Beyond the Soundbytes Conference Scheduled for November 15

On Friday, November 3, The Register published an interview with Peter Jenner, formerly manager of Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett, T. Rex, The Clash, Ian Drury, and Disposable Heroes, as well as Billy Bragg's current manager. The interview was a challenging (and profane) music insider's rant on a variety of subjects ranging from how the dollar download model killed the record store to proposals for a blanket, DRM-free digital music license that would permit consumers to use the music they purchase however they wish.

It's a good read and I encourage you to click on the link and peruse it.

Good as Jenner's rant is, however, I was more fascinated by a link hidden in plain sight in the article's introduction that pointed to MusicTank's Beyond the Soundbytes Conference to be held in London on November 15, 2006.

MusicTank bills itself as "a business development initiative of the University of Westminster's Business Development Unit and Commercial Music Department." It was developed as a collaboration between the university and a consortium of 14 music industry bodies that includes AIM, BPI, British Music Rights, Music Managers Forum, Music Publishers Association, Music Producers Guild, Musicians Union, and the National Music Council, with support from the London Development Agency.

The conference expands upon Beyond the Soundbytes, a report by Peter Jenner, which paints a grim picture of the current record industry: "The Internation Federation of the Phonographic Industry's (IFPI) recently reported 4% global decline in music sales for the first six months of 2006 is compounded by a massive 22.4% drop in US album sales in Hip Hop (Soundscan), the US market's second largest and traditionally 'growth' genre, across the same period. This looming crisis will be further exacerbated by the fire sale of some 90 US Tower Record Stores, set to flood existing retailers with cheap CDs during the industry's busiest period, and leave a string of unsecured creditors in its wake.

"Meanwhile governmental and transnational reviews abound, scrutinizing the role of DRM, the European levy system and digital content delivery industry, and the future infrastructure of intellectual property itself."

So how does the record industry "evade oblivion," to use MusicTank's phrase? "The constant and unrelenting state of change affects all parts of the global record industry, and MusicTank's forthcoming no-holds-barred debate will gather those from the highest levels of the business and beyond for a one-off attempt, unprecedented in its honesty, to brainstorm the nature and structure of the record industry of the future.

"This conference has been developed to facilitate debates arising in response to the recently published MusicTank Report Beyond the SoundBytes by Peter Jenner and the suggestions made therein (free PDF of the executive summary available here.) It will deal in broad terms with viable future business models to help the recorded music business better embrace digital and new media advancements. It is intended to encourage and stimulate discussion within the industry on potential reforms needed to facilitate these models."

Hallelujah! I certainly don't have the answer to the record industry's current bushel basket full of woes, but I know for certain that it doesn't have a clue either. Perhaps MusicTank's seminar won't produce the answer either, but getting the conversation started certainly seems like a good place to begin—and some of the ideas Jenner raises in Beyond the Soundbytes are provocatively compelling (although some will certainly cause strokes in the Big Four record labels' boardrooms).