That Sony Meeting

Sony BMG

Well because of the intervention of Homegame this post has been somewhat delayed, so apologies for that, so here we go.

Firstly a brief description of the circumstances.  A little while ago, London-based Winston’s Zen was the victim of another of those DMCA take-down hits.  Due to connections he was able to actually get through to the label at the source, Columbia Records, part of Sony BMG, and they invited him in to talk to them and suggested he bring along a couple of other bloggers and make something of a meeting out of it.  So last Thursday myself, Winston himself, Jamila from Fucking Dance and Tim from The Blue Walrus went along, the Sony people booked a table in a pub and we talked about stuff and drank ourselves into a stupour.

And what did we achieve?  Well honestly, I’d say not an awful lot, really.  We chatted, but I am not sure either side had much of a concrete idea of what we wanted to get out of the meeting, so it was little more than a start, I’d say.  Some thoughts, though:

1. Most of Sony BMG sees blogs as one homogenous bunch of pirates and copyright bandits, apparently.  The people we spoke to were about twenty-five, and had to arrange this meeting informally, to make sure we could actually talk to one another, rather than have it throttled by a high-level strategic strait-jacket.  Some of them, largely the young ‘uns, want to start treating music blogs as being as legitimate as the traditional press, and see them as the future of music journalism.

2. It is very hard to talk about how best to deal with marketing to blogs for a label that size.  Even I found myself lapsing back into old-school ways of thinking, talking about how many specific song listens an individual blog might be able to generate.  Blogs, I had to force myself to remember, are powerful not because the biggest ones are now bigger than the glossy music magazines in terms of readership, but because once something spreads amongst enough blogs it has the capacity to ignite and reach exponentially larger numbers of people.  You just have to have the material and the nous to get that to happen.

3. In future they are pulling back from simply setting the IFPI hounds of hell loose, brandishing swords crafted from DMCA steel, and they are going to get a list of infringements and examine it themselves.  This has changed since the Glasvegas business, and is a very very good thing as far as I am concerned.

4. If blogs are treated as ‘proper music press’ then that pretty much involves being pulled into the same machine as everything else.  We would become part of industry, part of the same juggernaut which a lot of us are fighting, and suckling from the same bloated expense accounts which make these massive labels as unwieldy as they are.  We become, in essence, part of the problem.  I don’t want to be sulky or snobby about all this, and I genuinely do want to engage with them, but it still makes me a little twitchy.

5. The Sony BMG HQ in London is a nightmare building.  It’s like a massive, overwhelming set piece from Nathan Barley, with ostentatiously stylish interior design, people carrying beer everywhere they go, and young fashionistas and blokes with Haircuts absolutely everywhere.  It was most uncomfortable, and I am very glad we ended up in a pub instead.

6. The people we spoke to were really nice, and I think it’s really important that the online community engage with them, prove them right, and show the powers that be at Sony that bloggers are legit, and that most of us want to be a positive influence not a negative one.  It will take ages though.  As with any company that size, change will take years, unless there’s a catastrophic crash in the company’s fortunes which forces their hand.  Meetings, departments, chains of command, all these things will slow the changes to a degree single-person sites can only begin to imagine.  I work with massive corporations in Proper Job.  They can’t innovate, really, because their internal mechanisms make it almost impossible.  The people involved aren’t bad or stupid, but the baggage required for a company that size to be able to function makes it pretty much impossible for them to act on anything quickly, or with focus.

7. Are our respective audiences even the same?  Well at the moment, not really.  But as blogs become more legit and more mainstream I think that will change.  So for right now there may be something of a mismatch, but in general I think that is likely to go away over time.

So, ultimately, was it worth it?  Yes, I think so.  It was interesting, certainly, and if it’s the start of blogs no longer being treated as the enemy, that would be nice.  Both sides have to be very wary of lazy thinking though, and not assume that it will be straightforward simply because we are all such nice folks and had a nice night out.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops though.

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