SAN FRANCISCO -- Dreadlocks and grunge mixed with business suits and iPads at the SF MusicTech Summit on Tuesday, as musicians, developers and entrepreneurs met for the common goal of creating and sharing music through digital innovation.
The SF MusicTech Summit, a twice-a-year gathering of music and tech leaders, showcased some of the latest social apps, video platforms and mapping technology for fans to discover new music and artists to promote their work in an increasingly digitized music world. Without revenue from record sales, which in the past had sustained musicians, artists today must excel as much -- or more -- at tweeting and sharing concert videos on YouTube as they do picking a guitar or carrying a tune, music and business leaders said.
Although the digitization of music has sent album sales plummeting, it also has resulted in more live concerts. As CDs give way to free music on streaming sites such as Pandora or Grooveshark, live shows have become one of the last spaces where artists can make money.
Some "bands aren't making any money, except for live shows," said Sara Mertz, who runs Emeryville-based DeliRadio, a platform for bands and music venues to make Internet radio stations. "Fans will pay for a CD at a show. They want to bring home a souvenir. That is where the commerce happens."
Bay Area startups such as DeliRadio have jumped into the live-concert space, turning out web and mobile applications that aim to help fans more easily find and attend concerts. There's a whole crop of technology applications emerging that offer concertgoers restaurant suggestions near the venue, early-release tickets, a chance to win merchandise or meet the artist at a show.
Other new applications let concertgoers check in on their smartphone at a show and share a snippet of the live performance, giving bands and venues access to a trove of data. And companies including DeliRadio are mapping concert ticket purchases on the web to help guide venues on which bands to book and for how many nights.
The popularity of music festivals, such as San Francisco's Outside Lands or the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival this month, directly parallels the rise of the Internet, said Kevin Arnold of San Francisco-based Noise Pop Industries, a speaker at Tuesday's event.
"The reason is the Internet democratized access to these smaller bands," he said.
Festivals have also become more tech-centric, particularly with their tie-in to hackathons, where developers create apps to use at the festival. Outside Lands hosted its first-ever hackathon in August just days before the festival.
But Arnold said it isn't all about the apps; many fans use "music sherpas" -- a friend or fellow concertgoer -- to guide them from stage to stage to find their favorite bands.
"The fan-to-fan, human connection is still what matters," Arnold said.
The Bay Area has been a leader in the tech and music space, home to digital music pioneers such as Apple (AAPL) and Pandora, which last weekend hosted a hackathon in Oakland in partnership with the SF MusicTech Summit. The marriage of music and tech has grown stronger in recent years, and many musicians are innovating their own digital channels.
Michael Coletta in April launched Fantrotter, a travel website where music fans can buy concert tickets and book their flight and hotel at the same time. Coletta got the idea for the site about a year ago while planning a trip to Philadelphia to see Pearl Jam.
Coletta said jam band, electronic music and classic rock fans are already traveling the country and world to listen to their favorite bands and DJs. His said his site, based in New York, helps make the logistics of getting there easier and cheaper. Fantrotter aggregates tickets from SeatGeek.com and flights from Hotwire.com.
"It's about people essentially having the greatest moments of their life -- traveling, being with friends, listening to great music," Coletta said. "And that's what I'm trying to get to the heart of."
But there are plenty of frustrations between the music and tech industries, as copyright holders limit access to the music," said Brian Zisk, a music business strategist who produces the SF MusicTech Summit.
"They won't even pay attention to someone with a new technology unless they come with a check book -- an unlimited checkbook," Zisk said.