Kobalt Backs Berklee’s Rethink Music Initiative

by | Jan 8, 2015 | Industry News

An Interview with Allen Bargfrede, Executive Director of Rethink Music

If you’re reading this, you’re involved in the “Great Music Industry Debate of the ’10s,” in which we all wax poetic about the vinyl resurgence, argue the merits and downfalls of streaming, scorn Taylor Swift-types, and bitch about audio file quality; just to name a few of the hot topics.

And I’m guilty of it, too.

But, the truth is, none of us know the answer. No one who writes on music business, whether it be licensing, live touring, publishing, labels, royalties or even retail, could possibly know THE answer that will solve the puzzle that is the music industry.

The problem is, we need data and research to debate. We need to have deep discussions with multiple stakeholders about all facets of the music industry in order to find a viable way forward for everyone.

You can’t put together a puzzle without all of the pieces.

That’s where Rethink Music comes in. An offshoot of Berklee College of Music, it’s dedicated to identifying, and then finding ways to solve, the big problems facing the music industry. It might be through Venture Day (recently held in Berlin), through music tech. It might be through conferences focused on business models, or a private workgroup of experts producing a white paper. Or, it might be through the BerkleeICE program (headed by Panos Panay, formerly of Sonicbids), focused on accelerating entrepreneurial endeavors, and research partnerships with MIT, Harvard, and others.

Rethink just entered into a two-year partnership with Kobalt Publishing with a generous grant to support these initiatives. I caught up with Allen Bargfrede, executive director of Rethink Music for Berklee College of Music, to discuss this new deal, and more.

Performer Mag: Congrats! It seems you could’ve dipped into music tech money, or other college sources, so why Kobalt, specifically?

Allen Bargfrede: Thank you, we’re very excited to work with Kobalt in many ways. The financial support is great, of course, but we’re also going to get access to insight that only Kobalt could provide. Kobalt is a technology company first, music second. They created a platform to streamline and track payments, then tried to sell it to the industry. They were very far ahead of the curve, so after no one took them up on it, they started a music publishing company. Now, we will be able to see anonymized backend data, giving us unprecedented insight into different territories, platforms, and payments, making our research that much better, and hopefully, the outcomes will reflect that.

PM: What are the biggest roadblocks you see in the industry today?

AB: The Internet has really broken down barriers for music discovery, promotion, and distribution. But antiquated royalty structures and copyright laws are a still a huge drag. I’d say that understanding how it all works is important.  Mastering metadata is key. That’s how you get tracked and paid. From there, we have to make payments simple and transparent, wherever they come from. Speed and efficiency are becoming a new currency.

PM: What’s your take on the future of streaming?

AB: I’m a firm believer in the streaming model. It’s been around for a decade, and Spotify really only took off three years ago with the Facebook integration. I think a lot of the debate is really a lack of education on the topic. It’s complicated, and even savvy veterans sometimes seem bewildered by it all. Long story short, there’s no reason that music creators shouldn’t be able to understand exactly where the money is coming from, or where the money is going, in a timely manner, and that alone will solve some of the confusion.
PM: It seems Rethink Music events and conferences don’t get as much press attention as the others. What can be done to change that?

AB: Maybe you could cover us! (Laughs) True, other conferences get a whole lot more. After we released the Valencia 2013 paper, we got some traction on that. We’re doing many more workgroups where industry insiders can be honest, and that’s not really something you can live blog. Part of the reason we moved away from that model is that we are interested in solving problems, not just talking about them.

PM: Rethink is a big undertaking now, multiple conferences, the BerkleeICE program, integrating the college curriculum …

AB: (Laughs) Yeah, up until now, it’s basically been a one-man show. Having Panos [Panay] onboard is fantastic, in addition to our great board of advisors. I’m also interested in really pushing the relationship with academia. I mean, what would Silicon Valley be without Stanford? This Kobalt/Berklee partnership is a way to spark that kind of interdependency. Our only interest is creating a bigger pie for everyone.

In mid-January, visit rethink-music.com, where Rethink will be releasing their upcoming events schedule.


-Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.