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Music Discovery Trends

Earlier this year, Edison Research and Triton Digital released their Infinite Dial Report describing the trends in music, streaming, radio and digital music. They report that:

  • Mobile devices are quickly rewiring behavior, especially with young users and image sharing (Instagram and Snapchat)
  • Internet Audio is growing at a fast rate with Pandora as the #1 player in online radio by far
  • Podcasts are increasingly growing their listener bases

The smartphone either is or will shortly become the dominate way that people interact “online”. If you are trying to break new music, you need to make sure that your presentation is mobile friendly.

Smartphone Growth

This may be old news to many of you, but if you are trying to break music or gather a fan base and you are not on YouTube, you have little or no chance of success these days.  YouTube is absolutely dominating the listening/viewing habits of 12-24 year olds as you can see in this chart from Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Youtube 1

While radio remains the top source for new music discovery, YouTube was the No. 1 source for the very important young listener market aged 12 to 24 years.

Youtube 2

And finally, nearly half the audience in America is listening to online radio (Pandora mostly).

Online Radio

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The Competition for iTunes Radio

 

Apple’s iTunes Radio is certainly late to the game, which brings to rise questions on how they will get consumers to switch from the already established online radio services. Apple needs to know what consumers really want from an online radio service and then go about providing more value while keeping the switching costs low.

Here is an interview with Jason Herskowitz, contributor to the music platform Tomahawk, and co-founder of Hatchet Industries. He discusses iTunes Radio as it compares to its established competitors including Pandora and Songza.

Much of the critical reception of iTunes Radio has consisted of balking at its similarities to Pandora. Industry pundits and market analysts are saying that Apple isn’t being
 innovative enough; it developed a “copy cat” feature, not a game-changing product. 

What was your initial reaction to iTunes Radio?

Herskowitz: This was my question, as I’m so close and tied into this market, is: how much do the “normal” people in the world know about or have brand affinity for Pandora? And if those people do, is Apple going to have something that is unique enough to get those users to switch from what they are already doing with Pandora. Those are all the things that raced through my mind when I first heard about iTunes Radio. As I got closer and started to realize that this isn’t a stand-alone app. This is actually built within the music app itself. I started to see more of the value proposition. The fact that of the mainstream users, who many are still in their iPod or iPhone music app and hitting shuffle and listening. The fact that there is radio programming within that same app, built on top of that same catalog. Is that moving the entry point far enough upstream that it’d siphon off some of those Pandora users?

Switching Costs

With that said, do you think Apple’s goal with iTunes Radio is to get Pandora users to switch or lock-in existing users to the music app?

Herskowitz: I think that most average iTunes users have used Pandora at some point or another. So I think Apple has to be thinking a little bit about switching. Because as you know and I know, and everybody else knows, the fact that all of the normal people that we know, that are not in this industry, are all generally aware of Pandora and have used it at least once and some of them very often. So I think Apple does need to think about getting those users to switch. Obviously, those that haven’t switched yet, or don’t know about Pandora yet, then great, they can get in there as well. But iTunes Radio is also going to help drive incremental download sales, which is of course, as Apple tries to extend the life of download sales as long as they can: this affords them the opportunity to do that. And of course, iTunes knows exactly how many iTunes downloads Pandora sells. Those are all numbers that they are very aware of, and they see how much sales Pandora drives, so they can think about: “If we can get upstream of Pandora…” There’s going to be benefits to them in the kind of longer play. Ultimately, I think Apple’s play is much more about the iAds platform than about being a music service for the sake of being a music service.

To read the full interview, visit Sidewinder.fm.

 

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Apple’s Online Radio: iTunes Radio

Apple announced its long anticipated online radio last month. The free version, iTunes Radio, and the ad-free paid version, iTunes Match, will be available to consumers and music fans later this year. Apple’s iAd will be supporting the free service. As a company known for innovation and market disruption, seeing a model so similar to Pandora’s is a little anticlimactic. Apple’s lack of success and interest in the advertisement market also raises some questions about their model. However, while it seems like Apple is late to the game and that their model is similar to that of the struggling Pandora, a deeper look shows some key differences on which Apple is betting their success.

Granted, many of Apple’s recent iTunes endeavors like Ping have not been wildly successful. Ping was installed on hundreds of millions of devices and was easily available to consumers, but if the product is not good, this does not matter. iTunes radio will most likely take a similar approach. Through iTunes, the iPod, and the iPad, Apple has an enormous customer base to which it can push this new service. However, in order to get people to switch from their current streaming service, there must be minimal switching costs – it must be easy to understand, intuitive, and clean.

Similar to Ping, iAd has not currently gained the traction it needs to support an online radio. In the past, iAd has had a difficult time attracting and holding on to top brands for advertisements. The service previously offered little control over where the ad was placed, costed more than rival services, and had a reach limited to Apple’s mobile products. It will be interesting to see how Apple adapts this service to support the online radio.

The radio service itself may be enough to attract the high-paying advertisers they need. The iTunes Store has gathered data on millions of consumers for years. Data on what genre of music they purchase, what bands they like best, how much money they spend on music and other recreational goods, what movies they watch, what books they download, and what apps they have downloaded and use. With this information, Apple can offer advertisers extreme consumer targeting based not only on demographics, but psychographics as well.

Other than data, Apple has good relations with more record labels. Because of the importance of the iTunes Store in today’s music economy, Apple has secured more robust licensing agreements with the majors, allowing Apple to potentially reach more people in more countries with more music than Pandora or Spotify.

As implied by the services names, iTunes Radio and iMatch will be heavily integrated with the iTunes store. Listeners will be able to purchase music heard on the radio and the music discovery mechanism will most likely be based on a mixture of listening information and data from the listener’s iTunes library preferences. Again, the huge amount of data Apple has been able to collect over the years may help them produce a more intuitive recommendation and discovery method.

To see an in-depth overview of the royalty calculations for Apple’s online radio services, check out this article from Billboard.

Of course, at this point, the potential success of Apple’s online radio is all speculation. It will be interesting to see what Apple can bring to the table in terms of innovation in this difficult market. The price for iTunes Match is currently set at $24.99 per year, as compared to Pandora’s $36.99 yearly fee.

As of May 2013, Pandora has 70.8 million users and Spotify has 24 million. What do you think about Apple’s online radio? Will it disrupt the market, or are they too late coming into the game?

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The Sad Truth about the Music Business

Music_Evolution_lowres1

Music is a much smaller and less significant part of many people’s lives than 10-20 years ago.  There is more competition for our attention and the value of music has declined precipitously. This graphic shows the rise of digital against physical music, and the overall impact of piracy, widespread distribution and digital media on the music industry. The sad story is that overall the music business is shrinking. That is a fact that we all have to face.  The silver lining in all of this may be on the horizon, but it cannot come soon enough for me. We have to do something to reverse the trend.

Courtesy Daily Infographic.

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Investing in Media and Tech from Roger McNamee

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.

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The Front End of the Donkey

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.
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Slow Growth for Digital Music.

A new survey from the Gartner group shows digital music revenues forecast to grow less than 5% per year.  This is close to flatlined if you factor in inflation.  Not good news for most of the world.

■ Online music revenue from end users will grow more than 31% by the end of the forecast period: from $5.9 billion in 2010 to $7.7 billion in 2015. By comparison, consumer spending on physical music (CDs and LPs) is expected to slide from around $15 billion in 2010 to around $10 billion in 2015.

■ Online music subscription services, such as Spotify, will be the main growth sector in this market, showing fivefold growth from 2010 to 2015. A la carte sales will drive the bulk of overall revenue.

■ The highest growth rates will be in regions such as Latin America and the Middle East and Africa, which have not historically been strong in paying for tracks or albums from online services or stores (although perhaps stronger in paid-for ringtones from their service providers).

digital music sales chart

Read more from Gartner here.

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Words of Wisdom from Roger McNamee

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

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Will Artists Profit from Digital Distribution?

For the past 5 years I have been delivering presentations, in a wide variety of contexts including Digital Music Forum, AES, Billboard, IEBA, Music Hack Day, NAMM, Digital Hollywood and at many, many other private consulting gigs.   The essence of the presentation I have been making since 2006 is shown below with a couple of updates, roughly based on the Top 10 Truths described in our Future of Music book.  All along I have been advocating for artists, songwriters and publishers to challenge the way iTunes transactions were accounted for by the labels on the legitimacy of the splits.  The way iTunes royalties have been distributed is just wrong, a scam and a holdover from the accounting practices of the record companies past.

http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/ssplayer2.swf?doc=kusekkeynote-101024210138-phpapp01&stripped_title=kusek-keynote&userName=davekusek

Kusek keynote

Finally someone (Eminem’s production company), challenged Universal Music Group in the way that artists and labels split the money generated by iTunes transactions and won an initial ruling in their favor.  Just this past week Universal Music Group’s inevitable appeal was rejected meaning that the industry giant may now have to split its digital music royalties from money earned from ringtone sales and iTunes.

San Francisco’s US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided last month that all royalties made by the record label from such sales must be shared in higher proportions with producers. The recent court rejection will result in this case proceeding in a lower level court which will then determine exactly how much Universal owes Eminem and his producers, taking into account both damages and royalties.

This could be a very significant development for the entire recorded music industry.  When Steve Jobs and his team negotiated the original iTunes deal with the major labels, the economics of what iTunes would receive from transactions was roughly 35% of each download, a similar number as a  distributor/retailer of CDs would receive and the remaining 65% would flow to the labels and be split as with a traditional CD sale.

This was a masterful negotiation by Apple, effectively granting itself amnesty from claims of copyright infringement or inducement to infringe copyright on the part of the major labels and publishers in exchange for the promise of digital cash flow, potentially reigniting the recorded music business for the labels.  Even if most of the music contained on iPods was pirated, now the labels would have a new revenue stream and Apple would be safe from litigation.  This move paved the way for Apple to become the dominant company in the music business and one of the most valuable brands on the planet.  A transformational revenue shift was underway whereby Apple would effectively eat the labels lunch.  The ultimate iCon.

But what artists and writers failed to question at the time, was the way the 65% label share would be split.  The labels assumed that these downloads were “sales” of copies of the songs and that artists would receive their royalties based on traditional accounting practices.  In the early days of payments from iTunes, labels often continued to deduct fees from the artists share for “packaging” and “marketing” and “coop” often when there were no actual costs being incurred.  No one questioned whether iTunes downloads were “licenses” versus “sales” which would have tipped the accounting in favor of the artists.  Indeed Steve Jobs himself referred to his deal with the labels as a “license” in his rare and open “Thoughts on Music” letter posted February 6, 2007.

Now fast forward to 2010.  Although not directly listed in the UMG suit, Eminem could benefit from the results, as he could get a much larger share of the payments. The case is being touted as a landmark decision for the music industry as it could determine a precedent that could see 90 per cent of contracts signed before 2000 change for the benefit of the artists and songwriters.  If this ruling holds up and is widely interpreted, it will destroy the traditional record labels.

The ruling will hinge on the standard record deal contract, which predates the digital era and changes that have come with it. New rulings will most likely govern how digital royalties will be accounted for.

In the most recent decision the court has defined record companies’ deals with such firms as Verizon and iTunes as ‘licensing’ contracts as opposed to music sales, meaning the 50/50 split would apply.  This will be devastating for the labels and great for artists.

When I commented on this issue in an earlier post, one of my readers wrote “if Eminem eventually prevails it will be the end of discovering and nurturing new talent by record companies and will throw the music scene into more disarray that P2P ever did.”  While this may be true, I am completely convinced that the old record company model must change, will change, and will eventually be replaced by something more clearly aligned with the times and the new digital reality.  There is no doubt that these times are truly wrenching for the music industry – but music will prevail and the interests will realign into something sustainable.

Read more here and stay tuned to see how this all turns out.

Musician Economics 101

musicians&money

From Hypebot.  It’s no secret that the amount of money artists are earning from recorded music is declining.  But by how much? And as digital sales replace physical and streaming music gains traction do the numbers shift in the artist’s favor?  Infographic created by David McCandless of Information Is Beautiful from a spreadsheet of data.

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Are these really the key trends and challenges for Digital Music?

Here is a list of 9 trends and challenges that were recently published as part of an overall report on Digital Music by Redwood Capital.  You can download the entire report here.  What I find most bothersome about all of this is that it is a very backward looking, rationalization and justification about the collapse of the recorded music business and the fantasizing about protection of the label’s assets and proliferation of the traditional business model.  While it may be a good snapshot of some of the major issues the industry has faced and a good way for people to orient themselves, this is hardly the way to think about the future.  No wonder the investments made in music startups over the past decade or so by the VCs and Investment Bankers have not panned out.  If this is the way VCs and investors look at the world of music, I got to tell you, we are all in a lot of trouble.

I have pitched and have had many deep discussions with investors over the years about the music industry and have learned one thing that is holding the entire industry back.  Investors say they care about the music business, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t care about the musicians.  Not one of them would bet on a new label or artist driven business model.  They all wanted to back technology or distribution, but not musicians.  Pathetic.

I have taken the liberty of annotating some of these “treneds and challenges” below:

1) Rampant Piracy Continues

Despite a decade of aggressive attempts by the industry to reduce illegal downloads and peer-to-peer file sharing and preserve what remained of the old model, the biggest challenge facing the industry is still the fact that consumer attitudes towards paying for music have been forever changed, especially amongst the ever-important younger demographic. This places tremendous pressure on industry players to provide the consumer with an experience that exceeds that which can be achieved illegally and for free. The solution likely lies in packaging music with other products and services that consumers expect to pay for, such as mobile phone service, Internet connections, ringtones, concerts, merchandise, etc., and taking advantage of improvements in broadband speed and access to provide a service that can’t be replicated for free. – Certainly this is true for recorded music and something that we predicted nearly 8 years ago in our book on the Future of Music. However you cannot expect a healthy market when you have to “package” what you are trying to sell with something else as the primary means of distribution.  New forms of music experiences would certainly trump “bundles”.

2) Strategy of Major Labels

Despite numerous attempts to cut out the labels as middlemen, and the potential damage they have done to their relationships with the public after years of suing their customers, the major labels still have tremendous clout in determining the fate of the various new distribution models and emerging companies. While backing by the major labels by no means guarantees any degree of success, opposition from the labels is an obstacle that is extremely difficult to overcome. That being said, many of the larger players today began without the blessing of the labels, but once they became too big to ignore the labels were willing to make a deal. – Again I would argue this perspective assumes that the existing music, the existing catalog is more important than the new music, or the music yet to be created.  Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted and countless hours of negotiation sunk into trying to secure licenses to existing major label content by many companies trying to recreate the distribution model for an asset class in severe decline.  I will go out on a limb here and say that the new music matters far more in the future than the existing music, and that licenses from the major labels are far less valuable than the labels think they are.  Perhaps an order of magnitude less.

3) Legal Complexity

Many US copyright laws were written when the only form of music distribution was printed sheet music and as such, obtaining the proper licenses from all relevant content owners is extremely complex. Given the relative youth of the digital music industry, the law is being written and applied haphazardly and has been difficult to interpret. International differences make it difficult to offer consistent products on a global basis. For example, currently Pandora is legal in the US, but illegal in the U.K, and vice versa for Spotify. Developing a business plan in this environment is extraordinarily difficult. – Of course this is true if you are building a business based on catalog.  New labels and music companies that are forming to support new artists can completely eliminate this issue by creating licenses for their content that bundle all the rights in one global license that can be easily acquired.  By using this strategy, new content businesses can outrun old content business and begin to take over the landscape.

4) The End of DRM

The recent decisions by the labels to finally eliminate digital rights management for many applications should represent a landmark change for emerging growth companies in the music space. This greatly reduces a longstanding barrier by allowing compatibility of content and devices across platforms. By decoupling content and devices, consumers can now download a song from their choice of providers and listen to that song on their choice of devices. – Excuse me but the labels had nothing to do with the elimination of digital rights management.  That was eliminated long ago when people began trading MP3 files while all the attempts to distribute “legitimate” digital music failed. This is just the labels saying uncle.

5) Mobile Strategy is Critical

Whereas it has been extremely challenging for content owners across all digital media sectors to monetize online content, consumers do not expect mobile content to be free to the same degree because they have been conditioned to pay for such services. Therefore, we believe that online models that don’t have credible mobile strategies will continue to struggle, and killer mobile apps will prosper. We believe that one of the primary reasons for MySpace’s acquisition of Imeem was Imeem’s mobile capabilities. – Here I agree with the basic premise that a mobile strategy is critical, although have yet to see one that works.  Do people really want to listen to music on their phone?  Is that the killer app?  I expect that something far better is around the corner, more integrated into your life at the moments where you can and want to listen to music.  The damage being done to people’s hearing by the “Ear Buds” sold with the iPod and nearly every other mobile listening device is limiting the experience and holding back the growth of mobile music more than anything.  MP3 sound like crap.  Ear Buds are destroying people’s hearing.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to pay for digital music.  Anyone who focuses on improving the sound quality of mobile listening will find a explosive opportunity.

6) Dominance and Importance of the iPhone

With iTunes’ almost 70% US share in digital downloads, and the iPhone quickly taking market share in the smartphone category, alliances with Apple and/ or apps on the iPhone have become critical to success. Rhapsody, Spotify and Sirius have all launched iPhone apps in the past few months, and MOG’s is expected shortly, and this should give each an important boost in marketing their products. Without the iPhone app, customers would have had to spring for another device to use those services. With customers hesitant to even pay monthly service fees, adding a hardware requirement would have been an insurmountable obstacle in reaching a large customer base. We believe that Apple has been smart in its willingness to approve apps even from services that compete with iTunes. – I love my iPhone, I think it is the coolest thing ever invented.  But I also know that worldwide, the iPhone is just a speck on the landscape of mobile phones.  Will Apple really dominate this space over time?  I doubt it very much.  The vast majority of people cannot afford to buy Apple products.

7) Importance of Wireless Broadband

The widespread availability of broadband in the home and the office in the past decade has enabled computer-based downloading and streaming to develop entirely new methods of discovering, purchasing and listening to music. Many of the previously mentioned business models revolve around this experience. However, the next frontier for the developing models is to take the experience mobile without frustrating consumers. Now that consumers have accepted that cell phones are also music players, the market for mobile music has dramatically expanded, given that 139 million smartphones were sold worldwide in 2008 (Source: Gartner). To date, while streaming services such as Rhapsody and Pandora are a great way to listen to music at one’s desk, the experience on a mobile phone is mediocre at best, given dead spots and dropouts, and in the case of Rhapsody, low bitrate streaming. We suspect that many early adopters have tried these mobile services, only to get frustrated and go back to listening to MP3s on their iPods. Spotify’s and Slacker’s ability to cache playlists may prove to be a good workaround until wireless broadband availability and quality catches up. – I am a firm believer that you do not have to worry about storage and bandwidth, that they will always expand faster than you think they will.  Agreed.

8 ) Consumers Remain Willing to Pay for Exciting New Technologies and Products

Consumers have proven that they are indeed willing to pay for new products and technologies that enhance the music experience or provide new uses for music. The tremendous initial growth of the ringtone market is one example. US ringtone sales grew from almost zero in 2002 to a peak of $714 million in 2007, before dropping 24% in 2008 (Source: SNL Kagan) as consumers ultimately figured out how to create ringtones on their own for free. iTunes has created new value added products that sell at a premium, such as iTunes Pass, which automatically delivers all new product, including exclusive extras, from a specific band to its fans, and iTunes LP, which adds album art, videos, and other extras to an album purchase. Shazam is another good example. Shazam is the second most popular music app on the iPhone and claims 50 million users. Shazam is a unique technology that enables users to use their mobile phone to identify and tag any song they hear in public or on the radio and immediately purchase the song. The app is so popular that Shazam is now charging customers $5 for the premium app, and is limiting free users to five tags per month, and its usage is accelerating. – Completely agree.  This is in line with my basic premise that the new stuff matters far more than the old stuff, and if you can deliver a unique experience to a fan, especially one that is fun and sounds incredibly great, they will eat it up.

9) Convergence of Models

Most streaming services also offer the ability to purchase tracks either with their own ecommerce model or with links to others, most often iTunes and Amazon. To date, most ecommerce models have not offered streaming services, likely out of fear of cannibalization as well as licensing requirements. We believe that as streaming catches on with a broader audience, the e-commerce players will have to offer both. Apple is now more likely to move in this direction with its purchase of Lala, and increases our level of confidence that the streaming model is the wave of the future. – I believe as we wrote about in the Future of Music, that a utility model is the only way to make money with recorded music in the future.  Until music become always on and always available and feels like it is free to you, the market will continue to decline.  It is not so much the convergence of models but the ascendance of a model that will work.  The broadband mobile carriers are the ones that can make this happen.  It is a winner take all business strategy for the company with the balls and commitment to bake paid media distribution into their basic business model.

Comments anyone?

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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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Appetite for Self-Destruction

Most of this is old news, but you got to love this line:

“You can’t roll a joint on an iPod,” the singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne told The New York Times Magazine early last year. And, O.K., I suppose that’s among the iPod’s drawbacks. But it’s hard to think of an electronic device released in recent decades that’s brought more pleasure to more people.

Should anyone care that in the process, the iPod has all but killed the music industry as we’ve known it? Maybe not, Steve Knopper writes in “Appetite for Self-Destruction – The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age,” his stark accounting of the mistakes major record labels have made since the end of the LP era and the arrival of digital music. These dinosaurs, he suggests, are largely responsible for their own demise.

Mr. Knopper, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, provides a wide-angled, morally complicated view of the current state of the music business. He doesn’t let those rippers and burners among us — that is, those who download digital songs without paying for them, and you know who you are — entirely off the hook. But he suggests that with even a little foresight, record companies could have adapted to the Internet’s brutish and quizzical new realities and thrived.

“The CD boom lasted from 1984 to 2000,” Mr. Knopper writes. Then the residue of old mistakes and a wave of new realities began hammering the music industry from all sides.

One of the first things the labels got wrong, Mr. Knopper says, was the elimination of the single. It got young people out of the habit of regularly visiting record stores and forced them to buy an entire CD to get the one song they craved. In the short term this was good business practice. In the long term it built up animosity. It was suicidal.

When Napster and other music-sharing Web sites showed up, the single came back with a vengeance. Before long MP3 — the commonly used term for digitally compressed and easily traded audio files — had replaced sex as the most searched-for term on sites like Yahoo! and AltaVista.

The record industry bungled the coming of Napster. Instead of striking a deal with a service that had more than 26 million users, labels sued, forcing it to close. A result, Mr. Knopper writes, was that users simply splintered, fleeing to many other file-sharing sites. “That was the last chance,” he declares, “for the record industry as we know it to stave off certain ruin.”

Read more of this book review from the New York Times.

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Online Music Royalties

Many people have asked me to explain the current status of royalty payments for online music.

A thorough discussion of this past year’s agreement on mechanical royalties was produced by my friends at the Future of Music Coalition.

There is also a good summary on the meeting of the Copyright Royalty Board this past fall here.

The royalties that songwriters receive from CD sales and digital downloads will remain the same, the same for both media and the same as the current rate: 9.1 cents per song. The rate for ringtones will increase to 24 cents a song, above even the 15 cents songwriters and publishers lobbied for.

However there is still great unease with the direction that things are headed on the part of online webcasting and streaming music services as they look into the reality of making payments at these levels. Pandora, NPR and others seeking a new structure want rates to be set as a percentage of total revenue, similar to how royalties are assessed for satellite radio or subscription music services. At the very least, they want a system that will favor webcasters big and small.

Webcasters are required to pay an escalating fee to copyright owners every time they play a song for a listener. This year, for instance, Web radio stations are supposed to pay 14 hundredths of a penny ($.0014) per song streamed, per listener; site operators figure that will cost them about 2.1 cents per user, per hour. That is a figure that most webcasters simply cannot afford to pay, since most sites are advertising supported and do not generate enough revenue to pay the license fees and operate their businesses. Read more from All things Digital here.

We will see what happens in the next month or so as things come to a head.

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The Future of Music Book and Podcast

Our book is available in various forms.

The Future of Music Book

You can listen to the book on iTunes as a podcast for free. Go to the iTunes store and search “Future of Music” podcasts and subscribe.

You can buy the book on Amazon for $11.53 or less.

You can purchase the audiobook from Audible for $7.49.

Here are a few of the reviews.

Publishers Weekly
Two innovators in music technology take a fascinating look at the impact of the digital revolution on the music business and predict “a future in which music will be like water: ubiquitous and free-flowing.” Kusek and Leonhard foresee the disappearance of CDs and record stores as we know them in the next decade; consumers will have access to more products than ever, though, through a vast range of digital radio channels, person-to-person Internet file sharing and a host of subscription services. The authors are especially good at describing how the way current record companies operate – as both owners and distributors of music, with artists making less than executives – will also drastically change: individual CD sales, for example, will be replaced by “a very potent ‘liquid’ pricing system that incorporates subscriptions, bundles of various media types, multi-access deals, and added-value services.” While the authors often shift from analysts into cheerleaders for the über-wired future they predict – “Let’s replace inefficient content-protection schemes with effective means of sharing-control and superdistribution!” – their clearly written and groundbreaking book is the first major statement of what may be “the new digital reality” of the music business in the future.

5.0 out of 5 stars THE FUTURE OF MUSIC IS NOW
Gian Fiero (Hollywood, California)

This book is so brilliant that it makes the vast majority of music industry books that are being published seem irrelevant. It discusses in detail, the reasons why the future of the music industry is headed into the digital/mobile entertainment era. It also provides statistical information that professionals, marketers, entrepreneurs, and educators can use constructively. Both Dave and Gerd (the books co-author), have their fingers firmly planted on current music industry activities and trends. They also possess and display a clairvoyant eye toward the future that offers beneficial insight and foresight to those who may not be aware of what this whole digital (i.e. independent) revolution is about, and most importantly, what it will entail to prosper in it. The book is easy to read, easy to understand and simply brilliant. If you buy just one industry book this year, this should be THE one. Buy it now!

5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible
Stephen Hill “Producer, Hearts of Space” (San Rafael, CA USA)

A stunningly candid source of concentrated, up to date insight about the music business and its turbulent transition into the digital era. This book tells it straight and will make the dinosaurs of the music industry very unhappy.

Like Martin Luther’s ’95 Theses’ nailed to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, Kusek and Leonard drive nail after nail into the sclerotic heart of the old-fashioned music business. Their rational vision of the future of music rests on the idea of unshackling music from the hardcopy product business in a yet-to-be-realized era of open content licensing, facilitating sharing and communication among users, and growing the business to its full potential.

It provides as clear a vision of the future of the music industry as you will find, from two writers with a rare combination: a solid grounding in the traditional practices of the music business, an up-to-the-minute knowledge of the new technologies that are changing it, and the ability to think through the consequences.

I’ve dreamed about a book like this, but thought it would be impossible in today’s hyperdynamic environment where every week seems to bring a breakthrough technology, device, or service. But by digging out the underlying trends and principles Kusek and Leonard get under the news and illuminate it. Along the way they provide a brilliantly concise history of the evolution of digital media.

I can’t think of any book more important for artists to get the full re-orientation they need to survive and prosper in the digital era. It’s no less critical for members of the music and broadcasting industries who need to consolidate their thinking into a coherent roadmap for the future. In a word: indispensible.

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Shilling for Supper

As the influence of major labels erodes, licensers are seizing their chance to be talent scouts. They can be good at it, song by song, turning up little gems like Chairlift’s “Bruises,” heard in an iPod ad. For a band, getting such a break, and being played repeatedly for television viewers, is a windfall, and perhaps an alternate route to radio play or the beginning of a new audience. But how soon will it be before musicians, perhaps unconsciously, start conceiving songs as potential television spots, or energy jolts during video games, or ringtones? Which came first, Madonna’s “Hung Up” or the cellphone ad?

And as music becomes a means to an end – pushing a separate product, whether it’s a concert ticket or a clothing line, a movie scene or a Web ad – a tectonic shift is under way. Record sales channeled the taste of the broad, volatile public into a performer’s paycheck. As music sales dwindle, licensers become a far more influential target audience. Unlike nonprofessional music fans who might immerse themselves in a song or album they love, music licensers want a track that’s attractive but not too distracting – just a tease, not a revelation.

Good summary of this trend by the NYTimes Herald Tribune.

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Cycles in Music – Video

From the Business Innovation Factory Summit, my presentation on the Past, Present and Future of Music.

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Here is the story they wrote about me for the Summit.

Back in the seventies, David Kusek walked from his freshman dorm at the University of Connecticut, down a long hill to the music department for classes several times a week. When the routine got a little stale, he began taking other routes. One detour took him past the computer science building where he quickly noted the “hot” cars in the parking lot. Naturally, he began taking computer science courses.

Great ideas are born in such serendipitous ways. When Kusek melded his deep-rooted love of music with his newfound affinity for computers, he opened up unchartered territory in the music world by inventing the electronic drum. His company, Synare, took a relatively unfamiliar technology (computers) and combined it with an indigenous musical tradition that tuned percussion to the key of the song. Kusek also knew how to start a business, develop products, and take them to market. Having the right price point added to the appeal of the electronic drum and attracted the attention of fledgling artist Donna Summers who took a chance on the new sound and propelled her career.

“For better or worse, we had our part in the disco age,” Kusek says. “We helped to define the sound of the era.”

Taking another detour for curiosity’s sake led Kusek to study animal communication in California with noted biologist John Lilly. They were trying to use sound to communicate with dolphins when the Apple II computer came to market.

Kusek was already synthesizing the sounds that dolphins make, so he devised a way to do the same with musical instruments, to “put the Apple II between the instruments.” He explains that his new company, Passport Designs, “broke music down into a language of expression, which we mapped to simple computer code and connected it to the instruments. We created a computer language for music.” Witness the birth of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), developed by a group of companies including Passport, which has left an indelible mark on the music industry by becoming the prototype for all music interface software.

If only they had patented it.

Kusek, along with Dave Smith and the other people responsible for creating MIDI could have made millions with MIDI, but he remains philosophical about this missed opportunity. “Maybe the reason why it took off was that it was absolutely free,” he says. “It was a compact way of representing music in a simple and cheap format.”

Kusek has learned to appreciate and even extol the benefits of free and open access to music. He helped create musical notation software and was instrumental in developing enhanced CDs for the commercial market. He supports the creation of a music utility to “monetize” the immense wave of file-sharing that has become standard operating procedure in the industry. He reasons that Internet users already pay for access to a network that supplies the music, so why not add a nominal fee to the ISP bill and allow for legal trading? With approximately 80 million households using the Internet, a monthly music utility fee of $3 would generate almost $3 billion in annual music sales from households alone.

“If you tracked what was downloaded,” Kusek says, “you could create a system where the money flows exactly to the people who are listening. It could be a 30 to 40 billion dollar business again, as it was in the nineties.”

Admittedly, this system would spread those billions among a larger base of artists, establishing an unfamiliar sense of parity in the music industry. But Kusek says that the megastar is gone, anyway: “In the last four to five years, new artists coming to market are not making anywhere near what artists like Madonna made. I think that happens because of file-sharing, but also because the music industry was taking its eye off what was important. In the mid-nineties, the record companies thought their customers were WalMart and Target. They had no connection to their audience at all.”

File-sharing may have killed the megastar, but not the art, Kusek insists. “I think it’s a great time to be an artist,” he says. New performers may have smaller audiences, but they also have a more efficient way of finding that audience and staying connected to it through online chats, newsletters, and blogs. And instead of the record industry’s marketing machine pushing music at fans with an $18 plastic CD case and the elaborate promotion attached to it, word of mouth is shaping the musical tastes of the rising generation.

As it should, according to Kusek. He has brought technological innovations to the music industry by accepting such change and using it to open up the possibilities of sound. He envisions music flowing in a clean stream wherever people communicate, allowing artists and fans to express themselves freely.

Napster’s Children

Want to know what’s up with new music startups? Read on. Great coverage by Paul Bonanos from The Deal. So good to see mainstream financial coverage of our music industry.

Striking a chord

A decade after Napster, a new crop of Internet startups is challenging the music industry’s dominant companies. Their instruments of choice: social networking, discovery, ad-supported streaming, marketing and other tools that change how business is done.

New Music Startups

Source: Tech Confidential

U.K.-based We7 Ltd., which has drawn funding from British musician Peter Gabriel, along with VC firms Eden Ventures and Spark Ventures plc, both of London, offers free songs that contain short advertisements that vanish after a few weeks. We7 recently added songs from a third major label, while SpiralFrog signed up only two of the four majors, meaning that finding free songs can still be something of a wild
goose chase.

Nashville’s NoiseTrade, a bootstrapped startup, provides a way for artists to give away music in exchange for the e-mail addresses of prospective new fans, while angel investor-backed TrueAnthem Corp. of San Francisco connects brand advertisers with musicians, who introduce tunes with short, personalized ads.

Consumers less inclined to possess a virtual copy of a song also have more options. That includes subscribing to libraries of music content and Web sites that allow streaming songs on demand and limited downloading. Publicly traded RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle has emerged as a clear leader among such products with its Rhapsody service, while the existing Napster, which purchased its trademark from the original bankrupt startup, has lost subscribers and remains far from profitable. Both companies offer several tiered plans, ranging from roughly $10 to $15 per month, that provide access to millions of songs from all four major labels, as well as “tethered downloads,” or DRM-restricted files that expire once a customer cancels his subscription.

The market for free music “streamed” on a Web site is more complex, with some startups relying on subscription services to supply songs through their own user interfaces. Most streaming services are married to some other Web utility, whether a social networking site, music discovery service or
paid-download store.

With investment from VC firms Sequoia Capital and Morgenthaler Ventures, both of Menlo Park, Calif., as well as from Universal Music and Warner, social music site Imeem Inc. of San Francisco has built the fastest-growing free streaming service. All four major labels now supply music to Imeem, which lets users play songs on demand.

Imeem’s growth highlights the pressure on “old music” companies, like other old media firms, to change with the times. And the legal battles between upstart music firms and incumbents have been no less intense than the fights in other quadrants of the media industry, such as the ongoing court dispute between Google Inc. and Viacom Inc. over the search giant’s use of protected video on YouTube. Warner sued Imeem in 2007 over alleged copyright infringement, only to later buy a stake in the startup after settling the case.

“Sometimes a lawsuit is foreplay to a licensing deal,” says Norwest Venture Partners principal Tim Chang of startups’ path to legitimacy in the age of free music. “They infringe so that users get what they want and advertisers pay attention, scale so that you have some leverage against labels, get sued and then settle.”

The digital-music business is entering a phase common to many emerging high-tech sectors. The land rush of startups that follows any significant technological shift, such as file sharing, is already starting to thin out as winners stake their claims and losers get consolidated, if they’re lucky, or simply disappear.

For example, Last.fm rival Pandora Media Inc. faces a fight for survival despite having attracted prominent venture investors and a slew of good publicity. The Oakland, Calif., startup employs music experts to create a recommendation “engine” for Internet radio. But an upcoming regulatory change that will result in a doubling of streaming royalty rates for Web radio companies could spell the company’s doom unless it elects to charge users a subscription fee or finds a way to add advertising that its audience will accept.

Like Pandora and Last.fm, music discovery site iLike Inc. of Seattle has become popular, if not consistently profitable. One key to its success in attracting users has been its availability over Facebook Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., through which more than half of its 30 million users connect to the service. Through a partnership with Rhapsody, iLike allows users to stream as many as 25 songs per month and download selected others for free while examining their friends’ tastes and recommendations. The startup has raised $15.8 million in two rounds of funding from former Time Warner Inc. executive and MTV co-founder Bob Pittman, star venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, and the Ticketmaster unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp of New York.

“There’s a natural propensity for social networking and music to go together,” says MySpace founder Brad Greenspan, who left the social network in 2003. “When you’re surfing people’s profiles and everything starts to look the same, the only way to differentiate among them is their individualization. And if you add an image of an artist on a site, you will bring in people who want to be close to that musician’s energy, whether by blogging, chatting, befriending or following them.”

Drawing on such desires, music-blogging hub MOG Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., wants to tap into fans’ efforts to spread the word about their favorite artists. Universal and Sony BMG joined the Angels’ Forum of Palo Alto in putting $6 million into the startup, which compiles the musings of volunteer bloggers writing on given musicians and bands. MOG, which also offers on-demand music, represents a one-stop version of the musical blogosphere, where songs are commonly shared without compensation for content owners.

Also harnessing the power of the blogosphere are music-focused search engines such as the bootstrapped Hype Machine Inc. of New York and angel-backed Seeqpod Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., which index thousands of music blogs where MP3s often reside for a few weeks so users can sample them.

Another area where Internet startups are encroaching on the record labels’ turf is marketing. Launched this summer, Los Angeles-based Topspin Media Inc. enables artists and fans to communicate directly, offering a sort of customer management technology package for musicians that allows sales of songs, albums and merchandise. Under one subscription option offered through the company, a fan can pay a flat fee for a musician’s entire recorded output over the coming year — income a musician might otherwise have to share with a label. Venture investors are on board, with Topspin having raised funding from Redpoint Ventures of Menlo Park and Foundry Group of Boulder, Colo.

But rampant music piracy continues to dwarf legitimate sales, cutting label revenues by as much as half since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, work that had long been the province of music companies has been gradually appropriated by newer, fleeter Internet companies or, as with marketing, “disaggregated” out of existence. Other competitors also have emerged. LiveNation Inc. of New York, a publicly traded live music promotion company spun out of Clear Channel Communications Inc. in 2005, has signed top acts, including U2 and Madonna, and has sweetened its deals by letting artists maintain ownership of their material.”

If so, what will the business look like? A dying era of superstar acts may give way to a music scene carved into myriad niches, with proliferating media channels creating room for more voices — the “middle class” of artists, as Rogers puts it. Artists and fans will operate in closer proximity, with more tools in place to help them connect.

How, then, will music derive its commercial value, and where should investors place their bets? The future is likely to include more sponsorship and patronage. Imagine liquor companies, fast-food joints and other advertisers paying the band of the moment for rights to its music before it’s recorded rather than after it hits the charts. Alternatively, rich benefactors — or legions of fans — could support artists in exchange for early access to a new album or even a shout-out in the liner notes. Tie-ins with other media such as video games will also create opportunities: People may not buy the album for $15, but they’ll pay $39.99 for the “Guitar Hero” version.

The old ways, reinvigorated by technology, are made new again.

Read the complete article at The Deal.

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Derek Sivers – Tim Ferriss Discussion

Derek is the musician who started CD Baby, the world’s largest online music store for independent musicians. Here are some current stats from the site:

– 242,846 artists sell their music at CD Baby
– 4,574,622 CDs sold online to customers
– $83,590,381 paid directly to the artists

With more than 2 million digitized tracks under management, CD Baby is also the largest provider of independent music for iTunes… and it all started as a hobby. A lot to learn here.

Tim Ferriss is the author of the hugely popular book The Four Hour Workweek.

Here is a recent interview between Derek and Tim. Interesting to see how Derek adopts Tim’s philosophy for CD-Baby. Note that Derek just recently sold CDBaby to Disc Makers and is now a free agent.

http://services.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/271539270

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Paul McGuinness speaks out at Cannes.

The full script of the speech everyone is talking about in Cannes, as made by U2 manager Paul McGuinness at Midem.

McGuinness: “Good afternoon and thank you for giving me this opportunity. I don’t make many speeches and this is an important and imposing occasion for me. What I’m trying do here today is identify a course of action that will benefit all: artists, labels, writers and publishers.

I have been managing the best-known of my clients, U2, for exactly 30 years. Sure we’ve made mistakes along the way but the lineup hasn’t changed in 31 years. They are as ambitious and hardworking as ever, and each time they make a record and tour, it’s better than the last time. They are doing their best work now. During that time the music business has been through many changes.

At the beginning U2’s live appearances were loss-making and tour support from our record label was essential for us to tour and that paid off for the label as U2’s records went to No.1 in nearly every international territory starting in the mid ’80s and I’m happy to say that continues to the present day. They have sold about 150 million records to date and the last album went to No.1 in 27 territories.

U2 own all their masters but these are licensed long-term to Universal, with whom we enjoy an excellent relationship. With a couple of minor exceptions they also own all their copyrights, which are also licensed to Universal. U2 always understood that it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business, and have always been prepared to invest in their own future. We were never interested in joining that long, humiliating list of miserable artists who made lousy deals, got exploited and ended up broke and with no control over how their life’s work was used, and no say in how their names and likenesses were bought and sold.

What U2 and I also understood instinctively from the start was that they had 2 parallel careers first as recording and songwriting artists, and second as live performers. They’ve been phenomenally successful at both. The Vertigo Tour in 2005/2006 grossed $355m and played to 4.6m people in 26 countries.

But I’m not here to brag. I’m here to ask some serious questions and to point the finger at the forces at work that are destroying the recorded music industry.

People all over the world are going to more gigs than ever. The experience for the audience is better than ever. This is proved by the upward trend in ticket prices, generally un-resisted. The live business is, for the most part, healthy and profitable. Bands can gig without subsidy. Live Nation, previously a concert and venue company is moving into position with merchandising, ticketing, online, music distribution as one of the powerful new centres of the music industry.

So what has gone wrong with the recorded music business?

More people are listening to music than ever before through many more media than ever before. Part of the problem is that the record companies, through lack of foresight and poor planning, allowed an entire collection of digital industries to arise that enabled the consumer to steal with impunity the very recorded music that had previously been paid for. I think that’s been a cultural problem for the record industry — it has generally been inclined to rely for staff on poorly paid enthusiasts rather than developing the kind of enterprise culture of Silicon Valley where nearly every employee is a shareholder.

There are other reasons for the record business’s slow response to digital. The SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) of the ’90s pan-industry, was a grand but ill-fated plan to try and agree rules between the content and technology industries. It went nowhere. SDMI, and similar attempts at cooperation by record companies, have partly been thwarted by competition rules. The US government has sometimes been overzealous in protecting the public from cartel-like behaviour.

I love the record business, and though I may be critical of the ways in which the digital space has been faced by the industry I am also genuinely sympathetic and moved by the human fall-out, as the companies react to falling revenues by cutting staff and tightening belts. Many old friends and colleagues have been affected by this. They have families and it is terrible that a direct effect of piracy and thievery has been the destruction of so many careers.

Nonetheless there is one effective thing the majors could do together. I quote from Josh Tyrangiel in Time Magazine: – “The smartest thing would be for the majors to collaborate on the creation of the ultimate digital-distribution hub, a place where every band can sell its wares at the price point of its choosing”. Apple’s iTunes, despite its current dominance, is vulnerable. Consumers dislike its incompatibility with other music services, and the labels are rebelling against its insistence on controlling prices. Universal the largest label in the world has declined to sign a long term deal with iTunes. “There’s a real urgency for the labels to get together and figure this out,” says Rick Rubin of Columbia Records.

There is technology now, that the worldwide industry could adopt, which enables content owners to track every legitimate digital download transaction, wholesale and retail.

This system is already in use here in Cannes by the MIDEM organisation and is called SIMRAN. Throughout this conference you will see contact details and information. I recommend you look at it. I should disclose that I’m one of their investors.

Meanwhile in the revolution that has hit music distribution, quality seems to have been forgotten. Remarkably, these new digital forms of distribution deliver a far poorer standard of sound than previous formats. There are signs of a consumer backlash and an online audiophile P2P movement called “lossless” with expanded and better spectrum that is starting to make itself heard. This seems to be a missed opportunity for the record industry — shouldn’t we be catering to people who want to hear music through big speakers rather than ear buds?

Today, there is a frenetic search for new business models that will return the record business to growth. The record companies are exploring many new such models — some of them may work, some of them may not.

Sadly, the recent innovative Radiohead release of a download priced on the “honesty box” principle seems to have backfired to some extent. It seems that the majority of downloads were through illegal P2P download services like BitTorrent and LimeWire, even though the album was available for nothing through the official band site. Notwithstanding the promotional noise, even Radiohead’s honesty box principle showed that if not constrained, the customer will steal music.

There is some excitement about advertising-funded deals. But the record companies must gain our trust to share fairly the revenues they will gain from advertising. Historically they have not been good at transparency. Let’s never forget the great CD scam of the ’80s when the majors tried to halve the royalties of records released on CD claiming that they needed this extra margin to develop the new technology even as they were entering the great boom years that the CD delivered. It’s ironic that, at a time when the majors are asking the artists to trust them to share advertising revenue they are also pushing the dreadful “360 model.”

As Allen Grubman, the well-known New York attorney said to me recently… “God forbid that one of these acts in a 360 deal has success. The next thing that will happen is the manager gets fired and the lawyer gets sued for malpractice.”

Maybe it would help if they were to offer to cancel those deals when they repair their main revenue model and the industry recovers, as I believe it will.

But that’s an issue for the future, when we’re out of the crisis. Today, there’s a bigger issue and it’s about the whole relationship between the music and the technology business. Network operators, in particular, have for too long had a free ride on music — on our clients’ content. It’s time for a new approach — time for ISPs to start taking responsibility for the content they’ve profited from for years. And it’s time for some visionary new thinking about how the music and technology sectors can work as partners instead of adversaries, leading to a revival of recorded music instead of its destruction.

It’s interesting to look at the character of the individuals who built the industries that resulted from the arrival of the microprocessor. Most of them came out of the so-called counterculture on the west coast of America. Their values were hippy values. They thought the old computer industry as represented by IBM was neanderthal. They laughed at Bell Telephone and AT&T. They thought the TV networks were archaic. Most of them are music lovers. There are plenty of private equity fund managers who are “Deadheads.”

They were brilliantly innovative in finance and technology and though they would pay lip service to “Content is King” what many of them instinctively realized was that in the digital age there were no mechanisms to police the traffic over the internet in that content, and that legislation would take many years to catch up with what was now possible online.

And embedded deep down in the brilliance of those entrepreneurial, hippy values seems to be a disregard for the true value of music.

This goes back some decades. Does anyone remember Abbie Hoffman? He was one of the “Chicago 7,” the ‘Yippies” of the Youth International Party who tried to disrupt the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and got beaten up and put on trial by Mayor Daley’s police. He put out a book with the title “Steal this Book”. I think he has a lot to answer for.

I’ve met a lot of today’s heroes of Silicon Valley. Most of them don’t really think of themselves as makers of burglary kits. They say: “you can use this stuff to email your friends and store and share your photos”. But we all know that there’s more to it than that, don’t we? Kids don’t pay $25 a month for broadband just to share their photos, do their homework and email their pals.

These tech guys think of themselves as political liberals and socially aware. They search constantly for the next “killer app.” They conveniently forget that the real “killer app” that many of their businesses are founded on is our clients’ recorded music.

I call on them today to start doing two things: first, taking responsibility for protecting the music they are distributing; and second, by commercial agreements, sharing their enormous revenues with the content makers and owners.

I want those technology entrepreneurs to share their ingenuity and skill as well. Our interests are, after all, steadily merging as lines get more and more blurred between the distributors of content, the makers of hardware and the creators of content. Steve Jobs is now in effective control of the Walt Disney Studio and ABC Television so his point of view may be changing now that he owns content as well as selling those beautiful machines that have changed our world. Personally I expect that Apple will before too long reveal a wireless iPod that connects to an iTunes “all of the music, wherever you are” subscription service. I would like it to succeed, if the content is fairly paid for. “Access” is what people will be paying for in the future, not the “ownership” of digital copies of pieces of music.

I have met Steve Jobs and even done a deal with him face to face in his kitchen in Palo Alto in 2004. No one there but Steve, Bono, Jimmy Iovine and me, and Lucian Grainge was on the phone. We made the deal for the U2 iPod and wrote it down in the back of my diary. We approved the use of the music in TV commercials for iTunes and the iPod and in return got a royalty on the hardware. Those were the days when iTunes was being talked about as penicillin for the recorded music industry.

I wish he would bring his remarkable set of skills to bear on the problems of recorded music. He’s a technologist, a financial genius, a marketer and a music lover. He probably doesn’t realize it but the collapse of the old financial model for recorded music will also mean the end of the songwriter. We’ve been used to bands who wrote their own material since the Beatles, but the mechanical royalties that sustain songwriters are drying up. Labels and artists, songwriters and publishers, producers and musicians, everyone’s a victim.

For ISPs in general, the days of prevaricating over their responsibilities for helping protect music must end. The ISP lobbyists who say they should not have to “police the internet” are living in the past — relying on outdated excuses from an earlier technological age. The internet has moved on since then, and the pace of change today means a year in the internet age is equivalent to a decade in the non-internet world.

Remember the 1990s, when the internet was being called the Information Superhighway? At that time, when the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the EU Electronic Commerce Directive were drawn up, legislators were concerned to offer safe harbours restricting the responsibilities of ISPs who acted as a “mere conduit”. This was a different era: only a few hundred thousand illegal files could be accessed from websites. There was no inkling
at that time of the enormous explosion of P2P piracy that was to follow. If legislators had foreseen that explosion, would they have ever offered immunity for so-called “mere conduits” and, in doing so, given ISPs a decade of excuses for refusing to protect our content?

And as it turned, the “Safe Harbour” concept was really a Thieves’ Charter. The legal precedent that device-makers and pipe and network owners should not be held accountable for any criminal activity enabled by their devices and services has been enormously damaging to content owners and developing artists. If you were publishing a magazine that was advertising stolen cars, processing payments for them and arranging delivery of them you’d expect to get a visit from the police wouldn’t you? What’s the difference? With a laptop, a broadband account, an MP3 player and a smartphone you can now steal all the content, music, video and literary in the world without any money going to the content owners. On the other hand if you get caught stealing a laptop in the computer store or don’t pay your broadband bill there are obvious consequences. You get nicked or you get your access cut off.

It is time for ISPs to be real partners. The safe harbours of the 1990s are no longer appropriate, and if ISPs do not cooperate voluntarily there will need to be legislation to require them to cooperate.

Why does all this matter so much? Because the truth is that whatever business model you are building, you cannot compete with billions of illegal files free on P2P networks. And the research does show that effective enforcement — such as a series of warnings from the ISP to illegal file-sharers that would culminate in disconnection of your service — can address the problem.

A simple “three strikes and you are out” enforcement process will see all serial illegal uploaders who resist the law face a stark choice: change or lose your ISP subscription.

Fortunately, there has recently been some tremendous momentum to get ISPs engaged — notably in France, the UK, Sweden, Norway and Belgium. President Sarkozy’s plan, the Olivennes initiative, by which ISPs will start disconnecting repeat infringers later this year, set a brilliant precedent which other governments should follow. In the U.K., the Gowers Report made it clear that legislation should be considered if voluntary talks with ISPs failed to produce a commitment to disconnect file-sharers. I’d like to see the U.K. government act promptly on this recommendation.

In Sweden, the Renfors Report commissioned by the Ministry of Justiceg ISP cooperation. And in the courts, the Sabam-Tiscali ruling spelt out, in language as plain as could be, that ISPs should take the steps required to remove copyright-infringing material from their networks. The European Union should now take up the mantle and legislate where voluntary intra-industry agreement is not forthcoming. This is the time to seize the day.

ISPs don’t just have a moral reason to step up to the plate — they have a commercial one too. IFPI estimates say illegal P2P distribution of music and films accounts for over half of all ISP traffic. Others put the figure as high as 80%. This is traffic that is not only destroying the market place for people who are trying to make a legitimate living out of music and films, it is hogging bandwidth that ISPs are increasingly going to need for other commerce, especially as a legitimate online market for movies develops.

I think the failure of ISPs to engage in the fight against piracy, to date, has been the single biggest failure in the digital music market. They are the gatekeepers with the technical means to make a far greater impact on mass copyright violation than the tens of thousands of lawsuits taken out against individual file-sharers by bodies like BPI, RIAA and IFPI. To me, prosecuting the customer is counter-intuitive, though I recognise that these prosecutions have an educational and propaganda effect, however small, in showing that stealing music is wrong.

ISPs could implement a policy of disconnection in very quick time. Filtering is also feasible. When last June the Belgian courts made a precedent-setting ruling obliging an ISP to remove illegal music from its network, they identified no fewer than 6 technologies which make it possible for this to be done. No more excuses please. ISPs can quickly enough to block pornography when that becomes a public concern.

When the volume of illegal movie and music P2P activity was slowing down their network for legitimate users recently in California, Comcast were able to isolate and close down BitTorrent temporarily without difficulty.

There are many other examples that prove the ability of ISPs to switch off selectively activity they have a problem with: Google excluded BMW from their search engine when BMW started to play games. This was a clear warning to others not to interfere. Another show of power was Google’s acceptance of the Chinese Governments censorship conditions. The BBC has spent a fortune on their iPlayer project and the ISPs are now threatening to throttle this traffic if the BBC doesn’t “share costs of iPlayer traffic.” All this shows what the ISPs could do if they wanted. We must shame them into wanting to help us. Their snouts have been at our trough feeding free for too long.

Let’s spare no effort to push the ISPs into taking responsibility. But that’s only one part of the story. There’s a huge commercial partnership opportunity there as well. For me, the business model of the future is one where music is bundled into an ISP or other subscription service and the revenues are shared between the distributor and the content owners.

I believe this is realistic; the last few years have shown clear proof of the power of ISPs and cable companies to bundle packages of content and get more money out of their subscribers. In the UK, most ISPs offer different tiers of services, with a higher monthly fee for heavy downloaders. Why are there “heavy” downloaders? Isn’t that our money? News Corporation offers free broadband to light users if they take at least a basic Sky Television package for £16 [$31.78] a month.

Looking at the events in the last year, this revenue-sharing model seems to be taking hold in the music business.

Universal — U2’s label — recently struck a deal with Microsoft that sees it receive a cut of the revenues generated by sales of the Zune MP3 player. It’s unfortunate that the Zune hasn’t attracted the sort of consumer support that the iPod did. We need more competition.

Under the agreement, Universal receives $1 for every Zune sold. When you consider Radio Shack sells Zune players for $150, you’ll see that Universal has asked for less than 1% of revenue — for a company that is supplying about a third of the U.S. market’s chart music at the moment. This isn’t really enough, but it’s a start, I suppose, and follows from the U2/Apple deal, the principle that the hardware makers should share with the content owners whose assets are exploited by the buyers of their machines. The record companies should never again allow industries to arise that make billions off their content without looking for a piece of that business. Remember MTV?

Nokia has announced it will launch “Comes With Music,” a service that effectively allows consumers to get unlimited free downloads of songs for 12 months after they buy certain premium Nokia phones. At the end of the 12 months consumers will be able to keep the songs they download. Nokia gets to supply premium content and Universal gets to boost competition in the digital marketplace, to make it more competitive and open new channels to customers. A proportion of the revenue generated by sales of the handsets will flow back to Universal. The question must be asked; will they distribute that revenue fairly? Do artists trust the labels? Will artists, songwriters and labels trust the telcos and handset companies?

These are obviously commercial deals driven by self-interest. But there is a moral aspect to this too. The partnership between music and technology needs to be fair and reasonable. ISPs, Telcos and tech companies have enjoyed a bonanza in the last few years off the back of recorded music content. It is time for them to share that with artists and content owners.

Some people do go further and favour a state-imposed blanket licence on music. Let me stress that I don’t believe in that. A government cannot set the price of music well any more than a rock band can run a government. The market has to decide. The problem with the global licence proposed in France two years ago was that it would not have worked in practice. But it is in France recently that legislators have been most innovative and have shown most willingness to act to support recorded music rights. France leads the world on this.

So far I’ve focused mainly on the role of ISPs. But there are similar issues in mobile too. The mobile business accounts for half the world’s digital music revenues and, crucially, is starting out from a much better position than the internet music market. You only have to look at a market such as Japan to see the amazing potential of mobile music for getting to the young demographic.

I believe that in mobile music we have the chance to avoid the problems that have bedevilled the recorded music industry’s relationship with ISPs: and I’m not talking just of their tolerance of copyright theft. Other problems, like the lack of interoperability between services and devices; the lack of convenient payment mechanisms except via credit cards — which of course are not available to all music users; the hacking and viruses that have undermined people’s trust in online payment. All these problems can be avoided in the mobile sector, this is a task that should command the support and cooperation of labels, artists, publishers and writers. We’re all in the same boat here.

That’s a lesson for the mobile industry internationally. Don’t go the way that many of the ISPs have gone. Mobile is still a relatively secure environment for legitimate content — let’s keep it that way.

So, to conclude — who’s got our money and what can we do?

I suggest we shift the focus of moral pressure away from the individual P2P file thief and on to the multi billion dollar industries that benefit from these countless tiny crimes — The ISPs, the telcos, the device makers. Let’s appeal to those fine minds at Stanford University and Silicon Valley, Apple, Google, Nokia, HP, China Mobile, Vodafone, Comcast, Intel, Ericsson, Facebook, iLike, Oracle, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Tiscali etc, and the bankers, engineers, private equity funds, and venture capitalists who service them and feed off them to apply their genius to cooperating with us to save the recorded music industry, not only on the basis of reluctantly sharing advertising revenue but collecting revenue for the use and sale of our content. They have built multi billion dollar industries on the back of our content without paying for it.

It’s probably too late for us to get paid for the past, though maybe that shouldn’t be completely ruled out. The U.S. Department of Justice and the EU have scored some notable victories on behalf of the consumer, usually against Microsoft. They have a moral obligation to be true, trustworthy partners of the music sector. To respect and take responsibility for protecting music. To work for the revaluation, not the devaluation of music. To share revenues with the community fairly and responsibly, and to share the skills, ingenuity and entrepreneurship from which our business has a lot to learn.

And the message to government is this: ISP responsibility is not a luxury for possible contemplation in the future. It is a necessity for implementation TODAY — by legislation if voluntary means fail.

There’s more exciting music being made and more listened to than at any time in history. Cheap technology has made it easy to start a band and make music. This is a gathering of managers; our talented clients deserve better than the shoddy, careless and downright dishonest way they have been treated in the digital age.”

(Paul McGuinness delivered the above speech January 28 at Midem, Cannes.)

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Why do they think they have it figured out now?

Doug Morris on the state of the music industry. The problem, he says, is that “there’s sympathy for the consumer, and the record industry is the Shmoo.”

Oh my God.

Wired writer Seth Mnookin interviews and skewers Universal Music Group Chief Executive Doug Morris in the latest issue, which speaks for itself. You just got to read this interview.

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Well, for one, maybe – instead of suing the technologists from Napster 1.0 – perhaps you should have considered hiring them. Just a thought…

Unbelievable. No wonder we are in the situation we are in.

Total Music. Hmm… Why do they think they have it figured out now?

For another great history lesson on how the major music labels ignored change and tried to impose their will on the masses, read this. Disturbing and painful. Great work Seth.

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Nevermore

Do you think Edgar Allan Poe could have made money if he sold The Raven separately from 30 other poems?

This is a question posed in the U.K. Register article examining the “value gap”, or the amount that sound recording revenue has fallen since 2004. The report suggests that Apple (and others) should take the blame for the woes of the music industry (British) for unbundling the song from the album format.

“The Value Recognition Strategy working group was created last summer – largely at the impetus of the indie labels and collection societies, but backed by all sectors of the industry – to examine alternative revenue opportunities for digital music. The growth of MP3 has seen large hardware manufacturers such as Apple and media companies such as News Corp’s MySpace prosper from music, but returning little or nothing to composers, songwriters, and sound recordings owners.

It’s what economist Will Page, of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, calls a “broken supply chain”. Revenues from telecoms companies and service providers dwarf the revenues from the beleaguered music business.

The conclusion that unbundling is the chief factor is richly ironic. When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it did so with the backing of all four major labels. The labels had failed to see digital music as an opportunity, and launched only small scale and piecemeal commercial offerings. At iTunes, consumers chose one or two songs from a performer’s repetoire for 99 cents a song, rather than pay $9.99 for the CD.”

Since that time Apple has reaped tens of billions in sales of iPods, while the labels have lost tens of billion in sales of CDs. It has almost been a complete one-to-one swap of revenue from the label’s, writer’s and artist’s pockets – into Apple’s. See an analysis I did of this a while back here.

Read the whole Register article here.