Category - commentary

Acerbic observations on the state of the world, art, politics, and culture.

Delusions Persist: Nashville ‘s Music Row Chimes in on Google Music

Google-music This morning Nashville’s Tennessean assesses the impact that the new Google music service — revealed yesterday but not to be  officially announced until next week — will have on the crumbling ruins of Music City’s most visible industry:

The news comes as music CD sales have tumbled dramatically over the past decade. Sales of digital downloads have not made up for the revenue loss.

But Nashville area record label executives, along with those in the creative side of the industry, said Google’s initiative could help them reach more listeners — and sell more music

It’s hard to explain to people who’ve built their livelihoods on the concept of “selling music” that their business model is going away completely. It’s hard to drill into their heads the idea that the shift from “ownership” to “access” virtually obsolesces the whole idea of “selling” music.

So Music Row types who are reading the Tennessean this morning are probably reaching for their pitchforks when they read a quote from a certain blogger re: the ultimate future of digital music delivery, in which the Google move is just more step in the inexorable direction:

“I’m worried that we are on the threshold of a time when the
remunerative value of music is zero,” said Nashville writer and
entrepreneur Paul Schatzkin, whose Celestial Jukebox blog focuses on digital music.

“Your browser is becoming your iPod,” Schatzkin said. “There is a behavioral
shift afoot where consumers are getting accustomed to the concept of
access to an infinite universe of music versus ownership of a limited
personal library.”

Elsewhere, the tech blog Ars Technica weighs in, confirming yesterday’s report that the service on Google is only going to offer “snippets,” not the full “first time for free” stream that Lala.com users get:

According to insiders speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the music will come in the form of free, embedded streams from either Lala.com or iLike.com.
Those who are interested in buying the music will be able to do so from
either of those two sites—iLike allows users to buy unprotected MP3s
directly but also provides a link to iTunes, while Lala only sells the
unprotected MP3 with no other direct links….

Some leaked screenshots allegedly of the new service are available at TechCrunch,
showing that users won’t be able to listen to an entire song from
Google’s search results, but rather just a snippet. Realistically, this
makes sense—most searchers want to confirm that they found what they
were searching for, and then click through to buy or browse through
similar music.

Agreed, that is the only reason a 30-second snippet of music ever makes sense — when I’ve already heard something somewhere else, and want to confirm that that’s the track I’m looking for.

Ars Technica tries to make the case that Google Music (or Audio, or whatever its called) is not a “game changer” for music delivery, but I wonder if they’re missing the point.  Maybe “incremental game changer” is an oxymoron, but that’s what this is — another step in the arrival of the Celestial Jukebox.

Granted, I’m not an objective observer on this subject, but I can’t help but think that the big winner in this is not Google — and certainly not the calcified Luddites on Music Row — but Lala.com, and, by extension, the music audience.

The link through Google search will bring more people to Lala.com, where many will discover for the first time the marvel of unrestricted access to an virtually infinite library of music (if it’s more than you can listen to in a lifetime, that might qualify as “infinite”).  Then they’ll start shelling out that dime-a-track to listen to things they like again; once that happens, they’re hooked on the “access” model, and Music Row will never again be able to sell (at least those people) encoded plastic wafers for $15 a pop.

Chris Brogan on Music 3.0: Turn The Chairs Around

Brogan

The big deal in Nashville today was an appearance by social media maven (he says he doesn’t like the word “guru”)  Chris Brogan, author New York Times Bestseller Trust Agents.

Among the many pertinent points that Brogan made about utilizing Web 2.0 tools to “build influence,” etc., there was one point in particular that stands out in the context of the Big Shift in music.

Part of the thesis that underlies this blog is that one facet of what I’m calling “Music 3.0” is a return to the “oral” — todays’ word is actually “tribal” — traditions of Music 1.0 — the era before recording turned music into a product that was manufactured, distributed, and advertised like soap.
In my long essay about “Music 3.0” that launched this blog, I described the ending of the movie Any Day Now, a documentary about the 2008 “10 Out of Tenn” tour.
In this nearly final scene the musicians have finished their last show, but no one wants to leave the venue.  Not the audience, not the musicians.  And so the players come down off the stage, and with unplugged acoustic guitars lead their audience in an enthusiastic sing-along of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

In that moment, the proscenium that separates the troubadours from their audience was erased.  The artists became the audience and the audience became the artists.  And I as I felt the chicken skin bubbling up on my arm I turned to the friend who’d invited me to the screening and said “THAT’s ‘Music three-point-oh.'”

And here is Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author, with his take on a similar sentiment, as expressed during his appearance today in Nashville:
“The only difference between an audience and a community is which way you face the chairs.”

My point exactly.

Indeed, there are portions of “Trust Agents” that sound like a field manual for musicians who are trying to find their way in the Music 3.0 world.  More on that when I’ve had a chance to spend more time with the book I picked up today.

Notes from AmericanaFest – 1

I spent most of Wednesday through Saturday of last week at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville.

I went to a lot of panels, and I took a lot of notes using an analog device known as “pencil and notebook.”  This antiquated technology works really well, at least until I go back and try to read what I scribbled.  But it was more convenient than trying to find an outlet in every room so that I could type notes on my laptop.

Jedhilly

First, a general observation: “Americana” seems at times like a brand in search of a genre.  Musically, the category covers a broad swath of the musical spectrum. Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, did his best to narrow it down when he defined “Americana” (for the purpose of a new Grammy Awards category) as “contemporary music that honors and derives from American roots music.”

That does, indeed, cover a LOT of territory.  But more important than what the brand or genre represents musically is what the concept embodies as a movement.  Musically, this may be “roots” music, but market-wise, this is music that is coming up from the grassroots.  And, based on what I heard over this past week, it represents in some respects the very best of what the new grassroots paradigm has to offer the listening audience.  I mean, these people are GOOD and deserve the recognition that “mainstream” cultural forces are too often too slow to provide.

With that as a premise, here’s a note from the first panel I attended early on Thursday morning.

I didn’t realize until I got there that a discussion of “Raising The Next Generation of Americana Fans” would turn out to be a discussion about bringing this music to children, which is not generally speaking an area of my own personal interest.

Well… duh.  Music is sorta like cigarettes – if you want them smoking it when they’re adults, you gotta start ’em out as kids.  So (politically incorrect tobacco reference aside), what could be more important than a discussion of bringing “Americana” music to kids?

So once I realized where I was and why it was the right place to be, I started paying attention to Jason Ringenberg (aka “Farmer Jason“) and Miss Melba Toast as they described their experiences bringing music to children.

Khussey

Panelist Kathy Hussey said the one thing I found most encouraging: When she shows up for her songwriting-for-kids workshops, she said, “they start out wanting to write a rap song,” but their interest is very easily redirected.  “Kids are learning that they don’t have to consume what’s on the radio.”

When I was growing up, “what’s on the radio” was all their was, and we all grew up wanting to be The Beatles or The Stones.  But the impact of an infinite variety of cultural choices is beginning to have a diversifying effect on a new generation.

Kids today may show up wanting to replicate what they hear in the media.  They may think for a moment that that’s what’s expected of them  But if Kathy’s experience is any indication, the commitment is shallow.  They wind up wanting something resonates personally on a deeper level.

That’s a consequence of a world of infinite choices instead of just a few dominating channels.  More choice forces us to dig a little deeper to find what matters.  Mark that down as another upside of the new era, Music 3.0.

Music 1-2-3: Let Me Make This Simple

My central thesis here is that we're entering a "third epoch" of music as a cultural force for the human race. The "Celestial Jukebox" is one manifestation of that new epoch.

Here are the three epochs as I see them:

"Music 1.0" was everything before Edison recorded "Mary Had A little Lamb (sometime in 1877)."

"Music 2.0" was everything from that first recording to the advent of Napster (as a proxy for internet, digital distribution, etc. etc.)

"Music 3.0" has been evolving since that fateful day in the spring of 1999.  It is not entirely clear yet what it all means, but "whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are," is a cornerstone of the era, along with a revitalization of "live" and "DIY" music. 

This site exists to explore the obstacles that remain in achieving that utopian ideal, and discovering the new behavior patterns that will arise from those possibilities.

M3.0 and The Return of the Album

Here's a thought: Maybe "albums" AREN'T dead.

There's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth since the arrival of iTunes over the death of the album, now that buyers can "cherry pick" the two or three actually "good" tracks on an album and ignore the rest. Lots has been said about the return of the single in the digital era.

Here's another angle: 

Since I've been listening to a LOT of new music via Lala.com, I am listening to entire albums.  That's very much part of the appeal:  I come out of Starbucks with a card offering me "one free download" from iTunes, but I go home and listen to the entire album on Lala.com. 

Why is that important?  Because several times, it has not been until I've gotten deep into the album that something has sunk in.  Now, maybe that's an argument for the singles – maybe that's the only track worth listening to.  But what's really happening is I'm getting comfortable with the whole experience, getting softened up for the musical harpoon to come…

Mauracover A couple of cases in point:  Over the weekend when I was listening to Maura O'Connell's album "Don't I Know," it wasn't until I got to the 10th track (Phoenix Falling) that I was really knocked out.  Then I went back and started listening to the whole thing again.  That would not have happened if I hadn't had access to the whole album.

600x600_joe-crookston_profile-280x280 A similar experience took place a few weeks ago when I was listening to a singer/songwriter Joe Crookston at a site called 100000fans.com . I picked Joe from their roster because he looked like my kinda guy — acoustic singer/songwriter, and that he was.  Nice voice, good guitar, interesting lyrics.  And then I got to a song called "Able Baker Charlie and Dog" about… well, don't let me spoil it for you.  Just and listen for yourself.  

But do yourself a favor, and listen to everything.  I mean, it's all there for the listening. 

And, Joe, if you've got a Google alert on yourself… when will you be in Nashville??

(And, just in passing: I don't know about that 100000fans site.  I signed up for Joe's e-newsletter from that site, and haven't heard a thing since…)

Music -v- Marketing

At the core of all of this, it is the music that is key. But putting out good music and being a good marketer are not mutually exclusive. If you do something cool — something fun or valuable or neat beyond just the music — it’s not going to matter as much if the music itself isn’t good. This is why, I have to admit, the one area where I think all three of these artists could have done a better job is actually making the music itself free.

via www.techdirt.com

No Starship but…

BlowsKinda funny to listen to the first "Jefferson Starship" album (ie. the
first after the band ceased to be an Airplane). Written and released in
1970, the album is a musical work of 'science fiction' that looks back
from some time in future to launch of a starship in 1990 that had been
under construction for ten years…

You know – a starship circlin' in the sky 
it ought to be ready by 1990
They'll be buildin' it up in the air even since 1980
People with a clever plan can assume the role of the mighty
and HIJACK THE STARSHIP
Carry 7000 people past the sun
And our babes'll wander naked thru
the cities of the universe
C'mon
free minds, free bodies, free dope, free music
the day is on its way the day is ours

Sorry to say, we never quite got the starship together, minds are still shackled by all manner of things (let's start with religion…), sexuality is still mostly repressed (at the same time it is exploited), and hell, you still can't buy dope, let alone get it for free…

But the "free music" part?  THAT part it appears they got right (but not until long after they'd all earned a tidy fortune from Industrial Rock & Roll).

The celestial jukebox has arrived (?)

The Spotify iPhone app has been approved. With this app, I will now be able to carry 5 million songs in my pocket, and every week thousands more songs will be added to my collection automatically.  This is the proverbial celestial jukebox – the great jukebox in the cloud that lets me listen to any song I want to hear.    This is  going to change how we listen to music.  When we can listen to any song,  anywhere, any time and on any device our current ways of interacting with music will be woefully inadequate.

via musicmachinery.com

Has it really? I keep hearing that the Spotify app has been approved, but I still can’t use Spotify, as previously reported, the Lala.com app for the iPhone has been in limbo for more than six months now. But if and when it does arrive, it’s not really going to change “how we listen to music.” We’ll still use our ears for that, and some sort of delivery device like speakers or earbuds. But it will change how we collect and music. Mostly because… we won’t actually have to collect and store it ourselves any more, nor are we confined to the limitations of shelf (or hard-drive) space and budget.

The question then becomes, if we in fact have access-on-demand to everything, what will we listen to? And how will the people who make that music sustain their efforts?

The linked article continues:

The new challenge that these next generation music services face is
helping their listeners find new and interesting music.  Tools for
music discovery will be key to keeping listener’s coming back.

Which begins to ask the pertinent question: with changes in the media, patterns of behavior change.  What new behavioral patterns will emerge in the era of infinite music — and what business opportunities do those new behavior patterns offer.

And how much do we have to think about such things before we can get a clue what the answer is…??