Technology, Music & Morality — Completely Dependent Imbeciles?

“Technology… is a queer thing.  It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other”.  — C.P. Snow, physicist and novelist.

“Don’t be evil” — (unofficial) Google positioning statement.

“We call this a shakedown where I come from. And that, my friends, is the new boss. If you hated the record companies, they were Mother Theresa compared to this crowd.” — Chris Castle, music and copyright lawyer, commenting on Google & YouTube.

“In conclusion we could say that music is more alive than ever before, that piracy is a tool to build a fan-base, and that the times when the music industry could dictate what we were listening to are over.” — Ernesto, editor Torrentfreak.

“These devices (MP3 players) are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it,”  Doug Morris, Universal Music Group Chariman (2007).

” For a music fan (Napster) was amazing.. 1- all the music 2-amazingly easy to use 3-free…if we had put up a toll booth and just charged everyone then, we might have a bigger online business now.” – Jonathan Daniel, Crush Artist Management.

“True information does good.” – Julian Assange, Wikileaks.

“There are no morals about technology at all. Technology expands our ways of thinking about things, expands our ways of doing things. If we’re bad people we use technology for bad purposes and if we’re good people we use it for good purposes.” — Herbert Simon, mathematician and social scientist.

Final Take: I had a conversation with my wife today about technology and morality. I think technology is an absolutely neutral tool, more akin to a hammer than to any kind of ideology. I’m sure I heard the analogy somewhere along the line…that technology,  like a hammer, can either drive in a nail or bash in a head. It gets things done, good or bad.

My wife wasn’t so sure. She was it pains to categorize technology as “mixed, but not neutral”.  She went on — “Wouldn’t it be immoral if the human brain devolved over-time and we found ourselves to be completely dependent imbeciles. Are we not men?” My wife, she is funny. And she is prone to a vintage new wave reference, when it serves her purpose.

You hang around the Digital Music water-cooler, passions regarding technology also run high. Discussions about cloud music, piracy, Google, and especially Apple routinely get heated.  Steve Jobs plus the cloud will save the music business. Steve Jobs is draconian and hell-bent on the destruction of Artists, Labels & Publishers. You’ve heard it all before, I know.

For me, the interesting thing is that even though we are twelve (12!) years past the debut of Napster, these discussions inevitably take on a moral as well as a financial component.  It’s understandable —  the Recording Industry has been practically halved. It has been painful for many in the Label, Publishing & Artist Management areas.

For me, it’s pretty clear. I think technology is amazing. It has made my musical experiences richer, my career more interesting, yet it wreaks havoc every day with any preconceptions I have about what might happen next.

The way that we weren’t is what we’ll become — Devo.




Larry David On Sampling Plus More…The Week That Was 2/25/2011

It’s cold and rainy in L.A., where complaining about the weather  is akin to moaning about being in the last row of  first class.

Speaking of colossal kvetching, how does a full-page anti-Grammy diatribe in the NY Times strike you? Well, it certainly struck marketing maven Steve Stoute like a good idea last Sunday. Stoute put forth any number of, um, interesting ideas, like accusing NARAS & Ken Ehrlich of rigging a best-album Arcade Fire conspiracy, proclaiming Eminem “the Bob Dylan of his generation” & urging artists to stop accepting their Grammy invitations. I weighed in on the Dylan front and pointed out that not even Bob Dylan wanted to be the Bob Dylan of his generation. And while we’re at it, let’s examine Arcade Fire’s dubious corporate connections along with those sell-out bands Crass, The Minutemen and of course, Fugazi.

As we rolled into Monday & Tuesday, the Apple App 30% tariff around subscription retook the headlines — with Rdio, Last.FM, Mog and a host of anonymous publishing executives saying not nice things about Mr. Jobs. Watching the barrage of punches thrown in Apple’s direction reminded me of Ali vs. Foreman, or nearly anyone vs. Rahm Emanuel. “Steve Jobs Bomaye!!, anyone?“.

All this Apple conjecture plus continued drama at AOL, Engadget, MySpace, & TopSpin made me feel stuck in a never-ending technology loop.

On Wednesday, bitten by a bug of temporary optimism, I took a look at the artist-development success story that is Fitz & The Tantrums, and posted a heartwarming shot of Thom Yorke baring his teeth in our direction.

Thursday was Dishing With The Digearti day, as Linchpin Digital founder Syd Schwartz dropped some science on piracy, label-life, album-death, and dastardly dictators. We also found a minute to watch Media Czar David Eun dance away from the AOL house, and took a quick glance at an even bigger property — the massive data-storage facility that Apple just bought.

Apple’s data plans led us mercifully to Friday, where the only thing we had energy to tackle was a think piece on Cloud Music, President Obama and the complete future of the Music Business. Ya know, the small stuff.

Hopefully, everyone will have a restful weekend, maybe get some good reading done, and then hit the ground complaining on Monday morning. After all, without the complaining, ya’ll wouldn’t be Digital Music Insiders — would you.

Assange & Bukowski — So He Sez

When it comes to the point where you occasionally look forward to being in prison on the basis that you might be able to spend a day reading a book, the realization dawns that perhaps the situation has become a little more stressful than you would like. – Julian Assange, Wikileaks.

I don’t like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there. – Charles Bukowski, Author.

Mayor Of Simpleton — Checking In On Apple.

Because I don’t check in via Foursquare and their like — when I think Mayor, I still think Koch, Bloomberg, Dinkins, & now Rahm Emanuel. Call me the Mayor Of Simpleton then on location based Social Networking. At least for now.

Still –I know a good Apple patent story, with significant Social Networking (Ping) and location ramifications, when I see one. From Patently Apple:

On February 24, 2011, The European Trademarks and Designs Office published Apple’s latest trademark application for the word “Places” under application 009760141. Apple has filed their trademark under four distinct International Classes covering all manner of computer hardware, education and entertainment services and more. Yet at the heart of this application, Places is primarily about online social networking services related to a social networking site and will assist in locating people using GPS on Apple’s mobile devices. Whether this will be coordinated with Apple’s iTunes social networking music service called Ping is unknown at this time.

Read the full piece here.

The Final Take: Apple has an inconsistent track record to date on Social Networking. 10 million Facebook likes is more than a little impressive, yet Ping seems stuck in neutral…at least in terms of artist/digerati buzz. Now we get word of a very interesting Social Networking/Location Based patent. Looks like Apple is staying in this lane.

Radiohead Think Piece — Rock Journalism; Twitter Style.

Radiohead: 1-7 “How could we ever grow weary of these timeless works of art?” 8 “Whatevs. We live-tweeted it three days ago. It’s so over.”

DMI Tip: @Discographies’ whole trip is to review the recorded output of an artist in Twitter form. Take the bands ouvere, and reduce it to 140 characters or less…I originally paid tribute to our anonymous friend on December 27th.

Apple, Google, Spotify. — We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” — Barack Obama following Super Tuesday results, Feb 5, 2008.

There are increased rumblings this morning that cloud-based music offerings are imminent from Apple and Google. Similarily, there are increased signs that Spotify is finally progressing in making their U.S. launch.

SAI and Electronista have a bit more here and here.

The Final Take: Apple and Google have immeasurably changed consumers’ lives over the last decade. And Spotify certainly seems stable–it’s in this for the long-run after a recent round of funding. For a beleaguered and bleeding Recording Industry — what better partners for change could you possibly hope for?

Here’s the rub though; Apple, Google, Spotify are fine candidates, but they ultimatetly represent themselves. If the Music Industry really wants change, the whole model needs a re-think. What the products are, how artists are represented, how labels and publishers are staffed — it all needs to change. The cloud and subscription, with partners like Google, Apple & Spotify may help, but ultimately, for the labels & publishers, it’s time to realize they are the ones they have been waiting for.

That New Apple Data Center Sure Is Big ….

Some pretty delicious “Is Apple Getting Ready For Subscription Music” conjecture from Hypebot & Ars Technica this morning — as pictures of Apple’s massive new North Carolina data center hit the web.

Did You Notice: This surely is the first time we’ve seen the words expert and big-ass coupled together from Ars Technica…

Final Take: For all the conjecture, Apple has yet to send any tangible signals that full-on subscription music  is in the works. On the other hand…“Ali Bomaye”!

Syd Schwartz Linchpin Digital Interview — Dishing With The Digerati (#3)

Gentleman, scholar, early-adopter, thinker and doer. Syd Schwartz is truly one of the finest minds in Digital Music. The long time EMI senior executive flew the major label coop last year, and formed the strategic digital marketing agency Linchpin Digital. We interrupted Syd’s half-vacation this past Tuesday night, and discussed Spotify, Apple, piracy, the role of labels, and naturally, prog-rock.

Isquith: Hi Syd

Schwartz: Hello Jack

Isquith: So, where are you today?

Schwartz: San Francisco, CA

Isquith: Of course, just about ground zero for the Digerati.

Isquith: (all respect to Brooklyn & Sweden)

Isquith: Work or pleasure or a mix?

Schwartz: A mix…out here with my family but doing a slew of meetings while I’m here

Isquith: cool….So Syd for the benefit of those who haven’t had the pleasure of working closely with you…can you give us 140 characters or less on what you are up to these days?

Schwartz: Linchpin Digital creates business opportunities and marketing strategies around the relationship between fans and entertainment properties.

Schwartz: I founded the company after leaving EMI last year.

Isquith: succinct and on message. (I’m having a “thinking about politics/being on message” day watching Rahm Emanuel getting elected mayor in Chicago).

Schwartz: we live in interesting times

Isquith: It’s fascinating to see the value equation move towards fans.

Isquith: Can you talk about that for a sec?

Schwartz: Yes…the days of content creators producing one “product” (I do try to avoid using that term when referring to music, hence the quotes) to sell to the mass market are over

Schwartz: Artists have lots of different types of fans

Schwartz: So determining what offerings are most valued to which fan groups is a challenge for the artist

Isquith: As an ex-Label exec, and a early adopter…how do you see the role of labels changing?

Schwartz: Labels have historically run into challenges because the resources (particularly in the digital groups) tends to cluster around album cycles

Isquith: Take that a step further….do you think fans are through with albums?

Isquith: Or is it a timing thing….i.e. artists are open for biz 24/7/365?

Schwartz: Unless the label has a “360” deal or other arrangement with the artist, their focus is generally on selling units of recorded music, and that’s only one piece of the puzzle.  Artist require a lot more from partners, so labels need to provide ongoing ranges of services that address the artist’s audience 24/7/365

Schwartz: And most labels are not staffed to handle that

Schwartz: To the question about fans and albums…again, different fans want different things

Isquith: interesting for sure. Especially as labels shrink…so there are less bodies, people hours, and overall resources to spread around.

Schwartz: Some want a more complete body of work (aka an album), some want only a song or two.

Schwartz: And the promise of the Internet was the democratization of distribution and the ability for artists to do it all themselves

Isquith: OK, lets move to a more radical concept…are labels as we know them even needed?

Schwartz: What artists often need is a team or at least someone with some understanding of the space to help quarterback a strategy.

Schwartz: Companies like The Orchard, Topspin, Bandcamp etc can all do great things, but if the guy who is driving the van, selling the t-shirts and handling the sound mix also has to spin up the widgets for D2C, it can become burdensome.

Isquith: I think this has become a real meme for many artists…..”I tried to do it all myself, it didn’t work. I need some sort of team on top of/in addition to TopSpin etc”…., and then, maybe, I can leverage new technology, Social Nets, etc.

Schwartz: ideally, the artist should focus on making the music, connecting with the fans and speaking with their own voice online…if they’re worried about tagging their site with Google Analytics, it muddies the water.

Isquith: Lets flip the question to the companies (not artists) looking at Music?

Schwartz: Ok

Isquith: Who is best positioned…Who has a rough road ahead?

Schwartz: A rather broad question Jack

Isquith: OK, I will target….

Schwartz: Fans stand to gain the most.  There has never been a better time to be a music fan.

Isquith: Can you make a go of it in 2011-2012 just being in the music space?

Schwartz: …sorry hit return a bit too early.  There is more music to enjoy than ever before for fans of both mainstream and niche artists.  And for those who make music, the technology to create, edit and remix has become inexpensive and easy to use without the need for recording studios, engineers, or even the need to be on the same continent with your bandmates.  Distribution has achieved a level of democratization allowing a wide variety of options to make your music available to the world.

Isquith: (agree on fans)…but, let’s stay on the biz side for a sec…..Can a company do JUST music?

Isquith: in other words….will we ever see a new from the ground up company like Interscope, Early MTV, etc?

Schwartz: I think many smalls are the new big for the moment…we might see the emergence of several small and mid-sized players that end up breaking big.  Though the definition of “big” and whether “big” is necessary is up for argument

Schwartz: you’ve noticed that sales charts in every music publication are about units…not profitability

Isquith: So we need to diversify our outlook, not just our “products”!   aha!!

Schwartz: I think effective will trump big in most cases

Schwartz: I think a key is turning products into experiences

Isquith: OK, we are going to revisit some old-school AOL techniques as we are chatting on AIM after all….

Isquith: I’m going to throw out 5 phrases, you react

Isquith: ready?

Schwartz: Does that mean you need my account number to place the funds of a deposed 3rd world dictator into my bank?

Isquith: Naah, that was BEFORE my time at AOL

Isquith: here goes….

Schwartz: lol…ready

Isquith: Spotify hugely funded

Schwartz: I wish them the best of luck in building a sustainable business model. consumers having multiple options for acquiring music is a good thing.

Schwartz: But they have a tough road ahead.

Isquith: Dec 31, 2011…iTunes Model for Music is?

Schwartz: Fingers crossed its a digital locker service with unlimited access.

Isquith: The Recorded Music Industry Rebounds When……

Schwartz: it doesn’t “rebound”.  The value structure changes.

Isquith: What a great year 2011 was for xxxx, man they killed it.

Schwartz: The New York Giants

Schwartz: does that count?

Isquith: (nice!)..

Schwartz: Umphrey’s McGee

Schwartz: who are well on their way

Isquith: ok, last one…..Piracy must be stopped, Piracy is not the issue.

Schwartz: It’s an issue but not “the” issue

Schwartz: And content creators should be compensated for their blood, sweat and tears.

Isquith: we share that POV, passionately.

Isquith: You changed your life significantly in the last year or so…. Took your considerable communication abilities out of a big corporate political setting and moved into a more entrepreneurial and self-directed career. Whats better? What do you miss?

Schwartz: I learned a lot from time in the major label system and was privileged to work with a lot of great artists and great colleagues.

Schwartz: I miss the people and the artists for sure.

Schwartz: And I don’t know that one is necessarily “better” than the other, but I’m a lot happier being my own boss, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of great clients for whom I can do good work.

Schwartz: I think what I like the most is I can come up with an idea, present it and just start doing it once we all agree its a good idea

Isquith: Thank you. And on a pure day-to-day level….does life feel different in a way that has surprised you? Or did you work with so many startups at EMI etc, that this is about what you expected?

Schwartz: I think one thing that I found striking was how little attention a lot of folks are paying to data and analytics, which in my opinion is a part of the value chain that is in play now.

Isquith: Explain more here…

Schwartz: An artist should, as much as they can, own the the relationship with their fans, and establishing the systems and platforms that create that direct connection and deliver ongoing value is essential.

Schwartz: Posting tons of content on YouTube, giving music away via Twitter…all great things.

Isquith: FB friends, Email list count, # of comments on Tumblr, as well as soundscan & dollars per head…correct?

Schwartz: attention should be paid to how those initiatives are working, and that can get difficult in an ecosystem where a lot of your partners know a lot more about your fans than you do.

Schwartz: In ways, this is an issue I expect will play out with Apple, Spotify, Google…anyone running a music service

Isquith: Indeed. I think the data is undervalued in negotiating, because it has been underutilized. Vicious cycle

Schwartz: They know everything about the customer.  The artist gets a comparatively narrow insight into purchases bought through those ecosystems.

Isquith: OK, Lets end with a interesting example, and maybe a slightly contrary point of view.

Isquith: The one thing that I miss as we move forward, is the sort of economic resources…mostly derived from a really big music recording ecosystem…to fuel and fund grand-sweeping ambition.  What I mean is…Pink Floyd “Animals” or ‘The Wall”…”Achtung Baby”…even if you will, “American Idiot”. I think as music democratizes, and plays on a smaller scale.,..even the greatest talents ofter turn into a smaller landscape.

Isquith: So, you see really big bands/artists…making “smaller” records

Isquith: Radiohead’s last 3 albums…that kind of thing

Isquith: Am I just nostalgic for outsized stuff?…or do you think there is truth here??

Schwartz: I understand where you’re coming from, but I have difficulty looking at it in terms of big and small.

Schwartz: All of the works that you mentioned share something in common

Isquith: keep going….

Schwartz: For a segment of consumers, they catalyzed an emotional resonance.

Schwartz: And I think that resonance can be catalyzed as well with a song as it can with an album.

Isquith: It’s funny…I love many songs, but few albums …yet  I disagree.

Isquith: I prefer a world where more artists are TRYING to make great albums, and only my few faves are succeeding.

Schwartz: You have a longer attention span than most Jack

Isquith: lets leave that for another day…

Schwartz: Give me quality over quantity any day.  As a longtime Dead and Phish fan, I hear a lot of talk about “the 23 minute version of <insert song name here>”…that’s all well and good, but 23 minutes with a lot of padding isn’t as good as 12 minutes of transcendence.  But opinions vary…that’s why there’s chocolate AND rocky road

Isquith: OK, well thank you again Syd from carving out some time for us, and for all you do for artists and music every day

Schwartz: My pleasure Jack…thanks for the chat!

Isquith: You too Syd. Great to have you share.

Isquith: Goodnight!

Schwartz: Be well…