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

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, 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.

LN Labs Fund

There are two ways of looking at how businesses work together.

A common one in large companies is akin to a dance. Two big (or one big, one small) companies meet on the dancefloor, do a short dance, bow and be done with it. The only thing paid attention to is the dance, not how they got there, nor what they do afterward—and a press release about this dance is required.

Photo by Kris Krug

Photo by Kris Krug

This has many problems. It isn’t a holistic relationship, and orienting a relationship toward a press release is simply putting the idealized end state (“we’re rich!” or “we’re first to market!”) ahead of any long-term gains. It also results in deal fatigue, because the courtship is often more elaborate than the result. These are cynical, press release-oriented relationships and they ultimately prove to be toxic.

To me, the best business development has always been an API key exchange and filling out a credit card form on a website. I get what I want, they get what they want, and we are loosely joined but mutually dependent (them on my money, me on their technology).

However, an API key relationship can only take you so far, and in some cases you find the holes that need filling in your ecosystem only by falling into them.

Sometimes the products that fit those holes are not SaSS and PaSS. Sometimes they haven’t even been created yet. Sometimes they are products with their own ecosystem and no clear way of monetary integration, even if the tech integration is clear.

In these cases, you need a way to extend your business development strategy beyond swinging a corporate purchasing card and API keys around.

The Live Nation Labs Fund was formed to give us this platform.

We are not building an isolated product with Live Nation online. Rather, we are building an ecosystem of products to meet and solve the big problems for our customers. Given that, we know that at the edges is where our innovation must lie, in order to maintain our ability to be nimble. And at the edges is where not only the best products are made, but where they end up residing.

Right now, it’s an amazing time in terms of product development. Different movements can take credit for it, but what it really amounts to is technology has given the ability to make many low-cost, high-reward moves to meet the needs of real people in immediately tangible ways. Everything from cloud computing to ubiquitous computing and pervasive connectivity can take credit for this.

Live Nation Labs Fund (LN Labs Fund for short) lets us participate in this product ecosystem on a level playing field, both as a partner and player, as well as an innovator.

When we set out to create this fund, I added a page to the playbook to outline how we should dictate the use of it. One of the things that I hold tight to at LN Labs is that “everything is a product.” Meaning, even if no one aside from the internal team uses something, treating it as a product puts it into a structure that makes all aspects of its creation, deployment and operation a learnable and maintainble process.

As a product, you have to have a metrics set that you can learn from, as well as user stories and personas that dictate how you reach those metrics.

For LN Labs Fund, this was the creation of a rubric that we put pitches through as a way of maintaining our own products focus on the customer above all:

1. Is this additive to the user experience?

2. Are we taking into account implementation and deimplementation? Does the cost/effort involved in those exceed the possible “best case” scenario of normal run-rate?

3. Is this filling a hole that is created by necessity, resource constraints, product focus or a marketing need?

4. Does this relationship effect our ability to be nimble?

5. Is this partner aligned with our objectives? Are we mutually benefiting from this relationship in tangible ways?

6. Does our relationship with this partner have any negative effect on our ability to maintain the core values of our team? Are they a good actor in the space?

7. If this is an exclusive relationship, what is the downside risk?

8. Is this a temporary solution or a long-term engagement?

LN Labs Fund is looking to work with partners in all aspects of our product: from infrastructure to media. Things that make our users’ lives better, and help us solve big problems:

Connecting you to your favorite music and events on the world’s biggest stage.

Culture is a Product

A year ago I walked out of the Warner Bros. Records building, put a box in my car and drove home. I left with a collection of memories, but also a sense of unfinished business that I intended to keep in mind when I started my next venture.

When it started becoming apparent what my next venture would be, I sat down and started writing.

I proposed this question to myself:

Given a green pasture, how would I architect a company or department?

All of this thinking ended up in one place: Culture.

What is culture anyhow?

A lot of companies throw around the word culture. Zappos has its 10 core values. At one point, Google’s 20% time and “Don’t Be Evil” defined it. Apple has a well-known culture of secrecy. Github uses its culture as a way to shape their product messaging, its community and best practices for its use.

Over the summer I spent a lot of time looking at how culture was defined by various companies. My brother-in-law works for Zappos, so I got some good exposure to that. I have friends at a lot of other startups and big companies, so I collected info from them as well.

Culture is a Product

One of the key things I learned after leaving WMG and examining my tenure there was that we focused more on projects than products. Products help you frame a holistic view of what you are building, from plans to deployment. Projects are only judged by the duration of time you spend on them, and forgotten quickly.

To that end, at Live Nation Labs, I wanted to be a product-oriented company, treating the products we build as their own independent companies, and staffing them as such. Included in this was the application of “The Lean Startup” build->measure->learn->(repeat) methodology.

When I started writing our department documentation, it occurred to me that if the culture of the department was treated as one of our products, it put “how the department works” on the same level as “what the department works on.”

I’ve seen culture referred to as the immune system for your company. I believe that strongly, but I also think it is the most important product you create.

The Product

Here are my rules for the “Culture Product”:

The Culture Product has all the same needs as a Web or Mobile product.

When you make a web application and adhere to lean-startup/agile methodologies, you start with a loose set of requirements, usually framed as user stories. From there you move toward prioritizing stories, developing them and shipping.


The Culture Product has the same needs. For Live Nation Labs, I even went as far as to start using to shape them.

As a <noun> I need to <verb> so I can <noun>.

So for instance: As a developer, I need to have a continuous integration system so I always know if my code is valid in my branch.

Or more colloquial: As a team member, I need free soda in the refrigerator so I don’t have to go to the liquor store on Hollywood Blvd. when I need caffeine.


From here, you can “build” these features into the product. For us, the soda concern was solved by a delivery every few weeks, and the continuous integration system was a combination of Jenkins, Janky, Hubot and Github.

These stories should be iterative. If you frame cultural issues as stories, it helps shape them as actionable concerns rather than complaints or “issues.” And making them stories makes them not merely a problem for one team member, but things everyone can solve.


Shipping a Culture Product feature is not like pushing to Heroku, but still involves implementation of a process along with documentation. Usually, when we “ship” a Culture Product feature, it is through Evernote, and then into our internal Playbook.

The Playbook is a wiki/blog that is used by our team to document cultural practices and recipes for how to perform certain things (such as how to use our chat room or the Sonos system).


Once a feature is shipped into the culture, you can and should proceed with validating the story through “learnings.” Sometimes this is quantitative learning through metrics, and sometimes it’s a qualitative “feeling” if things are working out well.


Nothing is set in stone. Our Culture Product is an iterative thing, as is the Playbook that documents it. We talk regularly to define and refine our culture.

The process of editing and changing the Culture Product also has the added benefit of exposing all parts of our organization to all aspects of its infrastructure.

The Playbook is in Github and the product management system is the same we use for our normal web and mobile products. The Culture Product’s implementation serves a dual purpose for us: defining our organization and educating in a cross-domain fashion while doing so.

Culture must be fed

When you define culture as a product, it becomes easier to define its boundaries, and then constrain and nurture it to maintain them. This means, like any product, your Culture Product should operate within the constraints and allowances of a defined budget.

Too often, the things that constitute “culture” are seen as additive or “perks.” I hate defining things as “perks” because it relegates them to things that should be seen as optional if and when times get tough. Similarly, in recruitment, “perks” mean “these are not core, but are additive in order to be attractive.” I’ve found perks are always the first things to go as cultural efforts in a company’s decline. And more damaging still, perks aren’t an element of culture. They are frosting on a thin cake.

Zappos has a lot of perks, but if you strip them out the culture still stands. I suspect that if Facebook cut the perks in Menlo Park, the offices wouldn’t be vacated any faster in the late evening—but the pizza delivery drivers in the Valley would have a new frequent destination.

If your culture is a product, it needs to be fed with money, time and enthusiasm. It can’t be an afterthought or the recipient of “maybe if” budgeting. Like any product, innovating only through a balance sheet, meeting schedule and checkbook can kill it.

The Culture Product should be seen as a qualitative risk: a product whose very existence validates all others.

Culture Should Be Exportable

One of our mandates at Live Nation Labs is to export our culture to the larger company. By treating our culture as a product, one of the things we do ends up being “packaging” it for exporting. This includes all things from our social media presence, external blog, and internal documentation, and all the way down to the tools and software that enable us to work day to day.

Culture is an ephemeral thing, but part of treating it as a product is to force ourselves to make it reified, that is to say: concrete in some fashion. Forcing reification enforces a discipline of colliding reality with fantasy, and helps temper some less essential cultural aspects (i.e. foosball tables) in favor of more prosaic and pragmatic initiatives.

Culture is your Platform

Ultimately, the Culture Product is the platform on which you build all your company’s other products. Much in the same way the Facebook Platform or Amazon Web Services form the foundation of those respective companies product roadmaps, so too should your Culture Product form the foundation on which you build everything.

Culture is not just the immune system for your company—it is the basis of how you build, function and evolve as a producer of products. It should be omnipresent on your roadmap, given attention and never thought of as an option or afterthought when resources get constrained.

The Culture Product is simply the most important product you’ll ever manage.


I ran another race this weekend, the Los Angeles 13.1, which took place in Venice Beach. This is the fourth half marathon I’ve run, and I’ve done one full marathon.

The thought process that goes into a race:

Night before: I haven’t trained enough. I’m going to suck. I better not even walk because I’ll injure myself. I have to be up at what time? Do I have enough Goo? Should I carbo-load or shouldn’t I? How cold will it be?

Morning of: Holy jesus is it early. It’s cold. How bad will traffic be? Should I hydrate more?

Running it: Ow (first two miles). I feel great! (next 8-20). I want to die (up to the last mile). I feel amazing and want to sprint! (last mile).

Post race: When can I do that again?