Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shift

Oh we're never gonna survive unless,
we are a little crazy.
-SEAL

Geologists call it 'plate tectonics.' Change that is invisible, yet alters destinies. One epoch your relatives are all in walking distance. The next, an ocean divides you.

The thing we forget about change in our modern day is that adoption is logarithmic. Put another way, the future comes slow, then faster, then....avalanche. And you can't negotiate with an avalanche.

Haven't you touched an iPad yet? That's why the Apple store is now the #1 draw in malls. Don't believe me? How long was the wait last time you wanted to play Angry Birds while the Cinnabon wears off? It's as if the Apple store is what the arcade used to be, except now you're not ashamed to be there with your parents. That's how cool Apple is right now.

And all indications are it will be that way for some time to come. Even the current crop of iPad wannabes yowling for attention at this year's CES show are forced to compare themselves to the iPad, if not overtly, then certainly by borrowing design cues (shiny bouncing icons!) For musicians, this means two things:
  1. iPads and tablet computers are here to stay, will only get faster/cheaper/cooler.
  2. the Apple model of 'apps' is firmly ingrained in our culture, so 'apps' are the future: Subscribers are our future.
We used to call them "patrons." Now we call them "subscribers" or "users." Same concept. Someone likes your work, and wants to support it directly. But more importantly, a patron wants to connect with you.

Yes, we'll still have obligatory websites, and some of us will still post content on YouTube, but the best of us will be working with geeks to develop mobile apps that engage our fans. Lucky for us, these days app developers are a bit like weed dealers: even if you think you don't know somebody directly, you've got a friend that "knows a guy!" Ask around - you'll be surprised.

What's an app going to look like and actually do, though? In it's simplest, it's just a content bundle. Maybe we've shot some footage in the studio and want to present it in a magazine style format. Or exclusive backstage footage. Or concert. Or our blog. Can we find a hundred people who'll pay $1 a month to get in our world? A thousand? Can we produce good work consistently, every month, like those winning kitchens on "Kitchen Nightmares?"

Are we willing to put in the time? The thousands of hours of sucking at something? The next thousand getting slightly better? And for what? A few hundred bucks a month?

But what happens if we create something as engaging as Angry Birds? What if we manage that terrific feat of being so compelling - so astonishing - that people can't wait to turn on their iPad/Android and join us while their Cinnabon wears off?

For now, I'm just excited this is even possible, much less that it seems our current destiny. But it means we need to change our ways. For instance:
  • The album is dead. It's indulgent. Nobody has time anyway+. People want ala carte singles. (there are exceptions, if you're doing New Age or some kind of ambient where an hour of time is reasonable to ask a listener.)
  • Music is free now, but concert tickets are not. Apps are a vehicle for getting asses in seats.
  • Mashups are sometimes more popular than the songs being repurposed. Participatory culture means our raw tracks are bundled in the app for remixers. This is antithetical to how many of us musicians were trained to relate to our work. It needs to change.
I'm off to play Angry Birds.

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