Humans Vs. Algorithms: The LA Times Weighs In

Hello blog.
I’m emerging after a summer respite.

The L.A. Times weighs in on Slacker Radio today:

Slacker’s handcrafted approach sets it apart not just from broadcast radio, but also from some of its online rivals, including Pandora, which relies on an algorithm to determine what song to play next.

Read the full piece here: LA Times

The Final Take: Imagine a radio station that played George Jones, The Clash, Smokey Robinson, Radio Dept. and  Sigur Ros. Sounds kinda like a Hipster Divebar Jukebox, no? Check out what the humans are up to right here.


The WMG Sale & The Coach.

By now, most of you have heard the news that Len Blavatnik and Access Industries have purchased WMG for 3.3 billion dollars.

Stateside, you can read Billboard’s coverage of the sale here, and Edgar Bronfman’s letter to WMG’s employees here.

Meanwhile, The Guardian adds their take complete with some interesting conjencture about EMI, and the European Commission:

Blavatnik’s Access Industries won an auction to buy the company with a friendly bid worth $8.25 a share, in a deal that will immediately trigger expectations that under the fresh ownership, Warner Music will try again to bid for EMI, the fourth-ranked music group under the temporary ownership of Citigroup.

Access Industries will assume Warner Music’s $2bn of debts, and provide about $1bn of equity, to buy out a company that has been controlled by Bronfman and a group of private equity investors since they bought the business back in 2004 from media conglomerate Time Warner for $2.6bn.

The idea is to ensure that the bid does not overload Warner Music with debt, leaving it the headroom to pursue EMI if it desired. However, sources close to Access Industries say that there is no need for Access/Warner to make a move on the British company to justify the purchase price.

Final Take: It’s fashionable to greet these kinds of events with cynicism, especially given the staggering operating losses all the majors have shown over the last few years. Still, I can’t help but flash on the words of  legendary NY Giants football coach Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are”.  And, today at least, the record says WMG is worth $3.3 billion dollars.

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.

Amazon Will Pay Top Dollar — To Google.

Amidst all the recent Amazon news — the Cloud Drive launch, the “we don’t need a license” letter to major labels, and the ad-supported and price-discounted Kindle, I originally missed this very interesting report on Amazon’s Search spending.

SAI reported yesterday that Amazon was Google’s #1 advertiser for Q4 2010, spending over $51 million dollars. That’s right, Amazon spent  fifty one million dollars at Google in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Final Take: All is fair in love, war, and the Digital Music business. Amazon is the world’s biggest e-commerce player. They are wildly profitable. Amazon has successfully disrupted the book business, and are certainly a giant factor in electronics, apparel, toys, jewelry and a host of other categories including music.

For Digital Music executives, it seems to me it is best to recoginize the history here. Amazon doesn’t usually dabble. Thay may move slower than you would like, and they are tough negotiatiors, tough partners. But they are clearly here to stay. In fact, Amazon has been selling music for 15 years now.

I have previously written about Amazon’s laser focus on customer aquisition. ($5 Albums — Sure, Cause Amazon’s Customers Are Worth More Than Yours) The facts remain — a customer is worth more to Amazon than any other music retailer. Diversification will do that for you; a lesson the recorded music industry should heed.

So, while Amazon is busy asking the labels for increased wholesale discounts, and favorable marketing scenarios, they are also spending agressively at Google, and itireating their music offerings.

For Digital Music stakeholders the real question shouldn’t be “Will Amazon stay committed and challenge Apple”?…instead, it should be –“What can we do to benefit from this spending?” and “What’s our play here?”.

 

 

 

MTV Gets It Right — "O Music Awards". Open, Ongoing, Online…featuring Cats.

Yesterday MTV announced the nominees for their “O Music Awards”.   (I first wrote about MTV’s plan for a messy and chaotic Digital Music awards show” on January 20th).

I’m impressed.

Instead of trying to make the web come to them, MTV is going to the Web.

While there are some predictable nominees like Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Pink, and Justin Bieber in the MTV mix, the vast majority of nominees feel fresh. Acts like Tyler the Creator (Odd Future), Amanda Palmer, Ted Leo, Questlove, Animal Collective and Phish dominate these nominations.

How did MTV get to this inspired representation of artists?  Well, it seems to me they have done three very smart things:

1- MTV has rethought the whole idea of “categories”.  MTV has thrown away tired terrestrial and genre constructs like “Best Video” “Best Song” “Rock” “Hip-Hop” etc in favor of web-specific behaviors. With categories like  “Favorite F**k Yeah Tumblr”, “Must Follow Artist On Twitter”, ” and “Best Fan Army” they have injected both reality (this is what people really do online around music) and new energy into these award categories.

2- MTV is willing to not take themselves too seriously. Any offering that celebrates “Most Viral Dance”, “Funniest Music Short”, and ‘Best Animal Short” (nominees include Dog, Parrot and of course, Cats — this is online, after all), isn’t looking for gravitas. MTV recognizes that many people like slight and amusing stuff when online, and they are happy to give the people what they want.

3- Most importantly, MTV has zeroed in on some key cultural truths. Cultural truths about Digital Music, and for that matter, online activity in general.  The subhead for the awards is telling  — “The Open, Ongoing and Online Music Awards“.  Smartly, the whole package is trying to live up to that subhead, from fan-itireated categories to the interactive process for voting.  Additionally, it’s good to see MTV tip their hat to real web behaviors like “Music Hacks’ “Animated GIFs” and “Most Viral Dance”. Sure, these things aren’t particularly deep, but who cares? As long as MTV is accurately reflecting that millions of folks want to see Willow Smith whip her hair, they have a shot of creating something new and relevant. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that they have made room for competitive music services like Pandora, Soundcloud and The Hypemachine in their mix; a pretty bold and savvy move.

The Final Take:  While the roll out of  nominees strikes me as inspired, with no current TV broadcast plans for the awards, many questions remain about how this “show” will perform for advertisers, artists, and MTV  themselves. Dermot McCormack, MTV ‘s EVP of Digital Media, is  lowering expectations:

“If there is such a thing as a beta award show, this is it.”…“We won’t be judging by how many streams we do on several websites, We will be judging it by how much we can affect the conversation around digital music in the lead-up and beyond.”.

 

Then again, perhaps McCormack isn’t just playing possum here. For an awards show that intends to celebrate real digital music realities, lower expectations and more frivolity seems like just the right note, to me.


 

Social Media Explosion — Not The Same As it Ever Was

 

There is a illuminating Social Media piece this morning from Jake Hird at eConsultancy.

In it, he lays out the numerical growth of Social Media over the last 12 months.

This is explosive growth.

 

Some highlights:

Last Year: Facebook has 350 million active users on global basis.

Now: Facebook officially hit the half-billion member mark last year. According to figures from Socialbakers, there are now some 640m Facebook users worldwide.

Last Year: 50% of active users log into Facebook each day. This means at least 175m users every 24 hours.

Now: Still citing the 50% active rate, using the official 500m figure, this means at least 250m users every 24 hours. This is more than a 40% increase in 12 months.

Last Year: 65m users access Facebook through mobile-based devices.

Now: It may well be the year of mobile… For Facebook. Users accessing the site through mobile devices now tops 200m – an enormous 200% increase in around a twelve-month period.

Last Year: There are more than 3.5bn pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, etc.) shared each week on Facebook.

Now: Clearly, Facebook is still growing: More than 30bn pieces of content is shared each month, which is an average of 7bn pieces a week.

 

 

Last Year: Twitter has 75m user accounts, but only around 15m are active users on a regular basis.

Now: Twitter now officially claims to have 175m registered users, although it’s unclear what percentage regularly user the service.

 

Last Year: LinkedIn has over 50m members worldwide.

Now: Officially, Linkedin has grown 100%, now having over 100m professionals who use the platform worldwide.

 

Last Year: Flickr hosts more than 4bn images.

Now: Flickr continues to grow at a steady rate, having increased by some 25% in the last twelve months. At the end of 2010, it was hosting more than 5bn images.


Six other tidbits from Jake Hird:

  • More than 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • Flickr members upload more than 3,000 images every minute.
  • The average Facebook user creates 90 pieces of content each month.
  • There are more than 2bn video views on YouTube every 24 hours.
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
  • People on Facebook install 20m applications every day.

 

The Final Take: David Byrne may have put it best…

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view

That is, you need to be careful analyzing numbers and “facts”.  As objective as you try to be, they all come with a point of view.

Here’s mine: Some broader trends are well amplified here. The ascension of Mobile as a platform, and photos and video as preferred content forms, are undeniable.

And the scale of Facebook’s penetration and user participation is almost beyond comprehension. This growth easily dwarfs the golden years (2000-2002) of AOL for example, where 25mm monthly subscribers was seen as a bellwether mark, or MySpace’s climb to 100mm accounts in 2006.

This kind of scale has tremendous ramifications for users and businesses alike. Some strategists view Facebook as a “shadow internet” — with visitors who are “always on Facebook” simply substituting their Facebook activity for all online activity. Others opine that Facebook will inevitably plateau, and to be careful about over-optimizing your web activities just to serve Facebook.

Lastly, with the rise of Linkedin, Twitter, and Flickr (or Pandora for that matter), it’s clear that highly targeted silos can scale. Businesses with great, differentiated, user experiences can grow faster than ever before.

Again, just my point of view — based solely, of course, on the facts.

 

 

Read the full eConsultancy piece here.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Greatest Artist Blog Post Ever — Amanda Palmer Returns

Amanda Palmer, ex-Dresden Dolls, has been widely celebrated for her use of digital tools, especially Twitter.  I first covered her on this blog on January 11th, and have been religiously following her Twitter feed ever since.

Amanda has an original, funny, unvarnished voice.

But yesterday, she upped the ante considerably, by writing one of the most inspiring, humorous, yet touching blog posts that I have ever read.

Here is just the tip of the iceberg:

i’m home. three months was a long time to be away from a consistent bed.

i’m sitting at the kitchen table listening to the new avril lavigne record.
it’s really not good so far. it’s actually pretty awful.
but it’s not bad for reflecting. it frees my mind.

And…

i stopping doing logical bullshit career things and i started picking the projects that meant less money, but more time around more gentle friends, the kind of people i liked sharing wine and stories with.
i picked evelyn evelyn (commercial suicide), i picked an EP of radiohead cover songs (not suicide, but close, like browsing in a pawn shop for a gun), a dip back in musical theater with my part in “Cabaret” (i was paid less to be in that show, per week, than my lowest-paid staff member, and i had 5 people working for me…but i loved it).
i let the money slip away and i sold enough merch on the road and online and did enough shows to break even on the side.

and i threw together an album of mish-mash recordings to release in australia, just so i could have a less flimsy excuse to go back to brunswick street in melbourne and get coffee.
i’m serious. those two things went together in my head.
i have no manager.
i have no label.
nobody advises me (at least, from an office at a desk), nobody tells me what to do, nobody’s freaking out that i’m not in the charts.

 

In fact, I think this post is easily one of the best things I have read by any artist…Dylan, Mingus, Walter Becker, Letser Bangs all included. (By the way, even if you hate Steely Dan, I recommend you read anything Walter Becker writes …always darkly brilliant)

Final Take: If you want to really feel what it’s like to be an artist, leveraging technology to take control of your own career as the traditional music business craters all around you, read Amanda Palmer’s blog.

She tackles art, money, fame, values, technology, A&R, ego, humility, commerce, and Avril Lavigne in one beautiful explosion of blogging genius.

Enjoy it here.

 

 

 

Bill Ngyuen Is Back — More Colorful Than Ever

 

When I first met Bill Ngyuen, I thought he was absolutely full of it.

He was running a cloud-streaming-CD-trading site called Lala, and he talked a mile a minute. Bill said things like “We’re gonna make the Music Business hip again”, ‘Wait till you see how Lala does the cloud, you will be blown away”, and “We are thisclose to deals with Google, & MySpace“, and “Have you heard this track from Built To Spill, incredible!”

On first blush, it all seemed to good to be true. A shorts-wearing music and tech obsessive, who wanted to help grow paid music consumption? It was hard to buy in.

Now, I will be the first to admit — Bill didn’t save my label or make the  Music Business “hip” again. But, he certainly delivered on most of his promises.  Lala did have the best cloud integration of its day. (I’ll never forget the day our head of Biz Affairs saw me sorting my home iTunes playlists on my work computer, thanks to Lala). Lala did do deals with MySpace and Google. Lala integrated beautifully with iTunes.

Their marketing and promotion was non-existent, but as a service, Lala worked.

When Bill sold Lala to Apple, and went, temporarily to work in Cupertino, I fell out of contact with him.

Maybe Bill believed that he had taken his cloud music revolution as far as he could as a small shop, perhaps he simply got an offer he couldn’t turn down. People grow bored and frustrated, people have families, stuff happens.

Still, I had to tip my hat to Bill for shaking things up with Lala, and showing us the potential of the cloud.

Now, Bill has remerged with Color, a new photo-based Social Networking app & site. The Color app takes your photos, videos, and comments and ports them to anyone else in your location who has the app on.

This is an ingenious play. It takes the two hottest online content forms — photos and videos, and tethers them to the two hottest trends online — social networking and self-expression.

 

The Final Take:  So this time, when Bill Ngyuen gets enthusiastic, I will understand that he is indeed full of it…as long as you define “it” as vision, possibility, and smarts.

 

 

 

 

Hate It Or Love It — Obama Throws The Felony Flag

 


Coming up in a cold world

Daddy ain’t around

Probably out committing felonies

— The Game feat. 50 Cent  “Hate It Or Love It”


I always loved that Game/50 Cent song. This morning I most definitely flashed on it reading the news that Victoria Espinel, President Obams’s “IP Czar” had recommended looking at certain kinds of streaming activity as felonies:

 

(we need to) clarify that infringement by streaming, or by means of other similar new technology, is a felony in appropriate circumstances.


The Final Take: Well, well, well. Whatever your political bent, it is interesting to watch one of our more liberal presidents up the legal ante on web piracy. From my seat, it seems pretty clear that this isn’t really about protecting the Recorded Music Industry, but instead is a reflection on three recent trends:

  • Consistency of enforcing IP related issues in the wake of Julian Assange/Wikileaks.
  • Some real political muscle being flexed by the MPAA around video web piracy issues.
  • The adminstration’s desire to take a strong intellectual property stance at the exact same time they stay (mostly) silent on the bigger issue of net neutrality.

Tip O’Neill once said:

“All Politics is Local”.

In our case, I will go with my friend Milt, esteemed legal counsel, instead:

Jack, Jack, Jack. It’s not about the money.

It’s about the Money.

Hate it or love it, indeed.

Read the full Ars Technica coverage here.

 

Sean Parker Schools Alanis & Warner On Irony

In 1995, times were flush for labels and publishers, and Alanis Morissette in particular was riding high. Her Maverick/Warner Bros. album, Jagged Little Pill, was well on its way to selling an incredible 33 million units worldwide, fueled in large part by the smash single “Ironic”:

 

It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay

It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late

Isn’t it ironic … don’t you think

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought … it figures

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out

Helping you out


In fact, times were so good for Ms. Morissette that the misuse of the term “ironic” seemed to be one of her very few buisness problems. Of course, since 1996  times have changed dramatically for both Ms. Morissette and Warner. Bros. Audiences, album sales, and profits have turned more modest…and clarity around all kinds of definitions, have had to become more precise.

Now, in 1995 Sean Parker was 15 years old. I imagine him driving around suburban Virginia and hearing “Ironic” on his car radio. At this moment, Parker was also an expert hacker, although one who had just been caught and sentenced to community service work for his activities. And he was just a couple of years away from co-founding Napster, the file sharing service that rearranged the rules of music consumption for fans and labels alike.

Today, 16 years later, word has spread that Mr. Parker is part of a group of investors who have a very legitimate shot at buying the Warner Music Group, home to Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill.

This, my friends, is the proper definition of ironic.


The Final Take: Doesn’t this make you want to write a new verse for Alanis:

It’s the Napster Hacker buying your Label

It’s the Digital Disrupter escorting you out

Isn’t it ironic … don’t you think

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought … it figures

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out

Helping you out

 


Read more on Sean Parker’s possible purchase of WMG from All Things Digital and New York Magazine.