Music Lessons from Seth Godin

I’ve been an admirer of Seth Godin for a while. His book “Small Is the New Big,” (among others) is one of the seminal publications of the so-called Web 2.0 era. Godin periodically weighs in on the music business, (I think I mentioned this fascinating dissection on the future of the radio industry before) and what he has to say is invariably smart, on point, and a few laps ahead of the field. Some of what he says may appear stunningly obvious, but it’s amazing to me how little of it has been understood – or, more to the point, embraced, by the music-biz world at large.

So anyway, let me commend to you his Music Lessons blog entry posted earlier today. Godin’s 14-point manifesto-for-music-in-the-digital-age (starting with Point Zero!) is the first “must-read” of 2008, to my mind. Here are a couple of memorable grabs:

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dreamIf the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.

There’s a paradox in the music business that is mirrored in many industries: you want ubiquity, not obscurity, yet digital distribution devalues your core product….

Most items of value derive that value from scarcity. Digital changes that, and you can derive value from ubiquity now…The solution isn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution is to change your business.

You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied

Products that are digital and also include interaction thrive on centralization and do better and better as the market grows in size (consider Facebook or Basecamp).

Music is social. Music is current and everchanging. And most of all, music requires musicians. The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel… indispensable and well-compensated.

4. Permission is the asset of the future

… Permission is an asset to be earned. The ability (not the right, but the privilege) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. For ten years, the music business has been steadfastly avoiding this opportunity.

It’s interesting though, because many musicians have NOT been avoiding it. Many musicians have understood that all they need to make a (very good) living is to have 10,000 fans. 10,000 people who look forward to the next record, who are willing to trek out to the next concert. Add 7 fans a day and you’re done in 5 years. Set for life. A life making music for your fans, not finding fans for your music…

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but here goes: suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.

There are 13 more equally thought-provoking points in Seth’s manifesto. Take a moment to read the whole thing. I’ll return to point 2) in a little while.

Somewhere, At the End of “In Rainbows….”

….didn’t lie a pot of gold for Radiohead’s “pay what you like” strategy. Give them props for trying, but as Digital Music News reported yesterday, 62% of the downloaders of the English progrock band’s seventh album (only available via Radiohead’s website) paid nada for it.



On the other hand, that means that 38% DID pay something, so the experiment wasn’t a total bust. Average price: (according to ComScore) $6.00. But that’s a little deceptive: Turns out that in the US, the number of purchasers was slightly higher – 40% – and they paid an average of $8.05 for the album download…which means that 36% of the rest of the world paid an average of $4.64!

I think it’s too early to deem this a “success” or “failure” (I pointed out in an earlier post that mainly-classical boutique label Magnatune has been taking this approach for a couple of years now), save for the inescapable truth that the value of a recorded piece of music is being driven ever downward.

AND, I suspect that this is partly psychological, but this situation is exacerbated once the “physical product” is taken away. In other words, when there’s no old-fashined vinyl album, CD, or any other physical manifestation, just what is “it” that you’re holding in your hand?

An iPod or a cell phone, dummy. And they are selling quite handsomely, at a more-than-decent markup. So how do make any money selling music?

Jerry Del Colliano’s Inside Music Media post today puts it this way:

Some 62% of Radiohead’s fans stiffed them at the tip jar.

100% of AT&T’s cell phone customers pay them every time they text message someone.

Is it getting any easier to see the solution?

Music is priced too high. The marketplace is speaking and no one is listening.

Music for the price of a text message — addictive, compulsive and easy to collect.

Now that’s money in the bank.

In my next post: How Radiohead’s former label, EMI, is taking advantage of their Internet buzz….

A Tale of Two Sites

…both in the “music discovery” category (sometimes called “Music 2.0”) are worth investigating:

First is a site called MOG “a music asylum run by its inmates,” (with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out). MOG uses an impressive amount of social-networking tools and techniques to build a site to (in their words:)


…your songs, music library, videos and thoughts on music with friends and mogger


…in the Web’s most raging music community.

…both in the “music discovery” category (sometimes called “Music 2.0”) are worth investigating:

First is a site called MOG “a music asylum run by its inmates,” (with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out). MOG uses an impressive amount of social-networking tools and techniques to build a site to (in their words:)


…your songs, music library, videos and thoughts on music with friends and mogger


…in the Web’s most raging music community.


Get instant recommendations and personalized content at the click of a button.

Most impressive are the pages for artists, which are almost entirely generated by MOG users or wikipedia.

Besides on-demand song, video, and album listings, there are bios, photos, discographies, RSS feeds, commerce links, and links to fan sites and newsgroups. At the heart are easy-to-manipulate tools to contribute all of the above to the site, or to embed them in off-site blogs, etc. Veryy interesting.

And a bit buggy….one of the major drawbacks to MOG is that the audio files don’t necessarily appear in a separate player, so you can’t navigate and browse with a song playing in the background, which would tend to defeat a lot of the purpose. And, as is the case with almost all online music destinations, it’s heavily weightd towards rock/pop/singer-songwriters. For example, a search for violinist Julia Fischer (just named Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year) comes up empty.

(with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out.

It’s almost the reverse case with the launch on Nov. 5 of the NPR Music site.

Full disclosure: A lot of this was Co-Project Director Ben Roe‘s blueprint while he was at NPR. So best to leave the prose to one of the participating stations: WFUV in New York.

NPR and 12 NPR member stations, including WFUV, have launched NPR Music, a new, free, comprehensive multimedia music discovery web site. There are five specific genre sections (Pop/Rock/Folk, Classical, Jazz & Blues, World and Urban) to explore, where you can hear songs and concerts, read reviews and interviews, scan the music news we’ve pulled together and find blogs from all over the country.
There are already 3,000 new and archived features, with 200 more getting added monthly. Some of the content will come from NPR and some from the member stations (like our interviews with Patty Scialfa and Gil Scott-Heron).
“WFUV and NPR each have great music resources, and together we can share that love with listeners,” says WFUV New Media Director Laura Fedele. “We’ve had some amazing music moments here in our studios, true personal conversations with artists, and now NPR Music can bring it all to music fans across the country who might not be FUV listeners… yet!” You can access the NPR Music site through our home page at

Searchable Artist pages are also a hallmark of this site (plenty on Julia Fischer, though the archived content is thus far only scratching the surface of what exists at NPR and across public radio), which, if developed, could be a real boon to researchers and educators interested in editorial commentary, live concert performances, reviews, and first-person interviews with the likes of Terry Gross, Fred Child, Scott Simon, John Schaefer, et al.

Required Reading – The Well-Tempered Web

In the Oct. 22 issue of the New Yorker you’ll find
a Critic At Large piece called “The Well-Tempered Web” – in essence, a Postcard from the Brave New Media World, written by Alex Ross. There’s a reason Ross is at the top of the list on my blogroll….this is one of the best, most stylishly written and comprehensive snapshots of what’s happening with classical music online, and its implications for the future. Ross writes about a lot of the things I’ve been trying to see and describe in this space, though, in my experience, the scenario is not quite as rosy as he paints. Sample grab:

Classical-music culture on the Internet is expanding at a sometimes alarming pace. When I started my blog, I had links to seven or eight like-minded sites. Now I find myself part of a jabbering community of several hundred blogs, operated by critics, composers, conductors, pianists, double-bassists, oboists (I count five), artistic administrators, and noted mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato writes under the moniker Yankee Diva). After a first night at the Met, opera bloggers chime inwith opinions both expert and eccentric, recalling the days when critics from a dozen dailies, whether Communist or Republican or Greek, lined up to extoll Caruso. Beyond the blogs are the Internet radio stations; streaming broadcasts from opera houses, orchestras, new-music ensembles; and Web sites of individual artists. There is a new awareness of what is happening musically in every part of the world. A listener in Tucson or Tokyo can virtually attend opening night at the Bayreuth Festival and listen the following day to a première by a young British composer at the BBC Proms.

Those who see the dawning of a new golden age should bear in mind the “Snakes on a Plane” rule: things invariably appear more important on the Internet than they are in the real world. Classical music has experienced waves of technological euphoria in the past: the Edison cylinder, radio, the LP, and the CD were all hailed as redeeming godsends for a kind of music that has always struggled to find its place in American culture. At the end of such bouts of giddiness, classical music somehow always winds up back where it started, in a state of perpetual fret.

Thanks, Alex. I’ll go back to fretting now. I think there’s still a critical missing link having to do with music education (or lack thereof) and the general broader cultural awareness of events outside of the roar of the pop-culture surf, which is what’s driving the UTunes: Music 1.01 project.

Ross also makes a marvelous point about the utterly transparent online accessibility of arguably the most inaccessible of all composers….Arnold Schoenberg. Throwing copyright concerns to the winds, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna has created a transparent, robust, and comprehensive site dedicated to the inventor of “twelve-tone” music, a man some (like John Adams, f’irnstance) to have led classical music down a 75-yeard spiritual dead-end.

On the site, you can read immaculate digital reproductions of Schoenberg’s correspondence, listen to his complete works on streaming audio, examine his designs for various inventions and gadgets (including a typewriter for musical notation), and follow links to YouTube videos of him playing tennis.

And there’s this trenchant “deep catalog” observation:

Classical music, with its thousand-year back catalogue, has the longest tail of all. In Naxos’s case, thirty to forty per cent of its digital sales in the U.S. come from albums downloaded four times a month or less. Thus, a not insignificant portion of the company’s revenue comes from titles that, by Justin Timberlake standards, don’t exist

Required reading, if you care about classical music.



Stumbled across a fascinating, if bizarre, new music-recommendation service today, along the lines of Pandora,, and (look over to the left of the page) Fine Tune. Only this one, “Musicovery,” is based on moods – when you log on, a little “mood-o-meter” pops up, and you can pop your cursor down somewhere in a four-coordinate “Axis of Angst” – “Dark,” “Calm,” “Positive,” and “Energetic.” And then plug in your genre of choice – Country, Classical, Pop, Electronica, whatever.
So, just for grins, (and being a Goth-Nihilist kinda guy), I thought I’d try out some “Dark Vocal Pop” and see what popped up. Check it out:

So there you have it. Nanci Griffith singing a Richard Thompson song is the Dame of Dark Pop. Okay, the song’s called “Wall of Death” – fair enough, I suppose. But my, what company she keeps: The Carter Family’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a old stoner song from Arlo Guthrie, and….who exactly IS Eros Rammazzotti? Okay, they win….the site’s about music discovery, and today I discovered this Roman hearthrob is “especially popular in in Chile, Germany,Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and most Spanish-speaking countries and has sold over 36 million records worldwide. He has one daughter, Aurora Sophie (born December 5, 1996), with his ex-wife, Michelle Hunziker, a Swiss model and television host.” Oh, and sings exclusively in Spanish and Italian. My bad, Eros – though I love the name, dude.

It gets progressively funnier/weirder/oddly mesmerizing when you try a few more categories. Here’s what slightly calmer darkness looks like in pop music:

Feelings? That late-unlamented make-out music from the ’70s ranked as one of the Worst Songs of All Time? Yeah, verily, dark and brooding. Always On My Mind?

Okay, let’s switch gears and try out some shiny happy “Positive” music – and let’s open it up to a few more genres, shall we?

So there you have it, folks, nothing says “positive energy” like Mars, the God of War, ready to kick some celestial butt and take names. Sheesh.

Interesting to note that they do offer a subscription service for a higher bit-rate audio. In Euros, to boot. Though I can’t imagine who’d sign up for this service just yet. Their catalog looks a little thin – I’m already noting a lot of artists popping up a lot (hello Eric Burdon and the Animals & Stevie Wonder) in a lot of different catergories.

“Listeners of Tomorrow are Online Today”

After three days at the IMA‘s (Integrated Media Association) Public Media conference, followed by a day listening to new-Information Age seers Henry Jenkins, Charles Nesson, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and Dave Weinberger at the Beyond Broadcast 2007 seminar (co-sponsored by the Berkman Center at Harvard and MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, today I discovered this post from Jerry Del Colliano, Professor of Music Industry at USC. Can’t be much more than a dittohead on this one. Worth reading every word. Sample grab:

“….Now, it’s time to mention the killer app.

When universal WiFi or its equivalent is available and consumers can
take the Internet with them then it’s all over for radio. Ditto for
satellite radio.

That is, of course, assuming that terrestrial radio broadcasters don’t
have an epiphany soon and decide to get into the Internet radio
business. Ditto for satellite.

So far, the excuses are pretty lame.

Radio is a fading industry thanks to the misdirected major
consolidators. They’ve lost the next generation as they migrated to
their mobile devices and the Internet. So what does that say? Well, when
they are not fighting Arbitron’s People Meter or when they stubbornly
try to sell HD radio as the next big thing, they make excuses.

Can’t pay the music licensing fees to stream our terrestrial signals. It
would be prohibitive. No, it would be suicide — not to stream the
signals. Pay the fees and get your programming where the next generation
is — online.”

WHEW. And Jerry hasn’t even seen the Resco Radio application I just downloaded on my Motorola Q Smartphone. More on that in a future post.