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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

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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.”