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Bas Grasmayer

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2015 @ 12:36pm

Sell Features, Not Songs

The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we’re still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They’re supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place.

“The Music industry” has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century.

Even the creative process will have to change.


Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you’re simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer:

  • Music was participative
  • Music was mostly a social experience
  • Music was more intimate
  • Music sounded a little bit different every time
  • Music belonged to everyone

I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn’t consume high margin products while you create.

The KLF’s Bill Drummond about Recorded Music

The KLF’s Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below.

“As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion.”

Brian Eno about Recorded Music

Ambient-pioneer and creator of the famous Windows 95 start-up sound Brian Eno said of Music in 1996:

“Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn’t guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. [?] I think it’s possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: “You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?”

Introducing Interactivity

The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium.

Most people call performed music “live music”???
some people call recorded music “dead music”

The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that’s going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous.

Why is Music still static by default?
Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music?

Look at the gaming industry. It’s a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a ‘special ability’ than it is to sell them a piece of content.

Intimacy and Immediacy

The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It’s hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry’s model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator.

Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly’s theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators.

The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands.

One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator’s wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you’re working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc.

An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist’s success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music’s future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion.

More on Games

The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions.

Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it’s the former that provide value for the latter.

Music needs a new format that’s feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators’ incomes.


There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let’s start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry.

Example: Affectiva & Portal Entertainment

The former is an emotion analysis startup spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. The latter is a studio which produces ‘movies’ for interactive devices. According to a recent article on Wired, using Affectiva‘s software, Portal Entertainment is creating a horror series that’s “exactly as scary as you want it to be”:

“The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense.”

Imagine applying that to music??Some companies are already closing in on that.

Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj

Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project:

“There’s a thing I’ve been searching for and I’ve been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond ‘you just download a piece of music and it’s just always the same’.”

The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you’re being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie.

They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you’ve just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones.

I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say.

Michael Breidenbruecker:

“I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really… no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear… that’s why we sync it to real life.”

Robert Thomas:

“I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it.

As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way.

Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities – what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different – its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun – you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment.

Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player’s absolute and relative position (it’s called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that.

Example: Proteus

Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or ‘game’) was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There’s nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can’t die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase ‘soundscape’. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music.

I asked David Kanaga, the game’s sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music:

“Yes, anyone could do it. It’s maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what’s successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i’ve been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary.”

Example: Biophilia, by Bj?rk

In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Bj?rk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa?s collection.

Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with.

Example: Don’t Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim

Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an ‘immersive album’, which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music.

Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN

Then there’s Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York’s Central Park. In a way it’s similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual.

Example: Weav

Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav’s aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify’s new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav’s platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don’t just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen:

“We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt — in real time — to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav.”


If you’re waiting for disruption in the music industry, don’t look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording.

Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music.

Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things.

Music may be static, but it doesn’t have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn’t be.

Bas Grasmayer (@basgras) is a music startup consultant, and former Product Lead of Zvooq, the leading music streaming service in Russia & CIS. He?s best known for his thesis The Answer is the Ecosystem: Marketing Music through Non-Linear Communication and has previously spoken at conferences such as Amsterdam Dance Event, European Lab, Midem and Sochi Winter Music Conference.

Posted on Techdirt - 16 February 2012 @ 12:13am

EU Member Bulgaria Halts ACTA, Minister Of Economy Offers Resignation

Following a long list of countries including Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic, Bulgaria’s government has now announced it’s halting the ratification of the ACTA-treaty. Bulgaria’s Minister of Economics and Energy even went as far as offering his resignation, while commenting:

“Since there are no damages for society, I believe the move is sufficient as a sign of assuming responsibility. I was convinced that this agreement would be beneficial for Bulgaria. Even now experts say its positive effects would outweigh the negative ones.”

It’s unclear which ‘experts’ the Minister is referring to. It’s also a little hard to believe that someone would offer their resignation when they were convinced they were doing the right thing. Especially when the Prime Minister instructs his party to vote against ACTA in the European Parliament:

“The PM further vowed that the Members of the European Parliament from his ruling, center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, would not endorse the ratification of ACTA.”

What is certain is that the nationwide protests last weekend such as in the video below, which saw impressive numbers on the streets of 16 cities in a country of 7.5 million people, have startled the government sufficiently to understand they need to be more wary about the types of treaties they sign, especially when those treaties infringe on civil liberties. While proponents of stronger IP protection get more audacious, an increasing amount of people are taking to the streets to hold their governments accountable for signing these treaties or comparable laws.

Posted on Techdirt - 14 February 2012 @ 09:38am

Why Music Is Not A Product & Three Reasons Why That's A Good Thing

Perhaps the biggest illusion in content-centric industries is the belief that the content itself is the main product. For the end-consumer, music is not a product or a service. End-consumers rarely pay for music. They put down money for copies of music, such as CDs, sheet music or music downloads. They put down money for tickets to live experiences. They put down money for subscriptions to music services. Those are all products, but music itself is not. Arguably, the only way to directly ‘pay for music’ is through commission or donation.

So what is music, or any other type of content? It’s what adds value to the CD in the box. It’s what makes 2 covers separated by a stack of paper worth buying from the book shop. It’s what brings hundreds of people to one place for a shared experience. But it’s not a product.

For people that have effectively programmed their minds to see their content as a product, this might be an uncomfortable revelation. Yet while uncomfortable, it can also be very empowering and here’s why:

  • Digital-proof. For a long time the music industry ‘got away’ with believing that the content is what people buy. However as music went digital, an increasing amount of people were able to separate the content from the product; thus leading to an uncontrollable proliferation of the content through unauthorized networks. Understanding that music ≠ the product fully acknowledges the digital reality, which is the first step to finding viable alternatives for products.
  • Flexibility. Understanding that music is not the same thing as the product which creates the financial reward is a great way to rethink the products that are created surrounding your music. Music is neither a CD nor a download. It can add value to anything. Some people actually create content around physical things to make them more valuable and easier to sell (it’s called Significant Objects).
  • Fan-centrism. Separating product and content means you no longer have to sell fans what you want them to buy. You can sell them what they want to buy and let the music add value. By understanding who your most avid fans are, you can provide them with something they’ll be happy to spend money on. Example (oversimplification alert): got hipster fans? Sell subscriptions to exclusive content via an iPhone app. Got teenage girl fans? When doing a live show, give them a number to send a text message to for an x amount of money & give them exclusive backstage content from the show when they return home. You can do anything; just understand your audience by being connected with them and realize that it’s not the content itself that’s being sold.

This way, everybody wins. The fans win, because what they pay for is more relevant to them. The artists win, because not only do you have increased chances to monetize, but you will also create a stronger connection with your fans by giving (or selling) them what they want.

Some great, classic examples of artists & labels that ‘get it’ are:

In short, the value of the products you sell can be raised dramatically by attaching your content to it. Your content is valuable, but for end-consumers, it’s not your product.

Posted on Techdirt - 13 December 2011 @ 06:46am

Dutch Collection Society Found To Be Source Of Infringing Content

Remember the story about the composer who found his music featured in anti-piracy ads and had a difficult time getting paid out, triggering a corruption scandal at collection society Buma/Stemra? It was obviously a bit ironic that the music in question was used in anti-piracy ads, but it appears the irony truck forgot to unload a package – filled to the brim with humiliation.

Using YouHaveDownload, a tool that tracks torrent transfers on various public torrent trackers and matches them with IPs, a popular Dutch weblog has uncovered piracy at that aforementioned collection society. They scanned the IP range of Buma/Stemra’s HQ and among the pirated material they found:

The tool only covers about 4 to 6% of what’s available on the networks it tracks, so it’s possible that there’s a lot more sharing evil piracy going on from their offices as well.

If anything, this scandal really shouldn’t be a scandal. Anti-piracy lobbying and campaigning has led to sharing becoming a taboo, while the money spent could have been used to facilitate sharing and to build sustainable business models on top of that. Despite pirates among their own ranks, organizations like Buma/Stemra feel that the Dutch policy of downloading from unauthorized sources for personal use being legal should be altered (read their statement). Even though the Dutch parliament disagrees, the Dutch government is trying to get exactly such laws altered citing EU pressure, even though the Digital Agenda Commissioner, Neelie Kroes (herself Dutch), has stated opposite goals. With people in parliament who do not know “what or who is a torrent,” it’s not entirely unlikely that the govt actually manages to get the law changed after all.

Buma/Stemra was quick to respond and acknowledge that IPs are not reliable to determine infringers. Apparently the IP addresses used for piracy (ending in .246 and .248) cannot be used by employees to access the web internet, so the collection society claims they were spoofed. (Update: their, now removed (cache), statement said internet, instead of web – apologies). Oddly, the IP from which the email with the press announcement was sent, ~.247, hasn’t been spoofed. Did I mention they brought up spoofing after a spokesperson first claimed that the IP addresses could have originated from anywhere in the business park even though everything from ~.240 to ~.255 is linked to Buma/Stemra’s office?

Sure, this scandal is humiliating, but it’s not as embarrassing as the war against innovation. You can use this moment to better understand the human nature of sharing, to understand that downloads don’t translate directly to lost sales, and to rethink your lobbying strategy to push for a more sane framework. Or, you know, you can continue to upset fans whilst amusingly tumbling from one scandal into the next.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if there are more pirates in disguise amongst hardline politicians, RIAA & MPAA folks, and other classic opponents of more flexible copyright legislation. You all know where to find the tool now, so perhaps it can happen through a lesson about crowdsourcing. That is, have fun and see what you can find…

Posted on Techdirt - 6 December 2011 @ 08:06pm

Attention! Monetizing Spotify Apps Is The Same As Monetizing Music

Recently Spotify launched its app platform, a significant step into a future where music licensing can function like an API. Which of course should have been made possible a long time ago, but corporations’ loss of control was preventing that until they finally found a way to out-leverage the indies – or maybe that’s just a coincidence.

So recently we’ve been seeing a phenomenon I like to call the Rage Against The Stream, where artists & labels have been pulling their content from services like the aforementioned. I probably don’t have to point out that in a reality where everyone is competing with free, attention has become more scarce and valuable than ever before and thus the categorical dismissal of access models such as subscription services is unlikely to pay off in the long run (p.s. I love understatements).

The day after Spotify launched its platform, articles started popping up, commenting on the fact that it’s impossible to ‘monetize apps’ and there thus being “no clear upside to developers.” And that’s where I grab my BS-defense-stick and start drawing the line.

No, you can’t put ads in your app.
No, you can’t charge for the app or create in-app purchases.
No, Spotify doesn’t give you part of the revenue of music streamed through your app.

It’s the same lack of creativity of coming up with innovative business models that can be seen in other parts of the music industry… what’s new is that this time it’s coming from the tech side. What it comes down to is the same as competing with free – and saying you can’t compete with free is saying you can’t compete period.

Want to make money by building a Spotify app? Build one that uses Facebook Connect for user registration, focus on building a great experience that’s non-obtrusive, make it easy to share this experience and funnel that back to your main platform (that’s outside Spotify) – focus on discovery and then sell the premium. The SongKick app is a good example, but it can be applied in many more ways. Since it’s going to be primarily power users and music geeks using the apps for now, items like vinyl copies come to mind. Focus on gaining & holding the attention – which is scarce, then build your way towards monetization by doing something that Spotify is not.

Spotify Apps are highly monetizable, you just have to be creative. Just like with music.

Posted on Techdirt - 17 November 2011 @ 08:10pm

For VPN Provider HideMyNet DMCA's ABC's Not As Easy As 123

Besides circumventing censorship, one of VPN services’ main functions is safeguarding users’ privacy. To find out how far these services go to protect their customers’ privacy, Torrentfreak conducted a 2-question survey among VPN providers, with mixed results.

As I was looking for a VPN provider myself and got tipped about HideMyNet, which is missing from Torrentfreak’s overview, I decided to ask them the two questions myself:

Your service has been recommended to me multiple times, but before I start using your service, I have two questions.

1. Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you or a 3rd party to match an IP address and a time stamp to a user of your service? If so, exactly what information do you hold?

2. Under what jurisdictions does your company operate and under what exact circumstances will you share the information you hold with a 3rd party?

A few hours later I received their response:

 1) Yes, any serious company would. I would be concerned about the quality of a company who did not. If no logs are kept it’d be impossible to respond to a DMCA complaint which puts the company liable for a 100,000$ fine. I highly doubt you’re going to find any company willing to risk that sort of liability on a 5$/month vpn account. Good luck!

2) USA – Also, it’s the jurisdiction of the server endpoint — Not the company itself.

A baffling response which, besides being rude, also shows the company is completely clueless about the DMCA. We got in touch with a lawyer who’s a DMCA expert who had the following to say:

“Sounds bogus to me. 17 USC 512(m) says the safe harbor is not conditioned on “monitoring the service.” However, the service provider will be asked for evidence of its takedown practices, but the service provider only has to give what it’s got. The $100k fine is made up too.”

Classy, HideMyNet. Inventing a $100,000 fine to scare potential customers into using your service instead of a competitor’s. Lesson learned: always make sure a service actually knows what it’s talking about before handing over your money and beware of VPN providers that will sacrifice your privacy regardless of whether you are in violation of some country’s copyright laws or not.

So what was it HideMyNet: simply unaware of the law? A case of untrained sales representatives being allowed to make up facts? Scared of the weight and money the entertainment industry’s lobbies are throwing at suing the hell out of honest companies? Or do you have other motives to hide behind the DMCA?

Posted on Techdirt - 4 November 2011 @ 09:57am

Why The Internet Has Been Awesome For Both Musical Artists and Fans

One phenomenon we often write about on Techdirt is how the internet has completely killed the music industry and how it has turned our world into a culturally barren wasteland, deprived of art and even joy. More accurately, we write about people who say such things and point out the inaccuracies, ignorance or basic flaws in their logic.

Critically acclaimed pop culture critic Simon Reynolds was recently interviewed by Andrew Keen and made a bunch of generalizations and claims that are in seeming contrast with his progressive outlook previously shown in musings about punk and post-punk, as well as rave culture.

The interview starts off as you expect it would:

“It’s much less likely that you’ll be able to make a living doing it.”

And how have you measured that ‘likelihood’? Even if there are less people making a living from making or performing music, a claim for which I have yet to see good proof, is it really less likely that anyone will be able to make a living off of it?

Instead of backing up his claim, Reynolds continues and discusses the way things used to be in a romantic tone which doesn’t change as he compares the old label-centric model to a “lottery“, with artists usually having to get “in the red.” Misplaced nostalgia. What a long way we have come from that – from a world where artists were at the mercy of corporations to a world of empowered artists in which they are at the mercy of their fans, their customers.

In fact, people have a much larger chance to make a living from music these days. This can be witnessed very clearly in electronic genres, where it is the norm for people to start as ‘bedroom producers’ and, if they’re good enough, they’ll get picked up by blogs, then labels and will then be able to build a proper studio and make a living from touring. If they’re good enough, according to fans and curators within their niche – not according to label execs or music journalists. Anyone can become a producer and anyone that manages to find an audience and connects with them properly has the opportunity to start making a living from it. It’s not easy, but at least it’s not a lottery.

Next claim:

“A generation has come along who don’t think they should pay for music.”

Then explain Justin Bieber. Where does the demand for his merchandise come from? Who is attending his tour events? About 30% of all music recordings are still bought by people under 30, the generation that grew up with the internet. Even the RIAA’s numbers show it. That does not take into account live shows or other ways of ‘paying for music’. True, the same group used to be responsible for 45% of the purchases, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t believe in paying for music. Just because only 20% of teenagers will clean up their room out of their own free will, that doesn’t mean an entire generation has come along who don’t think they should clean. Then again, where would music be without people talking about new generations they do not understand.

Reynolds continues:

“I think there’s something about paying for music that makes it more intense; you’ve got to listen harder to music. If you pay for it you’re going to pay attention to the record you bought and get your money’s worth.”

Does music that depends on the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance really deserve to be bought? At the end of the day, music being available in a ‘feels like free’ manner, for instance via YouTube or Spotify, means that your music has to stand out. Either by being really good or by having a unique sound. Preferably both. Quality gets rewarded with attention and attention is what can be monetized down the line. No more lotteries.

Then follows a breakdown of mash-ups. Two lines really stand out:

“A mash-up is not something that you’d really want to listen to more than a few times because it’s like a joke, isn’t it, really?”

“And they’re not adding anything. They’re not adding–they’re not a contribution to the future of music, I don’t think.”

Come on! That’s what my parents said about house music when I first heard it as a kid. Those statements, especially the latter, sound like an echo of the criticisms early rave innovators like Shut Up And Dance and The KLF received from the previous generation that did not understand the new revolution in music.

Perhaps some explanation is needed. Part of the mash-up culture is indeed like an out of control meme – nerd humor at its finest, focused more on the joke than on the art. However that’s definitely not what all mash-ups are. Take a look at this live mash-up by Madeon, which we covered a while back:

Or look at Girl Talk. Or look at absolute classics like De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising album, which is basically composed of intricate mash-ups layered with raps. The same for the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique album, of which someone composed a great Spotify playlist with all the tracks that were sampled on the album by the way.

Many new, trendsetting genres, such as dubstep or moombahton, rely or have relied heavily on remixing, altering or mashing-up previous works. The outright dismissal of mash-ups as a contribution to the future of music is nothing new though. This dismissal was false when hiphop and house DJs started mashing up disco and funk records in the late 70s and early 80s, and it is false today. Mash-up culture is pop art on steroids.

After Keen notes that “you’re not allowed to be on TechCrunch and be too miserable,” they aim to end the interview on a cheerful note and start talking about radio (yes, really).

“Anything that can take on the role that radio used to have and deliver new things to people that they’re gonna like. It’s gonna prosper.”

I think he’s on to something there. Personally I have very high hopes for something called… the internet. It’s common to see people looking for ways in which ‘new technology X’ can replace ‘old technology Y’, although that’s never the people that grew up using the new technology. The internet’s purpose was never to create a way to replace old technologies with some a single new alternative. What the internet has done is take all the different roles of radio such as curator, broadcaster, gatekeeper, commentator, critic, entertainer and more, and it has separated or perhaps eliminated some. Now anyone can take on one of those roles or any combination thereof. It’s no longer something exclusive.

Hope you don’t mind the sarcasm here and there, Simon. You’ve got a great mind, but I couldn’t let these claims go by unchallenged. If you’d like to retort, please get in touch. We’d be glad to feature it on here.

Personally, I think this is an awesome time for both musical artists and fans right now. There is so much opportunity and freedom. I think it’s a great time for music and perhaps it will take some more years and further disruption for some folks to finally be able to see that — just like the general music industry’s shifted opinion about that De La Soul album mentioned above, which was initially met with plenty of animosity from the traditional industry. Luckily, true pioneers ignore such animosity, move on and set the standards for tomorrow for both musical artists and fans.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 July 2011 @ 01:09am

While In Cuba, Venezuelan President Supposedly Rules Via Twitter

While Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was recently in Cuba to undergo cancer treatment, several media outlets reported on Chavez using Twitter to run Venezuela. Tweets included an approval of a million dollar garbage collection program and the announcement of a new park in Caracas. As fantastic as the headlines dealing with this news sound, a little nuance is probably needed. Any of the actual decision-making was obviously done in more than 140 characters, and only the actual announcements of decisions were made by Chavez on Twitter. Instead of using it to ‘run Venezuela’, it would be more accurate to say that Twitter has allowed Chavez to retain a strong image in the run up to upcoming presidential elections. Probably a better strategy than censoring the internet.

Posted on Techdirt - 19 July 2011 @ 07:01pm

Can Innovation Through Business 'Solve' Issues That Legal Repression Can't?

If you follow music industry news, you probably didn’t miss Spotify’s launch in the US last week. Prior to this launch, a Swedish music executive was interviewed about what to expect when Spotify launches in the US. One part of the interview stood out in particular:

[Spotify] has eradicated music piracy almost on its own. Sweden was the home of Pirate Bay. They even had their own political party and made the prime minister in national television declare "Off (sic) course the youth shall be able to download music for free".

Three years later, The Pirate Bay is not mentioned by anyone anymore. Spotify is, on the other hand, mentioned by almost everyone – including the old Pirate bay fans.

This did not happen because some new radical law or brutal police force were implemented. Neither because a confused prime minister changed his mind again and embraced the music industry. It all happened simply because the users found a new legal service that they actually thought was much better than the old Piracy one.

What is interesting here is that innovation through business helped reduce ‘unauthorized consumption’ of music, while many a record label exec prefers to invest in legal changes that have not really made all that much impact so far. Personally, I think the recording industry missed a huge opportunity 10 to 15 years ago. Instead of using the legal system to fight Napster and the wave of peer-to-peer filesharing that followed, innovation through business would probably have been more worthwhile (and a lot less costly). Besides that, legal changes on the scale some of the folks in the recording industry envision would create a market that’s even more broken than it already is, preventing other business (like Spotify) from driving innovation and competing in their industry, and would be threatening to civil rights (the rights to free speech and privacy in particular). Enforcing the interests of one group or industry by sacrificing innovation and civil rights surely must be one of the most undesirable things we as a society face today.

Even though Spotify displays a good model for success, it does have its drawbacks. One rights organization highlights an important issue with Spotify: the inability to port data.

Because streaming customers do not own their music, they cannot take it with them. Should they decide to try another service (or if a service goes under), users should be able to easily export titles of songs in playlists they created or a list of favorite music, etc. Users should also be able to choose independent add-ons that make the service more valuable, such as alternative means of organizing their music "collections." Without this kind of functionality, users are going to be disappointed, and we are unlikely to see the real competition that helps drive innovation.

The content industry is a volatile industry. Only two years ago MySpace bought imeem (the first platform in the US licensed by all 4 major labels) and shut it down the same day, replacing all playlists with ads. For this reason owning copies of music, whether through legal downloads or unauthorized alternatives, will stay attractive. As a matter of fact, according to the music exec mentioned above, digital sales in Sweden were up 17% last year compared to a mere 3% growth in the US.

We’re only just entering the digital age. Blocking innovation with legislation and lawsuits is a shortsighted approach, especially with innovation proving to solve issues that legal changes can’t. If the recording industry doesn’t live up to their responsibility to innovate and service their fans, others will.

That’s how business works.

Posted on Techdirt - 8 July 2011 @ 07:39pm

Marketing Music Through Non-Linear Communication: Accepting The Full Reality Of The Digital Age

I’m so excited to finally present the public version of my thesis, which investigates the problem of record labels’ adjustment to the digital age and provides a solution. One of the key inspirations while composing the thesis was Mike’s Trent Reznor Speech at MIDEM. Throughout the two years I spent composing my thesis, some of the thesis’ content was already posted to Techdirt. There was the Shpongle case-study, in which a band went from yelling at fans to embracing them in a remarkable way. Then there was an analysis of the unique way in which deadmau5 connects with fans. Most recently, I posted a case-study of Fulkultur’s The Ugly Dance, which is really a genius way to get your music discovered. Oh, and there was a white paper with music business model case-studies, but it was not directly related to my thesis. Thank you, Mike!

Today however, I can finally launch the entire thesis! It is free, it should be shared and I would love for folks to remix it!

Go for it.

Personally, I have some favorite findings that I will further explain here on Techdirt.

The “Pirates-Buy-More-Music” Chart

This chart seems to indicate that there are different groups within pirates. As is obvious from the chart, the group on the left side is more likely to have bought music recently than ‘non-pirates’ (people who engage in filesharing less than once a month or never). I thought this was an interesting result from the survey, especially since some people are generally too quick to disqualify pirates as economically interesting music consumers.

One size price fits does not fit all

I asked surveyees to respond to the statement “One US dollar ($1.-) is not too much to ask for a song.” This resulted in two groups that were almost evenly split. Around half of the respondents agreed, and the other half disagreed. This indicates that prices of music should perhaps be much more variable than they are today and real attention needs to be paid to one’s target group when trying to sell copies.

Instead of inventing numbers to argue how things should be – as a marketeer, I’m much more interested at looking at the reality and using that reality to maximize the potential. So what do you do when your business model (that relies on control) gets disrupted through peer-to-peer filesharing and other types of non-linear communication? You adjust to the new reality and make use of that non-linear communication.

The solution that originates from this non-linear communication is ‘the ecosystem’ and this excerpt from my thesis probably describes it best:

The ecosystem is an active fanbase which is interconnected through non-linear communication. This means producing a story worth telling to turn the internet’s non-linear communication and loss of control over distribution into an opportunity to get discovered. The second step is retaining the attention by connecting with listeners and connecting them to each other like the host of a party would with guests. Turning the ecosystem into a fun party helps energize the fanbase and amplifies the aforementioned “story that’s worth telling”. Marketing opportunities come from listening to the ecosystem and releasing the products they want, as opposed to the classic approach of pushing the product that you want them to buy. Internet-enabled concepts such as pre-ordering and digital releases allow labels to offer their ecosystem abundant choice to play into all the different expectations regarding price and product characteristics. This most likely will involve a mix of (feels like) free and publishing products or services that are better than free.

The answer is the ecosystem. Note that in the below picture, both the artist/label as well as the target audience are part of the same ecosystem.

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