Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imeem's sudden death: Do online music services care about artists or users?

Among digital music types, there has been vibrant discussion on the fate of imeem, post the MySpace acquisition. Users who visit the site this week are greeted with a redirect to a page on MySpace with this message:
imeem users, welcome to MySpace Music!

imeem is now part of MySpace Music.
Where's my imeem profile/playlist?

MySpace is working to migrate your imeem playlist to MySpace Music. We’ll email you about that once we have more details.

If you are managing an artist page on imeem, we suggest you sign up as a MySpace Music artist. If you have other questions, see this FAQ and our blog.

A user who emailed MySpace received this reply: "Your imeem playlist will no longer be available."

Millions of music fans invested time and emotion in creating their playlists, cultivating their musical identity. Some even developed and expressed imeem brand loyalty. It's all gone with one redirect.

If we as a collective industry care about our customers, the users, we would give them two things: better metadata and open preferences. Let users take their playlists and favorites with them anywhere on the web or on their phone.

If we as a collective industry care about artists and the future revenue that would not flow without them, we would not ask them to build and manage multiple profiles in closed environments that don't talk with one another.

Of course, Vevo is going to make everyone forget.

Learn more on c|net: MySpace buries Imeem

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Curious Case of Mos Def

Mos Def is a branding dream. He is a multi-disciplinary artist with an engaging personality who performs around the globe. His music and acting choices are intriguing, hip, quirky and progressive. He moves between worlds with ease, holding his own in the company of award-winning actors like John Malkovich and Adrien Brody, talking religion and nuclear weapons with Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens, and spitting rhymes with Kweli and Kanye.

So where is the center of the Mos Def universe online?

Where is

It points to a MySpace page that doesn't begin to capture the breadth of his work or aptly reflect his place in the culture. Never mind that MySpace isn't reliable or trustworthy.

As a fan visiting, I want to find links to
- Buy his latest release, The Ecstatic
- "Watch Instantly" his available films on Netflix
- Browse his catalog of recordings including soundtracks
- Stream videos of him freestyling and holding court on Bill Maher

And I should certainly be able to find the "semi-exclusive" content that Google will feature as a part of its new music search feature. I understand what the benefit of Google's initiative is for Google and the music service partners.

But is it in Mos Def's best interest for me to go through Google which is going through MySpace to get his work?

My appetite for his work is pretty big. And I trust Mos Def more than I do MySpace. Why won't he directly feed more to me and the thousands of other serious fans?

Monday, October 12, 2009

State of the Music Union: Transparency

A funny thing happened at the Digital Music Forum's State of the Union panel.

In my opening, I spoke about how the music industry has lost its cool and that it needs to rehab its image with audiences and customers to gain trust. How?

For starters:
1) Apologize.
2) Give fans what they want and will pay for.
3) Be transparent.
On my left was Ted Mico, head of digital at Interscope/Geffen/A&M. Defensively, Ted offered that the artists are the brand and that the average fan doesn't have any idea of what the "music industry" is. Of course, on this Ted and I disagree. While fans may not know Interscope as a brand, they absolutely know the music industry, just as they know the auto industry. Interscope can try to operate behind its artists' brands while it attempts to transition from a product business to a service business, but it can't hide from its place among the other RIAA members and the actions of the RIAA over these last few years. The transference of faith from the artist brand to the label as a trustworthy service company will not happen by osmosis. If a label wants trust, it actually has to earn it.

On my right was Tim Quirk, VP at Rhapsody. Tim, who was once signed to Warner Bros. as a member of Too Much Joy, commented that there needs to be trust among partners as well. Tim also spoke about his royalty statements from Warner Bros. He can see for himself what plays are reported on his former band from Rhapsody to Warner. And yet, statement after statement, Warner tells him he has earned no royalties.

Even with direct access to verifiable information that should be used to calculate his royalties, Tim Quirk cannot get paid by his former label. So how can other artists trust that they will get paid? If Tim cannot trust them to follow legally binding agreements, then why should other artists expect any different?

Why would any artist sign a 360 degree deal where the label participates in other income like tours and merchandising if the label can't be trusted to account for the income generated from recordings?

An interesting side note: I met a representative of a service provider that helps improve the accuracy of royalty reporting. In essence, one of his label clients told him that they didn't want to know the accurate numbers because then they would have to do something about it.

The old habits of deception, cheating and lying are hard to break, especially at a well-entrenched, institutional level. While the incumbents wrestle with them, new players could gain traction by taking a less well-traveled, but remarkably cleaner path in the music business: Transparency.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Digital Music Forum: The State of the Union

Today, I'll be joining five guys on the State of the Union panel at Digital Music Forum West. I'll be tweeting from the Forum (@rebelcontent #DMF).

The general topic is a look at where the various music markets are now, with all of the disruptions and technologies that effect them, and where markets are headed via innovations and models designed to fuel growth, (assuming of course that growth is a given, which I think deserves some skepticism).

When I think of these issues, I find it difficult to ignore what I see as the biggest elephant in the room: The music business has not only lost its cool, it is often hated by its customers. It's anyone's guess how big the customer group is that hates the business, but they are sufficiently vocal enough to matter. Because music is both subjective and ubiquitous (making it difficult to offer something of distinguished value to customers), this dislike matters that much more.

In this era of unavoidable transparency, the dislike from the customer can intensify as bad behavior comes to light, to the degree where every act is under suspicion. Take extra time to make an artist's royalty payment, "offer" users dodgy subscription services during registration, or charge $100+ per ticket for a 50 minute set, and people will not only know about it, but they will tweet it, blog about it and otherwise expose the shame of your actions to whomever is paying attention. There is no place to hide.

There is no place to hide for the music business. Shady characters can roam the "cruel and shallow money trench, the long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free," but regardless of whether that character is an individual person or a corporation the cover of darkness is gone.

So the question arises: How can the music industry play in the light and win?

The first step: Apologize.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beatlemania Is Overrated

The Beatles are the sacred cow of Western popular music. In many circles, if you suggest that you prefer Led Zepplin, the Rolling Stones, or the Isley Brothers, you’re sure to be met with a vehement and fervent evangelizing, aimed to turn you away from your sin.
The Isley Brothers - "Twist and Shout"

There’s no question that the Beatles were a popular culture phenomenon and that they delivered some of the most memorable pop songs of the last 50 years. They, along with the Beach Boys with Pet Sounds, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye produced the seminal recordings that defined the pop album as a cohesive creative work, not just a collection of singles.

This is not about the quality of Beatles’ music. It’s about what they mean, and what they have meant.

It’s hard not to view the releases of the re-mastered recordings as the labored gasp of a struggling man, bound by his own shortsightedness and greed. There’s no doubt that there’s a market for the discs because they do offer genuine value. Who wouldn’t want to hear more pristine versions of classics like Rubber Soul, The White Album and Sgt. Peppers? And it’s been a long, excruciating 22-year wait.

Still, there’s an air of desperation to EMI Music CEO Elio Leoni-Sceti’s declaration that "Beatlemania has returned,” especially when the statement is made on the heels of Guy Hands’ mea culpa for having purchased EMI at all, let alone overpaying for it.

There’s also a sense of déjà vu. It was almost 10 years ago when EMI once again boasted of the Beatles’ staying power and the impact they were having three decades after they first started recording. The song remains the same. The sales, however likely will not. In 2000, Beatles 1 sold 3.6 million copies in the first week. It eventually went on to sell 31 million copies worldwide. The Beatles entire catalog has sold 2.2 million copies in five days. Is anyone willing to take the odds that these re-mastered titles collectively will ever match Beatles 1?

This week I bumped into a passionate 30-something Beatles fan on a message board. She was disputing my contention that the core audience for the Beatles was aging. Her evidence?
“I have had so many parents and staff members at my throat everyday begging me to burn them copies of the Beatles."

The Beatles mean so much to this woman’s peers that they want a burn, but will they go shell out the bucks themselves? Downloaded MP3s of the re-mastered classics won’t do. But, burned copies or a swapped hard drive loaded with lossless versions will suffice for many. The coming weeks’ numbers will tell the tale.

It’s understandable that EMI would repackage as many of the titles in their vault every which way they can while there is still a market for CDs. It’s just business and EMI has an amazing catalog. Of course, it’s not anywhere near as egregious as the Frank Sinatra Duet recordings. But like the bump after Michael Jackson’s death, the Beatles sales boost does engender the same longing for and reminiscing over the days when CD sales were on the bubble.

In the late 90’s when CDs were at their peak, accounting for $16.4 billion in revenue in 1999, it certainly seemed like it could never end. Being on the frontlines in an EMI-owned company, I experienced that heady feeling. It was irresistible. Even after sales began to slide and I had left the building, there were still blockbusters like Norah Jones and Usher to reassure anyone who preferred to view the industry’s Paul Reveres as Chicken Littles.

Now, after consecutive years of double-digit declines, the fall triumph of the Beatles after the summer of the King of Pop is bittersweet, signaling the end of an era. It was an era when most everyone swayed in time to the same beat. When pop stars were untouchable. They were gods, or so some of them thought. There was a scarcity. (Again, 22 years is a long time.) There was anticipation.

Today’s music and musicians are everywhere, even in places where they shouldn’t be. We know everything about them as it happens, including whether or not they remembered or cared to put on underwear. The mystery is gone. Though the challenges, disputes, loves and breakups of the Beatles played out publicly, the levels of access and immediacy were different. Rumors took time to confirm. There were no camera phones to document transgressions and post to YouTube in a matter of minutes. Nor were their global venues to dissect every move with friends and strangers from all over the world.

Yes, something has most certainly been lost, if you remember what it was once like.

On the other hand, something has also been gained and doors have opened. It is now possible that the next big thing could come from some artist in a part of the world that most Americans could not have easily or affordably visited when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Those artists no longer have to wait for a company to decide that they are market viable in Western terms. Nor do we have to wait for the lens of the once dominant popular culture to tell us they are worth listening to because they conform to certain aesthetics.

Instead we can listen with the click of a mouse or touch of a mobile screen. The wonder of discovery can be revived through artists not in our own backyard, singing songs in a language not our own. The beauty of anticipation can be renewed by the live performance, which is scarce compared to the availability of recordings and scarcer still for artists outside of the geography we may typically traverse.

What of new music fans another decade from now? Will there be millions of them spending money on all things Beatles? Probably not, because though the Beatles produced classic recordings that will always have fans, over time the interest will wane as the personal connections fade, as has been the case for the stars of previous generations.

But we don’t have to feel deprived because of the decline. If we look forward instead of looking back, the gap can be filled with a diversity of talent delivering their own future classics. Nostalgia can be a heavy anchor on curiosity. Pull it up and try these waters:

Garth Trinidad's Chocolate City on KCRW
Darek Mazzone's Wo' Pop on KEXP
Mason Rothert's Below Zero
Global Soul on WOMR

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

3 Lessons from the Rapid Rise & Fall of Ringtones

Research firm IBISWorld has reported that the ringtone market will see more double digit declines and disappear by 2015.

Given the leap in computing capabilities of mobile devices, this is not a great shock. Still, there are lessons to be learned from the ringtone heyday.

Ringtone sales ascended after Napster blew the lid off of p2p downloading. Why would someone pay $2-3 for a portion of a song when they could easily grab the whole track for free?

Purchasing ringtones was easy.
The technology for buying a ringtone was simple. Anyone could do it. It wasn't quite as easy as using the microwave or making toast, but close enough. Before iTunes buying a full song wasn't as easy. On a related note, the user interface of the mobile device was a known entity to the user, unlike some early mp3 players that had overly complex or non-intuitive interfaces.

Music is a means for expressing individual identity and mood.
The ringtone was marketed as a way to express yourself. It didn't require the same time investment as building a playlist or making mix. It could be changed quickly and easily to match the way you feel, and it allowed for instant sharing of that identity or mood with the immediate public.

People will pay for music.
Consumers were willing to pay for ringtones because of the value derived from them. Being able to download the full song for free didn't deter interest; it likely compelled it.

Ringtones had solid marketing that communicated the value of personal expression and the ease of the technology. Though the market has had a short life, its brief success suggests principles for succeeding with other digital music products.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Washington Post Editor Complains about Calls and Queries

Yesterday City Paper published a story about the possibility that Washington Post publisher Katherine Weymouth killed a piece in their Sunday Magazine. For non-journos like me, it reveals an informative perspective on editorial process.

But what I found professionally intriguing were these comments from Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli:
“I don’t think it’s necessary for us to lay out all of the processes in the newspaper to make decisions,” he snapped. “Newspapers spend way too much time explaining themselves.” He went on: “Too many people call our newsroom. There are endless queries on our journalism these days. I think it’s better for us to focus on producing journalism than on our process.”

Two points on this comment:

1) Transparency will happen whether Brauchli likes it or not. Doesn't Brauchli understand why there are so many queries? It is reasonable to say that America's media has largely let down the public in recent years, particularly on the financial crisis and the war efforts.

2) Engage the public to earn their trust. The people calling the newsroom are readers or potential readers, otherwise known as customers. Be grateful they are interested in engaging with you and give them the tools to do so. If you don't, someone else will.

Thanks to Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen for posting the link to the City Paper story on Twitter.

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Music from Sonya

My good friend Sonya Kitchell is releasing a new song every week on her blog at She's also expressing another side of her artistry and posting some of her amazing photography.

Here's the first song, "Rendered Whole"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FOCAS '09 - Part I: Trust

(This is the first of a three-part series of FOCAS '09. I am not a journalist, but I do host a music show for a community radio station, WOMR in Provincetown.)

For the last three days I've been watching the webcast of FOCAS '09, the Aspen Institute's Focus on Communications and Society forum, "Of the Press: Models for Preserving American Journalism." (Many thanks to Rachel Sterne from The Ground Report for hosting. Archives are available at

I've also been following the FOCAS09 topic on Twitter, where one of the new objects of my geeky fangirl lust, Craig Newmark of Craig's List participated in a discussion about trust and transparency. Craig has said he will blog about it, which I'll link to here, but he also raised the issue again with the esteemed, invitation-only group toward the end of the session. The challenges around trust, transparency and even audience engagement seemed to take a back seat during the forum, which I find very puzzling.

Trust and transparency critically effect models.They are core factors in how journalism will generate revenue and how it will be funded. They matter more than figuring out a different way to present advertising, especially since we know that online engagement with advertising is minimal at best.

As someone who has worked in music most of my career, I'm struck by the parallels where trust and transparency are concerned. News organizations no longer have the luxury of being "the voice of God," pushing to the people what they want them to know. Like it or not, just like the marketers who have been their compatriots in the one-to-many communication model, they have to get into the conversation-and they have to do it with authenticity to regain and build public trust.

NEXT: Part II: Models

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Global Soul on WOMR

I've got a new radio show called Global Soul, airing on WOMR in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The show is a mix of downtempo, contemporary soul, hip hop, modern world and a bit of jazz. Tune in on Friday nights at midnight EST to the live stream on We're working on archives and a podcast, but for now you can listen to selections to get the flavor of the show on the Global Soul page,

The show has taken up a good bit of my time lately, however I'll resume writing about the industry this week. There is a lot happening on the Hill and on the digital landscape.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

3 Thoughts for a Mother Concerned About File-Sharing, Music Careers at and have organized a group blogging event for all music and musician bloggers in response to a comment from a reader concerned about her teenage son's file-sharing.

Here are three thoughts I would share with that reader:

Her son has told her "the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist" and "the artists make all their money from touring and live concerts."

This is a common rationale, fueled by major label hate. It conveniently ignores the songwriter. If the recording artist also wrote and owns the song, then they would make money directly as the writer. If they did not write the song, then another songwriting musician, who may have no direct relationship with the record label at all, would earn from the sale. That songwriter may not be a touring or performing musician. Don't they deserve to be paid?

She also writes, "Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independent musician working for his living."

The RIAA has done a horrendous public relations job and major labels have engaged in the unbelievable business practice of suing fans. It's easy to dislike and disregard companies that would do something like that. And it's no wonder that many online, in mob-like fashion, express disdain for their "fat-cat greed" and celebrate the failure of anything with which the majors are involved.

However distinguishing between major and independent owners of a recording is simply another justification. Returning to the song and songwriter, if the independent musician does a cover version of the Beatles classic "Hey Jude" would you buy everything else from her, but refuse to pay for that track because Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a major label related publisher owns the song?

The ownership rights for a recording are often complicated. Neither you nor your son can know what the rights are behind every recording he has downloaded and who is actually getting paid from it-whether it is sold as a file, on a CD or used in a television show. But there is a value to those rights, which is how the recording got produced in the first place, whether it was funded by a major label, an independent label or an individual musician.

Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday that's going to be his money people are stealing.

There has been plenty of debate on whether downloading is "stealing" or "sharing." For your own moral peace of mind, you and your son could reach a compromise by using one of the free, licensed sites for listening to music like or imeem. The musician will get the benefit of promotion from having his music heard and you can have a clear conscience. Amassing a massive collection of downloaded tracks, most of which isn't even listened to, is so yesterday. Streaming anytime and from anywhere is the future.

Finally tell your son that with all this unfettered access he has had to virtually every song ever recorded, his own music better be really good. That is, of course, if he actually expects someone, somewhere to pay him to perform it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Prince on Leno 03/26/09 - Rock

From night two of the residency. With a completely different backing band.

(Unfortunately, the hulu video that I originally posted has expired. You have to wonder if the good folks at hulu understand the power of the embed and viral brand marketing.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prince on Leno 03/25/09 - Funk

At last, from Hulu:

ETA: If the video defaults back to the top of the program, go to 38:17.
(Those silly people at Hulu. Help me help you turn brains into mush.)

Prince's Residency on Leno

Last night Prince gave the first of three straight performances on the Tonight Show, leading up to the release of his new CD set on Sunday at Target. (Not Tuesday, the industry standard release day, but Sunday.)

He's a master performer and I'll be there again tonight for more.

While U2's Grammy opening performance looked desperate for all parties involved and Bruce Springsteen huffed his way in a state of aging boomer breathlessness through a forgettable Super Bowl act, Prince once again demonstrates that he understands his audience and what they want: to be in the club, whenever and wherever he performs and however he gives them access.

That access could be:
  • Buying the $12 three disc set
  • Getting into one of three shows he is doing Saturday night in L.A. (echoing his three hometown shows on 07/07/07) or
  • Joining for about $75 a year with access to advance ticket purchases, exclusive extras, merch, downloads and most importantly the badge of belonging.
I'm a big fan of Hulu (also owned by NBC like the Tonight Show) and wish they had a clip of last night's show up for sharing. I waited before posting this blog to see if they would make it happen. But then why would they want to do something silly like give Prince fans the tools to help drive ratings the next two nights?

When and if it appears, I'll update.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Music Lobby Days on the Hill

The Recording Academy and the musicFIRST Coalition are getting together in D.C. on Monday and Tuesday to lobby Congress for passage of the Performance Rights Act, which was reintroduced by John Conyers (D-MI) and Darrell Issa (R-CA).

As a governor elected by the Academy's Pacific Northwest chapter, I had a conversation with a trustee about make the trip down from the Cape and participating. I hesitate because I have mixed feelings. The performance rates set for webcasters seem designed to squash growth and concentrate programming in the hands of the few, which rings in an eerily similar way to one piece of the puzzle that has put the recording industry in the challenged position it is in today.

Click here to download the text of the bill. (49kb PDF)