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Why do most music players look like spreadsheets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can get the entire interview here.

More coverage from Hypebot here and from Billboard here.

Sunday night at Coachella Festival Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre brought Tupac Shakur back from the dead to perform live with them onstage as a hologram.  Holy Smokes.  He appears on stage and greats the audience with “Yeah, you know what the fuck this is … What up Dre? … What up Snoop? … What the fuck is up Coachella.”  The Tupac illusion aka “Holopac” was brought to life by James Cameron’s visual production house Digital Domain, and two hologram-imaging companies, AV Concepts and the U.K.-based Musion Systems at a price estimated at more than $200,000.

The holographic performance is spectacular and very eerie, and there are more shows planned.  This is not the first time that holograms have been used in concerts, and these effects are in a way, natural extensions of the laser displays and light shows that have been part of live shows for decades.  Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas and (notably) Gorillaz have all been projected as holograms on stage during the show.  There is a laser light touring show of Pink Floyd featuring “none” of the band members.  If this can be done with Tupac, it brings up very interesting questions about the future of live shows and exactly who or what we will be seeing.

Can you imaging the Rolling Stones 2050 “Skeletons in the Closet” Tour?  The Beatles finally play Shea Stadium in high fidelity?  “Elvis Comes Alive”?  Will nothing be sacred?

I am not sure if this is science fiction or our worst nightmare, or both.  Will live performers really even be needed in the future?  If the wizards at visual production companies can create virtual artists in 3D that can strut on stage, engage the audience, and belt out their latest hits – who exactly will be entertaining us?  If the music industry can strip out the artists and replace them with computer generated formulaic constructs that are programmed to entertain and mesmerize, what will live music become?  Its already happend with the “Chipmunks” and “Gorillaz” and “Hatsume Miku” and “Dethklok”.  “This is just the beginning,” Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain told the LA Times,  “Dr. Dre has a massive vision for this.”    Virtual artists are becoming a thing of the present.

Think about it.  Is this really the Future of Music?

Here are two visions for the future, one from Corning and one from me.  The Corning video is from earlier this year and shows their vision for a visually connected communications environment.  This is not unlike the future that Gerd Leonhard and I described in the Future of Music in 2005.

Can you imagine organizing your daily schedule with a few touches on your bathroom mirror? Chatting with far-away relatives through interactive video on your kitchen counter? Reading a classic novel on a whisper-thin piece of flexible glass?

The video depicts a world in which interactive glass surfaces help you stay connected through seamless delivery of real-time information – whether you’re working, shopping, eating, or relaxing.

Does the world showcased in “A Day Made of Glass” seem like something out of a fantasy movie?  Just a decade ago, pay phones, VCRs, and film cameras were also commonplace. Today, we’re accustomed to movies streaming on demand to a 60-inch television hanging on the wall and to video calls on notebook computers, essentially for free.

What might this mean for music? Well, today we have Spotify and Rdio and Mog all providing on demand music for free or nearly for free. Listen to this vision for the future and see how far we have come in the past 5 or 6 years from our book on the Future of Music.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F29101326&show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=ff7700

Check out the Future of Music book here.

Artist Revenue Stream Poster

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an excerpt from a great piece from Wyndham Wallace of The Quietus on how the music industry is killing music and blaming the fans. This rather dark opinion is spot on in so many ways and raises some very difficult questions about the future of the music business that most people do not want to talk about.

“All the time the industry talks of money: money it’s lost, money it’s owed. It rarely talks about the effects upon artists, and even less about how music itself might suffer. But no one cares about the suits and their bank accounts except shareholders and bankers. People care about their own money, and the industry not only wanted too much of it but also failed to take care of those who had earned it for them: the musicians. And it’s the latter that people care about. Because People Still Want Good Music.”

“In March this year, for instance, the RIAA – the Recording Industry Association of America – and a group of thirteen record labels went to court in New York in pursuit of a case filed against Limewire in 2006 for copyright infringement. The money owed to them – the labels involved included Sony, Warner Brothers and BMG Music – could be, they argued, as much as $75 trillion. With the world’s GDP in 2011 expected to be around $65 trillion – $10 trillion less – this absurd figure was, quite rightly, laughed out of court by the judge. The RIAA finally announced in mid May that an out of court settlement for the considerably lower sum of $105 million had been agreed with Limewire’s founder.”

What is questionable about all of this is exactly how much of the settlement of $105 million will flow to the musicians, songwriters and producers whose work was the subject of the infringement to begin with. In previous settlements including Napster ($270 million), Bolt ($30 million), Kazaa ($130 million) and MP3.com ($100 million) it is unclear how much, if any, of the money received by the labels ever reached the pockets of the artists. I have yet to see an accounting of this and many managers I have spoken with have simply laughed when I asked the question if they ever received any payment from these settlements. I suppose that proceeds from litigation may be considered recoupable costs.

“But if the industry wants to talk money, let’s talk money, albeit the ways that developing musicians are encouraged to make up the loss of sales income in order to ply their trade. Someone’s got to bring this up, because it’s not a pretty picture. Consider, first, direct-to-fan marketing and social networking, said to involve fans so that they’re more inclined to attend shows, invest in ‘product’, and help market it. In practise this is a time-consuming affair that reaps rewards for only the few. Even the simple act of posting updates on Facebook, tweeting and whatever else is hip this week requires time, effort and imagination, and while any sales margins subsequently provoked might initially seem higher, the ratio of exertion to remuneration remains low for most. It’s also an illusion that such sales cut out the middlemen, thereby increasing income, except at the very lowest rung of the ladder: the moment that sales start to pick up, middlemen start to encroach upon the artist’s territory, if in new disguises. People are needed to provide the structure through which such activities can function, and few will work for free – and nor should they – even though musicians are now expected to.”

“Still, if an act can find time to do these things, or has the necessary capital to allow others to take care of them on their behalf, then they can hit the road. Touring’s where the money is, the mantra goes, and that’s the best way to sell merchandise too. But this is a similarly hollow promise. For starters, the sheer volume of artists now touring has saturated the market. Ticket prices have gone through the roof for established acts, while those starting out are competing for shows, splitting audiences spoilt for choice, driving down fees paid by promoters nervous about attendance figures. There’s also a finite amount of money that can be spent by most music fans, so if they’re coughing up huge wads of cash for stadium acts then that’s less money available to spend on developing artists. And for every extra show that a reputable artist takes on in order to make up his losses, that’s one show less that a new name might have won.”

“Touring is also expensive. That’s why record labels offered new artists financial backing, albeit in the form of a glorified loan known as ‘tour support’. Transport needs to be paid for, as do fuel, accommodation, food, equipment, tour managers and sound engineers. These costs can mount up very fast, and if each night you’re being paid a small guarantee, or in fact only a cut of the door, then losses incurred can be vast, rarely compensated for by merchandising sales. Again, financial backing of some sort is vital, but these days labels are struggling to provide it. In the past, income from record sales could be offset against these debts, but with that increasingly impossible, new artists will soon find it very hard to tour. Everyone’s a loser, baby.”

From Beck’s ‘Loser’

Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Banned all the music with a phony gas chamber
‘Cause one’s got a weasel and the other’s got a flag
One’s got on the pole shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose job
The daytime crap of a folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string

Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Know what I’m sayin?)

“Whether the industry likes it or not, music is now like water: it streams into homes, it pours forth in cafés, it trickles past in the street as it leaks from shops and restaurants. Unlike water, music isn’t a basic human right, but the public is now accustomed to its almost universal presence and accessibility. Yet the public is asked to pay for every track consumed, while the use of water tends to be charged at a fixed rate rather than drop by drop: exactly how much is consumed is less important than the fact that customers contribute to its provision. Telling people that profit margins are at stake doesn’t speak to the average music fan, but explaining how the quality of the music they enjoy is going to deteriorate, just as water would become muddy and undrinkable if no one invested in it, might encourage them to participate in the funding of its future. So since downloading music is now as easy as turning on a tap, charging for it in a similar fashion seems like a realistic, wide-reaching solution. And just as some people choose to invest in high-end water products, insisting on fancy packaging, better quality product and an enhanced experience, so some will continue to purchase a more enduring musical package. Others will settle for mp3s just as they settle for tap water. Calculating how rights holders should be accurately paid for such use of music is obviously complicated but far from impossible, and current accounting methods – which anyone who has been involved with record labels can tell you aren’t exactly failsafe – are clearly failing to bring in the cash.”

“The problem is, it’s not really the industry that is being cheated. It’s the artists and their fans. People get what they pay for, but – whatever the industry claims – most fans know that. They just don’t want to hear the businessmen fiddle while the musicians are being burnt. Revenues are unlikely ever again to reach the levels of the business’ formerly lucrative glory days, but in its stubborn refusal to recognise that both the playing field and the rules themselves have been irreversibly redefined without their permission, the industry is holding out for something that is no longer viable. Lower income is better than no income, and the industry has surely watched the money dwindling for long enough. Musicians, meanwhile, are being asked to make more and more compromises as they’re forced to put money ahead of their art on a previously unprecedented scale.”

Read the whole ugly story here at The Quietus.

The comments alone tell the sad story of the state of affairs in the music industry today.

Andrea Leonelli from Digital Music Trends recorded a series of interviews with many of us from the Midem show.  You can listen to the interviews here or go to his site for lots more.  Thanks Andrea!

This Midem 2011 series includes:

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F9483455&show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=ff7700 Episode 71 – Midem 2011 Coverage Day 1 by digitalmusictrends

There is a lot of innovation happening with electronic music instruments and new interfaces.  Reactable is one of the latest in music technology fusing DJ culture, touch screen topography and electro-pop showmanship. Coming to an iPad near you.  Reactable says their company “is about the promotion of creativity and the mediation of culture through the application of the latest technologies in human computer interaction, music technology, graphics and computer vision.”  Check it out.

Reactable Systems is a spin-off company of the Pompeu Fabra University and is collaborating with its Music Technology Group, one of the worlds largest research labs in music technology.

More info: http://www.reactable.com/mobile

More videos here: http://www.youtube.com/reactable

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

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

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

Guest Post by MC Lars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the future!

MC Lars

mclars.tv
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“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  This is a great quote from Alan Kay, one of the creative geniuses behind the laptop computer and the mouse.  Musician can apply this thinking to their own careers by planning for success in a dedicated and systematic way.

I came across this great guest post by Kevin English on Creative Deconstruction that talks about the “Lower Class Musician” and suggestions for how to lift yourself out of that class into a middle or upper class status through controlling your overhead, aligning your expectations, creating a plan, getting a good and current education and diversifying your product offering.  These are all things that I have blogged about in great detail in the past and agree with completely.

Here in an excerpt from Kevin’s post:

“Learn to structure yourself like any other startup and formulate a strategy on paper that will sustain you for three to five years. You’ll soon find out that overspending on manufacturing, marketing, promotion and distribution is very difficult to recoup.

Adjust Your Expectations

For some of us, music is a hobby and that is okay. However, if you plan on feeding your children by touring the Chitlin’ circuit, that’s another thing entirely. When I realized that writing songs for Columbia Records and recording demos with The Fugees wasn’t going to sustain me forever, I had to adjust my expectations. These gigs were few and far in between and often times didn’t pay half as much as you would expect them to.

I studied profitable ideas, people, and businesses to find a common denominator. I learned that nine out of ten successful startups had a business plan. Not just any old plan, but one that was standard across all industries. Financial planning, marketing, and the management of people and products/services cannot be done on the fly. If all you want is for people to hear your music that is fine. But again, you can’t necessarily expect to make a decent living.

Accelerate Your Learning

Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of business plans, yet no one in the music business seems to think they need one — until, of course, they run out of cash. I spent years in my local SBA in Newark, NJ looking at sample plans, meeting with retired CEOs of successful companies, and learning how basic businesses operate.

If you do the same you’ll realize that most startups have more similarities than you’d expect. However, it is important to point out that no two plans are alike. You will still need to write a plan specifically based around your music-related products and services. My first plan was a disaster. I asked my uncle for $75K with a promise to return 20% of the loan over the next five years. He had a good laugh over that one, but at least he knew I was serious about my dreams.”

To read his full post look here.

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

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

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

Remix was just published in paperback in October 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the audio interview here.

On my way to the TED conference last week, I devoured Jay Frank’s book Futurehit.dna on the plane.  Jay has some great insights into the past, present and future of songwriting and hit making that we can all learn from.  This is a must read if you are composing for the digital age and trying to gain an edge and find exposure opportunities for listeners.

Jay breaks it down for us on the impact of technology on songwriting and how hits of the past have been carefully crafted to fit into radio airplay on to the iPod, Pandora and streaming era.  His insights into how song form, intros, chord changes, repeats, hooks and other techniques connect a good song with a listener are invaluable.

With today’s digital music is it crucial to catch your listeners attention in the first seven seconds of the song.  After that, repeats are key as well as how the complexity of the song changes over time.  Some of this is old news, but the way he relates it to the technology platforms is interesting and valuable.

How you release music and in what form will determine your chances that your songs will be listened to and remembered enough to make an impact.

Technical, detailed, clear and concise Futurehit.dna will get you thinking about how to create a competitive advantage for you and your music in the days ahead.  Highly recommended food for though.

Check it out here.

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?

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

I originally published this article in Forbes Magazine nearly 4 years ago.

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

The industry ought to establish a “music utility” approach to the distribution and marketing of interactive digital music, modeled after the water, gas and electricity utility systems. It should be done voluntarily to work best for all parties, or it may eventually be legislated through a compulsory license provision.

Under a plan colleague Gerd Leonhard and I propose, con-sumers would pay a flat music licensing fee of $3 to $5 a month as part of a subscription to an Internet service provider, cellular network, digital cable service wireless carrier or other digital network provider. This fee would let people download and listen to as much music as they care to, from a vast library of files available across the networks.

These fees would result in a huge river of money. With approximately 200 million people connected to a digital network in the U.S., the potential annual revenue stream for a music utility model could be somewhere between $7 billion and $12 billion for the basic service. That is already comparable in size to the existing U.S. recorded music market, which in 2003 was $12 billion at retail, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. This basic service would be augmented with various opportunities, including packages of premium content, live concerts, new releases, artist channels, custom compilations and more. The revenue potential of these premium sources is enormous, too.

How would this money be divvied up? We propose that the industry voluntarily establish a “music utility license” for the interactive use of digital music. This license would compensate all rights holders, including the record labels and artists (for the master recording) as well as publishers and composers (for the underlying composition), with the license fee to be split in half between the owners of the sound recording and the owners of the composition, after deducting a percentage for the digital network providers. This license would be available to anyone willing to implement its terms. The digital network companies would be required to track and report which music had been used, by employing existing digital identification and tracking technologies.

There is already precedence for such a flat-fee system in cable television and in the utility-like models of public broadcasting in Europe. Streaming digital music is already provided in basic cable plans. Cable television itself at first resisted this model, but its economics eventually led to a larger market, providing more consumer choice and more revenue streams overall. Old media almost never die. Cable television did not replace broadcast television; instead, it expanded the market dramatically, by letting video flow like water into new revenue streams–instead of down the drain.

Certainly a music utility would be a radical and complex undertaking, and there are many important details to negotiate, such as the exact nature of the license, how the funds would be administered, the specific tracking method, what collection of technologies would be employed and others. Yet there are inventors and technologists outside the mainstream music business hard at work trying to figure out how to make this happen. It’s time for the main players in the music business today, namely the large record publishers, to cooperate with the inventors and jointly create a future for music where the money really flows and the global market for music can grow from $32 billion to as much as $100 billion.”

Read the original article from Forbes here, published in 2005.

Today this idea is closer to reality than you might think.  The major labels have seen their revenues cut nearly in half from their peak, and paid digital downloads and advertising models have not grown to contribute nearly the decline in CD sales.  The labels are in a very tough position and are looking at the utility model as perhaps their only remaining path to survival.  The pain has finally gotten too much to bear.

Choruss is a new company spearheaded by Jim Griffin, and incubated by Warner Music Group whose mission is to “build a sustainable music subscription platform providing unlimited access to music for a flat monthly fee”.  Choruss has been diligently acquiring the required licenses from all the “major labels”, independent labels including aggregators A2IM and Merlin and the National Music Publishers Association.  The company has been granted one-year licenses for up to seven universities to offer subscription services for unlimited, DRM-free downloads as a proof of concept.  This trial is set to begin in 2010.

Stay tuned for more info…

A friend just sent over this post on how the newly elected Chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association,  said that illegal P2P filesharing is the greatest challenge facing entertainment retailers and urged members to lobby Government for a crackdown on a problem he said “is bleeding our industry dry”.

Speaking at the association’s annual general meeting, Quirk said, “Too often the debate over illegal filesharing is portrayed as an ideological battle, but for us this is a commercial matter. Illegal filesharing is damaging our businesses, both physical and digital, on a daily basis, and the Government needs to tackle it swiftly and decisively in order to protect jobs, businesses and investment.

“First the filesharers targeted the music business and the Government did nothing. Now the filesharers have come again for TV and movies. Unless action is taken the filesharers will come for computer games, books, in fact anything which can be digitised and what will be at stake will be not just the entertainment industry but huge swathes of the UK economy. We need action now.”

Read more of this insanity here at Mi2N

Well now…

I was visiting with my Dad last weekend and thought of an interesting parallel between digital music and encyclopedias.

When I was a kid, my father had a summer job going door to door selling Comptons Encyclopedias.  He would carry a couple of these huge books under his arms and try and get the husband or wife to buy the complete Comptons collection for the kids.  This was big business and my dad made a healthy living during the summer.

Well, over the years the encyclopedia book business began to dry up.  To start it all off, Comptons put their entire encyclopedia library on a CD-ROM and sold it via a new company they formed, called Comptons New Media.  They put the CD-ROM in a chipboard box and sold it at Comp-USA,  Software Etc and other retailers for $200-$300.  It became big business for a while in the early 1990’s, and Comptons New Media flourished and was eventually purchased by the Tribune Co for a lot of dough.

It didn’t take long before some hackers cracked the CD-ROM and then pirated versions of the whole enchilada began making their way into stores and online outlets.  By now, of course, the multi-volume Comptons Encyclopedia Book business had gone the way of the dinosaur, and countless pavement pounding salespeople were no longer going door to door selling encyclopedias – and the entire book business basically went away.  Gone in a matter of a few years.  I think they still sell some to schools somewhere.

The same thing soon happened to Comptons New Media as digital competitors emerged, from Microsoft “Encarta” and others, and soon price competition and the internet gave way to this information moving online for free.

Now we have something called “Wikipedia”.

The information contained in the encyclopedias is still being researched and published and edited by now, tens of thousands of people who put it online in a living, dynamic format.  By and large, no one is getting directly paid to do this work, yet no-one can dispute the fact that society in general is benefiting from Wikipedia and other community-based information resources.  You might even notice that there is a lot more information being produced and updated and cross referenced than ever before.  This is all without the infrastructure of the past (ie Comptons) being in-place anymore, and almost no money changing hands.

Just like Comptons, the record industry digitized all of its assets and put the entire thing out there for the public to enjoy.  And just like Comptons the record industry in now suffering from price erosion, shifting formats and piracy.  They can try and hang in there and bash the problem away with legislation, or they could seriously consider other methods of delivery and renumeration, or they could sell off their remaining assets and shut down.  No matter what, the game they have played is over, caput.  Time to face the music and change.

There are no guarantees in business that things will remain the same.  Indeed, the only real constant is change and businesses that try and hold onto the past will be crushed by their own weight and failure to adapt, or in some cases, to just shut down.  Nothing is forever except change.  People should stop complaining about it and start working on creating a future that benefits us all.

Do I know exactly what that future is going to be?  Of course not.  I wish I could say with certainty but I can’t – for now.  But I think it will look a lot more like wikipedia than comptons encyclopedia sets.

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

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

I ran into Jim Griffin this weekend and as usual, he got me thinking about music and it’s future. We talked a little bit about Chorus, the new controversial Warner Music backed company trying to create a music utility service for colleges. I’ll tell you the guy is like a bolt of lightning and his fever can leave you doubting what you know yet somehow I always come away with something new to think about and ponder. I listened to him speak briefly and then found a transcription of a similar speech he gave at Midem last year which I wanted to share with you. The complete speech is here: Jim Griffin Speech and a brief excerpt is below. Enjoy!

“It sort of struck me once, I was reading Marshall McLuhan, and I recommend Marshall McLuhan to everyone here who has not already read some of McLuhan’s work. McLuhan is a terribly influential person in media in the 1960’s, so much so that if you’ve seen the movie Annie Hall you may recall that he appears in that movie with Woody Allen in a line outside of a movie theater, and he’s very well known for having said that the medium is the message. I always wondered what that meant. And now that we live in a time of MP3, I think all of us can acknowledge that McLuhan had it right, that in some ways it’s more about what format something comes in these days than it is even the music itself.

But McLuhan said something else that escaped my notice until say five years ago. He indeed said that you will never understand the media of your time. He said that the media of your time is like the air that you breath. You’re unconscious of it. It’s like the water in which a fish swims. He said that you would only understand your media through the rearview mirror of history. And so it is that it led me back to the library to look through microfiches and so forth from the 1920’s and around that time period, because it was around that time period that electricity started to spread around the world. Before electricity spread around the world, for the most part, it could be said that an artist was in complete control of their art. Especially in the sense that, you know, they controlled it with their feet because if they weren’t in the room you couldn’t see them or hear them. Then in rapid succession over several decades we have the spread of electricity around the world, and loudspeaker systems evolve that make the crowd bigger than you can count. And then very very quickly radio broadcast, and now sounds are traveling many thousands of miles beyond their source. Then television is proven out in 1928. And so now your sound and your image can travel thousands of miles. Now, look, I get how we feel special living in this time that we do of the net. We think, wow, we are beset with change unlike we have ever seen. But I would say that that is absolutely untrue. The 1920’s, the spread of electricity, this was a far more savage time to be an artist. This was a far more difficult time.

Our changes, that we are seeing, are merely a gradation of change by comparison to what happened when electricity spread around the world. And so we have something to rely upon that they did not. We have something to look to, which is: what was their experience; how did they handle this dramatic change. I think that without question the way we handled this dramatic change was with collective licensing. In other words, loudspeaker systems, hotels, restaurants, wherever there are performances of music that are so powerful, we have a collecting society that would like to monetize this, and can and does, monetize the anarchy of music moving through say loudspeakers. And equally true of radio, and television broadcast, and cable, and satellite, and as recently as this past decade, we now monetize webcasting over the net in America in just this same way. And so I don’t think it is a great stretch, or that you have to think too far into the future to realize that it would truly be an anomaly if collective licensing did not extend itself further. It does not require a crystal ball to figure this out.

I think it is just about looking back into history and realizing that the way we have dealt with the loss of control, the loss of actual control, has been with the introduction of actuarial economics. And I know actuarial is a big word, you know, but it’s really simple. It’s just a pool of money and a fair way of splitting it up: a pool of money, a fair way of splitting it up. And that is how we have dealt with the loss of control in the past and I suggest to you it is likely that that will be the way we deal with loss of control now and into the future.”

Terry McBride gave a lecture at Berklee College of Music earlier this month. Here is a synopsis from Ariel Publicity.

A song is an emotion

They stopped releasing music they thought would sell and began releasing music they loved and felt emotionally connected to. The old school music business views a song as a copyright. McBride coaches that the music business is simply “the monetization of emotions” and that copyright as we know it will soon become irrelevant. Emotions move and are transferred freely. Nettwerk practices something called “collapsed copyright”. Nettwerk encourages its artists to record under their own label. Nettwerk will represent these artists, but the bands retain ownership of all intellectual property. The bands can expect to earn considerably more money and in turn can give away more free downloads. McBride calls this “cosmic karma” as studies show that albums containing songs that were offered free sell more than those with no free downloads. The free downloads allow fans to connect with a song as well as the artist as an emotional brand and are more likely to purchase the album.

Fans connect to a particular song because it evokes a certain emotion. That emotion grows an importance and eventually becomes a bookmark in their lives. We’ve all experienced a time when we heard a song from our past that we once played over and over and over again. We built an emotional connection with that song that instantly takes us back to the summer before junior year, or whenever. It’s that emotional connection that makes you feel the need to rave to a friend about a song or drag them to a concert. The emotional connection makes Nettwerk truly believe in their artists as an emotional brand and that millions of others will love their music as much as they do. Like it or not, love is contagious.

Music is social

Gatherings used to be centered around food and music but for a while music became somewhat elitist. You had to be some musical genius that was too cool and cared about nothing but the music or a wealthy socialite who could afford all the luxuries. Video games like Guitar Hero and the growing affordability of recoding programs and equipment have made music for everyone again. Remember that friend you dragged with you to a concert to show them how amazing that band was? As it turns out they loved them too and raved to their 20 friends who raved to their 20 friends and so on. Well now with the evolution of social media thanks to sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc., the circle of friends has grown to 200 plus and by the end of the day with just the ease of a status update thousands of people have been reached.

Digital 2.0

As music returns to its emotional and social roots, McBride predicts a rapid change as we move from what he calls the “Digital 1.0” era into the “Digital 2.0” era where the accessibility of music and social media has grown legs and is now traveling with us on the train and down the street in the form of smartphones such as the iPhone. But the iPhone is just a dieter’s slice of the pie. Different models of RIM Blackberry smartphones ranked #1, #3 and #5 in best selling phones in North America. Plus the Palm Pre and the anticipation of Dell launching a new smartphone means that mobile social networking in America will soon catch up to the estimated 12.1 million users in Western Europe.

In this “Digital 2.0” era McBride points to the success of Apple “Apps” store, which has over 15,000 original applications and over 500 million downloads.

“Apple has allowed us, [the consumers] to be the world’s largest developer and create apps based on our needs,” McBride explains, “And the explosion of imaginative apps like Shazham and Slacker has just started.”

McBride throws the idea out of a digital maid application that would clean and organize your digital library, saving you the time of having to dig through files. He also requests a digital valet that drives new music to you based on your preferences or a friend’s library and parks it in a suggested music garage. He anticipates that in the next 18 months there will be “apps to help create apps for those of us who are not programmers but have a great idea.” RIM plans to open up their app store this March to reach 150 countries and over 450 providers. Add the Google Android store, Google “Hero”, Microsoft “Skymarket” and Nokia “Opera” and you’ve got yourself a full-blown application revolution.

Context is King

McBride points us in a new direction from what was previously a “content is king” mindset to “context is king”. Meaning that our emotional connection to music is all based on the value of how we perceive something versus the actual content. The smartphone replacing the PC (or Mac if you will) is a foreseeable prophesy of McBride’s and could possibly leading to the demise of even, yes… your precious mp3 player. He explains how new apps will shift behavioral patterns of consumers in the same way CDs and online media ushered in the on-demand generation. Smartphones have already begun creating models that temporarily store the music files in the “cache” instead of the hard drive. McBride describes this process as “a gradual download, it’s not permanent because your Valet/Maid app is changing the selection based on your needs, thus helping solve issues such as memory, choppy streaming and draining of batteries.”

This means that the music business must create rich meta data behind our music files to work with apps in order to keep up with this new form of consumption. McBride highlights the opportunity to raise the value of music then, he says, “Context will be king.”

Gerd Leonhard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R&G: Serving as filters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

Future of Music Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

If you are into music as a career, you got to watch this.

Narrated by Forest Whitaker, BEFORE THE MUSIC DIES is an unsettling and inspiring look at today’s popular music industry featuring interviews and performances by Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Branford Marsalis and a wide variety of others. The documentary film has built a passionate following as “the most important film a music fan will ever see” (XM Radio) by providing “a balanced overview of the state of the rock scene of America” (WSJ) and adding “passion to the eternal debate about the industry” (NYTimes).

Since its release in November 2006, the film has screened over 200 times in over 130 North American markets with hundreds of additional events anticipated worldwide during 2007. (I wonder how many times this is going to be watched now?)

Use this site to learn more about the film, where you can see it, ways you can own it, and – most importantly – how you can get involved in sharing it with others.

Before the Music Dies

Artists will kick off about digital rights

Several artists have already clashed with their labels over digital royalties – for example the Allman Brothers Band suing UMG – but expect more rumbles in 2009. Not least because artists are potentially getting stiffed when it comes to the raft of new deals being signed by labels for unlimited, subscription-based or ad-supported music services. Expect managers to be pressing for fairer remuneration from these deals, with new bodies like the UK based Featured Artists Coalition to the fore as well.

More unlimited music services

Comes with Music (UK) and TDC Play (DK) were just the start. There’ll be many more examples of unlimited music being bundled with other products or services around the world in 2009. The unique aspect of these new models is that consumers appear to get the music for free; and ISPs, handset companies and brands are all taking an interest. We also expect to see DRM-free files becoming a selling point for these services if they can persuade the major labels that they won’t spur piracy.

ISPs under more pressure

One of the reasons ISPs are so keen to launch branded legal music services is the pressure they’re facing from the music industry to do more to combat file-sharing. And by that, we mean more than send out ‘educational’ letters scolding persistent file-sharers for their naughtiness. We predict more filtering at ISP level, if they can find filtering technologies that actually work. Meanwhile, we wonder if the recent Danish lawsuit in which an ISP was ordered to block access to The Pirate Bay will set a precedent for other markets.

The industry will wake up to web-based piracy

We wrote about the growth of Rapidshare and other online locker services last issue (27th Nov 2008), as well as the ecosystem of blogs showing people where to find copyrighted music on them. Web-based piracy – including browser plug-ins as well as these locker sites – will be much more on the music industry’s radar in 2009, even though industry bodies may prefer to keep focusing on P2P and BitTorrent in their public utterances on The Fight Against Piracy. There could be more GEMA-style legal action against the Rapidshares of the world, though.

The Torrent tipping point

BitTorrent is still a bit geeky, even though plenty of consumers are using the technology to download free music, films and TV shows. But in 2009, there’s something of a perfect storm building, with more users sitting on super-fast broadband connections, and more inventive ways of helping them find copyrighted content. If you think BitTorrenting is about downloading individual tracks or albums, think again: nowadays, people are downloading artists’ entire discographies at the click of a button.

Streaming and downloading to converge

You’ll hear a lot of blather in 2009 about The Cloud – the idea of accessing stuff stored online from any device you like. The impact on music next year will be to accelerate the blurring of the boundaries between streaming and downloading music. For example, iTunes might evolve into a cloud-based service, allowing people to stream their iTunes library to whatever device they’re using at the time, over whatever network it’s connected to. Third-party software already allows this, of course. The point is that consumers increasingly don’t care whether their music is stored locally or remotely, as long as they can listen to it right now.

Comes With Music to grow slowly

Nokia’s unlimited music scheme won’t definitively succeed or fail in 2009, but we will get a good sense of just how sustainable it is as a business model. It’s no secret that Comes With Music will roll out on more sophisticated handsets than the launch 5310 XpressMusic, and likely with at least one large mobile operator. However, we sense that Nokia may push the scheme more in emerging markets than in, say, the US. Watch for developments in Latin America in particular. We also have a mischievous thought that Nokia may ‘sign’ its first band in 2009, becoming a pseudo-label.

More DIY social media campaigns from artists

We expect artists and their managers to take social media by the scruff of the neck and dream up some really good online viral campaigns in 2009, alongside the efforts of their labels. Artists will be using the web in innovative ways because they’ve grown up with it, not because they’re following some kind of Web 2.0 marketing template. Although there’ll be plenty of people following Web 2.0 marketing templates too, in an effort to copy the (inevitably) more successful grass-roots stuff.

More high-end physical product

People don’t want to buy $15 CDs, but they are happy to buy an $80 luxury box-set collectible… things. Radiohead and NIN showed that, while US country-pop singer Taylor Swift has recently been doing great business with her own $60 luxury box set (sold off her own widget, incidentally). Labels will spend 2009 trying to shore up their physical revenues with more imaginative collections, whether it’s five albums bundled together, or an entire artist’s discography in a Blu-ray box-set.

Microsoft will launch a ZunePhone

It may or may not have the Zune brand attached, but we’re confident that Microsoft will get into the mobile handset game early in the year, likely at CES (January) or Mobile World Congress (February). The rumours are pointing to a consumer-focused handset with an emphasis on music and messaging. We also predict hundreds of ill-advised claims that whatever comes out is an iPhone-killer.

More mini-albums and live EPs

The album isn’t quite dead yet – indeed, Amazon is actively promoting the idea of buying whole albums from its MP3 store. But we predict more mini-albums following in the footsteps of Coldplay’s Prospekt’s March, filling the gaps between major releases. Although whether that’s a positive trend or an example of fleecing fans for songs not good enough for the album is a matter of some debate. Meanwhile, intense competition among digital stores will see more exclusive live EPs and remix packages, thrown together to get homepage promotion.

Subscription services are dead

At least in the form we’ve understood up until now. The only way for services like Napster and Rhapsody to survive is by being bundled into the price of other products – home streaming systems, maybe, or mobile handsets, or computers. In short, they’ll shift to being unlimited music services akin to Comes With Music or TDC Play, as part of a bigger offering. The only company that can make subscription work in 2009, we predict, is Apple. If it chooses to.

Streaming startups thin out

Can you really turn a profit from ad-supported streaming music? If you can, why are so many of the popular sites up for sale? 2009 could be a harsh year for the iLikes and Imeems of the web, despite their millions of VC dollars, millions of users, and seemingly firm partnerships with major labels. We see many of these services selling up to larger companies who can afford the royalty payments, in the face of competition from CBS-backed Last.fm and Murdoch-backed MySpace Music.

The next Radiohead won’t be Radiohead

But at least one big-name artist will do something innovative in the digital space, probably after leaving a major label at the end of their contract. But it won’t be the same honesty-box offering as with Radiohead’s In Rainbows. We’ll be keeping an eye on firms like Topspin Media or Mubito and the artists they’re working with to try and figure out what the innovation will be.

The next Rick Astley won’t be Rick Astley

There’ll be another forgotten artist revitalized by The Power Of Viral Internet in 2009, following the rickrolling craze this year that led to Rick Astley being named best artist ever at the MTV Europe Awards. Who it’ll be is another question. Our suggestions include Tiffany, Jive Bunny, Ted Nugent and Menswear. Or all of the above.

Labels will intensify their Direct to Consumer efforts

The majors have been notably unsuccessful in selling digital music direct to consumers in the past, but EMI’s launch of a D2C website this month show that they haven’t given up on building direct relationships with fans in this way. However, the interesting aspect here isn’t huge all-encompassing portals selling a label’s entire catalogue, but more the slicing and dicing of this catalogue and monetizing it better.

The growth of emerging markets

We’ve already mentioned how Nokia may target emerging markets next year; but with the recession biting in the west in 2009 we expect to see stronger performance coming from Latin America; the BRIC countries (it’s an acronym you’ll need to know in 09) and Africa where mobile is seeing huge growth.

From Music Ally, a great digital music information service.

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.

I have posted about Jimmy Buffet before. He is the epitome of genius and invention when it comes to mixing music and commerce. There is so much to learn from him.

“The title of his most popular song is showing up on restaurants, clothing, booze and casinos. Among the products he’s involved with are Landshark Lager, the Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chains, clothing and footwear, household items and drink blenders. The Margaritaville cafe on the Las Vegas strip is said to be the top grossing restaurant in the nation. Buffett writes best-selling novels. There’s Radio Margaritaville on Sirius. Even his recording career is booming as the music industry tanks: His recent album, “License to Chill,” was the first No. 1 album of his career.

“He wants to be known as an artist and musician, but he’s an extremely savvy businessman,” said Brian Hiatt, an associate editor for Rolling Stone who covers the concert industry.

Buffett is somewhat unique among aging crooners in that his fan base is broad, and is not tied solely to a string of past hit songs. For most of his career, Buffett had only one Billboard Top 10 hit, “Margaritaville,” in 1977. What he offers his fans is an accessible fantasy. “Anyone of any age could imagine retiring to a tropical paradise and drinking margaritas,” Haitt said. “There is something extra-musical about the whole thing.”

You don’t have to go to a concert to buy his stuff. Margaritaville boat shoes and flip flops are found in shopping malls. Margaritaville Foods sells salsa, hummus, tortillas and dips in Wal-Mart and other stores. Landshark is sold in grocery stores, and Margaritaville tequila is in liquor stores. And concert tickets sell out in short order, despite prices that run well over $100. The Buffett brand is on a growth spurt, usually as a result of marketing deals.”

Read more from Starpulse here.

I had the great fortune to interview Jimmy earlier this year. Lets see what he has to say about the Future of Music.

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.