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Ridin’ with Hypebot

My buddy Bruce Houghton at Hypebot, caught me last week for a quick interview before Rethink Music.  Here is an except from our discussion:

HYPEBOT: Your new focus is on consulting and investing. Are there any sectors, particularly within music and music tech, that particularly interest you or where you see the most room for growth?

DAVE KUSEK: Online education is one of them. This is an area that is already transforming how people learn and gain job skills and it is only going to grow as time goes on. There are big opportunities here that will effect tens of millions of people around the world. Online training is going to be huge. Job requirements are shifting and people need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances that can benefit them. The traditional model of higher education is already under pressure and there are many people and companies exploring alternative models that are very interesting.

The other area I am bullish on is live music and live events. The live concert experience cannot be digitized, yet can benefit enormously from technology. There really has not been much innovation in live music or in music merchandising beyond ticketing. I think there is a lot more that can be done with mobile technology and am actively working in this area. My investment in Tastemate is one way of digging into this potential in a meaningful way. We will be bringing our service to a venue near you, very soon.

I also think that there is potential to expand the reach of live performance using remote technologies. I am interested in ways to cut the costs out of touring to make it more profitable and to reach broader audiences. It is amazing to me that there has not been more activity in this area either, so I am looking for companies and people to work with that are thinking differently about what live music is all about and how to make it even more lucrative.

HYPEBOT: What are some of the things that Digital Cowboys has done in the past or is looking to do now?

DAVE KUSEK: We are focused on business development, marketing and product development, particularly in online and mobile services. We also do strategy consulting for businesses wanting to expand or enter new markets or make acquisitions. I say we, because while I am the managing partner, I also leverage a network of people around the world and with different specialties that I bring together to form a team to address the issues. For example, with a lot of the product work that we have done I brought together a team of visual designers and user experience people to execute on the product vision and do the testing. With business development projects I sometimes work with friends that have particular contacts or relationships that are beneficial to my clients. Sometimes I put together a couple different investors or strategic partners to provide capital or distribution or some other need. The main thing is to get the work done and show results, while trying to have some fun and work on interesting projects that are pushing the envelope.

HYPEBOT: There’s some talk of another tech bubble. Do you see think we’re approaching one in music and media technology?

DAVE KUSEK: I do think that some of the deals we have seen recently are off the charts, like Instagram – but who knows? That has all the earmarks of “bubble” written all over it. But Facebook is also about to go public and at their level, what’s another billion dollars?

But really I don’t think overall that we are at the point of frivolousness and excess that we witnessed in the earlier dot-com bubble, at least not yet. I believe that people are just beginning to figure out better ways to communicate and interact and learn via technology. That is having massive implications on the future of society around the world. Take a look at the stock market trend over the past 100 years and you will see that things tend to move up and people get smarter and more prosperous. I am an optimist.

There are a lot of music startups getting funded these days and certainly they are not all going to make it. I think we will see some consolidation in the DIY space as there are probably more companies addressing that market than the market really needs. The same is true for music streaming and distribution and music discovery. I think the real breakthrough companies will be formed by trying to do something completely different, rather than mimicking the past with technology. We’ll see.

HYPEBOT: Any plans to write a follow-up to the “Future Of Music” book?

DAVE KUSEK: I plan to spend a lot more time posting things to my blog and on digitalcowboys.com. This is a much better way to continue to update original thinking and way more efficient than writing another book. The music industry has gone digital and online outlets like Hypebot really do work as conduits in this business. That is a real bright spot in the transformation of the music industry. So, look for more at futureofmusicbook.com.

You can get the entire interview here.

More coverage from Hypebot here and from Billboard here.

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Networking Musician Interviews Dave Kusek

Last week host of Networking Musician Radio, David Vignola interviewed me about Music Power Network and the Future of Music.  Here is the audio interview along with a link to David’s site.  Great resource for indie artists.

Music Power Network provides a wide variety of music business education, tools, interviews and lots of resources for the D.I.Y. musician. The site also offers an equal wealth of information / education for producers, managers or publishers.

http://www.podbean.com/podcast-audio-video-blog-player/mp3playerlightsmallv3.swf?audioPath=http://networkingmusician.podbean.com/mf/play/nsumyj/MusicPowerNetwork.mp3&autoStart=no

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The Marketing is the Message

Here is an interesting article/interview by Mark Small and Gerd Leonhard on the future of music marketing from the latest issue of Berklee Today.

“There is no recipe. We can’t go to Universal, Warner Music, EMI, and Sony and say, ‘Here is the solution so you can stay in business.’ says Gerd Leonhard. There is an ecosystem comprising content owners, telecoms, advertisers, marketers, artists, and social networks that have to build the solution together.” Leonhard advocates a blanket license and a flat rate that users would pay for unlimited access to, and unfettered use of, digital music. This method, he maintains, would be one of many revenue streams that could support a new middle class of musicians who are not superstars but who can make a comfortable living in the new music economy.

The day following the conference, I met with Leonhard, who shared more thoughts from his latest book, Music 2.0, a series of essays about the emergence of a new music business model driven by the Internet.* He spoke at length and optimistically about the opportunities he envisions for Web-savvy artists who produce their own music and bring it directly to fans.

Out of Control
For the past 14 years, Leonhard has called for a reevaluation of the prevailing logic in the music industry that exercising complete control over the distribution and use of the assets in record label catalogs is the principal way to make money in music. In the digital era, that model is tanking. Leonhard stresses that computers and handheld telecom devices are essentially copy machines that facilitate the sharing of music, text, photos, video, and more on the Web. In his online book The End of Control, he wrote, “Let’s face it, in our increasingly networked world, the vast majority of media content simply cannot be kept away from its audience. Today in our world of Googles, Facebooks, YouTubes, and iPhones, all content is just zeroes and ones, and trying to prevent its ‘leakage’ is simply futile.”

Everyone knows that the vast array of music is accessible for free via “pirate sites,” software applications that harvest streaming music, and via other sources. Users freely download songs, share files, post songs on their Facebook pages, sync them with their videos and slide shows, and more. For copyright owners-especially the major record labels-the genie is out of the bottle, and litigation against users sharing copyrighted music without payment has yielded little more than bad press. The problem of making enough money to continue producing music is most acute for content creators, whose primary business has been to develop superstars that sell millions of records.

Leonhard has long advocated a shift from tight control of products and copyrights. In what he refers to as the “link economy,” the new commodity is the public’s attention. In this climate, he predicts superstar status will be much harder to attain-and sustain-as the marketplace experiences further fragmentation and mainstream artists compete for attention with lesser-known artists in specific musical niches.

“Thirty years ago, 72 percent of the television audience used to watch Dallas or Gunsmoke,” Leonhard says. “Now 7.1 percent of Americans watch American Idol on a good night. That’s it. There is no ubiquitous TV show these days because there are so many options.”

It’s the same in the music industry. It’s much harder for current artists to sell the number of records their predecessors sold simply because there are more artists out there, more competition for people’s attention. A look at the RIAA’s [the Recording Industry Association of America’s] top-selling albums of all time underscores the point. Vintage artists-including the Eagles, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and several others-dominate the chart. In the United States, the most recent album to sell more than 20 million copies is Garth Brooks’s Double Live album, and it was released in 1998.

Major labels and other repositories of valuable copyright properties may not be wild about the notion that products should take a backseat to audience attention, but they have noted the power of an energized fan base. Leonhard avers that musicians who fully utilize their Internet resources realize that they rather than their CDs are the product, and if they sell themselves properly, they will do well in the link economy.

“In the link economy, the product is the marketing,” says Leonhard. “If you want to promote yourself as a musician, you publish and make everything available on the Web so that people can pick it up and go elsewhere with it. If they like you, they do the marketing for you by telling others and sending links around. In the old days, if you were a star, MTV or the Letterman Show would recognize that by putting you on. Today, your fans recognize your value and send your links to friends, who send them to more people. This is what makes someone a celebrity on the Web. And you can’t buy that; you have to earn it.”

Today, the Web is flooded with content. Anyone with a computer can be a producer. Leonhard contends that this will ultimately raise the bar of artistic quality. “You have to be very good and very unique, and constantly innovate to get people’s attention,” he says. “There are 140 million blogs, and many new ones are created every second. We don’t pay any attention to a blog unless it is good. The same is true with music.”

Show Me the Money
So if musicians loosen control of their copyrights, what sources other than the proposed flat rate on Internet users for access to music could provide income? According to Leonhard, there is a $1 trillion worldwide advertising economy, and Google took in $27.1 billion of it last year. Projections are that in five years, Google’s share could rise to $200 billion. If licensing agreements can be forged with the powerful search engine, the fees could pay musicians for a lot of “free” content. “If Google was authorized to play on-demand music, someone could see my name and play my song,” says Leonhard. “Google would agree to pay a percentage of the revenue from every ad on the page with my song. The fee would be paid to a rights organization like ASCAP or BMI to be divided between all the artists whose music is played. Google can track everything that’s been played, so all artists could be compensated. The technology is in place to do this now. This system is currently being used in China and Denmark.”

It is important for agreements to be made sooner rather than later. When radio began broadcasting music during the 1920s, songwriters demanded a share of the money generated by programming featuring their compositions. ASCAP negotiated for compulsory licenses and radio began paying writers. But there was no provision at the time for a fee to compensate the recording artist if he wasn’t the songwriter. Even today, American radio stations, unlike European broadcasters, pay a fee to the composer or songwriter but not to the recording artist. Radio ad revenue currently yields about $20 billion annually, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that this was a missed opportunity. This situation should be kept in mind as new agreements are made. Half the world now uses cell phones, and a tremendous amount of music is downloaded to handheld devices. In a recent address at Berklee College of Music, Terry McBride, the CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, described the role smart phones already play in the sale of music.

“Musicians need to push for legislation to require issuing licenses for use of content on the Web,” says Leonhard. “Right now if you have a video that gets a million plays on YouTube, you don’t get a dime because there is no license or agreement. Through revenue share, every click, forward, download, [or] video play on the Web would get monetized.”

Fifty Ways
Too many musicians believe that playing gigs and selling CDs or digital copies of their music are the primary ways to make money. “We have to do away with that mentality, because there are 50 other ways a musician can get paid,” says Leonhard. “In the new music economy, you need to build an audience and energize them to act on your behalf and forward your music virally. Later, they can become paying customers. Don’t ask them for their money first. Once fans are sold on you, you’ll be able to ‘upsell’ them special shows, backstage passes, webcasts, a live concert download, a multimedia product, your iPhone application, a premium package for $75.

“When musicians start thinking of themselves as brands, like Nike, they will see that they have more assets than just the zeroes and ones that people can download. Other assets are their creativity, the way they express what they experience, their performance, and their presentation. As a musician and composer, you stand for something. The Web allows you to publish things that showcase who you are and what you do. In 10 minutes of clicking around on your site, people will be able to understand who you are if you’ve put enough out there.”

Even in a time when many have predicted doom and gloom in the music business, Leonhard is optimistic. “Current developments are good news for the artist-provided he or she is good. You have to be different, unique, and honest; have a powerful persona; and know your brand. If what you are doing is real and you are forthright, people will pay you. It’s all about the creator and the person who wants the music. Musicians of the future will do well if they can view themselves as more than someone who wants to be a star and sell a lot of records.”

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Future of Music on NPR – Berklee, Tunecore, Pandora

I did a radio show yesterday on NPR on the Future of Music along with Jeff Price from Tunecore and Tim Westergren from Pandora. You can listen to the show online here or download an MP3 of the show.

In a 2002 New York Times article, David Bowie said that “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity….it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what is going to happen.” Now, seven years later, the music industry has continued its rapid metamorphosis. Often referred to as an industry in crisis, coming up Where We Live, we’ll be talking with writers and innovators who say the business of making music has never been better. Ignore the closed up Virgin MegaStore in cities across the country—listening to and making music is still big business. David Kusek, author of The Future of Music: Manifestor for the Digital Music Revolution joins us to talk about the new truths that govern the music world. Also, The founders of Pandora and TuneCore chime in and we’ll be joined in-studio by WNPR’s own Anthony Fantano. From the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network.

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Welcome to the Future from New Music Box

Online journal, New Music Box just published a collections of essays on the future of music. Here are some excerpts:

Recording. Performance. Distribution. Copyright. Publishing. When the most basic terms of your field are in flux, it can be hard to see to next month, let alone into the next year, or to prepare for the next decade. Would you have expected music to be where it is today if you had been asked in 1999?

Amanda MacBlane writes, “In 1999, I was 19 and Napster had just launched. Computers, old midi devices, turntables and lots of samples were the building blocks of many of our dorm room compositions. I came early to the blogosphere and the social networks, and I jonesed for a giant iPod. I was a true believer in technology: new sounds, new ways of making music, new ways of hearing it, new ways of talking about it and new ways of getting it. I would proselytize anyone who would listen.

But as the technology became ubiquitous, my enthusiasm waned. Perhaps it was overkill or, as a proud non-conformist, it was painful to see my “originality” boiled down to some market research figures. Maybe it’s simply because I am getting fixed in my ways.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the discovery aspect of the Internet. I love that technology has inspired so many people to make music and share it, even if I am not a huge fan of the mash-up. Most of all, I love the possibility of having access to every piece of music ever recorded or movie made from my apartment without having to have shelves specially built.

But I also think Twitter is stupid, that the Long Tail is bunk, and that Pandora has no idea about my musical taste (once it actually told me it had no more suggestions for me). As I spend more time in conference rooms, I am always disheartened by the buzz phrases: Brave New World, access vs. units, monetization and the worst one of all—content. Art is taboo in these places.

Yet having spent time with people on all sides of the situation, I have gained insight into where musical life is headed and had a chance to meditate on my own musical values. Here are just a few of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head:

1/ Music will always make money, but not always for the same people. Whether it’s the record companies or the Internet giants, we just need to make sure that the composer and the musician don’t get cut out of the deal. Of course touring and merchandise will help, but other companies whose business models are founded on music—selling it, streaming it, sharing it, storing it, copying it—need to share their profits with those that create it.

2/ We desperately need flexible, worldwide licenses for music. The Internet has no borders, so why do our licenses? Because as soon as anything becomes worldwide, it becomes as wonky as the UN. Rights holder organizations have been working to achieve this, but a 2004 decision by the European Commission’s Competition Directorate halted a first initiative for worldwide, blanket licenses for the entire world’s musical repertoire. Another anti-competition decision (2008) against European societies spurred by powerful broadcasters looking for cheaper royalties has forbid societies from working together. It’s hard to create a worldwide license for the world repertoire on a national basis. Until the EU is on board, this won’t be possible.

3/ Let’s not leave promotion or guidance to algorithms. Having access to every piece of music ever recorded is great but also very overwhelming. For musicians, how do you get noticed? As a listener without hours of free time, how do you find your next favorite piece? I don’t think a computer algorithm can ever replace the human promoter or guide. We need to facilitate journalism, web radio, podcasts and well-constructed multimedia blogs as well as any new ways of talking about music. This goes back to the licensing issue in part—some of these outlets won’t make much money at all and there need to be licenses available that do not make it impossible for them to operate.

4/ Technology can never replace the physical and social act of making music.
Even in my technology-loving heyday, my professor of Electronic Music, David Borden, insisted that our final piece include a live performance element. Listening to music is great and composing for the computer can certainly be exciting, but the music that means the most to me is that which I have physically performed and shared with others. No computer or killer app can match performing Bach’s B-minor Mass in Caracas with some of my best friends or playing 4-handed piano duets with my mom.

5/ Music education in our schools cannot be abandoned. We can’t democratize production and distribution while limiting access to musical training. Not only will music education help lots of talented kids move past the mash-up, it also helps people appreciate the value of music and the work it takes to do it well. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: People will always make music and that is very comforting to me.

Read more from New Music Box. Welcome to the Future.

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Gerd Leonhard Interview at Rollo & Grady

Gerd Leonhard

My co-author and friend Gerd Leonhard was recently interviewed by Carter Smith of Rollo & Grady. Here is the interview:

R&G: How did you become interested in writing about the future of music?

Gerd: I was involved in various online ventures during the Internet years, in the late 90s. I was trying to reinvent the music industry, so from 1998 through 2001 I ran a company called licensemusic.com. It was a real dotcom venture. Because of the work I had done, I saw what was going on. While I was recuperating from the dotcom craziness, I figured that since I had looked at it so deeply that I might as well write about it. I wrote “The Future of Music” from 2003 to 2004, and it was published in 2005. Ever since then I’ve written and blogged about the future of music, the media business and the content business in general.

R&G: In the book, you focus on the concept of music being like water. Can you describe that?

Gerd: I had a co-writer, Dave Kusek, who you might know. He teaches at Berklee College in Boston. The concept of Music Like Water wasn’t entirely ours. David Bowie once said in an interview with The New York Times that music would become like water, flowing freely. That stuck with us and we built this whole theme around it, saying that digital music needs to be as available as water. In other words, there has to be a licensed pipeline, just like licensed connections for water or electricity. Everybody pays for electricity and water, but nobody feels it’s a big effort to do so. Of course, people are up-sold with Evian, Pellegrino, or filling the swimming pool. It is very much the same logic. You have a license to use. You’re all in. Then you do an up-sell towards other variations. The principle fits pretty well with the idea of content distribution on digital networks. It’s a blanket deal – a big deal rather than a unit sale.

R&G: Is that similar to the labels backing Choruss? [Note: Choruss is a proposed plan that would build a small music-royalty fee into university tuition payments, allowing students to legally access and share music.]

Gerd: Yes, totally. A friend of mine, Jim Griffin, is doing that. Jim and I have talked about this for the last ten years, pretty much since Napster came to light. It’s a very similar idea, even though they’re thinking of this as more of a “covenant not to sue.” I don’t think that is taking it far enough. One has to be realistic. I think that the major labels are reluctant to give up control of the ecosystem in a flat out strike, so they will probably take a bit longer to get used to this.

R&G: If I understand this correctly, it’s a university tuition tax?

Gerd: It’s not so much a tax as a way for universities to say, “Whatever people do here, we can legalize it.” It’s fighting against the criminalization of sharing, which is great. And for the students it’s not a tangible expense. It’s wrapped into their tuition. It’s like 911 calling on your phone bill; nobody is going to complain about it. Then, I think a completely new ecosystem could pop up that would essentially be part of the way to access and up-sell to people. I would be against any such tax, levy, or any of those things, but if it can be made to feel like it’s free, which is what it is, I think that is an ideal solution that gets the ball rolling.

R&G: Once a digital network customer pays a fee, how are funds distributed to the artists?

Gerd: It’s very much like traditional radio. Every action on a digital network is monitored. Whether it should be is a different question, and, of course, there are privacy issues. But whatever action people are doing on the network, it’s captured in some anonymous way and then the revenues are paid pro rata. When you click on a song and share or download it, whatever network you’re on can say, “Okay, this was downloaded. This was streamed.” Artists are paid out strictly by popularity. So if your band is busy doing lots of gigs, you’re very popular and you get 100,000 people following you on Twitter, they will click on the song, download it, and you get more money. It’s just like radio.

R&G: Can the labels regain the trust of “people formerly known as consumers?”

Gerd: They may not be able to, and this is the Number One problem. I think it’s a very tough road. The only chance they have – and that goes for everyone, not just the majors, but also the indies – is to drastically open up, put their cards on the table and start doing business like everybody else. This means being transparent, sharing, putting deals on the table and making them public. They need to create real value rather than pretend to do so.

R&G: You’ve previously mentioned that music blogs are the new record labels.

Gerd: Yes. Music blogs have enormous power because people trust the blogs not to pitch them stuff that they’ve been paid to pitch. If they can keep it up, they will be the next BBC. When you look at mechanisms like Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed, these people become the default recommenders for us. They are the ones who say, “You should pay attention to this band, to this artist.” That’s what radio used to do.

R&G: Serving as filters.

Gerd: Yeah. You have to keep in mind that the biggest problem we are having is not that music isn’t available, because even though it’s not legal it is available. The biggest problem is that once the legal issues are solved, everything will become available. Our problem will be that we have to pick, and nobody has time to pick through 62 million songs. That’s the total universe of currently published music, and it’s going to increase. We don’t really need to solve the distribution problem. We have to solve the attention problem. That’s what Amazon does for books.

R&G: You’ve talked about how the record industry should adopt Twitter. Can you elaborate?

Gerd: Twitter is a mechanism of micro communication, like RSS feeds. Therefore, it becomes something that is completely owned by the people who are doing it, rather than by the people who are making or receiving it. It’s a completely viable mechanism that is cost-neutral, at least to us. It becomes a very powerful mechanism for peer response and viral connections. That is the principle of what music is all about. It’s word of mouth, connecting, forwarding and sharing. A musical version of Twitter would be a goldmine. It already exists to some degree in blip.fm, but the music industry should use that mechanism to broadcast directly to fans. They’re starting to do that, but the problem is that many music companies perceive their primary mission as gatekeeper for the artists rather than getting the music out. That is a big problem today, when you’re in an economy where everybody wants a snack before buying a sandwich.

R&G: What other technologies do you think are necessary for the do-it-yourself artists and managers of the new music world?

Gerd: Widgets and syndication have made YouTube the world’s leader in video. 60% of videos are not played on YouTube.com but on blogs and other people’s sites. Music has completely overlooked that very powerful tool. That is this whole idea of syndication – getting people to transmit music to each other and then reaping the attention on the other end.

R&G: Many of the kids who grew up with Napster are now in college. They’ve never owned a physical CD and only know how to click and download music. They think music is supposed to be free.

Gerd: Yeah, and it can be free in the sense that it’s not as painful as paying per action. The question is not so much about the payment or the fact that people may not be willing to pay right away. It’s about controlling the marketplace. Who gets to listen to what, where, when and how much money do I get? We have to get back on the same page we were on a hundred years ago. We’re all on the same boat. Everyone wants an audience. Until we have that, we have nothing.

R&G: When do you foresee the end of the CD?

Gerd: I think we have another 18 months maximum for CDs to become a Step Two rather than a Step One. They have a 25% decline for 2008 pretty much around the world. How much steeper can they drop? In 18 months, the CD isn’t going to be the cherished moneymaker anymore. And this year people in the music business are going to be forced to say, “Okay, what is the next model? Do we have to loosen up to actually participate in this, or are we standing in our own way?”

R&G: Are you saying they need to recognize any revenue stream they can generate from their content? Sell CDs, subscriptions, etc.?

Gerd: The flat rate is the next CD. Its simple mathematics. If you charge or indirectly earn one dollar from each user of a network, that dollar can be ad-supported. It can be supported by bundling, so the user won’t feel it, so to speak. If you look at the total number of people who are active on digital networks, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 ½ billion people, they’re not all going to pay a dollar because they’re in different countries. But the money that comes in from such a flat rate is humongous.

R&G: You are currently working on a new book, “End of Control.” When is it coming out?

Gerd: I’m working on it right now, and it’s kind of a painful process because it’s always changing. The first couple of chapters have already been published at endofcontrol.com, and people can download those. It’s a free book, so I’m working on various ways to make that more powerful. The control issue is key. It used to mean that if you had more control you would make more money, especially in the music business. You control distribution, radio stations, marketing, everything. Now all that is completely falling apart. Artists are going direct. Radio becomes useless to some degree. It’s all on the web now. People are doing their own thing. Control is a thing of the past. The question is, “What is the next business model?” That’s what I’m working on.

R&G: Who are the current music business visionaries?

Gerd: This is one of the most unfortunate things. There aren’t very many. I always say we need an Obama of the music business, or at least a Steve Jobs, even though Steve is kind of egomaniacal, but brilliant. I see a couple of people, like Terry McBride from Network Records in Canada. I firmly believe, however, that the biggest innovation will come from people who are not in the music business.

R&G: Is this the year we will see considerable change within the music industry?

Gerd: I thought it was going to be 2008, so I’m quite disappointed. I think we’ll see new things emerge in 2009 that will be completely disruptive, like the iPhone and mobile applications of music, new kinds of broadcasting, people sharing stuff through mobile networks and high-speed, broadband, wireless Internet. I think 2009 will be a key year because the current economic crisis will make it worse. People will stop buying content the old-fashioned way.

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

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Dave Kusek Interview at Rollo & Grady

Future of Music Book

I was recently interviewed by Carter Smith of Rollo & Grady on The Future of Music.

R&G: What was the reason behind writing “The Future of Music?”

Dave: Gerd [Leonhard; co-author] and I became friends at Berklee. He did a few projects with the music business department, which is how we got to know each other. We started talking and found that we had a lot of common ideas about what was happening in the music business. I ran Berklee Press, so I had a way to publish the book. We just started putting ideas down on paper. There wasn’t as much blog action then as there is today. It was probably 2002 or 2003 when we really started to write the book, so we figured, ‘Okay, we’ll publish it in book form.’ Our motivation was, ‘How can we help people understand what we think is going to happen?’ Both Gerd and I had done lots of panels and music shows – South by Southwest, all the digital music ones, Billboard and many gigs like that. We thought, ‘How can we pick some of these ideas and package them in a form that would be digestible and widely available to people at a reasonable price point?’ That was the genesis of it all. Honestly, it all happened so quickly that I kind of wish we could do it all over again. It was fun. It was a very condensed period of time. There were a lot of things that obviously were changing and happening, and there were a lot of things that weren’t so obvious. For example, I don’t think there was an iPod when we first wrote the book. That happened during the publishing and editing process. There was no iTunes music store, no MP3 blogs to speak of and no Amazon.com selling downloads. eMusic might have been there. It was all so early. Everything was happening so rapidly. We just tried to gather up as much as we could that was obvious and make some stabs as to what might happen.

R&G: Can you discuss the process of writing the book?

Dave: I learned a lot from Gerd during the process. I was more on the ground with the musicians. My whole career has been helping musicians and artists create their art, take their art to market and most recently teaching them about it. Gerd was more in the consulting end of things, talking to the likes of Nokia, Apple and Sony. I learned a lot about what was going on in the corporate world that I hadn’t been exposed to. I think we pushed each other because I would often argue that, ‘Man, we’ve got to talk to the artists and writers and managers, not to your consulting clients, because most of these people aren’t going to understand what the hell you’re talking about.’

R&G: “Music Like Water” the David Bowie quote meaning music becoming a utility. Do you still believe in that?

Dave: I think it’s inevitable. Music has always been free. It started off as a live performance. You’d go to a party, to a friend’s house, to a show, to the theatre or an event and music would be there. You’d be dancing and laughing and happy and singing. There was no idea of a business other than maybe the performers wanting to get paid. Throughout the technological phase of the last seventy or eighty years, there was always a free form of music, such as radio. The single most influential technological phenomenon in music was radio. It brought music to everybody, and it was free. Now we have gone through this pre-packaged, packaged phase of music, with vinyl, cassettes and CDs. That was a way for labels to control distribution and squeeze profits out of people wanting copies of the stuff they heard on radio. But once that leapt into the Internet, music became free again.

R&G: By free, do you mean file-sharing and uploading CDs onto your computer hard drives?

Dave: Both. People have been trading files for years. It started out on Usenet, which predated Napster. You remember Apple’s “Rip, Mix, Burn” campaign? It was really all about enabling the digitalization of music and unlocking it from the plastic that it was bound to. I don’t see it as a big deal that music is free again and in a higher quality format that is randomly accessible to the file-sharing networks or the services that we have now, some of which are “legitimate” and some aren’t. It’s not a very big deal to me. It just seems normal. The utility idea already exists on your TV. I have Comcast service here on the East Coast. We have Music Choice, which is essentially digital radio on your TV. There are 30 or 50 channels of music that are programmed and streamed to my house constantly that I pay for on my cable bill every month. I’ve been doing that for fifteen years. I have no choice about it. I just do it. It comes with HBO and the basic cable service. So there already is a music utility that millions of consumers in the U.S. have paid for many years. Why can’t that service just get a little bit better? If you add a random access mechanism where I can select what I listen to at a finer level than just picking the channel that Music Choice gives me, the service becomes better. I think it’s inevitable. I don’t understand what all the teeth gnashing is about. That’s a personal opinion.

R&G: What role will labels play in the future business models?

Dave: The major labels are going to be able to sign new artists, so they will have influence. But I think the indie labels and the no-labels that artists are forming – their personal labels – are going to be just as influential. If you get a super-hot band that decides they’re going to help pioneer a new format or a new distribution vehicle, and people love the band, they’re going to pick that up. They’re going to inherit that into their life. If enough new bands do that and connect with their fans, that will matter way more than what the four big record labels do. Eventually, they’re going to come around and say, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to get on this bandwagon,’ as opposed to doing it deliberately. You can see in the last four or five years, and particularly in the last two years, that labels are willing to abandon DRM, experiment and take a little bit more of a risk in how their music is put out there, which they absolutely, categorically refused to do four or five years ago. The rest of the music world is pulling them along. The fans and the new music are pulling the bigger labels into the future, as opposed to the big labels setting the pace. I think those days are over.

R&G: The majority of people I talk to feel that the next killer app is a filter that will enable users to find music they enjoy.

Dave: I think that’s certainly a critical element of whatever system of music delivery we evolve into. Findability, discovery are going to be critical features. I don’t know that there’s going to be a technological solution to that problem. Again, various forms of word-of-mouth have driven the popularity of all music through the years. So, to the extent that we can supercharge that word-of-mouth that’s happening in blogs like yours and services like Last.fm and Pandora that are kind of aggregating the opinions of others, uncovering and making those available, I think that’s going to be very important. But again, I don’t see how that’s any different than my telling friends in 1963 that I heard this cool band on the Ed Sullivan Show. It’s the same thing.

R&G: What do you think of blog aggregators such as The Hype Machine and Elbows?

Dave: I frequent The Hype Machine. Elbows, I’ve looked at a couple times. I think it’s a great thing. The more somebody can make it easier for people to find music they’re going to like, the more value that entity will gather. I don’t know that a computer-based search is going to be the ultimate winner. I tend to doubt it. I think it’s going to be more in the mobile space. It still blows my mind that people sit in front of their computers and listen to music on these absolutely shitty little speakers. They’re listening to crappy files in an uncomfortable chair. When I grew up, having a killer stereo was all that mattered, other than a car and a girlfriend. The stereo/audio business has completely gone away and been replaced by shitty ear-buds from Apple and MP3 files. It blows my mind that people tolerate that. I think it’s impacted the experience of listening to music, how you listen to it, how you enjoy it. So I’m not sure that a computer-based model is going to get enough traction to supplant other ways of acquiring, listening to and finding out about music. I think it needs to be easier, better sounding, portable and more integrated into your life. It needs to get outside of your bedroom or den.

R&G: I read on your blog that Douglas Merrill, President of EMI Digital, said he agreed with data that suggested file-sharing is good for the music industry. I found that interesting, but he also came from Google and didn’t have any experience in the music business. Do you see a trend in technology guys coming to the labels and figuring out how they can make this work; a technology guy versus the old-school music guy?

Dave: Not necessarily. I think the great labels of the past were run by music people who understood what the artists were all about and how to create great product, great songs and how to put great people together. I don’t think we can wave a wand and put a bunch of techies in the driver’s seat, and everything will suddenly be good. You need educated people that understand the technology, the music, the creative process, the marketing and the relationships with fans. As those skill sets get implanted in the people running the companies that matter – not just labels, but publishers, touring companies, marketing companies and distribution companies – then things will get better. I’m pretty confident of that, but I don’t see technology solving the music industry’s problem.

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

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Terry McBride of Nettwerk interview

My friend Terry McBride was recently interviewed by Carter Smith of Rollo & Grady. Talk about the Future of Music, Nettwerk is doing it now. Here is the interview:

R&G: What made you decide to focus your business on digital products versus physical ones in 2002?

Terry: It was an intuitive thing for me. Obviously, digital had been seeping into our world for about three years and the Napster effect was apparent. Being a small company and working directly with artists, we could really hear and see what was starting to happen. It was a realization that fighting it wouldn’t work; understanding it and being able to grow it was what was going to work. It was a psychological shift for us. It took a few years to get the rest of the company and analysts focused towards that, but that was the psychological shift for me, which means that the company shifts.

R&G: About 80% of your business is from digital sales now, right?

Terry: Yes, that’s correct.

R&G: Why did you drop DRM in 2003?

Terry: I didn’t see any purpose in locking down files; it made no sense to me. People have always been sharing music. Why would I want to stop them? Why would I want to tell them what to do? The way to win was to get them to support my artists, not to force them to do it a certain way. I know I wouldn’t like anyone telling me that.

R&G: You recently spoke about cloud-based servers, mobile applications and smartphones being the future of the music business.

Terry: What’s happened in the last ten years is kind of moot. The next 18 months will determine the future of the music business. It’s a situation where the turnover on phones by the average consumer – now I’m being generous here – is every two years. It’s probably shorter. The smartphones that are starting to dominate the marketplace are specific platforms now open to applications that are being developed outside of the R&D departments of all of the various carriers. Apple, when they opened up their App Store, I think they sold, what, 150 million apps in maybe 9 months. It stunned the world, and Apple is a small player. They might be a noisy player, but they’re a small player within the mobile space. Research In Motion launches their store this month, Nokia is launching Ovi in April and Google has already launched their Android site. You’re going to see millions of applications come onto the marketplace. You’re going to see social filtering of the really good ones, and what’s going to be in there are applications that change the behavioral habits of how you consume music. The need to download music will no longer exist. If anything, it will be a hassle. You’ll have smartphones that can probably handle two to three hundred songs. That’s a gradual download; you’re actually not streaming it. It’s actually on your phone but it’s pulled from some sort of server, whether it’s your own server or a cloud server. To make all of these applications work, you have to have really good metadata, which means that business has to focus its efforts on really good metadata. Rich metadata is going to work with all of these applications. You’re going to see digital maids, digital valets. You’re going to see applications for maybe five bucks a month where you can access all the music that you want, how you want it, when you want it, imported to any device. So why would you want to download? Why would you want to go online to try to find it for free? Besides, something you find free might not work with these smartphone apps. Five bucks is no big deal to have unlimited access. That’s where everything’s going. All of the current arguments and debates are moot. I would even say that the ticker has now started on when the iPod goes away. I think Apple saw that.

R&G: So their primary focus will be to promote the iPhone?

Terry: They’ve been pushing the iPhone more than anything, and when they opened up their App Store, their intuitions were proven right. It is the App Store that has driven iPhone sales.

R&G: Do you think the major labels will sign off on these applications?

Terry: I don’t think they have any choice in the matter. It’s really just a subscription model, but it’s the application. A subscription model has never worked to date because it’s always been a hassle. It only works on your laptop, you can’t port it between devices, and it’s always streaming and always a pain in the ass. Last.fm and Pandora have been nice, but transferring that around has been really difficult. The applications coming with these smartphones will change all that and make it a hassle not to use them. Downloading will seem like a hassle two years from now. It will be like, ‘Download something? Are you nuts? Here, I can instantly access it. Watch, I’ll just type it in and my valet will go find it for me.’

R&G: Your valet, meaning your filter?

Terry: It’s an app. You’ll program your valet to look at what your 20 closest peers are listening to and create something for you to listen to. Maybe you’re a Led Zeppelin fan and all you want to hear is Led Zeppelin today. Maybe something bad happened and you want to listen to Sarah McLachlan today. Your valet will do that for you, and your digital maid will clean up your library for you.

R&G: That will be huge. It will make music consumption easier for the end user.

Terry: I always call it the hassle factor. It’s a hassle right now to be part of a subscription model. It’s even a hassle to download. These smartphones are radically going to change that. I mean, with Shazam you go, ‘What is that song?’ and you can instantly know what it is and instantly buy it, if that’s what you want to do. Slacker is the first one that comes close to being a digital valet. It’s only going to get better. Anyone with a really good idea can actually make it happen. You’re going to see this coming out of garages and university dorms, not Apple and Blackberry campuses.

R&G: You’re a member of the RIAA. What are your thoughts of them monitoring ISP usage?

Terry: Here’s my whole view of this, and this hasn’t changed for quite a long time. Out of all of the sharing of music, who’s making an economic return? Whoever is should then share that with all the people that allowed it to happen, creating a nice alignment of interests to grow any business. A lot of the providers have viewed music as free content, while at the same time paying for the cable content to grow their networks. They’ve been making money off the backs of the artists without any compensation for the artists at all. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I’ve also said it’s fundamentally wrong to go after the consumers that are using that opportunity. That’s not the right approach either. The phone companies and the cable providers have gotten away with murder in this whole situation.

R&G: What’s your opinion on music blogs?

Terry: I love music blogs because they’re music fans. They’re authentic and passionate about music. They’re no different than me. All they’re doing is spreading the word about stuff they like. The authentic will rise to the top, which is why I like aggregators like The Hype Machine. I think it’s brilliant. It’s a great way of seeing what music fans are talking about versus some other filter. I’d rather the filter be a social filter, and then you can go into niches. Maybe it’s a bluegrass filter or a country filter or a hard rock filter or an ambient filter. Whatever. Those people are really passionate about that music. You know what? That’s what it’s about. Songs are not copyright. Songs are emotions.

Read more great interviews at Rollo & Grady here.

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Radio Interview with Dave Kusek

Listen to this episode of “With A Voice Like This” where I am speaking with Jim Goodrich about the future of music.

It’s been four years since The Future of Music book came out and this radio interview starts with what has changed and what has stayed the same since the book was published. But there’s a twist. At the beginning of the show Jim asked that we not focus on the technology itself, since the book had so much more to offer than just a discussion of technology. Among other things we talk about what’s going on in China currently, the Universal Mobile Device (UMD) and of course, the Music like Water concept.

Listen to the interview here.

Download the MP3 file here.

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Interview on the Future of Music

New Formats

In a recent interview with Doug Dixon, David Kusek argues that the industry needs to develop new formats for music
distributed in physical formats. "Dual Disc is certainly a pointer in the
right direction," he says. "You need to create something that has
great value in order to continue to compete."

For example, in the movie A Clockwork Orange, says Kusek, "even
before CDs were out, they played music on a disk that was a little bigger than a
silver dollar. It reminds me of the idea that perhaps there are other formats
that could be developed, nontraditional formats, from what we have seen so far.
If you had a recordable format that was more convenient than CD, and held more
data, and was faster to record, then perhaps you could have a system where the
recording could be inside the stream of commerce."

The other critical trend, he says, is that "the price of these physical
products needs to come down. I’m encouraged that Dual Disc seems to be priced
around $18 to $20, and discouraged that CDs continue to hover in the $15 to $18
range. I don’t know how much control the manufacturers have over this, but to
the extent they can encourage their customers to be more realistic about pricing
CDs, the longer they will be able to stay in business. I really do believe the
price point for an audio CD is south of $10 at retail."

Music Commerce

But isn’t piracy destroying the industry? "There are two forms that are
currently labeled piracy," says Kusek. "You have the wholesale
replication of CDs and DVDs. To me, that’s counterfeit products and is obviously
not to be tolerated. It is certainly evil and criminal, and bad for
business."

"But the other kind of behavior that is labeled as piracy — downloading
files and trading files with your friends — I’m not sure that I would put that
in the same camp. Often there is no profit margin, there’s no distribution
network, other than yourself and a handful of people that you know. Generally,
you are not selling files to your friends."

"You can measure wholesale piracy and replication in many billions of
dollars, whereas for downloading and file sharing, it’s hard to quantify whether
it has had any negative impact at all in terms of real sales. I actually think
that is good for music, as painful as it may be for to the record
companies."

"I don’t think that file sharing and downloading of music is going to
stop," says Kusek, "until there is something easier, and better, and
cheaper, and more appealing. So as I argue in the book, why not embrace that
behavior, license and tax it, and somehow derive money from it? Make it easier
to find music, improve the quality of the files, and make it easier to record,
instead of trying to fight it. It seems a completely losing battle; People are
never going to stop doing it as long as the price of CDs is too high. So why not
go with the flow and embrace it?"

Investing in the Future

Says Kusek, "by and large the record companies are not in touch
with their customers at any significant level. They thought that their customer
was Wal-Mart. They are out of touch with their ultimate customer, and their
customer shifted away from them. They are still selling a ton of CDs, but the
whole file sharing thing was off their radar screen until someone told them
about it. So then they decided, let’s just go sue all these bastards."

"That bothers me as well," he says. "I ran the numbers, and
somewhere between 30 and 40 million dollars is being collected in the
settlements from the RIAA. But none of that money is going to the artists or
songwriters. It is going to the attorneys and the courts to process the papers,
and whatever is left is going to fund more lawsuits. It’s incredibly wasteful.
The numbers I see show file sharing growing on a monthly basis, ever since they
started the lawsuits, so it is not working. Imagine if they took $40 million and
invested it in a new way of delivering music that is attuned to the way people
want to buy."

To help people in the industry examine these options, Kusek runs an online
course on "The Future of Music and the Music Business" through the
Berkleemusic.com online extension school. "The course is for people at any
level of the music business," he says, "from artists, songwriters,
managers, record company, publisher, promoter, venue. We have had a lot of
people sign up from those areas trying to figure out what am I going to do in
the future: I own a record label, and how I get into this digital thing, or I am
a manager, and I can see that the labels are not really servicing my clients
anymore, so how can I grow my business in an appropriate way. A lot of the work
we do in the class is class projects or personal projects where you apply what
we are talking about to your situation and try to figure out what the next step
might be."

From his classes and consulting work, Kusek also sees differences in the
music business across the global economy. "One of my online students runs a
CD and DVD manufacturing company in India," he says. "They’re finding
that sales are actually quite healthy because the computer thing has not taken
off in the way it has in other parts of the world. I think there are many areas
in the global economy where there are lots of legs left to the existing physical
media, and those folks have more time to figure out alternatives."

Read the complete interview here at Manifest Technology.

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Nightly Business Report on the Business of Music

Watch this week’s Nightly Business Report on NPR and Public Television to see a special series on the Music Business, featuring Dave Kusek and Gerd Leonard.

"On December 6th, 1877, Thomas
Edison shouted a nursery rhyme into his new talking machine. The recording
industry was born.

Over more than a century, the technology evolved from wax cylinder to
shellac platter to long-playing vinyl to cassette tape to compact disc.

But the business model remained the same: The artist recorded to the
label`s satisfaction, the label did the manufacturing and handled the
distribution, and the consumer could take it or leave it.

That changed in the mid-1990s, when personal computers got the ability
to make digital compact discs. Unlike analog, digital recordings are
simply computer data files, and the tools need to create, capture and
manipulate digital music are inexpensive, high quality and widely
available.

Now, consumers can use the recording industry`s compact disc to create
their own compilations, re-edit to produce derivative products, and yes,
make perfect copies.

When the cost of the blank needed for a copy fell to pennies, the
industry`s business model fell apart.

If the ability to easily copy compact discs was a problem for
the recording industry, Napster and other file-sharing systems were a
disaster. Created in 1999, Napster let consumers freely trade the computer
files of songs with others over the Internet. The artists, publishers and
recording companies never saw a dime.

Nearly 40 million people were said to be using Napster when
it shut down. And for every Napster that was shut down, another method to
share files sprang up.
The industry`s trade association sued thousands of people, mostly
college students, to stop the practice. The lawsuits, tens of thousands by
some counts, continue today.
"

More info here.

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KCRW audio interview: The Politics of Culture

The Digital Age and The Future of Music.

It’s no secret that the music industry is challenged on multiple fronts. Now that we’re in the digital age, how can they change their outlook? Celia Hirschman, KCRW’s music industry commentator, speaks with Gerd Leonhard, co-author of The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution.

Listen to the Interview (Real)

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Atlas Plugged Interview Part 2

Held back by fear, you are.

The music industry can’t preserve its current model of total control. Rather, it must embrace P2P and other new technologies because consumers won’t accept anything less than full freedom. In the future,preventing customers from doing things they have grown used to will equal a quickly executed death blow. For the music business, this means that any innovation that will be offered to the marketplace must be without any catches. It must be flat-out in synch with what the consumer will accept and wants, and its integration into the daily lives of the average music consumer must be unobtrusive and effortless.  In other words, keep it simple and give customers what they want.

As Yoda might say, “Held back by fear, you are. To the Dark Side, your stubbornness will lead.” It’s a
fate the music industry may want to avoid.

Read the second part of the interview here.

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Let’s Get Digital – Radio Show

New York – WFUV Presents – If the new world of mp3 blogs, mash-ups, downloads and ringtones boggles your mind, tune in to Let’s Get Digital as host Jen Guerra takes a musical look at all things online.  The New Yorker Pop Music Critic Sasha Frere-Jones, CDBaby.com Founder Derek Sivers, Berklee College of Music Vice President David Kusek, Creative Commons Executive Director Glenn Otis Brown, Analyst Phil Leigh and others join Guerra for an hour-long program examining how the race to get online affects not only musicians, but music fans and the music business in general. 

Let’s Get Digital can be heard on WFUV (90.7 FM) www.wfuv.org and streaming online.

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Atlas Plugged – Interview

"Like modern  plumbing, the music industry could operate almost as a  utility—with copyright holders able to meter usage down to  how many people listened to particular songs at particular  times. In such a world, the industry could live off of micropayments flowing seamlessly back to the owners of  content rather than rely solely on the disjointed and  inefficient distribution of CDs to retailers. Artists, meanwhile, would have unprecedented access to new listeners  as their songs spread virally into vast musical networks  that fans can access literally anywhere. As the most  accessible artists find their audiences, those artists would  enjoy increased concert attendance, new forms of merchandise  and countless other opportunities to connect with fans like  never before."

Read part one of the two part interview

Part two is here

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Keepin’ it Reel to Reel: The Future of Music

To The Best of Our Knowledge

Seven hundred million people get their music from the Internet. More than 10 million people own iPods. Does this mean that compact discs and record companies are going the way of the gramophone and eight-track tapes? In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll look at this digital music revolution…as we explore the future of music.

Check out this program from Wisconsin Public Radio

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Forbes – Music Like Water

Forbes_80_100

People should pay for their music the way they pay for gas or electricity.
Forbes Article 2005

More people are consuming music today than ever before, yet very few of them are paying for it. The music recording industry blames file sharing for a downturn in CD sales and, with the publishing companies, has tried its best to litigate this behavior out of existence, rather than try to monetize the conduct of music fans. These efforts are fingers in a dike that is about to burst. Digital media are interactive, and people want music that they can burn to CDs, share and use as they wish. The music industry should instead look at turning this consumer phenomenon into a steady stream of cash–lots of it.