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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

The World Loses Good People

In the last few weeks the world has lost a few good people and a dog.

Rest in peace Bill Doss and John Walsh. Bill I only knew through his wife and the town of Athens.

And his music.

John was a family friend who I knew since I was 12. It was 8 weeks from his cancer diagnosis to his passing.

Sugar was my sisters surprise gift to our family, she lived a great life, and died a peaceful death.

See you on the other side all of you.

Are We Really Still Discussing This? – Or: My Response to David Lowery

Content has evolved into a pejorative word used to represent the minimum possible extraction from what we used to call the “message” in media.

Content became the minimum information necessary to create a sensory representation to convey emotion.

Content only had value based on the context of its construction, representation and the relative difficulty of access.

When content became fluid, value was only a leap of faith assumption due to constructions either artificial (i.e.: DRM), or just temporal that would be fixed through innovation.

Innovation was antithetical to value for content, as it diminished the use of accessibility  to increase relative worth.

The relationship between those that create and those that consume was always difficult. The abstraction of both doesn’t lessen this. If anything, the move from analog to digital has decentered the difference between creator and consumer. The onus of determining what this difference is, is on the context that the media is represented in.

With the collapse of the hierarchy that used to structure the relationship (and the value chain), everything has quotes. “Creator” and “consumer”. “Customer” and “provider.”

Everything is qualified by assumptions, persona adoption and positive reinforcement.

No one said that it was the inalienable right of those that create to treat what is created as immutable property. The only way to do so is to not allow its reproduction. This goes back to Walter Benjamin: the diminishing aura through mechanical reproduction. Appealing to baser notions of morality doesn’t work. Given no consequence, people revert to smashing windows in celebration of a win. We’re always on the precipice of immorality, and societal constraints which govern this are fluid.

Given no consequence, and no inherent referent as to what the causation of an action is, people are inherently selfish. It’s not immoral, it’s just self centered amorality.

It is not a musicians god given right to make money from their art. No one ever said this would continue as is.

This is a hard lesson. It doesn’t mean that copyright isn’t important. It doesn’t mean that artists can’t make money. It just means that it’s not a given, nor is it the responsibility of others to make this possible.

David Lowery tries to liken the money spent on hard goods and access (phones, computers, data plans) to that spent on soft. This assumes that music holds as much value to people. That is an awful assumption to make.

The proliferation of piracy, of “free culture”, etc is not a byproduct of a society gone amuck. It’s behavior born by the fragmentation of our ability to externalize ourselves into other media that we inherently control. Escapism, which culture formerly brought, could now be controlled in a self centered way by distilling our physical selves into multi-dimensional frameworks living in database tables hither and yonder.

Or put more simply, it was in my better interest to color my self expression with others’ art than to use the art to create that self expression directly.

Whereas before I was an R.E.M. fan, I’m now an ID/IP Address/Screen Name/Avatar colored by the fact that I’m an R.E.M. fan. I might think the value I add to those who I use to extend my self digitally (i.e., Apple, Twitter, Reddit) is more precious than the value added by anything R.E.M. could produce. Therefore their output is color for my output rather than something I value in situ and on its own.

I love music. I do realize that if R.E.M. were to start today they’d probably have quit in the next five years, possibly not having ever gotten off the equivalent of IRS. I also realize if this band started today there is no chance I’d have devoted so much time to running and making a fan site. This makes me sad.

But the realities of the state of music is more complicated than simplistic assumptions on behavior will ever expose.

It used to be we valued music for its ability to help us escape, and its ability to help us define an identity for ourselves.

We now control both of these aspects of our lives, to a greater degree and in a more self directed way than ever possible before.

What was once valuable is now color. What was once speculative science fiction is now something we pay for.

This is unfair. But the best of art came about through situations that were just that.

Twitter: Please Reconsider the Platform vs. Product Decision

I refer to IETF RFC 821, by the late Jonathan B. Postel.

“The objective of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is to transfer mail reliably and efficiently.”

And I refer to a post on Twitter’s blog on May 24, 2010: The Twitter Platform ().

In this post, Twitter was described as not just a social means of textual communication, but as a carrying protocol for information, much in the same way that SMTP was and is.

“To foster this real-time open information platform, we provide a short-format publish/subscribe network and access points to that network such as www.twitter.com, m.twitter.com and several Twitter-branded mobile clients for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices.”

The API’s for annotations alone let Tweets operate in a manner internally referred to as “Dark Twitter,” where Twitter was a payload mechanism for machine to machine communication rather than a person-read communications mechanism. This by extension lead a lot of people to dream of uses for Twitter as a protocol for not only person to person communication, but the Dark Twitter use case of machine to machine communication. And imagine further if this protocol was ratified as an IEFT standard what could be done. A distributed publish/subscribe messaging platform boosted by a social graph.

I know I was excited about this, and by the resultant blog traffic around this post, so was the world.

It did not come to pass. Twitter went through a talent change over and product pivot which resulted in what we have today: Twitter as a media relay system and a loosely bound social network.

The problem is: Twitter doesn’t have as much value — to me — in the long run operating this way.

Twitter to me fills a variety of roles:

  • RSS
  • One to one messaging
  • Conversations
  • Information discovery

Each of these it does to various degrees of quality. i.e., Direct Messaging is problematic. However each of these functions has a corollary either in IETF protocols (SMTP, XMPP or HTTP), or auxiliary protocols (RSS).

And it serves each of these well, albeit in a bolt-on way that is not necessarily platform endemic. Links counting toward character counts, forced URL shortening, etc.

Payloads, annotations and Dark-Twitter were meant to fix some of these deficiencies, but it seems that Twitter as a Platform is not what the company wanted. I think the bigger problem though is that this what the company is best at. Right now we kludge this functionality into the Twitter they want us to use, in order to make the Twitter we actually want.

That is unfortunate.

I think given the inverted position Twitter sits in within its ecosystem  compared to Facebook (meaning a one to many relay vs one to one), it serves a greater good, and a greater goal when the company finally comes to grips with the fact that they are better as an enabler for others rather than the end point of what they view their technology should enable.

Or put more simply: Twitter is more than Twitter, and Twitter the company is, to me at least, not the best at making products that surface the good and great that Twitter is and could be. Others do it better, and have to work around a broader macro product decision from Twitter to make things work the way they feel they should within their own products.

“Platforms evolve. When Annotations ship, there are going to be many new business opportunities on the Twitter platform in addition to those currently available. We know that companies and entrepreneurs will create things with Annotations that we couldn’t have imagined. Companies will emerge that provide all manner of rich data and meta-data services around and in Tweets. Twitter clients could begin to differentiate on their ability to service different data-rich verticals like Finance or Entertainment. Media companies in the ecosystem can begin to incorporate rich tagging capabilities. Much has been written about the opportunities afforded by Annotations because those that understand the benefits of extensible architectures understand their power and potential.”

“When annotation ships” would have been an amazing day.

I love Twitter as a platform, and I admire them greatly as a company and as executives. But I really hope that one day they wake up, go back to May 24, 2010 and revisit and relive the last day I was truly excited about a product decision they made.

The Future of Television

Eli Airplay Mirroring

 

There has been a lot of talk as of late about the future of television. A lot of hype about second screens, the 10 foot vs 18″ view, etc. Cord cutting. Lots of cord cutting.

I think a lot of this is missing the point.

Most of the talk about the future of television still validates the hegemony of the television itself. Think about it: we put devices in our home to receive transmissions that entertain. Our entertainment is subservient to the value of our attention for advertisers. Television has gotten more “interactive” but honestly, it is a joke.

The degree to which DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, etc lag behind computing is ridiculous, especially given that some of these same people put the bandwidth pipes in our home that we use to distract ourselves from the media they provide. You’d think they were sabotaging themselves. And, that is partially right. What they are doing is something I referred to in my last post about colored data, albeit willingly. They make it difficult to do anything through the means they provide that don’t directly benefit them. Why is my iPad, which weighs 1.8 pounds more powerful the my DirecTV box? It can even display more pixels!

In the last year I’ve found the amount of time I’m willing to devote to the television diminishing. When we moved into our new house, I envisioned my ideal utopia that I had longed for: no 180 degree view without a TV in it. TV’s everywhere. I grew up in a house like this (and my grandparents still have one). I’d have all these TV’s on an IP based network or an HDMI distributor. It’d be marvelous.

The fact is, we have two older TV’s in this house. I barely sit to watch any of them. The one in our bedroom hasn’t been turned on in three weeks. The one in our living room gets some usage, but only when I’m home alone because my wife is out (I watch BluRays that she doesn’t like), or when my wife and I sit to watch one of the few shows I still keep up on.

If I’m not watching with her, my wife watches everything on Hulu or other places on her iMac. I even hooked up a DirecTV box to both our iMacs and we still never watch that way. What a waste.

My son, who is 2.5 years old uses our TV as a big iPad. Literally. 90% of the programming he watches comes from an AppleTV or via AirPlay. And I’d say he only watches things on the TV maybe 50% of the time. Most of the time if we do the horrible thing of letting moving image occupy him, it’s on his iPad.

My utopia of TV’s everywhere, 1080P 7.1 speaker sound systems that shook the room and BluRay collections to rival the best was stupid. I thought about upgrading our television to one of the new super thin 65″ ones. But then I thought: why bother.

And there in lies the future of TV. It won’t involve televisions.

It’ll involve a big, agnostic monitor on your wall. 4K resolution possibly. And even then, maybe that big space on your wall that was once a TV is now a painting because everyone has their own Retina display tablets in their lap and is thereby occupied.

The “future of television” rhetoric is being driven by those that depend on television having a future. The fact that this future doesn’t contain what we consider a “television” anymore scares the life out of them.

It should.

Colored Data

I was talking to a former coworker recently about the current work being done in the remains of my department. As it turns out, they are still focused on big data, as I was. But they are not focused anymore on the user facing product.

There is a problem in this.

Consumer data seems to be a panacea and the IT project du jour. Efforts to understand all the data collected and produced by all these different entry points into a system, in order to better understand the customer. Data is capital, and a hard asset. I even said it myself, “Data is the new asset base.”

Consumer data tells you patterns and learnings from massive amounts of records relating to customer touch points. Visiting websites, posting comments, purchasing things, etc. In the media space, a lot of it focuses on the act of a purchase, merging in all different commerce touch points into a normalized data set to better see patterns.

The problem with this, for media companies especially, is that this data is colored by the user experience which generated it. And that user experience is, in the main, universally shitty. It’s like deducing that your store was really successful because people stayed in it for a long time per visit, but ignoring the fact that you only have one door, one cash register and 18 inch aisles.

While customers can be distilled into singular data points, those data points en masse reflect not only the customer, but how the points came to be.

Instead of focusing on improving the customer experience, and hence the validity of the learnings from the data, media companies are focusing on data as a means to make the customer experience even worse! Windowing strategies come from somewhere. Usually a Hadoop process in an IT department.

In the meantime, artist websites are stagnated and universally kind of terrible, not having evolved in five years (I should know). But those are outsourced now. So is most artist related or product related technology. Either that, or its waterfalled to death.

E-Commerce is a mess: geographically divergent, DRM laden, windowed to death, and competitive through deal coverage instead of the vendors ability to innovate.

The consumer Internet experience is typically under staffed, under funded and outsourced. You have CEO’s and executives of major media companies saying with pride, “We are not a technology company.”

The lowest common denominator in the entire customer experience equation when it comes to media is that of the companies that make the media. And to them, a spreadsheet means more than the happiness of a customer using their product.

But good data goes hand in hand with good product. Ask any startup. If you are forcing your customer to jump through hoops intentionally, then using data gleaned as a way to justify it, you’re only elevating the perceived value of your product by forcing adaptation to your ineptitude by the customer who wants it. You’ll only get data that shows adaptability, not anything that can be used proactively to develop a relationship with your customer.

Everything drafts behind a great product.

That includes data and how you use it. Without a great product, you have data colored by your own incompetence, and using it will only amplify that at the expense of your customer.

SXSW Post Mortem

SXSW is over. I completed 90% of the 10 day mission I was supposed to undertake in Austin, my last day cut short by a health situation back at home.

I have never stayed for music before, nor had I ever been to SXSW where I didn’t have “artist” responsibility.

I had an amazing time, which surprised me given all the “SXSW is over” rhetoric from last year. And I get that rhetoric. One of the most common phrases you over-hear at SXSW (in both music and interactive) is “shit show.”

Were there shit-shows this year? For sure there were. But the key to shit shows in Austin was to learn how to avoid them. Thankfully, due to a few developments in technology, software and my own application thereof, I made the best attempt to minimize the shit show and enjoy myself.

Here are some tips:

  1. Stay downtown – For the first week, I stayed downtown at the Hampton. After that, I had to move to the Doubletree. I figured this would be OK since SXSW was running shuttles. However they don’t tell you clearly that this SXSW shuttle costs $20 bucks each way. And that cabs are hard to find. I walked the 2 miles back to my hotel a few times at 3:30 AM
  2. Make your own SXSW – This was key for me. Last year I was turned off by all the social media marketing type people around. This year, I chose to ignore them. I didn’t go to any marketing panels. I didn’t go to any marketing parties. I kept my SXSW to a curated list of followed people on Path, Foursquare and Twitter.
  3. Don’t schedule anything – I only broke this rule twice, but as a practice I didn’t make any set “meetings.” I told people to follow me on Foursquare or Twitter and we’ll meet up when and where ever. IN general, considering how many people were in Austin, this worked a lot better than I expected. I don’t think there was any person that I didn’t get to see during both Interactive and Music.
  4. SXSW is chaotic, just roll with it – I realized this year that I wouldn’t see everyone I wanted to, go to every party I wanted to, go to every panel and keynote I wanted to. It wasn’t humanly possible. Once I surrendered to this though, the experience became almost zen like. I wandered in and out of panels, parties, shows, etc. I managed to see more than I thought I would, and miss less than I suspected, but with half the anxiety as last year.
  5. Batteries – The worst thing about SXSW every year was that our sci-fi tricorders would die throughout the day. It made us pavlovian in our search for anything to plug a charger into. Sure, there were battery packs that you could attach to the phone to juice it up, but these small battery units didn’t lessen battery anxiety. You were still acutely conscious that power was running out. I brought with me a HyperJuice 100 watt hour battery in my backpack. It weighs about as much as a Mac Book Air, and can power one for a day. It can also charge an iPhone about 23 times. I had a black iPod cable hanging out of the backpack and could juice up the iPhone whenever I felt like it. I became very popular at around 2:00AM
  6. Tolerate No Lines – There is always something to do without one, and the line you are waiting in likely won’t be there by the time you come back.
  7. Hold office hours in places with good beer – So, Ginger Man. I spent five hours there on Saturday and it worked out very well.
  8. Take a moment to get away – After the weather cleared up this year, I decided to take an afternoon run on the Lady Bird Trail. It was perfect: only locals, none of the crowds, badges, or lines. Just a ton of locals, some nice scenery and an eight mile run.
  9. Dont’ wear dress socks – I ended up hobbling around for three days because I made this mistake after doing #8

Over all I think this year to me was the most fun SXSW yet because I just let myself go into it without expectations, and I came out with a bit of liver damage and a lot of fun had.

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