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. 

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Sam & Ruby

First, listen to the profile by Craig Havighurst from Nashville’s NPR station, WPLN:

Duos from Nashville have usually been siblings channeling the close harmonies of the Everly Brothers or the romance of classic George Jones/Tammy Wynette country duets. But in today’s eclectic Music City, one of the most exciting and buzzed about duos is Sam & Ruby, who draw their strength from just how different each is from the other. WPLN’s Craig Havighurst has this profile:

Click here:  (audio speaker audio feature) to listen to Craig’s report.

Then listen to San & Ruby’s album, “The Here And The Now,” in its entirety and for the first time for free, via Lala.com:


Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: from “The National Parks” — Al Petteway

AlPetteway You know that rolling, bending, percussive, open-tuned guitar solo that you keep hearing over and over again throughout the Ken Burns PBS series, “The National Parks”?

The track is called “Sligo Creek,” and it’s played by noted finger-style guitarist Al Petteway, who has recorded many of my very favorite acoustic instrumental albums with his wife, Amy White.

Click “play” on the player below to listen to the album “Caledon Wood” in its entirety, for free, via Lala.com.  Sligo Creek is the second track on the album.

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Bonnie Bishop

Bonniebishop After the Americana Conference last month, I sat down with the showcase listing and Lala.com and started listening to the performers (someday I’ll explain why I hate the word “acts”) whose performances I’d missed.

One of the first performers I discovered was Bonnie Bishop, out of Austin.  The tune that sunk the harpoon is the second cut from this album, “Lucky Ones.”  With Bonnie’s throaty, softly growling vocals and a unique take on the vagaries of love, here’s the sort of song you will likely never hear on the radio that makes you — well, me, anyway — so grateful to have access through this channel I’m calling the Celestial Jukebox.

I listened to “Lucky Ones” about a half dozen times, and decided this morning I need to spring (right, the whole buck…) for the entire album.  And the rest of the record is just as strong as Lucky Ones.  But I’m going to hold out until Bonnie plays a show here in Nashville later this month before I spring to the actual CD, and maybe get Bonnie to sign it for me.

Photo of Bonnie Bishop by jbwutx via flickr.com

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Owl City

Owlcity I’ve heard some of this record before.  Electronica is not ordinarily my thing, but this is pretty infectious. If the first track doesn’t grab you, skip down to “Fireflies” and then come back for more.

This comes with a nod to digital music denizen Bob Lefsetz, who writes of the single “Fireflies:”

Where does the magic start?

Sure, there’s an ethereal intro, but it’s not riveting.

Then there’s that hooky groove, with the big bass beat, without sounding like what’s on Top Forty radio, which is only groove, sans melody. This guy with a thin voice is singing up and down the scale, this is not a Timbaland production.

Then there are the strings! Brian Wilson knew the power of strings, they’re not anathema to pop music, they’re not inherently schmaltzy, they add meaning, and texture.

Then the processed vocals when the song breaks down, kind of like Steve Marriott in “Itchycoo Park”, if Steve Marriott was a wimp.

Then, when the verse begins again, there’s more in the track. The calliope-like sound brings in joy, those strings add counterpoint. The line about the disco ball warms you up, then the whole track comes alive, like a denizen finally awaking from a slumber.

Then, back into that verse groove. You may tire of counting sheep, but now you’re fully enraptured, you’ve left the planet, you’re in music wonderland.

“I’d like to make myself believe”

That this track will be inspirational, that it will cause the business to do a 180, that melody will return, that music will eclipse marketing, that a whole row of infectious tracks will come driving down the pike.

Doubtful.

But this guy did cut this wholly alone, in his basement. He didn’t go on “American Idol”, didn’t need Kara DioGuardi to polish it into oblivion. All he needed was tools, to follow his muse.

I’d like to make myself believe that music this good doesn’t need a major label to break through. That just putting it up online is enough to get you started. That appears to be the Owl City story, then again, who knows where truth lies.

But the truth is “Fireflies” is a fucking great track. The best on the Owl City album, but not the only good one.

Admittedly, some of the music on this album is an acquired taste, especially for an acoustic-oriented fogie like yours truly. But, lLike the music or not, there is no denying that Owl City is a story that could not have happened in any era other than the one we’re now entering, Music 3.0.

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Landon Pigg

LandonPiggBoyCover

I've been taking a keen interest this week in the pioneering music marketing efforts of Nettwerks, the management firm spearheaded by Terry McBrideLandon Pigg is one of Nettwerk's clients.  Listen to his new album, The Boy Who Never free and in its entirely from the playlist on the right (cloud source: Lala.com)

More on McBride and his approach to the paradigm shift in a future post (as soon as I can find a work-around for a script-loaded web page that refuses to play nicely with my browsers).

And, please, Landon, if you're reading this, ask your webmaster to turn off the auto-play audio feature on your website.  I'm already listening to your music, I don't need to be listening to it from two simultaneous sources.  Remember, it's about choice.  MY choice.  Love the record, btw.  Happy to tell folks about it.

Breaking News! Music Biz Needs “Radical Overhaul” !

One of tenets of the “Music 3.0” concept that I’m articulating here is that the experience is less about the “product” and more about… well, the “experience.”

Now uber-market research firm Forrester (via Ars Technica) confirms the theory, and takes a few sacred cows — like Digital Rights Management (DRM) and 20th Century copyright law — over the falls with them.

There is even an elaborate diagram that attempts to illustrate the myriad ways that “users” will cease to be “consumers” in the new era. The “creators” will not so much offer up an end-product as they will drop a marker that starts the process — around which will form the various tribes who will respond in kind:

Forrester_music_ars

The music industry needs a “radical overhaul” to its products if it wants to revive sales, and that overhaul revolves around actually catering to consumer needs. That’s the argument in a new report from market research firm Forrester, which says that the music business needs to give up being obsessed with itself in favor of letting users create their own music experiences with ease. This goes far beyond offering mere albums for purchase—Forrester suggests users be allowed to completely customize and share their music in an extremely open, platform-agnostic manner.

First and foremost, the firm says consumers have the “right” to a unique music experience. This means that they should be able to completely customize what they’re looking at and listening to by having lyrics, on-demand live footage, photos, live chat with other fans, expandable music/video players, and more right at their fingertips. Imagine the recently introduced iTunes LP, but with much more content to choose from and fully customizable.

So this new model, it’s not so much about the shouting as it is about the “call and response.”  That is an expression of the return to the “oral traditions” of music that will thrive in the new era in which music is no longer “product” based.

Unfortunately, the Forrester Research report that Ars Technica cites above can only be had in its entirety for the low, low price of just $499.  That’s a bit of a deterrent to precisely the kind of “mash up” the report would seem to encourage.

But, then, $500 is a bit much to pay for something that seems so… obvious.

There Will Always Be SOMEbody Who Has to Buy CDs

Unfortunately, it will be the few million people who will be unable to tune into the Celestial Jukebox because they live too far out in the sticks to get decent broadband:

Rural broadband_0

Depending on the definition of broadband speed, providing universal broadband would cost between $20 billion and $350 billion, according to a preliminary report released Sept. 29 by Federal Communications Commission task force charged with delivering the National Broadband Plan to Congress. The wide-ranging report also noted that its initial findings show actual broadband speeds lag advertised speeds by at least 50 percent.

The task force said its early analysis indicates that approximately 3 million to 6 million people are unserved by basic broadband, defined as speeds of 768 Kbps or less, but the number of unserved increases as the definition of minimum broadband speed increases. The FCC estimated it
would cost $20 billion to provide
768 Kbps
or less
universal broadband service and northwards of $350 billion for 100 Mbps or faster service.

On the brighter side, most of those digitally disenfranchised millions probably live within driving distance of a Wal-Mart, so there will always be a market for Toby Keith Urban CDs.

Other than that, the only future for physical products will be indie road warriors selling (or ‘giving away‘) prodcuts at their gigs.  But if it’s all “in the ether,” then even the imperative to purchase at the scene is eventually going to evaporate.

You know, like the crazy French Kinniggit in Holy Grail, “He’s already got one…” because with the Jukebox, he’s already got everything.