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Visions of the Future

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.

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How Will Musicians Earn Money in the Future?

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.

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Insight in music business & management

The music industry is being reinvented before our very eyes. Learn how it is developing from today’s entrepreneurs including Ian Rogers from TopSpin, Steve Schnur from EA, and Derek Sivers and how you can capitalize on the changing opportunities.

MPN is my latest project and an online service for music business people and music and artist managers creating the future of the industry. MPN provides online music business lessons, exclusive video interviews and advice, career and business planning tools and thousands of specially selected resources designed to help you achieve success in this ever changing industry. MPN gives you the tools, expertise and guidance to help you get organized and take your music career to the next level. Learn from industry experts, set your goals and realize your vision.


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Music Like Water – the future of music distribution

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…

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Jim Griffin on The Future of Music

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.”

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Gerd Leonhard Interview at Rollo & Grady

Gerd Leonhard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R&G: Serving as filters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

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Dave Kusek Interview at Rollo & Grady

Future of Music Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more great interviews here at Rollo & Grady

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Radio Interview with Dave Kusek

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

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

Listen to the interview here.

Download the MP3 file here.

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Cycles in Music – Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only they had patented it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview on the Future of Music

New Formats

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

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

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

Music Commerce

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

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

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

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

Investing in the Future

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

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

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

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

Read the complete interview here at Manifest Technology.

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Nightly Business Report on the Business of Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More info here.

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KCRW audio interview: The Politics of Culture

The Digital Age and The Future of Music.

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

Listen to the Interview (Real)

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Atlas Plugged Interview Part 2

Held back by fear, you are.

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

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

Read the second part of the interview here.

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Let’s Get Digital – Radio Show

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

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

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Atlas Plugged – Interview

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

Read part one of the two part interview

Part two is here

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Keepin’ it Reel to Reel: The Future of Music

To The Best of Our Knowledge

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

Check out this program from Wisconsin Public Radio

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Forbes – Music Like Water

Forbes_80_100

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

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