David RD Gratton

Derek Sivers, Carter Marshall, and Tyler Bancroft provide advice for musicians looking to promote themselves

June 3, 2007

I presented on a panel on Saturday for Music BC at Tom Lee Music Hall. The highlight of the evening was the keynote by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. This was the second time I heard Derek speak in 5 months, and although some of the anecdotes were similar, his presentation was different. Speaking as much as he does, I am sure it would be easy to just pull out the canned presentation, but he doesn't. It is a clear testament to the passion he has for the indie music scene. He is really inspirational to all those who are just starting out. He's moving to London next week for 6 months or more, so he may be difficult to catch but if you get the chance be sure to go hear him speak.

After the keynote Carter Marshall, Nettwerk, Tyler Bancroft, Frontside Promotions Inc, and myself joined Derek for a panel that was supposed to be a "workshop focusing on e-commerce, online distribution, and viral marketing. Find out how Myspace, Youtube, iTunes and the like are turning the music industry upside down, and how YOU can take advantage." I left the session feeling somewhat concerned, as I am not sure we as a panel delivered the goods on that subject, we got a bit side tracked on DRM, pricing, business models, and the like. This is very typical to many music panels these days. It's natural I guess.

However, there were some real gems that I think are worth passing on:
Tyler Bancroft:

  • Don't just have a CD. Shoot video! Any video. Upload it everywhere (not just YouTube) and people will watch it. The video does not need to be expensive. Consumer MiniDV is fine.
  • The thumbnail that is embedded in the page is critical for inducing people to click the video for viewing. Know how each video service selects the thumbnail that will be displayed. YouTube uses the centre of the video's first frame. A picture of a sexy woman will get clicked more often than the title of your song or band. Derek made a good point about truth in advertising, but if your video is original (you are artists and entertainers after all) and delivers the goods, you will be forgiven, I'm sure.

It's a bit of a shame that Tyler didn't get an opportunity to talk more about what he does to promote on the Internet, because I have a feeling he knew the most about the subject since he is actually up to his eyeballs "doing it". He is one of the driving forces behind the Jeremy Fisher campaign.

Derek Sivers:

  • Do a cover song - in your band's musical style. Remember no one in Kentucky knows who you are. However, if a listener from kentucky looks up 99 Luftballoons on iTunes for example, and they see a cover of it by your band, they will likely listen to it as well. If they like what they hear, they will often buy it. If they buy it they will take a look at ALL your music. Derek sited a number of examples of this, and the numbers are impressive. I have to agree. it's a brilliant way of getting exposure for an unknown band. Oh.. he also mentioned don't do a cover Lennon's Imagine or any other song that has been covered to death as it defeats the purpose. Go find a one hit wonder.
  • He mentioned my favourite self help book of all time. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnagie. Read it. I agree.

Carter Marshall:

  • Put your music EVERYWHERE.
  • Derek made a comment to value your music and make people pay for it. In other words don't give it away for free. Carter agreed, but said that you do not have to value your music in a straight monetary sense - especially when you are starting out and trying to get it heard. Building a legitimate fan list is critical to your career. So considering giving tracks away for free in exchange for the listener's e-mail address.

To me this was a great piece of advice. An ongoing connection with your fans is critical. You can sell a CD once to a fan, but that same fan may come to all your shows, and tell all their friends if you can establish an ongoing relationship with them. To do that, you need their e-mail address.


  • Don't spam - that goes for comments on Facebook, or MySpace. Be personal. Be it e-mail, MySpace, or what-have-you, make your correspondence personal. An e-mail that has my name on it, and says something to me personally as well as giving me the details of your next gig is much more likely to get me to your show, and I will bring friends. Sure it takes more time, but if you focus your e-mails and comments I can guarantee you that you will get better results and have longer lasting relationships with your fans and supporters.
  • Make sure your music is exposed to search engines. So tell people what your band or particular song sounds like on all your websites. (Shameless plug: Project Opus is highly optimized for this type of thing.) If people tell you that a certain song sounds like Nickelback then say so. It doesn't matter if you don't agree or that you are not a fan. This goes to the same logic of Derek's "record a cover song" advice.

I hope people found the session worth their while, and I'm sorry if we got side tracked. Derek's inspirational keynote was most likely more than enough. I am going to try and track down Tyler to pick his brain for an interview to get more of his ideas down.


Forty under forty: Canada's emerging leaders

May 30, 2007

Yesterday I attended the Caldwell Partners 40 under 40 awards for this year's BC recipients. British Columbia garnered 6 of the 40 awards this year, continuing BC's over representation compared to the rest of Canada at this annual event. This is clearly a tip of the hat to the innovation and leadership that BC entrepreneurs are providing our Nation. having lived in EVERY region in Canada, I believe that Vancouver is without question the most entrepreneurial city in Canada. Montreal and Toronto, are sure to take exception at that, which is good. Nothing like competition to drive innovation.

I was extremely honored and pleased to be the guest of my friend and client, Neil Branda, who was one of this year's award winners. Neil is a nanotechnology genius. His new company Switch Materials is/will be making products that will blow your mind. I am not certain what I can say about them so I will err on saying nothing, but it is straight out of science fiction. Really Really COOL... and amazingly useful.

At the awards event, we saw some vignettes of the winners talking about their achievements, their dreams, and their secrets of success At the end of the video, each of the Vancouver winners gave speeches. Something I had suspected, and it certainly was confirmed to me at this event. Leaders and entrepreneurs are NOT cut from the same cloth. All the recipients had very different personalities and approaches to business. Some were quiet, humble and introspective, while others where gregarious and boisterous, some were highly technical, while others were sheer personality, and others still were somewhere in the middle. The only common element was their blind determination to succeed in the task at hand - their utter will to keep moving forward even during some of the most trying of times. Type-A or Type-B, highly technical, or techno-neophyte are simply not critical factors in entrepreneurial success. On the other hand, even though I'm certain that blind determination does not guarantee success, it is a mandatory requirement of success.


Universal Song IDs Are Inevitable

May 20, 2007

Lucas Gonze notes a couple of posts regarding the need for and barriers to universal song IDs.

Lucas points out:
the problem is not so much technical as it is economic. No major content provider has an incentive to use anybody else’s song IDs. Maybe if there was a huge installed base of playlists that used Musicbrainz song IDs or iTunes IDs then it would make sense for Rhapsody to resolve these IDs to their own catalog, but until that point Rhapsody would be unilaterally disarming by allowing a third party to define the namespace.

He is bang on. This is also why I am not certain that Music DNS will take the day. However, there is a group with a vested interest for universal song IDs: the music labels (and artists). And they have a vested interest in ensuring that a third party does not control the space. It's not just music recommendation systems that would benefit, but all added value content, UGC, and data services related to that song require a universal ID if an economy around those songs is to develop.

The problem is I am not sure labels understand this yet, but they will eventually.

Not Direct Integration But A Suite Of Open Source Products and Services

May 6, 2007

David Tosh wrote an insightful reply to my post on having opensource projects collaborate on development.

He states:
While I do agree with David that better communication between the various open source projects would be a really good thing; I just don’t see it working in practise. Well, not as direct collaborations.

  1. The end users: open source projects often gain partisan followers; for good reason - if the software has served them well they want to stick by it. Many of them will not want to think about the possibility of using another application and would rather wait for their platform of choice to gain the functionality.
  2. The business model: the large open source projects are usually trying to make money in some capacity from all the hard work put in, so why encourage their avid followers to use another piece of software? Competition still exists within open source.
  3. The developers: there can be a fair bit of work involved in proper integration; in fact, in most cases it would be easier to just build a plugin for your own application that replicates the required functionality.
  4. The future: direct integrations between similar apps will be a waste of effort if one or other of the applications changes their policy; license; or their very exsitance ceases.

I for the most part agree with Dave, except for point number one and part of two. I consider that zealotry and quite literally foolish. Are Drupal followers going to wait until the Drupal community develops a fully functional course management component that duplicates everything in Moodle?

I think where Dave and I may see things differently is that I think certain software packages like Drupal and Moodle or Moodle and ELGG, or all three for that matter as a potential software or service suite. I think Moodle, ELGG, Drupal and others can be combined into a powerful suite for customers. Simply having them exist and creating open APIs (which I agree are needed and critical) is simply not enough in my opinion. In 1990/1991 when Microsoft Office came out - at least as I recall - it was just a software bundle; there was no integration among the apps. You could cut and paste and open files among them to some extent via the OS API ;). In the mid 90s MS Office stopped being a loosely coupled bundle of productivity software and became a robust integrated software suite. Like it or hate it, people needed it. It worked and we bought it.

In education there is a need for:

  • Course management tools
  • Content management / website creator tools
  • Social networking tools
  • Portfolio tools

I think it is reasonable to assume that one framework or software package would have difficulty providing all of the above. It would also become a nightmare for ongoing development - it would be a beast. In fact a company deciding to build such a beast, would probably decide to split up the product into a pseudo standalone suite of tools - for ease of development if nothing else. Word, PowerPoint, Excel are all independent pieces of software with their own independent development teams. But the teams work together to ensure the suite works together and that certain code is shared among the apps.

This is what I am advocating.

Update: David Tosh has tried to work with some of the communities I have mentioned but apparently got responses 1 and 2 for his efforts. I'm not privy to the details or reasons for the rebuff. Maybe there were good reasons, maybe not. I really hope it is not endemic to these communities to refuse to work together in a more formal manner .

Moodle and Drupal Communities Working Together Needs a Strategy

May 4, 2007

My company Donat Group is at the Moodle conference moodlemoot in Edmonton Alberta. An excellent conference for both experts and newbies to Moodle. We are here to present with our partner Lambda on our shared Moodle hosting service for BC post secondaries through BCcampus. I learned a ton at the conference and I am totally turned on to Moodle more than ever now, especially the networkming function in 1.8 and the new gradebook coming in 1.9.

On the business side, we have been talking to a many attendees about our Moodle - Drupal - ELGG architecture (we got a glimpse of Mahara and may look at that in place of ELGG). Everyone we talked to was familiar with the three technologies, but I was surprised when most did not know that Drupal could act as the Social Networking Hub for a learning community as well as a standard CMS "publishing" platform. This was a bit worrisome to me, as considerable work is being done for Moodle 2.0 (release: mid 2008) to create a social networking hub. This may make sense and be in fact the best solution, but it seems that no one has taken the time to see what Drupal can do in this area. One university I talked with had been using Drupal for over a year and had no idea there were social networking tools for Drupal. I pointed out just a few of the sites we have worked on (projectopus.com, gimme20.com, opportunityalert.ca), let alone the hundreds of other sites from dozens of other developers. He was literally shocked at what Drupal could do and he wasn't the only one. Conversely, I would suspect that Drupalers would be shocked at what Moodle could do. I know I was, and we have been using it for a few years!

And here lies the problem - there is very little "official" communication and collaboration between these open source software communities, especially around development. If Drupal or any other solution could provide the social networking layer for Moodle wouldn't it be advantageous to work on that integration layer rather than writing what is substantial new code from scratch? And vice versa, people have talked to me about adding mods to Drupal for course management. Maybe that is the best way to go for somethings who knows, but shouldn't they first look to Moodle for answers to course management? I really think these open source projects need to be coordinating their activities, or at the very least having a high level open dialog on where each project is going and what strategies they cold use to leverage one another.

To help facilitate that, I think these communities should "officially" (whatever that really means) get representatives to sit-in with the other communities coordinating and communicating development. There should be a Drupal rep at Moodlemoots and Moodlers at Drupalcon. The reps should be well known within their communities and have influence (or have extensive knowledge) in the overall strategy of development. I would even suggest that the leads of these projects personally meet once a year and become involved in on another's software to a certain extent. I am using Drupal and Moodle as only two examples, naturally others exist. But these two platforms are good examples as they have a great deal of synergy with one another and are better together than alone and poorly replicating features of the other. Maybe this is happening already, I don't know, but if it is the word is not getting down to the general development community and users.

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