Saturday, November 28, 2009

I was wrong about....

I keep a running list of things I've been wrong about in the hopes of learning from it. These have been foaming about in my head for a while; let's see if I can give them some shape here. In no particular order:

I was wrong about how the internet would "empower" artists and connect them with fans.
Part of this was due to my luck in being an early-adopter of broadband internet, and believing it would have the same dramatic impact on everyone else's life as it had on mine. I'd had some strong first experiences (winning the 100,000th artist slot at, for instance) that seemed to indicate bright futures for musicians on the web. And for some musicians, that certainly was the case.

But scale changes everything, and that's one area I was completely wrong about: scale. I'd initially figured that "real" musicians would find an easier time connecting with purchasers because I'd (naively) thought A) the bulk of the music production community would embrace the technologies (didn't happen), and B) the bulk of producers would actually be professional musicians.

These two assumptions turned out to be horribly false. The bulk of the professional music community balked at first because they didn't see it as a way to actively pay their bills, and they were right about that. My second assumption was turned upside down - "Here comes everybody" - when the numbers of amateur and entry producers dwarfed the professional by scales of magnitude.

With these new scales came bigger versions of the same persistent problems (vaulting work into the public consciousness) invariably attracting the same niche noisemakers and creating only the slightest variation of previous hierarchies. The creative arts tend to drive tight communities. Birds of a feather...

The biggest lesson for me, however, was how it would change the value of live performance. For the longest time, I've (unfairly) judged live performance by my own production standards - a bit like comparing cropdusters to 747's - so I'd naturally underestimated its appeal to audiences. Turns out most people don't care if the music is built on simple, well-tread ideas: they just like how it sounds.

And from now on, that's good enough for me, too.

Photos by Flickr's jancin and gorski.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I want Google to be my record company (and you do, too)

The music business as we formerly knew it was predicated on two basic legs: monopolizing the physical distribution structure (and by proxy, maintaining content exclusivity), and an information asymmetry between the record companies and the artists.

This asymmetry took its most insidious form in the famous "double books" that film and music companies used to keep (before corporatisation and Sarbanes-Oxley), allowing companies to misrepresent sales and distribution statistics, thus denying musicians a lot of their due income.

A decade ago, Michael Robertson's tried to level this playing field by providing a means of distribution (mp3's) in addition to hyperaccurate sales and play statistics. This gave artists their first real glimpse at the relationships between listeners/buyers and artists' personal income.

Most record labels today simply do not exist: they are "paper" companies that are nothing more than a legal entity created for the purpose of easing the burdens of transferring ownership of musical works.

From an artist/producer perspective, the ideal record company will offer the following:
  1. Access to global markets
  2. Seamless integration of multiple platforms (mobile, web browsers, ???)
  3. Detailed tracking, reporting and statistical analysis (Analytics for your songs)
  4. Tracking of public opinion (Google Alerts)
  5. Turnkey retail (Google Checkout)
  6. Personal/professional network management (LinkedIn)
  7. Facilitate collaboration (Google Wave)
  8. Targeted marketing (AdSense/AdWords)
Apple has done quite well positioning itself in this space, especially given they've also put a hardware platform into the market, too. Although I personally see the iPhone as a transient platform, it has certainly demonstrated the power of "flat" distribution *and* an ability to open markets for music producers.

But the iPhone (and its near-term competitors) are "now" technologies. The future, in my current view, is hardware independent, and its in our interests as creatives to align ourselves with open frameworks that share this philosophy.

The current major media companies, however, demand exclusivity, which in turn forms the basis for our current conundrum: balancing exclusivity with the need to participate in open systems. It will be up to individual producers to choose how they want to interact with these new markets and technologies, and oodles of good datasets will make it easier to make the right choice.

I want Google to be my record company for these reasons:
  1. Google (theoretically) isn't motivated to lie to me about traffic stats,
  2. Google has no interest in *not* paying me,
  3. Google's interest is in facilitating the highest volume of transactions possible (good for me),
  4. Thus, Google's interested in matching my offerings to consumers at the highest possible granularity (good for me)
  5. Google's platform independence means I can seamlessly offer digital files across hardware, anywhere on the globe, via any channel.
You want Google to be my record company for these reasons:
  1. Ease of legitimate purchase. One-click purchase from web-search results means listeners don't have to set up profiles on multiple services (eMusic, iTunes, Amazon, etc).
  2. No DRM.
  3. All offerings as single selections - no requirement to purchase an entire album.
Photos by Alek Buznik and quack1701.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pink Floyd: Great Gig...if you can get it

Singer Clare Torry talks about the "happy accident" that resulted in one of the greatest vocal solos in pop music.

Worth it for her last few sentences. The takeaway for producers is this: it can really pay to hire professionals.