Yup, I'm A Slacker — Part 2: Bill Cunningham Shows Me How To Work

On Sunday, my last weekend day of unofficial “underemployment”, I went to see the documentary Bill Cunningham New York.

This is a wonderful movie about an incredible, joyful and singular man. Bill Cunningham is a New York Times photographer, and a New York institution. He seems to be in his mid-80’s, but moves around like a 40 year old. Bill shoots and curates the paper’s ‘On The Street” and “Evening Hours” fashion and style columns – weekly roundups of street fashion and nightlife scenes. He reveals more about clothing trends through 10-20 pictures a week and a paragraph of copy, than you could ever imagine.

Cunningham takes hundreds of pictures every day; bicycling between his New York Times office, and Soho, Greenwich Village, Midtown, and Lincoln Center. If you don’t know your Manhattan neighborhoods –that is a phenomenal amount of ground to cover, at any age.

But it’s not just his eye, age or wry sense of humor that makes Cunningham so appealing. It is also his take on work — he is a joyfully obsessive. Cunningham spends countless hours out on the streets, at events, and in his office until he gets the perfect combination of shots, copy and layout for his columns. He has an almost constant smile on his face, all while never missing a shot. You can tell he believes in what he is doing, and you can tell he loves the process.

Watching Cunningham work – you forget he is working. He makes work seem like play.

I really loved watching Cunningham at work. And the timing of seeing this movie was especially meaningful for me.

I spent the last four months looking for the right job. And for me, the “right” job was to engage in something I believed in to such a significant degree, that it would make work seem like play.

When I was first laid off from Warner Bros. Records, I was a bit lost. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do next. I knew I still loved music, but wasn’t so sure about the music business. One of the first things I did was start this blog – a place where I could collect my thoughts on Digital Music & Digital Content and, hopefully, figure some stuff out.

While blogging, I networked and thought things through. I got taken down a few rungs on numerous occasions. It came as a shock, for example, when a music-related company didn’t rush to return my phone call or email. After all, I thought, I practically green-lit their deal at Warner! I was naïve. I was ignorant.

On the other hand, I was also amazed that certain people; mostly outside of the traditional music business, were interested in what I had to offer.

I found myself consulting a Public Radio company, and also deeply engaged for a couple of weeks in a“Digital Czar” search for a well-known PR company. The cliché was true –it was a big world out there; the challenge was figuring out my place in it.

Depending on the day, it was humbling or inspiring. It was a roller-coaster ride. Yet, I always had my friends and family, and also the blog, to help sort me out.

I considered starting my own company, came very close to taking that job running the west coast digital arm for the PR agency, interviewed at a legendary music magazine, turned down a funded start-up CEO gig, and eventually, realized that I wasn’t finished with music or the music business.

Then Jim Cady, CEO of Slacker called.

He was straight ahead. Precise. Realistic. Compelling.

Jim’s understanding of the digital music landscape was superb.  His articulation of Slacker’s market differentiation was matter of fact.  He didn’t use a lot of buzzwords or adjectives. His whole presentation was so refreshing.

I listened to Jim.

Jim told me that Slacker Radio had made significant content gains in the last couple of years, with partnerships secured with ABC News, ESPN, the carriers, and a host of user targeted improvements. Facts, analysis, and contextualization.  I really liked his style.

Then I listened to Slacker…

This was it. It was a great radio experience…clearly the people programming the stations were really knowledgeable. These stations were highly curated by real music experts. They were not just based on sound, but instead were programmed like a fan would program a station.

Familiar enough to live up to their naming conventions, but exploratory enough to keep you discovering new music. The experience itself was nicely interactive — you could “heart” songs you loved, “ban” songs you hated, and adjust familiarity and repetition. It worked.

I loved the experience. I met Jonathan Sasse and he was cut from similar cloth to Jim. Super smart, realistic, direct, cool. I liked him too. I was offered a job, SVP Strategic Development. This time, I said yes.

So, now I have a new work home. My mission is to spread the gospel about Slacker through deals, content development, and general music industry relations.

I’m optimistic that, at least on our good days, working at Slacker will feel like play. And I’m enough of a realist to know that there will be tough days too.

And as far as the blog goes, it lives. I promise you there will be a minimum of Slacker shilling (except I suppose for today’s posts) and a maximum of, well, the kind of stuff that has always been here. And if there is not, I’m sure you will let me hear about it, won’t you, dear Digital Music Insider.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World…Microsoft Triples Apple?

We are a household tethered to Apple’s ecosystems. Currently we have an iMac, Macbook Air, and three Macbook Pros in circulation, counting the hardware the kids use too. Come to think of it there are also currently four iPods and three iPhones in use. Oh, and a nifty “magic” trackpad. So much for my belief that holding off on an iPad here, or an iTouch there, shows any kind of moderation.

Is this Apple hardware festival overkill? You betcha.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Microsoft rolls onward:


The Final Take: You know that fly-over zone? Those states just outside your Virgin America window?? Essentially, everywhere in the U.S except California, New York and, maybe, Seattle???

Well, despite Apple’s hardware and OS gains over the last 3 years, according to SAI’s chart of the day, Microsoft still has a gragantuan footprint out there in the real world. Especially for business services. Our Seattle friends may not be as dominant as they once were, but make no mistake Windows-7 is having a very good run lately.

Read the full SAI piece here.

PS–Wonder if my Blackberry feels lonely.

Crazy Tech Optimism & Valuations? — Agh, Stop Your Blubbering.


A thoughtful defense of current Tech valuations and optimism from Michael Arrington at TechCrunch:


But this isn’t a bubble. It’s more like a Blubble.

A Blubble? Yes, a Blubble. Because there is a lot of whining going on.

2000 Bubble: Raise at least $100 million in venture capital. Spend! Hire everyone (particularly sales people)! Get revenue by any means necessary! Go Public! Sell Your Stock! Run!

2011 Blubble: Drag blubbering angel investors into Series A rounds valuing your company at $6 million instead of $4 million. Hire engineers, lots of them, as many as you can. Don’t hire non-engineers or other overhead people unless you absolutely have to (thus the dearth of VP Biz Devs around). Balance fast growth with low burn (through cost controls or profitability). If you happen to have started Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, capitalize on your massive profitability by doing big late stage rounds that value you at something like 30x forward profits (which isn’t that crazy). If you’ve founded Twitter and have no revenue, capitalize on the massive worldwide cultural impact you’ve created instead.


The Final Take: Entertaining and well written argument from Michael Arrington here. Certainly, most of us who lived through the first bubble, carry some of those scars. Still, I can see many differences in the current environment. So Bubble or Blubbering ?…you decide.

Read the full TechCrunch piece here.


Google Buying "The Music Industry" – Fun To Discuss & Ridiculous.

Over the last few days there has been a “Google Should Buy The Music Industry” meme bouncing all around the web.

In fact, a quick search on the topic will give you at least an hours worth of reading at Techdirt, Slashdot, opendotdotdot, alone.

But the best take so far, comes from deep inside the message forum on Hacker News, from my old compatriot Ethan Kaplan:

A few things, and I’m speaking as a (now former) major label executive:Google should not buy a label or a music company. It wouldn’t make sense at all. The friction going on right now is because Google views music as something that the labels don’t. They view it as data that makes their device better. The music industry views it as intellectual property.

I side with Google on this, depending on WHAT Google wants to do with the data. If they are common carrier, locker in the sky. Great. But as soon as they use it as a means of advertising/marketing (a la Youtube) they are stepping into waters that the RIAA has nothing to do with. It’s just normal, silly US copyright law and the contracts that our heroes the artists signed.

On the other side, imagine if the labels went to Google and demanded all their source code so they could setup their own internal Google and make them some money that way, to add value to their technology. Just as silly.

The other thing: don’t conflate the “Music industry” with the big 4. They are not one and the same. The Music Industry is a HUGE thing that uses and represents the most long lasting of culture artifacts in terms of marketability. It includes Spotify, Soundcloud, Songkick, Hypemachine, Big Champagne, CrowdSurge, Apple, Google (through YouTube right now), Amazon, etc. Then the management companies: The Firm, The Collective, QPrime, Red Light. A vast space.

Some operate on the infrastructure level, some license content, some fill voids and some you’ve never heard of.

That being said, the future of the music INDUSTRY is the disintermediation of the big 4 by means of a restructuring of what they do. Artists don’t need them if they don’t want them, and certainly the companies that make up the industry know this (see Fanbridge, TopSpin, etc).

The industry in the last two years has diversified substantially. The real power is transferring to management companies, startups, distribution, artist services, open-source technology and API based business development.

What will happen to the big 4, and starting with 2 (WMG and EMI) is new owners, and hopefully an entrepreneurial sensibility informing their restructuring. They need to be nimble, technology forward, representing their artists using technology and manning up when it comes to the value of their content (because there is value, and “free” is value if done correctly).

Anyhow, blog posts for another day.


The Final Take: It is fun to discuss music industry dynamics. And it is interesting to think about the role that a company as massive and powerful as Google will play as they more energetically enter “the music industry”. Still, Ethan nailed it here. The concept of “Buying the Music Industry” is silly. The big four label groups certainly own great recording assets — but with publishing, artist management, touring, merchandising, gaming, and above all technology  all sitting outside of the big four’s 100% control, it remains a highly entertaining, but  ridiculous construct.

DMI BonusCNET offers their own “Google should buy Pandora” wrinkle here. Let the fun begin again!

Chuck D & Ashley Judd — So He Sez (Culture Clash Version)

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.” — Ashley Judd, Actor & Author.

“Rap is Black America’s CNN” — Chuck D, Public Enemy

Online Video — It's A Battlefield

Interesting report from Nielsen Wire last week regarding  U.S. online video consumption.

Online video usage in the U.S. is up during March, rebounding from the declines typical of the shorter month of February.  There were 144.2 million unique online video viewers who streamed 3 percent more video and spent 8 percent more time watching using PC/laptops from home and work locations.  Total video streams also increased 7 percent to 14.5 billion streams.

The Final Take: The report is broken into three main sections: Unique Viewers, Total Streams, and Time Spent Viewing.

Five Quick Things Jump Out:

1- Hi-Tides, or in this case better technology, raises all boats. As hi-speed broadband and smart phones become more ubiquitous, online video consumption continues to grow at an aggressive pace.

2- Music is still a killer category, if not the killer category. Despite the plunge in recorded music sales, and live concert revenues, music-obsessed sites like YouTube and Vevo still dominate.

3- The continued strong growth of Hulu and Netflix indicate a rapidly transforming landscape for the TV and Movie industries. Any belief  that massive disruption was only going to be a challenge for the Music and Publishing industries, should be off the table now.

4- Three companies who  had a tough time of it over the last few years, show signs of rebounding. MTV (+25% Total Streams), Yahoo (+21% Total Streams) and CNN (+11% Unique Viewers) are all showing strength. Certainly these numbers, especially in the case of Yahoo and CNN were influenced by historic world events such as the Japanese Earthquake and recent Mid East uprisings, but they are noteworthy nevertheless.

5- Despite all the in-fighting between Hulu and their corporate bosses, they are gaining market share across all three categories. Hulu has built a strong following, and is a brand with a real hook into consumer expectations around Video.

Read the full Neilsen Wire report here.

Top Online Video Brands by Unique Viewers (March 2011, U.S.)
Video Brand Unique Viewers (000) MOM % Change in Viewers
YouTube 111,860 3.6%
VEVO 33,253 3.0%
Facebook 31,885 0.6%
Yahoo! 26,016 11.1%
MSN/WindowsLive/Bing 15,972 7.1%
Hulu 12,315 3.7%
AOL Media Network 11,215 13.7%
The CollegeHumor Network 11,199 19.9%
CNN Digital Network 9,603 60.1%
Fox Interactive Media 9,238 14.6%
Source: The Nielsen Company
Read as: During March 2011, 111.9 million unique U.S. viewers watched video content on YouTube using PC/laptops from home and work locations


Top Online Video Brands by Total Streams (000) (March 2011, U.S.)
Video Brand Total Streams (000) MOM % Change in Streams
YouTube 8,166,713 8.3%
Hulu 810,594 -1.9%
VEVO 383,274 20.6%
MSN/WindowsLive/Bing 259,334 2.4%
Yahoo! 203,292 20.7%
Netflix 201,577 28.0%
Turner-SI Digital Network 171,259 5.8%
Facebook 157,069 7.0%
CNN Digital Network 156,748 127.8%
MTV Networks Music 142,873 24.9%
Source: The Nielsen Company
Read as: During March 2011, 8.2 billion videos were streamed on YouTube in the U.S. using PC/laptops from home and work locations


Top Online Video Brands by Time per Viewer (March 2011, U.S.) / 250K Unique Viewer Minimum
Video Brand Time per Viewer (hh:mm) MOM % Change in Time
Netflix 9:53 6.6%
Tudou.com 8:30 4.5%
Hulu 5:13 3.3%
Cwtv.com 2:58 -16.4%
Megavideo 2:35 -7.7%
YouTube 2:20 5.2%
Justin.tv 2:17 16.8%
StageVU 2:05 -18.2%
Veoh 1:35 -12.6%
Nickelodeon Family & Parents 1:32 -31.3%
Source: The Nielsen Company
Read as: During March 2011, U.S. video viewers spent an average of 9 hours, 53 minutes watching video content on Netflix using PC/laptops from home and work locations