Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Idea: Speed Composing on a Music Collaboration Platform

June 12th, 2011

Here’s a proposal for something I can’t turn into reality myself:

There are a number of music collaboration platforms on the web already, but most of them don’t seem to be very productive, because all projects are open-end, there’s no deadline, no need to ship. Hence engagement soon drops after the initial euphoria. I think making music is more fun when it happens quickly and spontaneously, as well as under a time constraint, something you can see in the many remix contests that only allow participants to work on their remix for a few days or even a few hours.

So here’s the beef:
A collaborative music platform where there’s just a limited amount of time to finish a song. Not measured in real-word time, but in project-time. Huh? Very simple. A song has to be finished in, say, 12 hours. For instance, a guitarist starts a new project by uploading a riff. Someone downloads the music file and adds a bass part. The timespan until the new file is uploaded again will be added to this project, so when the bass player needs 90 minutes to contribute her part, there’s 10 hours 30 minutes left to finish the song. To spice it up even further, the whole thing does not happen in linear fashion, there can be multiple forks or branches per project. Again, huh? Well, say there are two bass players and each has a different idea (likely to happen), there will be two branches on each of which the project can be continued, each with its own timeline. Combine that with 3 different lyrics, 5 vocalists, one drummer, you might end up with 30 results based on the original part.

I’d be extremely happy to see someone turn this into reality. Got questions? Just drop me a line.

iCloud – The Triumph of Free (?)

June 11th, 2011

Suppose the currently circulated news about Apple’s soon-to-come iCloud service that artists will get paid whenever someone adds their music to his iCloud account no matter how he obtained this music, there is no reason not to give away your music for free now (as long as it’s available on iTunes, that is). Even if it’s just a fraction of a penny per song, it adds up, and even more so when it’s easy to spread. Musicians now have more power over their destiny (in terms of income) than ever.

To Do What, Exactly? (Part II)

April 3rd, 2011

There was some feedback on one of my last posts that made me feel to explain my point a bit more in-depth.

A legitimate argument was “Touting the process has at least one value for fans: gossip. Even if they’re the nerds everybody else is laughing about. After all, celebrity mags are no more than a collection of illustrated tweets.” And this is true. The point is, what’s the next step in the process of generating revenue? Gossip in and of itself is not monetizable. The problem of a marketer has always been, is and will always be: How do you convert attention into action? Shouting “Hey!” to make people turn their heads is easy, but then what? It’s action that generates revenue. People who buy stuff. If gossip just happens inside a silo it’s no big help, it may even be counterproductive. Trade, be it with physical goods or imphysical ideas, is based on imbalance, on one person having something the other wants to have. When everybody has the same level and quality of information, there’s no (re-)action. Evolution and progress (and also regress) happen at the fringes, not in the center, and a silo is a rectangular shaped fraction of the center with no fringes at all.

The entire point is in terms of marketing, gossip is only a means, not an end. Celebrities know this, thus they’re attending parties to have photos taken, getting them into a dozen magazines every week which in return raises their value as a product. They’re (in most cases) aware they’re the product they want and need to sell themselves.

This is different with most bands I know personally. Musicians tend to think that their product is whatever kind of merchandise which speaks for itself. But it doesn’t. Facts never ever speaks for themselves. As Seth Godin says in “All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories”, it’s a huge difference whether you say “right-wing fundamentalist” or “person with deeply held beliefs”. As I wrote in the original post, it’s way easier for bands to tout the process of making a record (because it’s hardly comparable) than advertising the final product (which is easily comparable), but it’s the result that earns them money partially refinances their investments. If there’s no story about this product that may spread, the product itself won’t spread too. What happens is that within the silo of the before and after fans, they reach 100% market saturation. But outside the silo nothing changes. This is a critical point often ignored. It’s not enough to say “here’s the album we’ve been talking about a month ago…yes…the last update…remember? You liked our status back then…what we’ve been doing in the meantime?…Y’know….er…stuff..” or “Here’s the shirt. Questions? Look at the photo. Front. Back. See? Read the description. Comes in all sizes from S to XXL. Fine. Now, please, click the “BUY” button. Thank you.” This is a heap of crap in mammoth dimension. Why would anyone need to buy this? It’s a piece of black cloth with white paint on it. It’s not a desirable, somewhat fashionable item making the buyer feel better or leveraging their social status. No, it’s a commodity, and commodities are cheap in every aspect.

There is, as with all disasters, one upside. Limitation creates predictability, and predictability minimizes risk. What’s more, limitation creates urgency as well. So when bands know there are 200 fans, they can ask each of them to invest a tenner for new music, giving the band one week of studio time. Delivery by download. Or when each fan invests 20 bucks, they can get a souvenir, which could be a signed Digipak with awesome design (emphasis on “awesome design”, which means created by an artist, not “someone who knows Photoshop”). When making shirts, they can only have 100 printed in the first batch and sell them for 5 bucks more than the second (of course you want every fan to have a shirt, but some want it more than others, and they are willing to pay extra for the temporal luxury of exclusiveness). If that sounds to commercial, it might be better to not start swimming in this pond at all.

In the end, the question comes down to whether it’s a serious shot at making it your profession or just doing it as a hobby. The former requires a tough posture, especially towards yourself, and the latter brings up the question if you want the hobby to be self-sustainable or a bottomless pit.

Touting the Process

March 27th, 2011

…is in most cases a lot easier than touting the result. It’s what musicians use social networks for these days, but I can’t make sense of it. Who is it about? Whenever a musician posts or tweets they’re going to the studio, it’s just another version of “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” Good for them. Not good enough for me, because there’s no value for me as a fan and potential buyer. Their well-being doesn’t lead to any interaction. And when the attention span is exactly as long as the time it takes to read a post or tweet, the question that need to be asked is: Is it worth your fan’s time? Not the time it takes to read your news, but the time it takes to start a conversation about it. Related questions are: How can I facilitate engagement? How do I connect? How can I make it sneezable? It’s easier than you think. (Exceptions apply.)

And the issue has yet another dimension to it. A process is hardly measurable (but that’s our fault, because it’s easier for us to measure outcomes), making it a good means to hide behind. No one’s gonna judge you for this, everyone is waiting for the result. And now, as always, it comes down to whether you’ve raised the bar too high for yourself to exceed expectations. And sometimes, the creators feel that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, which makes going out there and touting the result a little harder. That’s why musicians are still sending review copies of their records to music magazines. Of course, these mags also serve a top-down connecting function within the tribe, but the top-down evaluation component is a lot more important, because a good review is yet another shield to hide behind: “It’s good because some authority said it’s good.” The problem with this thinking is the authority’s voice today is just one in a million, and it’s heard less every day.

Where to Look

March 2nd, 2011

The other week German IT association BITKOM published 2010’s legal music download numbers, proudly speaking of a record result. The interesting part was their interpretation of the age structure of customers, accompanied by a lot of hoopla and (inappropriate) [self-]praise. Since I don’t have the proper numbers, I just made up my own to illustrate my point.

spreadsheet - music downloads

Fig. 1

In Fig. 1 you can see the numbers of downloads for each age group in the years 2000, 2005 and 2010. At first glance, everything’s looking good, aye? Reading left to right, some of the groups are growing, some stagnating, only the youngsters seem to be shrinking in 2010. Or are they?

Fig. 2

Fig. 2 helps visualize what I was talking about in the above paragraph. It may look like your product is growingly attractive for the older groups. It also appears that you have massive growth in the late 30s group and with a little less scale in the early 40s group. The younger groups seem to be stagnating after the initial growth in the first 5 years. And all of these conclusions are wrong. Fig. 3 may give you a hint why.

Fig. 3

Still no idea? Maybe Fig. 4 makes it clearer.

spreadsheet music downloads with illustrative arrows

Fig. 4

All this age group-based thinking easily leads into a trap of silo thinking that doesn’t match reality. Your customers are getting older, so the ones that bought something ten years ago are ten years older today. The risk is of course that your company would say “we only cater to the young audience” which means a lot of more work, because turning a stranger into a customer requires a lot more work and is thus more costly than keeping your customer. So how to interpret this example?

  • Your popularity with the very young audience is falling, yet growth relatively solid.
  • Today’s middle age groups (30-44), who were your young audience ten years back, are your best customers, spending ever more money on you. Large potential.
  • Current older audience is not that attractive. ROI not safe.
  • Conclusions: Do what it takes to keep your core buyers. Don’t overthrow what you’ve built up just to attract a younger audience, but they’re the ones you must find a way getting them excited about you and become your customers, and do this continously. Then, over time, you’re likely to have a solid customer structure distributed over all age groups.

What you might discover when you look at charts this way is your business works differently than you expect. For instance, you could save a ton of money when you realize there is a customer lifecycle and embrace it. Which, on the other hand, requires you to see your customers as your most important asset, not only as average consumers who buy your stuff. The record industry would be better off if they realized that they’re selling commodities, not fashion. Their artists are fashion, but the products shipped are all the same. So why waste advertising space like they used to (and still do)? But that’s a different topic, and it’s already been written about a lot.

It Doesn’t Matter Where You’re From

February 15th, 2011

It only matters where we can find you, which is a very different thing.

Today I noticed a flyer for a concert, and each of the band logos had a caption telling me where the band was from. Guess what, I don’t care. Instead, what I care about is where I can listen to their music to decide whether I want to see their show or not.

When you have only one chance, say something that helps people proceed, don’t make them stop.

2010’s Most Useless Item

December 4th, 2010

Thanks to my friend Olaf I can now answer the question “What do you think is the most useless thing that went on sale this year?”, because he pointed me to Playbutton. It’s an anachronism which reminds me of these maddening beeping birthday cards. Its purpose: It’s sort of a read-only MP3 Player to wear like a button, because it has a pin on the rear. What sounds like a neat idea at first, unveils its downsides at further consideration:

  • single function device: play, pause, skip. Can have image on the front. “Yeah, but it’s a conversation starter.” Sure, but:
  • sharing not possible: You have to go to a store and get your own. Or order online, wait for the mail to arrive. How lame is that? Obviously (young) folks who are “on” 24/7 are not the target audience.
  • not user-editable: It’s read-only, so what’s stored on it when you buy it will stay there forever.
  • very pricey for the consumer (~$20): A lot of money to ask for a device that when taken to its pieces cost nothing. You get buttons and music for free. The flash chip holding the music is too cheap too matter. The conversation it allows me to have is not enough of a Free Prize to make me pay this much extra.
  • audience: people who are into buttons. Well, I might be wrong here, but I suppose that some who is not into buttons will suddenly become a fan.

Newspaper reports say that the record industry is “very interested” in this device. No surprise here. The point is they like it for the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing the added benefit a design icon like this, no matter how small its audience, might hold in terms of connecting a tribe, make it easier for people to spread stuff they care about, they just see “works like a vinyl disc, but smaller and with even better profit margins”. Sorry guys, this business model’s retired from business years ago.

First, make a Point

September 16th, 2010

If you’re into music, you might already have heard of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix, a documentary in which he argues by the example of Led Zeppelin that a lot of music we believe to be original is indeed remixed. In his case remix is rather a euphemism for stolen or copied.

Feel free to watch the video, it’s quite educative. The problem I’m having with it: There is no point. Which, if you think about it, is a deficiency of a lot of documentaries, because the information you’re presented with has already been filtered, so the author might as well make his point himself.

The hard part for Kirby is to raise money for the 3 other parts of the series that are yet to come, but how likely is it for someone not making a point to find support? Besides, how likely is it that with today’s consumptive attitude towards music people care enough?

Well, with about 900 “likes” (by the time of writing) he might pull it off, if he had a dollar for every one. Somehow I just don’t feel like buying an affiliate-linked Led Zeppelin DVD from someone who just tried to sell me on the opposite.

What’s missing

September 7th, 2010

When Apple released the lastest version of ITunes last week, they also announced that they had redesigned the icon of the application. They got rid of the CD, because they claim to have outsold CDs (go figure, in one third of the lifetime of the silver disc), and lots of (self-appointed) designers have started mocking the new icon for looking cheap and they’d expect better and so forth.

Have a look yourself. Some are neat reflections of technique. What’s missing in every single one is art.

To the Fairest

September 3rd, 2010

When Eris, the goddess of strife in Greek mythology, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, she took revenge by inscribing the words “to the Fairest” on a golden apple and rolling it into the proceedings, which lead to an argument between the gods, resulting in the Troyan War — hence the name apple of discord (read the long version here).

So you might have guessed it, this post is about Ping, or rather about the posts about Ping. The usual suspects have been writing about this already (as they should), but what struck me quite surprisingly was that all of them were disappointed by the social networking capabilities of the new iTunes feature. After all, that’s what it is. The misunderstanding I’m sensing here is that people were expecting a Facebook or Twitter Killer App. Guess what, it’s not. It’s not even intended to be. It’s a well-thought idea to sell more stuff by having people promote what they like. It’s the opportunity of having a conversation or building a tribe right in the marketplace — you can’t go any closer. VentureBeat says this feature might well extend to books, movies and apps too. I wonder why Apple didn’t make it so straight away, because the adoption curve doesn’t change.

But what if it doesn’t work? So what? To all who forgot, Apple doesn’t depend on Ping’s success. FastCompany compared this to Google Buzz, which started out with a similar user base (160 million) and still wasn’t a huge success.

Sidebar: FastCompany also writes
“But, once again, Apple is living just a little bit in the future. If it didn’t deliver a signature element of risk in its new product launches, well, it’d be Sony.”
That’s what it looks like. Yet Sony, at its core, is still a lot like Apple. When founded about 65 years ago, they only succeeded because of their persistent belief in transistor technology (and engineering genius, of course), just the way Apple do with their products.

The people who really depend on it (some more than others) are the musicians. Independent artists on CD Baby are worried if Apple will give them access to their album pages so they can use this new opportunity. I’m curious to see how much time Apple will give to its new idea before its declared success or failure.