MySpace made a big to-do over its new player last week. Rather than help independent/burgeoning artists the way the platform originally intended, though, the player screwed them over instead. We've already heard the complaints about how major label catalogues now rule MySpace at the expense of the little guys. But just as egregious was the re-set of song "plays" on bands' pages.
Many bands who'd had tens of thousands of plays for their individual songs found their tunes set back to zero. Sure, those counters have since been returned to normal. But for the few days they were out of wack, it really messed with bands' marketing efforts. Most acts need to show how popular they are, so that they can book gigs or show off to potential labels.
As more of the general social networking population moves to Facebook, MySpace needs to hang onto its niche as the place for musicians. Bugs and oversights like these only hurt its most loyal users.
My doubts about Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova winning the Academy Award for Best Song last night had nothing to do with the veracity of "Falling Slowly." I simply had a lot more faith in their talents than in the Academy.
I guess I was painting with a broad brush. The Frames frontman and Czech chanteuse were up for Best Sountrack and Best Song Written For A Motion Picture Grammy Awards, and music and film critics alike adored Once. Yet the critcally acclaimed dynamic duo weren't invited to perform (not even sure if they attended)--though that druggie bouffant singer chick we're all tired of hearing about got to participate remotely, to much mindless ado. Of course, ever since the mid-1980s I'd despised and ignored the Grammys without felling the same towards the Oscars--but the taint of "industry" had permeated my perception of the Academy Awards, nonetheless.
I watched the Oscars almost solely because of Glen and Mara's scheduled performance. As they sang the first chorus, I actually started to cry--overwhelmed, I guess, that indie underdogs I'd met and seen in small venues could actually have a shot at something this big. But then hearing the crowd reaction--much more enthusiastic than when the Enchanted singers romped about an elaborate stage--made me think, "You know, they really could win this!"
After the big moment, I was further heartened to see A-listers talk about the greatness of Once. Anne Hathaway--who I will no longer dismiss as a mere Disney/romantic comedy staple--even mentioned that she'd listened to "Falling Slowly" for months and "bawled" every time. Just like me (and maybe you)!
Host Jon Stewart giving up extra funnyman time to let Mara give her acceptance speech was the icing. While surprising regarding Oscar history, the gesture underlined a greater context. Don't know if anyone remembers, but Stewart had a late-night talk show in the mid-1990s, around the same time I had a weekly underground music column. His program--rather than Dave's or Conan's--was the one that every band I interviewed said was their favorite on which to appear. All these punk/alt rockers said Stewart seemed genuinely interested in the music. He even took some of them to parties.
So it's heartening that an industry often accused of being shallow could have such appreciation for Glen and Mara's art--more so than The Guy And Girl's own industry. It's almost ironic as the time I wrote for a Florida magazine that was "desperate" for reviewers who weren't old dudes stuck on one genre--and then it rewrote my review of The Frames' Burn The Maps to be mostly negative and ignore the highlights of the freakin' album. Guess that magazine, and the Recording Academy, will be whistling a different tune.
Perhaps that of "Falling Slowly."
21st Century Digital Boy (and girls, and labels, and...)21st Century Digital Boy (and girls, and labels, and...)
Earlier this month I went to Digital Music Forum West. Didn't get to attend the whole conference, but the second day was quite interesting.
Met some cool people from LA startup label Orphan Rercords, singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Evonne Rivera (who's playing at Holly Street Bar & Grill in Old Pasadena tomorrow, BTW) and even Gail Zappa, wife of Frank, mother of Dweezil and Moon--and, more importantly, the perfect blend of businesswoman and passionate art appreciator.
I'm going to be posting a series of blogs over the next few days, recapping stuff that was said and done. If you can't wait, check out what I wrote for my work blog about DMF.
Pretty exciting to be an independent musician these days.
Getting to Consistency: Don't Make Your Users Think stressed that consistency should not become legacy. While people (or what the detached refer to as "users") value comfort and familiarity, what works best evolves over time. Embrace change as long as the benefits are obvious. It reminded me of Taylor's conversation with Chirag about the pros and cons of two possible user interfaces. They went with the one that was less common but more usable.
Grids Are Good and How to Design with Them reassured me that the principles learned in my print design courses still apply to the Web. Khoi and Mark went through the steps of creating a grid-based layout through a combination of math and eyeballing it. See the results for yourself.
Beautiful Algorithms: Design from Nature and Mathematics showed how algorithms generate beauty in both nature and technology. Like the reaction-diffusion patterns found on tropical fish, or the L-systems and self-similarity of plants. I'm glad Alec focused on real-world and simulated examples of this stuff and not on the crazy formulas behind it all. It was reminiscent of the movie Pi, where a paranoid mathematician searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. Just listen to the sample at the end of Jedi Mind Tricks' "Speech Cobras."
High Class and Low Class Web Design juxtaposed "good" and "bad" designs, focusing on the success of culprits like MySpace, Craigslist and eBay. Paul Rand famously said:
The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.
But I think it's important to remember -- and this was brought up during the Q+A session -- that good and bad are not equivalent to beautiful and ugly. Usability and the audience's immediate goals should be prioritized, otherwise they won't come back no matter how pretty the design is.
Photo by Andy Couch
According to Goldman Sachs (why are they researching concerts?) the number of concerts in the US has almost tripled since the year 2000 to 14,000 in 2006. The average per-concert attendance was 3,500. "The tippy-top of the concert industry celebrated a record-setting $3.6 billion in sales during 2006" says Spin Magazine (March 07).
This was quite apparent during last month's Digital Music Forum in NYC. While DRM was the heated debate that sprung up in every panel, and it wasn't surprising to see some executives squirming in their seats with the uncertainty of how to capture the developing digital market, there was an overall sense of confidence among the Live Music panel. They laughed at the difficulties of the big labels while they knew that live performances couldn't be pirated and business was better than ever.
Anthony and I are at the Digital Music Forum East in NYC thanks to Dan Porter and Ned Sherman. It's one and a half days of panels focusing on the business side of the digital music industry; where it is and where it's headed.
Check out Anthony's recap of the first day. The most interesting panel was definitely The State of the Digital Union where there was some interesting debate regarding DRM issues and a great quote by Sony BMG's President of Global & US Sales:
DRM is all about letting the user do things
Anthony points this out and I totally agree. If DRM was executed so flawlessly, i.e. if I purchased a song I had full rights to burn it, load it, play it on all my computers etc while preventing rampant piracy, I would be okay with that. But that would require dozens (hundreds?) of competing companies to come together, agree on a standard, agree on a license, what constitutes fair use etc. Frankly, I don't think this is likely to happen in this decade. So what's the real world solution?
Plain vanilla MP3s (like eMusic) that let you do what you want with your music. Unsurprisingly, when the audience was polled (remember this audience consists of CEOs and directors of Warner, Universal, eMusic, RIAA, Zune, LiveNation etc) 73.2% agreed that labels won't be implementing DRM-free music by the end of 2007.
Greg Scholl, CEO of The Orchard, predicted the (further) split of the music industry into two: music and entertainment. Jessica Simpson, and other celebrity-esque entertainers and real music. Boy, I sure hope so.
Mozes is powering an SMS back-channel that is projected next to each panel to let the audience ask questions and comment. You can actually check out the live convos being broadcast at Mozes: Digital Music Forum East Channel.
More worthwhile reading:
- Wired's writeup of the show-stealing audience member who laid it out on the table in front of some of the big labels on stage and gave the perspective of a real musician.
- CNet's writeup of music executives general disdain for Jobs recent comments regarding DRM and the fact that Apple is in the hardware selling business not the music business (iPods are where they make big money, not so much iTunes).
"For the last few years," says Sharon Osbourne, "ticket prices have steadily climbed as artists demand more and more money for summer tours. We certainly want everybody to make money, however we also want the kids to be able to afford to come out and have an incredible experience. If we continued with the traditional touring festival model, we would have no choice but to raise ticket prices again this year."
"We're reaching the same point we did years ago when kids no longer wanted to pay for overpriced CDs," compares Sharon. "As a result, they found alternative ways of getting music. That’s what’s happening with summer touring in this country, it’s out-pricing itself. "
So instead of raising prices, they are making the entire Ozzfest Tour free. The festival itself will be made possible entirely by sponsors (they are hoping to acquire). Bands will only make money by selling merch. Now before I go commending Sharon on her vision of concerts 2.0, notice she has taken quite a bit of criticism on being greedy. She (and LiveNation) aren't doing this out of the kindness of their hearts (obviously).
They are doing this because the music scene (digital, sales, concerts, online) is changing, and they are being forced to adapt. I'm very excited about this development. Putting the power in the people.
If you let them in for free will they support the artists? I would. If you let them in for free will they deal with advertisements & sponsored announcements? I would.
Indie music scenesters--bands and fans--often pride themselves on the DIY ethic and on staving off corporate meddling as much as possible. Yet just as Pearl Jam's failed in its plea a decade ago to U.S. Congress to bust up the Ticketmaster monoopoly (which makes the rest of us, er, Ticketslaves), rivals have failed to stop the leviathan that has taken over the eardrums of much of the world. I'm talking Apple and those little white (and sometimes black) boxes called iPods.
All right, maybe it's not fair to deem Apple evil. They simply succeeded where others failed. And CEO Steve Jobs really is a music-phile: Kanye West played live at an Apple media event last year (see pix) even though the rapper extraordinaire was all but unknown among the techno-geeks in attendance. But just as indie music aficionados value alternative choices among artists, so should they apply that same value to the things they play that music on.
Now, despite years of failed iPod killer wannabes, it seems that some makers of portable media players (PMPs), as well as content providers or makers of technology therein, are poised to take a bite out of the big Apple. Or at least nip at it annoyingly. Check out: