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Sync Up 

A music and film conference explores digital distribution and more

The Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were recently announced as performers at November's Voodoo Experience. Zach Quillen, the duo's manager, arrives at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival next week to talk about how the independently released song "Thrift Shop" climbed the charts. The song's strange odyssey attracted the attention of Scott Aiges, the director of communications and marketing for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, and the creator of its Sync Up conference.

  "I was at the gym on the elliptical trainer, and I use Spotify," he says. "I switched it to the 'What's New' function, and soon I heard this catchy little rap song by someone I'd never heard of before."

  He wasn't totally hooked on it until a few weeks later when he was browsing content on NPR's website. He found a Tiny Desk Concert (videotaped performances at NPR's offices) featuring Macklemore and Lewis.

  "I was blown away by this small band of wild people putting on a wild show in this little office," Aiges says.

  He researched the group and saw that that the independent release had climbed quickly up the charts. His curiosity led him to contact several of the people who will deliver keynote talks or appear on panels at the conference. They include Quillen, NPR director of music Anya Grundmann, experts on digital distribution Jim Griffin of One House Music and Ty Roberts of Gracenote and others.

  Aiges created Sync Up to help connect musicians with music industry leaders and experts, including Island Records' founder Chris Blackwell and Pandora founder Tim Westergren.

  Digital distribution and technological changes are frequent topics at this year's conference. In spite of the rapidly developing and changing platforms of distribution, some things remain constant. Griffin is a former Geffen Records executive who consults and writes on digital music distribution. He notes the industry is transforming from music as a product, in which consumers buy CDs or downloads, to a service, in which subscribers have constant access to huge libraries of music. Content is less likely to be purchased outright and more likely to be streamed under a blanket license. So far, consumers like the access and that's driving change in the market, he says. He advocates for the creation of a massive registry.

  "Either for cash or for (artistic) credit, you need to enumerate the owners," Griffin says. Particularly as Internet distribution, such as the iTunes Store, makes music available globally, he sees the registry as a necessity for artists all over the world. It's a major issue for many industries dealing with intellectual property rights, he says. But it's good for artists and should be accessible as well.

  "All artists should be able to go to the registry and register their work," Griffin points out. "You can't get paid if you don't get registered."

  As more music is independently released online, third parties and tastemakers still play an influential role in the market. Although NPR is focused on radio, it embraced the Internet's potential early and began podcasting beginning 12 years ago. All Songs Considered developed out of early podcasts. More recently, NPR's music programming has become a popular outlet for discovering new music, with features such as Tiny Desk Concerts, First Listen and Heavy Rotation, which is billed as "the songs public radio can't stop playing."

  "We're not a jukebox," Grundmann says, although the website does keep content archived. "We're a music discovery platform."

  Grundmann oversees music programming from NPR's Washington, D.C., offices, including production of five NPR music programs, and she identifies innovative projects and moves them forward. She also tries to make sure NPR programming is available for listeners on any new platform.

  "We're trying to create new discovery opportunities speaking the language of the web," she says.

Sync Up Cinema was created to expose musicians to opportunities in the film industry. This year the Jazz & Heritage Foundation is partnering with the New Orleans Video Access Center and the New Orleans Film Society to screen films and present panel discussions with filmmakers and film technology experts.

  Movies include In Your Dreams, a documentary about Stevie Nicks made by former Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart, who will participate in a Q&A after the screening. Lily Keber will show scenes from Bayou Maharajah, her documentary about New Orleans piano legend James Booker. She'll discuss how she funded and made the film, as well as how she's approaching marketing and distribution.

  Panel discussions address topics including film scoring and composing, film marketing strategies and working with agents and attorneys to get a film project made. The conference is free but advanced registration is required.

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