Conversation & The Digital Age

April 30, 2010

I read this post by Andrew Dubber on my flight today, and it made me think about how important conversation is, and will continue to be, to musicians, to businesses and quite frankly, to everyone.

And what an amazing opportunity this is for those of us who truly love conversation – being part of it and enabling it. And how hard it’ll be for those who hate conversation, especially rock stars.

But what is conversation online, exactly? Of course, it’s a hastag on Twitter or an IM dialogue. But it’s equally a click of a link in an email, a “like” on Facebook or an embed of your video on someone’s blog.

What’s amazing about these conversations is that they’re entirely non-verbal, happen in the blink of an eye and are immensely powerful. Yet most people aren’t doing enough to track and respond to these ongoing conversations. And if you don’t understand or follow a conversation, how can you expect to respond in a meaningful way?

Is it possible to stay on top of these micro-conversations, when a lot of people can’t even stay on top of their email? It’s certainly a challenge.

But as Andrew mentions in his post, the digital age is quite literally re-wiring how our brain works and how we communicate. We’ll evolve, to varying degrees of success, to cope.

And right now, those who converse the most effectively will have the most success.


It’s so Brand new…

January 22, 2009
First edition cover
Image via Wikipedia

Groove Armada’s recent “record deal” with uber-booze company Bacardi got me thinking about branding of bands and the choices bands make and why.

Yes, it’s a brave new world out there. I firmly believe that more and more bands will go independent (in fact, Twitter told me that Fiddy, Pearl Jam and Ryan Adams would all be free agents by the end of the year) and the money will have to come from somewhere.

But partnering with a brand goes much futher than if they can fund your next record or not – it has to be about cause alignment, about authenticity of relationship. There should be no one between the band and the fan and anyone who IS should be clearly aligned with the artistic intent of the band, otherwise you lose the only real currency any band has anymore – credibility + trust.

Pearl Jam + Nike? I don’t think so. But Pearl Jam with Whole Foods? OK. Coldplay + FairTrade. Radiohead + WarChild. U2 + R.E.D. White Denim + Threadless. Panic! at the Disco & Pitchfork.

What kind of branding / sponsorship would you accept from your favorite act?

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“It’s about me providing value to you, and if I can’t, then I should get the hell out of the way.”

November 8, 2008

I hate re-posting stuff that’s already on the web – there’s enough noise out there.

But some notes on Ian Roger’s recent talk at MusicTech Seattle say everything I want to say about Penny Distribution and our goals – and indeed, the goals of any music company in the 21st Century:

“Any of us, myself included, that are not either the artist or the fan, are just potentially in the way. So it’s on us to provide value. To provide real value. And that’s fine with me. I’m very happy to say, OK, my company has to provide real value. My company is not about lock-in. It’s not about me owning your masters. It’s about me providing value to you, and if I can’t, well, then I should get the hell out of the way. So I really encourage you, when thinking about the music business, to think about marginal profitability for artists first and foremost, and to think about the companies that enable that, and to forget about the ones that don’t.”


If you don’t already, I’d recommend keeping up with Ian at his blog and one of the most exciting new media companies of late, TopSpin Media

Read more at TechFlash, Thanks to Bruce @ Hypebot for the original post…

Update: Dave Allen, over at the awesome Pamplemoose, has some great insight into Ian’s keynote too…

Update II: Looks like the big boys are taking notice of the switch too…EMI are focusing on Fan/Artist relationships now as well.

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Reward the brave, the new, the interesting…

November 4, 2008

WheeeeImage by Pablo Moran Jr. via FlickrThe last few months have seen some really inspired ideas from bands – bands recognizing that the best way to engage with audiences is to do what you do best as an artist i.e. be creative. And we’re not just talking about NIN and Radiohead here –

How about Escape Act‘s incremental release of their new album via various prominent Irish music blogs? Or Deerhoof releasing their first song ON SHEET MUSIC and asking their fans to perform it. Hell, check out the entire roster of for some amazing new ways of making music mean more to fans.

White Denim’s offer of a $29.99 subscription where you’re peppered with content all year? Check.

Now comes another corker from San Francisco’s Plot Against Rachel. They’re asking their fans and friends, wherever they are in the world, to record a vocal track on their bedroom software to be appended to the final song of their forthcoming full-length. Just go to the site below, download the guide and rough mix, and go wild. Send them the MP3 and you’re in.

Help Plot Against Rachel

Sure, you might say that the last thing you want to do is break out the kazoo and give a song with a 5/4 middle eight a go, and then publish your squeaks for the world to see.

But what do all of these ideas have in common?

If you’re the band, you’re creating a story. If you’re already a fan, if you’re already convinced that this band is someone to keep an eye on, it deepens commitment, band-to-fan interaction and most importantly, draws and keeps attention.

And even if you’re not a fan of the music, you can’t fault acts like these for using the one thing any fan of music wants out of their bands – creativity.

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How NOT to Lose in the Music Industry

October 29, 2008

I’ve watched the success of BarCamp & OpenCoffee Belfast very closely: both are basically a group of like minded yet disparate technology-focused folks getting together to share their collective knowledge, geek out and possibly collaborate.

I’ve wondered aloud if something similar was even possible in the music business.

Thankfully, recent experiences at Unconvention, Creative Camp and Soul Ambition’s “Kick Up The Arts” has convinced me that it is not only possible, but essential.

Next Thursday sees the largest music industry conference so far in 2008, NIMIC’s “Northern Ireland Music – The Way Forward” take place at the Whitla Hall. Following that, from 5pm at The House, myself and a load of other loosely related folk will be gathering together with the same goals as Barcamp – to see what our collective enthusiasm, knowledge and geekiness can create…

And as if to hammer home the point, Seth Godin’s recent post “How To Lose” should be an indicator of how important such events are to this, and many other, music communities:


“Actual conversation at a local shoe store: “Do you have dress shoes in a size 6?”

“No, I’m sorry we don’t.”

“We’re from out of town. Do you know any place we can get some?”

“I’m sorry I don’t. Perhaps you’d like some in a size 8?”

Now, what are the chances that someone who wants a size 6 is going to buy an 8? Zero. The game is over. You lost.

Instead of feigning ignorance about the whereabouts of your competitors (you really don’t know where other shoe stores are?) and instead of pretending you don’t have a phone book, what would happen if you actually spent that spare minute being incredibly helpful. “Ask for Jimmy! Tell him Sal sent you…”

Of course, the recipient of this friendly advice would tell everyone at the wedding exactly what happened. And some of those folks wouldn’t be from out of town…

Marketers, salespeople, athletes and politicians spend their days losing. Losing RFPs, losing someone browsing through a store, losing a race.

If it’s close, the right thing to do is to lean into it, to persevere, to push at the end when it can really pay off. But what about when it’s not? What happens when the RFP doesn’t match (at all) what you sell, but the competition is a perfect fit?

If you’re not qualifying people relentlessly enough to have many opportunities like this, you’re not really qualifying them. You’re just spending all day grabbing what you can grab.

It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity to be a statesman. This is when you earn the right to be seen as a trusted advisor, not a self-interested shill. Two months or two years from now, when you interact with that person or organization again, we’ll remember that you were the one who spoke up on behalf of the competition, the one who helped us find a better fit, the clearly disinterested advisor who helped us choose between the two remaining good choices.

Your ego might not enjoy it, but in the long run, your organization will.”

Get together, help each other, or lose.

In The City/Unconvention Day 1

October 6, 2008
Ricky Korn and Einar Jóhannsson during the 200...

Image via Wikipedia

I eventually made it to Manchester @ 6pm, just in time for the NIMIC showcase.

Ross & the Northern Ireland Music Industry Commission are, I believe, a model industry body – publicly funded, NIMIC support NI’s music industry and scene with business showcases and live events aiming to educated dullards like myself in the workings of the industry. As well as that, they put on showcase events like last night to introduce the wider world to the awesomeness of Northern Ireland music. Never a bad thing.

Most importantly, they’re very approachable and great sources of info for the enterprising music biz.

Anywho, Panama Kings truly brought the rock and proved beyond doubt how vital Belfast is these days. But it was Cashier #9 who truly shone on this night – their footstomping bluesy grunt, tastefully embellished with beats and loops, really brought the house down.

We headed up to the site of Unconvention, the beautiful Sacred Trinity Church in Salford. It was truly a pleasure to walk into the main area of the church, replete with altar and baptismal font, and see Cynic Guru rocking out for the crowd. This place, and event, promises to be unique in every way. Artwork from Fat Northerner & Humble Soul records adorned the walls – check out some photos of the bands via Penny’s flickr (on the right of this post)

We hit up the legendary Night&Day club next for The Spinto Band’s brand of on-stage lunacy, replete with Kazoos. I loved the area and the venue, and it’s right next door to Manchester’s premier indie record store, Piccadilly. It was at this point that someone suggested Goldschlager. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Out the door we bumped into Manchester native and fellow tub-thumper Graham (he of Groovy Revolution) who took us to Mojo, which was serving up amazing Vodka mixers and great tunes. In fact, they’ll play anything that you ask them, as long as it’s not shit. A bar owned by music-snobs = result. 4am and much dancing later, it was time for a well earned sleep.

More of today’s fun and games (and some post about the Music panels from Today’s convention) later…

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How to contact music blogs

July 18, 2008
Pitchfork Media LogoImage via Wikipedia

There’s a general understanding nowadays that music blogs, especially the more influential ones such as Gorilla Vs. Bear, You Ain’t No Picasso (who broke Bon Iver), Aquarium Drunkard, Brooklyn Vegan and many others, can have a profound effect on an artist’s career.

They only cover stuff they like and have track records in turning on large amounts of people to great new music.  But how do you go about getting your name into one, or many, music blogs?

Here’re a few things I’d consider:

  • Do your homework:  You need to find blogs who’re talking to fans who might also like your ban.  Who does your act sound like?  Go to HypeMachine ( and type in the names of similar artists and find out who’s talking about them.  Get the contact info and write them an email.
  • Be relevant and brief –  I’d send along something like:  “Hi, I saw you liked band x.  Great band/album.  I’m in a band that sounds quite like them, here’s my myspace etc.”
  • Try not to annoy – Follow ups every 10 days to 2 weeks is sufficient.
  • Don’t send any attachments or MP3s:  Say what you need to say briefly, with possibly a press release below your message in the body of the email.  It’d help if you had a website set up where bloggers could download the music and info if they were interested, but simply offering a myspace and website URL is usually enough.
  • Record and track your progress:  I’ll use Google Docs to record contact info and notes on a certain bloggers contact.  It’ll sometimes take 3 or 4 emails to get any kind of response so you’ll need to easily track what stage you’re at with each contact.
  • Build relationship:  Remember, you’re not looking for the front page of Pitchfork just yet.  If you get any response from a blogger, even a “Thanks, but no thanks”, use that as an opportuinity to start a conversation – you never know where it might lead later on.

Anyway, that’s my $0.02.  What’s your experience in this brave new world of music journalism?

Update: By coincidence (I’m behind on my feeds 🙂  New Music Strategies and Jeff Pulver have both posted great ideas on this subject.

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