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Millennials, Not the U2 Generation, Are Ready to Move Music Biz Forward

The music business is going to be all right.

The No. 1 lesson I took from the U2 kerfuffle was not that you shouldn’t invade people’s devices without permission, but how few people knew who U2 was. Time marches forward, and what is big today will almost certainly be forgotten tomorrow. Even most of the Beatles’ songs won’t make it into the next century.

I hung last weekend at the Summit Series event at Utah’s Powder Mountain, with a bunch of the youngsters who will inherit the music scene.

Summit Series started in 2008 as a three-day event for less than 20 entrepreneurs at a Utah ski resort. Then the proprietors bought a nearby ski area and are building a community. Now 1,000 of the world’s leading young entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, artists, scientists and change-makers attend what has become a four-day confab.

Many of these types of entrepreneurs used to populate the music industry; now they’re in tech. The weekend was about the nexus of the two, but the truth is, young people have been frozen out of upward mobility at the labels and to a great degree the live business. So they’re focusing on apps and data, and even though they may not realize you need rights to execute your vision, today’s culture believes their peers will inherit the rights, and we will get movement.

I talked to many people, and heard many stories, but my favorite came from Jonas Tempel, who founded online music store Beatport. He was a deejay who’d started his own advertising agency. He tried to sell Beatport to Apple, since the ad agency’s client, Volant skis, had Apple’s Mike Markkula on its board. But Apple said no, and launched the iTunes Store shortly thereafter.

Tempel felt embarrassed, but he and his team stuck with it, and launched anyway, at steadily climbing prices, with endorsements and investments from the likes of DJ Richie Hawtin.

Then they made a deal with a venture capitalist who invested $12 million — two-thirds of which was never spent. But Sony came knocking. Tempel got the price up to $125 mil, but the VCs wanted more. The deal failed, the 2008 crash happened, Tempel resigned — and then SFX bought Beatport for a third of Sony’s offer.

Tempel went to work at Beats, recruited to build a music service. He hired experts in Sweden, rode around in SUVs with Dre, thought he’d made it. But when he protested Beats’ acquisition of online music service MOG, he was dismissed.

These days, he’s back to his deejay roots, but he says he’s dying to get back into the startup game.

Listening to Tempel talk was better than any interview you could read in Rolling Stone. Because he’s smart; he rolled the dice; he was speaking from experience.

Like seemingly everybody at Summit, he had expertise. But while Tempel is in his mid-40s, most of the attendees at the Summit Series were in their 30s or younger — and all are willing to take a risk.

Indiegogo’s Slava Rubin, for instance, says the public at large will finance innovation. While I did not agree with every word he said, Rubin went to Wharton and used to be a futurist. You listen to him long enough, and it’s hard to believe he’s not right.

So ignore what you read in the press. Because despite hearing that millennials are crybabies who all got trophies and are in search of coddling, this is untrue. They’re educated and tenacious and desirous. They want to change the world.

And they’re doing just that.

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