Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mr. Magoo

Indeed the blind must be in charge somewhere over at Warner Brothers. The other day Lefsetz wrote a really great review of a Mark Knopfler video on YouTube:
Only 3,279 people have watched Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris on YouTube. And that’s CRIMINAL! You’ll be mesmerized by Knopfler’s licks, but just shy of three minutes in, when Emmylou starts kicking her legs backward in time to the music, you’ll exclaim VOILA, she’s fucking KIKI DEE!
One of the legal-eagles at the label must've gotten wind of it and had the video taken down for copyright infringement. This sparked a second post:
I still don’t believe MySpace breaks acts, but I DO know that music FANS are conditioned to go to the site to hear streams of songs by their favorite acts. i.e., you’re interested in an act, you CHECK IT OUT! But the staff at Warner Brothers didn’t seem to get the memo. If you want to hear Knopfler and Harris performing, you’ve got to go to THEIR site. Not the acts’, but WARNER BROTHERS’! And it’s the ELEVENTH LISTING! Done in a typeface so small and so blue that if you’re of an age to LIKE Knopfler and Harris you can’t read it. Then, at the end of the spiel, you click and are taken to ANOTHER page, that allows you to click once more and launch the player and listen to the music. What, are the dodos in Burbank still living in the nineties? When record companies lamely tried to establish THEIR label sites as destinations? Before they rarely updated them with lame information and everybody went elsewhere? (Turns out there IS one song on Emmylou’s homepage, but not the single. Yup, stream the album track, don’t appease curiosity.)

I agree. Exposure is the name of the game. Holding onto the music and making it more difficult to sample means that you're fucking with the ability to take advantage of the most lucrative part of the long tail. Even with all their crappy filtering, MySpace and YouTube does make media exposure EASY, you just have to be willing to participate. Labels need to give up the ghost and understand that the more exposure for the artist, especially on essentially benign non P2P networks, is good.

And if you don't offer quality FREE content, prepare to have it hacked, and then pirated and done for you.

So instead of paying six digit salaries to an army of attack dogs, what about if they invested a portion of that in creating promotional content on a timely basis for release to the public, to not only focus on new releases, but showcasing older catalog items. If you can't beat 'em..... join em and do it better.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Behind The Curve

I should have gotten around to reading this sooner, but this is brilliant.

update: link fixed. duh.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Has Hell Frozen Over?

So I was checking out eMusic today, ready to download the newest indie fare, when I could barely believe my eyes. There it was, for all to see- THE WHITE STRIPES & MOBY V2 RELEASES posted. Is it true? Have the majors awakened to the fact that DRM is a short term and flawed solution to piracy and a painless subscription model could actually work???

It really makes sense. Most of the people who were going to buy these releases at full price on iTunes for $9.99 or on CD at retail have already purchased it. I imagine some savvy soul decided they'd rather sell it at a reduced price in a universally available format and earn some revenue from it, rather than have any money they'd make from the catalog disappear into the 'torrent abyss. In addition, those eMusic downloads are also tallied by Soundscan.

If all the majors did this with "catalog" titles, eMusic's subscription base would grow significantly. An explosion in revenue would create a bigger pie to be divided by the labels/artists that might very well start to earn them more than the .65 per song you-know-who pays per track.

I wonder how many people would re-purchase GNR "Appetite For Destruction", Green Day "Dookie", or even The Eagles "Greatest Hits" if they would become available in the same way?

What a nice way to start a long weekend.

update: Check out this informative article on eMusic, which we found from our pals at Digital Audio Insider.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One Step Closer...

My compadres over at Haystack are inching closer to Beta launch. Today marks the debut of some of the unique content shot for the site, and kicks off with a hilarious interview with We Are Scientists.

This is also the launch day for the Haystack4000. The H4k is a sub site which contains even more video content and a signup page for bands and music fans to become part of the super-secret and oh-so-exclusive initial private beta.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Go With The Flow

When I work from home I often leave the TV on as background noise. Often I'm so busy that I wind up leaving things like The Weather Channel or CSPAN on all day. I don't recall which station it was, but one of the stations discussed the dangers of a riptide. According to the show (and Wikipedia,) a riptide is "a strong flow of water returning seawardfrom the shore."

Swimmers caught in the current often panic and react poorly. Instead of swimming parallel to the shoreline and using the current to help push them to safety, they fight against it. They expend all their energy fighting it and are then once their strength is exhausted, they're overwhelmed and drown.

You see where I'm going with this. The music biz at large is fighting something they cannot possibly overcome with legislation or DRM. Is this lawsuit against XM really going to plug the already gushing hole in the dam? For every software scheme, there's a workaround. For every hardware scheme, there's a hack. And for every one of these plans that works, there are exponentially more that simply fail (or backfire.) One step forward and two back.

So, I'm going to say it again. Music is no longer a "unit based" commodity. It's a liquid and as digitally ubiquitous as water. Have any doubts about this? Just look at the number of downloads from one P2P music piracy site in just one month! To control it, you need to do it from the source and principal distribution points. Here's how I'd do it:

1. Take Control Of The Flow
Instead of playing catch up, be proactive. Remember the days when the labels engineered the switch from LP to CD? The same could be true here. If one super high profile artist in the right demographic (like a Green Day or My Chemical Romance) released an album EXCLUSIVELY digital for the first 3 months, would have a profound influence on the marketplace and it's perception. Oh and forget about trying to half-ass it like Cordless- treat digital releases like "real" records and the shift will happen.

I understand that since retail is involved (and may react negatively to this strategy) this transition would need to happen over a much longer period (a decade.)

2. Lower The Price
I talked about this in two previous posts. No matter what posture the labels take, margins on digital are better than CD. I've always thought that selling 100 copies at .50 would be better than selling 10 at .99. So instead of raising the price to the point where people steal it, make it so cheap that people don't even see price as a barrier to purchase. Better still, remove the cost to the end user entirely by shifting the burden to ISP's in the form of a music surcharge coupled with a centralized server for (non DRM) files that can account back to artists.

2. Legitimize Digital Promos
Is it really necessary to use snail mail and plastic to promote music? CD promos not only invitations to "leaks" of material, but are wasteful and more often than not wind up in resale bins. With all the rich media out there, I'm sure some Flash developer could come up with a very compelling virtual promo package that goes beyond the average e-card.

3. Entice CD buyers to become Digital Buyers
I'm not going to discuss my idea for this right now, but there's a really simple way to help transition consumers to the digital model from hard goods.

4. Collectibles For The Fans
It's clear a person can get the music anywhere, but true believers will want something collectible to cuddle and display. It's happening already, with more shelf space being dedicated to lifestyle products & merch that's music related. Music sold at retail needs to have amazing packaging. A CD isn't just music, it's an event- like the new Tool album (or those Kiss records I talked about few posts ago.)

Over time, a strategy like this could do something we may not have thought possible: create ultra-cheap music for fans while compensating the content owners and artists.

Your feedback would be appreciated.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mobile Music

An article in a recent Washington Post Online confirms (yet again) that the traditional record biz is looking down the barrel of the digital gun. The first part of the article, Music Labels And Artists Turning To Cell Phones Over Radio For Distribution And Promotion..., discusses the shift from commercial radio as the primary means for artist exposure. It then moves to talk about how the cell phone is a huge revenue source.
The first album from punk-pop band Yellowcard became a hit through conventional radio and CD sales. But the group only broke into the big time when it launched songs from its second album exclusively on a new stage: the cellphone.

Pictures of the quintet were blown up into 40-foot Verizon Wireless signs draped off the side of buildings in Manhattan. Their title song, "Lights and Sounds," became the centerpiece soundtrack for 30-second commercials promoting the cellphone company's music download service. In total, Yellowcard benefited from $5 million to $10 million in advertising, something the band's label, Capitol Records, couldn't have afforded, said Deborah Klein, the band's manager.
I agree radio is losing it's lustre (some may argue it's already lost.) Between Elliot Spitzer's payola investigations, XM/ Sirius, and the web, I wonder how influential programmed music radio really is to anyone below 40, (let alone 25) age bracket. But to expect these big dollar ads to be a panacea that allow the coporate music industry can continue their marketplace domination is foolish.

Anyone else remember those contact lens commercials featuring the band Lillix? That was all over the place- but did very little to help propel the band to any real fame. I guess the lesson to be learned is: Unless you're already famous before you pimp a product, you wind up being remembered only as "that contact lens band," and not remembered for your music. Yellowcard was already "famous" by the time this ad hit, and coupling them with a cool cellphone/music technology product is a much better fit than contact lenses.

The article then gets to the meat of the matter: the cellphone, being the most ubiquitous piece of technology worldwide, is the next wave of media player. The cell companies and majors are making this marriage of convenience to achieve their marketing goals. One offer unique custom content (on the cell end) to lure customers, the other gets mass-media exposure in ads that would ordinarily be too pricey.

The cell model is perfectly in line with the music business 1.0 way to sell music- a proprietary distribution system that you can charge outlandish prices for.

Ringtones use music as a style accessory- like a pair of shoes, handbag, or little dog. It fills the pockets of both the cell companies and labels for a very disposable service. In that case I understand charging a buck or so for a song that someone may use repeatedly as a ringtone or ringback. But some companies have the nerve to not only charge you for the tone but a monthly maintenence charge as well. It's just DRM in another form.

When customers can readily rip quantities of CD's to a phone, sales of high price ringtones and other dubious content offerings, will suffer. My feeling is people will pay for custom tones because they have no choice, but once there's a way to get it for free, they'll follow the most cost-effective path. (And the fair-weather-friends at the hardware providers will happily oblidge whatever trend is necessary to move their products according to marketplace demand.)

I still maintain music is a liquid commodity. And you have to control it at the source to effectively monetize it. Chasing pennies and "units" still works for now, but it won't as a long term strategy.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My First "Guest Blogger"

Kelley at Kelley's Market helps my label with some mom and pop retail store relationships.
He sets up retail programs and keeps them updated with label information, tour dates, etc. As the former head of retail for Initial Records, he has a great background in DIY. During our semi-weekly catch-up call he read me part of an email he sent to a friend concerning the current state of independent distribution. It goes along with the whole concept of "bigness" I wrote about a few posts ago.

It's fairly recent, 6 or 7 years ago, when every label felt the burning need for exclusive distribution. Prior to that many strong labels did it for themselves, with the help of some indie distributors and a few key one-stops. I think it's time for some labels to return to doing a bulk of the distribution themselves. Get rid of the middleman, build a personal relationship with the stores, do it diy and get a direct flow of cash for your troubles, plus you'll know what works and what doesn't and there'll be less finger pointing.

Until a distribution business steps up and does it punk rock again, by carrying good releases, building a direct relationship with indie stores, and practicing fair "we're in this together" business practices, this current business model of distribution is only going to get worse. EVERYONE is joining the corporate team all of a sudden, and the corporate team is only going to take care of their corporation. The indie is going to get fucked everytime. I just do not believe good indie stores won't stock quality independent releases and that people won't buy quality records.

I do believe large distributors with a corporate model are going to ensure they pay you the least they possibly can, and charge [the label back] for every service they can possibly tack on, and possibly pad it with returns #'s that you will never know is true or not, because they are housed at a warehouse that you may never see. Once you can't take it anymore, somebody else is waiting right behind you. How do you change it? I believe all it takes is a phone call and creating a relationship. Remember punk rock can be a community.
All you label cats out there- how do you feel about distribution?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More On Burnlounge

Check this out:

It is now officially time to call bullshit on this. Pay? Pay to be an affiliate and make someone else money?? I thought this was a cool idea before I saw this. I could see maybe offering a free solution to "fans" and charging people who may want some more custom features a premium. Anyone who signs up for this is a sucker.


I got this email from a friend a few minutes ago:

I got an email from someone I know who works in the industry suggesting that I sign up for this, that it is supposed to be some kind of HUGE opportunity. I feel like I'm being advised to sign up for Amway or something. I'd never heard of it until today, you heard anything good, bad or otherwise?

Here is the link:

So what is Burnlounge?

Take a standard Windows Media digital music store and enable the public to create their own mini-stores (playlists) from that store. Instead of marketing the site itself, spin it like the users will be able to go behind the velvet rope and be a part of the music industry.

BL is pretty clever. They shift the marketing burden to the public who then use word-of-mouth on their own produced content (myspace, blogs) to sell their site's music through the affiliate stores. The individual store owners get some kind of cut from their own personal store. It's a pretty cool spin on affiliate relationships. It takes the idea of the iTunes affiliate program (with it's irritating sign up and maintenance process) and puts a more user-friendly interface on it.

I whole heartedly agree that using trusted sources as guides for music discovery is very important. So this site will be interesting to watch, as I think that there's something to be said for de-centralized music consumption. I wonder if the Amazon digital music store will operate in a similar way to really take advantage of the whole long tail.

If I were an iTunes marketing person? (sigh) I'd create a much more user-friendly WYSIWYG store builder and move the whole program management in-house. If they could do for this idea what iWeb did for personal page creation, they'd have another slam dunk on keeping their stranglehold on the digital music marketplace.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Indie Rockers And Hipsters Need Not Apply

I recently read an interview where Sick Of It All singer Lou Koller mentions that kids always tell him how they like new albums from his now 20 year-old NYHC outfit, but how they LOVE the first record. His commentary is delivered in typical Koller deadpan humor: "Have they heard our old records?"

But non-believers should listen up right now. The new SOIA album, Death To Tyrants is simply fucking ferocious. I doubt there will be matinee-sytle, moshoholic hardcore record that can match it for the rest of the year.

The years have honed Lou's bloodthirsty yet-somehow-melodic scream to near HC perfection. The production is loud, crisp, and brutal without going into chugga-chugga metal territory. But what puts the icing on the cake is the lyrics. Ain't no typical "you stabbed me in the back" here. No, these are words forged by some very angry and intelligent adults who are very angry at some very real things.