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 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…

$10 Is Still Considerably More Than $0

Somewhere amid all the verbiage on this site (which has recently been imported from another site) you will find the supposition that digital delivery is rapidly reducing “the remunerative value of recorded music to something approaching zero.”  The notion is based on basic economics:  the “law of supply and demand” suggests that if the supply is infinite, then eventually the price is going to zero, regardless of the demand.  We already see that with the nascent emergence of streaming delivery services like, Mog, and Spotify, where CDs that once cost $15 can be streamed as many times as a user wants for as little as $1.00.

Universal Music GroupNow, apparently, Universal Music Group (UMG), one of the four (hard to keep track with all the mergers… is it still four?) “major label” conglomerates, announced that it will be reducing the retail price of CDs (which assumes they can still find “retail” outlets for their products…):

NEW YORK (Billboard) – Universal Music Group (UMG) is embarking on one of the most ambitious efforts yet to boost U.S. CD sales, with the test of a new pricing structure designed to sell most new releases by current artists at $10 or less at retail.

Apparently, they’re getting the message, if slowly.  What was $15 or $20 is now $10.  Soon it will be $1.  Then it’s just another small step to…. $0.

The question for the Cohesion Arts constituency is, what does this price reduction mean for the CDs sold at shows?  The typical price has been $15, though some are experimenting with $10 and others are experimenting with the “just pay us whatever you think it’s worth” model (often with better results than a fixed price).

My contention is that the music advocated around here is worth a lot more than most of what “the majors” force on the witless masses.  I doubt most of what passes for “commercial” music these days is worth even $10 for a disk.

Lessons from the Road

Tom Kimmel

My old (in both senses of the word) friend Tom Kimmel spends a fair amount of every year wandering around the world, singing his songs wherever two or more are gathered.  In a recent e-newsletter he shares some of the invaluable lessons he has learned from those many days on the road:

10. Winter is a good time to play in Florida.

9. The Kansas City airport is a hundred miles from Kansas City, and the Denver airport is actually in Nebraska.

8. Fly Southwest: book ahead, pay for early check-in, carry on your guitar, and bring your own sandwich.

7. Avoid the rooms by the indoor pool, the ice machine and the elevator.

6. “Urinal farthest from the door… has the least pee on the floor.”

5. Unless you’re a masochist, avoid your GPS’s “dominatrix” voice setting.

4. The Highway Patrol officer is not interested in your story.

3. Check in, put a towel over the television and go to sleep.

2. Truck stops have the best gizmos, but never take a shower at one.

1. There are good people everywhere, and they’ll help you out if you give them a chance.

“Social Media” ? Give It a Minute…

…or more like a coupla/few of months.

I’m always intrigued when somebody professes to be an expert in “social networking” because I figure an “expert” is somebody who’s been at something for a while — you know, like, years — which is really longer than “social networking” has actually been around.

But in the endlessly evolving environment of digital media, an “expert” is really somebody who knows…. just a little more than you do.

Bill Seaver

By that (admittedly low?) standard, Bill Seaver is somebody who has lately focused his attention as a marketing expert on social media, so it warrants our attention when he says:

In my experience it takes three or four months for most people to begin to see positive results in any of the above areas. By they time they cross the six month mark, however, they tend to feel like they really have momentum going for themselves and the sky is the limit.

Amen.  The post is worth reading — but bring with it the understanding that there is going to be a lot of diligent “hand-cranking” of these “high-tech” tools before you’ll see any meaningful results.  It will take at least four months, maybe six, maybe more before the effort pays off.  So add the word “patient” to the expression “hand-cranking.”

And don’t be surprised if the skill sets you acquire at the outset of that period are entirely different from the skill sets you wind up with at the end.


Someday soon, the answers to all your questions will be found here. In the meantime…

Many thanks to Mitch Canter for his effortless importing of all the pertinent data from to this new site.  That was really amazing.

I will be using this site to continue my observations re: the evolution of the digital delivery of our various amusements.  I will also be posting stories that illuminate how one succeeds in the endlessly evolving digital environment (second time I’ve used that phrase today, I should get a trademark…).

Hopefully it all fits together into something… coherent… cohesive.  Hence the name, “Cohesion Arts.”

And don’t worry about that generic theme, that too will change, along with lord knows what else.  I’m starting to like this WordPress platform.  The possibilities are also… endless.

Is the Merger Destined for the iPad?

Last week offered some thoughts about how the iPad will work as a music player.  I think they're on the right track with this item: 


Cloud-based music service. Even if the iPad had wireless sync, the most affordable model has only 16GB of storage. This isn't enough for most music lovers' digital collections, especially if they're going to use the iPad for other functions like electronic books and photos. So how about taking that Lala acquisition and using it? Instead of having to load music onto the iPad itself, I could sync it from my computer to Lala's online music locker service, then stream it over the Web directly to my device. Bye-bye, storage limits. Best of all, every time I update my music collection, it's updated everywhere simultaneously. This is such a no-brainer I'd be stunned if Apple doesn't make it available shortly after the iPad launches.


This seems pretty obvious to me. I wonder what sort of a fast-track the Lala team is on to incorporate its functions into the iPad version of iTunes.

One disadvantage of the impending iPad compared to, say, an actual MacBook is the absence of third-party multi-tasking. On the MacBook, that capability is essential for the "browser is my iPod" scenario because it requires Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil software to flip the audio signal from my browser to an Airport Express (or Apple TV) and then to my stereo.

Without multi-tasking, that scenario is not going to work with the iPad. But I can still use iTunes to connect to my Airport Express or Apple TV, since iTunes has audio export to other devices built right in. So what's missing is the ability to access my music collection from the iPad without needing to store the whole 60GB collection on the device itself.

I'm sure Apple knows this, and that's why the company acquired My entire music collection is already in Lala's cloud. I suspect it is only a matter of time before it shows up in my iPad's cloud as well.

iPad: It’s The Chair, Stupid

OK, I guess it’s time to admit that I’m running too many blogs, and I need to figure out some way to consolidate them.  It dawns on me I haven’t had much to say here about the iPad, when it suddenly further dawns on me that that’s because I’ve been posting my iPad observations over at  Like this one:


Everything they say about the new iPad is right, and everything they say about it is wrong. Mostly, I think they miss the point. The breakthrough with the iPad is not the gizmo itself, or the way it will deliver “iBooks.” It’s the way we will sit with it.

Until yesterday, there were three ways that people interface with a video device. The first was the original – television – sitting back on a chair or sofa with the screen in the distance. The second was the computer, sitting at desk, leaning forward with a keyboard, or in your lap. The third was with a smartphone – staring at your hand.

Now there is finally a way to access all the media of the web – text, audio, video, games – while seated comfortably in a sofa or chair, the way we sit with a book or a magazine, from a screen larger than a deck of cards.

The device itself is certainly not perfect, but it is a powerful first iteration of the way people are going to use digital devices in the future.

And only the future will reveal how content will evolve to suit the new technology. It always does.

Pru Clearwater & The Infinite Field

Part musical theater, part performance art, all metaphysical kirtan acoustic rock & roll… maybe the most original thing happening in Nashville these days.  Here are photos from three shows in 2009, with a preliminary mix of one of the songs from the show, “Oh Wey Oh.”

Pru Clearwater

Pru Clearwater taps into the Infinite Field

Click the photo above to open the slide show; click the |> play button to start the photos and audio playback.

iWhatever: It’s the Content, Stupid

Ipad  With 24-some hours remaining before introducing the newest world-transforming, life saving, cancer-curing gizmo, the iWhatever, Apple's recent acquisition of looms ever more intriguing.  

The Internets are rife with speculation about what that merger means.  Will iTunes be moving to the cloud?  Will Apple start offering streaming music for a fraction of the cost of downloads?  Will there be an "all your ears can eat" subscription service? Will Michael Robertson's head explode? (Michael came up with a cloud-based music delivery scenario ten years before people started talking about "cloud computing" — and the music industry promptly clubbed him into oblivion. And they're still clubbing him.  Another case of "the second mouse gets the cheese" ?) 

Whatever the plans for Lala, you can bet it figures tightly into Apple's plans for its new gizmo, which conceivably offers the potential to completely alter how people use digital technologies.  That it will a) not have a hard drive and b) have all kinds of wireless capabilities pretty well dictates that whatever content it does deliver will not likely be stored on the device itself.  

Now we're starting to see all kinds of speculation about the "content" deals that Apple has been quietly making as it gets ready for tomorrow's big announcement: 

According to various rumors, Apple has been in contact with a variety of media outlets ranging from magazine publishers like Condé Nast to newspaper vendors like the New York Times to book publishers like McGraw-Hill Education to bring a variety of publications to the tablet. And this I think represents one of the key pillars to Apple's successful business strategy–marrying devices with content.

What's more, Apple appears poised to dramatically expand the capabilities of its already capable iTunes platform. Via its acquisition of, Apple will be able to sell music, and perhaps other content, through a streaming scenario–and may be able to charge less for the stream than for the straight download. The company also is rumored to be planned a Web-based version of iTunes, which would make the platform more user friendly and nimble than its current 100-or-so megabytes. Couple these advances with the addition of newspapers, magazines and books to iTunes and the platform becomes a one-stop content shop for iPhones, iTablets and the rest.


As I already mentioned on that other blog post yesterday, my iPhone has already become my content delivery device of choice.  It has pretty much displaced my Kindle because it not only delivers more stuff, but I can do more with that stuff from the iPhone than the Kindle.  The iWhatever promises to put all that iPhone capability into a more Kindle-size package.  I can hardly f'ing wait. 

It's the combination of content and technology that makes the iPhone more valuable to me than the Kindle.  So I think you can pretty well bet that music is going to be a big part of the content that iWhatever delivers. 

Cloud storage?  Streaming delivery?  Lower prices?  Subscription service?   My bet is on all of the above.  And exploding heads to boot.