Thursday, December 20, 2012

Random Thursday Thoughts #4

I've been thinking about luxury brands in the context of an economic phenomenon called "Akerlof's Quality Trap." How do luxury brands persist? Marketing is one answer, but is it the only one?

Is a Mercedes-Benz really a better car? Are Michelin tires of any better quality than Kelly or Roadhawk?

There's a neat anecdote in the book "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster" about a high-end dress manufacturer's experience with different cultural systems of determining quality/value. In the book, Thomas describes a dress with a 'flaw' - a single stray thread is visible on the bottom seam. In Japan, a typical customer won't purchase the jacket, seeing the thread as an indicator of the garment's overall quality. A French customer, by contrast, will see the thread but think "That's fixable!" and still consider the dress. An American won't even notice.

This may have to do with a thinning population of tradespeople (and affiliated knowledge transfers) in the U.S. If one is unable to determine whether or not a product is made with the best available or  cheapest materials, then one is at the unfortunate end of an information asymmetry. Being that practically all retail activity is predicated on this arrangement, it's easy to see how capitalist societies will tend toward lower-quality (read; higher-cost) products as the market will capitulate to economic pressure.

This has had some personal relevance lately as I've been subjected to the depressing process of obtaining service on an automobile. With little/no information about the engineering, manufacture, etc of my car, and no reasonable way to obtain that data in the first place, I am at the mercy of a mechanic/dealer who have competing economic incentives. I want my car fixed at a reasonable cost - the dealer wants as much profit as he can create - he has a strong incentive to oversell services and under-repair the car.

The presence of these incentives in and of themselves is not the revelation - that they lead to a situation in which it is impossible for the dealer/mechanic to provide "quality" parts or services because there's not a consensual means of determining good vs. not-good.

If economics are going to be the tools by which value (and cash) are extracted from us, then they are also the tools of (literal) accountability. From this perspective, one solution may be political: the altering of Lemon Laws to consider a lifetime cost of repairs vs. 'market value.' In my equation, "market value" is the sum a dealer is willing to pay on a trade in (the best indicator of a vehicle's cash value, IMHO.) In other words, if the cost of maintenance exceeds what the dealer themselves are willing to pay for the car under a trade-in, the vehicle is a "lemon" and can be returned to the manufacturer. Crazy? Stupid?

Returning to the idea of a kind of market paralysis, I want to talk about music, because I think we have very analogous situation. The buyer of a ticket, for example, does not know beforehand whether the show will be a "cherry" or a "lemon". So the buyer's best guess for a given band/show is that the act is of average quality; accordingly, he/she will be willing to pay for it only the price of a act of known average quality. This means that the manager of a solid act will be unable to get a high enough price to make selling that act worthwhile. Therefore, the most talented will not place their wares in the market. The withdrawal of music talent reduces the average quality of bands on the market, causing buyers to revise downward their expectations for any given act. This, in turn, motivates the moderately good not to perform, and so on.

It's not a perfect analogy. The point about diminishing expectations driving out not only talent but the possibility for it at all cannot be understated.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Temperance, Security Theater, and the Cult of Identification

A few ideas only tangentially connected.

Here in California it is impossible to have a cocktail without first showing a state-issued identification.

But you can buy weed off your kids.

The main reason California engages in this temperance nonsense has to do with MADD and their incessant meddling with laws, specifically the gutting of former protections (think 4th and 5th Amendments.)

A regulatory structure has been implemented that motivates purveyors of alcohol to 'check' the identity of every single patron (aka a 'dragnet'). This is little more than socialized surveillance as security theater.

The vast majority of retailers/clerks are unable to verify a physical ID in any real way, so what they're really doing is an act of theater to fulfill a legal/insurance requirement. If my 60 year old mom gets ID'd for a bottle of wine....

So if the legal threshold is a physical act (patron holds up plastic, server nods approvingly), then its an easy line to draw to theater and meaninglessness. The proprietor's only interest is "CYA", so no ID's (or ages) are being verified. They couldn't be.

But the Cult of ID says otherwise. For some reason, we believe the 20-year old kid with a nametag has somehow mastered the art of identity verification (as if there were such an art in the first place.) I think its subconsciously comforting that we're participating in some kind of verification of ourselves, but odd given the reality that waitstaff does no such thing.

So why does this persist?

Because we are a magical people, who believe in magical things.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday's Random Thoughts

Cultural Archiving and Thermal Limits.

We're keeping too much stuff online. With every photo you upload to Instagram, every blog post about global warming or every web-video appeal, a piece of glacier disappears.

That's the connection we need to make. Talking about cars or industry (the pollution we can 'see') allows us to project participation in 'the problem' on others.

Is it possible one's internet usage can use as much energy as owning an automobile? (has anyone done this math?)

Well, yes. From a recent NYT article:
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.
“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town." 
Emphasis mine.

That's 30 nuke plants today. What of next year? Moore's law says we're going to keep storing even more data, so we're going to be pulling even more energy off the grid.

How do we stem the pace of global warming AND keep our blogs?

Short of denial (who's power I won't underestimate), something's got to be done.

Someone has to pay.

I don't know enough about carbon offsets to know if they'll address this because they seem (in my current understanding) targeted at energy producers and not energy consumers. Am I wrong about that?

-------

Point-of-Sale Systems and Time Taxes

I call it "Prompt Creep." It's a spin on the concept of "Feature Creep" - the idea that systems will tend toward complexity. Practically every POS system I come across now prompts me for:
  • a "customer loyalty" or "club" or some other membership card or identification
  • whether I prefer a credit or debit transaction. My choice has some consequence, as it can be a net gain or loss for the vendor (who I may be wishing to support) depending on the relationship they have with their own bank.
  • I am prompted for a PIN or signature
  • I am asked if I want any cash back (every cash register is an ATM, too!)
  • Prompted for a donation (at many grocery stores)
  • Prompted for receipt options
    • Printed Reciept
    • Email 
    • Txt Message
      • If you select this option, you are prompted to sign up for a store membership and accept advertising (ahem, "PROMOTIONAL") messages sent to your mobile device
    • No Receipt (???)
  • Finally prompted to confirm the total (do I carry a calculator with me?)
This part of a commercial transaction is downright inhuman. As a customer, I have to focus my attention on a keypad and screen (I'm not acknowleging another human being) and the clerk has to focus on their screen. If there is a line, there is added pressure to make the transaction occur as hurriedly as possible.

So all of these prompts, the pressure of a building line, and the last (and arguably MOST stressful part of a POS experience) is the waiting for "APPROVAL". The actual system of ATM/Credit is voodoo to most people, but the neurological effects of shame and embarrassment when one's transaction reads "DECLINED" are very, very real. That few seconds of waiting... "Am I about to experience public shame and embarassment?" causes a momentary elevation of adrenalin.

(read Google Scholar articles on "effects of adrenaline neural memory")

Of the contributing factors to this stress is the combination of decision fatigue and a sense of frustration related to the sense you're time is not being respected. Instead, you and I are being both figuratively and literally, taxed.

So why not use cash?

I want to do more thinking on this, but I have a sense about a collision of a few forces: a cultural association between cash and criminal activity, an economy where many single items can exceed common denominations, that most cash dispensing systems use only $20 bills, when $5's are much more useful (creating a problem for vendors when they run out of smaller bills for change).

That's a dense set of elements.  And while it may seem trivial at an individual level, every time you prompt someone, you're adding as many as five seconds to the transaction. Scaled over just one local grocery operation (250k customers daily) that's a lot of people standing in line (lost productivity = regressive tax).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday's Random Thoughts

Facebook's new "Promote This" feature:
"Traditional" business interests are reacting to Facebook's new promotional opportunities as if its a death knell (see: Mark Cuban, Mavericks). The assumption implicit in their thinking is they should have a monopoly on speech.

I don't know how long Facebook's new thing will last, but opening up the ability for anyone to "promote" a post for a few bucks (or a lot, depending) kind of changes the degree of access. It's not really revolutionary, but it is slightly more democratic (easy, one-click access).

In the next election cycle, proponents will mobilize their own voices more directly by sponsoring their own (or candidate's) posts. Facebook will make a lot of money.
-----

This is the best summary of the media frenzy over Gen Patreus having a personal life.
------
Hotels are hiding fees in your bill to suck a few extra bucks from your wallet. 
------
Voters raised taxes all over the country.
------
John Gordon at Kateva on the connection between corporate structure and Soviet-style central planning:
Central planning triumphs because, even if we ignore regulatory capture and senatorial acquisition, corporations are only capitalist on the outside of the cell membrane. Inside the corporation there are no contracts, no currencies, and no markets. Inside the corporation, we have the hallmarks of Soviet central planning - goals and quotas and commissars and imaginary numbers and dictates from the central commission.
-----
I was wrong about Prop 37 passing by a wide margin. Marion thinks this speaks to the power of money in political advertising, but I'm not so sure. The big money was right on this one, but for different reasons. I still thing GMO labeling is coming, but it will be in a more marketable form. Look to the DeBeers Diamonds model (use long-term marketing to create a perception that GMO is a premium product.)
------
John Gordon (again!) predicts the demise of climate change as a party platform in GOP politics within the year. Do you agree?
------
How corporations use rent-seeking to extract value from economic activities they don't support:
Here's another good example that affects Internet policy. We hear a lot about "free content" on the Web, and the idea that users are getting something for nothing. "They don't want to pay for their content." And yet, most people access the Internet by paying an Internet service provider $60, $70, $80 a month. You think of a company like Comcast. The user pays them $80 a month and watches television, and we say, "Oh. They're paying for content." They pay $80 a month for access to the Internet and we say, "Oh. They're getting their content for free." Something is clearly wrong with that picture!
In fact, the reverse is actually true. The free rider is Comcast. If people watch television, the Cable company has to pay money downstream to content providers. When people watch YouTube, or use Facebook or Twitter, or just surf the Web, they pay nothing for content. So it's not users who are getting the free ride, it's these big companies. That's just one of many implications that come to light when you start thinking about the Clothesline Paradox.
What are you thinking about today?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

 Random Thoughts on a Thursday:

Why do all the good ideas happen in the shower? My hypothesis: it has something to do with neural stimulation via water hitting the skin. That and your psychological guard is down.

The view that tablets (particularly iPads) represent a 'next generation' of devices is a marketing framing that has become the dominant way of thinking. But I think tablets are still version 1.0 tech.
They are merely a convergence of two media approaches: print and video (it's a paper movie screen!) The most fundamental premise of the iPad's (and by proxy all tablets) design is that people are going to consume media on these devices. This is still tech 1.0 thinking. Tech 2.0 is all about data and analysis.

Musicians need to think about car sales, but not in the way we have been - we have to think about the lot size as analogous to an individual's available time. There's only so many cars (songs) you can
put on the lot. But what do you do with a massive oversupply of cars and customers that are still incredibly particular about what they want, and most cars are actually crap?

I want to know what the price of Coca-Cola says about a business's operating model.
Why is 64oz of Coke $0.99 at Circle K, but right next door at the ice cream shop, a "large" Coke is a $1.29 and contains roughly 10-12oz of soda (depending on the proportion of ice in the served beverage.)

The "Information wants to be free" founding ethos of the internet has scaled past relevance. It's only someone else's data that you want to be free - *yours* is worth a premium, right?

There is no such thing as "online anonymity" - your name/face and web history are all compiled at some corporate marketing headquarters. YouPorn and your bank use the same tech to track users - they know it's you.

Science and tech are taking a lot of the mystery out of the world, and so many people are afraid of the new mysteries. Most Americans need a refresher biology course in the worst way.

Everyone thinks the next president will be Republican Jeb Bush. I think it will be Schwarzenegger.

What are you thinking about today?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Thinking On Prop 37: GMO's, Global Warming, Poverty, and Denial

Riffing on this Metafilter comment:
My primary concern is maintaining a climate compatible with feeding everyone. Famines today are avoidable tragedies. There is enough food to keep everyone on Earth fed, just barely. We have turned a huge proportion of the world's biosphere over to making food for people. There is a good argument to be made that even if the climate was in a stable state that we are extracting so much from the earth to feed us that we are drawing down the productive capacity available to us. We already fix 200% more nitrogen from the Haber-Bosch process than the entire terrestrial biosphere does.

Can we continue to feed a growing population under these constraints, along with the pressures of climate change? I doubt it's possible if we don't immediately start to decarbonize our economies. An erratic jet stream causing devastating droughts and floods all over the northern hemisphere is not good for agriculture. Looked at the price of corn lately? 4ÂșC warming or more, which is what we are on track for, takes us way, way outside the stable climate that has existed for the entire history of agriculture. Can we adapt without billions starving? I sure as hell hope so, but perhaps we'd be better off avoiding that particular experiment, no? (emphasis mine).
 Many anti-GMO's frame gene tech as a kind of Great Human Experiment, invoking memes like The Precautionary Principle and "lack of long-term studies."

In the same way I think GMO vs. Organic is a false-dilemma, I'm coming around to consider the experiment frame as a way of deflecting realities of global warming, the real experiment, IMHO. If we're going to continue to feed humans on this planet in the mid-term, we're going to need crops that thrive in warmer temperatures. And more water. What happens if the North American Continent can only produce 15% of what it does now?

The GMO vs. Organic is really just a twist on the older Goliath vs. David: GMO is a symbol for powerful and parasitic corporatism, and Organic is a symbol of goodness and humility, and all summary qualities not associated with corporatism. (It's a classic Good v Evil framing, and I believe its simplicity will contribute to its passing.)

Another element missing from the Prop37 fracas is any discussion of farming practices, specifically the endemic exploitation of migrant workers, and the resulting poverty that surrounds much of modern food production. I have previously discussed themes of social privilege that pervade much of the language used by proponents of organic products.

For a little more perspective on this, we turn to Matthew Desmond, who writes:
[most discussions pivot] upon the concept of a lack. Structural accounts emphasize the inner city’s lack of jobs, social services, or organizations [read: farmer's markets, CSA's, community gardens, etc]. Cultural accounts emphasize the inner city’s lack of role models, custodial fathers, and middle-class values. Although usually pitted against one another, structural and cultural approaches share a common outlook: that the inner city is a void, a needy thing, and, like supplies lowered into the leper colony, that its problems can be solved by filing the void with more stuff: e.g., more jobs, more education, more social services.
It seems clear that Prop37 addresses a specific psychological need: a "choice" to publicly display a set of (good!) cultural attributes without having to acknowledge the inherent exploitation. In this view Prop37 comes to represent a kind of Patriarchal Bargain: organic advocates can claim to be wrestling the system but in reality they are agreeing to leave it completely intact.

Desmond continues:

[to elevate] the concept of exploitation to a more central position within the sociology of inequality. For who could argue that the urban poor today are not just as exploited as they were in generations past, what with the acceleration of rents throughout the housing crisis; the proliferation of pawn shops, the number of which doubled in the 1990s; the emergence of the payday lending industry, boasting of more stores across the U.S. than McDonald’s restaurants and netting upwards of $7 billion annually in fees; and the colossal expansion of the subprime lending industry, which was generating upwards of $100 billion in annual revenues at the peak of the housing bubble? And yet conventional accounts of inequality, structural and cultural approaches alike, continue to view urban poverty strictly as the result of some inanity. How different our theories would be — and with them our policy prescriptions — if we began viewing poverty as the result of a kind of robbery.
The total absence of these themes in the Prop37 discussion leads me to conclude this measure serves only a marketing purpose, but not the marketing of products to consumers. Instead, its for the marketing of ourselves to each other.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Prop37: What's Underneath


(Note: fast dump - forgive my grammar.
Note: this is not an indictment of GMO labeling nor a dismissal of genuine skepticism re: applied genomics. This is an exploration of themes and frameworks invoked by antiGMO's to describe/convert others to their worldview.)


A few consistent themes emerge when dealing with anti-GMO's:
  1. Patriarchy: corporatism (and by proxy anything its connected to, ie gene research) is associated as an extension of European Colonialism, specifically WAP (White Anglo Protestants). Rape frameworks are associated solely with WAP/corporate activities - anti GMO's do not level such accusations against indigenous populations.
  2. Naturalism: In rejecting patriarchy and its associations, WAP actions are categorized as acting upon Nature instead of within it. Nature is seen as a benevolent force that is being interfered with by humans.
  3. Mysticism: Mystical/magical properties are associated with indigenous people, but only under certain criteria. Native Americans (ie. Hopi[1]) are magical/mystical, but Irish[2] are not.
  4. Social Privilege: anti-GMO/organic lifestyles are often accompanied by language and images of social privilege: 
    1. "Organic food consumption is one of several new trends in eating read as active opposition to industrialized food provision. While fast food consumption is characterized by compulsive gluttony, manifest in fat bodies, alternative consumption practices are seen to be driven by conscious reflexivity, such that consumers monitor, reflect upon and adapt their personal conduct in light of its perceived consequences." [3]
    2. "Namely, the alternative movement has been animated by a set of discourses that
      derive from whitened cultural histories, which, in turn, have inflected the spaces of alternative food provision. Many in the movement seem oblivious to the racial character of these discourses – if anything they presume them to be universal – and so are ignorant of the way in which employment of these discourses might constitute another kind of exclusionary practice. Among them I would include the idea of bringing this good food to others. " [4]
 This goes to the heart of my objections re: Prop37, the GMO labeling requirement.

Prop37 proponents will invoke all these themes, but framed as 'choice.' But this is silly - you already know what's GMO vs. heritage. They want a warning label[5]. Full stop.

And they want it because then they have permission to judge you in public: "Oh, you're buying GMO? You must be ignorant." They want to shame you into eating different. Specifically, they want to shame you for contributing to the corporate control (read: WAP) of food and have you embrace a 'natural' way of life. Just like them.

[EDIT: This is a really good article summarizing Prop 37.]






Notes and Citations:
[1] It is a common assertion among anti-GMO that Native American corn varieties were superior to modern ones for reasons usually attributed to magical properties (ie. 'they lived in harmony.')

[2] Anti-GMO's will infer the Irish Potato Famine was the result of monoculture choices (this is a punishment framework solely associated with WAP cultures)

[3] Julie Guthman, Social and Cultural Geography

[4] Julie Guthman, Bringing Good Food to Others

[5] Prop 37's #1 funder is certified quack "Dr" Joseph Mercola - this is not about consumer 'choice' or anything real. This man is on a religious crusade to ban all GMO's

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The "Organic" Label Makes You Fat

When a food is described as organic, perceivers erroneously infer that it is lower-calorie and that it can be eaten more frequently (Study 1). These benevolent impressions of organic foods are likely to influence consumption decisions and to have downstream implications for other health-related choices. We observed these implications when participants read about a person with a weight-loss goal who was considering skipping her planned physical exercise: participants considered forgoing exercise to be more acceptable when the person had just chosen an organic rather than a conventional dessert (Study 2). In combination, these findings suggest that “organic” claims not only foster lower calorie estimates and higher consumption intentions, but that they might also convey that one has already made progress toward one’s weight-loss goal, thus undermining subsequent goal-consistent action (Fishbach & Dhar, 2005).
 Newsflash: Marketers use tricks to get you to buy things. And a lot of us are suckers.

Related: That "study" claiming Monsanto's GM maize causes cancer turned out to be not only total bullshit, but lying manipulative "I have a book coming out" bullshit.

He'll be a millionaire.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Control

Maybe I'm old.

I remember a time when web developers (today's equivalent of app devs) took great pains to make their sites work - translation: when I clicked on something, it did what I clicked on.

"Does what it says on the box" as the meme goes.

Increasingly, I'm having experiences with software/apps that don't "do" what I ask/need. The worst offense is forced-updates. In my time-sensitive universe, when I press the "find my route" button, that's what I expect to happen.

Instead I'm confronted with options regarding an application update (mandatory). And licensing terms. And additional downloading of 'assets.' Suddenly, a printed Thomas guide has a new value proposition.

Forced updates are a time-tax: I'm suddenly waiting while my phone ignores all pleas to stop the update.

The PC is worse because so many updates ask me to reboot afterwards - its so invasive.

I am losing control of my own tools.

But they're not mine, are they? iTunes, my mp3 encoder, belongs to Apple. My phone belongs to Verizon/Google. My car belongs to a bank. I have a landlord. My favorite computer game? Owned by Blizzard. Printer drivers? HP.

If you don't own it, you can't control it.

We see this creep everywhere - from popular TV series to movies to our own devices: Doesn't do what it says on the box.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stiffed

You can do everything right and still get shafted. At the end of the day, you can only do your best - the rest is up to the Universe. It's not a guarantee - only a heightened probability.

That's the truth.

But we still can't talk about that in this country. You'd rather blather on about karma and your dedication to the cult of positivism. The Perpetual Salesperson.

These ideas that hard work and perseverance are keys to success are incredibly difficult to dispel. Deeply rooted in assumptions about Karma (who's universal implications are in no way supported by empirical sciences) and an apocalyptic dedication to wealth (and its attendant implications). Ever read a press account of a lottery winner who didn't deserve their treasure?

We can't deal with randomness, so we tell stories to assure ourselves the world is unfolding predictably and events are knowable.

If you're struggling in this business, there must be a perfectly logical reason - so goes the thinking. The laziest assumptions will invoke characteristic traits of salespeople, and your lack of them (read: you're not nice.)

And that's really our central tension as artists right now, isn't it? How can I be genuine - how can I speak truth - when I'm constrained by a set of professional obligations to "lie with a smile?" How else can you explain the prevalence of MLM scams - arrangements who's central tenet is you never talk about being in on a scam (It's not a pyramid - it's geometric growth!)?

I want to tell you that ten thousand hours is enough, but we all know of someone that did it in two.

I want to tell you that your perseverance and dedication and endless nights of invisible work will count for something, but we all know there's a cute kid on YouTube who's going to be far more compelling for reasons you don't want to be honest about.

I want to tell you the cream (you) will rise, but the best I can tell you is it could, under the right circumstances.

I want to tell you the only thing between you and your destiny is you, but the truth is, blaming yourself is the easy way out. It's much harder to deal with randomness.

We are all trying to carve a life out of the dust right now, but we need to step back and realize there's a larger context here - a set of extenuating circumstances that are deep, systemic, and nearly invisible - an economic crash of global proportions, a real unemployment rate in the mid twenty percent, climate-induced political unrest and migrations, growing population of working homeless, etc - and we want someone to care about our music?

You could be doing everything right - and still nobody will come to your shows. It sounds so counter intuitive, I know, but it's real. You can be an abusive spouse or a child molester and sell out arenas.

Here's your big insight: It's not up to you. The Universe plays a huge part, and if it shows up late or not at all, its not your fault.

The best you can do is your best.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Ad Bubble Has Popped

Just some thinking and brain dumping. This will be thin on supporting data.

Facebook is over. And this has serious implications for musicians trying to get noticed.

Facebook (and you may as well assume Google, too) is supported almost entirely by advertising income.

Ask yourself: What was the last Facebook/Google advert you clicked on much less actually bought something?

I already know the answer: Zero.

This is Facebook's dirtiest secret: For all the immense mining of our most intimate data, Facebook *cannot* place a relevant or meaningful advert in our faces, if we see it at all.

Despite "knowing" almost everything, Facebook knows nothing. 

This is not entirely Facebook's fault, as the majority of ad buyers are actually criminal organizations (seeking to sell illegal pharmaceuticals, or using the adverts themselves as a hack method (see: Flash exploits.)) But it is the reality we both inhabit: ads are useless and criminal. This is unsound footing upon which to build the world's premiere social networking site.

The Ad Bubble has popped.

What's Facebook to do? Start charging? Would you pay $49 a year for Facebook? Would you pay *anything* for Facebook?

WHY?

Answer: To manage social capital.

Here's the challenge: Social capital is connected to the scale of the userbase. If FB's users leave (as they already are), there's less opportunity to build/manage social capital (read: people knowing AND giving a shit about you/what you're selling.) Get a job via LinkedIn lately? (Answer: No.)

I don't think there will be "another Facebook." Social capital has been scaled out and it's tangible utility has been realized as near-futile. Cohesive social groups (tribes!) have thousands of options for online services already - they don't need another one. The appeal of Facebook for social capitalists was the huge userbase, but as the number of active users dwindles, there's less capital to go around.

That is a classic bubble pop.

The good news is musicians can stop wasting time on Facebook and start wasting more time practicing.  The bad news is people are saturated with requests for their time. This can be a blessing or a curse: it means they only trust their closest friends (blessing) but it takes forever to get credibility (curse.) Can you hold out long enough?

Comments are currently open.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dear Bob:

Dear Bob:

Don't quit.

Signed,
- Someone You Saved

PS - You know why you get so much flak? It's because people want validation from you. If they hit you just right you'll swing back and then... THEY'RE A PLAYER, TOO!!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Re-Thinking

A few thoughts from recent conversations:
  • Google is a biometric inventory company with a "search" frontend and a marketing company backend, but the main "product" is YOU.
  • Google cares what you're searching for, but doesn't care about the quality of its search results. There's no penalty for not giving you what you're looking for - quite the opposite: additional queries mean higher resolution biometrics and ad placements. The incentive is to keep asking you to clarify what you're searching for.
  • Google is more interested in being an intermediary for commerce. This is why Android always-on location awareness is here to stay. In the future, if you're looking for a local taco stand, Google will give you the option of placing an order (for a fee!) from your phone. It will cue the restaurant to start prep when you're (X) minutes away from pickup.
  • This means the search market is wide open again. Look for search to fracture to specific portals/aggregators (we already see this). Examples: Wolfram Alpha for science queries, JSTOR for research, etc. Google has already cast its tombstone re: search for Smart People.
  • Google rolled out Plus in a hurry for ONE REASON: Facebook's "Check Ins" *That's* what Google was missing, and they figured a look-alike would get them that data. Instead, people kept right on using FB, and never really started using Plus. (anecdotal from a former Googler: the percentage of FourSquare users who xPost to Plus? .01%. )
  • We need a guild for professional bloggers. Some kind of ongoing certification that gives some indication as to how trustworthy an individual's output is. Even a crest that says "Not Completely Full Of Shit" would be a start. Credibility with your own audience is a starter, but people who don't know you need signs they can trust you. Marketing/PR used to solve this problem, but they can't be trusted either. Who can step up to this role?
  • Racism has moved from the mostly-visible public square to the mostly invisible biases of institutions. How else do you explain the ongoing incarceration rates of black males in a nation where nobody's a racist?
  • Money is divided between the Have's and the Have Nots, but tech is between the Knows and the Know Nots.
  • If you have any sense about you right now, you're learning to build robots. You don't have to be Tony Stark on a solo project - just get good at solving a problem or doing one or two things. Like hydraulics. Or motor controllers.
  • Unless you're already a developer, starting anew in code is probably not the best choice. I can think of all kinds of reasons to learn the concepts, but IMHO, better to start with something physical (robotics), versus say, game programming. (not a judgement of either endeavor, btw, just analyzing the logistics.)
  • Device convergence has reached a plateau. Look for development of connectivity standards. Devices that are most "open" will win. (Example: cell phones with LED projectors. Probably not going to happen widely, instead, a connector standard that opens a 3rd party market of projectors will be the most successful.)
  • 3D photography will be commonplace in mobile devices in less than two years. But not video.
  • There are audiences everywhere now. TV, YouTube, etc. "The Problem" remains the same: people who would be fans don't know/care about you, and you don't know where/how to find them.
  • Globally, the food supply is in dire straits. Global warming, corporate domination of research, etc, are making the production of food dicey. Massive under-education about the complexity of national (US) food supply makes conversations impossible. Same for GM food discussions. Knows vs Know Nots.
  • Your average home-gardener has produced a 1-2 days supply of food.
What are you talking about today?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Honesty and Reality Pt.2

We all get our own opinion.

But we don't get our own facts, and if you can't tell the difference...

I empathize with the struggle: the last 12 years in the US have tested everyone's faith in institutions. Read this passage by Jim Kunstler:
The clowns and villains who run America have accomplished something really epic: they have vanquished meaning. Nobody knows what anything means anymore. Anything goes now. All bets are off. It's not reassuring. It leads to bad things happening like blood in the streets. When nothing means anything anymore, some people will actually strive, make an effort, to reestablish meaning in practical economic and political life, because civilized life is impossible without it. So, in those historic moments when civilization is suspended, people will work like hell to restore meaning. Sometimes though, like Germany in the 1930s, you discover that the suspension of civilization is itself intoxicating, and you ride with that for a while.
We don't know who to trust.

And if you're a product of the US public education system (without a college diploma), you are homogeneously unequipped to make any real sense of the world around you. No wonder voodoo mythology persists- its a substitute for meaning.

This is why stupidity like anti-vaxxers and global warming denial takes hold: it's a reflexive "fuck you" to anyone with perceived authority: scientists, mathematicians, physicists, etc. And any institutions that support them.

To be clear, there are no actual controversies or "other sides" to issues such as global warming, evolution, and public vaccination campaigns. Nada. None. Zipola. Doubt is not a substitute for knowledge.

But if you're someone that's still out to pasture on these issues, there's just no reasoning with you anymore, because you have chosen to be defined by your rejection of authority rather than the harder work of having to maintain potentially disparate or competing realities in your life. Or worse, being definitively proven wrong.

So you'll flounder night after night wondering why you can't "find your audience." You'll never bother looking at demographic research, though, because you'd have to learn to establish faith in datasets and applied psychology. You won't apply for public benefits because you think that makes you a slave to the State, or worse, it means you're "one of THOSE people." You know, the ones that need help.

ALL OF US need to change the way we're living. Our music careers, simply stated, are just not big enough problems anymore. A career in music will be the result of tandem efforts: activism, teaching, community participation, and yes, music performance. But here's the trick: you can't play to the audience anymore. There's already enough jesters doing that job - this culture needs to figure out: WHO CAN WE TRUST?

Trust means you have to be right! That means you have to do your homework! Most important: you need a thick skin, because when you're right (a lot), people are gonna think you're an asshole and try to tear you down. You'll be lonely. You'll be pissed. You'll lash out. But then...

...you'll find your flock. You'll win.

To do this, you'll have to be honest (brutally, at times), researched (change your mind when you're wrong), persistent (thick skinned), trust in experience (even when it disagrees with you), brave (when you get noticed, the fire will come).

Remember, we're part of a larger reality. That means we're not entitled to our own.

Farther Forward

Just some quick thoughts this morning.

Broadcast TV is due for a renaissance. There are several things broadcast can deliver that broadband can't: picture/audio quality in realtime to all devices (nothing matches the install base of television.) The problem broadcast has is saturation - it tried to go Long Tail and YouTube cleaned up that entire game.

YouTube *cannot*, however, broadcast in HD, uninterrupted. The net don't really allow for it. Cloud is best for archiving.

So two infrastructures have emerged with clear implications: both are broad and immediate, but TV is one-way. Not a bad characteristic, per se. Properly understood, its still a powerful medium. People still view it as the ultimate validation.

Broadcast requires a massive upfront investment (for an artist) relative to broadband - that's the barrier of entry in a way. Right now it seems you grow up on YouTube, but crossover to broadcast (or live shows) later.

Whats missing is a bridge of small-to-medium venues that are all-ages accessible. This is why house concerts are becoming so popular?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trayvon

I can't stop thinking about Trayvon Martin. Specifically, I can't stop thinking about his little brother. I keep imagining that kid, sitting in front of his XBOX, getting more and more impatient... wondering "Where the F*CK is Trayvon with my Skittles!"

I can't stop thinking about the last five minutes of his life as a younger brother. The last five minutes he knows he still has an older brother. The last five minutes where the biggest problem in his life was whether or not to drink one of Trayvon's Coke's *before* he got home with candy, or after. The last five minutes of his mother's voice with tones of happiness.

The last five minutes where he's just a kid, and not "The Guy Who's Older Brother Was Killed By A Racist." For the rest of his life.

The last five minutes when whatever was on television was important.

The last five minutes of feeling safe in his own world.

The last five minutes of any semblance of trust in public institutions.

I could probably pick any one of a hundred cases a month where somebody kills a young black kid and nobody cares. I can only begin to imagine what it is about this particular one that's got my attention - or anyone else. I'm saddened the Martin family's experience is not really that uncommon.

And maybe that's what bothers me most: that we think this is somehow a unique event. We're rationalizing that because this thing is such a big deal, it must somehow be different. But it isn't. Instead, it is depressingly common.

I have no answers either. In fact, I'm still searching for the right questions.

ScienceDirect.com - Information Economics and Policy - Digital copying and the supply of sound recordings

ScienceDirect.com - Information Economics and Policy - Digital copying and the supply of sound recordings
Despite a substantial literature on the effects of piracy on demand for recorded music, information on the supply-effects of digital copying is limited. This paper presents empirical evidence that digital copying has not reduced the supply of new, copyrighted sound recordings in Germany. Even with a strong reduction in sales of sound recordings that coincided with the diffusion of digital copying technology, the annual number of new titles released to the market continued to expand. Results indicate that the number of new titles released has not deviated significantly from a long-term upward trend. The paper also presents evidence that the amount of time listening to sound recordings has not fallen over this period, suggesting no strong decline in the quality of new work.
If you have a ScienceDirect login, you can read the whole study.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

FutureHit Falls Down

You have to see this exchange at the FutureHitDNA blog.

Credibility is everything.

If you make a claim about making money in this business, you better be able to back it up - the unwashed masses love nothing more than a good takedown - a disrobing of fake emperors.

It may indeed be that Alex Day is The Next Big Thing (my professional opinion: no). But if he's making money as he claims, then it should be absolutely elementary to shut me down by opening up a spreadsheet and showing us how it's done.

The posts author, JayFrank, when prompted to highlight some details, writes:
Regarding his label meeting, there’s no reason to contact someone because they would deny the conversation. Who wouldn’t? I do know he’s had meetings because charting a record always elicits a phone call.
Regarding releasing spreadsheets, I don’t see the need. One can easily see thru the publicly available. Chart positions and thru the YouTube views that revenue is there. The way it’s done as one can publicly see is put in years of hard work and, yes, partner with the right people. It’s not about traditional or new. It’s that he did it himself and it helps show one doesn’t always need either a label or touring.
Deny the conversation? A charting record always elicits a phone call??? Sorry, what?!?

How does someone who wants to be taken seriously walk away with a non-response such as this??

Why would anyone who takes themselves seriously read/trust this blog when they can't get basic details right?

Because this is all hype.

(PS: Look at the stats on his new video: See that near perf diagonal line? That means it's bullshit - "organic" traffic does not look like that. Logarithmic graphs mean Russian botnets. Sorry, Alex and Jay.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

192kHz digital music files offer no benefits. They're not quite neutral either; practical fidelity is slightly worse. The ultrasonics are a liability during playback.
Neither audio transducers nor power amplifiers are free of distortion, and distortion tends to increase rapidly at the lowest and highest frequencies. If the same transducer reproduces ultrasonics along with audible content, any nonlinearity will shift some of the ultrasonic content down into the audible range as an uncontrolled spray of intermodulation distortion products covering the entire audible spectrum. Nonlinearity in a power amplifier will produce the same effect. The effect is very slight, but listening tests have confirmed that both effects can be audible.
 Worth a read if you're a producer, IMHO.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rachele Gilmore’s 100 MPH Fastball – Andy Ihnatko's Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

Rachele Gilmore’s 100 MPH Fastball – Andy Ihnatko's Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

Read this. Watch these.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Honesty and Reality

"Music is a world unto itself,
with a language we all understand."
-Stevie Wonder

I made a handy picture for you:




Yes, music may be a world unto itself, but it is a world completely ensconced in a larger reality. I really need you to take this to heart.

Because right now a lot of you think music has its own set of rules. In a narrow sense, this may be partially true, but its dependent on context.

Every one of us holds in our heads an idealized version of ourselves that's mostly a mashup of already-established artists we aspire to be. I certainly have my own, and I know you have yours.

And while it may be well and good to have something to aspire towards, we have a tendency to ignore the larger cultural context in which said artist thrived.

Let's say you're a rock singer and you're molding yourself in the image of what you believe Steven Tyler to be. You scour the internet for footage of interviews, concerts, etc, and you assemble a trove of reference material about Steven Tyler.

But what you probably didn't do is read up on any actual history - you have no idea WHY Aerosmith mattered in the 70's or 80's. You have no idea why they succeeded and other bands didn't. You just think you have to be like Steven Tyler and the world opens.

This is so ignorant. Yet so common.

Because we're not honest, and we're not real.

Few of us know our actual job: Sales.

That's right, the time-tested, unglorious, oft-hated trade of Sales.

And you thought you were special.

When I hear bands complain about venue owners, I can guarantee the band knows nothing of the venue business. Bands think their very presence is to be rewarded. Bullshit. Your job (in a bar setting, anyway) is TO SELL DRINKS! If you're not selling drinks, you won't be booked back. It's that simple. Why can't you/we accept this?

And if we accept this, we can begin to fix it. Because plying our fans in alcohol is FUCKING STUPID! We want our fans to have DUI's? Worse, accidents? Addictions? What the fuck are we thinking?!?

We're not thinking - we're in a collective denial. It's reinforced daily in our media, no matter where you are. What's the saying - tell a lie enough times it becomes true? We're working with a version of history that has no bearing to a larger reality, so we're making terrible decisions. We invoke magical claims about our music history without much understanding as to why those bands even had a chance in the first place. You think anyone was gonna give a shit about what Grace Slick had to say if Tim Leary hadn't brewed up LSD?

Music (and by proxy musicians) exist as a component of a larger reality. The price of gas, for example, effects us in two ways: it makes touring more expensive, and it makes our show a more expensive proposition.

Another example: How many of you have tours this summer that will be interrupted by inclement weather disasters? (hint: more than last year.)

But you're not thinking about this. You still believe that "hard work" is enough. Fans are enough. Perseverance and a little luck and you'll get through.

Well, maybe.

But you'll have to be honest with yourself about reality, just to calibrate your expectations to "reasonable." Problem is, right now, that's harder than ever. It's so hard to discern what's real from bullshit, so we look for affirmation.

How can we be honest if we can't even agree what's real?

Comments are currently open. 

Dangerous Minds | Just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter’s voice? Listen to her isolated vocal tracks and find out

Dangerous Minds | Just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter’s voice? Listen to her isolated vocal tracks and find out

Karen Carpenter's vocals. Love the musicianship.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Don't Do's

You're not [insert historic band here]:

Don't try to live the way you think they lived.
Don't do drugs.
Don't fuck your fans (this is hugely important)
Don't be an asshole.

Stars used to be able to get away with all this, but no more. Sure, you're gonna send me an email with a list of current Important Artists who do all the above, much of it seeming to contribute to their success. But that's the PR machine lying to you.

There's too much at stake now. By the time you start doing something anyone's gonna care about, you've got a hundred people in your camp working for you. That's a hundred people PLUS your fans directly invested in your success.

Fans are fickle. There are too many good places to spend one's time. One misstep, and suddenly Skyrim seems a lot more fun than braving traffic and god knows what else on to get to your show.

Don't do Drugs:

For a long time, there was probably a safe space carved out of the culture for artists to indulge (privately) in recreational substance use. Ample historical documentation suggests this privilege was abused.

For a million small reasons, some of them having to do with mandatory seizure laws, you really don't want to take a drug habit on the road. In fact, you really don't want to take a drug habit anywhere near a career in the music biz. Used to be the drugs killed you before they killed your career. Now, the inverse is true.

I know that marijuana, caffeine, and nicotine are the Golden Trinity of Artisan Equilibrium, but each of these is addictive, and carry new legal and societal penalties that are hobbling your career. Right now.

Add up how much money you spend at Starbucks in a year. You don't think that's a habit??

Don't Fuck Your Fans:

In the 80's (and probably into the 90's to some degree), it was possible (even preferable!) to engage in sex with your fans. Heck, that was the reward!

No more. A band/artist that's fucking their fans is rolling the dice on a sex-offense conviction. In most states, that's a death sentence. I know some of you are going to attempt to defend this as some kind of 'tradition' or even 'rite of passage.' Do so at your own (and your bandmates') peril.

And this goes DOUBLE for the professionals that surround and support us. And because just about everyone around you is invested in you (in some way), you can't fuck anyone.

Welcome to the new music biz.

Don't Be An Asshole:

You haven't earned it, and you're not going to. Not in the cards anymore. Everyone is one paycheck from destitute homelessness right now. Remember that. ONE PAYCHECK.

Our job is to heal souls. That's it. The reward on the table now is that we get to do it at all.

If that's not good enough for you, go do something else.

We've got to be kind to people. Maybe in the past we could earn the privilege of flex, even if it was just a tiny bit.

No more. It can't sustain. (btw, I'm not saying we aren't supposed to draw lines within our own professional purview - all day baby. But when we leave the studio/gig, etc, and go back in the Real World, we're just one more ant trying to get through our day.) We are not special anymore. Even the best of us are terrifyingly normal.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I wanted to watch a movie...

Or maybe even a good TV episode. That's why I'm paying for Netflix. Right?

They have a few good things: Sherlock (BBC), Downton Abbey (BBC), Top Gear (BBC)... notice a trend?

Now I'm surfing the comedies... and I just can't find anything. I'm sitting at my computer with a (small) bowl of (melting) ice cream watching film after film pass by. Doesn't Netflix know what I want to watch before I do? Why aren't these choices better?

Where's the good stuff?!?

I start looking... searching by actor (why am I doing this work again, Netflix?) So I search for "Tom Cruise." This is what comes up:
One. Film. From 1994. This is the web's premiere streaming service??

Contrast this with the IMDB listing for Tom Cruise's films:
The film I'm itching to watch is "Tropic Thunder". So I hit Google:
See that link where Netflix claims "Watch "Tropic Thunder" Online?" That's a lie. They don't have it. Why would they claim otherwise?

I guess I'm not going to watch anything tonight. Instead I'm up, pissed, writing a blog post about how shitty Netflix's streaming choices are. SO much Good Stuff missing from their streaming offering... why am I paying for this again? What are my options?

(The Oatmeal totally called this.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More on Spotify, YouTube, etc

Some quick bulletpoints:
  • Spotify needs to figure out how to convert "listeners" to ticket buyers. One-click. That means all players have to be welcome: TicketMaster, Brown Paper, Eventbrite, etc. Is that even possible?
  • I've watched Spotify in the wild now, and I'm even less convinced of its actual utility to artists. I've so far seen two (anecdotal, yes) instances where the listener has the volume turned down so low as to be un-hearable, but the system still auto-posts the playlist to their Facebook wall. Bad data here.
  • Conversely, YouTube engagement is practically 100%. Sure, sometimes, people will have a song open in one tab and surf in another, but when they watch a YT vid, it's the only thing they're doing. THIS is where you convert people to ticket buyers.
  • Forget iTunes - the days of paying for mp3's is over. Yes, Apple may be writing big checks to certain licensors, but that's only possible with a legacy catalog and scaling to sell everything. 
  • I know there are still people with legacy devices, but don't worry about that: the price of connected devices is falling to practically zero. The cloud is free (except access), but you have to pay to get in the show and for a t-shirt.
  • Network congestion is going to make media-on-smartphones difficult to deliver, but ala-carte apps are the future. The day HBO severs themselves from the cable co's and goes directly to subscribers is coming. Netflix may remain a legacy clearinghouse, but the bulk of content owners will want their own subscribers. Look for Netflix to spin off a turn-key mgmt company that does exactly that.
  • He (or she!) that builds an all-ages venue that's clean and doesn't retail alcohol as its primary income source will be at a massive advantage. What are all those old Border's anchors doing empty? There's plenty of room for a chain of clean venues in the country. Why isn't someone building this?
  • Right now, the best venues are either in casinos or churches. What does that say about this country??
Comments are currently open.

Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle on Vimeo

Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle on Vimeo

I hate to give you an hour of homework, but this is really worth watching.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Brainstorming Doesn’t Really Work : The New Yorker

Brainstorming Doesn’t Really Work : The New Yorker:
The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it’s always nice to be saturated in positive feedback. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work.

worth a read, Creatives.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to play Superstition on Clavinet? Stevie Wonder's funky part dissected

How to play Superstition on Clavinet? Stevie Wonder's funky part dissected

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brown M&Ms on Vimeo

Brown M&Ms from Van Halen on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Outgrowing Old

The older we get, the more expensive we get.

How do we resolve this tension? Does experience have value? Everyone wants a raise at their day-to-day, but a band increases their ticket prices and suddenly they're "greedy" or "out of touch?" Huh?

I know, I know - I'm old. I'm out of touch. I'm hurting, too, and lashing out. So don't listen.

So many people are pissed at Madonna for justifying her $300 ticket price. "I earned it" she says, boldly.

And boy, isn't that a slap in the face of lazy America? And you, too? Because you thought this was *magic.* You keep believing that bullshit about "just make great music and the Universe unfolds before you."

Sucker! You have to fucking FIGHT for it! You don't even have to be that good - tenacity and spectacle will go a long way in this line of work.

But you're getting all kinds of different signals right now - everyone's telling you to play ball. Be nice. Keep your mouth shut and don't make waves.

Sucker! That just makes you a spineless weenie! Real people have conviction, scars... and enemies. Play-alongs hand out gold stars for showing up - the reward becomes meaningless. Set a bar and weed out the tourists.

“People spend $300 on crazy things all the time, things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together, and come to my show. I’m worth it.”

Is she? Her fans/ticket sales will tell.

Are you worth your last raise?

The Game is the Same - The Game Has Changed

The Game is the Same: Lock up distribution and collect the rent.

The Game has changed: scale changes everything.

I hear the hype - I see it on Facebook and Twitter  (who reads that anymore?) I get the comments and emails telling me how I "need to be on Spotify" or I don't exist. Telling me how good the iTunes deal is (80% of my sales!) compared to old major deals when the Apple is doing 2% of the work.

I'm not buying it... the contrarian in me is too strong.

I don't think we can build longevity on the lowest denominator. I know the Internet theoretically democratizes everything, but people still want tribes. This is neurological in origin - nature, not nurture. That's where longevity lies for music makers: the Lizard Brain.

A tribe has barriers of entry. Weed out the tourists.

But we're up against other forces right now: In the US, the "real" unemployement rate hovers around 20% nationally, and the racial breakdown of that statistic is both sobering and heartbreaking. The vast majority of rent-collecting is distributed to license owners of cultural back-catalog, not the new. This may not be a new phenomenon in itself, but now there's 100+ years of cultural history coming online - we're competing with our own aural memory for attention.

Don't even get me started on the logistics/economics of opening/running  venues. I used to hate venue owners so much (and in some ways, I still do), but I've recently had some eye-opening insight into the environment in which so many of these entities operate. My heart goes out - you really have to be dedicated to make anything work in this business right now.

I wish I could tell you I see a clear future, but I don't. Today, I don't see iTunes or Spotify paying anyone's middle-class mortgage1.

Then you tell me that's not the point: it's the *exposure* that counts. "It's a small price to pay" (RENT!) for the opportunity to be in front of so many people so quickly (give us your music for free and you too can be famous/rich.).

The game is the same. (lock up distribution and collect the rent.)

The game has changed. (put your music out for free and IF YOU'RE GOOD ENOUGH you can be famous/rich.)

Go find your flock.


1 I'm dying for data that contradicts this. If you or someone you know is paying a middle-class mortgage (or better) with iTunes/Spotify royalties, by all means, send an email or comment.

[Update #1 via FB: ]
"Live Music will, of course, always be the key. However, less and less people buy my physical CD at my shows because they would rather have it digital. I earn about .65 per iTunes .99 download. Considering that they are the 'agent' and own the largest music store in the world, that is not a bad return as compared to what I received on my physical CD through a retailer (after physical costs were summed in)

Without giving away a name, I have a very close friend (smooth jazz artist) who earns north of 100K per year just on music downloads and Streaming royalties. He plays live because he loves to. It's not his main source of income. He, like myself, is not a big fan of Spotify's model when it comes to the royalty payment, but it has become a necessary evil. More people are hearing our songs than ever before. When I look at my streaming royalties, the 'spins' are better than when I paid somebody to 'work' my record on radio. But, via a monetary royalty percentage, I earn much less. Remember the famous "Lady Gaga only earned $175 from 1 million plays on Spotify article." We are all in the same boat, and I think Gaga has way more pull than you and I.

IMHO: The key is offering premium product / services to your listener. Offer songs on Spotify et all, and then sell a special song or remix with limited art, or whatever on your site.
The worst decision I ever made in the business of music was becoming too full of myself, and I got lazy. I passed up opportunities because I didn't want to 'eat beans out of a can and ride in van.' As a result. I lost footing, blamed others, and ended up 12 years later finally resurrecting my music. How did I do it? With Pandora, Spotify, CDBaby, and iTunes. I am making more money now (from my music) than I did when I was 'working' my record with real dollars, and playing live every chance I got.
The 'access model' is the new 'eating beans out of a can, and living in a van' - maybe I went off thread a little bit, but I thought I would share real insight rather than pull up google stats or something that is not tangible until you actually live it…"
- Tony Windle
[Update #2 via email]
"Your assertions about tribal behaviors being rooted in neurology are only partially correct. While there is strong research to indicate correlations between neurological activity and stimuli that are thought to induce a tribal response, it's not causative. I get the "Lizard Brain" reference, but it's a little flimsy to build a business philosophy, IMHO. Then again, I'm not a musician!"
- anonymous sociologist
[Update #3]
"On my deal with Amazon and iTunes, I do make money on sales. If you're looking for the old industry model to make new industry money.. give up. Did we become musicians to get rich? I've signed major deals as an artist and I've never been rich. After the advances were gone (usually to pay debts) touring was the only way to generate income while hoping radio would pick up the record and make it a hit. And if you were so lucky to pay the label back their advances, their percentage split on profits was a lot worse than it is now with online retailers. Not much has changed for the artists. We are all hoping for one of our songs to hit. Except in the new industry, a hit can be measured by how many downloads it has, not how many live performances it's had. Make great music and good things will happen."
- Nathan Dale

RayWJ

Lefsetz on RayWJ:
What if we don’t need radio. What if we don’t need television? What if we don’t need record companies and movie studios? What if we don’t need money?
Let’s say you had a thriving business. Wouldn’t you do your best to protect it? That’s what all of the foregoing entities possess, a beachhead, profits, and they [...]

In other words, you’re better off going on YouTube than "American Idol". But on YouTube creativity is king. To have big time success you must write your own material.

Except RayWJ isn't really doing either of those things any more than Bob Saget and America's Funniest Home Videos were. In fact, this is an exact rehash of that same formula: build on other people's work and collect the rent. RayWJ isn't even really finding unique content: he's just talking about videos that are already popular. This is the new game? Huh??

Reddit is doing most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to filtering online media, not someone "making videos for a hobby." High-production value is not a "hobby": it's a commitment. RayWJ is most certainly, fully, "in the game."

But Lefsetz gets caught up on the money and misses the point: the creators of the videos RayWJ uses as his material base are not participating in Ray's millions.

The (awful) Yahoo! article makes this startling claim: "He doesn't have the backing of a traditional media conglomerate. He's a lone comic with a YouTube channel."

Just to be clear, YouTube is most certainly a media conglomerate, and now that it's over a decade old, it's "traditional" too. RayWJ's been front-page featured: it doesn't get any more "backing" than that.

Meet the new boss....

Monday, February 6, 2012

Leonard Cohen, With a New Album, ‘Old Ideas,’ Was Never Popular But Always Profound – Tablet Magazine

Leonard Cohen, With a New Album, ‘Old Ideas,’ Was Never Popular But Always Profound – Tablet Magazine

Cohen’s ideas were not only old but radical. His peers all insisted that salvation was at hand. To go to a Doors concert was to stare at the lithe messiah undressing on stage and believe that it was entirely possible to break on through to the other side. To see Cohen play was to gawk at an aging Jew telling you that life was hard and laced with sorrow but that if we love each other and fuck one another and have the mad courage to laugh even when the sun is clearly setting, we’ll be just all right. To borrow a metaphor from a field never too far from Cohen’s heart, theology, Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, and the rest were all good Christians, and they set themselves up as the redeemers who had to die for the sins of their fans. Cohen was a Jew, and like Jews he believed that salvation was nothing more than a lot of hard work and a small but sustainable reward.
Worth a read.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Can music learn from the slow-food movement? - Salon.com

Can music learn from the slow-food movement? - Salon.com:
“People said the idea of giving away software and selling services to new markets would never work,” Tiemann says. “That worked out fine and this can, too. What would it be worth to provide a path to sustainable success in the music industry? I think that’s worth a lot. Strip-mining the low end, selling less and less quality to more and more people — there are limits to that model, and the music industry has done about as much of that as can be done. It’s time to try something new.”

The "salon" model may indeed work for lots of musicians, but we're gonna need a LOT more salons. How many tech VP's are lining up to establish these places?

Exactly.

Point - Counterpoint: The $100k "Indie" Band

Point: TIME Magazine: Want to be a Rock Star? You'll need $100k...

Counterpoint: Lefsetz (and readers): Bullshit.

One interesting comment via iblogwhatihear:
But I feel like the backlash has been equally awkward — it’s all self righteous band dudes talking about their DIY cred acting like they’re fucking Fugazi or something. I’M THE REAL FACE OF A STRUGGLING MUSICIAN, NO ONE HELPS ME OUT, I BOUGHT MY FIRST BASS WHEN I WAS NINE YEARS OLD BY DIGGING THROUGH THE DUMPSTER OUTSIDE MY ORPHANAGE AND HUSTLING SPARE METAL OFF THE TURNPIKE. I LEARNED TO SING FROM “BLIND” SPLINTER MCGEE IN AN ABANDONED SILO OUTSIDE OF BATON ROUGE. WHAT THE FUCK IS A “PARENT”?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tom Silverman – Music Business Resurrection

Note: This is a full reprint via Google Reader.

Tom Silverman – Music Business Resurrection:
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time may remember my 2010 interview with Tom Silverman that wound up being picked up by several larger periodicals. Tom is the founder of TommyBoy records and one of the principal executives at the New Music Seminar. He asked me to re-post one of his latest blog posts about where the music business is just over two years later. I personally feel it’s premature to call the upward swings in some areas of the business a “resurrection” but I have enormous respect for what Tom built at TommyBoy and the work he continues to do with the New Music Seminar. If nothing else, the statistics he presents below are very interesting. The article below is unedited and written and compiled by Tom himself.


THE MUSIC BUSINESS RESURRECTION


Tom Silverman

As I sat and planned the program for the June 2012 New Music Seminar, it occurred to me that we are approaching the first anniversary of the music business resurrection. After ten years of decline, the music business hit bottom in the second week of February 2010 and began to rise the week of February 14th. There have been many reports of the music business comeback and many have tried to figure out what was responsible for this upturn. Some have credited Adele, others the shuttering of Limewire, still others the Walmart $5 dump bins.


Let’s look at the good news.


In 2003, there were virtually no single sales as the labels stopped manufacturing them to drive buyers to higher priced albums to get the song they wanted. In 2004, iTunes changed all that and for the first time music lovers could buy not only the radio single, but also every track on the album separately for only 99 cents. Digital singles exploded, soon surpassing total album sales, physical and digital combined.


In 2010, digital single sales increased only 1.1% leading people to believe that tracks had peaked and might begin to decline. 2011 proved them wrong as singles grew 8.5%. Although this seems like a small number, due to the huge denominator, this represents growth of over 100 million singles in 2011.


Most of the 1.27 billion tracks that sold in 2011 were at the higher $1.29 price point showing the inelasticity of demand for digital singles even in the face of free illegal downloads and a half a year of Spotify plus Rhapsody, Mog and Rdio offering streaming competition. It is important to note that this growth did not come from current hits like Adele, Katy Perry or LMFAO but across the board especially from catalog.


More good news came from digital album sales where the growth rate increased from 13.3% in 2010 to 19.5% in 2011.



In unit sales, digital albums took the biggest jump since 2007 and the second biggest jump ever.

16.8 million more digital albums sold in 2011 than in 2010. 2011 was the first year that the increase in digital album sales exceeded the fall in CD sales. This is a significant benchmark that few seem to have noticed.


Good old CDs had quite an amazing year. In the face of the Borders chain closing and many other stores folding and CD SKUs shrinking within existing stores, we saw the smallest percentage shrinkage in CD sales since 2001.


Physical CD sales on the internet were actually up 17.7% in 2011 indicating an increasing desire for CDs at least online. With CD sales still running almost 69% of all album sales seven years into the iTunes era, it is clear that people still want physical CDs. If it were easier for record buyers to find the CDs they want in stores, there is no doubt that CD sales would be selling in far greater quantity.


More good news in the 60 year old 33 rpm vinyl LP album format where we saw a huge 37% increase in vinyl sales last year. The total sales are still under 4 million units (compared to 1.27 billion singles).


After hearing stories of the death of music acquisition from the “cloud camp,” music buying seems alive and well in all its forms. Nielsen SoundScan counted 1.6 billion music transactions for the first time ever in 2011.


If the good news in music sales is not enough of an indication of the returning health of the music business, add to that the new revenue centers of music streaming. In digital broadcasting where SoundExchange collects and distributes to artists and labels statutory fees, the industry has seen an enormous growth in new revenues.


In 2011, $95 million more dollars were collected by SoundExchange than in 2010 and conservative projections for 2012 show growth into the mid $400 billion mark. In 2011, SoundExchange collected almost the same amount from digital broadcasters as the traditional performing rights societies collected from all of the AM and FM radio stations for the songwriters and music publishers.


Other licensed streaming services with subscription models like Spotify, Mog, Rhapsody, Rdio and other subscription services added even more new revenue to the music business.


Although this graph tracks worldwide subscriber growth, Spotify’s U.S. launch in July shows great promise for significant new music revenues from the “access” model that appears to enhance rather than cannibalize music acquisition based on early results. This is comforting to a music industry that is always worried about a new format cannibalizing an older one.


The music business has clearly hit bottom and the resurrection is here. After a decade of the “music web” expanding its reach, becoming easier, faster and more social, new music discovery channels are showing their impact in more music sales and more paid music access. To be fair, all the news was not positive in 2010. The continued shrinkage of CD shelf space, the decline in mobile phone ringtone/ringback revenues and the failure of Beyond Oblivion, a promising idea tying connected devices to “feels like free” music access, were lowlights in an otherwise stellar year for the business of music. The powerful launch of iHeartRadio, the long-awaited U.S.

launch and explosive growth of Spotify, the public offering of Pandora and their achievement of 120 million registered users, Sirius/XM reaching 21.9 million subscribers. Mog, Rhapsody, Rdio, Cricket/Muve all grew their music subscriber base, all not only driving more revenue to the business, but more engagement and discovery of music and spending especially in the over-30 demographic that had historically spends far less money on music than younger demographics.


YouTube and Vevo are beginning to generate significant revenues to the music business and also driving discovery and sales as well. Mac Miller and Tyler the Creator were just two of the breakthrough YouTube driven hits proving YouTube’s ability to drive exposure as well as sales.


Smartphones reached 50% of all mobile phones in the U.S. and the recent CES Convention showed hundreds of new connected devices, and the rollout of connected automobiles all of which will drive more music access.


The 50’s saw the transition from 78’s to 33 rpm albums and 45 rpm singles that fueled a 30-growth period for music. The cassette made music portable and stimulated additional growth. The CD increased the perceived value of an album by 80% and ignited the biggest growth era in the history of the music business. A decade of adjustment is over and it is now clear that we are on the brink of the next big growth era of the music business.


On June 17-19, the New Music Seminar will explore the exciting future of the music business with the SoundExchange Digital Broadcasting Summit and the BMI Creative Conclave. The creative community and their label partners will meet the digital broadcasters, music bloggers, music technologists and all of the new music exposure and monetization players. Clear Channel CEO, Bob Pittman and Sean Parker will share their vision for the future as keynotes, as every sector of the evolving new music business convenes to discuss their perspectives for the exciting new future for the music business.


For most of us in the music business, this is probably the first time in a decade where we are feeling a new sense of optimism. Although unauthorized on-line music usage and distribution has not gone away, it is now time that the music industry begins to focus on expansion and positivity rather than fear and protectionism. Welcome to the resurrection. Have a nice day.

Note: This is a full reprint via Google Reader.

Friday, January 13, 2012

David Bowie, 21st-Century Entrepreneur - Page 2 - New York Times

Bowie in 2002. How did his predictions pan out?

David Bowie, 21st-Century Entrepreneur - Page 2 - New York Times:
''Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,'' he added. ''So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen.''

Monday, January 9, 2012

Victory over Suffering

Victory over Suffering:






Depression is a battle many musicians fight. The darkness itself can be an incredible muse if it’s not debilitating. Listen to the great words of Leonard Cohen and let yourself be happy enough to produce your art.

“Good work is produced in spite of suffering… as a victory over suffering.” – Leonard Cohen

For more info: leonardcohen.com