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The future of music, the future for musicians

Online music entrepreneur Brian Zisk in Whistler

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Entrepreneur Brian Zisk's career has been at the heart of the massive changes to the music industry in the last 20 years, but he says his career is simply about "getting people together."

Zisk began Green Witch Internet Radio in the late 1990s, which was eventually sold to CMGI.

"We were around the same time as Napster and that was, 'Free music! No ads!' The big difference was we were licenced... it was at the time that the record industry was imploding and they were looking for people to blame," he recalls.

"The industry was shouting 'thieves!' but if you can't tell the difference between thieves and best customers, it's not going to work out well for anybody. It gave me a level of authority... people were building this mechanism and it was really inevitable. Music is digital over the Internet, so I was interested in finding ways forward."

He is the co-founder of the Future of Music Coalition, a U.S. non-profit that aims to support music culture.

"We are an artist advocacy organization and we're continually looking for ways for artists to work productively... while there are a lot of difficulties and issues, especially for musicians who are young and up-and-coming, there are ways to move forward," he says.

"Every time something new happens it is really important to get people together in order to work productively."

This means holding policy summits on the future of music in Washington, D.C., and lobbying people like the head of the U.S. copyright office, and "lots of senators and congresspeople."

Zisk is also the executive producer the San Francisco Music Summit, an annual conference that brings "visionaries in the evolving music, business, technology ecosystem, together with the best and brightest developers, entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, journalists, musicians, and organizations who work with them."

Zisk speaks at the Grow Conference on Thursday, Aug. 21, on the topic of another of one of his business interests: shopping experiences, money and technology.

The Grow Conference, on the future of innovation and entrepreneurship, takes place at the Whistler Conference Centre until Aug. 22.

Zisk shared some insight into his experience in the shifting sands of the music industry and how digital innovations, especially emanating from San Francisco and the technology regions around it, have impacted our world.

"One of the real powers of successful musicians is that they have a good way of connecting with as many people as possible on a one-to-one basis, all at the same time," he says.

"Whether you're an entrepreneur or an artist, it's about how many people you can make feel you have a personal relationship with. That's the beauty of some of the new online systems."

He cites online music store and microsite platform Bandcamp, and its ability to support musicians and allow people to actually pay more than the suggested retail price for music.

"If there's a $9 suggested purchase price, and you pay $10 then you feel like you have a relationship with the artist. It's a personal thing. That, to me, is the future. How can the artist connect with their fans in a different way?" Zisk says.

"It used to be very different. I don't think people used to feel they had direct connections with Led Zeppelin and they were out there selling 70 million albums. I don't think anyone will ever sell 70 million records by any individual ever again. But I do believe that there will be artists who have just as big fanbases, who have as many people out for events, who will lead revolutions and political parties. It's just a different business model at this point.

"Music has more value these days than it ever did."

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