The Next Big Thing
I knew I was in the right place when, ten paces into the student center, I found myself engaged in a conversation about personal responsibility and morality.
I sat on the steps of NYU’s Judson Memorial Church, CMJ Music Marathon registration headquarters, there in the shadow of Washington Square Park, for a few minutes before my panel. The city grows quiet quickly there. Taken together with the crisp, fall air and changing leaves, I felt immediately collegiate.
The CMJ College Music Marathon is the seminal college rock mag’s Sundance or Canne, blowing through 1100 bands and hundreds of panels in five days. Attendees are primarily college radio program directors, venue bookers, indie labels, journalists and bands. My pal, Jimmy Landry, asked me to moderate a panel, something called, “Gadgets For Tweakheads & The Next Big Thing.”
The conversation (at least as I saw it) between a few dudes from software and hardware companies (Zune, Sandisk, Overlay TV, A&M/Octone) was intended to explore how sites like last.fm, lala.com, ilike.com, etc and hardware like the iPod, iPhone, Google Android, Zune player, etc have a bearing on discovering “the next big thing.”
Now, you probably don’t recall is that I have a song called “The Last Big Thing.” I wrote it a long time ago, in my twenties, back when I still believed (or wanted to believe) that I was not only the next big thing, but the last next big thing. This is before the Internet, before ProTools, iTunes, MySpace, Facebook. This is before everyone and their kid sister was recording their own music, and giving it away for free. And before I had thirteen years of MTV to taint my optimism a little bit.
So the gig was appropriate, perhaps, given that I’m dubious there are many “next big things left.” Moreover, I’m not much of a “tweakhead,” at least in contrast to some of the real niche players like Engadget or Gizmodo. Thought it occurs tome now that, in the music/editorial/technology space, maybe I wasn’t such a bad choice. Which may be why Jimmy asked me to moderate. And why he listed me on CMJ’s homepage alongside company like DJ Spooky and The Bomb Squad.
Thing is, I knew in my heart of hearts that my panel was essentially me and a bunch of festival sponsors. But I was hellbent on no one in the audience feeling like the thing was a boondoggle. I wanted to find something cool and interesting to talk about other than four sales pitches. So I did a bunch of homework, and prepped an outline for our discussion which I distributed to the four panelists. I called it our “set list.”
After my introduction (during which our young NYC hostess mispronounced “Syracuse”), I read a quick preamble.
The next big thing is a tall order, and these days, something of an impossibility. There’s a lot of noise, and very few signals. And few examples of truly “big things” that redefine categories. So instead of trying to be definitive soothsayers, we’ll simply endeavor to explore the spaces we know now, and maybe shed light on what’s next.
The hour and a half-long conversation went pretty well. Key phrases were “social,” “community,” and “discovery.” We managed to avoid total derailment when some knucklehead in the front row interrupted to ask what the wi-fi password for the event was, then derided us for not knowing. It was really interesting to be in front of a room full of kids, especially since I still feel like one. It was apparent quickly, though, that I’m not. I’d never walk out in the middle of a panel discussion, for example.
Funny thing is, I was pretty wound up about the whole thing. I wanted it to go well, to be meaningful, and provide some value. They may have been pulling my leg or being kind, but both Wes and Annie (whose attendance was both a surprise and a delight) said they thought it was interesting.
I’ll say this: The NYU Kimmel Center is a beautiful, state-of-the-art building. The view of New York City spread out below a bright-blue sky was breathtaking. My brief CMJ moment wasn’t very rock ‘n roll, though it did make me wish I was back in college again. At least until I got home to Abbi.
Because the “next big thing,” as central as it is to the Myth of American, is just a myth. It’s all about the right here, right now.