Slowly but surely, New York has established itself as a hub for technology companies and tech-based startups. According to a recent article in the New York Post, “[i]n the past decade, New York has been adding hundreds of thousands of jobs that are the direct or indirect result of the technology sector.” Given that the Big Apple has always been a center for music and the arts, it should come as no surprise that some of these new tech jobs are in music-related startups.
The music tech scene has seen robust growth in recent years. In the wake of the near collapse of the label system due to the widespread use of digital technology, innovative companies have stepped in to try to fill in the gaps – albeit some more successfully (and perhaps more legally) than others. What has emerged is a robust and collaborative group of innovators who are extremely enthusiastic about the future of the music industry, especially in the tech space. As Scal Scamardo of the Harry Fox Agency put it at a recent event for the meetup group MusicTechsters, “80% of the people I talk to in the music industry are pretty scared about the future. The other 20% are excited as hell. The 20% are the tech people, and they’re right.”
To get a little more insight into NYC’s music tech community, I spoke to Seth Hillinger, founder and organizer of MusicTechsters. According to Seth, the music tech scene has seen explosive growth since he founded MusicTechsters in 2008, and especially in the last few years as the music tech scene has come of age. Events have gone from sparsely attended to standing room only, and have attracted more serious companies, like the Harry Fox Agency.
I recently attended a lively MusicTechsters event at NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts, where StreamingTank, HFA, Loudie, MusicFirst, and Lyte demonstrated their new apps. The companies that presented all are at the top of the music tech game: StreamTank is at the forefront of live streaming; HFA has overhauled its digital rights management and rolled out a new platform; Loudie is a promotional tool that features concert footage, event information, and free giveaways; Music First is launching a sophisticated tool that may revolutionize teaching music in schools; and Lyte is a novel ticket reseller. If these companies are any indication of the state of the music tech space in New York in general, the sector is very strong indeed.
Nevertheless, according to Seth, the music tech space still faces challenges and uncertainty. In order to successfully capitalize on all of the developments the community has made, Seth would like to see the companies working in this space learn from each other and work together as a community, creating synergy through mutually enforcing opportunities.
This raises the question of how the music tech sector will answer this challenge, since it is no secret that music companies have struggled to create revenue in recent years. But Seth explained that music tech companies “need to get creative with how they are going to make money. They can’t think about it from a ‘we are going to sell music’ standpoint. The successful companies will create business models that sell other things like tickets, travel, data analytics, hardware, etc. It’s also super important that these companies think about scaling and global integration.”
All told, people like Seth and others in the music tech community — such as myself — are optimistic about both the future of music and also the future of music tech as a viable local industry. While New York’s music tech scene has seen some significant success stories, such as Rdio, TuneSat, and others, Seth thinks that the community is still in the early stages of development, noting that “in 3-4 years we should start seeing a lot of companies become profitable, less companies failing.” It is clearly an exciting time to be involved in New York’s growing music tech sector.