Why we now have music at tech events

Be it this tiny blog, a big trade show, a conference, or a party – it‘s all about what’s in it for the user. That‘s why we are all part of the entertainment industry.

On May 11, 2006, at what in retrospect turned out to be the very first NEXT, Johnny Haeusler took out his guitar. He played ‘London Calling’, a song by The Clash. It still is the theme song of his blog Spreeblick, that uses the line ‘I live by the river’ as its motto. Back then, I immediately understood that bloggers (as well as conference makers and party organisers) are part of the entertainment business.

Twelve years later, music has become an integral part of tech events. It’s now commonplace to have singers and bands performing on stage right between keynote speakers and panel discussions. No surprises here. But this trend also reflects a greater shift that Adam highlighted in a recent post.

Tech in the sense of chip-based connective technology is everywhere, and in everything. It’s a genuinely transformative technology, one that is rewriting the rules of our world. And I’m hard pressed to think of a field of life it hasn’t infiltrated.

At CEBIT last week, an event that has been very hardcore IT for decades, there was a band called Compressorhead playing on the main festival stage. The band members are robots, and the band could be considered an art project. But CEBIT having a festival stage in the first place is another indicator for the shift that’s going on.

In a world where tech is everywhere, it is hard for a tech trade show to maintain its focus and find its place. This year, CEBIT rebooted itself and adopted a new look & feel, positioning the show as the younger sibling of the more industrial-focused Hanover Fair, from which CEBIT was spun-off back in 1986. After the boom and bust of the dotcom era, CEBIT missed the Web 2.0 boat, i.e. topics like community, communications, user-centricity, or networking (not in the ethernet sense of the word).

And even after this year‘s remodeling, CEBIT still isn’t really about the product, at least not in the way we understand it. With this blind spot, the trade show closely mirrors the German industry, as Accenture’s top manager Frank Riemensperger pointed out at CEBIT last week. The newest bits and pieces of tech are all here, but the German industry is unable to create compelling new digital consumer products (and services) out of it.

How can that be? Germany is pretty much driven by an engineering culture and mindset. While this is not a bad thing at all, this culture often lacks design and product management skills and focus. We’ve seen the same pattern with the internet industry as a whole. First, it was all about developers (developers, developers). Then designers catched up, and now product management is the new kid on the block.

Without their relentless focus on the user and the product, Google, Amazon or Facebook wouldn’t have risen to the ranks of the most valuable public companies in the world. At the same time, their rise indicates a shift of the value creation to services (and away from physical goods). Digital products are services, which may have a physical component.

CEBIT‘s struggles with this transformation show exactly what needs to be done: follow the money. The money is where the value creation for the user is. I hate to iterate it, but content is king. Be it this tiny blog, a big trade show, a conference, or a party – it‘s all about what’s in it for the user. That‘s why we are all part of the entertainment industry. And that’s why we now have music at tech events. It’s part of our digital culture.

Disclosure: The NEXT Conference and this blog are co-hosted by SinnerSchrader, which is part of Accenture Interactive.