Women In Music Tech #7 – Claudia Schwarz
Claudia Schwarz is passionate about furthering innovation in music and tech. She does that through her roles as VP at independent association MusicTech Germany, which is soon to launch a Europe-wide equivalent together with 14 different country partners, Music Tech Europe, and co-Founder and Managing Partner at agency german.innovation, which also has a pan-European network, Innovation Bridge Europe.
When we spoke to her, Schwarz had just finished a busy period helping to co-curate the presence of the German and other international delegations at SXSW, including scouting speakers and producing events on-site. Now, she’s working on curating a series of digital sessions and events and organizing a trade mission for European start-ups to travel to the US. Schwarz started her career in music around 20 years ago after studying comparative cultural and North American studies and business studies at university. She initially planned to work in academia, but got frustrated quickly, and the hands-on approach of the live music industry beckoned instead.
Can you tell us how you ended up working in music and tech initially?
My beginnings in the music industry were in festival and club management, booking and Iabel management, everything that was connected to the live music scene in Berlin and beyond. Soon enough, I became quite aware of the limitations of the music industry. I was working with people who were hesitant to dive into the new opportunities - a very frustrating experience. The music industry as a whole seemed to be quite surprised by a lot of technological advances, but - like many - I felt we had an obligation to the artists we represent to be more adaptive, flexible and agile. That’s why I slowly but surely moved into tech and innovation.
What's the most exciting development happening in the music and technology worlds to you today?
Web 3.0 and the opportunities that might be connected in the meta- and multiverses is something that I'm personally very excited about. It's important though that we don't get stuck on just talking about new tech but move to implement. Blockchain was a hyped term for the past years, now it's Web 3.0, NFTs and the metaverse. People certainly talk about it and want to try it out but have yet to develop a more holistic vision for it.
We’re trying to open up people's minds to what the opportunities are and what it could mean for social interaction and cross platform monetization. For example, there are a number of startups, companies, artists and individuals out there redefining how transparent and fair payments for artists can be made possible, and how they can be more transparent and fair and enable people with artistic ambitions to live off their work and how to become part of a more supportive, and community-driven approach.
The open discourse of, ‘This is what I know, this is what I don't know, this is where I could need help or this is what I'm looking for’ can be really helpful. If you're a startup or an artist, reach out to the hubs, associations like ours or networks, go to conferences and actively seek out people in that field.
What advice would you give to independent artists and labels who are interested in finding the opportunities in Web 3.0?
It starts with being open about looking for information, what you don't know and what you need help with. Is there someone out there who can help you or is there a collaborator looking for artists? This is something we see quite often with startups — they have an idea, maybe they love music but aren’t musicians or artists themselves. So, their idea may not have a connection to the work of actual artists and they are actively looking for creatives to build relationships with in order to further their startup idea. Likewise, artists are looking for partners to develop a creative idea on the technical side. This open discourse of, ‘This is what I know, this is what I don't know, this is where I could need help or this is what I'm looking for’ can be really helpful. If you're a startup or an artist, reach out to the hubs, associations like ours or networks, go to conferences and actively seek out people in that field.
There seems to be a tendency to think that most technological innovation comes from the US. As someone who is closely involved with the European technology industry, would you agree?
The ideas are there globally but I think the success rate in the US is much higher and that's why a lot of talent gravitates there. There are currently simply more investment opportunities, investors tend to be bolder and there’s generally a more open culture of following an idea, turning it into a company, potentially failing on your first and second try, or even at a later point. There’s a lot more volatility there and a welcoming of trial-and-error phases that are necessary for entrepreneurial innovation. That’s something I’m missing on the European side, there’s a bit more hesitation here. Sadly, another perceived challenge might be the question of copyright — it’s easier to start a company in a market that is less strict about copyright laws, see if your business model floats and then bring it back to the European market and integrate copyright related regulations later.
What are the strengths of the European tech and music industries compared to the US and the rest of the world?
Definitely an earlier understanding of the necessity of including copyright issues in your business models. That’s an advantage but, as I mentioned, it can also be a disadvantage to getting into or through a pilot phase, finding an investment partner and a potential audience and customer base.
Then again, Europe has lots of smaller markets so a lot of the time, it's easier to start a pilot. Though, there may arise new challenges to potentially take that business model and adapt it to a completely different culture. But in general, the attitude towards building a multinational and multilingual audience is preparing startups a lot better to expand globally than might be the case for startups focusing primarily on one big market or audience - like the US - alone.
You've been a big advocate for diversity in the tech world. How evolved is work in this area and what more needs to be done?
It's certainly the best time for a female or a diverse person interested in tech and innovation to get involved in any sector. That’s also part of the problem — the creative sector is always connected to passion but it's not necessarily been the area where the biggest salaries are being offered. There’s a crazy search for female and diverse talent going on in the tech and innovation sector currently, where salaries are quite high, and a lot of talent is being drawn to the traditional data and analytics world and the four or five big companies. So there's a bit of a struggle for talent overall. That being said, it's not so much a problem anymore to get female and diverse students to study these fields.
Beyond that, it's really a question of work culture at this point. It seems there's a lot of room for improvement in the companies people work in or in the startup scene when it comes to retaining talent. I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done to make people happy at these workplaces and not just get them there through school, education or apprenticeships. Visibility is still a big issue at many of the conferences, where it's a constant struggle to get a diverse balance on panels. We’re also still trying to figure out what kind of support is needed from the community to increase the number of female founders, especially in creative tech.
If you're interested in AI, for example, you don't need to necessarily be the person actively involved in machine learning to contribute to the advancement of a company.
What would you say to encourage any young woman who is hesitant to pursue a career in tech or music tech?
There's a lot of diverse job opportunities in this field - definitely a lot more than coding - and I think that's something people need to know about. If you're interested in AI, for example, you don't need to necessarily be the person actively involved in machine learning to contribute to the advancement of a company. There are multiple opportunities and diverse perspective is much needed, especially in AI / machine learning.
Look and find those connecting points to other entrepreneurs, scientists or artists who work in the field. Similar to what I said earlier, just say, ‘This fascinates me, I want to be part of this, my forte might not be in programming languages or technical implementation but I am still a valuable addition to your team’. It’s important to know that just because people didn’t study computer sciences, they can still be part of that community. Be very open about what your passions are, connect with others on those passions and ideas and find your right fit.