“When someone demands to know what is going to replace the music industry…

August 6, 2010

“When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.”

The above quote from Clay Shirky, in my mind, perfectly encapsulates the fear inherent in business models effected by the internet, social media and new methods of information distribution.

And it fits perfectly for music – specifically the line “They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place.” If the 10 years (!) since Napster has taught has anything, it’s that even the smartest (cough *Snocap* cough), best funded (cough *SpiralFrog* cough) and even most popular (COUGH *myspace* COUGH) music services/systems invented don’t cut it during a revolution. And they certainly can’t “replace” music sales.

Nothing is sacred.

So what to do? Try. Measure. Optimize. Fail. Try again. Same as it ever was.



May 22, 2010

I’ve talked before about the Rock mystique, or the myth of the rock star.

It’s an old story by now : with Twitter and vlogs describing the minutae of your favourite artists, where is the mystique, the awesome “otherness” that surrounded visionaries like Page and Morrison?

Watching The Fiery Furnaces at ATP last weekend, it confirmed to me just how false, and ridiculous, the idea of “mystique” is.

Mystique is manifest not in the artist but in the music and the way it’s presented.

It’s created in the feeling of “why are they doing THAT?” “how are they making that sound?” and most universally “how are they making me FEEL that way?”

Bottom line: Forget about the image. Make amazing music, dangerous music, nonsensical music. The music will take care of the mystique.

Some thoughts on “Slow Music”

May 6, 2010

The slow food movement has been around for years – stressing an appreciation of local produce, hand-preparation and eschewing food that’s been processed.

By “slow music”, I’m emphasising not so much the locally produced aspect (which I’ve always felt is highly valuable but a lenghty discussion of that value is for another post). Rather, I want to emphasize the idea of taking time to appreciate music – to really let it blossom.

I recently realized, to my disappointment, that there’d been far to many albums in the past 5 years that I’ve loved – and only listened to once or twice. One of the clearest examples being the excellent Portishead “Third”, an album that clearly deserves my time – but has, up to this point, not been given it.

Why this lack of attention? Because searching, discovering and sharing music has usurped truly *falling in love* with music. In my hurry to find the next great album, and the wave of music blogs, stores and “filters” doing the same thing, I’ve begun to notice that I’m missing something.

Recent online music startup mFlow has the tagline “Because discovery is the greatest thrill in music” – all well and good, but dead wrong. *Music* is the greatest thrill in music.

For me, there’s a hole where the love affairs should be; where in the past I gave my whole summer to “Kid A”, or my time in a new city to Aimee Mann, now there’s just a blur of albums and songs, the gems of which have been washed away among the tidal wave of new music coming at me every day.

So, there’s something wrong – what’s the solution? Well, if Clay Shirky is to be believed, there’s no “information overload” just a “filter failure”.

If that’s the case, I’d love an iPhone/iTunes app that is basically Instapaper for albums. When a record really REALLY moves me, I just mark it “Listen again later” – it’s stored in a special folder (a VERY special folder, as this won’t be for just ANY album). That way it doesn’t get lost in the deluge. I understand this can be done with a combo of smart playlists etc, but it needs to be as intuitive as Instapaper to really hit home so I can listen and relisten at my leisure.

I’d love to hear if you’ve experienced something similar, whether you think there’s a need to think about slow music, or how you’ve moved toward “slow music” habits already.

Props to the excellent Juggernaut Brew blog & the ever wonderful @ianmcnulty & @thoughtwax for inspiring this post.

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.

Magnatune – My own personal man-crush.

April 2, 2010

So as many of you know, we’ve always been commited to changing how we do things here at Penny Distribution over the years, depending on how we feel it better serves artists & customers. Over the last few months we’ve been changing the business model, and branching off in new directions.

But many years ago, I ran into a company working out of Berkeley, CA called Magnatune that has come to exemplify that flexibility. For those unaware, Magnatune started way back in 2003 with some big ideas, such as support of Creative Commons, anti-DRM and a strict “We are not Evil” policy. This was well before these ideas were even CLOSE to being supported by the mainstream.

They’d been on my mind lately also because of their innovative online licensing platform – allowing automated sub-licensing of their pretty extensive catalogue to third parties – Trade Shows, Websites, Ads etc. It was always my goal to grow Penny Distribution in this direction – which I’m finally doing with Penny Black. And I’m not ashamed to say a lot of our inspiration for Penny Black comes from Magnatune’s model.

But what gets me most excited is just how consistent and successful Magnatune have been. While players like Spiralfrog, PLAYMusic and others have come and gone with little more than a whimper, Magnatune has consistently evolved.

With individual or single-album downloads declining, they started offering unlimited download subscriptions of their catalogue – which now accounts for 80% of their revenue. They also mention “when people can download albums without an incremental cost ($15/month for unlimited access, vs $8 per album) they tend to download a more diverse range of music.”, with 94% of their entire catalogue being downloaded at least once.

But the bottom line is Magnatune have never stood pat – they’ve always been willing to change if it better served the music buying customer – the customer who’s willing to experiment to find that one piece of music that makes it all worth while. And more than ever, that’s down at the end of a very, very long tail.


March 17, 2010

A bit of a public service announcement this time, for charity – from the good folks at http://www.twestival.fm :

“We need your help! We need tracks to help power a really exciting charity music project called Twestival.fm which is launching this week. The goal is to raise $10,000 towards Twestival, a global ‘Twitter Festival’ that takes place in over 200 cities worldwide on March 25th – last year the grand total raised exceeded $250,000.


If you have some music to promote and a Twitter account then you can get involved straight away. It’s really simple, you provide the music and fans donate. 100% proceeds of the go to Concern Worldwide, a charity that Twestival chose to support this year because of the amazing work that they do bringing education to the world’s poorest children. But we can’t make it happen without your help. So if you have 5 minutes then please take action. And please pass on this email or link to anyone else who’d like to get involved and spread their music for a good cause.


Shut Up, Bands!

February 19, 2010

Or more specifically, shut up about YOURSELVES.

In a media landscape where quality of conversation is paramount, people who talk only about themselves are always, quite rightly, sidelined.

In a satisfying turn of events, you’re far more likely to make some OTHER band a bit of cash-money by talking about them passionately, rather than make you more by droning on about your achievements.

People engage with passionate, independent voices on the web, and spotting fakers gets easier every day.

Make the best music you possibly can, and let other folks take care of the hype.

(this post inspired by a conversation I had with @solobasssteve. More inspirational stuff over at his website.)