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Open Letter to Bob Lefsetz: Enough About Spotify Already; Lala.com is Here NOW.

Lefsetz Bob, it took me a few days to give your "Spotify Guys" post the attention it deserves.  I hope the reply is still pertinent.

I don't disagree with anything you say about Spotify.  If you can get it, I guess, the service is great; it sounds like the founders have their hearts and minds in all the right places, and they are riding the tip of the spear that will ultimately bring down the "product" based music "industry" that was in place in the century-plus between "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Napster. 

But they are not alone on that quest.  

Spotify may be great, but in the United States — the country that produces most of the music that the world wants to hear– Spotify is not generally available.  As you say, "…other than a handful of the connected, no one in America has Spotify, few even know what it is!"

So where is the love for Lala.com?  There's a service that is also riding the tip of the spear, altering behavior patterns and expanding the universe for creators and listeners alike.  But nobody ever talks about Lala.com, it's Spotify-this and Spotify-that even though you can't get it in this country and Lala is shifting the paradigm RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

To wit:

On Oct 8, 2009, at 11:12 PM, Bob Lefsetz wrote:

Daniel was focused on the rental issue. Needing to make purchase available too. I think that's bullshit. You can't listen to the hoi polloi. In America we rented movies on videotape, bought them on DVD and are now renting them again via Netflix and Redbox. Who says America is anti-rental? It's all about the user experience. And the Spotify user experience is so good, that you don't need to own once you've got it.

As you well know, Bob, that's the crux of the issue.  This "I want to own my music" mentality is doomed. 

What most people who "consume" recorded music don't get is that they never really "own" the music.  All you ever own is a limited license to listen to the music — in whatever format it has been delivered.  Until about 12 or 13 years ago the music was always delivered as a product — cylinder, vinyl disk, plastic wafer — which carried with it the presumption of "ownership" that the possession of products implies.  All that started to change when MP3s started flying around the Internet, and Napster drove the stake home.

When you purchased LPs or CDs, all you've ever really "owned" is the right to listen on demand.  And now the ability to listen on demand is shifting from your turntable, your CD player, your hard drive… to the cloud and browser. You don't need your own library or collection.  It is all being stored for you.  And the emphasis in that sentence is on the word 'all.'  It is ALL being stored for you. 

But you don't have to wait until maybe the end of this year or maybe the beginning of next year or whenever the stars align to get Spotify.  Lala.com is already delivering what Spotify promises.

Lala's catalog is about as deep as iTunes.  There are some holes in it, for sure.  And their existing business model is going to need some tweaking, no doubt.  But the way it works now, you can listen to anything in their 6- or 7- million track catalog in its entirety the first time for FREE.  Only when you want to hear it AGAIN do you have to pay for anything.  And then it's only a DIME a TRACK!  A whole CD for the cost of single iTunes download! 

Yes, what you are buying for that dime — or a buck for the whole CD — is the "web album" — access through your browser (and yes, you can "buy" 89c MP3 downloads if you insist in constraining your budget that way…).

I would ultimately prefer a nominal, flat-rate subscription service (I'll take the lifetime subscription, thank you very much, even though I'm almost 60…).  But one thing at a time.  What Lala offers now is a demonstration of the value of infinite "access" over  "ownership" that is necessarily limited to shelf space, hard-drive space, or budget.

Think of it this way:  next time you're in a Starbucks, and you see one of those little "free download" cards at the counter… take it home with you.  And log on to Lala.com.  And then, instead of downloading a single track for free, you can listen to the entire album for free.  Then you can really decide if this is somebody who's music you want to add to the soundtrack of your life.

You've also referenced Spotify's intention to incorporate "social networking" into its service.  Lala.com is already doing that, too.  You can find listeners with similar taste and easily post your finds to Facebook or Twitter.  I've been doing it for a few months now.  And I cannot tell you how much new music I'm finding as a consequence.

And, like Spotify, Lala has an iPhone app in beta, but that's all I can say about that…

So, Bob, why aren't you telling your readers to get on this service now?  Why are you telling them to wait for Spotify?  It's unbecoming of such an advocate as you to say "I'm connected, you can't have this…" when something so similar is so readily available NOW.

I'm surprised at how much of a shill I'm sounding like here.  I don't work for the company.  Hell, I can't even get them to return my e-mails.  But I'm going on about it here for good reason.  You, Bob Lefsetz, more than anybody I've encountered or read in the past year, grasp the import of the paradigm shift from ownership to access, from downloads to streaming.  But you continue to emphasize a service that is by and large not yet available in this country.

I'm not knocking Spotify, I'm sure it's great, but only if you can get it. But why not direct at least SOME attention to a service that is available now. So that your readers can begin to appreciate the possibilities that access affords over ownership.  So that they can begin — as you have — to disabuse themselves of this antiquated notion that they need to "own" the music that they listen to.

Music doesn't live in the player, whether it's disk hard drive.  It exists in the ear, and ultimately in the heart.  How it gets there is truly irrelevant.
What I hope your readers will learn — and join the vanguard of — is the idea that when they abandon the illusion of "ownership" what they get in exchange is access to the entire universe of recorded music. 

But that is only one side of the issue that now confronts us. Sooner rather than later, we need to  engage the discussion about what all this easy access for the listeners means for the creators.  What does it mean for recording artists  when I can listen to everything I want for some nominal amount?  How will these people support themselves when the value of a $15 CD is effectively reduced to pennies?   I can't go to all
their shows.  We need to start having that conversation now, too.

Whatever the economic consequences, that infinitely valuable trade-off is not available to the readers who wait patiently for Spotify.  It IS available now, they just have to log onto Lala.com and open an account.  If you do, please look for user "driver49" and friend me up. 

Thanks,

–PS

P.S. Is it true you are in Nashville this week at the IBEA.org conference?  Can I buy you lunch?  Or at least sneak me into your panel so I can hear what you've got to say….??

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: From Ten Out of Tenn, Madi Diaz

Madidiaz I finally got to hear the current incarnation of "Ten Out Of Tenn" perform a show in Nashville. The… what exactly do you call this assemblage?  A collective?  A temporary tour? A "band of the moment"?  I dunno what exactly to call it.   I haven't had enough coffee.  Words fail.   Whatever it's called, the current tour ended Wednesday night with a show at the Cannery Ballroom that was part of the kick-off of this year's "Next Big Nashville" music-fest and conference. 

Suffice it to say it's a terrific two hours of music, a very diversified cross section of genres, styles and performers in an unpredictable rotation of various combinations of great talents. 

"Ten Out of Tenn" came together (in 2007, I think) as a deliberate effort by its organizers and promoters to show the world outside the I-440 beltway what a broad spectrum of music is created in the town that bills itself as "Music City USA" — when most of the world outside Tennessee thinks Nashville only about "country" music.  In that quest, the effort succeeds mightily.  

Each of the ten performers on the bill is featured twice in the course of a show that ranges from straight-up country (Ashley Monroe), to this year's "Americana Album of the Year" (Sarah Siskind) to lyric folk (Andrew Belle), all kinds of infectious pop (Joy Williams, Madi Diaz), pantie-melting power ballads (Mikki Ekko),  a bit of power-guitar rock (Jed Hughes), and even a touch of white-boy rap (k.s. rhoads) — the latter in just a sufficient dose that even this old fogie found it entertaining and enjoyable.  

Yes, folks, there is ALL kinds of music being created and performed in Nashville, and this gang proves that the moniker "Music City USA" is entirely appropriate from whatever angle you want to look at it. 

I've left the ReverbNation "Ten Out of Tenn" player widget in the column on the right of this page for a while now.  Click "play" once and you can listen to a selection from each of the artists who has appeared in the past two tours.  

Or, for today, indulge yourself in the player below, and treat yourself to the superior pop stylings of Madi Diaz (also pictured above).  

 

I brought my Canon G-10 to the show and posted a selection showing each of the performers here on Facebook.  And you can find almost all their music on lala_com, including the Ten Out of Tenn – Volume 3 Sampler CD. 

@americanafest The Rubber Hits the Road…

Borgespanel …where the rubber, literally, hits the road.

That’s the take away from a panel at the AMA Conference on the subject of Artist Develoment. It’s all about life on the road.

The panel consisted of emerging artist Sarah Borges and her team: her manager, her booking agent, her radio rep, and two two publicists from her label (Sugar Hill).

Sarah has been working the program, and making the sacrifices necessary to stay on the road at long stretches with her band, “The Broken Singles,” and the effort has paid off in a growing fan base and exposure on NPR, etc.

Most insightful comment came from Sarah’s manager, Jeannie Smith, who stressed the difference between the objective of a major label release and and indie artist like Sarah: “we’re not looking for the hit, we’re looking for the fan.”

And then there was the story of Nashville favorite David Olney. Moderator Peter Cooper relayed the story of Olney saying “in any given city, there are only 30 people who like my shit.”  The trick for an artist like Olney is getting those 30 people to show up whenever he does.

But still, “success” at that level sounds a lot like what Buddha said about enlightenment.  A devotee asked Buddha once, “what was it like for your before you reached enlightenment?  Buddha thought about that for a second and answered, “chop wood, carry water.”

“And after enlightenment?” the devotee asked.

And Buddha replied, “chop wood, carry water.”

And the key to that success, according to Sarah, boils down to learning how to be comfortable outside your comfort zone.  And being willing to spend seven arduous years before the industry will recognize you as a “new and emerging artist.

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…)

More “Music 3.0”

In case there is anybody who hasn’t seen this yet…here’s a brilliant example of what’s really going on here:

“Music is the one thing that opens the door to bringing people to a place where they’re all connected…. religion, politics, those things seem to divide everybody. But music seems to bring everyone together.”

And kudos to the designers at the Playing for Change website — the site is all about the audio and the video, but none of the clips auto-starts.