Ed Note: I straight jacked this post from my homie and one-time music junkie mentor Shawn, a.k.a. Dimples McGillicuddy, blog: The Reazon. Because I like it, and you should too. Plus, I one upped him by including a stream of the recording below. Word.
Now that I’m back in school I find that I barely have time to post about music anymore, which I really regret. But I was listening to some music earlier, and a few thoughts occurred to me which I just had to write down.
First, the song: “My Foolish Heart”, played by Bill Evans Trio (specifically, the 1961 performance at the Village Vanguard). I really recommend that you give it a listen. I realize that jazz piano ballads are not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but if the song hits you in half the manner it hits me, I think you’ll like it. I’ve probably listened to the recording a thousand-plus times, and I never get sick of it. I’d heard the song many times before (“My Foolish Heart” is a classic jazz standard), by other artists, and there are, of course, lots of ways to approach the song. But, for the way the melody speaks to me, and the emotions it invokes within me, Evans’ treatment of it is just about perfect to my ears. Exactly the right combo (ie, set of instruments), playing at just the right mood, at just the right intensity, with just the right phrasing. It picks up exactly where it should, and the breaks in phrasing are placed just right. It coasts along so delicately and gingerly, you can almost sense how carefully Evans places each note, as if he doesn’t want to damage this “foolish heart” any further. Just wonderful.
Bill Evans – “My Foolish Heart”, Live at the Village Vanguard, 1961
Aside from all that sentimental fluff, the other thing that I love about the recording is how relatively low-key it is – at several points during the song, you can clearly hear people talking in the background. And, as is obvious when the audience applauds at the end of the song, the setting is small and intimate… maybe just a handful of people.
And I just love that about this recording… how such a fantastic performance – and really, what many jazz enthusiasts consider to be a pivotal moment in the development of small jazz combos – was witnessed by only a smattering of people, with little fanfare. That’s something that I really like about live music, and part of why I love(d) going to see live shows. It was just that hint or possibility of witnessing something remarkable that would stay with you for years. It’s such a stark contrast from so much of today’s music, where everything is so neat and pre-packaged, and polished and glossy. While production and distribution certainly have their place in music, things are so unbalanced these days that people have lost the notion of music as a performance art.
I was just having an interesting conversation with some friends the other day, when one of them talked about how, in a consumer economy, people start relating everything to images or end-product, and lose sight of the process and/or social relationships that it takes to create, develop, or produce that product – an idea that Marx called “commodity fetishism”. So for example, when we buy a pair of Nike’s, we think of Michael Jordan, instead of the young underpaid workers who are making the shoes. We place all value on the commodity itself, and lose sight of the social relationships inherent in the products or services we receive. (I don’t pretend to be an economist, but that was my rudimentary understanding of the idea.) As a corollary, things start becoming represented as an image or catch-phrase, and in America, truly nothing is sacred. Thus, even something like the idea of social revolution becomes something you can market and sell – as a picture of Ché Guevara plastered on a T-shirt, for example.
But that’s absolutely the case in today’s music industry – it’s a commodity – and while I am certainly in support of artists getting paid for what they do, the result is that it has skewed our culture’s ideas about music in ways that really, really bug me. Music (and musicians) are not (or should not be) little bursts of rhythm and song that can be packaged up and enclosed. Music breathes and it changes; it moves from place to place, it develops in little pockets, and it can come together in wonderful moments of inspiration. Musicians have to practice and work at their craft; they struggle in their careers, or with their technique; they hear other artists, and meet people or places that inspire them. A song like “My Foolish Heart” (but really, any song) is not just a melody that you learn and then, boom, you’re done with it. A musician has to choose how to approach it, and can constantly refine his or her treatment of it, and his or her technical skill in playing it. The song itself can breathe and change as different people interpret it and adapt it. And nowadays, people just know about this particular song that they heard on the radio, or this particular album, and completely lose sight of the long-term nature of music, and also, how volatile and momentary music performance really can be.
That is one of the things that I love about jazz, blues, and hip-hop, because at their cores, they are built around improvisation. No two songs are EVER the same. That’s true in all music, really, but is an accepted central dogma of both jazz and hip-hop. You practice and develop as a musician or artist, and then, when it’s time to perform, you just simply “let it rip”. As musical cultures, they’ve accepted and even embraced the fact that music can be malleable and messy, and that part of the magic lies within the moment.
– “Far from commercial, no need for no rehearsal” – Inspectah Deck, “Let Me At Them”
For what it’s worth, that moment is something that I want to appreciate. Bill Evan’s “My Foolish Heart” is a great reminder of that to me – both in how wonderful a song performance it is, and also in how inauspicious a manner it came about. I’ve gone looking for other recordings of “My Foolish Heart” by Bill Evans, but none of them are as good as his 1961 performance (at least to me). And that reminds me of a simple rule that I heard Kermit the Frog state many years ago – there are moments of brilliance out there, but you just hope that you can be in the right place, at the right time to enjoy them.
So it looks like MOG.com, the music social-network Pepsi to Last.fm’s Coke, will be launching a redesigned site this November, according to the CEO David Hyman’s MOG blog. Getting past superficial interface design issues, the most intriguing part of Hyman’s brief, off-the-cuff post is this titillating quote:
“…there will be new features that will blow your friggin socks off. access to full length tracks instead of sound samples will be available everywhere on mog. we built the best front end to music consumption. soon, you will actually be able to consume all the music. EVERYWHERE . your mog page widgets will be able to provide full length tracks instead of 30 second samples. you will be able to add these to playlists. your recommendations pages will actually kick ass with full length tracks that you can playlist.”(sic, italics added)
Count them, he said “full-length tracks” three times in a span of that paragraph. Hmm, from 30-second samples to full length track playlists. Sound familiar? It should. Imeem too was (and is) restricted to 30 second samples before signing the ad-rev share deals with majors Warner Music, and now, Sony BMG. And as I’ve outlined before in my previous post, the remaining two major label holdouts will soon follow to complete the major label grand slam.
Could this possibly mean that MOG will also follow suit with similar deals? It sure makes a lot of sense. After Imeem hacks through the precedent setting negotiations with the four majors, it would certainly make sense for MOG to sweep in and ink a similar deal, now that the majors are in the giving mood. Could this be the gold rush model for all the countless other music-based social networks?
MOG made a bit of news last March with the launch of MOG TV. Basically, MOG TV used it’s proprietary music recommendation system (based on MOG’s MP3 hard drive scanner) to base recommendations on YouTuve music videos to queue up in a client based app. By indexing and serving up personalized YouTube content, MOG stayed clear and free of the trademark Nazis.
In order to play full-length audio tracks, MOG really has these 3 precedents to follow:
1.) Ad-Rev share content deals, a la Imeem.
2.) Pay Royalties in the hopes that it spurs enough buys to generate affiliate fees to cover that Royalty, a la LaLa.com. Maverick LaLa CEO Billl Nguyen dubbed it a “grand experiment”. Unfortunately, the experiment failed, and LaLa pulled the plug soon after making the announcement.
3.) Ignore trademarks altogether.
So really, unless MOG has come up with a new, experimental partnership model, it looks like #1 might be the solution behind the mystery here. In November, when this news is making the techarrazi rounds, remember where you got the exclusive. FBF, up, all day.
And personally, I really hope MOG pulls this off. Big up to imeem for knocking down the barriers, but as a music fan that actually cares about artists, I’m not trying to see an iTunes like monopoly on distribution, no matter how cute and cuddly imeem seems right now. Plus, I like how MOG unapologetically caters specifically to music fiends, demographic business interests be damned! Of course, I might just be saying all this as an appeasement effort for putting David Hyman’s plans on blast.
Please don’t hurt me, David. I like MOG. Really.
I’m going to be at Digital Music Forum – West this Wednesday and Thursday, in Hollywood. Let me know if you’re going to be there. Email me at <this domain>(attt) gmail dot kom. Or, if you see a mid-20s Asian guy that looks a whole lot less wealthier than anyone else there, that’s me.
I figure this Imeem worship of a blog should mention that another major, Sony-BMG, has agreed to take the Imeem ad-rev share dough in exchange for their catalogue. Two majors down, two more to go. And according to Forbes’ Louis Hau, who broke the news last Wednesday, it looks like imeem is close to completing the Grand Slam:
“Meanwhile, representatives for Vivendi’s Universal Music Group and EMI Group confirmed Wednesday that they are holding talks with imeem for possible content partnerships.”
When they get the Universal deal done (home of Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, Interscope, Aftermath, Island, Geffen, A&M, etc) , I swear, I am going to stop downloading music all together. When and if Imeem makes an elegant mobile interface, the future of ad-rev supported music that I thought was so prophetic will be firmly entrenched in “why didn’t I think of that” hindsight. Well, I’ll tell you why. Because you haven’t read this. But even I didn’t think it’d happen this fast.
Looks like CEO Dalton Caldwell’s Kum-bah-ya approach is working just fine.
I still don’t understand why the press and the techarazzi aren’t making a bigger deal about this. It doesn’t help that the official press release was sent out on a Friday. But still, this is massively disruptive stuff going on — the kind of stuff that will so obviously make iTunes and any other download store obsolete, and soon too. And yet, the Sony-BMG deal, and even Louis Hau’s confirmation of a perfect grand slam, is treated as just another afterthought content deal of another desperate major. It’s not an experiment; it’s the model of the future, and imeem will be a household name brand for it. Watch, and remember I told you so.
By the way, you can now listen to UGK’s recent self-titled Underground Kingz album on Imeem, who are signed to Jive Records. An imprint of, yeah you guessed it, Sony-BMG. A real good, grimy, country-grits rap album that represents the best of Southern Hip Hop, which kind of got lost in all the ridiculous 50 Cent – Kayne hoopla. Anyhow, that album happened to house my favorite rap tune of this past summer, International Player’s Anthem, featuring the crown jewel of Andre 3000’s recent brilliant run of guest spots. Listen to Andre’s opening verse, absolute poetry and marital optimism and singing birds introducing a trio of pimp-themed verses, that somehow all comes together under the soulful samplings of Willie Hutch:
Just so I can do my part speeding up the ad-rev future, I’ll be working on a aesthetically pleasing directory of Sony BMG and Warner artists’ discographies featured in full length on imeem. Keep an eye out for that right here on FreshBreakfast.
Don’t get me wrong… I despise children just as much as the next man, but these lil snot noses are just too cute:
Shout out to Shawn Foozy for the tip.Check out their vid archives here: http://youtube.com/user/sarascratch
When we think of major corporate business deals and partnerships, we’re usually informed by way of cookie cutter headlines and lawyer-reviewed press releases. It’s easy to imagine a team of Ivy-diplomaed analysts, researchers, MBAs and lawyers crunching numbers, writing highly detailed reports, negotiating tic-for-tac fine print and tweaking language and legalities. We imagine a hard-set objective – a deal – consummated if and when a certain quantifiable threshold of benefit is met by both parties involved, as meticulously calculated by said teams of really really smart people. We imagine the corporations as machines, guided by an absolute, abstract logic dubbed “business strategy”. A quantifiable science.
It’s easy to forget that these machines are really a collection of human beings, like you and me. A major corporate deal, in its purest essence, is an agreement between two human beings. Two human beings with their own egos, interests, status, backgrounds, personalities, favorite desserts and pet peeves. A qualitative art.
Where do the lines cross?
I didn’t put Imeem on the top of my last entry on accident. I really do believe Imeem pulled the proverbial (obese) rabbit out the (miniature) hat in striking the ad-rev share deal with Warner Music. The practical implications might be small – users already stream music for free and social networking CPMs (ad rates) are low, so there isn’t going to be too much money exchanging hands here. But in philosophy, the deal was more than ground-breaking…. it was earth shattering. A major label agreeing to give away their catalogue in a progressive format (streaming) for a cut of ad-rev – that’s BIG, dagnamitt!!!
Unfortunately, the news didn’t make earth-shattering waves in the press, prompting me to write up that last entry — to do my part as a blog publishing worm. But more importantly, I was fascinated by Imeem’s own muted corporate communications. Surely, they must know they’re working on a revolutionary model of music distribution. Where are the banners, the chants, the army of yelling advocates? Well, besides me, at least.
Well kiddies, I got the answer right here. In an interview with Business 2.0’s editor at large, Erick Schonfeld, Imeem’s CEO Dalton Caldwell comes right out and blatantly dead pans the essence of Imeem’s, well, essence… as distinguished from a “download paradigm”:
“It is more like a subscription model where the subscription is being paid for by advertising.”
Now if you’ve read my last two entries, that’s hardly a revelatory statement – way to state the obvious, right? Where’s the nyuh-nyuh-nyuh, I-told-you-so, consumer-revolution advocacy? In the same interview, Caldwell breaks out this little gem of zen psychology:
“If you create an adversarial relationship with the labels, you are screwed. If they want you to succeed, you will have a much easier time.”
Now before you suited sharks mock this approach with your sarcastic Kum-bah-yahs, remember that it was Caldwell’s Imeem that overturned an adversarial Warner Music lawsuit into a groundbreaking rev-share deal. A potential dagger turned goldmine.
The reason I find this little throwaway piece of advice golden is because it’s so timeless. It speaks to the human condition, rather than any financial equation. It’s so easy to dismiss the old guard as aging, clumsy technophobes. It’s easy to preach the new media revolution, especially to an excitable consumer base eager for free access. It’s much harder to sit down with your enemies, treat them as the human beings that they are, and make them your strongest allies.
Indeed, Imeem went into it’s own self-imposed gag order just as soon as Warner brought it’s lawsuit. In light of Caldwell’s kum-bah-yah quote, it’s easy to see why: no way were they going to undermine their own survival (much less, vision) by talking smack and enabling that smack to smack them back at the negotiating table. I should be a rapper.
Revolution by way of roses?
Surveying other digital vs. traditional media battles, it doesn’t look like this particular kum-bah-yah approach is too popular amongst the new media kin.
Shoot Em Up Google
Viacom’s one Beeeeeellion dollar copyright infringement lawsuit (cue the Dr. Evil pinky) against Youtube and parent company Google has hardly inspired pleasantries between the two. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt — who, by the way, reminds me of a slightly smoother, slightly more arrogant Bill Gates, right down to the Harry Potter frames — loves to take underhanded swipes at VIACOM’s sniveling overlords (my words, but his telepathic thoughts), famously dismissing VIACOM as a company “built on lawsuits, look at their history.” Schmidt even gets personal with it, adding, “Look who they hired as CEO, Philippe Dauman, who was the general counsel for Viacom for 20 years.” Oooh, burn.
And then there was Eric Schmidt’s keynote interview with Walt Mossberg at the D5 conference (video embedded above). Testing out the waters, Mossberg sympathized that Schmidt might be muzzled by his lawyers on the VIACOM topic, to which Schmidt replied “I could talk about it lots.” And lots he talked indeed, spinning the techarrazi in a tizzy with this choice soundbite: “The VIACOM lawsuit was probably just a mistake.” As if those silly VIACOM lawyers could possibly overlook the viability of a billion dollar lawsuit. But we get the undertones, Schmidty, we get it loud and clear. Some other choice quotes, with helpful translations:
“We’re busy building tools, that will do this (filter out copyrighted material) automatically, because it’s crazy for people to be doing this manually.”
Translation: VIACOM is the one that’s crazy for suggesting it.
“The important principle about copyright here, is that Google operates under the DMCA for lots of our properties. We happened to be sued by VIACOM over this particular issue. Which is largely a business negotiation, I think.”
Translation: VIACOM, are you serious?
“It’s also worth noting that the DMCA is U.S. only, and that the laws differ by country, and it’s a real problem to try to run a global site, as we are, because the laws are different, and you have to deal with each and every law.”
Translation: No, but seriously… serious?
“The law doesn’t require us to build these tools; we’re building these tools to make their lives easier, because we think that it’s good for everybody.”
Translation: We’re busy doing grown man work. We ain’t got time for VIACOM’s bitching.
And finally, Schmidt tries to play the above-it-all diplomat:
“There’s a line of advocacy that we probably should not cross as Google. Google tries very hard to be an independent and unaffiliated arbiter of what the best search results are. And there’s always this line we have to be very careful about.”
But without pause, Schmidt goes ahead and advocates his “personal views”:
“My own view is that the user content explosion is so profound, and so obviously a big phenomenon, that it will eventually cause the world to change.”
Leave it to the head of the most powerful tech company in the world to wave the advocacy flag. But still, it’s a declarative statement contextualized against the implied short-sightedness of VIACOM.
All these backhanded swipes while the two companies are allegedly still trying to work things out.
Something of a Conclusion:
The point of this post is not to downplay Schmidty’s tactics against the rosy philosophy of Imeem’s Caldwell. That’s like comparing under-ripe apples to planetary oranges. I myself was once something of a leftist firebrand in my college days and I’m now on the progressive side of the digital media front, so I thoroughly enjoy Schmidt’s cunning viciousness. It’s fun to see a man as powerful as Schmidt advocating the free access front (albeit with his own vested interest in mind), backed by the heavy legal and financial artillery of Google. It’s like watching some kind of nerdy web-tech action flick, where the nerds are equipped with lots of cool guns and the nerd leader equipped with lots of pithy quotables and comebacks. Or something like that.
Imeem, on the other hand, is just another startup operating on borrowed money (albeit, that sweet sweet Sequoia capital). Their corporate partnership strategy has to resemble more of an indie flick with lots of reality, relationships and character development. And so we see a script involving collaboration, persuasion and subtle psychology. And wouldn’t you know, Imeem’s Caldwell majored in psychology as an undergrad at Stanford. I’m not even sure how I know that, but yes, it scares me too.
Revolution by guns or roses? I guess it depends on whether you own a weapons warehouse or a greenhouse.
Perhaps the comparison is hardly comparable. Whatever. Kum-bah-yah, shoot em up, and I’m out. Peace.
Part 2 of a 3 part series
In what was undoutedly *ahem*, an epic novel of blog post in part 1, I argued *ahem* without a shred of a doubt the inevitability of an ad-rev supported future music industry. The great thing about postulating so far into the future is that it would take just as long to be proven wrong. In the meantime, I will profile a dozen (+ 1) companies doing their part to make me look like digital media prophet.
But before we move forward, let’s take a quick look back…
MySpace, still the largest social networking site to date, has been written off by tech and business pundits as something of a slow-footed and clumsy dinosaur. Despite their apocalyptic fate, the fact is they managed to grow into a dinosaur in the first place. Myspace’s initial rocketship rise in traffic has been subject to a million armchair theories — customization of profiles, viral marketing, the decline of Friendster, spamming, Tila Tequila, fortuitous timing, etc. Here’s mine: that MySpace hooked musicians early on by offering an free and easy personalized web presence that hosted and streamed songs. The social network of choice for musicians, MySpace suddenly had a quite considerable army of musicians plugging their Myspace pages to packed venues across the world. You reach the musicians, you reach the juicy 18-34 demographic, plain and simple. Sitting pretty on my hindsight arm chair, I must conclude that streaming music was the crucial dark-horse factor that lit the site directly on the tipping point responsible for the MySpace phenomenon we know today. And this will be their legacy when (if?) they fade to irrelevance.
In the meantime, here are the dozen (+1) visionary, envelope-shoving companies shepherding the new music industry:
Imeem.com, SNOCAP and Warner Music:
Imeem was born as a company looking to emphasize and innovate media file sharing in a social networking environment. Their tagline is “what’s on your playlist?” and sure enough, the site’s structure, tools and interactive features revolve around personalized media playlists, especially music. It’s like crack for music lovers (I would know because my guardian angel tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no,,, okay, maybe). Despite their phenemenal growth and innovative features, Imeem has mostly flown under the radar of the iPod toting techarrazi.
While they don’t exactly evangelize the free-music revolution in their official press releases, Imeem’s recent development deals fully reveal their off-the-path insurgency. Back in March, Imeem announced a ad-rev share deal with SNOCAP, a digital content registry and online distributor co-founded by Original Napster Shawn Fanning. Under the deal, Imeem’s community can legally stream any song registered with SNOCAP, with the respective artists and labels receiving a cut of Imeem’s ad revenue in proportion to their plays. In other words, the exact model part 1 has been projecting.
Th Imeem-SNOCAP deal was especially revealing in its distinctive intent. Just 6 months prior to the Imeem deal, SNOCAP inked a deal with MySpace, whereby SNOCAP artists could slang their MP3’s directly through SNOCAP’s embeddable widget. So instead of directing fans to iTunes, MyStore allowed artists to close the deal directly on their own MySpace profile. A clever and practical application, SNOCAP’s MyStore application was their big, consumer-facing initiative. The one snag is that the MyStore widget only sampled songs, rather than stream them in their entirety; understandable, of course, when the goal is to move download units. Rather than tag along with a similar arrangement, Imeem shunned the MP3 slanging route, and quietly crafted the groundbreaking ad-rev share deal with SNOCAP.
More recently, Warner Music, one of the four majors, hit Imeem with a copyright infringment lawsuit last May. The techarazzi took a momentary break from their Apple and Facebook worship to forecast Imeem’s litigious demise. Two months later, Imeem emerged from the rubble clutching a signed ad-rev share deal with Warner. Imeem’s community could now legally stream Warner Music’s entire catalogue. The techarrazi was mildly impressed, but for the most part interpreted the deal as just another sign of the music industry’s desperation. They missed the key paradigm-shifting point; for the first time, a major label had just given away it’s entire catalog… for free!
The beauty of the deal for me as a music lover is that now, Warner’s catalog has become an organic part of Imeem’s social infrastructure. Users are constantly listening, repackaging and sharing Warner’s content. So, say I want to listen to any and all recordings of one of my favorite rappers, Lupe Fiasco, who happpens to be a Warner Music artist. The most obvious first step would be to purchase his album from iTunes. But Lupe’s major label debut, Food and Liquor, was leaked early and often, prompting several revisions and re-recordings before it’s final incarnation. I can hunt down all those leaked versions and parse out the unique songs that didn’t make the album. Once that’s done, I can go online hunting for his numerous mixtapes and concept collaborations. Repeat for all his guest appearances. Repeat again for any and all other miscellaneous recordings that might be floating around in a dusty Westside Chicago record store. And again and again and so on and so forth until I lose all patience and rationality and veg out on Hilary Duff’s latest…
Or instead, I can go here: http://ilivformewzikc.imeem.com/playlist/zdPH3bQ5/
And now that his previously unheard discography has only worsened my Lupe Fiasco man-groupie affliction, do you think I’ll let anything stand in the way of checking out his next show in my neck of the woods?
Skreemr, Hype Machine and Project Playlist:
In theory, Skreemr, Hype Machine and Project Playlist push along the ad-rev model along several axises. One, they make downloading specific songs super easy, publishing a link to the hosting site alongside the flash streamer. Two, while it doesn’t exactly centralize streamable music files on the network side, the search function effectively centralizes the music on the end user side. Go to any one of these sites and you’re a click away from that song you need. Third, it’s browser based. Fourth, it lubricates real-time sharing of music. Instead of waiting for downloads, you and your friend can stream it from one of these sites and discuss immediately. In a web. 2.0 world, every second counts.
In practice, Skreemr, Hype Machine and Project Playlist are just plain cool. If you want to download an album, go with Bit Torrent. But if you’re online chatting about a song or reading about a song, and you just absolutely need to listen to a song RIGHT NOW, then one these three sites might be your best bet. Also, it’s a great, low-commitment way to preview an artist or an album before *ahem* “spending” your broadband and hard drive space on a full download. Of course, an mp3 search engine can is only as deep as the web it searches — if your song isn’t hosted anywhere, especially on a searchable blog, then the triumvirate isn’t going to work for you. But again, blog buzz tends to engender public curiosity, and vice-versa — if you’ve heard about it, there’s a good chance someone is sharing it.
Subscription services: Real Networks, Napster, Yahoo
All-you-can-hear subscription services reportedly have millions and millions of subscribers…. none of whom I know personally. Subscription obviously has a number of drawbacks. For one, all these services are heavily armored in DRM. Second, you don’t “own” downloads “for keeps” — once you stop subscribing, so goes your immaculately conceived playlists, tags and ratings. Third, inconsistent licensing and copyrights translate into inconsistent usage permissions, effectively making the playability of every new song a mystery. Fourth, it costs money.
That isn’t to say these subscription services aren’t without its charms. All-you-can-hear subscription is a great idea — in theory. Any song, anytime, anywhere, for the relatively dirt cheap $5-10 a month — that’s half a CD a month. Even with all their setbacks, subscribers have their evangelists, including Anthony Volodkin, founder of (above-mentioned) Hype Machine.
Regardless of of the finer points of user-interface designs, functionality and other such relatively trifling details, it is these type of all-you-can-hear streaming services that have, perhaps, the shortest leap from a universal ad-rev share model. They already implement revenue-sharing agreements with major and indie labels. They already stream more than a lifetimes’ worth of content. Really, it’s just a matter of time before the pricing points intersect — the rising point of a hypothetical future ad-serving program against the lowering point of declining labels.
Meanwhile, you can treat these subscription services as the private betas of that future universal ad-rev supported music platform. Think of any shortcomings and inconveniences as digital kinks inherent in a private beta. Sampling the future of music consumption for the cost of half-a-CD a month? That’s not such a bad deal. Hell, even I’m almost tempted. Almost.
If you’re reading this and you subscribe to any of these services, leave a comment with your thoughts. I am genuinely curious.
Revver / Metacafe
There are a million (+1) YouTube clones serving ads, many of which share revenue. I highlight Revver and Metacafe because these two video hosting sites have particularly visible rev-share programs. Revver’s entire catalogue is built on the submitted, proprietary content of legitimate producers, with whom they split video-roll revenues 50/50. Metacafe follows the “post-now, ask-questions-later” approach of YouTube, integrating registered “Producer’s Rewards” content within the fold of their catalogue. Once qualified and registered, Metacafe’s “Producer’s Rewards” cha-chings at the rate of $5 for every 2,000 views.
Modest incentive, no doubt. But the point is, they’re trying, all the while spreading the “ad-rev share” paradigm. Everytime someone watches the infamous “Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments” video — a virally successful Revver video that’s logged more than 10 million views — we’re that much closer to a world of online ad-supported content distribution. For whatever reason, the video medium has been quicker to experiment with online ad-rev share experiments. Perhaps because it’s easier to create a watchable piece of video content rather than a listenable piece of music. Perhaps it’s because the prolific king of professionally created video entertainment, the television industry, is already used to the idea of having their checks cut from Madison Avenue. Perhaps video/television professionals and executives have heeded the lessons of their fallen music industry counterparts. Whatever the reason might be, they’re trying, and they’re trying hard.
On a practical level, video content is integral to the success of the music business. Since the launch of MTV, music videos have become essential visual content, although they’ve always used as more of a marketing afterthought rather than as a legitimate source of revenue. Appropriately so, artists’ video content, including live performances, interviews and show appearances, have traditionally taken a backseat to the the king money-maker: CD audio. In the future, video becomes an integral piece of content from which artists can reap a share of ad-rev.
Google / Zoho
As mentioned in part 1 , both Google and Zoho are on the cutting edge of creating online applications that best mimic software we’re used to operating out our desktops. Yeah, I know there are a million and one startups and apps that are doing really cool things (Read/Write Web, one of the more thoughtful and less star-struck WebTech blogs out there, dedicated a week to covering the nascent Web OS scene/products). Anyhow, the link is tenuous, but these two better known companies represent the general trend towards pushing the Web OS paradigm unto users. Referencing back to part 1, it is this paradigm that will make and business model based on moving download units an obsolete and irrelevant.
Google Documents, Zoho and their Web OS buddies are not neccesarily making a direct, flashy contribution to the coming ad-supported streaming revolution. But consider this: my father is a civil engineer by training, a home inspector by trade, and he’s taught me this — never overlook the foundation when you’re building something big.
So there it is, folks. Feel free to let me know about any other companies pouring concrete. I know there are a lot out there.
Part 1 of a 3 part series
I had a friend in high school, Shawn, who personified “music lover” to unhealthy extremes. Shawn spent a good portion of his money on albums, but coming from a humble background, it was never enough. He invested in a CD burner soon after they hit the market, borrowing and burning his friends’ and families’ CD collections, stacks at a time. Shawn was addicted to music — to the brink of clinical obsession — and the more he fed it, the more his appetite grew, until his friends’ collections were tapped. So he began stealing from the local Tower Records. And as unnatural born criminals are wont to do, Shawn soon became careless and brazen. He was arrested on a sunny Saturday afternoon, lead away in handcuffs while a throng of shoppers gathered to watch the suburban spectacle. A good kid at heart and in school, Shawn was especially devastated by the quiet disappointment of his parents. However, he soon found peace with himself, interpreting the whole incidence as a blessing that nipped a nascent criminal career in the bud.
Ten years later, in 2007, Shawn has since downloaded enough songs to fill the shelves at the same Tower Records store that prosecuted him… that is, if Tower were still in business. Poetic justice? Well… not really. But you should see Shawn’s smile when he’s showing off his music collection — priceless.
Just like how much he payed for his collection.
We all know that the music business isn’t looking too healthy these days. There’s an earthquake rattling the foundations of the old media empire, and nothing fits better into the shifting continental plates than those cute little MP3 files. The era of plastic packaging was a very profitable era for the music industry; one that they damn near got down to a quantifiable science. That business peaked in 2000, with U.S. consumers buying over 788.6 million albums. Unfortunately for them, that was also the year Napster hit critical mass.
So it’s understandable that the music industry’s natural reaction would be to guard the old model, via RIAA scare tactic lawsuits and laughable PSAs. It’s what they know, it’s what made them rich, and backed into a corner, naturally, they snarl. They seem scary now, but inevitability will run its due course.
Just 6 years into the post-Napster era, U.S. consumers purchased 553.2 million albums… a laughably morbid 30% decline. But what of the contributions of the record-breaking 27.6 million purchased digital album downloads in 2006? Nothing but a drop in the differential bucket; a shot of morpheme for a terminally ill business model.
However, music itself is thriving. Thanks to file sharing – whether legal or not – even casual music fans own literally thousands of albums and songs; a collection once previously reserved for only the most wealthiest of music aficionados. So while CD sales are plunging ever further down the red ink abyss, more people are listening to more recordings by more artists than ever before. Music itself – as a sound unit, rather than as a SoundScan unit — has entered a golden age that looks even more golden down the road.
And what exactly does that inevitable future look like? Well, it looks absolutely liberating. Virtually any song ever recorded will be available legally, on-demand, and most importantly, at absolutely no cost to the consumer. Artists will eat. Labels will profit. And the music! The music will ring loud, far and wide, existing in its most natural state of being, liberated from the confines of priced units.
… yeah, so this will be where I will be storing all them pressed words.
It’s all fun and games no(w), but you’ll be crying when I drop a babble bomb all up on that. And don’t think I won’t do it either.