David RD Gratton

Category: Project Opus

Music needs context - 4 rules for saving the recorded music industry

October 9, 2007

Yahoo's Music's Head Honcho, Ian Rogers, recently posted a blog that has got me all fired up again. Thank's Ian. He's rightly upset at the music industry and he is not going to take it anymore. AMEN.

Let's all stop pussy-footing around the issues and let's make the tough decisions to deal with them. I want to bring up what I think are 4 fundamental rules for succeeding in selling recorded music. First, here are the facts. Music distribution cannot be controlled. If you think otherwise - you are wrong. You should pack up and go home. The world has passed you by and you're either too stupid or lazy to GET IT. Technology has changed the music industry AGAIN, and if you are a music exec you MUST adapt to it. Granted this is hard to do if you happen to be a lawyer. Which brings me to:

RULE #1 for thriving in the new music economy: If your company is headed by or overly influenced by a lawyer, fire him! These people support business strategy - they don't guide it. The fact that so many lawyers are top executives in the record industry is probably the biggest reason the recorded music industry is in the shitter like it is.

Lawyers will simply NEVER get their head around the facts which was originally rule #1, but got moved to rule #2, when I realized we had to get rid of the lawyers first. So, if you want to survive in the next 18 months let alone 50 years - you have to embrace this reality:

RULE #2: You have no control over music distribution.

You don't. ALL RECORDED MUSIC EVER MADE is now sitting on hard drives and flash memory sticks around the globe. The Internet exists. As the world gets more wired with near-free wireless internet access music will eventually flow like water as, Gerd Leonard likes to say. The vast majority of new bands are now offering their music freely on sites like MySpace, Project Opus, and Garage Band to their fans. They want it heard.

The reality of Rule #2 unfortunaltey has a nasty outcome that people really don't want to come to terms with either. Even though we are witnessing it today!

RULE #3: The value of an audio file will approach the cost of delivery. The cost of delivery is our Internet conectivity, which as I mentioned is approaching near zero.

Rule # 3 is the reason the RIAA is suing people. If people can get a song for free, they eventually will. It is already almost as easy and as reliable to browse and download from P2P networks as it is from iTunes or Amazon. When the convenience gap closes between the "illegal - free" versus the "legitimate - $" modes of music distribution, we would be naive to assume that a significant proportion of the population will not use the "free' alternative.

So we sue. Perhaps fear will keep music fans in-line and buying from the legitimate music sources. This "suing-thing" has been going on for 8 years and well the recorded music industry is closer to DEAD today than it was then. Suing music consumers has not changed anything and it WILL NOT save this industry. It's a strategy dreamed up by a lawyer. PLEASE, go see RULE #1.

RULE #4: Know what you are selling. And it ain't audio files. It's music experiences.

Music executives - which are mostly lawyers think they are selling audio files. They would be wrong. Let's remember that audio has for the most part ALWAYS been free for the fan. We listened to radio and got mixed tapes/CDs from friends. Yet, my generation was the largest purchasers of music in the industry's history. We bought music that we generally already had free access to. Why?

  1. Convenience. If we bought the vinyl or the CD, we could listen to my favorite songs on demand.
  2. Social interaction. Back in the eighties and nineties, listening to music was almost always a social interaction. Buying a new album or CD was a reason to invite your friends over. We listened together. We shared the experience.
  3. Packaging. We got something else other than the music. We got stuff like liner notes, and artwork, but more than that, too. KISS ARMY, you know what I'm talking about! Hey, even Led Zeppelin's last album had an album sleeve that changed colour if you added water. It wasn't advertised, I FOUND it, which made it cooler than perhaps it was.
  4. Connection. The social interaction and packaging gave us something else. Connection. We were more connected with the artists work, and subsequently with the artists themselves.

The above provided CONTEXT and CONVENIENCE to our music. It is WHY we bought music.

P2P, MP3s, and the iPod have improved convenience dramatically. How could we have been prepared for it? We had no idea how inconvenient it was to get music until it was at our finger tips. In our stampede for convenience, we have ripped all context out of music. Music files on our hard drives are devoid of context. Social interaction around our music has declined with the iPod's earbuds. We have no tangible stuff around our music. Without context music is missing much of the value. It is more disposable.

We still want context. We just don't want to give up our convenience to get it. Make buying music valuable - not because distribution is controlled, but because you are giving me a music experience. This is what we want and we will BUY it. Ian Rogers at Yahoo! is looking for it, and in doing so he has given a polite finger to the industry's lawyers. If we embrace technology rather than fight it, we can create experiences that will make those KISS ARMY tats seem cheesy in comparison, and those were cool!

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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.


Collecting and sharing Web-music

March 5, 2007

Many artists enable a number of their songs for free listening and download. They make it available on their site, but they also upload them to a number of services like:
Project Opus

Garage Band
The Internet Archive
plus dozens more...

Some forward thinking labels like Magnatune make their artists' music available through a CC License.

Although the music is freely available for download and listening, fans have to hunt around looking for the music on all of the thousands of individual sites hosting legitimate free-to-listen music. Project Opus has decided to use the music sharing features built into the Opus Player to make the discovery and sharing of "web music" easy.

Copy a URL, XSPF, M3U, or Podcast.
Paste it into the Import Tool.
Paste your Opus Player anywhere on the Web.

Check it out.


Project Opus Starts XIPF Project

February 4, 2007


Bitpass shuts down is Mperia next?

January 21, 2007

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