Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Great Winehouse in the Sky

I never "got" Winehouse.

To me, her act seemed like a thin imitation of a 60's US festival soul act. While her voice was fantastic, her music sounded like a karaoke knockoff of "The Detroit Sound." It felt imitative rather than a tribute - like she saw herself as a reincarnated Aretha.

I wasn't a fan, but there were plenty of people who were, and that's all that matters, really.

Godspeed, Amy.


PS - The business doesn't have to be this hard on people. It really doesn't.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Predictions: The next WAVE's

I "get" Google+ now. It took me a minute because I forgot how Google thinks - they're in this for the long haul now, and that requires longer horizons. That stream interface that looks kinda like Facebook? That's just the transition - something familiar to make you comfortable. Underneath, it's WAVE.

"Hangouts" are the future here - it's what WAVE was before everyone signed up. WAVE is silly and useless without *everybody* there at the same time. Google knew what we wanted before we knew we wanted it. We rejected WAVE for many reasons, and I blame Google for not managing that very well - it could have been much more successful, IMHO. But Hangouts are here now, and they'll only get bigger and more capable. uStream and its ilk had better see the writing on the wall.

Mobile & Apps:
The future of almost everything. ("Website designers" take note - your days are numbered. Start retraining *now*.) Facebook is eating the lunch of traditional .com sites, especially if you used to build brochure sites for small businesses. Those days are GONE, replaced by the now-ubiquitous Facebook pages. And even Facebook is morphing into an infrastructure and advertising/market research company - that's why they'll continue to build high-quality mobile apps.

We're in uncharted cultural territory here. Some of the biggest brands in traditional media have been reduced to tiny icons that we scroll past on our way to Angry Birds. Those icons are the same size as Facebook *and* Yelp and, etc... y'know, the things that help your life by saving TIME and giving you tons of good information. Or entertainment.

Musicians future is not on Bandcamp or Soundcloud or any of those 'free' music community clones - it's apps. The tools to build your own mobile app are mere months away. You won't need to be a programmer - but you will need some basic sense of flow, and having a competent graphics guru around will help immensely. You're a musician, you have a community of these people around you already, yes??

Subscriptions via those apps are your income future. $1/mo will be the magic price, although it will take months/years for everyone to figure it out. Can we find 100 people to pay us $1 month? A thousand people? Can we produce something worth that every month? I know *I'm* motivated to...

Film and "television"
Apps are their future, too. HBO has an app for subscribers that allows you to download content directly to your phone. My mobile happens to have an HDMI port, which means I can download my HBO shows and watch them on-demand. What's that - HBO basically gave me a DVR on my mobile that's connected to their (growing) library of amazing stuff?? Where do I sign up for this??

Oh, I have to buy a cable subscription? Fuck that - I want it ala carte. I just want to pay my $5 or $10/mo and be able to LEGALLY watch episodes of HBO shows. And I'm going to get it, too. Because that's the future, and whoever brings that to the table first WINS!

It won't be Netflix- their tombstone is already cast. They're just a licensing company now, anyway - one with a great DVD logistics system, but mailing shiny discs can't have that much longer of a life. And 'streaming?' The rights holders are going to want that money, and it won't cost them much to get their own subscriptions running. Sure, there's room for a couple clearinghouses - HULU and Netflix could fill that role as licensing intermediary, but that just makes them kind of a Harry Fox for moving picture.

HBO and Showtime had it right all along: get people on board to keep paying for excellent/astonishing work, and you can have longevity. Subscriptions were always their model, and now they're everyone's model.

Go find your flock.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Musicians: Apps are your future

Google+ is rolling out a bazillion invites to people who want to be part of the next "thing." What made Google+ appealing in the first place? NOBODY WAS THERE!

But now EVERYBODY is on G+, and like me, a lot of "Huh?" going around. It's just like Facebook, but with circles! Great, one more thing I have to teach my parents to use...badly.

If Google, the biggest tech company on Earth, can't figure this out....

As a musician, Facebook's fan pages are a great service - providing your fans use Facebook regularly enough to see your updates/invites. And this is really the problem - managing subscriptions to people's lives. Some people are more important than others, and some status updates are more important than others. Facebook doesn't know which is which, so after you cross that 200+ friend threshold, it's unmanageable.

Politicians and idiots are all over Twitter. That thing is downright useless.

MySpace? Bandcamp? Soundcloud? iTunes? YouTube? Amazon? CD Baby? Where should you be? Where is your future??

Not anywhere near those services, I promise you. Apps are your future. Back in January, I wrote:
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.
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.
Musicians: THIS IS YOUR FUTURE. Not Facebook, not your website, G+ or any of the other 'services' that make money by making YOU the product. You're ALREADY a product - your own.

What you need more than anything is steady income, and this is where subscriptions come in: you only need a few hundred people at $1/mo to get rolling. And that $1 (or whatever amount) needs to get them EVERYTHING. Don't scale your offerings - you're not that smart. One price gets everyone in the door. All the music, all the pictures, tour dates, and opportunities to meet you directly - these are the trappings of distinction. You'll need them.

And you'll be motivated to produce for those patrons, too. Because if you stop long enough to rest on any perceived laurels, your fans will move on. This is your new reality, musicians.

You need to find app devs and ingratiate yourself. They are the key to your next kingdom.

I write this because I've seen a platform in development specifically for musicians that can't write code. This service will allow you to create your own basic Android/iPhone app (and publish it!) that your fans can use to connect with you.

Android is the #1 selling mobile right now, and they're continuing to fly off shelves in record #'s (during an economic depression, too!) in addition to steady iPhone sales. People buy apps all the time for their phones, and the $1 price point is just right to get people on board with little risk. Mobile phone use is only going to grow, and with cloud services looking to be ubiquitous in a couple years, there's no need to maintain 'fat' computers (laptops, desktops, etc) and their attendant media libraries.

Besides, it's all about the live show anyway: recorded music is your bait.

Next year, there will be a mobile app for the music of Jeremiah Jacobs. Fans will get the app for free, and there is a $1/mo buy-in for the premium stuff, like pre-release demos, all songs for free, lyrics, artwork, chat, concert dates, freebies, etc. I'll be glad to pry myself from Facebook and it's time-sink nature. Ditto for Twitter. I'll have my own 'world' and I don't have to sell my fan's user data to get it.

The Thrill is Gone

Google, while publicly traded, is a private company. They have no obligations to you or I as users - they only answer to shareholders. Google has no obligation to recognize the 1st Amendment, nor any obligation to allow you to engage in "free speech" on their products and networks. Google actually retains the legal authority to alter any data in their properties in addition to republishing it.

Google has become the perfect embodiment of America right now - a pretty, smiling, duplicitous witch who's shaking your one hand and stealing your lunch with the other. Remember, you're not a Google user - you're the product being sold.

And don't kid yourselves - Google is one of the US Intelligence Community's primary assets. The company regularly hands over data about anyone they're asked to. And the US pays for it, too, so even that activity has been monetized.

Google's ruthless when it comes to monetizing its apps. With the exception of products still under the "Labs" moniker, everything Google produces must make money from their search products. This is one of the reasons I fear Reader, IMHO their product with the best chance of affecting social change, will be retired soon. It can't be monetized.

I'll own up to my own mistakes here: i trusted Google for far too long. I opened a GMail account the week the beta went live (2004?), and continued to be amazed as they released incredibly functional apps. I've lazily depended on Reader as an extended memory, only to have Google carve out chunks that aren't profitable to maintain (like my pre-2008 links).

It bears repeating that ALL of Google's products are built on the back of your user data - what you searched for, what you clicked, what you eventually bought, and if Google can capture it, everything about your computer's browser, etc. Is there a behavior Google wants to analyze and market? They'll write an 'app' that gets it, and sell the data. Apps that don't/can't collect lots of sellable data won't stick around.

I used to be OK with this tradeoff, but now I don't feel it's fair anymore. Google says I can export all my data from their coffers, but I'm sure this is a soft-lie. They won't release but a fraction of what they 'know' about you - and even then, it's really not that data I care about - it's the implications of the larger personal profile. Do American citizens have the right to verify data about them? (Hint: No.)

I made a comment earlier about social change - this is critical to understand. Google is one of the biggest power players in the world right now. That's right - the scrappy NorCal startup is now firmly an establishment player. Look at the executive teams - all Ivy-League thieves. So do you think these people are going to give us tools that uproot their dominance? FUCK! NO!

So we'll get a free word processor, but some gov't plebe will be monitoring what you write with it. Ditto for spreadsheets, social networks, etc. All of these things will be used against us - no doubt in my mind, but none of them will be allowed to be used to instigate any real upset of the US social order.

And that's really the Grand Bargain that Google struck, isn't it? That they can wrestle whatever advantages from the system provided they leave the system perfectly intact?

I've relied on Google as an extended memory for too long. I'm paying the real price now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google Plus

I got my invite the day they went live, but was too late in clicking it. So I got shuttered out for several days. Yesterday, my Plus went live, and I've had about 24 hours with it so far.

My initial impression is this is Google WAVE, simply renamed with a different GUI. WAVE was so far ahead of its time most people didn't understand what it was for, and they certainly didn't know how badly they wanted it. I'm pretty confident Plus will morph into the WAVE GUI (or at least provide it as an option.)

I'm also confused by it's layout and relationship to other Google stuff - do my Blogger posts automatically post in my stream? What about my Buzz? What's the difference? If someone comments on a post in the stream, does it show up in Buzz? What about all the smart, interesting random people I'm following on GReader? I don't really care about their personal lives - in fact, that gets in the way sometimes. I don't care about their photos, etc - I'm just interested in their GReader shares and comments.

Circles are confusing, too. Facebook does the same thing with lists, but the issue is the onus is on an individual user to maintain those circles. Are circles also opt in/out? Can I bridge circles on relevant topics, or do I have to xpost and then maintain multiple streams of comments, etc?

It's worth remembering that Plus, like a lot of Google products, is in beta, so it's probably a safe bet a lot of things will get worked out soon.

But I'm worried about Reader. Reader is, IMHO, the app with the most transformative potential. It has been my experience that Reader usage correlates (and may I say, predicts) with an overall ability to construct an lucid argument. Acquaintances that don't use or know of Reader are *weeks* behind news cycles, and consistently lack insight or the depth of available knowledge/opinion on most topics.

Which is precisely why it's not a very popular product. Eventually, another Reader user will creep into your shares and start schooling you. The majority of us do not react well to this, and even few actively seek out that kind of interaction. Additionally, RSS, the technology that Reader is dependent on, is facing its own hurdles as competing standards and frameworks emerge in the mobile world.

It seems Google is moving from being a knowledge-services (read: search) organization to an social/advertising org, and I hope I'm wrong about that. Google's brand was built on providing tools to make better assessments from even better data. Social networks don't do that - they're reinforcing by nature, so not very ideal for a rodeo of ideas.