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A Google tech confab aims to repair the relationship between online and Music Row

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Google had a big audition in Nashville last week. Or maybe it was the other way around, as hundreds of local professionals from Music Row and the greater Music City creative community descended on the Gulch last Thursday for a full day of "break-out" sessions and seminars from visiting top-level Google and YouTube representatives.

On paper, Google for Creators, put on by the boutique consultancy FLO {thinkery} and essentially a sequel to last year's Google for Entrepreneurs event, was a workshop for Google to showcase its digital Swiss army knife and educate creators, mostly in the music industry, how to use its tools.

But for FLO, Google for Creators was also an effort to mend the relationship between Nashville's legacy music industry and the greater tech industry. Its intent was to show Google and YouTube that Nashville is the epicenter of the new-model music business, in hopes the online giants will extend a tentacle our way.

"Google proper will never put an office here," says FLO founder Mark Montgomery. "YouTube, however, would."

Montgomery refers in particular to YouTube's new Creators Spaces enterprise. In the video-sharing site's quest to become in essence a boundless cable TV package, it has started funding satellite Creators Spaces in cities like New York, Tokyo and L.A. "And we want the next one here," Montgomery says.

A YouTube presence in Nashville could mean huge opportunities for local entrepreneurs, techies and Music Row hit men alike.

"Whenever you get in the same city the opportunities for collaboration are so much greater than us having to fly back to California," Sony Nashville digital marketing rep Nick Barnes tells the Scene. Partnerships with YouTube are one of the best hopes the industry has to monetize online content.

"It's a great revenue stream for us," Barnes says.

He notes that in the two years he's worked at Sony, he's seen the company shift its priorities towards developing digital content. "They're embracing digital," Barnes says. "Even since I've been there, I've seen [funding for projects] quadruple."

The turnout for last week's confab suggests Nashville's music industry may be ready to embrace the binary beast. Music Row folk showed up with open minds, eager to learn how they can create digital revenue streams.

That hasn't always been the case. Since the rise of Napster in 2000, all the way through the bloody back-and-forth that stalled the SOPA/PIPA online piracy bills in January 2012, many in the financially devastated music industry have blamed not just the Internet but Google specifically for their woes. Montgomery says that when he put on a SOPA/PIPA panel a couple of years ago, the Music Row players he brought out "wanted to hang the guy from Google. ... They believe it's Google's fault [that their checks were cut in half]."

That logic makes as much sense as blaming a road when you're hit by a truck. Nevertheless, despite the rancor, the Internet monolith was impressed by the fierce campaign Music Row waged on behalf of the legislation. Montgomery says SOPA lobbyists took songwriters up to Capitol Hill to play their George Jones cuts for congressmen and tug at their heartstrings. Google bigwigs respected their political savvy and ability to mobilize.

"What they figured out is, there was a significant power center here legislatively," Montgomery explains, "and they knew how to wield that power."

Now with SOPA/PIPA dead in the water, squabbling has subsided. Steve Bogard, a songwriters advocate and director of the Copyright Forum at Belmont University, was an outspoken SOPA proponent and fierce Google critic. "Google owns the PA system," he said at the time of the legislation. Yet the Bogard on hand at Google for Creators was far more conciliatory.

"I think that both sides have come miles toward each other," Bogard tells the Scene. "I'm seeing a lot more deals being made."

Bogard, like Montgomery, sees an opportunity to foster a symbiotic relationship between Google and the local creative community. "Google is the epitome of hip and cool, and we've gotta show them that Nashville is that as well," Bogard says. And if Music City is successful in selling itself, he says it'll see an opportunity as well.

"What Google has to gain is the goodwill and the knowledge in the [Nashville] creative community that their desire is to compensate creators," he says, "not eat the goose that laid the golden egg."

YouTube, which is owned by Google, sees value in that opportunity also.

"Nashville's always been the epicenter of creativity in music, but I think that it's more powerful now than it's been before, and I also think that the voice of that music has gotten wider in breadth," says Vivien Lewit, YouTube's director of content partnerships and a speaker at last Thursday's event. "This is one of the first Google-wide — meaning all of our suites or products together — events that we've done for creators specifically, and it is an opening to an ongoing dialogue."

Montgomery hopes that dialogue, and Google for Creators, leads to a tangible outcome.

That could include steady local production of the kind of content Barnes has seen developed at Sony, such as "lifestyle" videos on YouTube in which artists provide fans and channel subscribers with behind-the-scenes clips, video blogs and other enticements.

"We are starting to offer content that is not so commercial, and I think that is what today was all about," Barnes says.

Google for Creators speaker Tim Shey, director of YouTube Nextlab, says going the extra mile with online content is crucial. On that score, he has a message for any established Nashville act or label that considers the online platform a negligible fad.

"This is the key," Shey says. "You're competing with kids that have nothing else to do but post videos on YouTube."


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