Making Money in Music: a Poll and a Crowdstorm

I’ve created a twitter poll (something I should be doing more regularly) asking a question of central importance to this blog, to my life, my creative pursuits, and something that’s been on everybody’s mind since the dawn of music (when wazzat?): how should musicians get paid? If I haven’t given all the possible discrete answers, then please tweet me (@jeanh) or comment here if you have other ideas that don’t fit the framework imposed by my limited imagination on such matters.

I’m hoping to use this small gesture as a way to springboard into a wider and more comprehensive crowdstorm (cloudstorm? tweetup? weathercamp? huh?) about music and money. To come, to come, but here’s what I’m thinking. I’d like to hear practical ideas for musicians of all styles and instruments (or vocalists) to earn money so that you can continue making music, and possibly even make a sustainable living wage from it. This includes old (e.g., session work) and new (e.g., ad revenue sharing sites) methods.

Keep in mind that I am totally uninterested in hearing about fake Youtube (or whatever “viral” nonsense) campaigns (which I’ve denounced more than once on this blog) for mediocre bands that want to be successful in very limited, old-fashioned ways.  Cokeheads dreaming of a “Pitchfork 10” or a short-lived career in “reality programming” needn’t apply. Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.

The end of free music?

lastfm_redLast.fm (aka CBS) has finally thrown in the towel on free music. Well, I’m not going with them. It’s not that Last.fm sucks; they still offer a great service, one that *might* be worth the subscription fee, even. But for those of us who are trying to give music away for free, there’s simply no place for us on their platform.

It seems that ever since the CBS acquisition in twenty-ought-seven (and likely before that event), Last.fm has been stepping back from its potential to act as a listener and creator driven platform for sharing music. Call me old fashioned, but the listeners and musicians ought to be able to set the terms for their exchanges.

For those who forget, over the past few years, Last.fm (like many successful B2C web enterprises) tested out various revenue strategies on their audiences, in small increments – by introducing a (scandalous) royalty sharing agreement, by increasing the amount of advertising on artists’ pages, and even introducing ad revenue sharing for artists. I suppose none of these efforts eventually generated sufficient revenue to sustain it as a viable division within CBS.

Whatever. Not my problem anymore. Everything in the Simulacre catalogue (A Spectre Is Haunting Europe, Dupobs, and a few new as-yet-unannounced projects) will still be available on other free music-capable platforms (including the mighty Reverbnation, but I’ll go scoping out more of them). And of course, up until March 30 (when Last.fm formally implements its subscription fees in most countries), you’re still free to download any of our music for free there, chat about it, and suchlike. After that, those conversations contained on last.fm (really the glue that binds its circulation structure together) will necessarily have to migrate with us.

Indeed, it seems it does matter who owns what in Music 2.0.

At least CBS doesn’t own me (a government and a few banks do, but that’s another story).

Commercial Whiplash: Nokia, carriers, and why Canada is still full of crap mobiles

On Nokia’s shrinking North American market share: “(Samsung & others) were quick to meet carriers’ customization demands, an area in which Nokia proved reluctant.” (http://bit.ly/zuSN).

But this is precisely why Nokia ought to be lauded – for its efforts in putting out handsets that straddle grids/networks (3g/wi-fi) and balancing different interaction design models in the same devices (creators+consumers, and their inevitable Web 2.0 hybrids). The N97 is out now soon [thanks Roland!] (as is the much awaited N96). Both of these are weighted heavily on the media creators’ side of things (for media creators, camera quality, rather than a touch screen, is premium, and Nokia must know this, or it would’ve gone to the extra bother of putting a touch screen in the N97, sacrificing who-knows-what. [CORRECTION, Jan 5 2009: sloppy reading on my part – it does have a touch screen, though it’s not a front stage feature of this handset, as confirmed at Mobile Review.].

Why should the carriers be allowed to influence the design of multiplatform devices? They aren’t their end users. Their sole relation to the handest is, seemingly, to coerce people into buying plans of various shapes and sizes. Thus, their influence helps shape handsets using a logic born of advertising and seduction/coercion techniques (and then further, techniques to induce users into using the devices in ways that turn uncomplicated profits) – not genuine interest in how users proactively seek their own tools of creation (and destruction). This benefits no one except the carriers themselves.

I think Nokia gets this.

The real problem is that Canadian wireless carriers don’t care if their user base consists of any media creators. Rather, they’re probably scared of that prospect, just like the music industry is still scared of amateurs. This is why upload rates are typically throttled as compared to download rates, and it’s why Rogers and others keep peddling handsets that in any other country would be laughed at, gonged off stage, and tossed in a landfill.

Personally I’ll stay out of buying a new handset until we see more severe trickle down of advanced features, and some reasonable data plans without a 2 year commitment in this IT ghetto called Canada. But here’s hoping Nokia doesn’t start pulling its resources out of North America, as some have speculated (see above-linked article).

I’m frankly tired of being treated by carriers as an unproductive media eater, a “pocket potato”, if you will. Bring on the dancing handsets (irrelevant link, just for fun, love that song).

MUSE3, public displays, NV08 & Fusion recap

MUSE3 CMNS planning whiteboardI’m chin-deep in MUSE3 planning (excuse the outdated site at them thar preceding link – that’s part of what I’m working on), gearing up for our Showcase Proposal Forum this Friday (check back on Friday morning with that link for the webcast), adjusting my Web 2 specs after all the Northern Voice interaction last weekend, reading about commercial applications** for live public displays, listening back and forth between Bob Dylan, M.I.A. and Wire, trying to think when I’ll get time to get back at the comps.

**Akoo International sees much commercial potential in growing its mVenue network of interactive public displays. This is quite similar to MUSE3’s plans, with the caveat that we are also looking to create live public displays as just that – public digital space, not more sites for strictly commercial exchanges to happen in public**

Northern Voice was, as usual, great for chatting and renewing/starting acquaintanceships that make sense in the fuzzy, biz/social tech scene in Vancouver – which is more and more resembling an indie music scene, just with more computers in it. The content was more engrossing for me than last year, esp Alan Levine’s 50 Ways to Tell a Web 2.0 Story. While I shouldn’t complain (I did have a slot to present my research [PDF download], after all, for which I’m very grateful and honoured to be selected!) there were times in a few sessions when I felt a bit out-barked. The emphasis on adhocracy in the structure of some sessions tends to make shouting out of turn the way to be heard. More than once this happened, and I imagine others in attendance (who might’ve had valuable comments to make) may have also felt left out of some discussions. Anyway, that’s my .02 cents on how to improve the loose moose dimension of NV (can I get a mod please!), which in every other regard was fun, lively and highly informative.

I also made some interesting contacts after presenting on my mobile research last week at New Media BC’s Fusion Digital Venture Forum, which was a great prelude to NV. Thanks to Kelly, Adam and the rest at NMBC for putting me on the bill at the last minute, and to the audience for tolerating my wiggy tech.

Mobile Media Use & Disuse – Research findings, plus musical odds and sods

Hey. I’m digging my head out from under a tense, transitional semester of research, teaching and baby-raising. I’m working directly in mobile media now, in a new job at Mobile Muse 3 (so expect more posts in this sorter space as we go). On that note, you can see a recent presentation of research findings gleaned from my ongoing mobile research for Nokia here (PDF, 3.7 Mb). A full paper on this research, authored by me and Richard Smith, is forthcoming.

On the music and audio front, I’m about to embark on an ambitious audio archiving project pending the purchase of a USB cassette deck. Not a found sound project, mind you, but more of a personal biographical project. I have a huge box of old tapes, set to expire any minute, that simply must be digitized. I’ve been recording things since I was 9 years old. No word yet on how much has survived, but in the new year I’ll have a good idea. This’ll also be my chance to debut the clicknoise podcast…

I will likely set this bio project to coincide with the release of the newest A Spectre Is Haunting Europe record, too, which will permit much dialectic between past, present, and futurism. This way I’ll have the dual pleasure of digging through the vaults whilst unleashing something that is completely fresh (in the past, ASIHE albums have always combined new and old seamlessly, and with Embers (the next LP), we definitely didn’t want to do that again.

AOIR Music and Sound Panel – Oct 18, 2007

This update is running quite late, but is still valuable, I think, in attempting to sustain the dialogue which was unfortunately given too short an interval at our panel on Music and Sound at the AOIR conference last week. As well, I particularly need to move among the “diaspora” of AOIR (As Nancy Baym phrased it) as, variously, splitting headaches and tons of work – both domestic and non- kept me from schmoozing to my fullest capacity. So much to do I couldn’t even attend presentations or panels that I really really needed to see (especially this one, this one and this one).

In the interest of, as I said, sustaining some dialogue about our panel, I’ll offer a brief summary from my notes, which are mainly comprised of questions that I didn’t get to ask. Where possible I’ll link to the various presenters’ webpages or blogs, and I’ll reiterate the link to my own slides with notes. Here goes:

Marj Kibby presented her paper on Myspace and bands. Having been part of a band on Myspace for several years, I came out of this talk with too many questions for one small panel. I believe her research is an excellent introduction to this sphere for the uninitiated, bringing a textual analysis directly to the live profiles of a number of her research subjects, but for a seasoned Myspace whore such as myself, there was nothing here I hadn’t already guessed. Still, my questions were numerous, as Marj’s work overlaps significantly with mine:

  • what of the myths of “overnight success” (Sandi Thom, Amy Winehouse, et al). how does the ‘gaming’ of these networks by conventional producers change the dynamics of fan-artist relations?
  • what happens when the “influences” and “genres” sections of profiles become oversaturated (as in cases where bands and fans alike list hundreds and hundreds of influences, or inappropriate genre categories)? doesn’t this degrade communication? what do fans make of this? and once certain modes of communicating identity are spent, to where does the communication of identity migrate?
  • how does one sample artists from the thousands on myspace for survey research? what strategies are there for (1) sorting through fakes, side projects, false starts, unofficial profiles, and other artifacts of the myspace ecosystem, and (2) ensuring the sample is representative of a particular slice of time in the life of the site?
  • aren’t the rules of fan/artist interaction mediated by the specificities of artists/genres/subcultures? is it the same to interact with Radiohead as with Tapes and Tapes as with SFIAS? can we make general claims about fandom based on a random sample of myspace bands?
  • how can we be assured of the value of the “long tail” value of the networks of Myspace, given the persistent power of mass chain buyers like WalMart in influencing trends in the music industry? and how can musicians monetize this in ways that subvert/get around the (parasitic or progressive?) intentions/profit of the parent corporations who provide the infrastructure of Myspace?
  • what does News Corp gain from fan/artist networks of Myspace? how are corporate goals consistent with or in contradiction with the goals of artists and fans who use the site for music discovery and sharing?

Next up, Andrew Ó Baoill presented his research into podcasting and community radio. I was intrigued by this talk, and I thought that he deserved more questions at the close of the panel. The engagement of these two worlds – community radio and the podcast community – has far reaching implications, especially for parts of the world where community radio is a primary source of news, information and entertainment for many. I’m curious about how this topic interlaces with mobile media and device adoption in developing countries, in situations where community radio is a vital communication resource, and where the adoption of mobile media outstrips that of tethered ICTs. But insufficient time prevented me from asking Andrew his thoughts on this.

Next, I presented my talk on technical micropolitics and independent music. I don’t have any questions for myself. This is just placeholder. I’m just following the timeline. O SNAP!

The last talk of the panel was by Klaus Bruhn Jensen and Rasmus Helles, tantalizingly entitled “Society Switching“. Their research into the phenomenology of sound is quite fascinating, although the talk itself seemed to be merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m particularly intrigued by the use of the concept of generativity (borrowed from linguistics) and structural-functionalism in developing their theoretical framework. I’d love to read any published work from this research (hint-hint, if you cats are reading this).

Question period followed, which included lively input from the erudite Tarleton Gillespie (who seemingly followed me all the way from 4S), panel moderator Mark Latonero and Hanson scholar Holly Kruse (whose panel I really wished to see but couldn’t due to a headache – hint hint, Holly, I want to see your paper!).

Please do chime in if you were a presenter or in attendance and didn’t get to sound off in the limited F2F session that we had. Otherwise, I’m busy trying to mentally connect all of this with Henry Jenkins’ ideas about the moral economy of Web 2.0…back in a minute or so…

Technical Micropolitics and Musical Amateurs

I presented at AOIR today as part of a panel on Music and Sound. Here’s the PDF of my talk, complete with notes.

I did this with an extreme headache, and a growing sense that I need to, as my friend and colleague Flo articulated it the other day, “coccoon” myself in books again for a while. Assez des conférences maintenant!

P2P in Canada

I was interviewed this morning for Global National on the subject of P2P lawsuits by the RIAA. Every time there’s some sensational story to be mined, the television media seem to jump. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I tried to stay focused on the Canadian angle, making the points that (1) ISPs in Canada are not obliged to reveal the identities attached to IP addresses and (2) despite pressure from the CRIA (Canada’s branch plant of the RIAA), Canada’s private copying levy (among other things) makes such lawsuits unlikely to succeed here. I also tried to make the point that free distribution of music hurts only a small fraction of musicians (mainly the big celebrities), and that trends in the ongoing reshaping of the music industry confirm this pattern. Hopefully, the messaging is clear on the news tonight. Hopefully I look OK.

They also wanted to film me downloading the new Radiohead LP, but I had already paid for it late last night (FYI – I shelled out £5), and the downloading cannot happen yet. So they got some shots of my torrent search bar and some farting around on emusic (the most recent Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem is ace, btw!). That’s good – hopefully the people watching Global will pick up a few tips on how to take control of their music acquisition practices back from the iTunes Music Store and its ilk.

RIP Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson is dead. For those who don’t know, Wilson was the notorious owner of the legendary Factory Records and Haçienda Club in Manchester, UK. As dramatized in the 2000s film 24 Hour Party People, Wilson was also responsible for launching the highly influential Joy Division/New Order constellation, as well as lesser (though notable) acts such as The Happy Mondays. A seminal figure in the history of independent music, he and his contributions shall be missed dearly.