Unbundled, Part III: Democratizing the Future

Why democratization and identity are the future of music.

1-e4y3jsz54uhez2xfyc51q

This is the final entry in the Unbundled series on music dynamics. Read the previously published pieces here:


unbundled

Power, Gatekeeping, Scarcity, and Democratization

Which brings us back to the last step in the cycle: unbundled once again. Only this time, the unbundled dynamic refers to power and ownership. The new unbundled form of power—referenced above—removes the focus of power from the major labels and fractures it, splintering it to varying degrees among the plethora of new artists and startups now emerging.

This is the best thing that could happen because it leads to a more stabilized version of meritocracy in music. The top-heavy, unbalanced paradigm of major label control over everything that a fan is exposed to is ending, and being replaced with a much murkier—but more expansive—reality. This in turn affects scarcity and gatekeeping on a massive level.

Scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins.

Ownership

Perhaps the most prickly point here is the concept of ownership in the new age. This is a contentious topic even among friends, and no one really knows what the landscape is going to look like in the next few years. What can be surmised, however, is that concepts of ownership of musical material are evolving. Sampling and other trends in electronic and DJ music, along with self-recording and independent releases, have muddied the waters of who owns what and to what extent.

Now the action of covering or remixing someone else’s song and posting it online bristles feathers. But (most) artists who do this also attribute the proper credits to the original artist(s)—many times in the cover or remix’s title—simply because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps them to disseminate their new version.

Asserting that cover songs and remixes hurt the original artist is a cloudy and jaded argument at best.

Yet, the argument can be made that with this new overhaul in ownership orthodoxy, perhaps the right people are now able to own the things they should have been able to all along. Let us not forget the reality of master tapes (where a record label owns the rights to an artist’s original recordings) which so many artists have regretted. Controlling one’s own material, and deciding what to do with it, are the ultimate power plays an artist can make. Appealing to this new sense of power is the best avenue for emerging music startups to make.

Such a concept is fairly reminiscent of a point Daniel Mark Harrison makes in a piece regarding bitcoin, wherein he illustrated that controlling access to material is the ultimate power: “…any major purchaser goes direct to a Bitcoin ‘miner’…and negotiates steep discounts for their volume purchase action.”

In this scenario, the music fan is the purchaser, the artist is the bitcoin miner, and the service that serves as a conduit between the two is better off appealing to and providing value to the artist rather than only the fan. Both are important, but the latter controls the material which the former wants to consume.

Money and Community

One of the loudest major factors that floats around is the argument over money, from streaming, downloading, merch sales, ticket sales, etc. Let’s be clear though: streaming and downloading—the purchase of musical material—is not where the real money is for artists. It never has been. The money has always been in the merchandise and live ticket sales. What does this mean nowadays? Community.

While it is certainly arguable and many times probable that new unbundling dynamics have struck at artists’ ability to make money from the sale of their music, it is equally arguable that it has enabled them to make money from other, more lucrative, avenues.

An artist can only sell a $10 album so many times (unless you’re a major label darling). Their real bread and butter is in their community cultivation: growing their base, getting people to come out, getting people to spread their music and message, and capitalizing on those efforts. Streaming and downloading revenue is at best a holdover until a better stream is tapped.

The dynamics that exist now in this new unbundled world provide new opportunities for artists. Now, they don’t need to make their money off music sales or streams. Enough access to fans and communication/funding tools exist that they can actually give their music away for free and turn a profit somewhere else.

And this is exactly what a growing number of artists are choosing to do.

The dissemination of their material onto a global stage is much more important than a few album sales here or there, and leads to better things on the other side. A more expansive universe brings more shows, more exposure, more true fans, and more branding opportunities. These are the real things that grant artists staying power.

The Expansive Powers of Identity

Lastly, there is identity. I examined in a previous piece how we’re seeing the rise of “identity platforms” in media. Music is no exception to this. In fact, it might be the shining example of it.

Identity gives music—and by extension all art—certain powers that contribute staying power. Identity is so powerful precisely because it exists independently of genre, mainstream recognition, money, or history; it’s unique in it’s own ability to build bridges where previously there were none. Regarding music, identity brings together people on a core level that can almost supersede differences they might otherwise have.

The power identity—especially in relation to art and music—in its potential to create ever-expanding identities—to create communities. Money is certainly a factor in this, but if a shared identity which draws people towards one another, and can shield them—for better or worse—from outside forces seeking to compromise that unique, collective identity. As music is given the ability to disseminate more and more, more communities will arise around newly-minted identities, and art as a whole will become more lush and layered.

In the wake of these trends in art, music, and media, the power will lay with companies and platforms to not only cultivate these newly emerging identities, but to provide fertile ground for even more embryonic ones. Music becomes a vessel for the expansion of art and identity.

The Upswing

Where does this leave us? In unchartered territory to start with. Artists will continue to grow their power as new technologies make the opportunities possible. The companies which see this trend and capitalize on it will be the ones to stick around and do well. The others, however, who are resistant to this new set of events, will find it challenging to court artists and acquire material if they are determined to hold fast to a paradigm that was beneficial mostly to the major record labels.

Independents artists, and consumers of all strata (not merely the mainstream), will not be ignored or marginalized anymore. They will continue to experiment with the bundling/unbundling process until they find the right fit for themselves, and for their careers. There will be less of a set standard that all need to conform to, and more of a flexible set of possibilities and avenues for people to mix and match to reflect their changing personal experiences.

The future of music is three things: freedom, community, and democratization.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

What I’ve Learned from Chris Sacca: Value, Empathy, and People

TL;DR: Life is all about relationships. A reflection on how Chris Sacca’s notions of value and relationships have shaped my views on business and people.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.31.46 PM

I was debating whether or not to write this a post under the Minimum Viable Network banner, but in the end it seemed that it was better as a stand-alone thought process. Frankly, I was going to save the whole reflection for another time, but sometimes when you have to write it out, nothing else suffices.

Creative Minds

No doubt that most of the tech and VC world is talking about Chris Sacca’s retirement from VC today. And while I won’t pretend I saw it coming, I also can’t say that I’m 100% surprised by it. Growing up, working, and socializing among artists and creative individuals, one thing I’ve come to accept as true is that truly innovative minds become restless and constantly seek new adventures and challenges.

In my time identifying as a writer, poet, journalist, painter, artist, founder, I’ve heard people who don’t quite understand the pull describe it as “lack of focus” or “a desire for obstacles over happiness.” But that cheapens the real feeling that we contend with; it’s not about lacking focus or not wanting to be happy. Just the opposite—it’s about finding happiness and meaning in new adventures and letting those new teachings sharpen our focus and perspective on life.

I’ve had the unique opportunity of speaking to Sacca just once, and in that short exchange, I saw in him what I’ve described above. And it made me want to get to know him even more.

There’s a myth popularized by artist biopics that truly creative people prize art/winning/results above all else, especially relationships with others. Sacca proves that to be dead wrong. In so many ways, the greatest creators and innovators were great because of the relationships they cultivated, most times with oft forgotten people in the background. Van Gogh had his brother Theo to support him and keep him (mostly) sane, Jim Morrison had his long-time companion  Pamela Courson, and in many ways Steve Jobs had Wozniak (certainly not forgotten) to keep him balanced for a time.

Relationships don’t distract from incredible achievements; they are what make those achievements possible.

Relationships Define People

So what does any of this have to do with Sacca? Everything.

My first thought reading Sacca’s retirement post wasn’t “oh no, but I wanted Lowercase to fund my next company,” or “but why walk away, you’re winning.”

It’s simply: “Money or no money, I still want to know Sacca because of the things he’s espoused over the last few years which have shaped my perspective in tech and business, as well as life.”

I’m more grateful to Erik Torenberg and Product Hunt than I could even say for facilitating the aforementioned encounter. In life, sometimes the most transformative experiences can come from the most serendipitous opportunities, and that was certainly true here. (A full reflection on this experience for the Minimum Viable Network is forthcoming when the time is right.)

So why has listening to Sacca and reading his posts been “so transformative?” Because his notion of creating value for others before asking for yourself, prizing empathy, and networking through conviction have become central tenets to how I think.

Core Tenets

In creating the idea of the Minimum Viable Network, so much is centered around the concept of creating value for others, cultivating deep relationships through empathy, acting as a support network when your friends and allies need you, and projecting magnetic positivity and opportunity. When I talk to artists, I tell them to go out and project a powerful, positive persona—that’s what attracts people. In helping a good friend of mine prepare for a lecture on ethics at Syracuse University (happening tonight!), I told him to emphasize empathy, and that power will come from a conviction for honest networking.

To other founders who now tweet me and ask how to get into tech and startups (why they tweet me is still a mystery haha), I say simply: Go and create ridiculous amounts of value for other people; don’t worry about “getting your’s” right now.

Karma comes around when the time is right. Focus on making yourself so magnetic to others that they can’t not know you.

I’m Richer for Seeing Life Through Relationships with People

I’m in so many ways richer for shaping my perspective on life around these core ideas. I’ve had the good fortune of building an incredible network of friends and allies, seemingly through just running my mouth and doing things for other people. The irony? It was never a “strategy” I was employing—creating value for others to create value for myself. It was—and is—simply doing things for others because I can, and because I want to. But like I said, karma has a funny way of keeping track.

So at the end of all of this, where am I?

Still positive, still excited, and still looking forward to my first coffee with Sacca, whenever that might be. In tech as in music, everyone seems to know everyone, and reputation is everything. So I have total faith that people who endeavor to help others will see their paths cross at some point. Until then, I’ll keep learning, keep building, keep creating value, and keep empathizing with others.

Life is relationships. And relationships happen at the most serendipitous of times.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Unbundled, Part II: Shifting the Paradigm

How a new music paradigm is rising out of the wreckage.

1--e4y3Jsz54uHEZ2XfyC51Q.jpeg

This is a continuation of the Unbundled series on music dynamics. Read the previously published pieces here:


The second act in the “bundled/unbundled” production is the “bundled” piece. It’s about exploring the bundling process as it pertains to music, and really trying to determine the proper scope of examination. Said scope, when broadened enough, shows a shifting paradigm of power and perception rising out of the wreckage of the previous music landscape. It’s similarly divided into three parts:

  1. Bundled in the Wrong Way
  2. Power and Paradigm Shift
  3. Sexy vs. Unsexy

The first of these is an exploration of what types of bundling already exist, and how it might not be the right kind of bundling to pursue. The nature of peoples’ interaction with music has changed, so it follows that the things bundled in music should change as well. This is a particularly difficult thing to accept because it requires a reworking of thought regarding something already perceived as “done.”

The second part is a discussion of how power naturally shifts during these seismic events, and how the new power should be held by a previously dismissed faction: the artists.

This flows right into the last part, which is an exploration of how many of the things which should be considered and bundled may not be the “sexiest” or most exciting of things to include. But “sexiness” and utility don’t always go hand-in-hand, and reality prevails at some point.

BUNDLED

Bundled in the Wrong Way

This is the biggy. Inasmuch as many things in the music universe(s) have become unbundled, so too are there a variety of things that have also become bundled. In the light of all the unbundling going on (Chris Saad blew through an extensive example list from everything including music and news to relationships and war), it appears somewhat unsexy to talk about the things going through the bundling process.

Where unbundling is fast and sexy and simple, bundling appears slow and outdated. But in music at least, this is far too simple an assessment.

The reality is that there are many things in music that have always been bundled, but bundled in such a way that they appeared to be unbundled. Many of the things which “music” apps are now trying to tackle separately—distribution, marketing, social, ticketing, analytics, messaging and/or communication, and live booking—have always been bundled under the banner of the record label.

The label controlled virtually everything, from distribution and radio play (yes, payola is real) to marketing and fan engagement. If you wanted to exist as an artist, you needed to be a part of this world in some way. Otherwise, you were relegated to the “independent” pile, which in the years prior to 1991, was much less glamorous than it is now.

Power and Paradigm Shift

When the digital age hit, the unbundling of the record labels’ power began. Since around 2005, major label power has seeped, and independent power has reached new heights. However, in their new-found power, independents were also sold a myth that everything they needed could be solved by partaking in a variety of unbundled services, from analytics to social platforms.

What this myth fails to address though, is the massive time-suck it really promotes. There are a great many things that should be bundled. Things like analytics, ticketing, distribution, radio play, social engagement, community, and marketing should all be offered under the same banner of a startup or new company.

But—and this is so important—done so in a way where the artists retain their power.

Sexy vs. Unsexy

The unbundling that has occurred has amazingly and unexpectedly taken much of the power away from the labels and delivered it to the artists. Artists now have the ability to control nearly every aspect of their operation, from recording through distribution through community engagement. But they don’t really have it all in one place, for free (yes this is huge), with the level of choice they need.

They have a variety of music discovery sites to choose from, a variety of analytics engines to use, and a variety of social platforms to post on, among other things. This is too much, and simplification is necessary. A music company should offer all of these types of functions under its purview, wherein artists can then choose to use them—or not—as they like. Choice and freedom remain intact while efficiency and simplicity are underscored.

But why stop there? Why not tackle the unsexy things that major labels have always done and give that power back to the artists as well?

Have a company that encompasses all the functions above, and then add (fan-driven) radio play, legal information and resources, management, copyright, and informational context. In making the experience of one site all-encompassing, you then succeed in changing the artists’ paradigm, thus changing the music landscape.

Giving artists access to these “unsexy” things is just as easy as (easier actually than) giving fans access to the music the want to hear.

The only difference is that instead of focusing on half of the equation, you instead complete the circle, and do so independently of the former rigid structure.


The Power of Knowledge

Whereas the points of the previous piece—choice and format—led to the overarching concept of community, the three points here point to something different, but equally important: knowledge.

If knowledge is power, then bundling things in a new way to give artists access to more knowledge clearly translates to a shift of power in their direction. This upends the previous paradigm immensely.

As artists gain perspective and knowledge on things like music analytics, marketing strategies, and engagement statistics—as well as “unsexy” things like legal resources and contacts—the power shifts significantly away from the major record companies. Their power has always been cemented in two main things: money and knowledge. But once artists and creators have access to the second of these two things (knowledge), they can apply it flexibly to attain the first of these two things (money).

This creates major fissures in the current music landscape, and opens up a splintering ecosystem of new opportunities for creatives at all levels of music creation and engagement.


The next movement in the symphony will be Part III: Democratizing the Future, which will take a look again at a new unbundled dynamic. Concepts discussed will touch on how the new unbundling will change music ownership and identity.

Stay tuned!


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Unbundled, Part I: Reformatting the Barriers

How unwrapping the previous barriers is changing music.

1--e4y3Jsz54uHEZ2XfyC51Q.jpeg

This is a continuation of the Unbundled series on music dynamics. Read the previously published piece here:


The first movement in this symphony is the “unbundled” piece. It’s all about “reformatting” the conceptual barriers that initially existed for decades. It’s divided into two parts: Choice and Format.

The former is an exploration of how choice has evolved with the changing technology, and how it’s taken on a power it previously lacked. The latter, however, discusses how new formats have changed music and broken down barriers which artists historically were—most times—unable to scale. Similarly, it’s given light and life to format types which for decades have been ignored by the broad base of music consumers, except perhaps for the most die-hard fans.

unbundled

Choice

The first and most obvious form of unbundling in the music industry is the industry itself; no longer is their simply one music industry to partake in.

Now there are multiple, and they exist as completely separate universes; the major label mainstream, the exponentially growing independent industry, and everything in between. Along with this kind of unbundling of different musical arenas comes a freedom for music fans to explore in new ways.

Where non-mainstream fans were once relegated to shoddy mixtapes and bare-bones independent releases (which many times meant lower quality), now they have a plethora of music sources to choose from, as do all music listeners.

This leads to a level of choice the likes of which has never been seen in music. Now, it’s realistically possible to exist as a music fan outside the mainstream in a holistic way. You’re able to not only find the music that you like, and which speaks to you, but are similarly able to take advantage of growing communities of people like yourself. With the free access to all this new material comes access to other like-minded people.

This is community.

Chris Saad pointed to two distinct contributing factors which have lead us in this direction:

  • Reducing the cost of inventory and discovery to, in many cases, zero or near zero
  • Reducing the cost of direct communication and orchestration with more people at once—bypassing the need for manual mediators/editors/orchestrators/curators

Format

Saad’s post also mentioned this within the scope of musical format. What was once a record and CD has now become digital information, thus with more power to disseminate. Even the album format itself is restructuring, as fans looking for a single-song experience are abandoning the long form in favor of something musically shorter.

But this has a swing dynamic as well; while some argue that the album format is dying (or is already dead), many see the opposite.

The unbundling of the album format has actually given it more power than it had before. Now, when an artist chooses to create a full album, a fan knows that there is an artistic meaning behind that, rather than a record label’s fiscal bottom line.

It also lends long-overdue validation to releases that fall in between singles and full albums. EP’s and double-sides have long been ignored by most but the hardcore fans. Now, however, they exist with the same legitimacy as their gaunter and fuller peers.

The Ironic Thing

The ironic thing about these two points—choice and format—is that they’re inherently about one overarching concept: community.

As choice expands and begins to encompass formerly ignored genres and artists, new communities have the ability to coalesce and thrive. Choice isn’t merely about having new material for already established communities to engage in; alternatively, it can lead to a mixing of communities that otherwise might not happen.

Punks and jazz fans may begin to mix over a new punk-jazz fusion genre, and people who otherwise would never have met one another can not suddenly exist alongside each other. This leads to an increased level of creativity and an exponential production of creative material.

And this material is further disseminated throughout communities—splintering them and rebonding them—through new formats of information technology. Communities cease to be rigid and orthodox in their functionality towards music and instead become more elastic—they become living, breathing things which grow and continue to evolve.

This is the unbundling process within music as it should be: an unwrapping of previously rigid dynamics that lends more flexibility and power to the overall process of community cultivation.


The next movement in the symphony will be Part II: Shifting the Paradigm, which will take a look at the BUNDLED dynamic. Concepts discussed will touch on how bundling — but doing so incorrectly in the new era — impacts music consumption and community cultivation.

Stay tuned!


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Unbundled: Introduction to the Bundle

Why the unbundling of the music universe matters.

1--e4y3Jsz54uHEZ2XfyC51Q.jpeg

In recent years, the dynamics of bundling and unbundling have changed everything in media. But they’ve had an especially palpable effect on music.

This is an exploration of the bundling and unbundling dynamics taking place in the music universe right now. Because of the massive amount of information discussed herein, it is necessary to cover it in series of parts, each explaining a particular aspect of change and restructuring.

This series will appear as the following:

  • Introduction to the Bundle
  • Part I: Reformatting the Barriers
  • Part II: Shifting the Paradigm
  • Part III: Democratizing the Future

Additionally, all four pieces (including the introduction) will subsequently appear as a single, holistic text, entitled: Unbundled: The Story of Music.

This is the first entry in the story.

A New Emerging Dichotomy of Freedom and Reach

A few months ago, Uber’s own Chris Saad penned an article on the dynamics of bundling, and how they’re affecting a number of fields. In his piece, Saad addressed how concepts of bundling are impacting areas of creativity like art and music, among others. Ironically, it had a similar air to Joshua Topolsky’s earlier article on media companies, which itself prompted my response on music-startup realities.

Such examples were only briefly mentioned, but one can go deeper on them, particularly in the way of music. Things are happening now to the age-old structure of music that arguably haven’t changed for the better part of five or six decades. And even that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Part of what was so intriguing about Saad’s examination of these morphing areas is just how much change is going on which is not being discussed. In many ways, Saad’s piece shines a light not only on the changing bundling and unbundling dynamics taking place in music, but how these two different forms—yin and yang—are interacting with one another to shape a new musical landscape. What we see is an emerging dichotomy of freedom and reach that we haven’t seen in quite a while.

Three Trends in a Specific Order

Within the context of music, three trends—unbundling, bundling, and unbundling again—matter. And they matter in that sequence. This is so because each (un)bundling action touches a different area of the music arena, and thus their interaction together forms a new paradigm.

They lay out as follows:

unbundled

Covered in Part I, Reformatting the Barriers

  1. Choice
  2. Format

BUNDLED

Covered in Part II, Shifting the Paradigm

  1. Bundled in the Wrong Way
  2. Power and Paradigm Shift
  3. Sexy vs. Unsexy

unbundled

Covered in Part III, Democratizing the Future

  1. Power, Gatekeeping, Scarcity, and Democratization
  2. Ownership
  3. Money and Community
  4. The Expansive Powers of Identity

The music industry, like all other forms of media, is undergoing such a massive tectonic shift that we’re only beginning to now see how big the fissures are. The most interesting thing will be how these changing power paradigms affect the music coming out, and the communities which are built around the material.

Stay tuned!


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed in 2016

It’s that time of the year again — when all those “Best of…” lists come out telling us the supposed cream-of-the-crop releases in music. And as happens every year, they skate right over the slew of amazing independent releases that dropped into our lives.

Last year, I drew up a list of 100 independent albums you probably missed in 2015. Now it’s time to do the same for 2016.

In the interest of fairness, it’s important to note that most of these releases simply follow my personal taste in music genre-wise; they certainly don’t encompass all the amazing independent albums that came out this year in jazz, EDM, rap, classical, or other styles.

As with last year’s list, these 100 albums and EP’s come from artists all over the world. This year’s list has artists from: Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, China, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Belarus, Germany, Israel, China, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and from 20 different U.S. states. That’s how big the independent universe is, regardless of genre.

So here are just 100 of the albums and EP’s that you probably missed in 2016. All were released during the 2016 calendar year, so this gives you an idea of just how small a window into the music world the mainstream actually cuts. As always, albums are in no particular order. Do yourself a favor and go expand your universe. You’d be shocked at what you discover.

  1. Forget About ItIt’s Butter – Los Angeles, California, USAa1993529676_16
  2. I Talk to StrangersI Talk to Strangers – London, England, UKa0865780043_16-1
  3. The Centauri Conspiracies: Part 1 — The AwakeningSunshine & Bullets — Tampa, Florida, USA
    Print
  4. Colours Chelsea Shag — Atlanta, Georgia, USA600x600bb
  5. Good DaysSkyline — Austin, Texas, USAa0007603069_10
  6. Muster PointJeeps — London, England, UKa3598822201_16
  7. ScarsForever Still — Copenhagen, Denmark12
  8. Body WarsJune Divided — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USAjune-divided-body-wars-ep
  9. Silent ElephantSilent Elephant — Lille, Francea2226111291_16
  10. The Parts We SaveHeel — London, England, UK
    heel-the-parts-we-save-album-cover-artwork
  11. Breaking FreeA Truth Divides — Fall River, Massachusetts, USAa1106324655_10
  12. EmergenceHour 24 — Temperance, Michigan, USA4a92d0_efe37ce2146445358c6a8af10e5ef140.png
  13. Hardly Loaded EPPhantomHead — Lynchburg, Virginia, USAa2643529918_16-1
  14. Tough LoveBloody Diamonds — Toronto, Ontario, Canada13308599_990879211032274_8926664851863017403_o
  15. A Moment of SilenceThe Funeral Portrait — Atlanta, Georgia, USA14563572_1125466497544768_7992703852251309118_n
  16. EpicentreBouquet of Dead Crows — London, England, UKa0429878601_10
  17. She SpeaksShe Speaks — Kildare, Irelanda2252113179_16
  18. WandererRed Handed Denial — Toronto, Ontario, Canada12799213_10153426011084071_1317740590743645433_n
  19. Dark NarrowsLights That Change — Flintshire, Wales, UKa2142808787_16
  20. The ReIntroductionAlmost Kings — Atlanta, Georgia, USA0006541155_10
  21. BlackSuan — Athy, Irelanda0731599391_16
  22. Mean SomethingKinder Than Wolves — Orlando, Florida, USAa3400336724_16
  23. For Your ObliterationThe Dead Deads — Nashville, Tennessee, USAa0316039504_10
  24. No Mirror / Baby StepsBirdeatsbaby — Brighton, England, UKa2859507464_16
  25. Screech BatsScreech Bats — London, England, UK12764898_977824338969132_6112466179685560664_o
  26. Five KitesFive Kites — Uckfield, England, UKa3539413199_16
  27. Pow WowRed Apple — Madrid, Spaina0626135829_16
  28. HoopdriverHoopdriver — London, England, UKa1149210371_16
  29. The Mud Lords EPThe Mud Lords — San Francisco, California, USAa2762874709_16
  30. StonesCherry Water — Wilmington, North Carolina, USAa2364345222_16
  31. Please Welcome Imperial JadeImperial Jade — Barcelona, Spaina4135821107_16
  32. From The CaveFrom The Cave — London, England, UKa0846461208_16
  33. Imminent for Your InterestsPeople Like Us. — Los Angeles, California, USAAlbum Art rough
  34. Otra Vez ISidewatcher — Detroit, Michigan, USAa0310545470_16
  35. EraserheadEraserhead — Aurora, Illinois, USAa0142508800_16
  36. AlterhoodAlterhood — Tel-Aviv, Israela3217298871_16
  37. Eugenia EPDarla and the Blonde — London, England, UKa2573911246_16
  38. Cosmophonie EPCosmophone — Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canadaa1977159592_16
  39. Hit the AirBasic Land — Monterrey, Mexicoa2682732415_16
  40. Born to DancePürple — Brighton, England, UKa2572290725_16
  41. Double A-SideThe Mis-Made — Sydney, Australiaa0839401698_16
  42. Refuse to Shine EPMr.Mountain — Portsmouth, England, UKa1375774276_16
  43. Gaining PerspectiveGlory Days — Brisbane, Australiaa3697331310_16
  44. The Sky, the Lie, and Who We Are Before We Die — True North — Los Angeles, California, USAa1878484356_10
  45. Luxury EPPatio — New York City, New York, USAa1711486514_16
  46. PhantasmagoriaWhite Claudia — Chicago, Illinois, USAa0392641707_16
  47. Cruise DealMirror Travel — Austin, Texas, USAa0016514373_16
  48. Call Me by NameGood Fiction — Albany, New York, USAa1006386476_16-1.jpg
  49. BipolarKreepy Krush — Minsk, Belarusa3570746258_16
  50. Good HangsLauren Patti — New Jersey, USAa3026102687_16
  51. Copper CrownCopper Crown — Toronto, Ontario, Canadaa0415375489_16
  52. Cuatro —  Tranparentes — Alicante, Spaina0741328815_16
  53. It’s Too Bright InsideLush Vibes — Vallejo, California, USAa1998902662_16
  54. Ropes EndRopes End — New York City, New York, USAa3134658973_16
  55. Only RosesCarissa Johnson — Boston, Massachusetts, USAa2929911764_16
  56. Theories of the UniverseHaunted Ghost Town — Sunnyvale, California, USAa2755326863_16
  57. Soft Grudge — Mulligrub — Winnipeg, Manitoba, CanadaMulligrub-Soft-Grudge--640x640
  58. Dirty LyxxDirty Lyxx — Boston, Massachusetts, USAa2040502891_16
  59. StagesKopacetic — Shreveport, Louisiana, USAa2728269849_16
  60. Much Love — Microwave — Atlanta, Georgia, USAa1730261151_10
  61. MetadonnaMetadonna — Valencia, Spaina0150878033_16
  62. Break Down the WallsBreak Down the Walls — Hawthorne, New York, USAa1176554633_16
  63. Stuff EPMy Cruel Goro — Icelanda2414949285_16
  64. ShadowboxVivienne the Witch — Perugia, Italya3238750359_16
  65. In the Arms of the SunVox Vocis — Phoenix, Arizona, USAa2512338494_16
  66. DiscourseSex With Strangers — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadaa2127562643_16
  67. Sleep Tight, When You Wake Up We’ll Be GoneThe Few. — St. Louis, Missouri, USAa2511948533_16
  68. Harmony and DisconnectRising Down — Tampa, Florida, USAa2963571272_16
  69. VectorsYeah Sure Whatever — Marin, California, USAa1649515922_16
  70. DEVILTRAINDEVILTRAIN — Bamberg, Germanya1542791299_16
  71. Buried in the SoundLost Frontiers — Pomona, California, ISAa3721344826_16
  72. Nosebleed WeekendThe Coathangers — Atlanta, Georgia, USAThe-Coathangers-Nosebleed-Weekend
  73. The Eternal SeaThe Eternal Sea — Tauranga, New Zealanda2466588262_16
  74. Traces EPTraces — Phoenix, Arizona, USAa2543588091_16
  75. Elevation —  We Are The Catalyst — Gothenburg, Swedena2368062794_16
  76. MABON SONGSCrypt Trip — San Marcos, Texas, USAa0313274180_16
  77. Angel — Heroes — Los Angeles, California, USAa4173242852_16
  78. Swan Valley Heights — Swan Valley Heights — Munich, Germanya0676605006_16
  79. Abandoned — Counter Theory — Valparaiso, Indiana, USAa0689683623_16
  80. AntsAnts — Rivergaro, Italya1366200431_16
  81. The Journey (EP)Rusty Joe — Casais, Portugala3938316616_16
  82. SpectraMyrrias — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USAa1053203725_16
  83. Dimensionauts EPRobot Jurassic — Edgewater, Maryland, USAa1323032774_16
  84. BelieverWeird Neighbours — Sarnia, Ontario, Canadaa0850762461_16
  85. Hell Is Not Other People, It’s YouThe Republic of Trees — Scarborough, England, UKa3751139773_16
  86. The LippiesThe Lippies — Grand Rapids, Michigan, USAa0852829300_16
  87. Far Away, As We Fade —  AggronympH — Yichang, Chinaa3169651902_16
  88. The DepartedSummer Drive Home — Weymouth, England, UKa0290939636_16
  89. Mix TapeThe Hang Lows — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USAa0584312114_16
  90. SweetMeatThe BlackLava — Torino, Italya3220774202_16
  91. Singularity — Fight Like Sin — Lafayette, Indiana, USAa3594774885_16
  92. Chasing a PhantomChanging Scene — Bel Aton, Maryland, USAa1533314418_16
  93. Abandoned HomesThe Aesthetic — Seattle, Washington, USAa1922360043_16-1
  94. ConnectorFable Circuit — Shepherdstown, West Virginia, USAa3669455937_16
  95. InburnInburn — Illigan City, Phillipinesa2748366475_16
  96. The Lost Ones (EP)LUNGS — Sacramento, California, USAa2346140061_16
  97. AmbulanceThe Amazing — Stockholm, Swedena0811660077_16
  98. DetoxPyke — Arendal, Norwaya4237766781_16
  99. Start AgainThe Middle Ground — Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USAa3612480243_16
  100. Valley Queen EPValley Queen — Los Angeles, California, USAa2154869007_16

    If you enjoyed this please share, and feel free to Tweet me. Let’s talk music and tech!

    Or follow me on that new Snapchat thing! 😎 🤘

    CdhrnNSXEAEa2t1

An Ode to the Fallen Headphone Jack

k_jack_ra

Dearest Jack,

You’ve fallen from grace this day

And tumbled low to the grave below.

You brought this on yourself (some say),

Your steely joint rigid and analog

In a wirelessly digital world.

 

Or were you killed?

Ripped from your 3.5mm womb

When you were breathing so steadily—

Confused by your newfound obsolescence.

 

I will miss your tangle

(Or will I?)

The cute frustration that I endured

All those years I got to know you.

 

I’m sorry, Jack—I truly am;

I would have loved to keep you on—

Provided you with utility into your old age

(Although some might say that 138 is old enough)

But I have no recourse here—

The game is set and I’ll have to accept fate eventually.

 

You will always be a fond memory

(For a few months at least).

And we shall write fine obituaries about you

(Until the next round of metaphorical beepers

Make their way to the front firing line).

 

The curtain’s pulled and the lights are dimming,

I suppose it’s time for a new beginning.

That’s a wrap, Jack.

Independent Music Is Big. Really, Really Big.

PC Gaming Is Just Like Independent Music

Chris Dixon’s article yesterday discussed the trends that media is experiencing in the digital age. While his article focuses mostly on the gaming industry, it also heavily references the music industry, drawing numerous parallels and comparisons throughout the piece. Since I’m not much of a gamer, the music-related aspects of the post fascinate me because:

  1. They so closely mirror those in the gaming industry, which I find intriguing and even somewhat surprising, and
  2. Because Dixon is exactly on-point in his dissection of them.

Regarding the first point, it’s almost eerie how broad Dixon’s thesis could have been, were one to read the piece out of context. Of particular note are subtitles like “PC games are way bigger than you think[,]” which could easily say “independent music” instead of “PC games.” And it is way bigger. Way, way bigger.

Independent Music Is Way, Way Bigger Than You Think

Independent music, like PC gaming (it seems), is substantially bigger than many people initially realize, particularly if they’re only considering one part of “the music industry.” The “music industry” is a misnomer itself since it lends credence to the thought that there is a singular music industry in which to exist and do business. This is incorrect because there are in fact multiple paradigms that exist within the music universe, all of which operate according to very different rules. Independent music is a whole different world than major label music, and thus the opportunities that lie there do not necessarily mirror the opportunities that lie in the latter.

VMmRj35

Growth of independent music between 2003-2012; image courtesy of Techdirt

The stark reality is that independent music cannot be measured according to the traditional metrics. Unlike major label material, independent music cannot be measured and calculated metrically based on chart success, album copies sold (physical or digital), or video hits. Independent music extends to places major label music never touches: to the garage of the punk band in Chicago, the coffee house performance of the singer in London, the bedroom demo of the multi-instrumentalist in Melbourne, and the piano jazz bar in Amsterdam. As a result, the sheer number of artists that exist (and are popping up every day) is staggering.

The Problem with the “Walled-Garden”

As Dixon pointed out, where gaming wins is in providing endless choices for users, and relying on the dynamic of attention instead of scarcity. This is directly at odds with the current approach in most of the traditional music industry (in streaming especially) where the “walled-garden” approach is used as a means of obtaining exclusive rights to material on one service, and thus making it scarce or unavailable on all the other services. The notion here is that if you can garner enough scarce material, you’ll have something your competitors simply can’t lay their hands on.

The problem with this line of thinking is twofold:

  1. It doesn’t actually work, since material (major label or independent) inevitably finds it way off of solely one system and onto multiple systems; and
  2. It’s against the nature of music. Music is art, and the nature of art is to be seen, shared, engaged with, and shared again.

Music is freedom and expression, and to try and stifle that on one system is simultaneously useless and misguided. It’s misguided precisely because music is inherently social. Unlike movies or books, music has a unique live element which can be leveraged to the benefit of both the artists and their fans (both current and prospective). One of the fastest growing trends in independent music is for artists to alter their perspective of their own music: rather than looking at it solely as an end commodity for sale, now it’s becoming a mechanism for free marketing and advertising. It’s a means to an end, a way to get people to come out to shows, connect on a personal level in the live paradigm, and walk away feeling a direct identification with that artist.

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

Unfortunately, major labels have been less enthusiastic about this approach. As Dixon notes, they rely heavily on litigation and have effectively stayed focused on protecting their back catalog, looking backwards at the past with forlorn eyes rather than tasting the future.

Royalties Are the Emperor’s Clothes

The royalty system is a whole other monster, which I’ve tackled a number of times, and which I think is simply a chain to the past and nothing more. It doesn’t help artists the way they need to be helped, doesn’t make fans feel good about how artists are compensated, and just remains a massive headache for any music company, streaming or otherwise.

1276-music-streaming-services-compared_Sep152

Royalty Rates, Minimum Wage, and Reality; image courtesy of informationisbeautiful.net

Simply put, the royalty system is arguably the best example in media of the Emperor’s clothes: everyone keeps saying that we just need to find a way to make it work in the new age, when in reality there is no way to make it work in the new age. Arguably, it didn’t even work in previous decades; but it was the only real, scalable revenue system around, and thus became the industry standard.

In the post, Dixon quoted the post-mortem statement of Turntable.fm, which states that the Turntable team spent tons of cash on lawyers, tons of time trying to secure label deals, and ultimately that they didn’t heed the lessons of so many failed music startups. I’ll go so far as to argue that one of these mistakes (which founders continue to make) is buying into the old royalty-based system, and thus undercutting their own feet before even beginning the race.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 1.26.18 PM

The music pipeline

The diagram above paints this picture, and if you look closely, you see that there are really only two entities who hold any significant amount of consistent power: the major labels and independent artists.

  • The former group essentially controls the lifeblood of dependent streaming services (like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and more recently SoundCloud), the payment to artists from the royalties collected, and the gatekeeping authority over the music to which the mainstream is exposed.
Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services

Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services; *(Beats has since been purchased and rolled into Apple Music)

  • Independent artists, however, control their own distribution, exposure, and revenues models. Because they’re not beholden to any one paradigm or other entity, they are free to explore a wide range of possibilities, and mix-and-match those that work best for them. In many cases, this is highly individualized; what works well for one artist doesn’t work at all for another, and vice versa.

Community. It’s All About Community.

Dixon nails it home in the latter paragraph on books, when he states:

From a legal perspective, some fanfiction could be seen as copyright or trademark infringement. From a business perspective, the book industry would be smart to learn from the PC gaming business. Instead of fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie, try to grow the pie by getting more people to read and write books.

This is exactly true for the music business too. Instead of looking to block remixes and free distribution models, music companies would be better off learning how to leverage those models for improved community building and engagement, particularly as music is so heavily impacted by live continuous interaction. Build the community around the artists, and fans will follow. From those core fans, new and more flexible revenue models arise. The future of music is democratization and community.

If you look at many of the companies that are winning in media/tech right now—companies like Medium, Twitch, Product Hunt (with Games, Books, and Podcasts), and BuzzFeed—you see that they have invested a substantial amount of time and energy in creating communities around their products and/or services. The Medium community writes about anything and everything, and communities on Product Hunt and Twitch are super sticky. And all of this is to say nothing of the Dixon’s crowdfunding point, which certainly has massive and positive implications for the music business moving forward.

Scarcity Is Obsolete, Democratization Wins

Dixon’s closing statement gives me chills:

The internet renders business models focused on scarcity and litigation obsolete. But as the PC gaming market shows, it also unlocks lucrative new business models, and lets creators connect with consumers in new and exciting ways.

It gives me chills because it’s so on-point with what’s happening in music. Dixon set out to write a post on gaming, but in the process he laid out precisely the dynamic that’s bubbling to the surface in the music universe. I can’t believe this is a coincidence. Art is art, its essence is sharing and engagement. Music and games are forms of art, and draw their life-force from the communal engagement that occurs between the creators and the consumers. It all comes back to community. Every time.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 2, 2015

Amazing new Hit List this week to go along with the dreary November weather outside. Like the clouds hanging low overhead, the indie-rock vibe is strong this time around, with a good mix of sub-genres and some adrenaline punches here and there. One of the thing I’m loving about this slew of artists is their experimentation with a variety of instruments (beyond the simple guitar/bass/drums setup), so listen for the instruments you don’t normally hear mixed in ;D As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these people some love!  \m/

1. Love Songs for the Love-Impaired – Vices I Admire – 2014

a1068943063_16

2. Perfect Little Princess – SingleFlying Kangaroo Alliance – 2015

a2862802747_16

3. PerceptionsAll Comes Down – 2015

a3858047541_16

4. Dollmination – The Inferno Doll – 2015

a0188293633_16

5. Summer Suicide EPIt’s The Lipstick On Your Teeth – 2015

a1625838728_16

6. VagabondA Reluctant Arrow – 2015

a0320959472_16

7. OmensThe Furies – 2015

a2017829147_16

8. Centaurus EPCentaurus – 2015

a2082840488_16

9. In Bloom – yougetthewordswrong – 2015

a0291471440_16

10. BurstVenus In Aries – 2015

a2736878877_16

11. Tottie & the Wanderers – Tottie & the Wanderers – 2015

a3685555222_16

12. Serene Calmidity – Royal Lips – 2015

a1206408584_16

13. EPDriven Astray – 2015

a0253112803_16

14. Horse – Animals in Suits – 2015

a0667443435_16

15. EscapePaper Clips – 2015

a3111411440_16

16. Falling Satellites – Dinky – 2015

a0452254652_16

17. The Deaf KingMorrowville – 2015

a2435366419_16

18. FootstepsThe Stereotypes – 2015

a2562833181_16

19. Starcoast – Starcoast – 2015

a1460182528_16

20. Populi EPPopuli -2015

a3233545711_16

Real Music Journalists Are Biased Little Punks

A couple months ago I wrote a post entitled Why Music Journalism Bias Works—this is the deeper philosophy behind that notion.


Music Journalism Is a Messy Business

Music journalism is a messy business—it’s dirty, glamless, mostly thankless, and at times will make you tear your hair out. It’s a struggle every day, just like writing a novel or painting a masterwork. Only this novel forces you to deal with real people in real time in dingy little clubs for (most times) no money and little attention thereafter. Many times those people remember your name just long enough to ask you to write up a review of them, or to ask you to promote their newest EP. Sometimes, if you’re extremely lucky, you’ll find yourself crossing paths with people who you truly connect with—people who remember your name because they recognize that, like them, you’re an artist too. The deeper you get into this crazy world, the better you get at discerning these people from the ones who will only break your heart.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 11.39.07 AM

Email from an artist

If you want to be “the enemy journalist” like the boy you saw in Almost Famous, go work for Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair and write about intra-band politics or drug problems. That’s not real music journalism—that’s pretentious drivel the mainstream sucks down with a straw when they want to feel raw and grungy for a moment on the subway. Real music journalism takes place in the dark hours after show-sets as you sip a warm, flat beer waiting for the band to finish loading their gear into the van and hoping they remember to come chat with you before taking off for the next gig. The artists who remember are the golden ones to keep close to your vest.

Being a music journalist is not the same as being a music critic. A critic is inherently critical, and most times that’s in a negative, non-constructive way. There isn’t a desire to see an artist rise above the noise and reach their greatest heights—most times it’s just about tearing apart their latest release. Journalists, however, are freer. They retain the criticism-arrow in their quiver, but use it to augment an argument for why the artist deserves some amount of attention. It’s not about the power trip—it’s about expressing the same artistic voice as the artist, simply in journalism form. Sometimes that voice even connects with other writers, and you find yourself on the other end of the interview!

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 12.20.28 PM_censored

Email I got from another music blogger when I was writing back in 2011

I’ve never been seated in a cushy booth with a comped drink, and I’ve only been guest-listed once (and even that was for a minor $10 ticket). I’ve been plagiarized and at times conveniently “forgotten” once an artist feels they’ve reached an “adequate level” of popularity. You learn to shake it off and focus on the real mission: get that next piece written and out to the world.

You Better Have a Late-Night Preference and Pair of Comfortable Shoes

If you want to be a music journalist—a real music journalist—you better have a late-night preference and a pair of comfortable shoes. Most times, the most intriguing things happen at the end of the night, when the show is over, and the other fans stream out to go home and sleep. And you’re still there with that warm beer in your hand, the bottle empty except for the little bit at the bottom, waiting to catch the merch person as they pack up the table. “I’m a music journalist/radio DJ, and I’d love to grab the band for a quick minute if that’s cool,” you say, hoping that the extra hour of waiting in the dive bar wasn’t for nothing.

Me with: Those Mockingbirds (top left), Bloody Diamonds (top right), The Steppin Stones (bottom left), Sunshine & Bullets (bottom left)

Me with: Those Mockingbirds (top left), Bloody Diamonds (top right), The Steppin Stones (bottom left), Sunshine & Bullets (bottom left)

In fact, the most rewarding, productive nights are when the band is real enough where their merch person isn’t an employee, but just a friend who agreed to do a  favor for a night. Those are usually the bands (artists) who you can catch as they move offstage and then sit behind their tables, happily selling $10 shirts and $1 stickers. Those are the singers, guitarists, drummers who you can grab. “Hey, I loved your set. I’d love to do a quick interview for my music blog if you’re down with that.” Hold your breath, but on the outside act nonchalant, like it’s whatever to you anyway. Then that awesome sentence: “Sure, let me grab the members and we’ll meet you outside in a minute.” Success!

Twenty minutes later you’re on your way home, your iPhone camera roll richer for the funny, quirky little interview that it now holds. You’re already thinking about when you can upload it to your blog and YouTube channel, and have promised to tag the band on Twitter and Facebook so they can promote it on their end.

Those are the nights you feel badass, the nights you let your creative self breathe.

As the Relationships Grow, So Does a Mutual Loyalty

The upshot of it all is that many of the artists you have brushes with move in and out of your life without much of a blip. But there are also those who seem to latch onto your attention, and as your fascination with them grows, so does your loyalty to them, and so does their loyalty to you. You’re not “the enemy” who they want to stay away from; you’re the valued source who they tap for advice about their new direction, the recipient of unmastered mixes and singles before they’re ready for anyone else, and of the album’s first copies when it finally drops. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might find yourself mentioned in the liner notes (one of the biggest rushes of my life to this day).

Mastered copy of an artist's new EP I received yesterday, 2 months before official release

Mastered copy of an artist’s new EP I received a couple weeks ago, 2 months before official release

If you want to write unbiased pieces, write about politics, economics, or world affairs, not music and not art. The very bias they tell you to do away with in journalism school and college writing classes is the very thing you should never lose. It’s your unique, creative voice that separates you from the professional critic whose “unbiased” approach is so cold and metallic it lacks any sense of joy in the music. It’s critical for the sake of mere criticism; real music journalists know this is a cop-out. Real music journalists are biased little punks who live and die by the artists they swear loyalty to. Their fealty is palpable and brusque, and immune to irrelevant blurbs written for soundbite effect and nothing else.

If you want to be lauded, go write a bestseller. This is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the fans who are so fanatical that music consumption for them is an addiction to be nurtured and enabled. It’s for the artists, the creatives, the music die-hards who simply strum better with a pen than with a guitar pick.