"Músic" by Joan Sorolla

“Músic” by Joan Sorolla

Musicians are creative. They can turn words and notes into sonic emotion. Everyday, musicians find new ways to express themselves creatively, be it through a new guitar tone, a visual idea for a music video, or that perfect vocal melody.

Musicians are smart. It’s often overlooked how complicated playing and creating music really is. Reading, comprehension, listening, motor, memory, and creativity all play a part in playing even the simplest songs. People don’t decide to become a musician because they’re not good at anything else. If it was that easy everyone would play music. That’s one of the reasons why we’re all so fascinated by musicians – because not everyone can be a musician. They can take an idea, turn it into a song, and touch thousands of people in a unique way.

There’s this notion in the music industry that music and business are two completely separate entities – two separate parts of a whole. One without another would not survive, but they rarely cross. It doesn’t need to be that way.

A musician’s creativity need not be limited to music. Many musicians who are going at it alone or are just starting their career are overwhelmed by the business side of the industry. They are told that they need to understand law, marketing, accounting, and more if they want to make it today. To a musician who is used to solving things creatively, looking at their career from this other perspective seems daunting.

It’s important to know some things about the music business, like general copyright law and basic accounting to keep track of your money, so you should have some business mind you can consult with. However, many aspects of the business can be approached with a creative mindset. Instead of thinking, “Well this is how everyone else releases their albums, so I guess I’ll do that too,” try using the same creativity you put into your music to try something new, something that fits with your message and image. Don’t think of it as a completely separate, logical process. Think of it as an extension of the song or album you just created. How can you extend your song or album’s message through the release process?

Today, challenge yourself to think about the business side of your career with the same creativity as your music.

On July 11, Stanford University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences held its second annual Behavioral Science Summit. The event’s purpose was to analyze behavioral science’s role on society, specifically business, arts, culture, and technology. Daniel Levitin, scientist, music producer, and writer of the book This is Your Brain on Music, gave a talk entitled “Creativity in Music: Constraints and Innovation,” which went against some of the common themes of the summit including originality.

In his talk, Levitin defines creativity as “works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.” Music, by nature, is constraining. Most western music is made of only the 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and many stay within the further constraints of tonality. He brings up the point that most musical progression is based strongly on what came before. Instead of revolution in music, he likened innovation to evolution. Instead of coming up with something completely new and different, most artists simply evolve – bend or push the boundaries – of previous musical genres or styles.

Here’s an excerpt from an article from Music Think Tank detailing Levitin’s talk.

Some of the most creative music has come to exist not in result of revolution, but by way of evolution. It’s not really true invention, but a wide blending of previous work. Levitin reminds us that Mozart didn’t invent the symphony or the sonata-what Mozart is recognized for is his ability to work within the tight constraints provided, and yet still be able to come up with such ground-breaking musical statements.

Levitin elaborates, “New concepts are anchored in terms of old concepts. That’s why we so appreciate music that’s built on something that came before.” He went on to explain that links between pieces associated with preexisting others tends to be stronger than novel and isolated links in memory. By acknowledging and exercising limitations in the formative process, the creator is able to push limits in a more precise scope, often resulting in unique creative inspiration via unambiguous problem solving.

Regarding individuality in musicianship and songwriting, Levitin calls attention to the large role boundaries play in identity. “An individual musician’s style to the extent that you recognize Ella Fitzgerald or Paul McCartney or Arthur Rubinstein because of their own limitations. If every musician were flawless, they’d have less personality. Musicians sound the way they do because they can’t do everything they want to be able to do, and they do it in this flawed, human way. Many of the musicians we find most compelling – Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – the really emotive singers – were responding to vast constraints to their technical ability, and you hear them fighting against it.”

We are seeing this musical evolution brought to an even more literal interpretation with sampling. New works literally take old works and morph them into something completely new. Do you think current copyright law supports this evolutionary nature of musical innovation?

Musicians are smart, creative, and innovative thinkers despite what popular culture would have you believe. Too often, when we think of musicians, images from Spinal Tap come to mind, but this is not usually the case. Being a musician requires a mix of extreme creativity and logic, collaboration, listening and multi-tasking skills, and complete dedication  – a mix that not many professions require.

Many entrepreneurs would do well to take up an instrument, as many of these skills are also required in business. Here’s a list of 11 leadership lessons to be learned from musicians:

1. Playing it safe gets you tossed off the stage. Some executives would say that in today’s turbulent economy, takings risks isn’t wise. If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all.

2. There are no do-overs in live performances. For every hour in a “performance” setting, you should spend five hours practicing. Athletes do this, musicians do this–muscle memory is no different in the board room, in front of a new client, or with your team. So why aren’t you doing this?

3. Listening to those around you is three times more important than what you play yourself. If you’re the one talking all the time, you’re not learning anything. Listen, absorb what you hear, and use the information to make a conscious choice about whatever you’re facing.

4. There’s a time to stand out as a soloist and a time to support others and make them shine. You rocked a project–nicely done. Praise is well-deserved. However, as a leader, it’s more likely the case that your team members rocked a project, together. Susie was on top of her game with the slide deck? Tell her–and tell the client. Johnny couldn’t have articulated the challenge to the press any more astutely? Refer back to his commentary as a stellar example. When you can share the wealth, everyone wins.

To see the full list, visit Inc.com.

Why do most music players look like spreadsheets?

Discovering music on your own requires that you listen to a song for a period of time to see if you like it. Sure, if one of your friends tells you about a track you may “discover” it through them, but you will also spend some time listening to the song before you decide if it’s for you. This is the nature of the beast. Music is a time-based phenomenon.

Unlike with videos where you can “time compress” a video into a single frame image that you can easily visually scan, with music there is no alternative format that represents the song that can be easily scanned, except for the song name. This explains why most music interfaces display playlists, with song names as text not unlike in a spreadsheet, or list of song names. These can be easily scanned, but have no direct correlation to the sound or feeling of the song itself. I have always found it odd that in this era of digital music and highly designed interfaces, that most players default to a spreadsheet of song names to present music – true of iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Rdio and many others.  Spreadsheet music players.

Sure you can have a thumbnail of the album cover, but rarely do you see this on a song-by-song basis. Maybe in parts of Beatport or other DJ sites that are focused on tracks, but not generally on the web for the mass consumers of songs. And yes we have also seen many different visual interfaces like Sonorflow that let you visually traverse music genres or the linkage between bands, but these do not convey information about the songs themselves or the emotions that they convey.

What if we had a way to make a song come alive visually? This was the whole idea behind the original MTV and it was wildly successful for decades. What is the online equivalent, or even better, what can we do to push the whole boundary of music discovery and showcasing to new levels by embracing the time-based nature of music and coupling it with visual expression and a modern interface that lets you experience and interact with music in new and interesting ways. And no, I’m not talking about the waveform displays on Soundcloud.

I am working with a new company called Viinyl which is in the final testing stage for a whole new video-based version of their Music Showcasing platform that is very hot. I haven’t seen anything like Viinyl 2.0 and I think it represents a whole new way of presenting music. Viinyl amplifies the emotional content of songs visually, in a way that is enjoyable and super easy to use. This is a whole new way of showcasing music.

Viinyl is re-defining the way music and videos are experienced. In fact their video player is a new way to attract attention, engage an audience with the emotion of a song, and make money on singles and tracks. From a simple URL you can run a full screen video with interactive overlays and gather email, sell tracks and tickets, connect to your social networks and literally showcase music thru video. You can sell any digital file including music and movies, and provide relavent information directly in the context of the song including bios, links, credits, contacts, concert dates, lyrics, etc.

Here are some examples of the new Viinyl 2.0 in action:

http://hiphopdraft-ghost-in-the-machine.new.viinyl.com/
http://synthetica-mini-documentary.new.viinyl.com/
http://destination-brazil.new.viinyl.com/
http://idareyoubeta.new.viinyl.com/

The new platform supports audio file sales with fixed or flexible album pricing (minimum price and Pay What You Want) along with various free distribution options. The software is lightning fast, with just a few clicks, musicians and labels will be able to share their work independently – and hold onto all revenue generated.

The new Viinyl 2.0 LP format delivers a visual playlist, giving listeners and fans a far richer, more immersive and inviting music experience compared with the current spreadsheet format.  This new software will be available in the coming weeks.

The Most Interesting Startup in the World

  • They have no employees, only customers.
  • Strangers ride the elevator up and down, just to hear their pitch.
  • When they meet with Angels, they take equity… in their investors.
  • Their seed round was an IPO.
  • They once pivoted all the way around, just to see how it feels.
  • They mentor their mentors.
  • Their business cards say only “We’ll call you”.
  • Their lean model produces water and gold from air with no waste.

I found most of this written on a wall at the Mass Challenge accelerator in Boston.  I don’t know who started it or where it came from, but here you go.  Fun stuff.

What can you add to the story, the company, the myth…

Here is an interview with the great Phil Ramone, recorded at his home in Connecticut. Phil discusses making hits, songwriting, music production, the music industry, the listening experience, working with artists, the studio, spare parts, preparation, working style and gives his advice for artists and writers. A true master, he gives us a glimpse into his thought process and how he works to get the most out of the creative process. Notice how his mind easily shifts from the artistic to the technical and back without missing a beat. We will miss you Phil.

Phil Ramone is one of the most respected and prolific music producers of all time in the recording industry. Ramone’s musical acumen, creativity and use of audio technology are unmatched among his peers. Phil played a huge role in shaping the careers and songs of both Billy Joel and Paul Simon and is going to be missed so much. Such a gentle and graceful man who filled the world with optimism and carved such a wide swath across the music business.

He won 14 Grammy Awards, including producer of the year, nonclassical, in 1981, and three for album of the year, for Mr. Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” in 1976, Mr. Joel’s “52nd Street” in 1980, and Mr. Charles’s duets album, “Genius Loves Company,” in 2005. He also produced music for television and film, winning an Emmy Award as the sound mixer for a 1973 special on CBS, “Duke Ellington … We Love You Madly.”

Mr. Ramone was born in South Africa and grew up in Brooklyn. His father died when he was young, and his mother worked in a department store. A classical violin prodigy, he studied at the Juilliard School but soon drifted toward jazz and pop, and apprenticed at a recording studio, J.A.C. Recording.

In 1958, he co-founded A & R Recording, a studio on West 48th Street in Manhattan, and built a reputation as a versatile engineer, working on pop fare like Lesley Gore as well as jazz by John Coltrane and Quincy Jones. He ran the sound when Marilyn Monroe cooed “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and three years later won his first Grammy as the engineer on Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s landmark album “Getz/Gilberto.”

As a producer, he had a particularly close association with Billy Joel and Paul Simon; the back cover of Joel’s 1977 album “The Stranger” features a photograph of Mr. Ramone posing with Mr. Joel and his band at a New York restaurant.

“I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band,” Mr. Joel said in a statement on Saturday. “He was the guy that no one ever, ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with — longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.”

Acknowledged as one of the top creative music producers, Ramone has also played an integral role in pioneering many of the technological developments in the music industry over the years. He ardently supported the use of the compact disc, digital video disc, hi-definition recording and surround sound.

Ramone’s impeccable list of credits includes collaborations with artists such as: Burt Bacharach, Bono, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Chicago, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Quincy Jones, BB King, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, Sinead O’Connor, Pavarotti, Peter/Paul and Mary, Andre Previn, Carly Simon, Frank Sinatra, Phoebe Snow, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder.

Here is a presentation developed for clothing manufacturer Carhartt as they try and capitalize on the popularity of their products with the youth market. Interesting trends and stats posted by students from Parsons The New School for Design.  “By identifying the forces at play in the world of music and the behaviors that are driving those forces, one can identify particular patterns that support current trends. By looking forward to what the future of music may encompass, this presentation aims to provide Carhartt, with valuable insight that will help the brand as a whole, cater to the future of urban millenials.”

The music business has been utterly transformed by technology. New music apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud, Shazam and Songza among hundreds of others are driving new music revenue and employment opportunities for technically oriented musicians.

Olivia Leonardi over at Online Computer Science Degree has written an article about the intersection of music and software development and describing the rich past of the impact of technology, specifically software on the music business.  It is excerpted here.  Lets go people, tool up for careers in the music industry of the future!

Computer Science and Music Technology

You’re a heavy-duty programming dude or computer grrl, but you also love music.  Is there any way to reconcile these two interests?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that computers and technology play a major role in the 21st century music scene. Audio sequencers, MIDI and associated laptops are standard operating equipment for performers like PrinceKraftwerk, OK Go, international deejay Paul Van Dyk or electronic music pioneer Thomas Dolby. Indeed, popular music today – from indie rock to hip-hop to house – would not be the same without innovations in computer science and technology. The following article is an exploration of the pioneering inventions and innovations in music technology that, through the use of computers, continue to define the musical experience of today.

Making Music in the 20th Century

1930 marks the year that the technological roots of modern popular music were formed. In that fateful year the world welcomed its first drum machine while the revolutionary electric guitar took the music scene by storm. Although the drum machine wouldn’t find its way into popular music for another 40 years, the electric guitar was seen as a brilliant invention and one immediately adopted by the jazz community and early blues artists. Perhaps more importantly, however, was that these two innovations inspired and challenged others to experiment with electric instruments and to test how technology could continue to enhance the musical experience. In the years following, the legendary Les Paul would lay down the first multi-track recording in 1947 and in ‘58 Link Wray, unsatisfied with the sound his amplifier was producing, would think to jam pencils into it to distort the sound of the guitar in the track “Rumble” – a technique The Kinks pushed into the mainstream with “You Really Got Me” in 1964.

Then, in 1966, producer George Martin was faced with a dilemma. The Beatles had recorded multiple takes of a John Lennon penned song called “Strawberry Fields Forever.” John had finally settled on not one, but two takes of the song that he liked best. The problem: the two takes, numbers 7 and 26, were recorded in different keys and played at different tempos. Without the technological innovations available today, Martin ingeniously solved the problem by mechanically slowing one take while speeding up the other, then spliced the two takes together to produce one of the most celebrated popular music recordings in history.

Enter Computer Technology

Computer technology has since incorporated innovations such as Martin’s and made them a routine part of music recording. Without major advancements in computer technology, however, such would not be the case. Once monolithic, the late 1970s and early 80s saw the size of computers greatly diminish while major improvements were being made in processing power. Personal computers were made accessible for the first time in history and, watching closely, the music industry quickly responded. As the Beatles were walking Abbey Road and the Rolling Stones were licking their way to chart toping heights, brilliant innovations on old technologies would surface simultaneously that – from sampling to the drum machine to the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) – gave rise to whole new genres like hip-hop and electronic music while altering the trajectory of popular music itself. The following is a brief run-through of some of those major developments in computer technology.

Sampling

Sampling allows musicians to borrow snippets of past tracks and even entire recordings and incorporate them into original creations. Using synthesizer technology, artists can also alter the tone of the sample by speeding up or slowing down the track; later iterations of samplers would actually come in the form of synthesizers as synths became more sophisticated and were able to adopt sampling technology.

The first sampler – the Mellatron – appeared in the late 60s and early 70s and was a tape replay keyboard that stored recordings on analog tape. Although its genius was widely recognized, it was soon improved upon with the emergence of the memory-based digital sampler. Developed by a trio of computer scientists and software engineers, the first digital sampler – the EMS Musys system – ran on two mini computers (PDP-8s), giving birth to the first digital music studio. As musicians began realizing the need and benefit of sound synthesis for sampling purposes, sampling synthesizers soon emerged. Surfacing in the late 70s, these sampling synthesizers would enable the use of percussion samples and techniques such as the crossfade and “time stretching” and are credited with advancing hip-hop away from the drum machine sound of its youth.

Today, sampling technology is either software-based or appears as part of the music workstation.

Digital Drum Machine

Beginning with the Rythmicon – the father of all drum machines, first produced in 1930 – the drum machine has had a strong impact on music through the years. The first “modern” drum machine – in the form of a programmable drum machine — emerged in the 70s with the Roland CR-78 machine and a few year later, the legendary Roland TR-808 (1980) and Roland TR-909 (1984). Both machines are icons of the early hip-hop, underground dance and techno genres. Indeed, Marvin Gaye’s classic “Sexual Healing” wouldn’t be the same without use of the Roland TR-909.

Digital drum machines, otherwise known as drum computers, also figure heavily in the development of pop music in the 80s. Starting with the Linn LM-1, digital samples of drum sounds and drum sound synthesis were both used with increasing frequency, appearing in works from the soundtrack ofScarface to Prince.

In music today the physical drum machine is a rare sight, whose use was rendered obsolete by MIDI and digital music workstations.

Digital Synthesizer

The digital synthesizer produces a stream of numbers at a certain rate that is then converted to analog form, allowing speakers to produce sound. Synthesizer aided music is some of the most identifiable of the 70s and 80s. No only did the Beatles and Rolling Stones utilize its capacity to produce unique and spacy sounds, but a whole new genre arose from its use: synthpop. Today, the synthesizer is a major element of the music workstation.

    • Forms of Sound Synthesis
    • Additive Synthesis
    • Subtractive Synthesis
    • FM Synthesis
    • Phase Distortion Synthesis
    • Granular Synthesis
    • Physical Modelling Synthesis
    • Sample-Based Synthesis
    • Analysis/Resynthesis

Sequencers

Of all music technology, the sequencer has arguably benefited the most from computer science, giving birth to the very genre termed “computer music.” In modern days, a sequencer is a piece of music software that can record, edit, and play back music. The first digital sequencer emerged in 1971 from Electronic Music Studios while the first microcomputer based digital sequencer, the MC-8 Microcomposer or “computer music composer”, appeared in 1977 using a keypad to enter notes in numeric codes.

As the personal computer’s capabilities progressed, software sequencers soon emerged. The New England Digital ABLE (1973) computer and its brother the Synclavier 1 (1977) are two of the most notable with the latter being used by such artists as Michael Jackson. These two advancements were also two of the first iterations of the modern music workstations. In the current day and age, however, most sequencing is done via software through the use of MIDI.

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)

The development of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) was a remarkable innovation in the history of music. The MIDI made it possible for anyone with a computer, a modicum of talent and a measure of determination to become his or her own performer and producer. MIDI originated as a means to link keyboards with synthesizers, but has since evolved to become a computer software application used to edit all aspects of music recordings. MIDI allows for the interaction of many different instruments at once through a central transceiver that the instruments are plugged into. With their memory, processing power and interactivity, computers became the central brain that all electronic instruments were connected to. From this point on, the computer became irreplaceable in music production. Sequencing software was developed to piece together the disparate musical elements received on the computer through MIDI connections in addition to the development of software synthesizers, drum machines and samplers (often coalesced into one program).

Prior to MIDI, the recording process required a sound booth, session musicians, mixers and other expensive features. Since the development of MIDI, a single musician can sing, play accompaniment and mix multiple tracks together to produce a polished, sophisticated recording using only a computer, a mike and digital recording software.

From Olivia Leonardi at Online Computer Science Degree.

Side note – this is the 30 year anniversary of MIDI.  I will be writing more about that in the weeks ahead.

After 30 years, the inventors of MIDI are being recognized by the Recording Industry with a pair of Grammy awards. My friends Dave Smith and Ikutaroo Kakehashi are both receiving the awards during this year’s ceremony for the creation of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface.  These guys were the true pioneers who set MIDI in motion and made it possible for millions of people to enjoy music creation by employing synthesizers, computers and music software.

It’s been almost 30 years since MIDI was first demonstrated at the winter NAMM show, 1983. Marking the anniversary, The Recording Academy is giving a coveted Technical Grammy to the two people most associated with its creation – so-called “father of MIDI” Dave Smith (then founder of Sequential Circuits, now Dave Smith Instruments) and Roland founder and engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi.

My memory is a little fuzzy about the first public demo of MIDI in 1983, but I remember being there and getting inspired.  It was an amazing demonstration of collaboration between a little company and a big one.  The thing about MIDI that I think is so fantastic and unusual in a historical perspective is how the standard was widely embraced by all parties without a dominant player forcing it down everyone else’s throats.  When you look at other standards (Ethernet, WIFI, SCSI, etc.) they generally came from a market leading company licensing and dictating terms.  MIDI was the anthesis of that.  We we all part of a tiny market looking to increase our businesses and revenues and MIDI was a way to create interoperability on a shoestring with little financial or technical risk.  That was the brilliance and simplicity of the idea.  As a result, all boats were lifted.

EDM is really just short for “Event Driven Marketing”.

At last week’s Billboard  Futuresound conference in San Francisco, Deadmau5 aka “Joel Zimmerman” gave a candid interview which you can listen to here.  He talked freely about his career, the current EDM scene and where things are heading.

For artists struggling to make a living in the digital age, a strong merch strategy can be the difference between living life as a starving artist and making a comfortable living.

Yet compared to the recording, publishing and ticketing businesses—which have felt the full effect of technology and the Internet— the merch business today is mostly stuck in the analog 70s. If we are looking to make money in the music industry of the future, why focus our energies on debating the intricacies of Spotify payments or whether licensing terms stifle innovation. Instead let’s examine an area ripe for disruption and revenue expansion.

A Highly Fragmented Environment

Indeed merch seems to be a highly fragmented business ripe for consolidation and transformation. To illustrate, let’s look at some research conducted by a company I work with— Merchluv. We looked at the August 2012 Big Champagne charts and came up with a list of  100 top artists and analyzed their merch availability:

– The 100 artists on the list used 44 different merch vendors (how’s THAT for fragmentation?).

– 75% of artists sold merchandise on their website, Facebook page or through an official supplier.  A surprising 25% of the top selling artists in August did not sell any merch AT ALL.

– 18 artists were “self” merchandisers, meaning they used Topspin, Paypal, Amazon, or a 3rd party services or ran their own commerce site/shopping cart.

– The remaining 57 artists were served by 26 different merch suppliers.

That means to sell merch for the top 100 artists in August you need to make nearly 44 deals with merch suppliers. Clearly a consolidation of merch vendors could help to rationalize the market. Where is the Amazon of music merchandising?

Merch is an Insulated Service

The merch business is largely disconnected from the real heat in the music market today, namely the explosion in digital music services. For example: 45 BILLION songs are streamed or viewed every month, yet there is NO MERCH being sold against this engagement. And that number is just going to BLOW UP to hundreds of billions of streams per month in the next few years.

Imagine if streaming services allowed fans to browse and buy an artist’s merchandise from the same page where they  are streaming their album or buying their tickets? There is a complete disconnect between where most music is discovered today, and the $2.2 billion in annual merch revenue.  The vast majority of merch is sold at the venerable merch table at any given concert. Why not make the effort to expand that experience into the digital realm? An alignment of merch distribution with the direction that the overall music market is headed would serve artists and merch companies extremely well, and potentially unlock a flood of new revenue.

Merch is Analog

Most artists sell 85% or more of their merch directly at live shows at the merch table. As effective as they are, merch tables can stand to be improved on in the digital age.  For example:

– Fans have to know where the merch booth is.

– Why stand in line when you can order from your seat?

– What if the merch guys don’t have your size or color preference at the table?

– When you buy merch at a show you have to hold it and take it home. Do you want it delivered instead?

– What if you want a bundle of something physical and something digital.  Is this easy to buy?

– How about something personalized for you, or something bigger than you can carry home?

There hasn’t been much innovation at the merch table at all, except for perhaps using Square readers to process credit cards. I wonder if the major merch vendors of today are going to be blindsided by technology and the changing habits of music consumers in much the same way that the record labels were hit.  Merch is extremely difficult to digitize.  But the sales of merch are not.

Tons of artists have web stores attached to their web sites and Facebook pages.  Companies like Reverbnation and Bandcamp can help independent artists manage their merch on their web stores and spread the merch offer out via social media to numerous outlets.  There are many businesses such as Bandmerch and Cinderblock, JSR and Bubbleup addressing this niche, providing fulfillment, webstores, warehousing and shipping services.

But the problem with this approach is that fans need to navigate to an artist’s web site and find the merch for sale and be ready to buy.  Today only 15% of merch is sold online.  New companies like Merchluv, which I am an investor in are about to blaze new trails in digital merchandising. The reason to do this? Grow overall revenue.

The large merchandising companies are very aware of the opportunities of snaring a hot band and bringing their merch to market effectively.  The holy grail of this is the long-term sales possible from mega-popular bands over time.  Anyone want to guess how many Dark Side of the Moon T-shirts have been sold?  Companies like Old Glory have been licensing artist merchandise for decades.

Now we can argue whether there will ever be another blockbuster band like Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones or Metallica – but if there is going to be significant revenue in the music market of the future, merchandise is going to be a huge contributor.  Merchandise might possibly become the single largest revenue generator for artists of the future. You have to think big here and broader to see what I am talking about.

When artists today are being pulled in various directions to run their businesses, create, act, teach, write and express themselves and interact with their audience, what could be better for supporting a career than a good merch strategy?  Think about the merchandising empires built by Jimmy Buffett, Jay-Z, Puffy, 50 Cent, the Grateful Dead.  The merch is the tail wagging the dog and it has made these artists a fortune.

For musicians in the digital age, revenue needs to come from something than other the recording itself.  To some extent this has always been true, but never more so than today.

Creative Explosion

My friend Todd Siegel and partner in Merchluv tells me that these days creating innovative merch and finding things that resonate with your audience is easier than ever, and many clever artists are using fan sourcing and crowd sourcing options like Talent House and Creative Allies to design merch with their fans.  Once you have a design, you can use sites like Zazzle to test ideas for new products without investing in inventory up front.
Bands like Insane Clown Possee (ICP) have created a cult-like brand through the use of iconic imagery and building a strong following by involving their fans.  The Misfits have sold more merch than music because of that iconic skull that people buy because the merch itself is cool and fashonable.

And talk about branding, take a look at what Deadmau5 is doing with the goofy mouse head. This guy has merch everywhere and may just overtake Mickey Mouse in brand awareness across teenagers.  Even if you have never heard him perform, you know who he is.

Beats by Dr. Dre is another example of merch that has gone over the top and transcended the music entirely to become a lifestyle product that in some respects is becoming a big part of the music industry.  This in only a matter of a few years.

The brainchild of artist/producer Dr. Dre and Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine, Beats is bringing high-quality audio to fans through their headphones, sound systems, and now the recently acquired MOG digital music service. Dre has taken a brand established as a recording artist and is in the process of turning it into the music industry of the future, through a grand merchandising strategy.

Conclusion

In the face of declining recorded music sales, many of us are looking hard at the opportunities for generating money in music today. Most of the investment from VCs, Angel investors or Private Equity in music has been in streaming music, discovery, ticketing, crowd funding and artist services. Businesses like Pandora, Spotify, Beats, Ticketfly, Soundcloud, Songkick and Indiegogo all have received significant investments in recent years.

There are two ways that bands have always made money. One is by performing and the other is by selling merchandise. Both are tried and true methods, difficult to download or duplicate, and solid and reliable opportunities.

Why have hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital been poured into online music services in the face of severely declining recorded revenue, when one of the most profitable parts of the music business—namely merch—been largely ignored by investors? Wouldn’t it make more sense try to increase sales of an already healthy and expanding market segment, ripe for disruption?

As the saying goes – when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And as we face the reality of the digital music business today, many are finding ways to make digital lemonade.  This is the first in a series of posts about creative thinking in music.

In the face of declining recorded music sales, we have to look hard at the opportunities for generating money in music and get creative. Most of the energy today in digital music investment is in streaming music, music discovery, ticketing, crowd funding and artist services. Businesses like Pandora, Spotify, Beats, Ticketfly, Soundcloud, Songkick and Indiegogo have received significant investments in recent years as investors chase profits in the music space.

Artist Income – Virtual Tours

But what about individual artists and musicians themselves? What can they do to increase their opportunities to profit from their art when it is becoming increasingly challenging to make a living as a musician. Live performance and merchandise have long been mainstays of any carefully crafted musical career. How are these revenue streams fairing in the digital economy? Live shows it would seem need to be experienced and therefore are harder to digitize and share, although some are trying to broadcast live events and take them to the digital sphere. Take Stageit and Liveset for example. Artists can broadcast their live shows and reach a global audience while performing in a studio, living room or other venue.

Like a virtual campfire, these technologies let fans and performers join together in virtual circles enjoying the music and getting up close with the artists. It remains to be seen how influential these attempts will be, but I expect that inevitably some form of digital broadcast of live events will take hold and be a profitable source of revenue. Afterall, in theory, this form of live event takes a lot of the cost out of the tour, makes the artist more accessible and is easy to promote using social media and email.

Artist Income – Involve your fans

The musician Beck is planning to release his next album in the form of sheet music and full color artwork. His thinking is that people can participate in the creation and performance of the songs in this truly interactive record release.  I think this is really smart and another feather in the cap of this truly creative artist/producer.  Why not sow the seeds of your music within your fan base, and see what they come up with?  Perhaps Beck’s genre lends itself to this kind of experimentation, but other artists can take a cue from him on a clever way to draw your fans closer to the action.

Beck’s latest album comes in a primative form—twenty songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, never before released or recorded. Complete with full color artwork for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case, Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012.  Beck is inviting his fans to record, mix and produce each track in their own way. If you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” you will need to bring them to life yourself, by playing the music. It will be very interesting to see what the uptake is on this release when it becomes available in December.

There are already postings of these tracks appearing online such as this cover of “Do We, We Do” from Max Miller on Soundcloud.

Digital Sheet Music

The sheet music business is facing challenges like unlicensed tablature, free files and online video instruction that is making this old-school business look for new ways to monetize their songs. Notation sales have fallen off, though not nearly as rapidly as recording revenues. In this post from Create Digital Music, you can see the transformation of the print music business as it goes digital (as it has been doing for some time now). Sites like sheetmusicdirect.com, musicnotes.com and others are pioneering the distribution of digital sheet music.  Sites like lyricstore.com are taking music licensing into an entirely new direction by letting people create custom merchandise from their favorite song lyrics.

There is lots of room for making digital lemonade in the new music economy beyond iTunes, Pandora and Spotify.  In the coming weeks I will post more about online music education and a quiet revolution in music merchandising, both of which we will discover, are hotspots for growth and revenue creation in the fast moving world of digital music.

I was reviewing this fascinating data from Mary Meeker over the weekend again, and thought I would share it. Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers describes what she calls “the re-imagination of nearly everything” powered by mobile and social. For example: News outlets are reimagined on Twitter, note-taking is reimagined on Evernote, scrapbooking is reimagined on Pinterest and music purchasing is reimagined as listening.

Meeker also traces out the story of the mismatch between mobile growth and mobile monetization, pulling together numbers and analysis of one of the biggest weaknesses in today’s Internet industry.

And she gives some context to the state of the global economy. Here’s the full slide presentation:

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Roger McNamee is probably the coolest investor I know.  He has called it right so many, many times and just did it again with Facebook.  You have to pay attention to him.  I have been “schooled” by him on more than one occassion and for that I am eternally grateful.

Here are his thoughts on the road ahead, taken from a Mashable keynote presentation he made the other day.  Great stuff if you want to try and make money in web and mobile tech in the years ahead.

 The shift is away from the desktop experience of free undifferentiated content. Mobile users don’t navigate the Internet with Google searches. They use apps, which deliver a better experience. And they spend much more time within those apps than on any web story.

Instead of needing tens of millions of lightly engaged users in order to be considered successful, McNamee hypothesizes that future success will come from smaller numbers of even more engaged — and thus more valuable — users.

It will, he believes, will be built not on the Google-controlled HTML4 web nor within Apple-controlled apps, but using HTML5, which allows for differentiated, engaged experiences without the downsides of the app store.

“The basic success factors going forward are going to be exactly opposite of those we’ve had in recent years,” he said.

You can get his entire presentation here.

Awesome stuff.  I’m definitely paying attention.

I am often amazed at how much today’s musicians can learn from the past.  We all think that we are in the age of digital music and the old rules no longer apply and that there are only new models to develop and pursue.  Wrong.  Instead, we can all learn a whole lot by looking backwards and trying to map the successes of the past to the future.  Lets take a look at the late Dick Clark’s career and see what we can learn.

Dick Clark capitalized on the integration of music and television long before “American Idol.” But his legacy extends well beyond the persona of the laid-back host of “American Bandstand” whose influence can still be seen on TV today.

He was the workaholic head of a publicly traded company, a restaurateur, a concert promoter and real estate investor. Clark, who died of a heart attack in April at age 82, left behind a fortune and is the model of entertainment entrepreneurship.  He was ahead of his time, creating a business empire built around his personality and interests that led the way for many other musician/ entrepreneurs to come.

“Work was his hobby,” said Fran La Maina, the longtime president of Dick Clark Productions Inc.

La Maina started as the production company’s financial controller in 1966. He estimates Clark amassed a fortune that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars. “He had this never-give-up attitude. He was a great salesperson and a task master,” La Maina said.

Clark was one of the early pioneers of the idea that a public company can be formed around an entertainer’s personal appeal. By the time La Maina went to work for him, Clark already had three shows on air: “Swingin’ Country,” “Where the Action Is,” and, of course, “American Bandstand.”

He promoted more than 100 concerts a year back when promoters, not bands, called the shots. His roster included The Rolling Stones and Engelbert Humperdinck. In the 1970s, he launched shows like the “American Music Awards” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” – shows that are highly valued by advertisers because fans still want to watch them live in an age of digital video recorders.

At one point, he hosted shows on all three major TV networks, including “The $20,000 Pyramid” on ABC, “Live Wednesday” on CBS and “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” on NBC. All the while, he was hosting shows “Dick Clark’s Countdown” and “Rock, Roll & Remember” on the radio and running a business.

“He had boundless energy and a remarkable ability to do innumerable things at any given time,” La Maina said.

By the time it went public in 1987, Dick Clark Productions had several thousand employees, had launched a restaurant chain with Clark’s name on it, and ran a communications-promotion business. Revenue exceeded $100 million a year and the company was profitable.

His daily schedule was daunting, even when Clark was in his late 50s and 60s, according to longtime board member Enrique Senior, a managing director at Allen & Co. who helped Dick Clark Productions go public. “It frankly was the schedule of a 20-year-old,” Senior said. “This guy was a dynamo. I’ve never seen anybody who would be so personally involved in everything he did.”

What can be learned?  Work hard, diversify, promote, be personally involved, build a great team around yourself, dream, and go for it.

Read more here from Ryan Nakashima at the Associated Press.

We waited for a half-hour for him to come on.  Not bad for the Boss.  In nearly an hour-long rant from the stage of the Austin Convention Center at SXSW, Bruce Springsteen spoke about his life as a musician and the artists who influenced his career.

As Ann Powers wrote, “Springsteen identified himself as a Motown-loving, Sex Pistolsfearing fan of country’s Silver Fox — Charlie Rich.  He vehemently argues for the belief in popular music as dynamic and flexible, kept alive through constant redefinition by new players and fans.”

This is great stuff for everyone to learn from.

You gotta love Neil’s honesty. We owe it all to artists to stand up to what they believe in and drive us forward. Without them, we would have nothing.

“Still the searcher
must ride the dark horse
Racing alone in his fright.”

“I’m finding that I have a little bit of trouble with the quality of the sound of music today,” says Neil Young. “I don’t like it. It just makes me angry. Not the quality of the music, but we’re in the 21st century and we have the worst sound that we’ve ever had. It’s worse than in 1978. Where are our geniuses? What happened?”

I can’t agree more.  We need a new format that breathes life into the music industry by improving the quality of the sound that we listen to.   If you are under the age of 22, I will bet that most of you have never really heard a great audio recording.  You don’t even know what I am talking about.

This issue is vital to the future of the music business.  What we have today with the proliferation of ear buds as the primary listening medium and compressed MP3 files is a low res music experience that is the bottom of the barrel, lowest common denominator form of a listening experience there can be.  Really listening to music is simply lost on most people these days, and as a result the art form has lost the majority of its value.

It commonly accepted that crappy sounding music is the norm and people, by and large, have no idea what they are missing.  The MP3 has stripped the emotional value from music today and has reduced it to a commodity.  The audio business has truly been compressed and marginalized and is nearing extinction.  We cannot let that happen to the music business.

As artists, “We can’t control the back end of the donkey, laments Young.  The donkey has two ends, products like Beats and Bose and every little product that comes out for your car, the whole thing – is all about the back end of the donkey.  There is nothing talking about the front end of the donkey, that’s what I’m talking about.  You don’t have to that rich to do this, you just have to be smart…  We are in the low res world, make no mistake that is right where we are…

“I look at the internet as the new radio.  I look at the radio as gone…  People change and do their music, people trade it they do whatever and Apple makes it very possible for you to store stolen or traded songs in the cloud, they opened up the door so that that can happen… its acceptable.  Thats the way it is… Piracy is the new radio, that’s how music gets around, thats the real world for kids, thats the (new) radio… Lets let them really hear it.

“I’m hoping that some people who want the hi-res would have the choice in buying it.  It has to be convenient, people should not associate hi-res with inconvenience.  That’s a myth, we’re living in the 21st century and all of these things are possible.  The technology exists, the internet is fast enough to support it…  If Steve Jobs had lived long enough, he would be eventually have done what I am trying to do.”

Quality.  We need a new format that will deliver better quality sound to drive the business forward.  Period.  Here is a true clarion call for innovation, and something that we all need to pay attention to.   Neil Young cares about music. He is successful enough that he could sit back and ignore the realities of the marketplace today, but instead chooses to push the agenda forward. Awesome. I would not be surprised to hear a new song from Neil about a donkey.  Maybe I can sing backup on it.

See the video with Neil Young and Walt Mossberg from All things D here.

Here is a brief description of some of the technical issues from Thinkdigit.  “The renewed focus on audio quality in some circles has a sense of déjà vu about it. Some of it recalls the 1970s, back when the term “high fidelity” was thrown around to indicate quality stereo recordings. We also saw this go around again at the turn of the millennium with the introduction of SACD and DVD Audio formats, which brought 24-bit fidelity and surround sound to audio mixes, although neither took off at the time.

So what’s going on here? In a word, it’s about data. More data translates to better-sounding audio files—but those files are largely unavailable to most consumers. Granted, to the casual listener, Amazon MP3 and Apple iTunes Store sound pretty good, as they’re encoded as 256Kbps MP3 and AAC files for the most part. Amazon has some MP3 files encoded at variable bit rates, but most of them center around the 224Kbps to 256Kbps range. AAC generally sounds slightly better than MP3 when encoded at the same bit rate, although recent improvements in MP3 encoding algorithms have largely rendered this academic.

Aside from music purchases, 256Kbps is also iTunes’ default encoding rate for when you rip audio CDs in iTunes (although you can change it), and it’s the size iCloud uses to deliver tracks to other PCs or mobile devices on your network if you’re a subscriber. I’m just using Apple products here as an example; Windows Media Player, Winamp, and countless other apps do similar things. Any way you cut it, 256Kbps files sound a lot better than ones encoded at 128Kbps, which is what Apple used years ago before it removed DRM from its iTunes Store tracks. Granted, 256Kbps files take up twice the space as 128Kbps files, but on today’s devices, that usually isn’t a problem, and the improved sound quality is worth it.

The thing is, 256Kbps still isn’t enough. Higher-resolution, uncompressed, 16-bit audio files match the sound you get on an actual CD. 24-bit sound files even sound better; the increased headroom matches the format most artists and mix engineers have been working in over the past decade or so.

Cheap consumer electronics manufacturers abused the phrase “CD-quality” for many years, but in this case it still has meaning. True CD-quality files take up anywhere from three to 10 times as much as space as an MP3 or AAC file, depending on the latter’s bit rate; 24-bit files take up even more space. They come in several formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. (FLAC and Apple Lossless contain some data compression but only in a method that doesn’t affect sound quality. FLAC is much more widely supported than Apple Lossless, though.)”

And finally, The Tennessean wrote a great piece on the lure of high fidelity and what some people in Nashville are working on to bring it back.
More to come.  This is a big issue.  Chime in on what you think and how can we move this agenda forward.

Artist Revenue Stream Poster

My friends at the Future of Music Coalition are conducting an online survey from Sept 6 – Oct 28th to determine the variety, depth and complexity of the ways that musicians are making money these days.  Not theoretically, but actually.  We are looking for performers, songwriters, composers, band members, session players, producers, MCs and anyone else making music to join in and take the survey.

A while ago, I posted this from my friend and Berkleemusic student David Sherbow showing a pretty comprehensive list of the different ways that musicians can make money.  This might give you food for thought on taking the survey and planning your career…

The artist music business model has been in flux for years. The record deal dream that most artists sought is no longer the viable alternative that it once was.  The leveling of the music distribution playing field by the Internet is virtually complete.  Terrestrial radio is on a path towards destruction that even the major labels can’t compete with.  People now access and download music from multiple sources, usually for free.  D.I. Y solutions are everywhere, but for many artists hard to integrate into their daily lives.

Where does this leave the average independent artist? At the beginning. Every artist wants to know how they can make music, make money and survive to write and play another day. Here, in no particular order, is a list of possible income streams.

• Publishing
• Mechanical royalties
• Performance Royalties from ASCAP and BMI
• Digital Performance Royalties from Sound Exchange
• Synch rights TV, Commercials, Movies, Video Games
• Digital sales – Individual or by combination
• Music (studio & live) Album – Physical & Digital, Single – Digital, • Ringtone, Ringback, Podcasts
• Instant Post Gig Live Recording via download, mobile streaming or flash drives
• Video – Live, concept, personal,  – Physical & Digital
• Video and Internet Games featuring or about the artist
• Photographs
• Graphics and art work, screen savers, wall paper
• Lyrics
• Sheet music
• Compilations
• Merchandise – Clothes, USB packs, Posters, other things
• Live Performances
• Live Show – Gig
• Live Show – After Party
• Meet and Greet
• Personal Appearance
• Studio Session Work
• Sponsorships, and endorsements
• Advertising
• Artist newsletter emails
• Artist marketing and promotion materials
• Blog/Website
• Videos
• Music Player
• Fan Clubs
• YouTube Subscription channel for more popular artists
• Artist programmed internet radio station or specialty playlist.
• Financial Contributions of Support – Tip Jar or direct donations, Sellaband or Kickstarter
• Patronage Model – Artist Fan Exclusives – e.g. paying to sing on a song in studio or have artist write a song for you
• Mobile Apps
• Artist Specific Revenue Stream –  unique streams customized to the specific artist, e.g Amanda Palmer
• Music Teaching – Lessons and Workshops
• Music Employment – orchestras, etc, choir directors, ministers of music, etc.
• Music Production – Studio and Live
• Any job available to survive and keep making music
• Getting Help From Other Artists and Helping Them –  Whatever goes around come around. – e.g. gig swapping, songwriting, marketing and promotion

My friend Roger McNamee, a founding Partner and Managing Director of Elevation Partners has been getting some great press lately on his thoughts on the new music business, investing in technology, Apple, Google, Facebook and much more.  Here is the transcript of a speech he gave at NARM earlier this summer, a must read.

“Our band – Moonalice – is inventing new opportunities in music. We would like you all to join us.

I have been a working musician for more than 30 years, and a technology investor for 29 years. I have played about 1000 concerts over the past 15 years, which means I have personally experienced everything in Spinal Tap except the exploding drummers. I also spent three years helping the Grateful Dead with technology and many more advising other bands, most notably U2.

My band is called Moonalice. We play 100 shows a year in clubs and small theaters, mostly on the coasts. Moonalice was the first band broken on social networks. What broke us was 845,000 downloads – and counting – of the single “It’s 4:20 Somewhere.” We’re the band that Mooncasts every show live, via satellite to thousands of fans on iPads, cell phones, and computers. We’re the band that has a unique psychedelic poster for every show. After four years, Moonalice has 371 poster images from the likes of Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, and David Singer. Licensing those images will eventually a big business for us. We’re the band that offers the EP of the Month for $5. And we’re the band that uses the latest technology to radically improve both the production cost and commercial value of the content we produce. Now I’m looking for people who want get on this bandwagon with me.

The first question I hope you ask is “Why now?” The world of technology is beginning a period of disruptive change. The old guard – represented in this case by Microsoft Windows and Google search – is under assault and hundreds of billions of dollars may become available for new and better ideas. I hope that gets your attention!!!

The biggest beneficiaries of this disruption should be the people who got the short end of Google’s business model, especially creators of differentiated content. For the past twelve years the technology of the internet has been static. Every tool commoditized content by eliminating differentiation. The most successful companies monetized content created by others. Google was king.

I believe Microsoft and Google are about to get a taste of what the music industry has been dealing with for a decade. Their world is going to change and they won’t be able to stop it. Not so long ago Microsoft’s Windows monopoly gave it control of 96% of internet connected devices. Thanks to smartphones and tables – especially the iPhone and iPad — Windows’ share of internet connected devices has fallen below 50% … and it will fall much further in the years ahead.

Consumers are abandoning Windows as fast as they can. I expect businesses to follow suit.

This is a HUGE deal. Businesses whose employees use smart phones and iPads instead of PCs will save up to $1000 per employee per year in support costs.If corporations buy fewer PCs, they will save tens, if not hundreds of billions per year.

This is happening because today’s strategic applications – email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other internet applications – don’t need a PC . . . in fact, they are far more useful on a phone.

Microsoft has been in trouble since it first missed the web in 1994. Then it was unable to prevent Google from taking charge in 1998. When Google showed up, the World Wide Web was a wild environment. No one was in charge. The prevailing philosophy was “open source” . . . and free software.

Google had a plan for organizing the web’s information that treated every piece of information as if all were equally valuable. To create order, Google ranked every page based on how many people linked to it.

What we all missed at the time is that by treating every piece of information the same, Google enforced a standard that permitted no differentiation. Every word on every Google page is in the same typeface. No brand images appear other than Google’s. This action essentially neutered the production values of every high end content creator. The Long Tail took off and the music industry got its ass kicked.

Google captured about 80% of the index search business, which gave it a huge percentage of total web advertising. Google’s success eventually filled the web with crap, so consumers began using other products to search: Wikipedia for facts, Facebook for matters of taste, time or money, Twitter for news, Yelp for restaurants, Realtor.com for places to live, LinkedIn for jobs. Over the past three years, these alternatives have gone from 10% of search volume to about half.

As if all this competition wasn’t bad enough for Google, then along came Apple with the iPhone and App Store. Apple offers a fundamentally different vision of the internet than Google. Google is about the long tail, open source, and free, but also had to remove 64 apps from the Android app store for stealing confidential information. Apple is about trusted brands, authority, security, copyright and the like. In Apple’s world, the web is just another app; it is called Safari.

People who have iPhones and iPads do far fewer Google searches than people on PCs. The reason is that Apple has branded, trustworthy apps for everything. If they want news, Apple customers use apps from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. If they want to know which camera to buy, they ask friends on Facebook. If they want to go to dinner, they use the Yelp app. These searches have economic value and its not going to Google, even on Android.

When Apple and the app model win, Google’s search business loses. Like Microsoft, Google has plenty of business opportunities, but the era of Google controlling all content is over. Consumers compared Google’s open source web to Apple’s app model and they overwhelmingly prefer Apple’s model. Software development and innovation has shifted from “web first” to “iPad first” . . . which is a monster long term advantage. Get this: Apple may sell nearly 100 million internet connected devices this year!

Apple’s strength can be seen best in the iPhone vs. Android competition. There are many Android vendors. Together they sell more phones than Apple does. But Apple gets around $750 wholesale for an iPhone. The other guys get between $300 and $450. This means Apple’s gross margin on the iPhone is nearly as big as its competitors’ gross revenues. Game over.

The other thing that makes Apple amazing is the iPad. No electronic product in history – not even the DVD player – can match the adoption rate of the iPad. Apple may sell another 30 million this year. At this point, the competing products have not put a dent in the iPad. Image what happens if Apple’s share of the tablet market remains closer to the iPod (at 80%) than to the iPhone (20%)?

This sounds like, “Game Over, Apple wins” . . . but it’s not . . . at least, not yet. The open source World Wide Web has finally responded to Apple. A new programming language has come to market called HTML 5. HTML is the foundation of the World Wide Web. For the past decade, HTML has been static, which allowed Google to dominate.

HTML 5 is a new generation of HTML and it changes the game fundamentally. It allows web developers replicate the iPhone experience, but with many extra bells and whistles … and no App Store. One reason HTML 5 matters is because it eliminates Adobe Flash, which has been an inadvertent barrier to creativity

Creativity enables differentiation. Differentiation can be monetized. Huge differentiation can be monetized hugely. With HTML 5, creative people can now use the entire web page as a single canvas. For the first time in a dozen years, web pages will be limited only by the creativity of the people making them. They can create experiences that will be more engaging to consumers and more profitable for advertisers than network television.

New forms of entertainment will emerge. New forms of business. Companies the size of Facebook and Google will develop in categories I can’t guess at. Companies as important as Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix will emerge to support what new content comes to market.

Whether you view Apple as friend or foe, HTML 5 offers real opportunity. Why?

Because you can deliver a better experience than an app . . . without an app. HTML 5 is cheaper to build, cheaper to support, no 30% fee . . . oh, and the apps perform better, too.

I believe Apple’s best response would be to focus on selling hardware and accept that consumers will demand products that happen to bypass the app store. Based on the argument with Amazon, I sense Apple is not ready to concede the point. That’s ironic, because the only way Apple can get hurt would be if they try to force all commerce through the App Store. The would create a real reason for customers to buy a tablet other than iPad.

Let me review my key points so far:

Google and Microsoft will remain huge, but their influence is evaporating, which means we can ignore them

Apple is winning big, which means we have to support their platforms first

For people who make content, Apple is a better monopolist to deal with than Google.

HTML 5 will give you a better product than the Apple app model at a lower cost and with more value.

Now let’s figure out what we can do together. My band Moonalice exists because T Bone Burnett wanted to produce an album of new and original hippie music in the old school San Francisco style. We put together an all-star band with in late 2006 and recorded the album. T Bone was about to win the GRAMMY for the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album, Raising Sand, so we thought we were made.

We had a budget
We had an A-list PR guy
We had a really fine manager
We had custom label deal with a nice budget
T Bone’s innovative sound technology would make the album cutting edge

Old school music is good. Old school marketing wasn’t going to work for us. About four months before release, I reviewed the media plan with our PR guy. He said, “Sorry, man, but nobody cares.”

A few moments of somber reflection followed. Then, with great regret, I let our manager go. I let our publicist go. I let our label go. For all intents and purposes, we wrote off an album everyone was extremely proud of and which accounted for half of T. Bone’s portfolio the following year when he was nominated for Producer of the Year.

But I freed up most of our operating budget. Real money. And I focused it all on Twitter and Facebook. Our goal was to build an audience of dedicated fans around a Moonalice lifestyle. Three years later, we have 57,000 fans on Facebook and 75,000 on Twitter. We learned a great truth: as hard as it is to get people to spend money, it is much harder to persuade them to spend enough time listening to you to become a long term fan. We traded our music for their time. We discovered we could build an audience by giving away stuff that costs nothing to produce and distribute. These are serious fans who engage with us dozens and often hundreds of times a year.

The first thing we invented was the Twittercast. Before us, no one had ever done a concert over Twitter. Now we have done 103. Our marginal cost is exactly zero. Next we created Moonalice Radio, which has broadcast one song every hour on Twitter for the past two years. Then our drum tech bought a video camera and started recording the shows. Then he bought more cameras, put them on mic stands and started doing live video mixes. About a year ago, he figured out how to mooncast our concerts over the net for free.

Nearly all of our past 100 shows have been mooncast live on MoonaliceTV and then archived. Because we play mostly late shows on the west coast, only 10% of the audience watches in real time. But approximately 3,000 people watch EVERY show on a time shifted basis. Fans like the Moonalice Couch tour because they can chat, make friends, and do things that are not permitted at a live venue. They even buy Couch Tour tee shirts. And they are helping us create a new ecosystem where most of the music is free, because Moonalice art and life style products have huge economic value.

Thanks to HTML 5 and a satellite dish, Mooncasts can now be viewed on a smart phone without an app. Our video quality competes favorably with the best you have seen on an iPhone, and the technology to do all this costs the equivalent of six months of our former manager. He was a really good guy, but a satellite-based tv network is more valuable.

I want to finish up by recommending a course of action for you

Step 1: Remember that HTML 5 is just getting started, but the learning curve is less expensive and more profitable for those who commit to it from the beginning. The new business is going to emerge over a few years, not overnight

Step 2: Don’t wait for the labels to figure this out. Labels are not organized to get this right, which leaves a big hole in the new music market where labels used to be.

Step 3: Don’t wait for major artists to figure it out. The great new stuff is going to come from artists who have nothing to lose. Artists who come out of nowhere will create huge value for next to no cost.

Step 4: Make sure you are successful addressing the needs of next generation content creators … not just listeners. There are WAY more of content creators than you may realize. Thanks to Moore’s Law, Karl Marx is right at last: the means of production are in the hands of the proletariat. At the peak, there were 8 million bands registered on Myspace. They weren’t playing gigs, they were creating stuff, mostly for their own entertainment. Those people spent a lot more money creating the content they posted on Myspace than they did on recorded music. Thanks to Apple’s Garageband, the population of people capable of mixing something is now measured in tens of millions. Making these people successful is the key to creating new markets and new music products.

Step 5: Do everything in your power to encourage new product ideas and new forms of content. HTML 5 is a blank canvas and there is no telling what people will do with it. For all I know, HTML 5 may produce five or even ten amazing categories of product.

Contests, prizes and publicity will give you an opportunity to associate yourself with whoever creates the cool new stuff. If you have local stores, do local events. Think Alan Freed.

Step 6: Near term, focus your platform strategy on Apple.

Step 7: Long term, focus on HTML 5. The sooner you commit to HTML 5, the more likely you will produce something of economic value.

Step 8: Remember that HTML 5 will produce companies as important as Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix. It costs musicians practically nothing to create good digital video and fantastic audio, but they need distribution systems optimized for their content.

Step 9: Make music fun again”

And if that isn’t enough, Roger was kind enough to share with me his thoughts on investing in technology related businesses.  TechInvestingHypotheses

We all need a good laugh for the weekend.

Hipster Music Diagram

From Gary Tan at Y Combinator.  Happy 4th of July Everybody!  Dave

Great content attracts attention.

Our friends Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan are Karmin and have found amazing lightning-fast popularity with this cover of Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes “Look At Me Now”.

2.9 million views on YouTube as of a few minutes ago, in less than 7 days. Wow. That’s some velocity.

Nod from Ryan Seacrest adds some juice: http://tinyurl.com/3hypspf

Then appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show today on ABC.

Similar strategy to Pomplamoose. http://tinyurl.com/4yk9nn2

Let’s see how this plays out and what they do with it. The Internet rewards quality with hyper efficient recognition. The Future of Music.

HERE IS AN UPDATE 5/20/11

14.5 Million Views and Counting

The duo have since performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and On Air with Ryan Seacrest, and taken the stage with hip-hop legends The Roots. “It was basically an explosion of awareness that happened for us,” Amy says. “We didn’t see it coming and didn’t really know how to handle it, but we did our best.

They are now being courted by the major labels and publishers. More to come…

The entire music industry has been driven by new formats, new music and innovation over the past 70 years. This has been fueled with the passion to be a star and receive the adoration of millions.

Well, I think we might be seeing the beginning of a new music format. A format that engages audiences in experiencing and participating in the creative process in a way that is fun and unobtrusive. Insightful and funny. Playful and inspiring.  The VideoSong.

Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn are the band Pomplamoose and they are generating huge YouTube interest and views with their VideoSong format. They got tens of millions of views in a very short time with this number increasing while you read this. The VideoSong format these two produce is very inviting and addictive, providing a glimpse into the process of recording and creating music.

In the words of Jack Conte, “There’s no hidden sounds, there’s no lip-synching, there’s no overdubbing. What you see is what you hear.  Sometimes, there might be two or three Natalys harmonizing with herself, and then you’ll see those three videos juxtaposed together on the screen.

I love what they are doing here.  A glimpse into what it is to record a song and make things happen like this is so appealing.  Will Pamplamoose really be able to capitalize on their momentum?  We will see.  They are spokespeople for the YouTube’s Musicians Wanted program.  I bet their phone is ringing big time.

Is this the format for the future?  I don’t know.  What I really like is the accessibility and transparency in the creative and recording process that they bring foward.  If they can draw people in even further, that would be great.  They seem very open to audience interaction.

I hope they find a great manager because what they have is really compelling, really great raw talent.

As a musician in the 21st century, you need to learn how to define your expectations. Otherwise, how will you know when you have achieved your goal, or even what to aim for? For a project, for a tour, for your career, and for your life – what are you trying to accomplish?

Most people in the music business want to “make it,” but what does that really mean? What is making it for you? What does the finish line look like? How would you recognize making it? Do you want a record deal? What does that record deal look like? Do you want to sell a million CDs? Do you want a publishing deal? What does that publishing deal look like? Do you want your music played on Grey’s Anatomy or your songbook published by Hal Leonard?

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1bNKUE5

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1bNKUE5

Once you know what your expectations are, then you can plan accordingly and know what to shoot for. Is success for you playing huge stadiums? That would mean you have to make a plan and probably dedicate yourself to work full-time for many years to get there.

Or, is success for you to have a steady gig on weekends? This is more achievable and something you can do on a local level and perhaps as a part-time endeavor. Is recording a CD and selling 10,000 copies your definition of success? If so, you can create a plan to achieve that perhaps on a regional level.

Or, is success for you writing songs that other people play? That would require you to network with other musicians and focus on writing, publishing, and placing your songs. Or, is success for you recording an EP and playing it for your family?

What do you want to be? What does success look like for you? Be as specific as possible when setting your expectations. Don’t be vague because it won’t lead you anywhere and just breeds sloppy thinking. First, define exactly what you want to do, and then you can break it down and make a plan to do it.

Guest Post by MC Lars

Back in 2005, my former manager at Nettwerk, Tom Gates, gave me a copy of Kusek’s “Future of Music” book.

“Read it,” Gates said.  “It might be interesting to you.”

I read the whole book in a weekend and was inspired to write a song detailing the changes Kusek proposed, many of which have come true.  It seemed crazy then.  Five years later, there has been an ideological shift made very apparent by the new generation of artists and consumers; music isn’t really a physical product anymore, it’s a service that artists provide that they are then paid for (if the service they provide has cultural and/or emotional value).

The song I wrote was called “Download This Song“, and it charted in Australia where I did TRL on MTV.  The YouTube video received a half a million plays and the single was given press in the NME, the UK’s biggest music magazine.  Afterwards, a girl in Texas who was being sued by the RIAA heard the song and contacted me.  I forwarded it to Gates.  Gates sent it to Terry McBride.  Nettwerk paid for her legal fees because one of the songs in her collection was by an artist they managed.  Clearly the ideas in the book and my song had reached a large audience.

It’s honestly somewhat eerie how much of what Kusek predicted came true.  Gone is the ineffectual A&R I described in songs like “Signing Emo” who races to find “the next hit” to get their band on the radio and a $200,000 video that only recoups 10% of the time.  WTF? Gone is the idea that record labels are necessary or even always helpful.  Gone too is MTV’s agency as a music network, platinum albums, and commercial music retailers like Tower Records and Circuit City.

It might seem very bleak to the common music fan, but from an artist’s perfective, things have never been better.  In the independent hip-hop community, thousands and thousands of regional pockets of talented artists working hard to perfect and distribute their material have all popped up across America and the world.  No longer do artists aim to get $1,000,000 advances, a ridiculous and usually unrecoupable amount, but find themselves as part of an emerging middle-class that Kusek predicted would come to be.

Rap crews like Twiztid and the Psychopathic collective have used their underground and independent acumen to build empires and continue to bring tens of thousands of kids to their annual midwest hip-hop festival.  Upstate New York’s Weerd Science have become a credible and influential voice in the hip-hop underground on the strength of their 2005 debut – an impressive feet for a group with no strong label backing or touring history.   Records and regional tours have directly translated to lucrative career music for some of these artists.

The Peter Principal states that in the workplace, “each employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.  Basically this means that you will keep getting promoted and promoted until you are unable to do the next job and that there is a subjectively manifested glass ceiling based on one’s ability to do their job.  This is reflected in the music scene because artists now get to become as famous as they care to be or deserve.  If the music is good, it sticks with people.

And this meritocracy is the future Kusek predicted – catalyzed, in part, by the broadband technological improvements made in the last few years.  HD YouTube videos are a click away, downloading speeds have increased and you can get any artist’s discography for free within a  few clicks.  I listen to most of my new albums on Rhapsody because it’s easier than keeping track of the stacks hard drives full of mp3s I’ve collected over the years.  There’s a Zen to music consumption now, one of the new simplicity of it all.

And for the record, I’m living proof that downloading doesn’t hurt artists.  Without the advent of torrents, kids can quickly get any of my albums for free at any time from basically anywhere.  And that’s awesome!  Kids have my albums, even the rare out-of-print ones, because they’ve found them for free online.  Some of them decide to help support me in other ways by buying t-shirts or getting the occasional track from iTunes, which adds up if the net is wide enough.  I then pay my bills with digital sales, college gigs, and international touring.

I can’t buy a mansion in Hollywood, but that was never the goal.  I get by comfortably and will keep making music until I die.  High five!  What more could I ask for?  The 14 year old version of myself would be very proud of how I turned out at 27.

“Music was a product, now it is a service”.

Check out a new favorite crew of mine from South Africa, Die Antwoord, luminaries in the Johannesburg “zef-rap” scene.  In a truly viral word-of-mouth fashion, another artist I’d worked with (Tina Root from Switchblade Symphony) sent me the YouTube link.

“You’ll like this,” she said. “It’s different.”  She was right.

I checked out their “Enter the Ninja” video – the raps were tight, the chorus was very catchy, the visuals were unique, and the editing was dope!  I then researched zef-rap and learned that it is an international postmodern culture that takes every regional hip-hop tradition I could imagine and amalgamates it into one thing.  It’s hip-hop of the future that I had found by the web from a colleague.

This is how it “zef” a uniquely postmodern hip-hop form: In one video, a rapper named Jack Parow “ghostrides” his car, dancing along side of it.  This is a hip-hop tradition that was popularized in the Bay Area in the last decade, a reflection of the car culture being so integral to “hyphy” rappers like E-40 and Mac Dre.  Zef-rap incorporates many regional hip-hop movements into one genre, which is why I’m so in love with it these days!  Would I have heard of this genre otherwise?  Probably not.  It’s all because of this viral video my friend sent.  Now I can’t stop talking about them.

When kids ask me how I got into music, I always tell them this; if you want to have a career in indie hip-hop or any other genre of music these days, you need to be dedicated, come original, and work on building your brand as something real and human that people can relate to.  Don’t expect to make money on albums, labels are essentially just banks that help promote artists as brands, with CDs being their main promotional tool.

Kusek gave me hope when I was starting out that the playing field would be leveled if you believe in your art.  The punk rock ethics that I grew up with as a teenager in the late 90s are very conducive to the new culture of music listening and consumption.

I’d also like to thank Dave for his support through the years and also for getting me into classes at the Berklee College of Music in 2007 – I’ve learned a lot from him and trust you all can too.

Much respect to anyone working to make a career in music.

Welcome to the future!

MC Lars

mclars.tv
mclars.com
comics.mclars.com

Do you want to create a successful career in music?  How you think about your future is critically important. Always be as positive as you possibly can be. Think about what success means to you and how you can get there.  Define your goals and be realistic in what you are trying to achieve.  Get others to join in your vision and support your efforts.

Be honest and dependable in your pursuits. The music business is a very small world, and it is likely that you will form a network of people that will help you at various times along your path. Treat them with respect and take responsibility for your actions, and you will find a lot of support when you need it.  Often times things you setup at one point in your career, will come around again and be available to cross your path.  Be sure you that the encounter will be something you expect and not an unpleasant surprise.

Make a 360 degree deal with yourself and find ways to generate revenue from your writing, performing, brand, name, activities, and interests that suit you and what you stand for.  You do not want to sell your soul to another entity that will control your career options and minimize the revenue opportunities that you will have down the road.

Build a team around yourself.  It is impossible for one person to do everything that needs to get done. In the case of an artist or writer, you need to write, create, record, and produce art.  You need someone else to promote your work and manage the business side of things. You are forming a musician business around yourself, and eventually you will need help. The team you need will depend on what stage of your career you are at.

Eventually, as you begin to take off, you will need some combination of a manager, booking agent, producer, publisher, lawyer, publicist, agent, marketing person, online specialists, technologist, and others to help you. What does your mix look like? Imagine an organizational chart in your head, with you as the CEO. Who do you need on your team?

When trying to recruit people to your team, sell your vision and art, and get them to join in with you. It is a good reality check to try recruiting people to your dream to see if it resonates with them. Learn to understand, listen to, and ultimately motivate others by communicating clearly. Build a team around you.

I was hanging out with my friend Charlie McEnerney last night and asked him about his interview with Larry Lessig.  Here is his post and a link to the complete interview from Well Rounded Radio.  Check it out.

In many music and entertainment circles, the name Lawrence Lessig needs no introduction, but for those who don’t know his work, here’s some background.

Lessig is a lawyer and activist whose interests are mostly in intellectual property, copyright, technology, and political reform. He’s has written five influential books, including Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000), The Future of Ideas (2001), Free Culture (2004), Code: Version 2.0 (2006), and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008).

Remix was just published in paperback in October 2009.

Over the past 10 years, Lessig has worked for both Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School. He is currently a lawyer at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons. In 2008, Lessig launched the Change Congress campaign, now called Fix Congress First.

Lessig talks about Creative Commons during the interview, but in a nutshell it’s an organization with copyright tools that allows content creators to give various levels of freedom to others for them to remix and build upon the original work.

The idea behind remix culture is how an artist can take a work that a pervious artist has produced and build upon it to create something new. The term has become more commonplace in the last decade, but in fact the concept has been in use for decades, most notably in rap music starting 30 years ago.

Growing up in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to hear the rap bands of the first era pretty early on (granted, thanks to bands like Blondie and The Clash and college radio putting Grandmaster Flash, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaattaa on my radar) which usually utilized sampling techniques when creating their music.

I have long been a fan of the groups who fine tuned the ideas behind audio sampling to perfection, in Long Island’s Public Enemy and De La Soul. I’ve always thought both groups pushed the ideas behind sampling in ways that few others did before or since, albeit in very different directions.

With Public Enemy’s 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and De La Soul’s 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising, at the moment it seemed like the idea of what music “is” was being reinvented.

But, after a series of lawsuits for a variety of musicians and labels, the art of sampling and remixing was largely hobbled, in either using others work with or without their consent.

Twenty years later, it is still mostly the domain of those willing to tread in dangerous waters or for artists who want to engage their own fans by allowing them to remix work as part of the growing participatory culture community. For remix artists who might be looking to push their ideas further, it’s unlikely they can put their work into the public without a sizable budget.

Having read all of Lessig’s work and seen two recent documentaries about the remix culture (Brett Gaylor’s RIP: A Remix Manifesto and Benjamin Franzen’s Copyright Criminals), I wanted to speak with Lessig about how current musicians could utilize Creative Commons and share with their own audience as well as look at how we music fans can better understand this era of shared creativity, which dramatically changes the idea of those performers vs. us in the audience.

In addition to these films and Lessig’s Remix book, some good reads on the subject include DJ Spooky’s book Sound Unbound (2008) and Matt Mason’s The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism (2009).

The show includes music from the earlier era of sampling as well as some recent examples of mainstream musicians offering up their work for remixing, including David Byrne and Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Bjork.

I sat down with Lessig at his office at Harvard Law School to discuss:
* why it’s unlikely the current copyright system will change
* why Greg Gillis, also known as Girl Talk, has not been sued
* how Creative Commons works and how musicians can use it to engage their fans even more

Songs included in the interview include:
1) Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome (Welcome to the Terrordome) (in preview)
2) Grandmaster Flash: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel
3) De La Soul: Me Myself and I (3 Feet High and Rising)
4) Public Enemy: Night of the Living Baseheads
5) DJ Moule: Black Sabotage remix of Beastie Boys‘s Sabotage
6) Radiohead: Reckoner (In Rainbows)
7) Nick Olivetti: Nasty Fish remix of Radiohead‘s Reckoner
8) David Byrne + Brian Eno: Help Me Somebody (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts)
9) Owl Garden: Secret Somebody remix of David Byrne + Brian Eno‘s Help Me Somebody
10) Mr. Briggs Hit me somebody remix of David Byrne + Brian Eno‘s Help Me Somebody
11) Girl Talk: No Pause (Feed the Animals)
12) Girl Talk: In Step (Feed the Animals)
13) Danger Mouse: Encore (The Gray Album)
14) The Album Leaf‘s remix of Nina Simone‘s Lilac Wine from Verve Remixed
15) Vind‘s remix of Bjork‘s Venus as a Boy
16) Fatboy Slim: Praise You (You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby)
17) Amplive‘s remix of Radiohead‘s Weird Fishes

Get the audio interview here.

Again and again, I have heard this sage advice when asking producers, label executives, and publishers about artist development. Take your time. The first and most important thing to do is to get the music right: love your music, immerse yourself in it, and live it.

As an artist/writer, your coin of the realm is your songs, and they need to be great, polished, and professional. The worst thing you can do is go to market too soon. Without careful preparation, practice, understanding, listening to others, testing your material, developing its quality, and crafting and articulating a unique story to tell, you will probably enter the marketplace too early and will most likely fail. Start out slowly. Practice. A lot.

Another critical component of artist development is live performance. Any venue will do to get started. Play the smallest clubs to get used to performing and being in front of an audience. Everybody gets better over time, and live performance in front of a crowd does many positive things for your career. When you play live, you develop sets of songs that you play and expand your repertoire. Don’t be afraid to play other people’s material mixed in with your own. Covers create a sense of familiarity that you can use to build your audience. You are also learning by playing the songs of other great artists.

Performing live helps you build your confidence and song quality, lets you interact with an audience, and experience their reactions to your songs. Also, when you play live, you can test out different material and approaches to your songs. You can experiment and find out new things about the song, tempo, bridge, chorus, lyric, etc. You can see which songs are the most popular, what should be the rhythm of your set, where the audience loses its attention, and how best to open and close a show.

Live performance and touring is a major cornerstone to any artist’s career and is one of the best ways to develop an audience. Over time, your audience will grow with you as you refine your art. Superstars Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Paul Simon, and countless others all played small clubs for very minimal dollars at first, refining their approach, music, and brands to small audiences that grew over time. Just look at the size of their audiences now.

Many successful executives have told me that good music finds an audience and is very difficult to keep under wraps. If you want to have a long career in the music business, take a good look at yourself, who are you, and the package that you bring to the table. Do you have the songs, do you have the talent, do you have the charisma, and are you really ready to go to market? Develop, refine, write, practice, play live, listen, and collaborate.

Listen to Others

Great artists and writers take the time to develop, but they also listen to people around them who they can trust to give them feedback and keep them honest about what they are trying to do and how well they are accomplishing it. This is role of the A&R person, record producer, publisher, and artist manager. You simply cannot believe your own press and expect to be successful. You also cannot rely on your mother or family to be objective about what you are doing. You need to get honest opinions from a lot of different people who will tell you the truth. Listen carefully to them as a sounding board for your career and ask hard questions like the following: Do you like my songs? How do I look on stage? What do I need to do to improve? What advice can you give me?

Your fans are the ultimate source of feedback. Set up a blog or some other means of creating two-way communication. Encourage people to tell you what they think. Hand out postcards at your gigs, collect your fans email and cell phone numbers, and ask them what they think of your set, your songs, your performance, etc. Don’t be afraid of what you might hear, and use the feedback to learn, refine, and further develop your brand and music.

Collaborate

Having a band is a great way to collaborate, and hopefully you will find other musicians to play and write with at various points in your career. Another hallmark of great artists and writers is that they work with different musicians to write songs, perform together, cover each other’s songs, and most importantly learn from one another. Collaboration and the exchange of ideas are the life-blood of creative artistry.

Collaboration does not mean that you are joined at the hip with another artist forever. You can move in and out of collaborative partnerships when you need something new to spark the creative juices or just get you going in another direction. Working with other talented musicians can be a challenge. Quincy Jones has great advice for when you walk into the studio to work with other artists. He says, “Check your ego at the door.” Find people you can work with, who you enjoy being around, and who make you feel good.

There are many examples of great songwriting collaborations, including Holland, Holland & Dozier, Lennon and McCartney, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The list is long. Don’t be afraid to cowrite with other people or to record other songwriter’s material. This can help you reach a broader audience, develop your talents in new directions, and potentially open up your brand by association with other great artists.

One of the most successful songwriters of the last 30 years is Don Henley of the Eagles. He talks about identifying your strengths and weaknesses through collaboration with great writers like Jackson Brown and Glen Frey, and being willing to put someone else’s songs on your record if they are better than your own. Seems to have worked for him.

Many of the most successful songs of all time have come out of collaborative partnerships that were organized on a formal level at some of the songwriting factories of the past, including the Brill Building, Motown, and Philadelphia International. Collaboration helps you to stand on the shoulders of others and to peer over a horizon that you might not be able to see on your own.

From a fascinating article just published in the Atlantic. “The Grateful Dead’s influence on the business world may turn out to be a significant part of its legacy. Without intending towhile intending, in fact, to do just the oppositethe band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. It established a telephone hotline to alert them to its touring schedule ahead of any public announcement, reserved for them some of the best seats in the house, and capped the price of tickets, which the band distributed through its own mail-order house. If you lived in New York and wanted to see a show in Seattle, you didn’t have to travel there to get ticketsand you could get really good tickets, without even camping out. “The Dead were masters of creating and delivering superior customer value,” Barry Barnes, a business professor at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University, in Florida, told me. Treating customers well may sound like common sense. But it represented a break from the top-down ethos of many organizations in the 1960s and ’70s. Only in the 1980s, faced with competition from Japan, did American CEOs and management theorists widely adopt a customer-first orientation.

As Barnes and other scholars note, the musicians who constituted the Dead were anything but naive about their business. They incorporated early on, and established a board of directors (with a rotating CEO position) consisting of the band, road crew, and other members of the Dead organization. They founded a profitable merchandising division and, peace and love notwithstanding, did not hesitate to sue those who violated their copyrights. But they weren’t greedy, and they adapted well. They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets. The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time.

It’s precisely this flexibility that Barnes believes holds the greatest lessons for businesshe calls it “strategic improvisation.” It isn’t hard to spot a few of its recent applications. Giving something away and earning money on the periphery is the same idea proffered by Wired editor Chris Anderson in his recent best-selling book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Voluntarily or otherwise, it is becoming the blueprint for more and more companies doing business on the Internet. Today, everybody is intensely interested in understanding how communities form across distances, because that’s what happens online. Far from being a subject of controversy, Rebecca Adams’s next book on Deadhead sociology has publishers lining up.

Much of the talk about “Internet business models” presupposes that they are blindingly new and different. But the connection between the Internet and the Dead’s business model was made 15 years ago by the band’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow, who became an Internet guru. Writing in Wired in 1994, Barlow posited that in the information economy, “the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away.” As Barlow explained to me: “What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back thenthe important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.” The Dead thrived for decades, in good times and bad. In a recession, Barnes says, strategic improvisation is more important then ever. “If you’re going to survive this economic downturn, you better be able to turn on a dime,” he says. “The Dead were exemplars.” It can be only a matter of time until Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead or some similar title is flying off the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere.”

Read more at the Atlantic.

Here’s a great post by Mike Masnick.

“As you look through all of these, some patterns emerge. They’re not about getting a fee on every transaction or every listen or every stream. They’re not about licensing. They’re not about DRM or lawsuits or copyright. They’re about better connecting with the fans and then offering them a real, scarce, unique reason to buy — such that in the end, everyone is happy. Fans get what they want at a price they want, and the musicians and labels make money as well. It’s about recognizing that the music itself can enhance the value of everything else, whether it’s shows, access or merchandise, and that letting fans share music can help increase the market and create more fans willing to buy compelling offerings. It’s about recognizing that even when the music is shared freely, there are business models that work wonders, without copyright or licensing issues even coming into play.

Adding in new licensing schemes only serves to distort this kind of market. Fans and artists are connecting directly and doing so in a way that works and makes money. Putting in place middlemen only takes a cut away from the musicians and serves to make the markets less efficient. They need to deal with overhead and bureaucracy. They need to deal with collections and allocation. They make it less likely for fans to support bands directly, because the money is going elsewhere. Even when licensing fees are officially paid further up the line, those costs are passed on to the end users, and the money might not actually go to supporting the music they really like.

Instead, let’s let the magic of the market continue to work. New technologies are making it easier than ever for musicians to create, distribute and promote music — and also to make money doing so. In the past, the music business was a “lottery,” where only a very small number made any money at all. With these models, more musicians than ever before are making money today, and they’re not doing it by worrying about copyright or licensing. They’re embracing what the tools allow. A recent study from Harvard showed how much more music is being produced today than at any time in history, and the overall music ecosystem — the amount of money paid in support of music — is at an all time high, even if less and less of it is going to the purchase of plastic discs.

This is a business model that’s working now and it will work better and better in the future as more people understand the mechanisms and improve on them. Worrying about new copyright laws or new licensing schemes or new DRM or new lawsuits or new ways to shut down file sharing is counterproductive, unnecessary and dangerous. Focusing on what’s working and encouraging more of that is the way to go. It’s a model that works for musicians, works for enablers and works for fans. It is the future and we should be thrilled with what it’s producing.”

Read a lot more here.