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Upstream Music Fest and Summit
(Upstream Music Fest and Summit Illustration)

The Upstream Music Fest and Summit has announced the three keynote speakers and four themes that will anchor the conference portion of the Paul Allen-founded event when it kicks off in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood in May.

Producer and composer Quincy Jones, hip-hop star Macklemore, and Portia Sabin, president of the independent record label Kill Rock Stars, will be the featured speakers for the Summit, organizers told GeekWire this week.

The aim of the event, as directed by Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, is to shine a light on emerging artists in the Pacific Northwest while also offering insight and seeking solutions for how to succeed in the changing music economy.

Jeff Vetting
Jeff Vetting, Upstream executive director. (Upstream Photo)

“One of the ways that we’ve really thought that we could do this is having our keynoters be people from the region, people from the Pacific Northwest who have made it in the music industry and done these amazing things and have them come back and have these optimistic discussions about how the music industry continues to move forward,” said Jeff Vetting, executive director of Upstream.

Vetting said that his team looked hard at what it would take to differentiate Seattle’s event from other festivals and summits that they already appreciate — namely South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“We really admire SXSW and think they’ve done an amazing job of bringing people to Austin to celebrate their music scene,” Vetting said of the 30-year-old festival. “But we felt that in the music industry, all the conferences that we go to are really state-of-the-union-type conferences and talk about what has happened over the past year. We’d like to be really future-forward as a conference and talk about what is going to happen, and new technologies, and not be as negative.”

Vetting said that if there is a discussion about streaming or about licensing, organizers expect Upstream to look toward the future and say, ‘Here are some ways now that you can use these platforms better and here’s what’s coming up next.'”

While SXSW did a great job of attracting fans and industry types to the Austin music scene, Vetting says they’ve since pivoted into film and technology and a bunch of other avenues not necessarily tied to music. He wants Upstream to have a singular identity.

“We’re kind of more laser-focused on the music industry at this point in time and promoting the future of musicians,” Vetting said. “When we talk about the future of musicians we want to have musicians actually attend our conference.”

Upstream Music Fest
A rendering of the north lot of CenturyLink Field during the Upstream Music Fest and Summit. (Upstream Photo)

The goal is for Jones and Macklemore and Sabin to deliver punchy keynotes — modeled after TED Talks — which ultimately lead to further discussion by participants around the Summit, which takes place during the first two days of Upstream.

“We want people to be excited by the keynotes,” Vetting said. “If Quincy Jones is speaking, I’m going to hear [about how] he’s been a hitmaker at every level, regardless of format, from LPs to 8-tracks to cassettes to compact discs and now into streaming, so I think that that adds some brevity to what’s happening in the music industry regardless of format. Those keynotes are there to essentially spark the discussion and then we’ll have breakouts that’ll dive more into these topics and actually give people some tools that they can use hopefully, coming away from the Summit, to affect change in the music industry.”

The four themes that Upstream’s conference will focus on include:

Many Rivers to Cross: How The Music Industry Is Adapting to The Streaming Model and beyond

  • Music consumption is higher than it has ever been, and streaming surpassed physical album sales for the first time in 2015, but artists are not seeing that translate to royalties. Artists must work closely with the music industry in order to adapt to the current streaming model so they can make a living creating music, the music industry can continue to innovate, and audiences can continue discovering music.

Digital Witness: How Data Drives Creativity

  • Industries across the world are taking advantage of the growing ability to leverage data and analytics, including the music industry; from artists to labels, promoters to venues, data and analytics are inspiring innovation across the industry. How should the music industry use the world of data to increase artists’ revenue and exposure, and how can artists in the face of metrics retain their creative spirit?

World Town: How Local Artists Go Global and Global Artists Stay Local

  • In a world where music is increasingly accessible, what are the tools artists need to make the most of this potential global audience and how can the music industry cultivate relationships and business practices around the world?

In a Future Age: Industry Collision in the New Music Economy

  • The music economy has changed dramatically as traditional sales models have been replaced with new technologies and unique content partners. The music community continues stretching into new spaces and connecting with other industries, creating new opportunities for artists, venues and broadening what we consider “the music industry.”

Upstream, which has yet to announce any of the acts playing the festival portion of the event, is starting the work of the Summit way before May 11-13. Independent radio station KEXP and Allen’s Museum of Pop Culture are teaming with Upstream to host a series of ongoing workshops to help emerging artists navigate the music industry. The first one — “Mastering the Hustle” — will be held Feb. 4 from 2-4 p.m.

Seeking solutions to the important questions impacting artists and the music industry is all part of the vision of Allen, whose love for music goes beyond just listening and playing.

Paul Allen
Paul Allen. (Upstream Photo)

“He is the ultimate idea man,” Vetting said. “He wants to affect change in everything he does. When he did the Art Fair a few years ago, he thought there was a real missing piece in Seattle in the arts world and the fine arts that he really likes to collect, so he wanted to bring that sort of high-end art fair into the Seattle market like they’d never seen, and it was super successful. I think this kind of stems off of the success there and his love of live music. He really is always inspired by live music. He would love for the artists here in the Pacific Northwest to have as many opportunities as they can to pursue their music passion and to be noticed.”

In a city with a rich musical history, Allen and his team recognize the importance of promoting that element of the region’s culture, especially as rapid change can make it more and more difficult for artists of all kinds to continue to make a living or afford to stay.

“That’s one of the questions I think about all the time: How does a city become a world class city without having a world class arts and music scene?” Vetting said. “That’s something that Seattle really needs to hold true on. We have a lot of good opportunities for live music and festivals in the region that really promote local bands. We want to be one of those that helps promote the music scene and hopefully as people move to the area or think about moving for a programming job or an engineering job or whatever it may be, one of the reasons that they want to come to Seattle is because of our awesome music scene. I know that when I came here for the first time that was the thing that drew me here.”

Meanwhile, in other Seattle-area music festival news announced on Tuesday, the lineup has been revealed for the Sasquatch! Festival which takes place May 26-28 at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wa. Twenty One Pilots, Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper are among the headliners. Tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

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