The Music Industry Crawls Towards The Web

20 08 2008
Courtesy of polyvore.com

Courtesy of polyvore.com

An article in a recent SocalTech (Benjamin Kuo’s long running group devoted to the technology sector here in Southern California) noted that music web site ArtistDirect, which has for a few years been a growing site about the major music industry, is starting a section this fall that will post lyrics to popular songs.

According to ARTISTdirect, it will provide lyrics to popular songs from EMI Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing Group, which will allow the firm to add a new lyrics section to its site. Financial details of the licenses were not disclosed. The deal with EMI gives ARTISTdirect access to more than one million lyrics for EMI songs; extent of the deal with Universal Music was not given.

Leaving aside the question of just what those “undisclosed financial details” are, this is still an interesting development for the business. [Huge Disclaimer Here: For a number of years, the Internet development company I own did consulting and development for Universal Music Publishing. I actually found everyone there pretty cool and it gave me a great insight into the workings of major company thinking.] For years they have stood by as sites like Lyrics.com, songlyrics.com, and Elyrics, have amassed large quantities of song lyrics in their databases and have become the de facto place where anyone — fan, researcher, business professional — can find lyrics to most any major pop song.  Since these music publishing companies’ job is to maximize profit for their stockholders, and to earn some money for their songwriters along the way, they’ve been trying to figure out for years how to earn money off of these lyrics.

When I was at UMPG they started doing things like marketing greeting cards with their lyrics as catch phrases, as well as imprinted tee shirts and coffee mugs. Billy The Bass, the singing fish, was also among the ancillary money-making uses of their songs.

But notice that every single one of these ideas was a brick-and-mortar concept.  No one ever quite knew how to sell music or their other intellectual property on the web, other than licensing songs or downloading recordings.

The surprise with this deal with ArtistDirect is that it took them so long to figure out how to do it, when they had several examples of a business model right in front of their web-directed eyes.

Here’s how UMPG announced the deal in a press release:

The licensing partnership opens the vaults of the publisher powerhouse to give ARTISTdirect fans for the first time easy access to legal, accurate song lyrics from top music acts past and present from current chart toppers to beloved classics.

“Universal Music Publishing Group has an amazing catalog of award-winning music and we are privileged to be able to provide the words to songs that have so profoundly impacted our culture,” said Dimitri Villard, Interim CEO of ARTISTdirect. “This partnership helps create one of the largest repositories for official lyrics as written by the songwriters.”

“Our search for new revenue opportunities for our songwriters and artists continues and this deal marks another positive step in monetizing the legal use of lyrics online,” said David Renzer, Chairman & CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group. “We are happy to partner with ARTISTdirect for this new service.”

Now I’ve never noticed any glaring inaccuracies on those web sites and I’ve used them a ton of times for research, so I’m not sure that I buy this reasoning from the companies.  However, it is true that this will be more legal, now that the companies have decided that the lyrics are intellectual property that has value on the web.

The good news for the music industry in this is not that they’ll be able to monetize another peice of IP. No, the real news is that they’ve figured out a way to do it. The music industry has historically been slow to see where the value of the net is, even down to the ludicrous RIAA lawsuits. They’ve held onto old business models long after they’ve made no sense.  I’ve long said that the big music companies should get out of the business of developing artists — they’re not really great at that. However what they are good at is distribution. With their international reach and their huge capitalization, they can raise the consumers’ awareness of a particular artist better than the smaller independents can. The recent deals, such as the one between Madonna and Live Nation, point the way towards a better use of major company resources. If you can package an artist across his or her entire output (concerts, physical or digital product, ancillary, etc.) than you can promote and market it better.

The problem, of course, is that this works a lot better with artists who have already established a marketable name. But, even with that issue to overcome (and it will be overcome, trust me on this), there is no doubt that, once again, when the music industry stops stumbling, it will point a way towards a viable model for the film and television industry.

Someday we’ll see the majors, who will (of course) still retain their prominence in the film world because of their sheer size, figure out how to distribute someone else’s content ubiquitously. And when they do that, that will be a great world for content creators.

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Jury Duty, iPhones and Personal TV Programming

10 08 2008
My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, its only a mockup)

My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, it's only a mockup)

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on the blog, an absence caused primarily by an upcoming deadline on my December book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, editing a documentary called RIVERS, and posting on another blog, Film Industry Bloggers. But two recent events, as well as a comment on the podcast Slate’s Political Gabfest, have combined to prod me into some thoughts about where we’re moving towards as media makers and consumers.

I recently sat on a preliminary panel for jury duty selection at my local courthouse in Los Angeles (a courthouse that was so satellite, so small, that it didn’t have a place to eat, if you didn’t count the hallway by the vending machine).

I never got onto a jury — they just didn’t need anyone that day — but I noticed something interesting in the waiting room. Lined up along one wall were a series of computers which were, we were told, put there so we could “play on the web” while we passed the time waiting to not be called onto a jury.  Now, that’s interesting in and of itself, since I remember when they could not have cared less if you were bored to tears.  (“Bring a book or a newspaper and read ferchrissakes!”). So, we can chalk one up for government advancement into the 21st century.

Of importance to this story was that fact that each and every one of the computers was broken. Every one (there were three or four) had a sign on its monitor explaining that the computer wasn’t working and “We apologize for any inconvenience.” So we can erase the chalk mark that I gave government for its 21st century advancement.

But what was really interesting to me is that not a single one of the 40 or so people in the room cared one bit about not being able to get onto the computers. Not one person complained.

You can ascribe that to several reasons. First, there were two people there who had brought their own laptops and were typing away the entire day. But that’s only two people. Second, you could say that most people aren’t Internet savvy enough to care, and they were perfectly happy to read their books or papers.

However, when I looked around the room, it became obvious to me that the largest reason why people didn’t care if the computers worked or not was that they were connecting online anyway. They were just doing it on their cell phones.

Nearly every single person in the room was texting, or surfing or listening to their iPods. Ironically, I was one of the few people actually reading a book (I didn’t bring my laptop for various reasons and my Treo was just a completely painful experience for surfing online).

No one cared about the broken computers because they already had all the computer they needed in a tiny little package in their purses or their pockets.

Then, a few weeks later, when my Treo 650 stopped being able to email anyone, I finally caved in and joined the second week line at the local Apple Store and got myself an iPhone 3G. Now, I live in Los Angeles where there is a lot of 3G service available (except, ironically, in a number of rooms in my house) so my experience might differ from yours. But this phone has drastically transformed the way I connect online. It is now as easy to go onto a webpage on my phone (though somewhat slower) as it is when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

The repercussions of this are huge. In the first few weeks of owning my iPhone, I’ve used it for maps, movie times, restaurant recommendations, playing Sudoku, reading the New York Times, getting weather and sports scores, and much more — all without going into the Safari browser that comes built into the phone. With Apple’s App Store for the iPhone selling and giving away a ton of separate appplications for the “Jesus Phone”, it has not only gotten possible to surf the web easily on your phone, but to do it with separate apps, something that doesn’t exist as ubiquitously on your very own computer where most applications are built to run inside your web browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari or — gasp — Internet Explorer).

This isn’t a small paradigm shift for us here in the United States. In much of the rest of the world, in places that aren’t hamstrung by conflicting cell phone standards, consumers are already using the web on their portable devices (usually cel phones) and are using it for more things as each month goes on. It’s great for the users and a bonanza for those smart and well-connected enough to provide the content.

John Dickerson, on Slates Political Gabest this week talked about the Olympics and the web.

John Dickerson, on Slate's Political Gabest this week, talked about the Olympics and the web.

Then, there was an interesting comment on this week’s Slate’s Political Gabfest, Slate Magazine’s always interesting three-person podcast examining political issues of the week.  John Dickerson, asked for  comments about the start of the Beijing Olympics, made the statement that with the 302 events being run this year, he felt that this event was ideally suited for the web. His implication was that it was no longer necessary for him to watch endless hours of television to get to the three or four events that he was interested in.

True that.

For all of you who aren’t as interested in archery as you are in kayaking, this is a godsend. (By the way, the kayak competitions start on August 11th and run through the 17th, but NBC won’t tell you just when that sport is on — it’s jumbled together with the rest of its coverage on its website) It is now possible to hone in on just what interests you in the events, and to surf around the rest of them if you want to discover other fun things.

Dickerson, however, missed the larger implications of his statement because he is a political analyst and not a techie hack like me. The brilliance of this thought process comes when NBC starts to deliver the content that you want directly to you (not at this Olympics, sadly). If you like kayaking, you’ll click on that select box and get news, audio and video of those events sent to you in discrete packages. And get charged a small amount for it.

This is the kind of programming that companies like U-Verse (the AT&T computer Video on Demand service), and set top boxes like the Apple TV, are just poised to deliver.

I’ve often said that services like Tivo have blown away the concept of television networks. Most people who have services like these can program their boxes to find the content they like and play it back for them whenever they want without every knowing where and when it originally “aired”. Except for the station ID bug down in the bottom right of the screen and the few commercials for other network programming that we don’t skip over, most of us have no idea what network the show was originally broadcast on and even less sense of when it ran. This is breaking down the concept of network loyalty.

The concept of personal delivery of sports (and other) events takes it one step further. Not only will you not care where and when the event originally ran, but you won’t give a rat’s behind about any of the surrounding events unless you want to care. You’ll get more complete coverage of the events that matter to you, rather than smaller bites of all of the events.

The idea of smorgasboard programming, where cable users can select just what channels they want rather than buy into packages, scares the hell out of most cable operators and small channel providers. They correctly assume that, in this model, many of the smaller stations would lose most of their perceived viewers and shrivel up and die. I don’t disagree with this except to note that this is going to happen anyway. Cable networks can already determine which channels you are watching and which you aren’t. Services like U-Verse are only exacerbating that. How long will it be before those networks that don’t attract many viewers are faced with the same fate, as programmers realize that they’re carrying a network that attracts only six model airplane builders?

But, I’d gladly pay for channels that come with the programming that I want. And, to take this back to its starting point, I’d gladly pay for that to come to me on my iPhone. I already receive sports score on my phone now — Sportacular is a great application. If developer Jeff Hamilton isn’t already working on business partnerships that will enable the user to connect that to video playback of the events, then he’s dumber than a brick. It is a completely directed, niche, market.

Total Personal Programming. That’s where you should invest your venture capital money everyone, okay?





Edit Fest is August 8th and 9th

22 07 2008

A.C.E. (the American Cinema Editors organization — there the three letters you see after the names of a lot of editors out there) is running what looking like an incredible event on the second Friday and Saturday in August. Its called EditFest and will give you an opportunity to “Learn about the craft of editing from the working experts.” It start on Friday evening with a welcome reception at Universal Studios with the ACE board members and ACE Interns. The next day is split between Saturday morning, where top television editors will be on a two-hour panel, and the afternoon, where there are three events — Editors of Summer Blockbusters, Animation Editing, and Cutting for Comedy.

It looks like an amazing event. “Tuition” is $349 and looks well worth it.

You can see a few more details, including contact information, by downloading this postcard or going to the ACE website.





Should We Make Media?

15 07 2008

Daisy Whitney, in a posting over at TV Week, says “Just Because Everyone Can Do a Video Doesn’t Mean Everyone Should” and it’s an interesting statement. And one which I’m of two minds about.

First, as a filmmaker and teacher, it makes me insane that people make media who have absolutely nothing to say, other than “Hey, I can make media.” I cannot read blogs and tweets which contribute nothing to world except the user’s location and food ingestion. Likewise, I can’t take it when people makes “hilarious” videos that do nothing for the world except add to the amount of bandwidth waster on cute pets.

Yet, as a filmmaker and teacher, I am also completely aware that not everyone has access to teachers and facilities like we have at USC. In fact, having worked in lesser advantaged areas of this country and the world, I’m aware that most people don’t have access to people who can help them get a leg up on the thought process of media creation. For them, getting a cheap camera or cell phone and shooting material is the only way to learn.

Daisy had a slightly different point, though:

Doyle Albee, president of the firm Metzger Associates, told me that he has explored whether it makes sense for his company to produce some sort of weekly webcast or Web series, sort of a “Metzger Minute.” It’s an interesting idea, he said, but right now it’s not in the cards. And that’s because there isn’t a reason to do one at the moment, he said.

I liked his response because it recognizes that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Or that you need to. Sometimes a blog is enough. Sometime a Web site is enough. And sometimes even just a phone call, memo or e-mail can convey the same point.

She makes alot of sense here (for more of Daisy’s thoughts, check out her occasional visits to the This Week In Media podcast). The real issue is not grabbing bandwidth, or people’s time. It’s about learning, however we can, which media is appropriate for each of our messages. Not everybody should be doing a podcast, and for those who are, not every issue needs to be podcast. That’s one of the issues I have with regular podcasts. While I acknowledge that regularity builds viewers and listeners — that’s a marketing idea. In terms of content, I much prefer the podcasts and blogs that publish when there is something to say. I would offer the opinion that some of the reason why I often skip over large parts of the content in some of Leo Laporte‘s podcasts nowadays (which I never would do, even six months ago) is that there is a sense of “filling up time”. The last TWiT ran almost two hours long, and it seemed that a large percentage of it was redundant jabbering, even from someone as consistently fascinating as Merlin Mann.

The great thing about the web is that, until recently, we didn’t feel that we had to create anything regularly. So readers/listeners/viewers like me didn’t get the feeling that I sometimes get on the New York Times Op-Ed pages — that the columnist had to write something, so he or she went fishing.

So, to answer Daisy Whitney’s question: no, we don’t have to make videos if we have nothing to say. But if we do it for the learning first, then we can do what we have our film students here — we don’t send those early learning attempts out into the world.

[Disclaimers: I should point out that I do a weekly column for Film Industry Bloggers, and that Daisy’s podcast New Media Minute is not scheduled — in other words, when she wants to publish it.]





Wordle Tells All, Sees All

12 07 2008


Jonathan Feinberg, over at Wordle, has created an intriguing device (he calls it a “toy” but I’d use that word only in the sense that people once called computers “toys”) which creates a word cloud that includes most of the words from any text you input (you can paste in text, give it a URL of a web page, or put in a del.isio.us user name). [To the left is the Wordle for my blog without this new post.]

It then creates one of those frequency cloud pictures that shows what words you’ve used, with the size of word reflecting how often it was used in that text.

At first glance, you might think it was a toy — someone posted one called love iphone/hate facebook — but already a few interesting clouds have turned up. There’s one called “Things i want to say to you, but can’t” which features such words as chance, life, don’t and (of course) love.” That one feels almost as revelatory as PostSecret.

There’s another one on today (so many get posted that you’re never going to find these easily unless I give you URL, since Jonathan doesn’t give any sort of databasing search tool), called “What did YOU wear today?’ and another one which was put up by Wired on people’s thoughts on the iPhone.

The possibilities are tremendous — as a way of visually representing the way people are thinking at any given moment. Here, for instance in the Wordle for an article on today’s Huffington Post about Karl Rove (the link to the original article is here). The largest words seem to be Obama, government, money and Shiite. A recent Washington Post column by Dana Milbank on Rove creates a different Wordle with the biggest words being Rove, Karl, House and travesty (the original article can be found here). An article from conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, has this Wordle, with the biggest words read, rest and post.

Helpfully, Wordle will remove common words (like “the” and “and”) if you ask it to, so you can straight for the content and you can get deeper into the text’s actual meanings.

The holy grail of marketing on the Web is measuring its readers. The next step after that is making sense of what you measure. Wordle is an interesting way of making that “sense” more visible.

By the way, you can click here to see the Wordle for this blog with this new post.





Film School Diaries

11 07 2008

No, it’s not the hot and steamy version. From what my students tell me, that’s pretty much not possible (One of my students told me that she just couldn’t date while in school because she didn’t have any time to meet anyone who wasn’t at the school, and dating film school guys was just, well, in her words “Yuck!”).

No, I’m talking about a weekly podcast and blog that I’ve been following for a while now (It’s been going on since the beginning of January 2007). It’s called Video StudentGuy and it’s put together by Paul Lyzun.

Paul is a guy who has a day job working video production but, on evenings and weekends, is taking a two-year program in Boston all about Video Production. This year has has been working on two films of his own (as well as working on a slew of other people’s projects — very much like our students at USC). His final film, which he’s working on now (and which will not be done by the time he graduates — but that’s common too), is a documentary about the value of craftmaking in this era of mass-produced items.

The thing that I really like about about Paul’s podcasts (I subscribe via iTunes, but it’s also available at Libsyn) is that he’s completely honest about what he knows and doesn’t know, and how he makes mistakes. You can also see him struggling to get to the real breakthroughs which, in my humble opinion, are about how to better tell a story, not how to operate the equipment. It’s been fantastic watch him work through his thoughts about what his documentary is really about.

Along the way he talks about his abilities and his learning with the cameras (including scheduling), the editing systems, the bureaucracy of his school, the difficulties of production scheduling and commitments, as well as personal boundaries — such as when he realized that he couldn’t always say “yes” to helping out others, if it meant that his own project was going to suffer.

His latest podcast is about learning DVD Authoring.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but I just put it on my iPod and it’s going to be in my rotation for this weekend’s trips to the gym.

It’s a great listen for anyone who is trying to power through in this industry.





What Film Production Is Like

10 07 2008

So, this is what happens if you don’t take good care of your film.