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.




Paul J. Miller (ex-Engadget) & Rupert Murdoch — So He Sez.

“AOL sees content as a commodity it can sell ads against. That might make good business sense (though I doubt it), but it doesn’t promote good journalism or even good entertainment, and it doesn’t allow an ambitious team like the one I know and love at Engadget to thrive.” — Now ex-Engadget editor Paul J. Miller

“Is there any other industry in this country which seeks to presume so completely to give the customer what he does not want?”  — Rupert Murdoch commenting on mass-media news reporting.

MySpace, AOL, Yahoo, MTV — Mortals Running Portals/Lloyd Dobler Edition.

Given all the AOL & MySpace news of late, I thought we should take a look at just what music programming choices our portal friends are making in these tumultuous times. So, let’s pause for a second on who is buying whom, and take a look at the respective music homepages of AOL, MySpace, Yahoo and MTV.

AOL Music: AOL leads with Elton John & Eminem holding hands (in honor of the Grammys), a cross-platform Kellie Pickler & Kyle Jones Valentines Day themed story, and a news feature on the Ashlee Simpson/Pete Wentz divorce announcement. As we mentioned in theAOL buys the Huffington Post story AOL Music long ago transitioned away from songs and music videos, and towards celebrity music news, so this is all of a piece.

This Julianne Hough music news piece also caught our eye:

Julianne Hough first earned fans as a professional dancer on the hit ABC show, Dancing With the Stars,’ and then gained an entirely new audience as a country music singer. Now, she is officially a triple-threat. Appearing in the movie Burlesque’ opposite Cher and Christina Aguilera late last year, the blond beauty also just finished filming ‘Footloose. Julianne plays the female lead, Ariel Moore, originally portrayed by Lori Singer.

Now, not to geek out too badly on you, but that’s seven (7!) links in one paragraph. Must be some sort of cross-promotional and SEO record. For more on this phenomenon of writing articles The AOL way, check out this SAI story here.

Anyway, back to the AOL Music homepage.  Above the fold you can also find AOL’s full album “Listening Party” program with Glee, Ricky Martin, Cut Copy, & Nicole Atkins, prominently featured. Ah yes, diversity…after all AOL ain’t “America’s Portal” for nothing.

MySpace Music: MySpace positions a Runner Runner album premiere front and center, with videos from French DJ Martin Solveig and Far East Moment taking the silver and bronze positions. There is also a “behind the scenes” piece on a new artist called Dev” recording her album and seemingly smoking more pot than Snoop Dogg ever did at Myspace, AOL & Yahoo Sessions, combined. Check the 2:35 mark here. Lastly, MySpace sneaks in a handful of Music News stories above the fold, including the divorce of Pete Wentz & Ashlee Simpson, and the reveal of Lady Gaga”s new album cover art.

Yahoo Music: In contrast to MySpace & AOL, Yahoo of late seems to be taking the Lloyd Dobler/John Cusack approach — they neither want to be bought, sold or proccessed. Yahoo as a whole may not want to be bought or sold, but seem to lead in integrated sponsorship. To that end, Yahoo rolls out a Esperanaza Spalding/Grammy feature in their poll position, and a Chrysler/ Ram Country sponsored Waylon Jennings tribute in slot #2. News pieces on American Idol, the death of the Guitar Hero game franchise, and Nikki Minaj are also featured. Oh yes, there is also room for Wolfgang Puck & Katy Perry (more Grammy integration there) and Lee Brice.

MTV Music: MTV cycles through six big features in a design that shows the most movement & energy of these four portals. Britney Spears’ upcoming MTV video premiere naturally takes slot #1, with video premieres from Panic! at The Disco, and Rooney also well positioned. Turning away from video premieres, MTV also is promoting features on Linkin Park, The Woodies, Underoath,  Two Door Cinema Club (MTV’s Push Artist Of The Week) and a Regina Spektor interview.

Did You Notice: There is a big distinction between the music homepage and the overall homepage at the portals.  At least for this morning, there’s no sign of the Yahoo & AOL Music features cracking their overall homepages’. Myspace  and  MTV, on the other hand prominently feature various music features amidst Snooki, Pauly, Jay Woww, Ryan Seacrest, Glee, Transformers and the like. This doesn’t mean you can’t get to the AOL & Yahoo homepages –sponsored features and Q Factor winners are there on occasion. It’s simply not a given…Also, it’s worth noting that NPR Music, not AOL & Yahoo, seem to now be getting the lions share of high-profile critically accalimed album premieres. Today NPR is featuring streams of the new albums from Bright Eyes and Adele…and lastly, it’s good to see the exclamation return to Panic! at The Disco. Isn’t it!!!

AOL Buys Huffington Post — What Now AOL Music?


I think this is going to be a situation where 1 plus 1 equals 11” — Tim Armstrong, AOL Chairman & CEO to the NY Times.

AOL to Buy Huffington Post; Tim Armstrong says “1+1 will equal 11” Really?? That wasn’t my experience” — Steve Case, founder of AOL & former Chairman of AOL Time Warner on Twitter last night.

“To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the technologist, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be” — Unknown.

On Sunday night, shortly after the Green Bay Packers vanquished the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XLV, the NY Times reported that  AOL had purchased The Huffington Post for a cool $315 million. Arianna Huffington will be in charge of all AOL content.

NPR  & Kara Swisher (From All Things Digital) weigh in here:

The Huffington Post is very good at creating a very exciting aggregation play in news, and they’ve started to do original journalism on the site,” she said. “What [the deal] does say is that news is an exciting area and it always will be. It just depends on how it’s going to be distributed.”

Final Take: Swisher makes a good point here, and one that has ramifications for Digital Music folks. This sale is about News –specifically about Tim Armstrong’s passionate belief that news is the most powerful and most viral category to unleash AOL from the shackles of its dependency on a dwindling  homepage and dial-up audience.

While news has historically been a good driver for AOL, in the 2000’s news shared the AOL spotlight with Entertainment & Music.  After all, AOL was the digital home of Live 8,  and countless other big-budget live concerts and music offerings over the last decade. Despite its declining audience, AOL has consistently been a great resource for music marketers. Labels and managers shrewd enough to understand what kind of artists and content AOL would likely go full-bore with, have forged productive relationships with AOL. But now, with last night’s Huffington Post deal, the position Music plays in the AOL arsenal is in question.

If you’re an optimist, you can point to the successful realignment towards music news that AOL  has engineered over the last few years. AOL Music is still a property racking up over 20mm monthly uniques — mostly by treating music as celebrity news, and leaving the majority of video & audio streaming to YouTube and Vevo. The optimist says a healthy AOL is a good thing for Digital Music. The AOL Music channel is likely to leverage increased overall traffic, as well as the newfound advertising sheen brought by the Huffington deal.

If you’re a pessimist, you can point to a projection of decreased opportunities for music and the music channel at the new AOL. With the Huffington Post deal, the amount of sticky content now under the AOL umbrella has, at the least doubled. How in the world is a video premiere or listening party going to compete for the AOL homepage with name-value instant Obama analysis, or three celebrity-authored takes on the Kardishan’s latest marriage woes?

Lastly, if you simply find yourself wondering if the whole Huff Post/AOL thing is “twice as big as it needs to be”, well then you are either a technologist, or knew one who worked at Steve Case’s AOL Time Warner.

Stay tuned.

Tim Armstrong’s internal AOL memo announcing the deal.

What is Facebook, Really?

Bruce Warren, who publishes the terrific music meets web-culture Some Velvet Blog, turned me on to this smart little piece from Jeffrey Rayport and The Harvard Business Review.

Spoiler Alert: Rayport theorizes that Facebook is so big, and so multi-dimensional experientially, that it has transcended being defined as  a “website”.  He claims it has morphed into something other…perhaps a shadow Internet all onto itself.

Read the full Facebook piece here.

Final Take: While I think Raypot captures many of the unique qualities of Facebook circa 2011, I’d be careful to declare Mark Zuckerberg’s seven year old company a 100% sure bet to dominate ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now. As someone who lived inside the belly of the “AOL IS the Internet, isn’t it?” bubble, and just ten short years ago, it’s just as reasonable to make the bet that things will change. Running man, anyone?

Luke Lewis (NME) Makes 10 Provocative Predictions — I Respond.

Here are 10 Digital Music predictions from Luke Lewis, the sharp as a tack, and highly entertaining, NME scribe.

I respond in kind. And in italics.


1. Streaming will stop looking like the future.  I disagree. I think in 2011 will see a significant rise in legal streaming. Here’s just the tip of the possibility iceberg: Spotify gets to the U.S., Apple & Google enter with streaming models,  Mog, RDIO & Rhapsody do meaningful distribution deals,  and/or Pandora wins on the car dashboard.

2. Piracy will flourish. Only half disagree.  I think we will see Piracy levels, stay more or less the same this year.

3. Bands will stop using Myspace. Agree. Abandon ship.

4. Gig-going will become more social.  Agree. Foursquare and company are real.

5. Google Music will arrive…and won’t make a difference. Agree. Google will arrive. Disagree, that it won’t make a difference. YouTube is arugubly the biggest music site in the world. Already. Google matters.

6. Corporate tie-ins will abound. Disagree. I think we are actually seeing some brand fatigue with traditional music sponsorships. Corporate money for music is way tighter than 4-5 years ago, and will continue to be tight until the economy improves.

7. Music videos will get more interactive. Agree, agree, agree. Here comes creativity.

8. Fan funding will go mainstream. Disagree. Obama on that was mainstream. Fan funding will grow, but more the way D2C or vinyl has grown. Incrementally.

9. Music Apps will suck less. Agree. Could they suck any more?

10. Downloads will get cheaper. This is a great closer. Agree, for the first three quarters of 2011. The Amazon Daily Deal and their $5 album customer acquisition strategy alone will drive pricing down. Also, note iTunes’ steady promotion of  69 cent songs.  But watch the end of this year and the affect of streaming. Things could shift radically, making the download a relatively expensive option, targeted for only the most engaged digital consumer.

So, don’t take my word for all thisI urge you to read Luke’s full piece here.

He’s a great writer, with a unique POV.

People Listen To Music In Cars?– CES 2011 Scorecard (So Far….)

Let’s take a look at the early happenings at CES 2011. Who is up and who is down, as Digital Music intersects with Consumer Electronics around the biggest trade show of the year.

CES 2011: The DMI Scorecard so far:

PANDORA:-UP: With Joe Kennedy, a CEO with deep automotive experience, at the helm, Pandora Radio makes the biggest noise so far with a meaty Toyota deal and a BMW integration, hot on the heels of their previous Ford announcement.

MOG-UP: After announcing the roll out of “Mog Fusion” (easy API integration for any interested automotive 3rd party), Mog quickly unleashed the news yesterday of a pre-bundled Verizon deal. Mog will come preinstalled on all Verizon Android 4g phones, with a billing option directly through consumers’ phone bills.

RDIO-UP: RDIO announced a deal that integrates them with the  SONOS MUSIC SYSTEM, the elegant home streaming play.  Sonos already encompasses offerings from Rhapsody and Napster; now RDIO joins the party.

CLEAR CHANNEL -UP: Late last year Clear Channel announced their Toyota in-dash integration for the iheartradio App, now they are showcasing a play with the iHome clock radio player.

SONY– UP: The Sony  QRIOCITY Music service, which is notably integrated into 2010 and later versions of Playstation, Bravia Televisions, and Sony Blu-Ray players, is picking up attention. After the disaster of Sony Connect, there is a long road ahead for Sony, but the impressive Sony hardware base and its more open ideology, is picking up coverage.

RHAPSODY – DOWN: Conspicuously quiet. So far.

SPOTIFY – DOWN: Conspicuously absent.

TRADITIONAL TERRESTRIAL RADIO-DOWN: With the notable exception of Clear Channel (see above), terrestrial radio sits and watches as the dashboard is taken away from them.

Final Take: So far, Hats Off to Pandora and Mog for making the biggest noises on the front end of CES 2011. Panodora’s 1-2 punch of Toyota and Ford announcements is fueling good free PR, and is making sure that Pandora is prominent as the bigger “Battle for the Auto Dashboard” story unfolds. And Mog has impressed, especially against direct competitors Rhapsody and RDIO, with a high-profile Verizon deal on top of their Mog Fusion announcement. The Mog/Verizon deal is especially interesting to label & industry partners, as it features preinstallation and the holy grail of monetization…..automatic carrier billing.

This isn’t the final take for CES 2011. Look for more announcements, skuttlebutt, and PR positioning in the days to come.

Update: Veteran media and radio consultant Fred Jacobs weighs in on Pandora and CES. Fred  makes interesting points around investing in infrastructure ahead of other choices, and quantifying cool. He also touches on my point regarding just how much ground terrestrial radio is ceding. Read the whole piece here.

Mortals Running Portals: DMI Scorecard January 2nd 2011

Think way back to say …. January 2003.

In those days, kids were glued to TRL, the hottest portable phone for teens was a T-Mobile Sidekick, and Avril Lavigne, Creed, & Dixie Chicks dominated the charts. The iTunes store had not launched. If you wanted online impact — the “portals” (Yahoo, AOL, MSN) were the preeminent music sites.

Sure, times have changed. Fans, artists, labels and advertisers are primarily focused on chasing music dollars at social driven sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like. Still, with MTV & Vevo cracking 50 million monthly uniques, and MySpace and AOL still well over 20 million, there are a lot of fans, and a lot of dollars, to reach through the portals.

So without further ado, let’s see what the mortals running the portals are up to as we head into 2011.

Here’s the DMI portal scorecard:

Yahoo Music: Lady GaGa “Paparazzi” video, Best albums of year, Worst videos of year, Music news, Year in cats, Taylor Swift & Niki Minaj interviews tied to Best of year, Ram Country feat Keith Urban & Billy Currington.

AOL Music: Best Songs Of Year, 2011 Predictions, Top 10 Country News Stories, Album Listening Party feat. Susan Boyle, David Archuletta, Glee Christmas Album, etc.

MSN Music: Best Albums year in review,Dakar Diary: African Pop, Year in review- Best Songs,  Year in review Hits & Misses, Black Keys Live Performance. Music Follies (Music News), Expert Witness (Robert Christgau Blog),  Sci-Fi Soundtracks feat. Tron. Listening Booth—feat Susan Boyle, Glee, etc.

MTV: Two music features above the fold on 1-MTV’s 2011 Artists To Watch feat. Wiz Khalfia & Miguel, and 2- Katy Perry Beats Sophmore Slump feature.

Vevo: 2010 Videos of the year, ‘Fresh Out Of The Oven” Ameer, Perfume Genius.

MySpace: Introducing feat. Christina Perri, Nelly exclusive album premiere, #1 songs from Linkin Park, Rhianna and Bruno Mars.

Pitchfork: Top 50 Albums of 2010, Guide to 2011 Upcoming Releases, Ariel Pink on Pitchfork TV.

Rolling Stone: Kanye West “Monster” Video Premiere,  2010 Musical disasters, Music Reviews:  Kanye West, Vampire Weekend,  Taylor Swift, REM ‘Discoverer” single, Michael Jackson, Adele “Rolling In The Deep”.

Did You Notice: Spiffy and improved new layout for Rolling Stone. AOL & Yahoo still having dated Christmas features and albums front and center well after the holiday?

Hats Off: Impressed to see MTV, AOL and Pitchfork looking forward to upcoming releases and artists.