mix also has to spin up the widgets for D2C, it can become burdensome.
Isquith: I think this has become a real meme for many artists…..”I tried to do it all myself, it didn’t work. I need some sort of team on top of/in addition to TopSpin etc”…., and then, maybe, I can leverage new technology, Social Nets, etc.
Schwartz: ideally, the artist should focus on making the music, connecting with the fans and speaking with their own voice online…if they’re worried about tagging their site with Google Analytics, it muddies the water.
Isquith: Lets flip the question to the companies (not artists) looking at Music?
Isquith: Who is best positioned…Who has a rough road ahead?
Schwartz: A rather broad question Jack
Isquith: OK, I will target….
Schwartz: Fans stand to gain the most. There has never been a better time to be a music fan.
Isquith: Can you make a go of it in 2011-2012 just being in the music space?
Schwartz: …sorry hit return a bit too early. There is more music to enjoy than ever before for fans of both mainstream and niche artists. And for those who make music, the technology to create, edit and remix has become inexpensive and easy to use without the need for recording studios, engineers, or even the need to be on the same continent with your bandmates. Distribution has achieved a level of democratization allowing a wide variety of options to make your music available to the world.
Isquith: (agree on fans)…but, let’s stay on the biz side for a sec…..Can a company do JUST music?
Isquith: in other words….will we ever see a new from the ground up company like Interscope, Early MTV, etc?
Schwartz: I think many smalls are the new big for the moment…we might see the emergence of several small and mid-sized players that end up breaking big. Though the definition of “big” and whether “big” is necessary is up for argument
Schwartz: you’ve noticed that sales charts in every music publication are about units…not profitability
Isquith: So we need to diversify our outlook, not just our “products”! aha!!
Schwartz: I think effective will trump big in most cases
Schwartz: I think a key is turning products into experiences
Isquith: OK, we are going to revisit some old-school AOL techniques as we are chatting on AIM after all….
Isquith: I’m going to throw out 5 phrases, you react
Schwartz: Does that mean you need my account number to place the funds of a deposed 3rd world dictator into my bank?
Isquith: Naah, that was BEFORE my time at AOL
Isquith: here goes….
Isquith: Spotify hugely funded
Schwartz: I wish them the best of luck in building a sustainable business model. consumers having multiple options for acquiring music is a good thing.
Schwartz: But they have a tough road ahead.
Isquith: Dec 31, 2011…iTunes Model for Music is?
Schwartz: Fingers crossed its a digital locker service with unlimited access.
Isquith: The Recorded Music Industry Rebounds When……
Schwartz: it doesn’t “rebound”. The value structure changes.
Isquith: What a great year 2011 was for xxxx, man they killed it.
Schwartz: The New York Giants
Schwartz: does that count?
Schwartz: Umphrey’s McGee
Schwartz: who are well on their way
Isquith: ok, last one…..Piracy must be stopped, Piracy is not the issue.
Schwartz: It’s an issue but not “the” issue
Schwartz: And content creators should be compensated for their blood, sweat and tears.
Isquith: we share that POV, passionately.
Isquith: You changed your life significantly in the last year or so…. Took your considerable communication abilities out of a big corporate political setting and moved into a more entrepreneurial and self-directed career. Whats better? What do you miss?
Schwartz: I learned a lot from time in the major label system and was privileged to work with a lot of great artists and great colleagues.
Schwartz: I miss the people and the artists for sure.
Schwartz: And I don’t know that one is necessarily “better” than the other, but I’m a lot happier being my own boss, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of great clients for whom I can do good work.
Schwartz: I think what I like the most is I can come up with an idea, present it and just start doing it once we all agree its a good idea
Isquith: Thank you. And on a pure day-to-day level….does life feel different in a way that has surprised you? Or did you work with so many startups at EMI etc, that this is about what you expected?
Schwartz: I think one thing that I found striking was how little attention a lot of folks are paying to data and analytics, which in my opinion is a part of the value chain that is in play now.
Isquith: Explain more here…
Schwartz: An artist should, as much as they can, own the the relationship with their fans, and establishing the systems and platforms that create that direct connection and deliver ongoing value is essential.
Schwartz: Posting tons of content on YouTube, giving music away via Twitter…all great things.
Isquith: FB friends, Email list count, # of comments on Tumblr, as well as soundscan & dollars per head…correct?
Schwartz: attention should be paid to how those initiatives are working, and that can get difficult in an ecosystem where a lot of your partners know a lot more about your fans than you do.
Schwartz: In ways, this is an issue I expect will play out with Apple, Spotify, Google…anyone running a music service
Isquith: Indeed. I think the data is undervalued in negotiating, because it has been underutilized. Vicious cycle
Schwartz: They know everything about the customer. The artist gets a comparatively narrow insight into purchases bought through those ecosystems.
Isquith: OK, Lets end with a interesting example, and maybe a slightly contrary point of view.
Isquith: The one thing that I miss as we move forward, is the sort of economic resources…mostly derived from a really big music recording ecosystem…to fuel and fund grand-sweeping ambition. What I mean is…Pink Floyd “Animals” or ‘The Wall”…”Achtung Baby”…even if you will, “American Idiot”. I think as music democratizes, and plays on a smaller scale.,..even the greatest talents ofter turn into a smaller landscape.
Isquith: So, you see really big bands/artists…making “smaller” records
Isquith: Radiohead’s last 3 albums…that kind of thing
Isquith: Am I just nostalgic for outsized stuff?…or do you think there is truth here??
Schwartz: I understand where you’re coming from, but I have difficulty looking at it in terms of big and small.
Schwartz: All of the works that you mentioned share something in common
Isquith: keep going….
Schwartz: For a segment of consumers, they catalyzed an emotional resonance.
Schwartz: And I think that resonance can be catalyzed as well with a song as it can with an album.
Isquith: It’s funny…I love many songs, but few albums …yet I disagree.
Isquith: I prefer a world where more artists are TRYING to make great albums, and only my few faves are succeeding.
Schwartz: You have a longer attention span than most Jack
Isquith: lets leave that for another day…
Schwartz: Give me quality over quantity any day. As a longtime Dead and Phish fan, I hear a lot of talk about “the 23 minute version of <insert song name here>”…that’s all well and good, but 23 minutes with a lot of padding isn’t as good as 12 minutes of transcendence. But opinions vary…that’s why there’s chocolate AND rocky road
Isquith: OK, well thank you again Syd from carving out some time for us, and for all you do for artists and music every day
Schwartz: My pleasure Jack…thanks for the chat!
Isquith: You too Syd. Great to have you share.
Schwartz: Be well…