Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Off the Wall--Really

OK, I like gadgets more than the average bear, but seriously, can't you just get off the couch and adjust your TV set? This just announced breakthrough is kinda kooky. As demonstrated above, I could think of so many better uses of technology to enable lazy behavior.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Name Game

Rememeber back in the day, when the biggest criteria for naming your band was how it would look on the marquee or "let's not give any ammo to a snarky rock critic by calling ourselves The Suck?" Well, life in the modern age has certainly complicated the process.

Now you have to make sure that your name is easily searchable and that there aren't four other bands that share it. On the plus side, sometimes you can be in for a nice surprise when the digital stars align. Take this week's example of an otherwise obscure band called Me Without You which is benefiting from a Twitter trending topic phenomenon. I'll let Simon Dumenco of Ad Age explain:

"But my favorite Top 10 brand this week is MeWithoutYou, a crew of Philadelphia alt-rockers (you can listen to a bunch of their songs at their official MySpace page) who've been described as Bright-Eyes-plus-Neutral-Milk-Hotel (two of my all-time favorites, by the way). They're a great band, but the Twittersphere apparently misinterpreted #MeWithoutYou as one of those fill-in-the-blank Twitter self-amusements (which then morphed into its own hashtag, #MeWithoutYouIsLike).

Well, it's definitiely better than sharing a name with a serial killer which is why I guess the authorities always include the perp's middle name.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sirius, Change Thyself

If you want a good stock tip, go short on Sirius XM because their new adveritsing campaign betrays their utter cluelessness.

I'm not sure how much they're spending, but I've seen the TV spots a fair amount and a double truck ad in today's Los Angeles Times. It celebrates their own Mt. Rushmore of Change--Elvis, Michael Jordan, Richard Pryor and, of course, the increasingly irrelevant and polarizing Howard Stern--and implores us to "change the way we listen to radio." The muddled connection they try to make is that each of these figures changed the world in which they worked, and now Sirius is following suit.

Unfortunately for them, No one, as far as I know, ever woke up saying, "You know, I really want to change the way I listen to radio." But they may have said, "I've got a long drive today, I wish I could listen to the Packer game."

Years after the "breakthrough" of satellite radio, Sirius is hauling itself back up to the beginning of the product life cycle curve when it should be down where they're proving entertainment value.

Those fantastic DirecTV ads with Ed Begley point out that they have a lot more HD channels than the cable company. IPhone ads talk about all the great apps you can get, not why you should have this great new thing called a cell phone. Viacom didn't push the message that Cable TV is going to change your life, but brainwashed a generation into thinking that they wanted to see music on television via "I want my MTV."

People love listening to the radio. All you have to do is tell them that what they already like can be better--sound quality, variety of programming and fewer commercials.

If you really want to talk about a company that's changing the way people listen to the radio, look at Slacker which deftly shifted from the hardware business, focused on their programming and is now experiencing explosive growth via deals with the new Blackberry devices, iPhones and soon, Blu-Ray players and TVs.

The change that Sirius XM needs is their CMO.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stopping the Madness

If it takes cost cutting to improve the user experience of MySpace Music then I say "hack away." The service recently announced that it would disable the autoplay feature that ensures that every time you go to an artist page you would automatically be assaulted by a song (usually the same one for weeks or months at a time). And it's really great if you're already listening to music on your computer and now you have the worst mash up ever. The service is reportedly burning through $10 million in streaming costs every month, so cutting the number of streams is money saved, right to the bottom line. Hooooray!

So thanks, MySpace, and while we're at it, in addition to disabling auto play, just a few suggestions for all other music sites:

Get rid of the flash--stop getting in your own way. No one's impressed. And enough with the annoying skins and widgets for your widgets. Just let me hear your music, learn more about you and find out when you're playing next.

Instead of having to come up and remember user names, can't we use our email address?

Why can't I see the password I'm typing? Are those asterisks supposed to protect me from someone lurking at Starbucks?

Yeah, I'm cranky, but I'm also right. Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to the Future with Live Music?

It's easy to find doom and gloom when you get a bunch of people together to talk about the music business. But I maintain that there is hope--not in the form of the latest buzzwords--long tail, free, subscription--but in the "old fashioned" world of live music. Isn't that how this whole thing started, with minstrels getting paid for performing a song? Maybe part of the solution is right in front of us with the live music sector being the one to galvanize a whole new generation of music consumers.

Last Sunday, 60 of us convened at the home of uber attorney Ken Hertz for a TedX Music Conference. It was an energizing and engaging event which included a moderated, free-spirited and free-flowing conversation about the state of the music (not record) business today and how to make things better. Many of the remarks centered on artists finding their audience and vice versa, in an increasingly fragmented media market. Sure, it was acknowleged that there are some acts like Lady Gaga which are built for major label, major budget, BROADcast driven marketing, but what about everyone else?

Part of the present challenge is that the ability of Retail (where the rubber meets the road) to make connections has been severely compromised. One has to successfully marry the awareness generator/filter to a purchase decision. It's the classic model taught in any MBA Buyer Behavior class--awareness--intention--purchase. Good examples are independent record stores where the clerks or fellow shoppers can make recommendations, the original Hear Music/Starbucks model where the filter was applied at the head end in deciding what select titles to carry (see my previous post on how they screwed that up)and iTunes which famously refuses record label money and instead decides itself what to promote on its heavily trafficked home page. Those entities succeed because they earn their customers' trust and make a connection. Amazon, on the other hand, touts its long tail product mix and is trying to buy market share (along with the desperate labels) by low ball pricing promotions in its MP3 stores where you can buy full albums for as low as $2.99. The Best Buy strategy of commoditazation vs. having a qualitative customer relationship, crushed indie retail 10 years ago and yet here we are again, except this time we're selling ones and zeros instead of shiny round things that you can hold.

So as I sat on Ken's patio, I wondered if there wasn't one part of our business that is still relatively robust and could help save the day. The answer that came to me is live music, the most immediate way for an artist to connect to a consumer. The only problem is that the live business's mass aggregators--the festivals, have so far no stepped up to the plate.

For example, Lollapalooza is a great brand but they could be doing so much more. I just came back from this year's event where I and 80,000 other people per day had a terrific time. My client, Tor Hyams, produces the Kidzapalooza stage, so it's a great way of mixing business with pleasure. If you're a music geek like me, the buffet of musical styles that is laid out before you is daunting and thrilling at the same time.

I love discovering new music and when I'm at Lolla, I'm particularly excited because I know that its curator, Perry Farrell, and the C3 team have picked things out for ME. It's gotten to the point where tickets sell out before the acts are even announced because after five years in Chicago, the festival has developed a reputation for delivering over 100 quality acts that are incredibly genre-diverse but all interesting and worthy in their own right. You might like Bat for Lashes better than Asher Roth, but, as a music fan, you respect that each has a particular point of view and individual sensibility.

For three days, we're all music geek brothers-in-arms, getting Twitter feeds from Lolla HQ and comparing notes about what we've seen that day. And then you get home, snip off your wristband and it's over (until next year). What a missed opportunity! Why not keep the conversation going and, in the process, help musicians keep making connections and finding new and bigger audiences? Lolla has over 10,000 Twitter followers and since the festival ended, the only communications have been to plug a Fuse TV special and....wait for it....an announcement of early bird tickets for 2010!.

HEY! You just turned me onto 100 acts in three days--you can't just cut me off now. Send me a tweet telling me about a cool band you just heard that I should check out. Offer me some deals on CDs or merch of bands that I saw in Chicago. Give me some recipes of some of the food vendors that were there like Graham Elliot's Portobello Satay. Just don't stop calling me until next year when you again need a date for the prom!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Lolla--everything about the experience is first class and C3 is a great organization, I just think there's the potential for so much more. Lolla is one of a few entities, conveniently spread throughout the country, including Bonnaroo, Coachella and Austin City Limits that have the brand integrity/coherence and media reach to be able to pull this off. And I'm not naively suggesting that they NEED to do this--I get it; they sell out every year. But they do have the opportunity for incremental income for themselves and for artists and to be industry leaders.

Why isn't there a Lolla label imprint, or a 10-song monthly MP3 collection that I can subscribe to? Why aren't there Lolla Jr. live shows with four acts in small theaters around the country? Why do I get the silent treatment for the next 10 months?

We're running out of people who can help move the needle for the non-Lady Gaga's of the world. Why doesn't the live music sector figure out how to harness the passion of their product and expand the revenue for all involved. Save the Cheerleader--Save the World!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Want Therefore I Am

The only kids I have have four legs and a tail so I don't claim to be an expert in child rearing. But I'm pretty sure that any parent is running into dangerous territory when their progeny decides they want something and Mom or Dad tell them they can't have it. "Why?" "Because" = Highly unsatisfying for all involved.

The music biz has a rich history of such behavior. I've been in the meeting. "Let's be at Top 40 for 10 to 12 weeks before we put out the album, and let's not make anything available for sale. Let's tell the fans, "Listen, I know you like our artist, and apparently you like the new song, but we're not going to give you any opportunity to act on that until the album comes out in two months." If I were Lefsetz, here's where I would disolve into some sexual metaphor, but let's skip all that. "Seriously? You're not going to let me buy a single? Well, screw you, I'll just steal the album when it comes out. So there."

You'd think the TV biz would learn something from this. And there are signs that they're getting it, like with Prime On Demand, which I just discovered on my Mother's Time Warner Cable box in New York. How cool. I missed "Rescue Me" and (like my mother) I don't have a DVR, but I can watch the latest episode whenever I want. So that's what makes my latest "Entourage" experience that much more confusing and maddening.

I was hanging in my client's office in New York and talk turned to some scene from last season. I had to admit that while I had watched the first few seasons, I checked out on the latest season. I probably had too many "Numbers" episodes to watch. I was immediately upbraided and encouraged to go watch Season 5, especially as Season 6 was starting on July 12 (as the billboards and full page ads told me). Cut to my flying home on Virgin America and having the chance to watch two Season 5 episodes as part of their Premium TV offering. Turns out that I actually do like the show. I guess I need to catch up in the next two weeks.

Upon coming home, after shaking off my Xanax hangover/jet lag, I go to the iTunes store. No Season 5. I got to my TIVO box. No episodes planned. Finally I go to Amazon. Sure there's Season 5 on DVD and it's on sale starting June 30. WTF?

The last episode was six months ago. You couldn't make it available until now? Two weeks before the new season? We live in the digital age; what's with the wait? If I weren't such an industry icon (and, more importantly, afraid of computer viruses) I'd just get the whole season on a torrent site and leave it at that. HBO is leaving money on the table for reasons only know to those in that Wednesday marketing meeting. HBO, the company whose former head, the insufferable Michael Fuchs, thought he could run the Warner Music Group, only to run right into a brick wall of cultural and business operational differences. Hmmmmmm.

This whole situation, has reinforced for me the need for the music business to honor the time-tested ethic. "Give people what they want when they want it." No more big windup, "we have to put out the image track first then we'll come with the real first single and then the album 8 weeks later." When it's done, put it out. It's not about first week Soundscan, bought with $6.99 pricing at Best Buy. It's about PROFIT. And the more you match consumer desire with product, the more money you make.

Contrary to what the content companies might think, the consumer is the only reason you're in business. Refuse to meet demand at your own peril.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Idol Musings

I've been a fan of American Idol since the Kelly & Justin era. I admit that I enjoy the show, and I also agree with my client Tor Hyams that if you're in the modern music business, and you don't watch, you're out to lunch. I've also had the opportunity to work with Season 6 runner up Melinda Doolittle for the past year, marketing her solo debut, "Coming Back to You." So over the years, I've had more than my share of exposure to Idolworld and its artists, including last week when I spent a lot of time with many ex-Idols doing various promotional events.

And guess what? The ones that are still at it are all really talented and willing to work hard in order to get some of the million people that voted for them to buy their latest recording. But that's exactly the problem; they're no longer on TV every week, so their ability to promote themselves is extremely limited. The half life of fan interest just based on TV viewership is a nanosecond. Otherwise we'd all be going to the Arenadome to see Jesse Camp or J.D. Fortune (and he actually toured with a huge well known band for two years).

At the same time, I'm very aware of many great new artists that are signed to major labels but who ultimately will not be strong enough to survive the Darwinesque ecosystem. I get all the promo CDs and the calls and emails to see if I'm working on anything that they can get in on.

Does anyone appreciate the irony here? On the one hand, you have talented artists on TV with nothing to sell, and on the other hand you have labels who have already spent money to make records and who would pay any amount of money to get their artists on TV to promote them. Did you know that if you have a musical act on Ellen that you pay the show a $10,000 production fee on top of whatever your expenses are including AFTRA wages for anyone who's onstage? And, by the way, you're delighted to spend all the money because Ellen sells records.

How hard would it be for Sony Music, which makes windfall profits on the Idol stars that they have locked up, to assign some A&R guys to start making records with the final 10 during the show's season so that the day after the finale they can have a commercial single for sale with an album to follow within a month? Last year's Top 2, David Archuleta and David Cook didn't have their albums come out until six months AFTER the finale. That's like Paramount spending millions on a TV advertising campaign for a movie and stopping it six months before the premiere. It's like sitting through a two minute infomercial for the Snuggie and when you call up, they tell you that it won't be available for another six months (so you buy the Slanket instead).

As for the labels, instead of futzing around with whatever the latest genius joint venture is (Hello PressPlay!), why don't they all get together and create a new TV franchise around the idea of finding the best new SIGNED artist (American Idol meets The Shortlist Music Prize)? Let each participating label have a few slots, get some industry judges and let the voting begin. And here's the fun part; there would already be product for fans to buy, product that the labels had already spent money on making, and they get to put money back onto their own pockets on the sync fees.

And here's another fun by-product of this concept. Unlike Idol where fans are just starting to get to know the contestants a few weeks earlier, with Label Idol, it's possible that thousands of fans already know about the artist, have bought their music, seen them live and spend time on their MySpace page. Imagine the marketing meeting during which a plan is laid out to do all that grass roots marketing in anticipation of the show, like a political candidate doing house parties before he announces that he's running for office. That's right, the labels will be dragged, kicking and screaming into doing Artist Development!

It's just so crazy it might work.