"If we can't learn to live together, we're gonna die alone"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Back in the Day: Why I Came to Really Want CHANGE in the Music Industry, and How I Remember the Rise of Napster

Hey Peeps, So this is a dialog me and my Uncle Jim have been having about IDYL MUSIC as a concept, whether we’re onto something good, barking up the wrong tree….over before we start, that kind of thing. Jim's opinion is really interesting to me because he lived through the Dot-Com bubble and road it like a Pacific wave. He is an extremely driven and successful individual when it come to internet business. Right now he isn’t convinced that we have anything that will draw people away from Spotify. And he is right about some things. The strength of Spotify is really compelling and can't be denied. We have to show a serious benefit or reward to get people to even listen to this idea, it’s a fact. But it got me to writing something that, when I was finished, reinforced why I began working on this in the first place. It got me thinking that maybe ultimately we need to push the dialog harder. The state of the music industry isn’t the first thing people think about when they wake up today, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be fixed! I don’t know exactly how to do this, but I really do believe that we are going down a path that the people will champion because I believe that at the end of the day if people are given the option to do something right that will help themselves but also help others, they will take that opportunity. So I’m doing what I can; writing about it and hoping that people will read what I have to say.

Jim Moriarty Said…

This is some momentum… wow.
Spotify Raises Nearly $250 Million in New Funding
Spotify has secured nearly $250 million in new financing in a funding round that values the streaming-music company somewhere “north” of $4 billion dollars, according to people familiar with the deal.
The latest round of funding, led by Silicon Valley-based Technology Crossover Ventures, comes as the Swedish company is looking to fuel its global growth strategy.
See More Coverage »

Bob Moriarty <bobbymobetta gmail.com="">
4:43 PM (8 hours ago)

to Jim

Yeah, its amazing that they've notched this "valuation" ...since as far as I can tell they are basically still insolvent. While users, and I don't disagree with this, find the service pretty handy; almost everything in one place, etc, more and more artists are coming out going "wait a sec, yer paying me what for this?"

My feeling (....ok, my hope)  is that a Napster-style backlash will eventually force them to have to alter the interface (read: business model) and that will essentially sap the momentum. Napster tried to not call it a comeback and that didn't go so smooth.

Jim Moriarty
5:46 PM (7 hours ago)

to me

Valuations are funny things but after all is said and done they are the best reflection of how much the market thinks something is worth.

By insolvent I'm guessing you're talking about profitability and I hear you… and yet look at the last twenty years, most started out that way… this goes back to my product &gt; strategy &gt; business model point. In reverse order they don't matter… you can easily be profitable and dead because no one is using your product… turns out is not that hard to get profitable if you've got a lot of users.

What's better than Spotify in your mind?

I do get that artists aren't thrilled. I'm not sure journalists (the few that remain) are thrilled with what's happened in news media… a lot of groups have been challenged. No, going backward… which is hard because that's what people want… the simplicity they used to have.

I'm not fully getting your Napster point. I think the record companies amplified and accelerated their own demise… people remember the transition to CDs (every disc a "perfect" duplicate) and prices going from $10 to $18ish for the same record… they were greedy and people found the work-around, ripping MP3s… etc. That train left the station. The Dead were among the only ones that saw the future early and gave their recordings away… and made bank on the road.

Good dialog.


From Bob Moriarty:
To answer the question "what's better than Spotify in my mind" well, there isn't anything. And so I'm hoping that IDYL may actually have a position here...and after I got all these thoughts down below I started remembering why this idea seemed important in the first place. I'm not gonna lie, our timing might be off. We don't have the iPod to hold all the files we've been stealing at a miraculous moment....but I feel like we are on to something....And if I can at least get you to consider this vantage point then I think it might be worth it to keep going down this road;)

So I started writing this:

True about valuation, and this is an area where your knowledge is really just so far beyond mine. I'm just starting to try and grasp the language, let alone the meaning of some of the terms here. But I'm gonna elaborate a little on what I was trying to say about Napster and this is long-winded, in fact coming back to this opening paragraph I think I'm gonna post this as a blog. But I was there as a kid and this is what it looked like for kids. I truly believe that a lot of people my age see things as having happened this way. Its different for kids 5-10 years younger than me and its different for you, but this is what I remember happening..

From my vantage point, and I mean this is how I remember it feeling, the advent of Napster between 98-2000 completely, I mean COMPLETELY like nothing I've ever seen happen to any kind of business, crippled the music industry.I was at Northeastern and that other kid, not Sean Parker but Shawn Fanning really did live down the street from me. Every kid who could use the internet halfway decently was using Napster and it probably encouraged kids who otherwise weren't using computers because it somehow brought every.possible.song. to your hard drive. It felt like unlocking a vault, I remember the first day someone showed me Napster and I couldn't believe it at first I thought they were tricking me somehow. And for a while the concept of the intellectual theft didn't even click because the music industry had been held up as positively ray-shielded. There was only 2 sides of the equation; in, with a record deal or out, you hadn't made it. Home recording was still building, NBFB had recorded a 3 disc demo in 98 and spent like our life savings to do it at the time...breaking into being a successful recording artist in any way still seemed like a 1%-er kind of distinction.
    So when my friends and I were downloading songs, I mean I was a musician with eyes on making a serious run at trying to make it as a rock star, and I just didn't perceive what I was doing as theft from anyone but people in suits at desks who could handle that type of hit.
    But Napster's disruption was so total that all those tiny hits eventually brought down the walls of Tower Records etc....isn't it crazy? Tower Records used to be a landmark in Boston, like a point of reference for directions. I bet Allie couldn't tell you where Tower Records was and she can probably see the building from her dorm room.
    So point taken, Napster was as thorough a dismantling as any of us have ever seen. But there was still a record industry in the rubble. I remember thinking Metallica etc were such sellouts at the time...but they were 100% right! Its crazy, but the actual transformation, not just obliteration, happened after Napster had to close their doors,  and this should really be what Steve Jobs and Apple is remembered for; bringing the piece of technology to market that people didn't even know they needed yet at somehow the EXACT right time... but they really NEEDED iPods. And miracle of miracles, not only did Steve convince you to buy the hardware, but because your friend from 2 dorms down, their cousin? Totally got sued by the RIAA...it happened man true story! The RIAA boogeyman'd people just enough... not away from using MP3's but they convinced people to buy them at least. Not everyone, and thats a big piece of what we're selling in IDYL, but a big chunk of people found that the iTunes store was now the record store. And somehow, the cultural zeitgeist was pretty well indoctrinated that downloading music was illegal and it became something you had to make a decision abot. When it started, you just did it..but people started making a choice-they made different choices, yes. But you either did it right or you did it illegal and lived with that little bit of creeping feeling that your ISP might knock on your door...
    7 years later, and iPODS are now iPhones and we've all gone totally Star Trek and mostly yawned through it. Different options start arriving because when something is good, other people will want a taste. Apple starts to lose a little bit of a grip on market share pretty much by their own hand: the diversification of the hardware into music device-phone and now total lifestyle device:status updates and tweets and everything, has opened the door to a million different niches...and if your phone is your ipod is your personal computing device, as is often the case for the lowest common denominator in society, eventually you have to make room for other stuff besides music on your phone.
    So Pandora which is fun but toooo diverse. So Spotify. And I like Spotify...maybe not quite as much as you because I actually sometimes want to zone out and go the pandora route, let someone pick for me. But whichever route,Pandora, Spotify, streaming service of next week, that seems like a pretty good route and its available and no problem, its so easy! Why WOULDN'T we do this? As users of COURSE this makes sense.... feels comfortable and amazing how all the sudden the doors have opened wide again...just like it was with Napster....

    And here is where the backlash, I think will come in. It won't be a -lash quite as much because there wasn't the same explosion into Spotify, it was a natural drift. It'll be more of a slight pressure at first but it will build. And as tastemakers who live and die by the words of Thom Yorke start to reconsider Spotify, not because it isn't easy, but because it causes some sort of *un*easiness... eventually someone like Drake or Jay Z will come out and say "No" to this and it won't be a snotty hipster thing to drop Spotify, it'll be hood. And there will be that long wide-gaited turn, you'll sort of hear the back-up sirens from the trucks; the cultural zeitgeist's stance will shift slightly because Now, 15 years after Napster was cool because the music industry was 1%, well in right NOW the music industry is in most people's den's or garage's or walk-in closets because people have ALL the gear and they are banging it out just as hard in their bedrooms as they were 15 years ago except its even less out of reach. The pool of intellectual property isn't being stocked from just 5 major labels, its runoff from tons of next-big-neighborhoods and possible up-and-comers. And if you are pouring your life's work into this, and then you get that big break and Spotify clears you for their search engines and Pandora runs you through their algorithms it's supposed to feel like you signed a record deal. But there is a piece missing....and then you realize what it is. It's that you can't.make.shit. going this route. I got a royalty statement last month from BMI because Audible Mainframe and NBFB actually are in those algorithms and you CAN hear them on Spotify. Audible Mainframe had a total of just under 10,000 plays via Pandora for the songs on which I'm a co-writer. Probably close to 1,000,000 total plays which is pretty awesome and makes me very proud of the Legacy we helped leave for Victor. My cut of the royalties for those 10,000 plays (I have at least 50% share of all the songs recorded on my statement) is $0.24 We had 1.8 million plays on Slacker Radio and I got $140. I'm not complaining about that check. I haven't been in that band for 5 years so the fact I see a return on that investment is pretty amazing. But in America You Have to Sell Something, not just let it get played...

When the people trying to get a piece of the American dream realize their slice is measured in microns, they're gonna look for another way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

ALMOST HUMAN - Ok its a Police Procedural, but god is in the details...or is it the ghost in the machine?

I like to think that I don’t “do” police procedurals. But over the last couple years I’ve been sucked into a couple of shows that play in that sandbox, just on the crusty edges where dogs have crapped and such. Plus, I grew up on the X-Files, the original cop/sci-fi crossover that set the stage, the bar, and the rankings for all the hard science fiction like Battlestar and LOST that made it to prime time in the 2000’s. So while I definitely don’t go in for the Sunglasses and opening credits tracked to The Who, I’ve seen every episode of The Shield, I’m good with Elementary and love the BBC counterpart Sherlock, I enjoyed 2012’s psychological cop thing “Awake” and I’d follow the Winchester boys to hell and back…have done so a few times, on Supernatural. Of course way out on the Fringe, there's Fringe.

   So first lets judge a book by its cover. Besides the sci-fi circumstance I was drawn to this show based largely on the productions credits. Created by J.H. Wyman of Fringe and Executive Produced by JJ Abrams and Bryan Burke, both of LOST. JJ also EP'd Fringe and he and Burkeboth have worked together in the Star Trek franchise, where the lead role for Almost Human was plucked from in the form of Karl Urban. I’m sure comparing notes for the rest of the crew listings would reveal several congruencies between JJ’s past projects and AH.

   I’m a strong believer that the best science fiction is predicated on the tackling of universal questions about the human condition, and to that end to be perfectly honest the jury is still out for Almost Human. But they’ve laid some pretty decent groundwork. Male lead Detective John Kennex (played by Urban who brings a touch of his Star Trek “Bones” in his sarcasm, but more subdued overall) has some questions for his higher power, having recently been majorly betrayed by his girlfriend - not just romantically, having been robbed of his girlfriend and similarly robbed of his right leg, both of which have been replaced by robotics, which is where the drama begins. Kennex must learn to put the utmost faith in machines he’s never trusted as they now make up not only part of his team, but part of his body. This is a fairly classic motif so from a strictly dramatic standpoint the writers aren’t breaking any ground (of the 4 episodes, 2 screenwriters hail directly from Fringe). AH owes a lot to the speculative fiction of Isaac Asimov particularly as it pertains to robots and how they interact with - or react to -  human beings. To date, the show hasn’t really gone hard down this road yet, but the Foundation is there (see what I did there? Isaac Asimov? Foundation…?)
   JJ’s projects have never been about entirely new concepts though, it’s how these concepts are unfolded to reveal new dynamics in the “human condition” conversation that have always made his projects so amazing. Conceptually, L O S T really begins the same way as Gilligan’s Island, but the voyage of Jack Shepherd, Kate Austen and James Ford touched L O S T’s fan base in a way most people weren’t prepared for when they casually began watching, right from the first episode.  This is where JJ’s touch seems to become so midas-like. Even in Fringe, by all accounts a much more rigid story and group of characters, I found an affinity for Peter Bishop who was portrayed by Josh Jackson - famously Pacey of Dawson’s Creek, an actor I really never thought would be able to evoke an emotional response from me.
So when Abrams is Producing or even EP-ing a project, I’ll always make time to put in the effort because the payoff is usually worth it. With the right elements in place, and they seem to be here, there is the potential for something special to happen.
   Almost Human hasn’t hauled me in full-blown after the first episode in the way LOST did. But I’m inspired to give it time because the sci-fi nerd in me, the part that likes science fiction not just for the exploration of the human condition, but for the gadgets and the gear, the showcasing of the tech that I’m always hoping is just around the corner in real life, that part of me has found a new favorite hour of television. Almost Human pays attention to the details; When Detective Kennex and his android partner Dorian walk through the door of a facility on the way to the scene of a new homicide case we see trailing behind them that the door has registered their identities via built-in hardware systems with floating holographic displays. The communications signal jamming system used by the law enforcement agents radiates a cool visual pulse (in a way that a real signal jamming device almost certainly would not, but it looks cool) - and they do this right, achieving the elusive "lived-in" feel that made Star Wars so amazing by not drawing attention to these details (the way I do) and allowing the story to flow around them. So often science fiction fails when the tech is written into the story. You can’t make the gadgets cool by having the characters talk about them, it has to be about how cool the gadgets are because the characters DON’T talk about them. The story will flow from there. 
   Caveat: If the gadget is the Millennium Falcon, it’s ok to write it into the story….what a piece of junk!
   What’s likeable about the world of Almost Human is at least some of the characters. Urban’s Kennex is world-weary and damaged, literally and figuratively. Coming to terms with the replacement of his leg is taking its toll. In this world the android limbs are quite convincing and the casual observer can’t distinguish the difference, but the impact on his body as well as his mind is clearly a large part of this character.
"Wait, did you say I'm a Robot?
 That explains why I was pissing motoroil..."
Urban shrouds Kennex in a veil of sarcasm, but his sharp wit is darkened by the tragedy he’s faced and he can’t hide the grief (the events that took Kennex’s partner and limb appear to take place several months before the pilot episode). Michael Ealy’s Dorian (DRN model Android Officer) is robot who’s type has been mostly decommissioned; they were designed to display a greater level of empathy and “feeling” than their newer models. Ealy plays this role well. The androids are meant to be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing but Dorian’s programming for higher emotion makes for - a more interesting story about a robot - and a more interesting experience in the portrayal. You can see in Ealy a just-under-the-surface tension due to his Pinachio-ic issues. The thinly veiled reference to other forms of prejudice is possibly made more clear by the fact that Ealy is African American, but either way the duo appear to have a level of chemistry that could build well.
   Lili Taylor’s turn as the gruff Police Captain Maldonado, on the other hand, lacks any form of chemistry and her completely generic “ranking-officer” shtick isn’t made any more palatable by the fact that she tones it down it bit. She’s still just going through motions. Mackenzie Crook, known for his supporting role as half of the bumbling deckhand duo from the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise also doesn’t make any Emmy plays as the technician who acts as a buffer between Kennex and Dorian. His role is essentially an expository one - simply making sure we understand any details of Dorian’s function we’re too dumb to pick up when its laid out in the story. I know he has chops but they’re not on display here. He’s timid but not in an endearing way. Then again, we’re only 4 episodes in and since most of the development has been between Kennex and Dorian, with a little luck he’ll find a way.

   End of the day, my nerd horns went up after the first half-hour of the pilot and they haven’t gone down. There is a lot of possibility here and essentially it remains to be seen if the writers will flesh it out properly. Given the chance, Karl Urban and Michael Ealy could make a memorable partnership as they have the right amount of cool, wit and gunplay to please standard issue action-jocks and the sic-fi backdrop coupled with enough tech wizardry to keep the Star Trek set tuning in or at least DVRing. If history has set any precedent it could be worth the wait to stick this out for the first season as JJ Abrams teams often really rev it up in the second season. But in today’s on-demand world here’s hoping FOX will have the patience. As for me, I’m in it for the haul. I’m not a big fan of Monday Night Football anyway.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Streaming Revenue VS Digital Sales...Who's Right? What's Left

It’s an extremely hot topic in the music industry right now, the battle over the power of streaming services and the value of downloadable music stores. Almost daily, high profile artists are releasing statements of their position in this battle. And the topic is not going away because from a technology standpoint streaming represents forward momentum and for end-users streaming solves problems of economy (users are not required to spend as much money on purchasing downloads… or hard copies for that matter) as well as economies of space (streaming and cloud services allow users to access their musical choices from almost anywhere and not physically store anything on a hard drive they can’t always take with them or a mobile device that is often limited in capacity).

Here is the major issue, and the reason high profile artists like Thom Yorke, Billy Bragg, David Lowry (frontman of Cracker) and many, many others are publicly weighing in on the topic. Its goes like this: Yes, streaming services are becoming a large part of how we consume music. Millions of people use Pandora, Spotify, other slightly lesser known services or some combination of these and the numbers are rising everyday. Yes, they are appealing to the user because you don't have to pay up front for music, and you can often learn about amazing new artists that you never would have discovered without the algorithms that power these streaming "channels". From a user standpoint there is practically no downside as few users opt to pay for their streaming services, even if it limits their access, so there is almost NO economic investment.
From an artist standpoint there is a big problem. And ultimately this should concern fans and service users as well because if the artists become embattled, the fans will be the first people to lose out. The problem is; Do streaming services cannibalize downloading revenue, and if so, do streaming services compensate in royalty revenue for this loss?
The answer is a resounding NO. This is Thom Yorke's issue. David Lowry went as far as to post his royalty earning statements from streaming services publicly and the numbers are staggering. Artists are not receiving anything near the amount of compensation for streams from Spotify and Pandora as they receive for downloads from the iTunes store. And the magnitude is exponential as far as loss per song.

The more I look into the actual numbers behind these streaming systems the more I realize the potential of the IDYL Music platform to really bring the digital music industry out of this tailspin. Under the IDYL system users will purchase downloads but in doing so be given the power to share a song in a streaming format and if another user enjoys this stream enough to purchase the song for themselves, they do so via a download. Discovering new music is an integral part of IDYL as well, but we bring the human element back to the act of discovery. After all, an algorithm can help you find something new, but your best friend can help you discover something that you personally are going to love. To encourage this process over standard streaming AND standard download platforms, users will receive a percentage of the revenue from the purchase of downloads. And yes, ultimately that may take something from potential revenue for artists in downloads, but if the download never happens then it really doesn’t matter what percentage of nothing goes to the artists. Because so much revenue can be restored to the artists and rights holders via this format, artists and labels will ultimately embrace and benefit immensely from the use of the IDYL Music platform. Without a format like IDYL, like brick and mortar storefronts in the beginning of the millennium, digital download sales will fade as streaming becomes the most prominent method of consuming music.
            IDYL Music is a work in progress. We are in early stages of fundraising to bring the platform into existence. I can only hope that as we strive to achieve our goals,Thom Yorke, David Lowry and millions of artists that share their concerns will stand up and take notice. We believe we can turn the music industry onto a positive course correction. New streaming services are hitting the market on a daily basis (see YouTube this week). But in order to survive the streaming service gutting of artist revenue, creators and fans alike will have to embrace something new. Something that will change the process of consuming music; something that will ensure artists are compensated at a rate that is truly fair but will also reward their fans for following this new path. The key to this successful course-correction lies in the hands of the artists who are already in jeopardy, but most importantly? It lies in the hands of fans like you.

*IDYL Music is a new company currently in early-stage funding to create a new music distribution platform which rewards fans for sharing new music across their social networks.


Most of the Science Fiction Vehicles in the known multiverse TO RELATIVE SCALE

PANDORA's BOX - Some of what I'm Listening to..

Showing some of my most recent Pandora Station Selections. If you want a serious 90's hip-hop "fire-and-forget" party mix, I always recommend "Black Sheep Radio"