MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The music industry has been reeling over the past decade or so. The Internet changed just about everything, and traditional business models collapsed. We're going to hear now about a conference this week that tried to address that issue. It was held at Boston's Berklee College of Music. The conference included the usual panels and a musical experiment.

As Andrea Shea of member station WBUR tells us, that experiment was intended to show how the process of music creation has changed.

(Soundbite of music)

ANDREA SHEA: Four artists holed up in a Boston studio crammed with instruments.

(Soundbite of music)

SHEA: They're already successful. They tweet, they blog, they create viral videos and release music online, largely independent of the music industry system as it once was.

Ms. AMANDA PALMER (Performance Artist): Getting signed meant reaching people. Getting signed meant that people would hear your music. That doesn't mean anything anymore.

SHEA: Boston songstress and performance artist Amanda Palmer orchestrated this flash collaboration with Damian Kulash of the band OK Go, Ben Folds, and Palmer's husband, sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman. Their objective? Write, record and release eight songs in eight hours with the help of their fans.

Gaiman says they invited people to tweet song titles to inspire the writing process and to watch the entire experiment streaming on the internet in real time.

Unidentified Group: Five, four, three, two, one.

Mr. GAIMAN: What's interesting here is the incredible speed with which we can get what we do today to our fans, to just people who see a reference to it on the internet and want to find out what it is. That completely changes everything.

SHEA: That's the point of this exercise and why it fit into the Rethink Music Conference.

(Soundbite of singing)

SHEA: Damian Kulash and his band OK Go split with their major label last year.

Mr. DAMIAN KULASH (Musician): As the music industry has collapsed, there's been this preponderance of conferences and lectures because since nobody knows how to make money in music anymore, the only way to make money is to talk about how you're going to make money.

Mr. DEL BRYANT (CEO, BMI Publishing): I see a bright future.

SHEA: Del Bryant is the CEO of BMI publishing. The company's been representing songwriters since 1939, but he says things have changed dramatically in the digital age.

Mr. BRYANT: We, 10 years ago, weren't licensing hardly any digital. Today, it's the fastest growing sector of our income. We will cross $30 million in this year.

SHEA: That's one bright spot in an industry that's seen CD sales drop 50 percent at the same time. Tom Silverman founded Tommy Boy Records in 1981 and worked with everyone from Queen Latifah and De La Soul. He says old paradigms like shipping out millions of physical CDs are history.

Mr. TOM SILVERMAN (Founder, Tommy Boy Records): Those models were based on control, and control was based on limiting supply. And you really can't limit supply in the digital world.

SHEA: Since labels can't make money by controlling unit sales anymore, they need to start caring about customers, something Silverman says they haven't done in the past. And he says musicians do need labels.

Mr. SILVERMAN: You may not call it a label, but whatever your team is, who's going to do marketing, who's going to do billing, who's going to monetize the assets and the brand?

Mr. NEIL JACOBSON (Senior Vice President of A&R and Management, Interscope Geffen A&M): If you want to be a great brand, ideally you're relevant to the masses.

SHEA: Neil Jacobson is senior vice president of A&R and management at Lady Gaga's label, Interscope-Geffen-A&M.

Mr. JACOBSON: Getting to the masses now is harder than it's ever been. There's just so many different places that you have to get. Eyeballs are all over the place, and being able to coordinate those I think is something that a label can provide.

SHEA: While industry reps at the conference tried to take the old model into the new world order, there were a lot of young music students in the crowd for whom there is no model.

Ms. EMILY ELBERT (Student): What's next? You know, there's a lot of questions to be raised.

SHEA: Emily Elbert is a senior at Berklee College of Music majoring in performance.

Ms. ELBERT: You know they have those choose-your-adventure books when you're a kid, and that's kind of what this is now. It's like you can create your career however you want.

SHEA: Like musician Amanda Palmer. She divorced her longtime record label a year ago.

Ms. PALMER: As an artist, you kind of are now obligated to empower yourself. It was clearly easier when you could just get in a limo and be told where to go and what to do but that's now over.

SHEA: And that's fine with Amanda Palmer. For the record, her experiment ended up with six songs in about 12 hours. And the musicians admit it's not their best work.

As for getting that to their fans, Damian Kulash joked maybe artists could start releasing their music at all the conferences about the future of the music industry.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea.

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