Disruption Needs No Permission

Want to change things? Do not ask for permission; no one will give it to you. Few people like change. So all you can do is start without permission. Napster built traction and changed the music industry forever by ignoring the elephant in the room. Today’s positively connoted industry term “disrupt” came largely from the progressive impact Napster had on the entertainment business. If you truly want to change things, you need to break them first. Cause trouble. Challenge the odds. Take your chances. Stand up to the big guys. At the end of the day, it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission (perhaps riddled with expensive lawsuits, but worthwhile and noble nonetheless).
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Step Aside, “Thriller”: Interactive Music Videos Are Coming To Haunt You

In the 1980s, MTV kicked music culture up a notch by engaging audiences with interpretive motion pictures a.k.a. music videos. The phenomenon swept the globe. To date, few albums slip out the door without a video or two in tow. The prominence of music videos dropped at the turn of the millennium due to high production costs, meager advertising or promotional return, and the widespread music industry free-fall. Rightfully so, I think, because things were getting ugly. As an example, Madonna’s 4 minute 28 second “Die Another Day” music video in 2002 cost over $6 Million, more than most festival-bound independent feature films today. Not sure how you feel, but I don’t think the video is worth it. Luckily, those days are behind us. People need to use their heads now instead of their pocketbooks to tell a strong visual story.

Fortunately for the music video format, cheaper production workflows and negligible Internet distribution costs have allowed them to return with a vengeance. Everyone can pick up a camera and release a music video online. Exciting times. The problem? There’s more competition to hear your song now than ever before. It is much more difficult to grab an audience’s attention.

It’s time again to kick things up a notch. Watching your music is not enough anymore; it’s time to interact with it as well. I don’t mean Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band; I mean dynamic music experiences online. I’ve seen a few interactive music projects before, but Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” ranks at the top of my list. Built for the browser with WebGL, “Lights” takes you on a visual 3D journey of light and form through which you have some control. I STRONGLY encourage you to experience it for yourself.

If I heard Ellie’s song in a stack of other songs on Spotify or saw it on a video playlist in YouTube, I would probably pass right over it. Not because the song is bad, no. But because there’s so much noise in the world now and it takes an extra step to stand out. Ellie stood out to me tonight. It may take this much work or more for rising artists to build a new name online. I, for one, am very excited to see where this movement goes.

Bootlegging Yourself (Marketing Controversy 101)

A few days ago, a bootlegged version of a red band trailer for David Fincher’s latest film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit YouTube with a vengeance. Before Sony Pictures pulled it for “a copyright claim,” the video had nearly 2 million hits after only two days. There is speculation that Sony launched the trailer themselves to kick-start a viral marketing campaign. Whether or not this is true, the video’s premature release certainly did not hurt Sony or the film. The leak was awarded widespread coverage in press and online. If audiences were not aware the hit novel trilogy was being adapted for the American screen, they definitely are now.

I find the entertainment industry’s preoccupation with piracy amusing. Sure, I am a filmmaker and can appreciate revenue lost to piracy. But as veteran studio executive Bill Mechanic once pointed out to me, “Pirating means that people want to see your movie.” As I see it, stolen entertainment media suggests one of two things: your content is not good enough to pay for or too difficult for the average consumer to find. Both problems are your fault and worth solving. iTunes rivaled music piracy by promoting easier access to music: it became easier to buy a song on iTunes than steal it from a torrenting site. With bandwidth evolving and platforms like Netflix and YouTube on the rise, movie studios are running out of excuses not to open their libraries. Simple: help audiences consume the entertainment they want to consume. Most people will gladly pay for that. And pirates will help spread the word in the meantime.

But I digress. In a world saturated by media noise, it has become necessary for marketing materials to have unique stories wrapped around them. The Dragon Tattoo leak promoted three levels of discussion: the bootlegging of the trailer in the first place, whether or not Sony released it on purpose, and finally the irresistible quality of the content presented. Trailer discussion spread the word and inadvertently spread the message: “She’s coming.”

Movie studios should bootleg themselves more often. And you should too.

Organizing Your Music Library

In the digital age, we are saturated with music. It’s amazing to me that people aren’t more overwhelmed by it. I have 12,297 songs (nearly 700 hours of music, 56.2 GB) in my library, 82% of which I haven’t listened to yet. That does not include some 1,200 tracks that haven’t been added to my library yet. Almost all of my music comes from recommendations and shares by friends. Without some sense of order, I may never be able to listen to it all. But I’m going to try.

To keep things straight, I use the 5-star rating system integrated into the major audio players (I use both Windows Media Player and iTunes to manage my library). Inspired in part by the way friend Greg Stanwood rates movies, I assign each star a qualitative value. To get a 5-star rating, a track must:

Star 1:  Demonstrate strong musical talent
Star 2:  Be recorded and mixed well
Star 3:  Have a captivating arc and appropriate duration
Star 4:  Survive repeat listening
Star 5:  Evoke a notable emotional reaction

Conveniently enough, the result of awarding these stars to tracks informs me how to handle them in the future (I delete tracks that get zero stars):

1 Star:  Never again!
2 Stars:  Not terrible, but no thanks.
3 Stars:  Average, sweet enough to keep at hand.
4 Stars:  Listen again!
5 Stars:  Love and keep forever.

Only tracks that get four or five stars (636 and 265 tracks respectively so far) make it to my iPod or car stereo. With this level of organization, you can bet I have a pretty awesome party mix.

In hopes of discovering new music, I am methodically working my way down the entire library song list to listen to everything I own. Over time, I will share some of my data and ratings with you. Pulling the metadata into excel, I have already discovered my favorite music year so far was apparently 2003!

Pays Versus Plays: The Future of Digital Residuals

My MP3 play count for “I’m Not The One” by The Black Keys:  43

My MP3 play count for “Down for Whatever” by Ice Cube:  2

Who deserves more money, at least on my behalf? Well, obviously The Black Keys.

The way things are now, they each get the same. I purchased both MP3s for 99 cents and each artist collects a whopping 9 cents of that. Not fair, huh? The Black Keys should definitely get a bigger chunk of my money than Ice Cube (and a bigger chunk of that 99-cent MP3 sale, but that’s a different point). If an artist earns more plays, he or she should earn more dough. But it has never worked that way for consumer media ownership – pay for the album once and never have to pay for it again.

Artists theoretically collect more money per program their songs are used in. Current performance rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange) use abstract systems of surveys and credits to track television, radio and public space plays to determine artist payments. Their systems are just as arbitrary and myopic as the Nielsen ratings. Needless to say, artists’ residuals are not accurate and cannot reflect the actual popularity of their music.

As digital space envelopes us, tracking is becoming easier and easier. By the end of the year, I predict that our entire music library can be synced to the cloud (Grooveshark has offered library uploading for a long time and Google Music sounds like it will be a formidable competitor in this space). Eventually, all music will be trafficked through the Internet. When this happens, play count data can be synced and shared. Artists and record companies can finally get accurate reporting on their play counts (and even more accurate insight into audience reception). Artists can get paid the portion they deserve, at least next to other artists. Plays will become more valuable than pays.

The trick is getting money into the system. I don’t think Google will have a problem with that, though.