08
Mar 11

Power Up Your Laptop — It's A TV Party!

There’s a new survey out from PricewaterhouseCoopers that shows more TV is now watched on computers, than on TV.

Next thing you know they’ll tell us that more people steal music than buy it from iTunes.

Wacky.

DMI Tip: Some very interesting data points in this passage:

When asked about the ways they obtain movie content, only 12.9% cited purchasing via VOD from their cable company, which put that ninth on the list behind streaming from Hulu for free (30.7%), renting from an actual brick and mortar store (23.3%), or borrowing one from a friend or relative (19.8%). The two top answers were renting an actual copy from a Netflix (42.6%) and renting an online copy (31.7%)

DMI Tip #2: Special vintage Black Flag “TV Party” video below. Cause we love you.


 


07
Mar 11

Lupe Fiasco Tells His Truth.

 

On the eve of his new album release, there is a highly unusual, and quite entertaining Lupe Fiasco interview this morning in New York Magazine. Lupe spends the majority of his time talking about his contentious relationship with his label, and his negative feeling’s towards pop success, the music business, and even his very own album.

Tip of the Iceberg:

Lasers (the new album) came in phases. Some of it was honest and some of it was dishonest. When I say dishonest, I mean the label coming in and sort of messing things up. And the honest part, we’d record a phase of Lasers and this guy puts out an album, and it’s like, we got to compete with that…So it’s like, Oh shit, now what? Now everything I do on this record is going to be unsuccessful?

You need to do this interview and all this promotion even if it kills you, because it means your record is going to do this and if you don’t do it you’re not going to get this and you’re not going to get that.” Now those same kind of things don’t have that effect on me, because I don’t really care about the success anymore. I don’t really care about the fame. Three, four years later, I look at my bank account statements, and I haven’t made any money with my record label.

I don’t like the music business. I’ve always said that. I’ve been on Sony, BMG; I’ve been in every system. It’s something that I’ve always looked at with a certain level of disdain about the way the business was carried out. The relationship that I have with Atlantic, right now, it’s copacetic. Hopefully we’ll get through the rest of our contract without too many big hiccups.

I’m guilty of it, too. Hip-hop today — talking solely about the commercial space — it’s the same producers, sound, over and over again. The artist with that particularly poppy song is given the first look as opposed to that ethereal, weird artist with the brand-new music. I think that’s why you see things like you saw at the Grammys, where you have these massive acts, humungous records, crazy talent — and the person who wins Best New Artist is this really abstract left bass player. Because it’s about who’s making music, who’s making something different. Justin Bieber sounds just like everybody else, to be honest. He’s the homie; he’s dope. But he’s no different than Sean Kingston, Usher.

The Final Take: Perhaps Lupe is out there completely winging it, simply answering questions honestly. If so, he certainly has a way with words. His mixed (at best) feelings about his new album, current label, and the music business in general, make great copy…and for anyone whose been in the game, ring true.

Or perhaps, Lupe’s comments — questioning the very fabric of pop success — are more than a little strategic. In a contemporary pop and hip-hop marketplace increasingly devoid of danger and non-conformity, Lupe is staking his claim to both rebellion and authenticity.

Lupe seems to be a straight shooter, and miles away from Charlie Sheen’s personal lifestyle. But in the wake of  the very effective Charlie Sheen media blitz, there certainly seems to be an appetite for the lone wolf bucking up  against the corporate machine. I’d argue that although Lupe is using modern media to get his message out, he feels more like Dave Chapelle, Marlon Brando or even J.D. Salinger.  Only time will tell if this smart, talented but ultimately disaffected artist is in search of a different path forward, or is simply heading straight for the exit.

For today, one thing is crystal clear –Lupe Fiasco has some things to say, and  people are listening.

Read the full New York Magazine Lupe Fiasco piece here.

 

 


04
Mar 11

Apple & The Cloud — You'll Need A Weatherman

 

“Hence, different expressions can be used to depict similar sky conditions — partly cloudy and partly sunny can be used interchangeably.” — Jeffrey Nesmith, Meteorologist.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” — Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan.

 

There are rumblings today from Bloomberg and Billboard that Apple is closing in on licensing a new set of music cloud rights from the major labels. The gist of the offering is expanded rights for iTunes customers on their music purchases. Specifically, these rights might include the ability to re-download any purchased track in perpetuity — and the idea of unlimited cloud access to your purchases from all Apple devices.

 

The Final Take: If you think this sounds an awful lot like some of the rumoured elements of the Google cloud music play, you would be right. This tweak would also take one of the cooler elements from Apple competitors like Spotify, Mog and Rhapsody — that is, the ability to effectively keep your music up in the cloud — and moves that  into the Apple ecosystem. Given Spotify’s latest round of funding, I don’t think this is merely coincidence.

For consumers this is probably all good news.  The digital music experience is about to return more value, and more choice, to the buyer.

If you like the a la carte current iTunes experience, then great –now your purchases are guaranteed and more easily accessible. And if you want unlimited music access through subscription, chances are that you will be looking at decreased costs and increased value as Rhapsody, Mog, RDIO and possibly Google try to keep pace with Apple.

 

On the other hand, if you work in the Recording Industry it’s time to take your umbrellas and suntan lotion into your budget meetings. Because things are looking partly sunny and partly cloudy according to your forecast.

03
Mar 11

Wikileaks & Digital Music– A Matter Of Life & Death.

The Music Business has a longstanding reputation for nastiness.

For every charming story of civility and grace under pressure from a Ahmet Ertegun or Lenny Waronker, there are ten stories of intimidation, payola, and  rough tactics. Barriers to entry are low, the mechanisms of gatekeepers like radio, concert promoters, and retailers are often shady, and personality generally trumps business mechanics.

Hunter Thompson famously said:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

 

Still, even when things turn ugly, the Music Business isn’t really a contact sport. Even in this highly disruptive time — it’s people’s feelings, and people’s livelihoods, that get hurt. It’s serious stuff,  but it’s not life and death.

Wikileaks is a whole different animal. International espionage, state security, and information transparency are all highly weighted concepts. And depending on who you talk to, very real matters of life and death.

So, I don’t mean to trivialize any of these Wikileaks issues, by bringing the Music Industry into this discussion.

Still, for anyone who works in Digital Music, Wikileaks is especially fascinating.

Micah Sifry is a technology and political analyst. He just released a book called “Wikileaks and the age of transparency” that amplifies some of the ideas that the digerati have been discussing of late.

Three macro ideas particularly jump out, that I will tag as community, scarcity, and capacity:

On Community:

What is new is our ability to individually and together connect with greater ease than at any time in human history. As a result, information flows more freely into the public arena, powered by seemingly unstoppable networks of people around the world cooperating to share vital data and prevent its suppression. Old institutions and incumbent powers are inexorably coming to terms with this new reality. The “Age of Transparency” is here: not because one transnational online network dedicated to open information and whistle-blowing named WikiLeaks exists, but because the knowledge of how to build and maintain such networks is now widespread.

…social sharing of data–be it MP3 files or once-secret government documents–is out of anyone’s control once the material is in digital form. And anyone who wants to form an association of like-minded souls can do so in seconds, using search tools, social networks, or just plain old email. And while there is still a limit to how many genuine connections one individual can have with others, there is no inherent limit to the number of connections that a community may create laterally. A “one-to-many” email list or social following may look valuable, but no one person can have millions of personal relationships. Thus, while leaders and celebrities remain important, their stars are dimming, as community hubs, forums, and aggregators that knit together thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people are steadily growing

 

On Scarcity:

The fundamental change powering this networked age of politics is the shift from scarcity to abundance. Thanks to the rapid evolution of computer processing power, all kinds of goods that were once expensive to produce have become cheap. Beyond the declining price of a personal computer or a backup drive, elemental changes in the economics of information, connectivity, and time have occurred.

 

On Capacity:

Finally, as the price of memory and disk space has continued to collapse, our ability to share time-intensive and content-rich resources has exploded. While old media like television, radio, and print have inherent physical limits on how much space or time than can give to any subject, on the Internet there are no such limits. The sound bite can be replaced with a sound blast, and if your content is compelling, people will share it for you.


The Final Take:  Our tableau is hardly one of life and death. But, as we deal with intellectual property and copyright issues, there are some striking parrallels between these Wikileaks issues and our business. We are an industry wrestling mightly with how to build an economic model that takes the new realities and makes them work. And if the Music Business doesn’t figure these questions out? Well, then, for this one time…for this one industry…it actually might be a matter of life or death.

 

 


25
Feb 11

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.





25
Feb 11

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.


22
Feb 11

The Artist Case For Hope — Fitz & The Tantrums

A few days back Bob Lefsetz (The Lefsetz Letter) published a wonderful fan-appreciation piece on the Dangerbird band, Fitz & The Tantrums.

Now the band has responded, and it’s an incredible letter.  In fact, it practically screams — “Rock Music Marketing in 2011—The Artist Case For Hope”.

Some highlights:

… this band is truly an amalgamation of Old and New school music business paradigms and its been incredible to be a part of and witness.

… We got Lisa Nupoff and Brian Klein to manage us.  Two people that respected the DIY approach and had experience with the direct to fan model.

...So much of our success has been word of mouth, fan to fan, music lover to music lover spreading the word.  It is absolutely the main reason for any early success.

…We did all the social media platforms, Facebook, twitter, last fm, the sixty-one, used TopSpin and gave away a free track in exchange for an email addresses.  All the social media sites have collectively helped build a foundation but facebook has hands down been the most important of them all for us as a band.

…Noelle and I as the singers do all the correspondence on facebook and twitter.  We take time to write them back or respond to their comments. People let us know when our site is down or we mislabeled a venue for a tour and they keep us on our toes…. we make sure to take care of (each) problem personally.

… Until this band I thought that radio was truly dead.  Who listens to radio?  Well apparently a shit ton of people…  (working with radio) was such an education for me.  Old School hitting the pavement, meet and greets, signings at the end of every show.  Doing the work. Plain and simple.

…We have tried to create a great live show because yes anyone can make a decent recording.  Everyone can steal your music but they can’t steal your live show. …No two shows are the same.

The Final Take: Fitz lays it all out in their letter. This really is a marketing primer:

  • Building community through giveaways and personal contact.
  • The importance of Social Networking (especially Facebook & Twitter).
  • Live touring as the asset with the most scarcity.
  • The role a good label still plays; especially in getting to radio.
  • The reality that radio is still the  biggest accelerator …even if the stations are non-commercial like KEXP, KCRW & WXPN.
  • Above all else — the Artists need to be deeply involved in connecting with their fans.

18
Feb 11

Awareness. Connection. Conversion. — In That Order.

2011-2-16 New Music Seminar rev2.008

The Final Take: The slide above is from the recent Ian Rogers/Topspin presentation at the New Music Seminar. For artists, managers & labels this certainly hits the bullseye in terms of direct-to-fan marketing in the digital era. But, as importantly, there are great strategic lessons to be learned here for any brand. I urge you to check the whole presentation out here.


17
Feb 11

You Can Always Come Back, But You Can't Come Back All The Way

The Final Take: On first blush this Bain chart of  global music revenue is sobering. We have lived through a painful slide. And, no one I trust is betting on a reprise of the upward growth curve of the 90’s. That growth was a CD phenomenon.

But, if you take a breath and steady yourself, you will note that we are seeing a business still driving substantial revenues — equal revenues to the early 1990’s. This despite being tied to a badly outdated business model –a model overly dependent on selling individual copies of pre-recorded CDs & ala carte digital files. This is a business plan that hasn’t really changed since 1992.

So, how will this chart start heading upward again? If I knew that with 100% clarity, I wouldn’t be blogging tonight, I’d be collecting on my bets. So while I don’t have 100% clarity, I do see some light. People still love music. The amount of music-related YouTube and Facebook posts alone are staggering.

Here’s what I do in times of confusion; I think about Bob Dylan. And since we are talking about the 1990’s, playing the Dylan card works nicely. In the early 1990’s Bob Dylan was washed up and counted out — he was knocked out loaded. Rambling and seemingly incoherent performances, indifferent albums, and no discernable strategy. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he (or someone close to him) remembered “Bob Dylan Is Important”. Let’s position him as important. In the early 1990’s, as CDs were booming, Dylan made two under-the-radar but critically lauded blues records. Tours got much better. He dressed up like a squire. Dylan got proud again. This all led to Time Out Of Mind, which won the Grammy for Best Album in 1998, and cemented Dylan’s comeback. Then for an encore to Time Out Of Mind, Dylan capped the decade off and summed the whole thing up, with this classic line from the song “Mississippi”,

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

That’s what I see when I look at this chart. A music business that seems, for now, like Dylan in the 80’s. Positively knocked out loaded.

But perhaps, with Social Networking, Hack-Days, New Artist Deal Models, and above all a real embracing of technology — the business can find some way to get proud again.

Like Dylan, the music business can come back, just not all the way.


11
Feb 11

Mary Meeker Shows Us Where We Are Headed

Mary Meeker is a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She consistently does a terrific job of contextualizing web trends and their business ramifications.

SAI has just released a 56 page presentation that Ms. Meeker has completed — it makes for great reading.

Top 10 Mobile Internet Trends (Feb 2011)

View more presentations from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The Final Take: For Digital Music thinkers, at least five main take-aways become clear:

1-Our business will live or die on how well we address the mobile  consumer.


2-Social Networking & Recommendation Marketing will continue to drive the most effective engagement strategies.

3-We have fallen far behind other industries in three key tactical areas: Gaming, Virtual Goods, & Freemium.

4-The tethered download is out-of-step with trends.

5-Investing time and money in established companies, at the expense of jumping in with new movers, is a historically poor strategy in this space.