Thomas Dolby Robertson (Photo By Gary Miller)
Making Noise on the Net Panel
Austin Convention Center
"Almost nobody is currently making money on the Net!" Coming from Thomas Dolby Robertson during his hourish talk, this statement sums up the confusing, yet rife-with-potential, nature of music on the Internet. As a performing artist and founder of Silicon Valley music software company Beatnik, Robertson gave the nearly full conference hall a concise and informative presentation on his view of the nexus of music and the Internet. After describing the unprecedented fear that many behemoth record companies have about the Internet, Robertson offered quite a contrast with his own intense excitement about its possibilities as a promotional tool. "My role in all of this," he explained, "as both a musician and a technologist, and entrepreneur if you like, is to straddle these worlds and throw some historical perspective on it." Robertson went on to explain that, historically, music was performed live, with direct audience feedback. With the advent of modern-age recording technologies, most music fell into the record/broadcast/retail cycle: easier to reach more people, albeit in an impersonal, corporate way. Robertson believes that emergent technologies will provide the best of both worlds by creating a more direct link between musician and fan, a potential that is, in his opinion, "incredibly empowering to an artist." As examples, Robertson cited the two Davids. The first, David Elias, is a singer-songwriter who couldn't get a record contract to save his life. Using the Internet, however, Elias has been able to promote his music literally all over the world without a middleman taking an exorbitant cut. "I should think that if you asked Elias if he'd like a record contract now," added Robertson, "he'd say, 'What's the point?' " His other example was David Bowie, whose embrace of Web technology is well-known, the glam spider-man often visiting his own chat rooms under a pseudonym and making special Web-only releases. These examples illustrated the fact that new technologies are merely informational vehicles helping famous and independent artists alike. He then drew the parallel to his breakthrough hit "She Blinded Me With Science," which didn't receive airplay until it was on the new-at-the-time MTV. Robertson ended the panel by saying that he used to be envious of those who experienced firsthand the social changes of the Sixties. Currently, however, Robertson says "our generation will have nothing to be ashamed about, because we are at this incredible intersection of entertainment and technology. One that will actually set the scene for the whole next century -- if not the millennium."