Word Spreads Quickly…

…when the music is really good….

Last week, Rosanne Drucker finished setting up her website using the “SiteBuilder” feature of ReverbNation (which is a plugin-partnership with Bandzoogle).  From the site, Rosanne offers streaming audio and downloads of her new “Virtual EP” Doin’ Hard Time.

That was like Thursday.  Today (Monday), she’s got her first review of the “virtual release,” in a glowing blog-post by Nelson Gullett, who works as a DJ at WDVX , a listener supported Americana radio station in Knoxville, TN and reports on his musical encounters with his “Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz” blog.  After describing his serendipitous encounter with Rosanne at a club (“…In Nashville… what are the odds?…”), Nelson writes:

The EP contains seven original tracks co-produced by Rosanne and Mike Loudermilk (John D. Loudermilk’s son), and blends several Americana styles to mostly paint pictures of heartbreak and love gone sour. Three of the four songs on the sampler Rosanne gave me dealt with such topics. The title track makes solid use of Bailey and Ickes to tell a heavily bluegrass flavored tale of a heart trapped behind bars, and “This is Sunday” is a piano ballad that counts the days until a lost lover’s return (he’s not coming). Even the optimistically titled and musically upbeat rockabilly bluegrass tune (featuring Rocker) “Mr. Dream Come True” is about a race horse and not an actual Mr. Right. I’m guessing by the “Aww shoot” thrown in at the end of each chorus that the horse doesn’t even finish in the money.

There’s some validation in this review for Rosanne, who has been working on this project for many months and is suddenly getting positive feedback just as it begins to see the light of day.

This review puts Rosanne in some pretty good company.  Elsewhere on the page… Ellis Paul, Anne McCue, and somebody named Emmylou-somebody.

We all gotta start somewhere…

48 Hours with iPad: It’s Still The Chair, Stupid

The UPS guy said he felt like Santa Claus

(but it’s no Celestial Jukebox.  Read on…)

Today I am an iPad.  Well, actually, Saturday I was an iPad.  And by and large I’d have to say I’m pretty pleased with it.  It does just what I expected it to do – i.e. replace my Kindle and iPhone as info-sources.  It’s a LOT easier to use than the iPhone as a reading device, and it does a LOT more than the Kindle ever could.  And if that was all I had to say about it, that would be enough.

Now that Saturday’s “iPad nerdgasm” has passed, and everybody who wants one finally has one, the Interwebs are rife with reviews and commentary.  There’s really no need for me to go on at any more length than those who have already chimed in about the basic upsides and downsides of what is, truly, a new category of device.  If you want a comprehensive overview of the whole experience, you can do no better than Jason Snell’s rundown over at MacWold.com.

The new "default position" for using a "computer"

When the iPad was first announced, I anticipated its arrival with a blog post entitled “It’s The Chair, Stupid” — in which I surmised that the breakthrough implied by this new device was not in its hardware, nor its software, but in the way it would be used:  by sitting in a chair, as Steve Jobs is doing in the photo that accompanies this and the prior post.

I am somewhat familiar with this posture. I  had a tablet computer before this one, for about two years from 2005 to 2007 (the year I gave up on PCs and switched entirely to the Mac platform, one of the single best decisions I have ever made).  That model had a swivel screen that flopped back over the keyboard so that you could hold it like a book or write on it with a stylus.  It sorta worked, but was just not very convenient.  It was still too big, and while reading on it was semi-satisfactory, I invariably had to flip the screen back around and use the keyboard in order to do anything with it.  That early-iteration Tablet PC went the way of eBay when I got my first MacBook in the summer of 2007.

The iPad is an infinitely superior expression of the tablet concept.  Once it arrived on Saturday I put my laptop away and everything I needed to do online I could do with the new device.  The keyboard is not outstanding, but it’s adequate.  I was, for example, able to make a reservation from a hotel’s website with little difficulty.  I read all my e-mails and replied to those that I needed to.  And when I sat back Sunday afternoon for my coffee with Frank and Maureen, the whole experience — navigating around the browser, navigating pages with my finger, shrinking and enlarging with a pinch — was a revelation.  It was, in a word… “fun.”

Is the iPad a “game changer”?  Opinions vary. I think it makes a difference in how I can do things, whether that qualifies as a game changer or not is entirely debatable.  But I think the key insight is gleaned from this observation in Jason Snell’s MacWorld piece:

There’s just something about surfing the Web using Safari on the iPad. It feels different, somehow. Apple’s marketing pitch says “it’s like holding the Internet in your hands,” and while that’s a little bit cheesy, it’s not far off. There’s just something different about holding that Web page in your hands, rather than seeing it on a desktop or laptop PC, or on a tiny iPhone screen. Tapping on links doesn’t feel the same as clicking on them with a mouse. It’s a good feeling.

My point, exactly.  Nice to see that somebody who actually gets paid to say such things agrees with me.

Back in the day, you would sit in your comfy chair with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper — and that was it.  You had a single source at your disposal.  The breakthrough that the iPad represents is: now you sit like you would have with a book, magazine, or newspaper, and you have the whole fucking world at your disposal.  Yes, you had that with your laptop, but that’s still a “lean forward” experience, dominated by the presence of the keyboard; and yes, you have that with an iPhone, but absorbing content from a 2-inch screen can get pretty tedious after not very long.

So yes, boys and girls, this is something different, and something new.  And I like it.  A lot.

That said, I hasten to add:  the iPad in its current incarnation does absolutely nothing to advance the realization of the Celestial Jukebox.   You can’t use Lala.com with it because all the players in Lala are based on Flash and the iPad famously (infamously?) does not support Flash.  You have to assume that is going to change, hopefully sooner rather than later, now that Apple owns Lala.com.  But there is no evidence of that acquisition in the iTunes that comes with the iPad.

I cannot even access the music library on my desktop computer from iTunes on the iPad (as I can with iTunes on my MacBook using the “home sharing” feature). So until I start loading my 16GB with locally-stored music, the iPad is really not much of a music player at all. I don’t think it will even play Pandora (also Flash-based.  Maybe Apple should acquire Pandora, too — before Google does…).

And the absence of any kind of third-party app multi-tasking likewise continues to be an impediment for using the iPad as a “jukebox.”  Until multitasking is available, there is no way to use a program like Rogue Amoeba’s “Airfoil” to flip the audio signal from the iPad to your stereo (it does work well with Bluetooth headphones, but that’s not how I typically listen to music).

But I think all that is going to change with time.  Apple is typically slow to unveil all of the potential of a new device.  I mean, how long did it take them to integrate “copy/paste” into the iPhone?  I think that’s what’s going to happen here.  I don’t know when — nobody does — but I fully expect that sometime later this year there will be an entirely new version of iTunes that supports storing your music “in the cloud.”  And already there is rampant speculation that the next iteration of the iPhone OS will enable some form of third-party app multi-tasking.  If/when those things happen, the functionality of the iPad will also improve by a full order of magnitude.

In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.  I expect to start canceling magazine subscriptions any day now…

A Short History of… My Family

This has absolutely nothing to do with music, culture, politics, or technology.  It is a short video that my “little sister” has compiled from family photographs and a memoir that my mother wrote in the years before she died (2002).  I share it here because… well, because I can:

Marshall McLuhan Lives!

Is it Saturday yet?

I thought Marshall McLuhan had been dead for nearly 30 years, but apparently the geniuses at WIRED have stashed his brain on a shelf somewhere and retrieve his observations about the potential impact of the iPad:

The iPad is the beginning of this end. The thin, single pane of glass that comprises the interface is just a window onto the world, an edgeless frame. Essentially, there is no interface, any more than a person’s fingertips are an interface. The long story of humanism — by which I mean the emergence of individual consciousness as a byproduct of our language and literature — comes to an end when we return, futuristically, to doing everything by hand.

We no longer hear the voices of the past, because we have our fingers in our ears.

I suspect the iPad edition of WIRED will be one of the first apps I add to mine come Saturday.  And if there’s a “Mashall McLuhan” app, you can bet I’ll be scoring that one, too.

iPad: T-Minus 48 And Counting – New Uses for a New Gizmo

Open the iPad-bay door, Hal.

Anybody who knows me knows that I’ve been quite looking forward to the arrival of my Apple iPad when a UPS truck pulls up in front of the house sometime this coming Saturday.

I’ve been really frustrated with most of the pre-arrival analysis — those tech pundocrats who dismiss the new gizmo as “just an over sized iTouch or iPhone.” (In case you’ve missed it, Dave Pogue in the NYTimes does a nice job this morning of critiquing all the reasons why the iPad is/is not an iTouch.)

My own expectation is that this is one case where the new gizmo will eventually prove to be anything but “just another….” something that already exists.  No, this is new, and it’s going to change things in ways we can hardly imagine.

Maybe the best example to look back on is the iPod itself.  No, not because the iPad is “just a big iPod,” but because of the way the arrival of the iPod heralded the arrival of new ways of doing things.  Think “podcasting” – a form of expression that did not exist, nor was hardly imagined, when the iPod was first introduced.

"The past went that-a-way."

When the iPod first showed up, it could easily have been dismissed as “just another MP3 player,” the Diamond Rio with a hard drive, a few thousand tunes in your pocket instead of a a few dozen.  Big whoop.  But humans too often see the future through a rear-view mirror (“rump-bumping into the future,” McLuhan called it…) and new technologies are always perceived at first as a variation of an existing technology – until new uses are found for the new technologies.  Podcasting is a perfect and recent example of how that works.  Before the iPod, there was no such thing as podcasting.  Now it is entire communications system, a part of operations far and wide, covering an infinite number of topics, and an indispensable way of accessing all kinds of information.  I use my podcasts now to listen to everything from American history to music business tips.

I suspect the same thing is going to happen when the iPad shows up.  Its resemblance to and roots in existing technologies aside, there is an aspect of this gizmo that is entirely new, and people are going to find new ways of using it that have yet to be imagined.

Well, OK, not entirely yet to be imagined.  For example, Jackson Miller of Nashville imagines the iPad as a personal “dashboard” that gives him access to the many facets of his life from a single device:

Jaxn ponders the iPad

Over the past few weeks something interesting has happened. Most of my daily routine for checking data has moved to my iPhone. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but much of it takes place before I even get out of bed in the morning. The main problem with this method is that the screen is a little too small.

If only I could have something like my phone with a bigger screen.

You know, like the iPad.

I know exactly what Jackson means.  In the past couple of months, the iPhone has also become the center of my media use, too.  Particularly since I found the Google Reader app and started “aggregating” all my sources of text-based content into that single interface.

I also have a Kindle, and shortly after I started using it last year I discontinued my subscription to the paper editions of the Wall Street Journal and the Tennessean. I rarely read actual newspapers any more. But the Kindle is a very limited device — you really can’t do anything with but read stuff, and these days, information use is as much about sharing as it is about absorbing.  You can’t really do that with the Kindle.    So, like Jackson says, the day starts now with the iPhone.  But it’s a little confining to start my day with a cup of coffee and staring into a screen the size of an index card.  Enter the iPad.

Jackson’s notion of a portable dashboard is promising, and gives me some idea how I’ll be setting up my iPad when it comes out of the box. But perhaps the most intriguing anticipation of “new uses” that I’ve encountered so far comes from Nicholas Negroponte, in a side bar to this month’s iPad feature in WIRED. Instead of a rear-view mirror, Negroponte is looking through the windshield when he observes of tablet devices in general:

The unsung advantage of current ebooks is being able to use them in bed. Paper books have pages that can neither disappear nor reappear. Instead, we have to turn them, which is pretty stupid and not at all easy when you’re lying on your side.

So why tablets? A short answer: one-handedness.

And it’s not just for bed. Would you have ever imagined how many people walk around looking at one hand? Texting is replacing talking, and thumbs are replacing lips. Laptops, meanwhile, are not mobile. They are nomadic. You have to sit down to use one and do battle for a connection. Standing with a laptop is entirely unsatisfactory.

Tablets are therefore the new frontier. They are the new book, the new newspaper, the new magazine, the new TV screen, and potentially the new laptop.

That’s the sort of assessment that can only come from somebody who recognizes new technology when it arrives understands fundamentally that new technologies portend new and unforeseen uses.

So I’m quite looking forward to the arrival of my iPad on Saturday.  I fully expect to be greeted my a mortally flawed device, a “first iteration” filled with “can’t wait for the next version” shortcomings.  I wonder how many times I will exclaim “well, that’s stupid…” when I encounter some ill-envisioned function (like the absence of Flash).

But what I’m really looking forward to is the discovery of something new, something as yet unimagined, in the way information finds its way into my cerebral cortex. I also think it’s gonna be fun.

So who wants to meet me at Fido and play with The New Gizmo on Saturday?

Cable TeeVee, Meet Music

It’s often been said that what’s been happening in the music biz for the past 1o (15?) years is the “canary in the coal mine” for other media businesses.  Already we’re seeing the challenges facing print media, as their business moves online and they try to figure out howthehell to monetize “free.”

Television and film have been (somewhat) immune from those changes, if only because the much larger data requirements of visual information requires much more bandwidth than has been available… until now:

Cable TV was always a bad model for the consumer because, in a sense, you’re paying twice. When you watch The Daily Show, for example, you pay the cable company to bring Comedy Central’s programming into your home. But you also contribute to Comedy Central’s bottom line by watching its ads. However, the Internet allows you to connect directly to Comedy Central without the cable company go-between. You only pay once — either with your eyeballs on ComedyCentral.com, or with your wallet on iTunes….

It’s not hard to foresee a day when Americans come home and, using an Internet TV system that would probably look a lot like your DVR menu, queue up the latest situation comedy or key in to a live news broadcast.

So it’s probably a good thing that companies like Comcast had the good sense some years ago to start offering “high-speed internet” through their coaxial pipes, because pretty soon, that’s going to be their entire business.

How Do You Earn A Quarter Million A Year as a “Folk” Singer?

And the answer, happily, is NOT “Start with a half million…”

Ellis Paul, the $250k/yr Man

Or so we learn from a recent article Music Think Tank.  Cyber PR Maven Ariel Hyatt talked with Rachael Kllen from Black Wolf Management, the company that manages Ellis Paul, in which the operative exchange is:

AH: If possible (I know you may not want to share this information), can you share the amount of money you have grossed in the last 12 months, broken down by months correlating with market, and promotional, and touring efforts? Don’t mind sharing I think it’s valuable to musicians.

RK/ EP: Ariel we are happy to share this information, Ellis thinks this is valuable to other musicians. But the breakdown I would need a little more time to breakdown

Gross is $270,000 (his expenses are very high so he nets less than half of that)

AH: How many die hard fans, fans that will buy everything and anything from you, would you imagine that you have?

RK/ EP: 2500

Now, let’s do the math.  Let’s round that $270k gross to $250k (yep, that’s a quarter million!), and divide that by those 2500 “true fans” and what do you get?  An active fan base that, apparently, spends on average $100/yr to listen to, see, enjoy, and otherwise support Ellis Paul.

Now, granted, that 2,500 “true fans” surely does not represent the entire fan base, nor does the “math” imply that those 2,500 “true fans” all sent one hundred of their hard-earned dollars into Ellis Paul’s coffers.

What it DOES say that if you DO have 2,500 true fans, and if you have a support system that communicates and “manages” that fan base, then, at the very least, you have the foundation on which you can earn a six-figure income as a traveling troubadour.

The key word in that last paragraph — in case you missed it — was “manages.”  I think that accounts for why performers like David Wilcox or Ellis Paul enjoy the living that they do.  Because they’re not trying to “do it all” themselves.

Another Crack in the “Product” Wall

I remember the first time I heard somebody — the manager of a band called “Goose Creek Symphony — refer to a box of CDs as “product.”  The use of the terms struck me as oddly discordant.  Cereal is a “product.”  Soap is a “product.”  Toilet paper is a “product.”  I never thought — and still can’t think — of music as a “product.

The promise of the digital era is that music can no longer be thought of in those terms.  It’s not entirely clear yet what in terms it can be thought of; maybe it’s “process,” as in “the process of engagement between performer and audience.” And here’s Techdirt reporting on one emerging scenario re: how that process sustains a creative enterprise:

More And More Musicians Embracing Free Music With Subscriptions For Support

mrharrysan sends over the news of musician John Wood who is experimenting with giving away free music, while setting up a subscription to support him, as he creates a new album every month. It’s not just a new album, but a pretty cool website called Learning Music Monthly which includes some cool artwork as well (and, hey, the music’s pretty good too).

Wood isn’t yet making a living from this effort (though, I imagine an Associated Press article won’t hurt), but it’s cool to see another artist build on some of the ideas we’ve seen from others — like Jonathan Coulton’s song-a-week project, or Olafur Arnalds song-a-day for a week project — and then build a subscription offer on top of it, similar to what Matthew Ebel has done with his subscription offering. Basically, what we’re seeing is a lot of very creative people experimenting — not by all doing the same thing, but by trying different things, sometimes inspired by others, sometimes arrived at independently, but all doing something cool.

In many ways, all of this business model experimentation is similar to the kind of experimentation these musicians do in the music itself. That is, they take ideas they have themselves, combine it with ideas inspired from others, and come out with something wholly unique and creative, which best matches with their own community. It’s improvisational business modeling.

Improvisational business modeling.  Sounds like a model to me.

The Paradox of South by Southwest

A band called "Frightened Rabbit" came all the way from Scotland to showcase at SXSW in Austin

Jon Pareles offers up this assessment of the paradigm twists that underscore a big music showcase/festival like the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX:

The 24th annual SXSW filled every available space in downtown Austin with musicians clamoring for attention. Where that attention might lead — a live booking, a recording, a license for a song, an advertising tie-in — is less certain than ever in a music business that’s struggling to sell recordings.

But the corporate sponsors that swarm SXSW know that music draws a crowd, one that’s treated as a market for just about anything except, paradoxically, recorded music.

Pareles points out that the line-up for this year’s SXSW was different than previous years, less “underground” and more, well “mainstream” — if you can still call anything in music short of Lady Gaga or Beyonce “mainstream” any more.  He mentions appearances by

Muse, Smokey Robinson, Jakob Dylan and two bands making a new start, Stone Temple Pilots and Hole. Two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, the sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, introduced their new group, Court Yard Hounds, with multiple shows.

… hardly your typical “underground” indie-rock fare.  I mean, if two of the Dixie Chicks are showcasing at SXSW, what does that tell us about how difficult it is to find an audience these days — let alone “sell” them plastic disks with recordings that are just as easily delivered as a stream of digits and electrons.  So Pareles makes this observation:

This year catchiness was king, with few misgivings about being too accessible. Bands weren’t counting on a second glance.

Well, “catchiness” is nice.  Hell, I can’t get the Lady Antebellum track “Need You Now” out of my head, but I’ve listened to the entire record via Lala.com and that’s the only track I’d consider listening to again.  So catchiness only goes so far.

“Catchiness” might get somebody to listen more than once, but that’s not going to assure the kind of long-term connectedness that will sustain a creative enterprise.  That takes more than “catchiness.”  That takes “authenticity,” — and, of course, as soon as you’ve figured out how to fake that, the rest is easy…