Friday, May 6, 2011

New Music Business Model

I recently had the chance to revisit a book that I have not picked up in some time called "The Future of Music" by authors David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard. This publication is a must have in any music fan or industry professional's arsenal as the content within it's binding resonates with anyone who has any one or part of the following:
  • Ringtone on their mobile phone or device
  • computer
  • laptop
  • mp3
  • Xbox
  • PS3 
  • iPod, phone,touch, pad, etc.
The concept of unlimited content flowing into your home like a utility is certainly not new but it begs the question as to why the music industry is still so slow to make the necessary changes and advancements in an effort to swing the business into a position where it will continue to survive. Recent events with the possible purchase and consolidation of Warner Music Group by BMG Rights Management and Universal Music Group in an effort to land both Warner and EMI only furtherproves this point.

The industry should be analyzing the business model of mega media power houses such as............................

There's a sharp difference of opinion in the music sector about that right now. Billboard magazine started the debate Tuesday when veteran writer Glenn Peoples suggested that the major record labels might do well to emulate some of Netflix's practices. Ethan Kaplan, a former digital exec at Warner Music Group, later that day wrote on his blog, Black-rim, that he's highly skeptical.

The discussion was sparked by Google and Apple's recent efforts to launch cloud music services. Both would enable users to store their music libraries on the companies' servers and then stream songs to users' Internet-connected devices. Google has talked to the labels about charging a fee for the service, according to previous reports. CNET reported on Monday that Apple has told the labels it too will charge.

These companies and the major labels are betting on subscription. They're doing this though the services that have attempted to prove the model in the past have a spotty record. Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, and the recycled Napster who is owned by Best Nuy Inc, all failed to draw large audiences. Most players in the sector dream of having 1 million paying subscribers. Compare that with Netflix, which saw 3 million movie fans sign up for its service in the year's first three months. The company's U.S. subscribers now number 22.8 million, the same amount as Comcast. Helping to fuel that growth was Netflix's offer of $8 a month for unlimited streaming access to movies and TV shows.

"With Netflix consumers have proven they will rent content--even re-run(s)--and stream it from the cloud," Peoples wrote in Billboard. "They will pay for digital content they could get for free through illegal means. They will pay if the service allows streaming through multiple devices."

Peoples wrote that Netflix's low-cost, easy-to-use Web site, and nearly ubiquitous presence on Internet-enabled devices is a worthy blueprint for the music industry. But Kaplan said that Peoples' premise is flawed at its core.

"People feel comfortable applying strategies applicable to one modality of media to all others," Kaplan wrote. "Because the modes are similar, so must be the means of monetization. Wrong."

"People feel comfortable applying strategies applicable to one modality of media to all others--because the modes are similar so must be the means of monetization. Wrong."

--Ethan Kaplan 
One obvious difference between music and movies is that people don't typically watch a film more than once or twice, but they listen to favorite songs maybe hundreds of times. Kaplan argues that people value the media differently. He wrote there's less value in music because movies require more of the viewer's attention than music does for the listener.

(Music's) ubiquity lessens its value as it does not monopolize the senses," Kaplan wrote, "and thereby requires less investment in order to enjoy it. Requiring less investment demands less return and hence, lower value...chasing business models in one media with business models of fundamentally different media is a recipe for disaster." 

Kaplan is no doubt correct in arguing that thinking one-size-fits-all is unrealistic. But the fact that there's even a debate about subscription services, which I and others once dismissed outright as insignificant, says something.

For the past decade, most of the music-buying public has ignored them. But the landscape for music consumption appears to be changing. CD sales are in a free fall. Download sales have leveled off. And what happens if the big labels succeed in making illegal file sharing less attractive? For the past 11 years we've lived in a world where pirating music was a cinch and in this world paying monthly fees for the opportunity to rent songs seemed silly to some. To others, paying at all was a joke.

So, how would subscription services fare in a world where bandwidth providers block subscribers' access to pirate sites or possibly shut off service to accused illegal file sharers? Or both? Pirating media will always be with us but what happens if downloading unauthorized songs turns into a big hassle? That's what the Recording Industry Association of America is trying to make happen right now.

If the RIAA succeeds, how will these all-you-can-eat services look then?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

And In The Distance, Was A Rumble - Top Ten Bassist of All Time

The Rolling Stone “Top Something or Other” lists…you’ve got to love them. Those classic lists that rank various things like best songs of all time, best guitarists of all time, etc etc. Well, Rolling Stone just put out its list for the Top Ten Bassists of All Time, and though it may be different because it is reader voted, it is still just another “top-something list” by Rolling Stone. Just trying to rank people on skills that are almost impossible to rank when the context of the whole band is taken into account, and all the other factors that go into it aren’t ignored, and when historical relevancy is rarely taken into account and…hold on, did they put John Entwistle as number one? They did? Really?! Nice! Yeah, great list Rolling Stone! Who says they don’t know what they’re talking about? Spot on, spot on….
I am a pretty big Who fan. That’s why I am so happy that John Entwistle was voted the number one bassist of all time, because he is (or was) the bass player for The Who. I don’t mean to completely dis Rolling Stone, they put out a great publication and their lists usually are unbiased and rather well done. But as a loyal Who fan, I’ve just been getting fed up with watching them get crushed by The Beatles and Zeppelin in every list since the beginning of music list making. Although I also fully support the fact that “Like a Rolling Stone” was voted the number one song of all time by Rolling Stone, but I digress…back to the bassist list. Let’s see who’s made the top 10.
10. Victor Wooten
It was actually quite interesting going through the ranks. I don’t think anyone would be too shocked to see the bassist who is in the ten spot, granted they have heard of him. But most people that do know Victor Wooten would probably be even a little surprised that he is only number 10 given his amazing talent and even more amazing hair. Wooten is the bass player for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, a lively bluegrass-jazz-funk-R&B-and-many-more-styles band that is very, very talented. As Rolling Stone puts it, “Every player in the Flecktones is a master, but when Wooten busts out a solo at a concert every jaw in the audience drops to the ground.” Wooten is known for his funky style, complex jazz melodies, and Hermes from Futurama style hair. He has played with the Dave Matthews band a number of times, where most people probably know him from, and has more recently been a guest at a few Mike Gordon (from Phish) shows. So I can’t argue too much with the selection there. 
9. Cliff Burton
Edging out Victor and landing the number 9 spot is ex-Metallica bass player Cliff Burton. I’m not going to lie here, I never really got that into Metallica. Not because I don’t like their music or anything, but because when I was younger and discovering different kinds of music, the first thing I remember about Metallica is them whining about how people were stealing their music off the internet and how Lars was going to sue people. But either way, I have since listened to their early music and read about the importance and talent of Cliff Burton. He was a pioneer in heavy metal bass riffs, and had gained the respect and awe of many a musician in his short 24 years. Tragically, Burton died when Metallica’s tour bus rolled over while they were touring Europe in 1986.
8. Jack Bruce
Imagine trying to play bass in a band with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and not just be “that guy who played bass in a band with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker”. Well that is exactly what Jack Bruce did. Bruce was the bass player for Cream, and had enough musical talent that he was able to distinguish himself in a band that contained the legendary Clapton on guitar and the eccentric Ginger Baker on the drums. Bruce was an accomplished jazz musician and well known session bass player, and met Clapton when they played in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers in the early 60’s. They formed with Baker to make a super group of sorts, calling themselves Cream, in reference to them being the cream of the crop in the London blues scene. Again, no argument here, as Bruce’s songwriting, singing, and bass skills made Cream one of the most influential bands in rock history.
7. Jaco Pastorious
In the number 7 spot is Jaco Pastorious…another pick that can be seen as being too low on the list. If you were to rank the best bass players of all time based on nothing but talent and virtuosity, I don’t see how Jaco isn’t number one every time. He is easily one of the most influential bass players ever, just ask any serious bass player and I guarantee he comes up in the conversation rather quickly. Jaco’s mastering of jazz fusion, harmonics, high toned melodies and figures along with his distinctive growling tone really set him apart from the pack in the 70’s. Again, unfortunately for the world, Jaco died after a fight outside a Florida bar in 1987 at only 35 years old. Kinda looks like James Franco modeled after him for Pineapple
6. John Paul Jones
In the 6 spot, which I suppose an argument for both a higher or lower ranking can be made, is John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.  Jones was a very well known session player around London before he joined Led Zeppelin, and recorded many bass tracks for very reputable artists. When he joined Led Zeppelin, he became the backbone of one of the most powerful and influential bands in rock history.  He was your prototypical bass player, just standing in the background doing his thing, not trying to be too flashy, and building a solid backdrop for Page and Plant to layer their riffs and melodies over. Not to mention, he played the flute part from Stairway on the keyboard at live shows, which I always thought was kind of funny. As good as Zeppelin and Jones were, however, the real power of the bass seemed to be lost behind the larger than life figures of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, which is why I’m not convinced that Jones should be in this spot. But, again, I’m super biased…
5. Les Claypool
Les Claypool is the number 5 bassist of all time according to Rolling Stone readers. Good work readers, good choice. Claypool is best known as the lead singer/bass player for the band Primus, and crafted his own unique bass style out of heavy flamenco style playing, intricate tapping, and extensive use of the whammy bar, a tool which is usually used only on guitar. Claypool actually auditioned for Metallica after the death of Cliff Burton, but did not get the gig because, well, he was too good. Seriously, that’s what they told him, that he was too good and should probably do his own thing…also, he wasn’t that into metal. Claypool…probably deserves more of a write up than this, but, anyway, on to number 4.

4. Geddy Lee
It may seem weird, after looking at all the bands that I really like, that I’ve never gotten into Rush. I don’t know why, I have nothing against them, but I just could never really get into their music. Again, it’s nothing personal. But, I do happen to know that Geddy Lee of Rush definitely deserves to be on this list. And it just so happens that he is number 4. Geddy Lee is just a talented guy. He played bass, sang, AND played the keyboards for Rush, often all at the same time. How you ask? He would use bass pedals anytime he played the keyboards. That’s pretty cool. Most people have difficulty trying to sing and play an instrument at the same time, and Geddy Lee was out there playing keyboards with his hands, bass with his feet, and singing over all of it. Touche, Rush, maybe I should give you another chance.
3. Paul McCartney
There is no lack of words that can be said about this one. But to be honest, I’m surprised that Sir Paul is only number 3. Isn’t that against the “best of” music list making code? I guess as long as he’s in the Top 5 its ok. But really, McCartney deserves to be up here. He truly had a hand in revolutionizing the electric bass in popular music. Throughout the Beatles’ career Paul was constantly changing, adapting, experimenting, and honing different bass techniques. From the simple lines in the early Beatles repertoire to the more complex and melodic riffs throughout the White Album and Abbey Road (see: “Something”), his mastering of the bass as a tool for melody and counterpoint was something not heard before in popular music of the time. And as if his bass playing wasn’t enough, he also played piano, guitar, sang, and wrote some of the most famous songs of the 20th Century, not bad for the number 3 spot.  So again, it’s a little surprising that Sir Paul is only number 3, I don’t know why he’s not at least number 2…maybe it was that whole Wings thing?
2. Flea
You know how you have that one person that you’ve known in your life that really isn’t into music that much, except for one band or song that they play over and over and over and over? For me, that was my freshman year roommate at college, and he played nothing but the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And I’m not talking the good Peppers of old…he used to play songs like “Snow” all day. It was awful. So, with that experience forming my utter disdain for the Peppers after 2006, I have to say that I don’t agree with this ranking. I don’t want to disrespect Flea or Peppers fans, I know he’s real good…but number 2 of all time? I’m just not sold on that. But, with my personal feelings aside, Flea did find a very signature style and tone for himself as a bass player that helped shape punk and rock music in the 90’s. He developed his slap style after getting into Bootsy Collins in the mid 80’s, and ran with it, becoming known as one of the best slap bass players in popular music. He was able to take a funk style and apply it to punk and alternative rock, and was a pioneer in the “not wearing a shirt, wearing the instrument real low, banging your head around, and slapping the bass” style. I think that’s an official music category, right?

1. John Entwistle
The number one spot on the Rolling Stone Top 10 Bassists of All Time goes to The Ox, John Entwistle. Entwistle was the bass player for The Who, and is responsible for changing the role of the bass in rock music. Before Entwistle came along, the bass was used to just play the background undertones. It would voice the low line that the rest of the song was built on top of, and never really change or do anything flashy or special. Entwistle came along and turned the bass’s role around, using it as a lead instrument rather than a supporting instrument. Ask any Who fan and they’ll tell you that Pete Townshend played rhythm guitar while Entwistle played lead bass. His power, technique, speed, and musicality allowed for the bass to shine through in many Who songs, such as “The Real Me”, “5:15”, “The Punk and the Godfather”, and many many many more. His bass solo on “My Generation” is undoubtedly one of the most famous and recognizable bass lines in rock history, and not to mention he invented the classic bass player personality (i.e. just standing there very calmly, barely moving while playing, looking like a bad ass). Entwistle, in my opinion as well as Rolling Stone readers, is by far the greatest bass player in rock history, and if you are not yet convinced of that fact, watch this video, and realize that he’s doing this when he was in his 60’s.


And there you have it, the Top Ten Bass Players of All Time according to Rolling Stone Readers.

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