Moses Supposes: Did the Digital Music Forum West justify the price tag?

Moses Avalon is one of the nation’s leading music-business consultants and artists’-rights advocates and is the author of a top-selling music business reference, Confessions of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be found at

I suppose there is something refreshing about going to a music conference and not seeing too many familiar faces. Sure, I knew many of the panelists from the scene, but the attendees…? Who were these people? Young, cool haircuts, mannered. Was this a music conference?

Digital Music Forum West (#DMFW) was held this year at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in Los Angeles on October 6-7.

About 350 registrants filtered in and out of attendance for two days’ worth of 15-minute speeches by people on the tech cusp. Attendees were split between artists on their way up the food chain of the LA music scene and technology providers who navigate on the periphery of the music business.

Unlike every other conference, instead of multi-person panels, DMFW chose to do it more “TED” style. No, this does not mean that music consultant Ted Cohen, of TAG Strategic, decided who speaks and who doesn’t (although, as the moderator, it did have that feel). It means that the format was more in line with the famous TED Conference, where each speaker takes the stage for a short time to give their presentation. It leaves little room for questions and was supposed to discourage speakers from pitching their company. Did it?

The one-room idea worked well; it keeps the energy focused. As an experienced conference Gadfly, I know how much we all hate trying to find the room with the next event. But the 15 minutes of fame thing – not sure. Many presenters ended up pitching anyway, and there seemed no way to stop that.

But my bigger beef was that the short stage time forced presenters to speak a mile a minute, usually about complex rights issues that are hard to understand at 33 RPM, let alone 78. (Am I dating myself or what?)

I asked DMFW’s organizer, Ned Sherman, if he planned to repeat the format next year. “We’re going to consider it,” he said, recognizing some of the issues.

So how was the show? Was it worth the money? On my published Chart of 19 Music Conferences Ranked, I gave DMFW a 5 out of 10, meaning that it was a bit high-priced in exchange for the chance of connecting with someone relevant. However, that rating was based on past years, and it was anecdotal. This year, I actually attended the Forum in person. I found that it really stepped up its speakers and, despite the format’s shortcomings, delivered a nice power-punch of networking opportunities.

So was it worth the money? At $600 a ticket, I’d have to say no. However, most people did not pay this amount. Artists paid a special rate of about $200, and here it starts to approach something more palatable.

All in all, I am upgrading my rating on DMFW from a 5 to a 7, which puts it squarely in line with other well-respected conferences. If they will have me, I’ll be back next year with hopes of seeing a few improvements:

1) A press room with fresh coffee and an interview area. (All right — that’s for my fellow journalists.)
2) Less pitchy speakers with more specific topics.
3) Extended audience Q&A.
4) One rate for everyone. Why should computer geeks pay more than anyone else?

End note: Apple founder Steve Jobs died the day before DMFW. Considering that if it were not for Jobs, there probably would not even be a conference where music and technology merge, it would have been nice to see some sort of homage paid to him. If it was there, I missed it.

Mo out.

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