Most Wanted: Music 2020

Bas Grasmayer about the future of the music industry

With no regular festivals being able to take place this year, the Berlin showcase and conference Most Wanted: Music made the decision to go hybrid. We gathered all the relevant information and also got a chance to talk to MUSIC x GREEN founder Bas Grasmayer, one of the speakers of this years edition, about the current state and the future of the music sector.

text Isabel Roudsarabi
photos Maria Louceiro, Dan Taylor

reading time 12 minutes

Hier gehts zur deutschen Version!

Most Wanted: Music will take place from the 3. to 5. November online, as well as at their regular location at Alte Münze in Berlin.

This years focus will be Togetherness, a theme especially important in crisis times like these. MW:M will present innovations, digital tools, initiatives and, of course, there will be some performances by acts like Juan Atkins, Beatie Wolfe or Lady Starlight. In panels, workshops and interviews, the economic losses of the live music sector, an ever-growing need for a sense of community and alternative, Covid-compliant concepts will be discussed. Further topics at MW:M20 are: social video marketing, the future of music labels or the role of AI in music production, mental health and music education. On Thursday, there will be satellite sessions all around the city, as well as online. And don't miss the showcase event MW:M Live, which is the grand finale of the music conference!
Get your tickets here.

Another part of Most Wanted: Music are the Dial In sessions, panels, that are happening digitally before the actual conference. One of these sessions took place in September already and featured four changemakers in the music industry, one of which being Bas Grasmayer, founder of MUSIC x GREEN and the newsletter MUSIC x CORONA. Currently working as a consultant on music, innovation, and sustainability, he has formerly worked in executive product roles for music streaming services IDAGIO and Zvooq. We talked to Bas about his view on the current crisis and the months and years to come and he gave some advice on how to handle sustainability and digital developments in the future.

Hey Bas, great to meet you! How did you live through the past six months? What did you do? What changed in your routine?
Bas: I was lucky, because I was kind of figuring out what to do next, before the pandemic hit. I decided to start freelancing, and started setting up membership plans around some of the projects that I'm doing. So I think I haven't really been affected as compared to many other people.
But I noticed, especially in the first days, weeks, it was just so much information and I got really overwhelmed. So then what I did was I made a newsletter, a daily digest with the most important links that I could find. That became my routine. I started waking up earlier, grabbing my laptop from near my bed and just write it, even before getting up.

How did you manage to take breaks or did you manage at all? And what did you do when you when you didn't want to think about the pandemic?
One thing I decided to do was with a friend [Carlo Kiksen], who is specialised in artist branding and marketing strategies and things like that. My background is more in the digital and music streaming and building products and communities. We teamed up to make something that we called Artist Lockdown challenge, which was a 30 day challenge for artists or people around artists, sending out daily tasks and helping them to construct a better digital strategy for themselves.
Doing that kind of helped to focus on aiding other people and creating something long term valuable for them and myself. I think the important thing in these times is to reclaim your mind and start thinking long term. So maybe it's not doing just a couple of livestreams, but rather: how do you see yourself as an organization or as a as an artist?

What can you construct around yourself that that will still be relevant when things eventually normalise?

Streaming was, for a lot of organisations and a lot of artists  the first thing to do when it was clear that there wouldn't be any live shows. Can you give a little insight about that, from a product development background?
I was thinking: how do you make streaming something that is more interesting than anything else you could be doing? Like, what's going to stop someone from pausing your stream to scroll through the rest of Instagram? What's going to keep peoples attention? You have to be able to answer that because otherwise, people are just not going to care.
For example, create a sense of community, a way to feel more connected.

And then there’s the question of a business model. How can it scale to actually cover costs? Can you make the stream part of something else rather than trying to sell the stream? Maybe sell membership plans, which make it also possible to think more long term. I'm kind of hoping to see digital memberships arise in nightlife, even venues or festivals.

You also founded MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE, as well as MUSIC x GREEN, which are platforms to bring information together so people can easily access insights from different initiatives and news sources. So what would you say does this word “togetherness”, which is the theme of this years MW:M, mean to you?
With the pandemic, there's a going to be a lot of damage done. In terms of the infrastructure for nightlife, whether it's to travel, which is going to be scaled down, whether tourism will ever really recover, whether locations or festivals will have had to close down, or people left their jobs in the industry. So I think in terms of togetherness, it’s: how do we tackle all current crisis? We're going to have to figure all these things out together.

In my newsletter, I sent a link so that people could book 30 minute meetings with me. I wanted to interview people about what they're getting out of the newsletters. So I spoke to a lot of people, daily, for maybe two months or so. These were people from all kinds of sectors of the music industry, from people making plugins for these audio workstations to people actually working with the most famous artists, to people in startups. It reminded me of how wide and versatile all the skills in music are and who the people are, that we're working and collaborating with.

I think there was a sense of comfort, maybe even just in sharing a confusion about what's going on.

What to do next? Just being there to support each other, I think that’s probably the most valuable thing.

What do you think are the main challenges going forward, in terms of sustainability in the music industry? And what can each and every one, no matter if it their a professional or an artist or a fan do, to tackle these things together?
There's an organization that started in Britain called Music Declares Emergency, and they created a declaration that people can sign onto, which is basically saying that the government needs to get their head out of their asses in regards to the climate crisis. I think that's really important, because if it looks like an entire industry signs on, you can actually kind of make things happen. They've been speaking to a European commissioner who sees a lot of value in working with creative industries to create more momentum around climate action and measures.
On that same Website, there's a really good menu where you can choose what you do in the industry, and it gives you some recommendations in terms of action.

I think, if you start paying attention to sustainability in your own life and lifestyle and then extend that to wider and wider circles wherever you are, we can start doing bigger and bigger things. The big thing about music is that it has a lot of cultural influence.

Can you maybe name some demands that the music industry has to politicians, be it on a local level or a EU level? What does the industry need from politicians and politics to move forward with climate issues?
A good example of one obstacle is, that a lot of clubs would love to invest in more efficiency around water and energy and things like that, but they never know if they're going to be able to stay where they are for more than one or two years. These investments don't pay off. So I think it's important that we show willingness and actually an expression of urgency around wanting to make our own industry more sustainable.

In return, we need more predictability, we need better commitments or protections around the existence of nightlife, concerts and festivals.

For it to be able to get better, we need to be taken more seriously, we need more security and we need investments from the government.

You are also an expert in tech and innovation in the music industry. Maybe you can say one or two things about what's going to be next tech-wise in the in the upcoming  years? 
So I think we're in a really interesting point where streaming has matured, meaning, initially, when streaming services came out, the only people that subscribed to them, were hardcore music fans, so these services were built for those people. But then later on, when these things got more and more established, they started to build for people who might not be that much into music. They were starting to prioritise the visibility or even existence of certain features towards that group, rather than the hardcore music lovers group.

I think it’s kind of leading into a landscape where music lovers are not super well catered by the current digital status quo. And whenever that happens, you see really great and interesting innovation - that's how Spotify happened and that's maybe how lastfm or MySpace happened before that. And that’s why you see music scenes connecting through multimedia now, on Instagram rather than just consuming music. People are experimenting with it: if this part of our culture is virtual now, without a connection to the offline world, what can it be, what can it look like? There, I think, something interesting is happening. Something that is happening outside of music, but is really impactful in the industry. And that something is happening in gaming.

Epic games, for example, who developed Fortnite, has a tool, a 3D engine, with which people can make their own games. Now, what these things enable are sandbox environments in which players can create their own things, a little bit similar to Second Life many years ago.

So the kind of the future we're steering into is a virtual environment in which people can create themselves.  People are building stages and selling tickets for concerts in Minecraft. 

There’s this concept called the Metaverse. It's this idea of creation and business happening inside a completely digital environment. A lot of people are going to be spending a lot of time in these environments and they're going to find new ways of meeting and working in them. That's not even thinking about the interactivity that you can add through virtual reality and augmented reality and always being connected with your smartphone and smart devices.

So people coming from that kind of, let's say, media reality and spending a lot of time in that, they are thinking about what kind of music they are creating. For whom are they creating? And what are the concepts that they're considering? Are you going to think about an offline stage? Or are they going to think about other types of music?

We've seen in the last years that songs have gotten shorter because of Spotify Playlists and Algorithms.

So music as a format really reacts to whatever is the popular cultural and technical media landscape.

And I think that's changing to an ever more virtual aspect.

I can’t predict what it is going to look like, but I think that's a really, really interesting and important trend to look at and how that plays out.

Are you maybe a little bit scared or sceptic of that, as well? Of the whole industry shifting more and more into the digital?
Not scared, but critical definitely. Especially the last 10 years, we've learned that we need to protect ourselves - people burning out from social media, all kinds of challenges to democracy, privacy, large cooperations gathering all this data on everyone, but not having leverage over them as individuals. There are really important problems.

But I also think people are more and more conscious of these things. I think we've gotten way better at using online tools and media. 

If I look at gamers for example, they're able to immerse themselves in an environment where they're doing all kinds of things for hours and hours and hours. They do not look at social media, they focus on something else.

Also, it used to be that if you wanted to hear music a hundred years ago, someone around your needed to know how to play it and then came the recording, which didn’t take the live performance away. Actually, I think up until very recently [before the pandemic], there were way more live performance than ever before.

So now we're in this stage of the numbers rising again rapidly for the past one or two weeks. I know it's hard to predict so I'm not going to ask you that, but maybe you can tell us about your wishes for the next few months. For yourself, as well as for the entire industry.
I'm just focused on creating my own stuff. It’s a really good time to create and be creative and think through projects, if you have the luxury to do that. I mean, it's sad, because there were a lot of venues and festivals that were taking really good measures to make things safe. So it's especially sad for them. There is definitely support and understanding needed from the government, as I mentioned earlier.

And I hope that people, who are not doing things properly, not abiding by the regulations, as a protest against the system or whatever, that they'll actually consider what solidarity means and they actually take care of security and safety measures. 
And I hope to see interesting innovations and also forward thinking from organisations that have an important role in communities, such as event organisers and people who want to showcase interesting and great music. What can I do and how can I make that happen long term? Because it might be another year of this. But yeah, I hope to see innovations and I'm always happy to help.


Most Wanted: Music

3. - 5. November – Berlin