Saturday, December 31, 2005

H.G. Wells Would Be Proud

After reading the Hypebot year-end post, I time-warped over to the Hits Magazine summary of the past events (warning: registration required) to see if anything was of interest to me here in the minor leagues. Aside from all the kudos to the executives and recapping of various hirings and firings, one paragraph really stuck out:

"iTUNES: Downloads accounted for a substantially increased percentage of overall sales via iTunes and the services chasing it, but more and more executives have come to believe that, rather than being the answer, a la carte downloads are contributing to the problem as they increasingly cannibalize album sales…"

Further down the post, they start talking about certain success stories. I noticed that American Idiot has sold about 3.3 million copies to date in the US. From perspective as a consumer, this has been the most well-received GD album since Dookie, and actually probably more so. The band is headlining stadiums for chrissakes!

In my estimation, this is about a third of what this ubiquitously promoted album would have sold in the pre-internet era. Part of me believes this is because there are a lot of other products vying for the entertainment dollar, but I also firmly convinced that there are twice or three times the number of bootlegged CDR copies of that record floating around in the digisphere than genuine purchased copies.

If the business-at-large insists on perpetuating the whole CD thing, then they need to re-establish a relationship with their customers.

Is the real problem that Steve Jobs created a product that started monetizing a growing share of what was being completely pirated? Or is the problem that no matter how many times people try and retrofit the CD with cockamamie copy protection, the format has outlived it's usefulness.

Hey industry, how about...
1. ...Wrapping your heads around the fact that the public is on to your scam. Unlike the schemes of credit card companies, or personal electronics vendors with their engineered obsolescence, the public has a way to fight back.
2. ...Doing some actual market research on what your customers want instead of thinking that you know everything and trying to fuck them at every turn.
3. ...Using that research to determine the most viable formats for your product releases based on age bracket or genre. There is no singular solution right now.
4. ...Leaving your Ivory towers, jump ahead of the curve and work with technology companies to engineer a shift to digital sales over time, keeping in mind that the public, and Elliot Spitzer, can smell a fraud.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

What A Crock

The CD horse is past rigormortis, yet the ignorant turds in majordom still continue to flagellate the poor dead beast. Behold the "terms" on the new Coldplay disc (full post at BoingBoing.)

I'm in the f'n business and this kind of crap makes me want to torrent it out of spite.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Solution?

Over the last few days there have been quite a few back and forths in the blogosphere regarding the "solution" to the problem with record labels. First Hypebot chimed in with an excellent Manifesto on solving the woes, then it was dissected in the Big Takeover.

The next blog that I read was Techcrunch where they gushed over the model of online label Magnatune. They even went so far as to say "I really think this is the music business model of the future."

To a certain extent I agree, but I'm not sure this is exactly it. Going back to a previous post, tastemaking is a huge part of being a record label, especially an indie. Not to sound like a marketing geek, but there's nothing interesting about Magnatune's branding. It's like Purevolume with a less compelling visual style combined with an excellent commerce engine.

Magnatune isn't part of a scene, they aren't connected in a spiritual way to the people buying their music except for the "We Aren't Evil" slogan. They seem to be selling their mechanism more than the artists who will make them what they are. In other words, I don't see them encroaching on the status of a Matador, Sub Pop, or Merge .

Secondly, I also don't really see what support the label gives to it's artists. Sure, it's absolutely fab that the bands get 50% of everything and that the commerce engine is sorted out so wonderfully. Yes, they do perform certain administrative functions. But does the label pay for recording? How about promoting the artists through publicity and consumer advertising? What about tour support? These are the primary functions that I still believe are the core components of the old-world record label that must follow into the coming digital era.

Keep 'em comin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Sorry, I was a bad boy. Didn't check the comments section in a while. All your comments are up and I'll be more careful in the future! I really want to encourage open dialog on this thing.

No Kiddin' - Part Deux

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Silent Night For Music Sales, detailing the woes of music stores during the current holiday season and painting yet another bleak picture for the music business. A week prior, I received a similarly worded email from my distributor, detailing the changes they've seen in the marketplace and what they're building to adapt to what comes in the future. While some labels may have looked at this weather report as a doomsday memo, to me it said a lot of things that I already knew. I appreciate the dose of reality as I now know they're not sticking their head in the sand and praying that the internet just goes away, or thinking they're gonna solve the problem by hopping on some half-assed DRM spyware scheme.

The news is simple- things ain't as great as they used to be. Due to shrinking CD sales, Newbury Comics, one of the staunchest supporters of punk rock and the indie scene, has downsized their music section by almost a third, and shifted their focus to t-shirts, clothing and novelty items. To survive, a good deal of mom and pop stores and small chains are also following that "Hot Topic" model. By utilizing shelf space for black lipstick, Red Sox beanies and fake doo-doo, they can stay in business. One of the most telling items in the WSJ article concerns a huge supporter of Blackout!-Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ. It quotes owner Rob Roth "that being able to simply keep pace with last year's sales puts him among the lucky few. His new motto: "Flat is the new up.""

There are indie labels that are doing well, at least in the mind of the general public. They don't have the huge expectations that the majors do, and can still pump out stuff using a genre-specific marketing machine. The label folks I know see the costs of marketing records, in an oversupplied baby band marketplace to a fickle customer base, going way up. Ultimately, the business becomes a numbers game with the distributor- making sure you ship out enough records to cover the returns from the previous months over shipments and crossing your fingers for one record to become successful and wash away your sins. Without a cash-positive scenario the whole system falters and only the deep-pocketed will survive. Lookout! Records acrimonious situation with Green Day is a clear example of this.

How did this happen?

The big picture isn't really the strong suit of the big labels and distributors. Most of the executives rose to power during the 80's and 90's- when MTV and commercial radio were making broadcast media stars out of Michael Jackson, hair metal bands and hip-hop,. Furthermore, major companies were still earning artificially-enhanced revenue from fans repurchasing their catalogs of LP's on the industry-engineered (and sonically inferior) CD format. Those who did warn of the oncoming danger of digital downloads in the mid-90's were laughed at, dismissed as crazy, or fired for their transgressions against the grain.

Instead of embracing technology like the porn biz did, the music industry was the last to the digital table and continue to use Flintstones techniques in a Jestsons world. Christ on a bike, Billboard is just getting around to giving Myspace some ink as an "emerging" marketing tool. Ask virtually any record label person about Creative Commons, and they cock their heads to the side and raise their eyebrows like a dog given a command it doesn't understand. The major publishers should be all over that type of system, but they aren’t.

It's not about music, it's about THEM. The bleach toothed, fake tanned, fairest of them all at the top of the music food chain are too busy doing self-congratulatory power lunches and chasing aspiring starlets around their desks to think about the survival of their business. They've made their money on IPO's, all have golden parachutes, and they're milking it for all it's worth until the day it collapses in an Enron style crash/burn.

The labels were always ahead of the game, owning and controlling the method of distribution. They figured that they count on their attorneys and the government to save them against a rebellion by the masses. The industry swaggering like the Captain of the Titanic But the recent numbers show that the public (and even some European nations) still embrace and (perhaps even legalizing) P2P. It took Steve Jobs to partially wake them all up and realize that digital format could not be marginalized.

The next three or so years are going to shake out labels and distribution companies- a great many labels will go the way of Lookout! The Victory and Saddle Creeks of the world will most likely continue to survive and thrive, having built a huge following and fan base and who can adapt more quickly to changes in the marketplace. But the economy of developing new bands will almost entirely rest in the digital realm as digital networks start to allow the more successful artists to monetize their art.

Looking forward, there will also be a marked difference in how the generations consume their music. Older users (meaning those over 34) will still primarily buy hard copies, out of loyalty to the packaging and the assumption better sound quality. Smaller, growing bands would be released exclusively in a digital format far ahead of (or in lieu of) a CD release. While a band with a large portion of older listeners like Bon Jovi, still would still find a large number of takers in the plastic disc format.

It’s starting to happen now.... Nitro recently released EP from Blackout! alumni Crime In Stereo in a strictly digital format as a way to nurture the digital marketplace and quickly release some great tunes. Blackout! will be releasing some unreleased material from The Banner in the same way in early '06. Warner does get an honorable mention with their Cordless label... but in order to be successful, they're going to have to promote those releases with at least the same gusto that an indie would. I fear this is going to go the same way of the fake independent labels they all tried to build in the 90's as a way to establish credibility for their artists, instead of looking at this as the true future of music.

Want proof of the age gap? Take a look at this, the statistics of users of the service I gushed about in a previous post. (I hope they don't mind me posting their publicly available info here.)

It shows the HUGE gap in the age bracket that is adopting their service. It also shows that among the youngest users, the disproportionate amount of males present evens out- so all music buyers will eventually get the bulk of their music digitally.

The Role Of The Record Company In The Digital Era
Hypebot has posted this brilliant manifesto for change in the music business.

To me, Number 7 on their list is the most salient point:
" Stop thinking that every act has to go platinum and start creating a profitable business around artists who consistently sell 50,000 - 250,000 CD's. Fragmented media is already leading to fewer superstars and a lot more mid-level artists. But when the artist's "output" resides on a hard drive rather than gathering expensive dust on store shelves or in warehouses; can't smaller but longer term sales numbers be profitable? "
So with all this talk of digital democratization of music, do we still need labels? Yep. This is based on three basic support systems required by artists to develop: tastemaking, funding & administration.

Roadrunner, Relapse, Saddle Creek, Merge are all tastemakers- their imprint is better than the UL and Better Housekeeping seals to large numbers of people who trust them to find the best talent out there. I don't think the majors will fare as well accomplishing the same mission as their system is meant to capitalize on popular music, as opposed to niche bands. But tastemaking is a very qualitative function. (More about this in a future post.)

What CAN be measured more tangibly is money- the one thing that most bands don't have, and what they need to grow. Artists and bands don't usually have the wherewithal to fund higher-end produced recordings, shoot videos, buy a van, and advertise in all the media they need to in order to reach the masses.

The other real quantitative item is business acumen, contacts and experience. Accountants, publicists salespeople, and product managers do labor-intensive jobs that most artists don't want to do, or simply can't handle. A bands first priority is to be out there- shaking babies, kissing hands, playing shows and writing songs, not the day-to-day drudgery of making the commerce engine work.

Put on your helmets.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Best Thing I've Read In Days

Die, Hipster, Die from the Philadelphia Weekly.

Merry, Happy Y'all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Putting The Orange Button To Work For You

In a previous post, I discussed how RSS feeds are good for aggregating information from your favorite websites. I've decided to follow that with what RSS can do for your band, and why setting one up is a pretty good idea. I'll go through several options of how to set up syndication, and some of the cooler tools that can help a band maximize what the feeds do.

Who Subscribes To Feeds?
Significant numbers of users already utilize feeds, but the technology is so transparent, all but the few, the proud, and the nerdy don't even know / care that they are. However, A punk/ metal/ indie rock band (or label person) absolutely needs to be concerned with the bulk of the active, aware RSS users, as they are also the same people who probably are willing to listen to your music.

According to a November 2005 interview with John Manoogian posted on
"... as many as 27 percent [of U.S. internet users] consume RSS content through My Yahoo! and My MSN. If you extrapolate the number out, 27 percent of the U.S. Internet population is roughly 50 million people ... In the same study, only 4 percent of the Internet population actually knew what RSS was and consciously used it. That's the brilliant part. One of the promises about the Internet is that people can receive the content that they want, when they want it, in a user-friendly framework. RSS fits the bill"
If you're interested in more in-depth analysis, Yahoo! recently published a .pdf white paper on RSS. Some additional commentary can be found here.

Easy Blog It!
Most blog sites and programs provide the easiest and fastest way to set up a feed. Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal all provide feeds for the user. Even Myspace allows the user to set up a blog with an RSS feed.

If you're interested in setting up a quickie podcast or video podcast, you'll need a place to store and host the media files as the freebie blog sites don't provide any bandwith. Among others, Liberated Syndication and others offer full service blog/podcasting hosting/ RSS solutions, services. A detailed comparison of podcasting services can be found at the Mitchelaneous blog.

If you have your own site, you can download server-based blog software for yourself and customize it to your liking. Six Apart, owners of Typepad and LiveJournal also have the Movabletype program. There's a free version available on their site to try, and then several various other paid individual and commercial license levels.

The highest end way to start a feed is to actually program your website to generate them from within your site. To do so, you'll need to know some advanced html, scripting, and your way around a SQL database. Some of the specs for the most recent RSS format (2.0) can be found at the Harvard Law website.

Burn it!
Switching an email or phone number always represents some problems with disconnects and lost contacts. This is also the case with feeds. So if you're looking at a Blogger page as a temporary solution to your online publishing needs, and think that at some point you may upgrade to another level, you may want to use the Feedburner service.

Why bother re-burning your feed? Think of it as the "permanent" address for your feed. If you move from host to host, your feedburner host will remain constant, enabling an uninterrupted flow of information. In addition, Feedburner offers some amazing tools that (in their words) allow the user to publicize, optimize, analyze, & monetize their feeds.

One of the most important ways that Feedburner helps podcasters is that it properly formats feeds to be compatible with the iTunes music store, by placing graphics and other items a standard feed won't do.

The Bummer Of Redundancy
Even If you set up your feed using a custom Movabletype solution or from your own database-driven site, almost all bands or labels have mulitple pages on multiple sites that perpetually need updating. An easy way to handle the seemingly endless schedule of updating is by using RSS to it's ultimate advantage, to "push" your content where you want it to go. Think of it along the same lines as the video codes that some people use to post videos onto their Myspace pages.

Feedburner offers a quick way to announce your blog headlines through the Feedburner Buzzboost program. It allows the user to drop in a little html/ javascript and have your headlines appear wherever you wish, as long as the site you're working on allows Javascript. (which Myspace doesn't.) The FB folks also offer a non-Java tool called Headline Animator that actually burns an on-the-fly .gif image that you can post virtuallly anywhere.

Not custom or seamless enough for you? I feel your pain. There are some other solutions to display your feeds.

Feedroll and Jawfish are similar to Buzzboost, in that they offers a headline publisher but with customizable look and feel. You just run the page and then just cut n' paste the code! The downside is to get your feed its own page, you'll need to pay for the service and of course the site you want to post the info on will have to be capable for running either java or .php. Those with programming experience can also use the guts of Jawfish, called CaRP.

At the moment, these appear to be the best in user-level RSS display tools, but none of the above solutions really fulfill the needs of the artist/label user. Especially those who are unwilling to deal with the barriers that iframes, java, or dynamic page rendering methods provide. I'll keep diggin' and keep you posted as to developments or simple workarounds that I can find.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Right On...

Bob Lefsetz has an amazing blog/newsletter that talks about the music business on the major label level. Almost every day he debunks the secretive and self-defeating bullshit that goes on within the walls at the Dino-corps. Today he offered the following send up on the industry touting the upcoming Microstoft/MTV download store as an iPod/iTunes "killer".
"It took almost twenty years, but then it became clear. MTV was the major labels’ worst nightmare. Oh, it blew acts up. But they fell to earth so quickly that people rushed to get out of the way, not wanting to be tainted by the shit that emanated from the impact. I.e., you’ve got no careers and no catalog sales. Sound like a recipe for success? Then why did Time Warner blow out Warner Music at such a cheap price? Why did Sony merge with BMG?

Then you’ve got these same ignoramuses functioning in the online sphere. Or not functioning, as the case might be. Hell, they sued almost a thousand people for trading THIS WEEK! It’s almost as if Wham-O had a big campaign promoting Hula-Hoops. OR, we started seeing ads for Maypo on TV. HUH? Doesn’t everybody have an iPod? Aren’t iPods GOOD for music? Good for music, bad for major labels. At least that’s the way the major labels see it. Married to the CD paradigm, too fucking stupid to see there might be another way."

You can find the full article, as well as an archive of previous posts here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

No Kiddin' - Part I

It seems that the early adopters in the music biz have come to the shocking revelation that the kids like their iPods over broadcast radio. Like this is news to anyone that has to rely on actually selling records instead of puckering up to the corporate teat or a venture fund to pay the bills?

College radio (with the exception of stations like WFMU and WSOU) has become almost powerless in it's capacity to really shape the taste of listeners. From my perspective, sending promotional copies for a hardcore/punk/indie rock label to the top 200 is pretty much only good as a street marketing tool, to encourage online support. CMJ Chart numbers are feckless , antiquated barometers of progress and only used by radio departments or indie promoters to justify their jobs. At best, those major-dominated statistics reflect a snapshot of where things were yesterday, instead of where things are going . (Which it was, back in its late 80's/ early 90's heyday.)

Existing radio stations do have the ability to create compelling content for the web, either by webcasting like lefty talk network AirAmerica (oh pardon me, is my progressive showing?) and/or creating podcasts. NPR affiliate Stations like KCRW offer a huge array of sources to their content. (My personal favorite music subscriptions are All Songs Considered, Morning Becomes Eclectic. and Celia Hirschman's music biz show, On The Beat. )

So What's Next?
What's stepping up to the plate? Since Podcasting has been explained to death elsewhere, let's talk about collaboratively filtered online streaming sites like or

Such experiences offer some core similarities:
  1. Two way relationships between "broadcaster" and "listener"
  2. The experience starts with the taste of the listener, not some overpaid tool at a corporate office.
  3. Allows the listener to fast forward (and in some cases) exorcise aurally offensive material from their playist.
  4. Show song information and graphics
  5. Enables user to add the music to a permanent collection by linking to online stores.

Pandora's approach is take a song or band you like, and using various properties of that song, will play others. The users' "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" further refines the process. A recent station for Madball then suggests a Motorhead track, based on "hard rock roots, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping." (vamping?) actually requires you to download a plug-in, which then reports your actual plays of songs through iTunes, Winamp, back to the central site and creates your own personal profile page. Based on your profile, the site will suggest various playlists and other social connections to you. It also allows the user to put cool little dynamic charts on their web pages or blogs. (I'll be adding one soon.)

I'm especially enamored of because it allows labels to not only manage their content (inclusive of free promotional downloads) but also link to online shops. They also provide some basic feedback statistics on the music they've uploaded.

In the honorable mention dept, I just tried Rhapsody for Mac. Decent track selection, playlists, but no real filtering or suggestion engine. Today it helped me get my Ramones fix, without having to find and rip a CD or re-purchase it on iTunes.

These are some super cool, yet simultaneously incredibly nerdy, sites that will help reshape "radio" as we know it.

All of the above services have a far greater reach and are far less expensive to utilize than the current solution. With this financial barrier to entry being removed, the paradigm of popular music being dictated by deep-pocketed mega-corps and their sycophantic cronies will shift significantly over the next few years. (If we can keep Newscorp out of it, that is.)

I'm well aware that 12 - 24 year olds aren't the only demographic buying music. (but they're the ones that matter to me the most). I'm sure soccer moms with a Garth Brooks fetish will still listen to country or hit radio while they shuttle junior back and forth to overachiever academy.
The complete marginalization of radio will come as high bandwidth connections become ubiquitous, the "MySpace generation" grows older, and portable media players get cheaper (and even cross with moblie phones.) Nobody can deny that there's no putting the Djini back in the bottle.

But radio isn't the only place the dinosaurs are subject to marketplace Darwinism. It's a brave new world, and the very fabric of the music business is breaking down.

More soon...

The Orange Button Is Your Friend

In the fine tradition of the shout out from the stage at a show, this first “real” post is dedicated to Rex from Grace Gale who asked me about RSS in an AIM conversation. As I figured a primer on this would be helpful to other people unfamiliar with it, I’ll use this forum to tell what I know about ‘em.

You’ve probably seen these little buttons on websites before, but if you’ve ever clicked on them without knowing how to use them, you get some useless unformatted text that may seem like some kind of error. Nope, that sucker is the key to using RSS… but fear not, we’ll explain that later.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a method of pulling headlines and short summaries of articles from websites that you frequently look at, in a format where you blast through what you want to read and what you don’t, very quickly. The main advantage is that RSS feeds are a spam-free way to get the information you want, the fastest way possible. RSS is also the “engine” behind being able to subscribe to podcasts and video podcasts, so that audio and video files are delivered directly to your computer as soon as they’re uploaded.

What Do I Need To Check It Out
To use feeds, you’ll need to use an aggregator program (we suggest FeedDemon for PC and NetNewsWire for Mac). You can also view RSS feeds with free web-based aggregator services such Bloglines or Newsgator.

Show Me The Feeds

Not interested in using another new program or website? Users of the Firefox browser for PC and Mac can use the Live Bookmarks feature, and Yahoo, Google, and MSN users can plug their feeds into their My Yahoo, Google Reader or MyMsn pages respectively.

The trick to using those little orange buttons is the right click (or ctrl-click on a Mac.) This is because you don’t actually want to go to the page, just copy the link location. You then paste that copied link location into the subscripton feature of whatever aggre-thingy you’re using, and you’re in business.

Some sites also offer specialized buttons that enable you to “one click” subscribe, in some cases they’re tailored to a specific site. To check how that works, check out a feedburner page.

Gimme Some Feeds
started:In no particular order, here's a partial list of my favorite music oriented feeds to get you:
  • New Musical Express
  • Lambgoat
  • Rolling Stone
  • PunkNews:
  • Blabbermouth
  • AbsolutePunk
  • Jade Tree
  • Sub Pop
  • Bob Mould
  • Suburban Home
  • Barehones Hardcore
  • Stereogum
  • Purevolume

Want more? Check out an RSS feed search engine!

Now that we got the basics out of the way, in my next post I’ll answer the following questions: Why do I want Implement RSS feeds for my band? How do I implement RSS for my band or site? Why should I pay attention to this?


First things first… the name No Revolution comes from a song by The Explosion. They are not, nor have they ever been, on my label, but the lyrics express how I feel about what’s going on in music today on many levels.

This blog is also about technology. I’m fascinated by it, and have always been a fan of using it to make my life as an indie label guy easier. So, NoRev (see how long it took to abbreviate the name?) will link to, and offer commentary on, various internet and indie music biz related items. My biggest hope for the blog is that it’s useful and/or thought provoking to those who read it.

Depending on the reception this gets (and as long as my ADD allows) I’ll be reworking the visual and possibly even adding other writers to the mix.