Tag - celestial jukebox

Orphan Business Model Attracts More Prospective Parents

For a business model that supposedly has no future, there sure are a lot companies trying to jump on to the "Celestial Jukebox" bandwagon. Earlier this week I read that British TV company BSkyB is planning a subscription service called "SkySongs." Now comes another entrant, from the guys who brought you Kazaa.  The New York Times reports:

The idea of selling monthly subscriptions to a vast catalog of online music has met with only limited success. That isn’t stopping a new batch of entrepreneurs from trying to make it work, The New York Times’s Brad Stone writes.

The latest and perhaps most surprising entrants to the field are the European entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. In 2001, they created and financed Kazaa, one of the original peer-to-peer file-sharing services that hurt the music industry. The two have created and financed a secretive start-up called Rdio, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I've lost count now, how many subscription services are now climbing on the Celestial Jukebox bandwagon. Let's see… Rhapsody and Napster are now the old kids on the block. There's my personal fave, Lala.com. There's the infinitely over-hyped Spotify, now I read about something called "Mog," there's the BSkyB service that is supposed to launch next week, and now Rdio, from the Kazaa guys.
For a model that so many people scoff at, the landscape is starting to get crowded. Hopefully I can get a decent count of the options before they start shaking each other out…

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.

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.

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.

Spotify – The Devil You DON’T Know

The European online music service Spotify offers six million tracks—a practically limitless catalog spanning Aaron Copland to ZZ Top—in an interface as polished and intuitive as Apple’s iTunes. And unlike the pay-per-song iTunes, Spotify’s entire library is free for the taking, assuming users can tolerate an occasional advertisement.

via www.thedailybeast.com

…because you have to be somebody to get it.

The question is, what sort of licenses has Spotify been able to negotiate that iTunes cannot? Is Apple beholden to the labels for the 99c/track model? If not, is iTunes the Spotify killer?

Oh, and, “an occasional adverstisement” is NOT free… and… who gets THAT money? Remember, the reason the labels wanted to kill Napster was not because Napster was ripping off the artists, but to preserve the labels’ ability to rip off the artists. If Spotify is in league with the labels, how is it any different on that score?

Music 3.0 – The Historical Premise

Note: December 27, 2010:  Much has changed since this essay was first posted in September, 2009.  For starters, the referenced service “Lala.com” has been acquired by Apple, Inc., and is now defunct as we await the delivery of whatever cloud music service the people who brought you the iPod and iTunes and the iPhone have up their sleeve.  And, as mentioned at the very end, the Beatles are finally available in digital format, but only through iTunes, and only for download, still no streaming.  Both topics have been addressed in prior posts).

– – – – – – – –

The glimmer of a new beginning came at the end.

The “end” in this case is the final scene of a documentary called “Any Day Now,” which follows the summer, 2008 tour of a Nashville-based musicians’ collective called “Ten Out Of Tenn.”

10Tenn The movie documents how ten mostly Nashville-based musicians pooled their resources and put together an extraordinary tour.  All the participants are accomplished musicians and recording artists at various stages in their careers – one or two ‘major label’ names, some coming off major label deals, mostly talented indies still forging their careers amid the ruins of the dying music “industry.”

But what is most compelling about both the movie and the tour it follows is the ‘Ten ouf of Tenn’ experience and its spirit of shared resources.  Traveling individually, each of these artists would have had to book their own gigs, make their own travel arrangements, drive their own cars or rentals, and played their own shows.

By pooling their resources, the ten together could afford to hire a bus and a driver.  And they all became each other’s band.  The film shows them all playing in different combinations, all the accompaniment you could possibly want right there in the pool.  Want to play solo acoustic?   No prob.  But if you need a keyboard or a bassist or even a cello, well guess what, there’s somebody already on the bus who plays what you need to embellish your sound on stage.

Hiresphoto In the film, each of the ten principals performs one of their songs.  The stage performances are interspersed with segments depicting the sort of antics you might expect of creative personalities filling their days on the road.  Each of the performances is captivating, and the all of the clips in between are entertaining and engaging and offer a good sense of just what being on such a tour would be like.

But it is the penultimate scene that seals the deal and, I think, firmly places Ten Out Of Tenn — both the tour and the documentary — squarely astride the shifting paradigms of today’s music experience.

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.'”

Which statement I will now try to defend.

As I see it, “Music 3.0” is the perfect description of the tectonic shift that music — live and recorded – is now experiencing.  And following the transitions from 1.0 to 2.0 gives us some idea what to expect from 3.0

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