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.

Last.fm and misinformation

I need to retract a decision I made based on seemingly false news.

Just over a month ago I posted an announcement that Simulacre Media would be removing its entire catalog from the Last.fm service due to the imposition of user fees in countries other than the US, UK, and Germany. I read a misleading Canwest story (and others) that missed the memo about how the new user fees would apply to Last.fm Radio only. Seemingly, I missed this memo too. More correctly, the memo was never explicit about what the changes would actually mean.

Before I posted my original decision, I consulted the original source (Last.fm’s Blog) to clarify what the changes actually meant, and for whom. The responses, as well as the original announcement on March 24 (to be fair to the many naïve journalists who rode the wave of hype) were actually never explicit about how this affected the availability of free music on the site. The Last.fm announcement reads that “scrobbling, recommendations, charts, biographies, events, videos etc. will remain free in all countries”. There is no explicit mention of free music, downloads, or streaming (as distinct from “radio”, if it were to be a distinct thing) in this announcement. So I made and posted my decision anyway, decoding this as surreptitious PR jostling – after all, it is still CBS at the end of the day, right?

Even after a wave of international user feedback expressing much confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal) over the impending changes, the Last.fm team followed up with another announcement on March 30 about the change that still did not clarify what would happen to free music hosted on the site. There was no clear indication at the time, either, about (1)  how a “subscription” would be distinct from a “user account” on Last.fm, nor about (2) whether individuals providing music for the service would be exempt from the fees, which only compounded everyone’s confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal). It felt like we were losing control over the right to manage our relationships with fans in the ways that are consistent with our business model/ethos/philosophy (as the case may be). User fees would end our ability to share music for free, wouldn’t they?

I decided to wait and see what would happen before removing the music. April 1 came and went, and the Simulacre catalogue was still all available, all free, for download or streaming. I checked a few weeks later – the streaming links were gone, but the “free download” links were still functional.

I checked again today, and now I see some links to a subscription page on some sort of radio widget that I’ve never seen there before. Still, our catalogue is available for free downloading. Streaming is gone, which hurts Last.fm’s extensibility in the social media world immensely, but it’s not really a deal-breaker from an artist’s or label’s point of view, to my mind (it is still a free service for us). Overall, the changes are not as drastic as at first they seemed, according to the vague Last.fm announcements, and the wave of media hype that followed them.

I cannot presume that this story is over (we’ve seen mammoths in this space rise and fall spectacularly before, haven’t we?… transforming eventually into things that barely resemble their original selves). However, for the time being, it seems we’re still able to give our music away on Last.fm. So long as a platform permits users to download our music for free and interact with our artists in meaningful ways, then we will continue to share our catalogue and support said platform.

It’s simply weird to charge user fees in a music economy that is increasingly devaluing its former prime currency (the recorded artifact) in favour of new sources of revenue, and doing so likely marks the beginning of the end for Last.fm (no more sharing and capturing friends’ streams or playlists, kids!), not to mention how Last.fm radio (with its widgets, extensibility into desktop apps, other social media sites, etc.) will likely become a crippled version of what it could be if free.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

Massive Technology Show (Vancouver, April 1) as it happens

6S/Capulet/Peer1 panelists
6S/Capulet/Peer1 panelists

torn btw liveblogging and tweeting. what is the appopriate or trendy thing to do for conferences/panels now?

listening to Peer1/6S/Capulet panel right now.(11:08 AM)

Richard Smith: throwing “business sheep”. heh.

why does the assumption that TV and radio are not interactive media prevail? let’s not forget our media history, or we’ll repeat its mistakes. (11:12 AM)

Julie Szabo: don’t let marketers blog. let the project managers do that (11:25 AM)

Julie again: bloggers aren’t media journalists. Don’t shout your message at them. Interact with them, get to know them (11:29 AM).

Jen of 6S: twittering while waiting on hold with Rogers (instead of making an angry post-facto blog post) was effective in getting her call answered (11:32 AM).

Jen again: traditional PR materials are inappropriate for the blogosphere – can’t just re-post them there. (11:40 AM)

My revised view on “what’s appropriate” for liveblogging events – limit tweets (if feeding into yr Facebook), stick with a blog, or use some filter on your tweets to keep them out of networks (like FB) that might have a low threshold for tolerating yr constant updates. Will indenti.ca, friendfeed or microplaza solve this problem? (11:45 AM)

update: April 3 – no frickin power plugs in here. WTF? here’s why only one panel gets coverage.

Android

Exciting times. Right on the heels of our Open Mobile event, the first Google Android handset has been released on T Mobile – the HTC Dream, announced just this morning in NYC.

And it’s wi-fi (!!!)

Now if only I had an in over at HTC, or if a Canadian provider had this handset available – I’ve been using their 6800s a bit on Bell. Any rumours going around about Rogers or Fido picking this up, perhaps? Anyone?

Of course, the most hilarious bit in all this is that it’s the first open platform handset, but it’s “locked” to the T-Mobile network. Maybe T-Mobile doesn’t quite understand that paradox?

Smartphones, Price Points, and Purchasing Power Parity

Expensive phones are like an enormous test phase, but budget phones are the true launch pad for a mobile technology.”

Well said. Read the rest at All About Symbian. It’s exciting to see the trickle of smart phone functionality into lower end handsets. Perhaps Nokia’s actually been listening to its participatory design researchers?

I am, however, reluctant to consider 90 Euros a “budget” price among the world’s poor, unless a group of 100 people is sharing one phone. A number worthy of discussion, to be sure…

If you’re interested, Ketai has some links to studies in the phenomenon of phone sharing; there’s also Jan Chipchase’s work for Nokia on “unlikely consumers” and “sideways adoption”, for starters.

Why mobile services are not being adopted :: Apptrigger

Survey results paid for by Texas-based company AppTrigger (the study itself was conducted by LM Research & Marketing) suggest that UK mobile operators could be doing much more to promote adoption of advanced mobile services among their subscribers. The data purportedly support the conclusion that

mobile phone operators are largely locked into proprietary application suites and hindered by complex connectivity issues. The missed opportunity comes in the form of traditional IN-based applications such as pre-paid, voicemail and SMS. Operators lack the application connectivity to integrate these existing applications with new services across their legacy and next generation networks to work seamlessly and cohesively together. This limits their ability to blend best-of-breed, multi-vendor applications in a timely fashion to respond to users’ demands and push these services out more quickly.

I agree with this interpretation, and I further concur with the company’s VP of Marketing that “the ability to bring innovative network services to market via new environments such as Web 2.0 will be the catalyst that enables monetisation of application mash-ups. Operators need to be positioned to reap the rewards of these opportunities”. Wireless operators interested in having their subscribers use advanced mobile services need to open up their platforms to enable the kind of radical social transformations (and associated entrepreneurialism and investment) we’ve witnessed in the IP-based web over the past several years. Getting in sync with services like Jaiku, Twitter, or Shozu (perhaps offering these up as bundled services independent of typical data plans) might be a start. I’m no business strategist, but surely it’s a no-brainer to offer up existing, user-friendly, post-beta services to subscribers rather than to try and flog your own non-interoperable walled MMS gardens.

But I have two issues with the interpretations that the authors put forward.

  1. To reduce the adoption question to lack of promotion is fallacious. There are myriad cultural and social reasons why users will not adopt mobile services. No amount of mobile marketing can force people to change their behaviour. This is precisely why opening up wireless networks to Web 2.0 services will encourage adoption of advanced mobile technologies – users are actively involved in development cycles in the Web 2.0 paradigm. No application in this arena will thrive without end user input, period. And the model is working so well in a competing virtual space – the IP-networked laptop/desktop world. This is why the US and Canada (and, it seems, the UK, according to this study) lag behind the developing world (where there is no platform competing with the mobile platform) in adoption of mobile services generally (not just the advanced services).
  2. The data in their full study is presented in a confusing way. There is no indication of the number of respondents surveyed – only percentages – and hence the study is not apparently scientific (at the very least it is not transparently so).

Still, some interesting discussion points here.

Remake/Remodel

Clicknoise Logo (no text)I hope I haven’t used this Roxy Music song as a post title before…

While assembling my upcoming conference papers, I’ve been twiddling with this blog on the side in lieu of regular updates (well, alright, I’ve also been focused on the dupobs release schedule – you can listen to the newest tracks as they are released week-by-week here – among other things).

Today I dug out this logo (at right) I’d been working on a few months ago, but with which I was never completely satisfied. Upon reflection it seems more than appropriate for this blog: the somewhat smooth interweaving of issues around authorship and copyleft with the combination of concerns with wireless networking and music (sideways, the sound icons in OS X are almost identical to that operating system’s representation of wi-fi – a happy accident of usability design that lends itself well to my palette of concerns), and not to mention the freehand look of the uneven radiating lines, which lends some indie credibility to the whole thing, I think.

On Last.fm and royalty payments

Clear Channel didn’t get away with it, and now Last.fm is taking heat for not paying out royalties to independent artists. Last.fm, recently purchased by CBS, is now heating up indie music business blogs with this policy, even though it’s been in place since the company started.

Why so, asks the intrepid indie music biz blogger/Last.fm enthusiast and indie label/band person? Well, it seems there’s some misunderstanding of how royalty collection works. Last.fm is in fact playing by the rules, paying royalties to collection societies when tracks are streamed.

The big difference between Last.fm and conventional radio (and indie labels and bands should take note) is that with Last.fm, playlist/track streaming statistics are not hidden from public view, and do not rely on the inaccurate and gameable conventional sampling methods used by groups such as BMI, ASCAP or SOCAN in tracking radio airplay. And it’s not a closed pay-per-stat-view shop like Big Champagne is. As if that weren’t enough, the problem of payola is curbed via the voluntary ‘pull’ nature of “airplay” on Last.fm. The critiques of radio cannot be transplanted to a service such as Last.fm so swiftly. It is simply a different animal.

And anyway – wasn’t the hulaballo about Clear Channel over the issue of payola in the first place? Lest we forget, “Clear Channel had responded to allegations of payola with a pay-for-play scheme“.

This is not to say that there’s nothing about which we can be critical with this Last.fm thing. I’ve blogged this previously, but I’ll say it again: it matters who owns what in Internet 2.0. And even though it feels like listeners are running the show on Last.fm, they might not be, and probably aren’t. Every boss must manage, and every company must profit, or die. It seems that the most important question is still – to invoke the terminology of radio, new and old – are we really “streaming” or are we being “programmed”?