Music, Technology, and Jam Bands | with Hidden Track Editor and YEMblog Founder Scott Bernstein

Scott Bernstein is Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Hidden Track, an award-winning music blog that offers live music fans an off-beat look at a wide range of genres. Hidden Track has been featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Stereogum, Consequence of Sound and The Daily Swarm, as well as hundreds of other sites. Scott also writes for Relix Magazine, Pimpwiz, YEMblog and Scottybiz.

By Chris Borchert

Let’s jump right in. On the one hand, new media makes it easier for bands to get their music out there. On the other hand, that ease of distribution results in a heavily saturated market. How do you think this balance is going to affect the music industry in the long run?

What you’ve mentioned is playing out by a number of acts being able to gain music fans’ attention, but they are having a hard time keeping those fans’ attention. Your music has to be really memorable to maintain buzz.

It’s the needle in a haystack syndrome. It’s easy to record music via Garage Band and ProTools, so the volume of music coming out is insane. I get hundreds of emails a day from publicists trying to get my attention. A song has to really grab me to make me pay attention. And then once an act does get my (anyone’s) attention, there’s a hundred new emails the next day. You’re seeing that play out with a number of buzz bands who get forgotten about in weeks. The cream will rise to the top though, so if your music is good enough you still have a chance to “make it.”

As Spotify continues to gain users, you’ll see the importance of having your music featured by that site. I think in a few years having your album cover on the front page of Spotify will be more valuable than nearly any other form of advertisement/music discovery.

That leads me to my next question – what advice would you give to up and coming bands?

Put on a great live show and make each performance interesting. Gain an audience by becoming a great live act and then those fans will buy your studio efforts. You don’t need to be a jam band to change your setlist every night. And don’t undervalue  Spotify. Ask your fans to add your music to their shared playlists. I’ve discovered plenty of acts that way in 2011.

One more thing. Interact with your fans on Twitter and Facebook. No band should be letting a manager / publicist run their social media efforts until they start selling out venues. We want to hear from the musicians and know they care what their fans think.

You talked a little bit about live performances. How do you see digital and social media impacting the live music experience?

Word spreads about a great performance with a quickness thanks to digital and social media. Many bands, such as Umphrey’s McGee, embrace the emerging technologies and use them to spread the word in a way bands like the Dead and Phish could’ve only dreamed of. Webcasts are the new radio broadcasts of the ’70s and ’80s. If you’re going to play different shows each night, bands will find themselves with a new income stream by offering pay-per-view webcasts. As the technology for streaming continues to improve, it becomes more cost effective for bands to stream their shows. Take Moonalice, they stream nearly every show and offer their fans recordings of those shows with a quickness that is unprecedented.

One of my favorite examples of new media’s impact on live music is the Phish mobile app, where fans can stream a show in soundboard quality 45 mins after the show ends.

And they were selling it for $.99!

Can you talk a little bit about how Umphrey’s is using social media? I know they do a lot of really cool things.

Well through UM staffer Kevin Browning they are keeping their collective eyes on emerging technologies and are always ahead of the curve when it comes to using those new technologies. Take the case of Turntable.FM. Browning started a room during the first few months of the site’s existence and dropped unreleased tracks during his DJ sessions. He also played impressive versions of songs from recent concerts which I’d think helped sales of recordings from those shows. But most interesting to me is their UM Bowl concert each year, in which fans help direct the flow of the concert by sending texts. The show has four sets, or quarters as they call them, and in each one the fans have a part in determining how the show will go. Umphrey’s has taken the interactivity of social media and made it a part of some performances.

I’d like to shift direction a little bit and talk about your work as a music journalist. How has new media changed the way you cover music?

Absolutely. When I started there was no such thing as Twitter and Facebook and now I get 75% of my story ideas from tweets and status updates. It’s hard to think of a time before Twitter and Facebook because they’ve become so much a part of what I do. It also allows me to interact with my readers to find out what articles they like, what bands they want to hear about and more.

Speaking of Twitter, Phish used the social media platform to announce rereleases for all four nights of their sold-out MSG run. How do you see new media impacting ticket exchange – and do you think technology like this will help or hinder scalpers?

There’s a group of Phish fans who interact with each other on Twitter and have formed a group called the “Phish Twibe.” We all keep tabs on each other and there’s a nice community that’s developed. We each try to help each other score tickets, so in that respect I think it’s helped with ticket exchange. In terms of whether I think the tweet Phish sent out at 5:54 for a 6PM re-release will help or hinder scalpers, I think it will hinder. I feel Phish fans can spread the word in six minutes faster than scalpers can.

I‘d have to agree with you there.

I saw so many “twibe” members and Phish fans on Facebook who scored tickets through the re-release. I thought what Phish did there was brilliant.

Kickshuffle is an online publication dedicated to covering the impact of technology on music and music business. Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.

One response to “Music, Technology, and Jam Bands | with Hidden Track Editor and YEMblog Founder Scott Bernstein

  1. Pingback: [Kickshuffle Exclusive] Embrace the Face! A Conversation with Co-Founder Brando Rich | kickshuffle·

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