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Widgets: The Audio Diet meets Art Techneau

April 26, 2011

For our grad project, Bridgette Beard of Art Techneau and I explored desktop widgets– in 2008/2009 it seemed like everyone expected them to take off as a huge online trend, but it seems the excitement has fizzled. while there are some examples of exceptional widgets that succeeded in connecting a brand with an audience, overall they didn’t seem to live up to the hype.

Listen below as Bridgette and I discuss things we learned while working on the project. The timestamps outline the main questions we discussed.

00:12-  Desktop widgets vs. Web widgets. Why did we decide to work with desktop widgets and what is the difference?

02:44- What widgets fail and why? How do consumers respond to widgets they don’t like?

03:53- The various widget platforms and their usability

04:36- The discussion of our widget experiment, where we downloaded as many different branded widgets to our desktops as possible to find out what worked and what didn’t. Did we like any of them?

06:38- How do widgets create value for the individual? We also discuss mobile widgets in comparison to their desktop counterparts.

08:35- Widgets as “digital refrigerator magnets.” How do widgets become relevant promotional tools in the digital marketing age?

09:43- Our overall takeaways from our research. How did widgets go from relevant to irrelevant so quickly? What are the “unicorns” of widgets that actually worked for consumers?

12:11- How “personal helper” widgets cut through the cluttered market to help consumers and create brand value.

Have you used desktop widgets? Did you find any use in them?

Intro music by Juanitos, available on freemusicarchive.org.

Fan-funding: Becoming a part of the process

April 14, 2011

First, I must say that it is absolutely insane that this is my last post for a grade– this semester flew by. Being that this is my last for-credit post, I tried to pick a really good topic, and honestly that took me a little while.

I stumbled upon a story about the new “ecology” of the music industry, and I absolutely loved this quote about the current state of the industry.

The key differentiating factor between this new ecology and the one that existed prior to the web is that it has the capacity to allow fans—those who are active participants in their cultural lives—to, for the first time, find each other, interact, voice opinions, and create change without being limited by their geographies.

source

I’ve had fun looking at the digital and physical sides of record releases from the eye of the consumer, but for this last post, I decided to take a look at when the consumer becomes part of the production process. With this new ecology, fans truly are getting involved both with each other and artists in awesome new ways, including fan-funding music projects.

In the music industry, Kickstarter has become the most popular way to fan-fund record releases and other music projects. I’ve noticed good and band comments in my Twitter feed from different music professionals on Kickstarter and similar web services.

Personally, I find them interesting. Kickstarters and similar web projects let the really serious fans go above and beyond in supporting the bands they love. Kickstarter lets backers pledge funds through an Amazon account, and the amount is only finally collected if the full project goal is met. It’s the artist/band/etc’s job to promote the project to gain the necessary amount of backers. For more information on the technical aspects of being a Kickstarter backer, check out the Kickstarter FAQ page.

Ace Enders performing at the 2010 Vans Warped Tour in Cleveland, Ohio

Ace Enders of I Can Make a Mess performing at the Cleveland stop of the 2010 Vans Warped Tour

While some might say the bands should be funding the projects themselves, and others might refer to fan-funding projects as nothing more than glorified pre-orders, I think they can really work. Depending on what the band chooses, rewards for pledging donations can range from a download of the record, a personalized postcard, to things like living room shows, like the example used below. Kickstarter also

After returning to the I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business project he started in 2003, Ace Enders decided to approach things without a label and without management. The band is currently running a pretty intricate intern program with kids both in New Jersey physically working for the band’s setup, as well as distance interns promoting from afar.

As a whole, the model ICMAM is building is really interesting, and it will be nice to see how the program grows, as well as if other bands or music entrepreneurs take similar courses of action. Pertinent to this blog post, however, is the Kickstarter page the band set up to fund the third ICMAM album.

ICMAM set a goal of 10,000 for production of the record. The group offered pledge gifts ranging from a digital copy of the record for a $10 donation to a personal living room show for a $500 donation.

ICMAM not only met their goal in less than a month, they actually made three-times it– collecting $30,593 toward the new I Can Make a Mess record.

O'Brothers Kickstarter tracker

The Kickstarter tracker from O'Brother van project

Kickstarter for musicians definitely doesn’t just stop at record production projects– so the ways for fans to get involved, while still earning some music in the process continues. For example, Atlanta-based band O’Brother used Kickstarter to fund a van for them to use for tour after a breakdown threatened their future touring plans. With the help of 48 backers giving $5,000, O’Brother was able to get back on the road.

Overall, I think fan-funded projects will only continue as fans try to become more involved in the music they consume and as musicians strive to find new ways to find business models that can turn their music into livable full-time gig.

Your new jams are in the cloud.

April 7, 2011

First an foremost– a disclosure. I am an Amazon nerd. When given the option of where to purchase mp3s, I always go straight to Amazon, even though I use an iPhone. I delight at the beginning of each month when the 50 albums under $5 get announced. I think Apple might have been the first to jump into the digital music explosion, but Amazon is the one staying one step ahead.

The Cloud

Last week, Amazon announced their new cloud service, becoming the first major company to provide this blossoming form of music storage and beating Google and Apple to the finish line.

Amazon's Cloud Drive, recently added to the online retailer's many servicesEssentially, what this means for you is a free place to hold all of your jams, allowing you to access them on your smartphone, your desktop or any other Web device through this digital locker of sorts. Amazon has a pretty good how-to video on the Cloud Drive and Cloud Player here. Clouds can also be subscription based services, where you pay to access a larger cloud of music at your leisure. I generally stick to the consumer side of the business on the blog, but I am so interested in the legal licensing issues of cloud services that I thought I’d dive into it a bit.

The Business Issues

For music organizations, these cloud players can pose an issue. Should Amazon be paying licensing fees to the labels for the music individuals stream through their own Cloud Player? And how can anyone verify if the music uploaded to the cloud was actually obtained legally? Some say the cloud service could even revitalize the P2P downloading trend. I’m not sure that I agree with that though– users who steal music and keep it on their own hard drives will probably continue to do so, but I don’t think the ease of the cloud’s use could really change a legal downloader’s habits. Yes, if they have a large library they might be paying for the storage, but if those people are anything like me, they’re happy to support musicians.

In terms of the licensing issue,Wayne Rosso wrote on The Music Void that he thinks Amazon is on the right track for dealing with the music industry–ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. According to this article from Hypebot, there is no consensus on whether or not a license is needed– Amazon’s director of music says the service is essentially a glorified external

hard drive, while labels like WMG think they deserve compensation for the streaming music. Most analysts don’t anticipate any of the major labels going after Amazon though, mostly because of legal costs both in terms of time and finances. EMI is actually currently in litigation with MP3tunes, a similar cloud service, about such an issue. Michael Robertson of MP3tunes actually weighed in on Amazon’s business benefits in the issue here, which I found quite interesting.

It’s a delicate balance– labels want to find new ways to revitalize monetary exchanges within music consumption, but at the same time they want to make sure as much money as possible goes directly to them. I’m excited to see how this all plays out, especially now that Amazon has set the curve for Apple and Google.

The Results for You

The file setup for the Amazon Cloud Drive

My (currently) empty Amazon Cloud Drive

In Amazon’s system, 5 GB of storage is free forever. 20 GB is free for a year, then $20 a year after that, 50 GB is $50 a year, etc. I have about 25 GB in my computer right now of music, and I add to it pretty frequently, so I would already be on the pay-to-store plan from the beginning. New Amazon mp3 purchases apparently don’t count against a user’s storage space, though, which is a nice bonus.

With this, gone are the days of hard drive failures leading to the loss of a beautifully cultivated music library. When you purchase music online, you no longer have to let it take up memory and space on your computer.

To me, there’s something almost unsettling about sending my music collection to this intangible cloud–but the convenience might outweigh my uneasiness at some point. I can see myself at some point crossing over to the cloud, but I still have the tendencies to like to see my music collection as a tangible possession, even when it’s in mp3 form. I guess my record collection will have to suffice to fill that need, because people like George Howard are saying that the cloud is already upon us– and that soon digital downloads will also be a niche product.

Will you store your music in the cloud? Or will you choose to go to the paid subscription clouds where you don’t own anything but have access to it all?

Finding your new favorite band…on YouTube?

March 31, 2011

When you want to share a song you like with your friends on Facebook, how do you do it? Judging by what I see on my news feed most days, the preferred means of delivery is via YouTube videos. While they frequently feature poorly edited photo montages of the band or other mediocre visuals, they’re easy to find and easy to post.

YouTube, a surprisingly useful site for music consumersBased on my own experiences, I’m not too fond of listening to things or sharing tracks on YouTube, but I find myself doing it all the time just because it’s so easy to find whatever you’re looking for. YouTube gets this and has been adding features to help both consumers and music creators have more mutually beneficial experiences with music consumption on the video-sharing network.

For this week’s Audio Diet, we will explore the good and the bad about video-sharing as a means of getting music to a consumer. As I look for online streams, I have been going to Grooveshark a lot, as well as twt.fm when I want to tweet the tracks, but I still have turned to YouTube a lot lately to listen to new singles that haven’t gone out for legal download yet. I recently discovered, though, that YouTube is doing more to become a music destination, and I honestly wish I would have known about this sooner.

On YouTube’s “Music” page, there are suggested videos by genre and category, as well as a feed of all of the music events coming up in my area– which for me is Cleveland. Not only do they list the usual LiveNation suspects, they also have local venues like the Grog Shop represented, as well as the theaters at PlayhouseSquare. I love this! It reminds me of the days when I would go onto Myspace for all the tour dates I could ever need. I could see this feature, launched last summer, being a valuable resource– and one that I would never have expected to find.

Some labels and bands are using YouTube as more than just a means to send out music itself, and instead are making both basic and extensive creative content to share. I think Fueled by Ramen Records does a great job of combining the two types of uploads– while music fans can go there to find and share traditional music videos, they also will record videos with their artists with less production value but more character. Take for example, this video of Paramore going “couch surfing.” While certainly nothing too spectacular production- or content-wise, the video still got about 100,000 views and 375 likes.

They also used YouTube in a big way to promote Panic! at the Disco’s most recent release, Vices and Virtues. The album’s first single made it’s debut on YouTube just as a basic lyric video, which now has over 1,800,000 plays. They also uploaded “The Overture” prior to the record dropping, which was essentially a dramatic extended music video that showed off several of the upcoming tracks. That video currently has over 400,000 views.

And while YouTube in incredibly convenient and absolutely free for us, the site is also leading to an increased ability to monetize for music rightsholders. According to this story, even copyright infringing videos can turn into licensing profit thanks to better technology. Especially at a time when cloud services are becoming a buzzword and streaming services like Spotify are slowly inching their way to the U.S., it’s interesting to look at how YouTube could become a legitimate money-making form of music distribution.

All in all, YouTube is only continuing to become a useful place for music creators and consumers, despite some basic flaws. Useful except for maybe when things like “Friday” happen…

A weekend away.

March 12, 2011

I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks near Times Square, sipping an Americano and enjoying free wifi with two of my BSR co-workers. I took a week off from the blog this week due to the great joys of midterm time and my weekend away. I just spent the last two days at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s conference, and I am all kinds of inspired. I attended sessions on licensing and publishing, independent label relations, local music relations, station financing, fudraising and more topics than I can even list here. I am absolutely exhausted, but I am full of new ideas and an even better outlook on the future radio and the music industry. I’ll be back to the regular blog schedule soon!

A world without Myspace?

March 3, 2011

This week, I’m taking a jump into the world on band-related social media. As these tools become absolutely essential in connecting musicians to their consumers, this topic is definitely an important part of The Audio Diet– plus it lets me dive in to some of the topics I’m learning about in my PR classes.

The Problem.

This post was inspired by a recent tweet by Cathy Pellow, owner of the record label Sargent House

An actual look at the Myspace homepage of today, new logo and all.

A look at the current social media ghost town, Myspace. Yes, I did log in for the first time in over a year to grab this image.

and someone who I really look up to in the music industry. She said:

@sargenthouse dear bands, my advice to you all is to have a new plan of where to direct peeps for info because Myspace will just 1 day w/o warning be gone.
I could not agree more. Myspace is dying a spam-filled, glitter text-covered death, and just last Friday News Corp kicked off the sales process to get rid of the ghost town.  Facebook has yet to prove itself as an equal opponent on the music front for consumers. While bands will generally be sharing the same things– tour dates, mp3s, videos, music streams, photos and other updates– the way they’re presented to the final consumer can really change the way that listener feels about the artist. If the fan can’t get the content in a timely, user-friendly way, and if they can’t interact in a genuine way with the artist, they’re likely to just continue along and check out someone new.
I, of course, began my exploration on my favorite website, Hypebot. This article explained how the disappearance of Myspace might actually be a good thing. One of my favorite reasons is as follows:
MySpace quickly got into bed with the majors, partnering with Interscope and selling out to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. They didn’t care about the importance of nurturing a career or promoting good music, they just cared about making money for themselves.
A certain culture of bands also developed in the Myspace era, that led to decreased interpersonal connections and increased dependence on Web plays as a sign of success. For a time, those bands that were out in the community, playing shows and getting involved in the scene didn’t mean as much posting bulletins and adding “friends” did. This article suggests, and I tend to agree, that in the wake of Myspace we might find a rebirth of the DIY culture that original build indie music.

Solutions?

 

Gold Motel's Eric Hehr strums his guitar at their show in Millvale, PA.

Eric Hehr of Gold Motel at a February 2011 show in Millvale, PA. Photo by Amber Wade.

Bandcamp, while certainly less bells and whistles than Myspace, does a great job at helping bands get out there and sell some music. I’ve found myself enjoying being able to go to a band’s Bandcamp page, listening to some jams to see if I like them (they allow for full-track previews), and then possibly buying them right there. The main perk is that you are essentially buying through the band, and the site offers a multitude of file formats for every level of audiophile. The Bandcamp pages can also be integrated into other band sites to give the same ease of sharing within the band’s branded Web space. Bandcamp doesn’t fill the photo sharing, comment leaving void left by Myspace, it does fill the band browsing, track sampling one. Check out empires‘ integrated Bandcamp page or Gold Motel‘s Bandcamp for some good examples.

I had at one time seen promise in Ning as a way for bands to develop community-centered Web spaces to both promote their brand and interact with fans. The best example I could remember was Dave Melillo’s– the acoutic-based singer/songwriter had a pretty solid group of fans on his Ning page when I checked it out about a year ago, but as you can see, his site no longer even exists. It’s possible that it’s due to the fact that he hasn’t been playing many shows or releasing albums lately, or it could be due to decreased participation in the community. As he is still active on Twitter and still frequently posting YouTube performances, I have to wonder if the Ning network just fizzled.

Perhaps, for now, the best way for bands to reach us is to be everywhere. I know personally, I follow a lot of bands on Twitter to keep up on tour dates and album releases, and I “like” my top favorites on Facebook as well to have another way to stay on top of news.

Were you a fan of Myspace when it was the ideal spot for new music? Do you use Bandcamp, Ning, Facebook, Twitter or some other network to keep up with your favorite bands?

Better than ones and zeros.

February 24, 2011
fun's first pressing of "Aim and Ignite" in my record player.

fun.'s first pressing of "Aim and Ignite," one of my favorites in my record collection.

I’ve been waiting to make this post for quite some time! While, as we’ve been getting to know each other, I have sung the praises of many new and innovative online sources for music. I still wholeheartedly believe in these things, but by far, the best trend to happen to music in the past five or so years has been the resurgence of vinyl.

While music purchasing has long been on a downward path, there is one type of music consumption that has weathered this downturn: vinyl.  In fact, 2010 saw a 14% increase in vinyl sales, according to Nielsen and Billboard.  My collection has been growing since my junior year of high school. After snagging the classics from my parents’ collection (David Bowie, Carol King, Elton John), I moved on to eBay hunts and record store trips, picking up all of my favorite albums in vinyl form and hunting for limited edition pressings. To me, the best way for music consumers to build up their new music library is with vinyl.

Why it’s worth it:

Many a music nerd will tell you that the audio quality is better, and I would generally tend to agree. For people totally used to CD quality sound, there is a notable difference. In my humble music nerd opinion, the crackles and pops you get every now and again just add to the experience, and the overall sound tends to feel a bit richer. Another huge benefit of vinyl is getting the full-size album artwork to check out. I can think of few things better than kicking back, throwing the needle down on a good record and sorting through some awesome artwork and liner notes.

"My Beatiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," "Man on the Moon" and "The Fame"-- You can find new pop music on vinyl, too!

It's not just indie bands putting out vinyl these days.

Besides the tactile and auditory bonuses, it’s never been easier to get in to vinyl. Anyone can pick up a fairly good player at major retailers like Target for around $100. Plus, more bands than ever are putting releases out. Though the indie heavy-hitters like Arcade Fire and The Black Keys topped LP sales last year, you can find everything from Ke$ha to Lady Gaga to Kanye and beyond on vinyl.

There are also some very cool companies out there working to get the focus back onto the art of the physical release. One of the most innovative ones out there, in my opinion, is Paper + Plastick. While they do have digital releases, this label has done an amazing job at making sure interesting bands get artwork and album releases that reinforce just how awesome the music is. They even put out heart-shaped vinyl on Valentine’s Day this year. In a recent interview with OurVinyl.com, Vinnie Fiorello, founder of Paper + Plastick, talked a bit about how he decides what kinds of releases are suitable for different bands’ fanbases, which I found very interesting.

How to learn more:

First, find the right stores. Just in the Kent area, there’s Spin More, which carries older titles and some really cool throwbacks, as well as Vinyl Underground, which has a little bit of everything. For a bit more travel, I’d say the best store in the area to check out would be Music Saves, located right by the Beachland Ballroom, or Square Records in Akron. My Mind’s Eye in Lakewood also has a lot of good vinyl titles. These three stores are going to be the best places to find newer releases. They all have fun atmospheres with tons and tons of vinyl. Plus, every time you go, you can feel good about supporting local businesses.

Second, become an expert. If you are in the Cleveland area like I am (or might be visiting), you absolutely have to check out Gotta Groove Records. It is a vinyl pressing plant located in Cleveland, and the company has pressed a lot of really great records. Just having a company like this in the area is beyond awesome, but it turns out its staff is also a really cool group of people. They actually welcome tours, so you can see for yourself how “biscuits” of vinyl, as they call them, are flattened into playable pieces of art. I visited last year with some of my co-workers at the station, and it was literally one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had. Check out Gotta Groove’s info page if you’d like to learn more about them or take a tour.

Who’s with me:

The statistics say people are buying vinyl, but can you really trust the opinion of those random masses? I’ve given you my take, but I also spoke to Mike Smylie, BSR’s program director and self-described occasional vinyl-listener. Check out his take on the vinyl trend below.

So what do you think? Do you listen to vinyl?