NARM 2013: California Streaming

NARM LogoOnce the Top Convergence of all Music Conferences, How is NARM Maintaining Relevance in the Changing Music Business Landscape?

Moses Avalon

In the ever-expanding market of music business conferences, it is becoming tougher to stand out and be relevant. This is Jim Donio’s challenge and in his 25 years of running NARM it has never been more difficult. Sandwiched between other California meet-n-greets (all in the late Spring) like, MuseExpo and SF MusicTech, NARM looks to straddle the fence between old guard and new school music biz professionals.  And, as Jim has learned,  to serve both Gods it takes a bit more than coming up with a hipper name for your show, like, MusicBiz2013 (really?). And it’s not any easier when despite the fact that even though attendance was the same this year as last, there was one noticeably absent major participant– Target.

However, with the expansion of Music Business Academy (a conference within a conference) and incorporating of some cutting-edge discussion panels, I believe Jim is breaking new ground that other trade-shows are ignoring .

NARM is no longer just for gray-haired insiders. Their “Academy” of entry-level courses takes place on day one and day two and is filled with information essential for anyone emerging in the music business be they artist, manager, publisher, or new label.

As for the grown-up panels, this year, NARM tried to tackle some esoteric issues the mainstream music business has been glossing over; metadata, and “access models'” (streaming in other words) effect on consumer behavior.

Streaming involves fractions of pennies multiplied hundreds of millions of times for each “play event.” Not coincidentally, this year the RIAA also chose to make an important announcement along these lines, in the past, artists had not received much recognition in the form of Gold Record awards from the RIAA for streams, only physical sales and downloads. But all of that is changing as the three talking-points tackled at this year’s NARM were:

1)     Metadata. What is it? Why do we need it?

2)     Automobile music apps.

3)     The RIAA’s announcement that they are now including streams into their data for consideration for gold and platinum recording status.



For the consumer, Metadata is the information encoded in the digital download itself; namely the artist, song title and the label. But for those working the business side of the bit stream this is just the skim. Insiders need info on publishers, writers, producers, and anyone else that participates in the revenue from the little $.99 download or the $0.005 cent stream.  Sometimes you get this data in the standard download or stream— but sometimes you do not.

Dealing with this data in the decade of downloads was difficult enough. There we saw sales in the tens of millions a year. But in the age of streaming we see a “sale” and the accompanying metadata in the tens of millions every day. Each time there’s a stream that fraction of a penny must be divided up into many slices. Often it is the metadata alone that helps each entity audit the revenue streams.

So, yeah, the sheer scale of this phenomenon in relation to its importance

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

mandates that it be gotten right.

But, it occurred to me as I was observing the metadata numerous panels at NARM that we are only at the very beginning of what is bound to be an intense debate about standardization, aggregation, etc.

The biggest problem with metadata, is that there is not one, unified database that determines exactly what metadata should be married with each track.

Rather we have big data-farms each claiming to have the best catalog of metadata, each refusing to play nice with competitors, and each with different licensing deals with the various digital stores, internet radio providers and “access models,” like Spotify.

Then there is the problem of deliberate obfuscation of correct accreditation, even if you can standardize the system.  Imagine back in the 1980-90s being a third-party entity trying to collect accurate accreditation with acts like Milli Vanilli or C&C Music Factory.  In those days labels often tried to sell a brand over an individual and in many cases were caught looking like corporate lame-os when it was revealed that the people in the video had little to do with the recording.

Is there hope of some grand unified database as something truly achievable or is NARM dreaming about streaming? Only time will tell.  While nothing at this year’s NARM specifically suggested that this will change anytime soon, the fact that we are talking about it is a large step in the right direction and one in which the music space has NARM to thank for creating the summit.



Since Detroit began putting radios in cars the music business has been tangentially fused to the automobile industry. One could easily argue that the sales of cars at one time were directly corollary to the sales of records. Today that metric is somewhat skewed. However, certain a

pp developers working with major automobile manufacturers are looking to resurrect that metric.

At the town hall meeting Mitch Bainwol former head of the RIAA and now a lobbyist for the automobile industry moderated a panel of developers who talked largely about happy integration into automobiles and the streaming of music thereto.

It was all very exciting and Jetsons-like; being able to have instant access your favorite tunes while driving, but there’s that word again: “access.” And unfortunately the vast majority of the people at NARM make their money from direct sales models and not access models. While this will likely change in the near future I think I was one of the few people in the room  conscious of the fact that when we’re talking about access models we are talking about far less money for artists, publishers, songwriters and, in fact everyone, except the label. (more on that here.)


But the big item this year by far was the RIAA acknowledging streams when factoring in gold and platinum award status. This is a point that deserves much more examination which I will do in my next installment of Moses Supposes. (If you are not already on my mailing list I recommend you sign up in the right-hand column. It’s free and you’ll receive the information ahead of publication.)


According to Jim and his protégé, Bill Wilson NARM is trying out reach into

areas of the emerging music business and technology. My prediction is, next year look for more panels in the  “Academy” portion catering to newbie’s—  investing in the seed corn of tomorrow’s music space is never a bad idea.

NARM continues to rank relatively high (8 out of 10) on my Ranking of 19 Top Music Biz Conferences, for quality contacts, and overall access.  See my entire list here.

Mo out

4 responses to “NARM 2013: California Streaming”

  1. Neel says:

    “The biggest problem with metadata, is that there is not one, unified database that determines exactly what metadata should be married with each track.”

    As for what should be married into each track the powers that be shouldn’t need much time to think about this one. What info would you include on an album jacket?

    I like the mention about artist such as Milli Vanilli where you could get incorrect credits… but that goes back to the Beach Boys and all the other acts the Wrecking Crew recorded for (Jefferson Airplane etc).

    This discussion (Metadata) makes me shake my head because you would think this one would be figured out by now. I guess since I also work in the techie software coding world I just have to wonder if anyone involved in issue ever read album credits or much less played on one where they would figure that the same information that is passed along in print should be in the digital file.

  2. Rand Bliss says:

    “… a lobbyist for the automobile industry moderated a panel of developers who talked largely about happy integration into automobiles and the streaming of music thereto.”

    Oh, so you mean a radio, right?

    Or does this mean our once beloved now beleaguered car radio is becoming obsolete as well? WTF! Call me old-fashioned but people’s priorities now are just getting too cr-apped out.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Good question. No, I believe they’re talking about apps that coexist with traditional radio. Despite the lambasting of some bloggers and people who are so tech biased they can’t see past their iPad, the Terrestrial radio in cars not going anywhere soon.

  3. Ya know, This metadata thing kind or reminds me of when ‘midi’ first was invented, before the advent of ‘general midi’ .. Give it some time 🙂 There will probably be some sort of neutral ‘3rd party’ consortium or something to standardize it all 🙂 It’s a ‘wait and see’ thing in my honest opinion and 2 cents..

    -Stan H.

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