Jazz Odyssey

Syd Schwartz's Blog

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Pushing the Envelope: Eric Felton Has It Wrong About Umphrey’s McGee

January 9th, 2014 · No Comments

In his January 8th Wall Street Journal column, writer Eric Felten takes Umphrey’s McGee’s Headphones & Snowcones initiative to the mattresses, criticizing it for contributing to an environment of “isolationism” in a concert environment, creating an “anti-social” atmosphere out of a historically social cultural experience, and even leveraging technology as a pathway to elitism. Tackling these one-by-one with rebuttals would only give credibility that these points are well-considered enough to be worthy of argument in the first place. Not that I’m dismissing Mr. Felten’s right to leverage criticism (if you’re not pissing people off, you’re not pushing the envelope enough) but if you read his entire column it’s pretty clear that Mr. Felten seems to have issues with the intersection of personal technology as a part of the live concert experience and this is where his “get off my lawn you damn kids” expression of these issues causes him to miss the point.

Umphrey’s McGee have always had a “fans first” approach. Whether it be live shows, music releases, merch or responding to fan banter on Twitter, the band and crew aspire to up their game and offer compelling music experiences. Over time–like most smart artists–they’ve come to learn that there is no “one size fits all” experience that will satisfy everyone. Different types of fans want different kinds of experiences. Some come to dance. Some come to hang out with friends. Some come to party. Lots come for reasons of their own. And some come to try and take in EVERY note and follow every nuance of every jam and REALLY LISTEN. Why shouldn’t those fans be offered an opportunity to enhance their listening experience and in what way is that contributing to a “lesser” concert experience for all concerned? Why not leverage technology to create a new way for them to increase their enjoyment of the show? Isolationism, anti-social atmospheres and the collapse of concert going as we know it seem to be unlikely consequences from an innovation that–to date–has sold out at EVERY show where it has been offered and received universal praise from fans who’ve tried it. Seems to me that if Umphrey’s strategic business decisions are pleasing fans and irritating the music press establishment, they’re probably doing something right.

Finally, to Mr. Felten’s issue with usage of cellphones at concerts…this has been kicked around for years as a fan behavior that some artists loathe and some have learned to live with. Given that the likelihood of getting fans to cease the usage of phones at shows is pretty low, smart artists will learn how to incorporate it into the marketing mix. Some artists have set up photo galleries, feeds, specific hashtags and other ways that allow fan created concert photos/videos to become a part of the concert experience. Umphrey’s have gone a step further with the S2 and UMBowl, with fan polling and voting via cellphone an essential part of driving the show. I found it amusing as we were setting up before UMBowl IV that articles were flying through my newsfeed with artists complaining about the “distraction” of cell phone usage at shows, and here I was laying out power strips at the Park West because Umphrey’s wanted to make sure fans were able to get a charge and not worry about running out of juice mid-show.

Umphrey’s knows how to turn a seeming disadvantage to an advantage…perhaps Mr. Felten would come join UM one evening and see for himself how misguided his concerns are. Because in a fans first world, innovation is the name of the game and whether its music or tech, Umphrey’s likes to push the envelope.

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The Human Factor: Why the Spotify Blue Note App Rocks

September 30th, 2012 · No Comments

The other day I tweeted about the awesomeness of the new Blue Note app that @walterisgross and his team at EMI developed for Spotify. It’s really well-considered on all fronts, from aesthetics to usability. It’s also a delight for jazz aficionados while at the same time providing an array of entry points for the jazz newbie. This is VERY impressive. Here’s why…

If you know any jazz fiends, you know that their knowledge of musicians, recordings, sessions and sub-genres seems almost endless. And their opinions can be rather…opinionated ;) This means intriguing them, keeping them engaged and satisfied requires not only an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter, but also an understanding of the hierarchy of all those elements and the different ways jazz fans will interconnect them. But the app also needs to satisfy the newcomer to jazz without intimidating them. This makes for a tricky balancing act…given the amount of material available and the wide variety of opinions and options available to the jazz newbie, it can be OVERWHELMING to figure out where to start in building even a basic jazz library. And once you’ve found some jazz that you like, where do you go from there?

Now, plenty of jazz-curious folks would be happy with the Miles Davis or John Coltrane “Best of” collection they pick up on impulse while on line at Starbucks or as an iTunes compilation, and stick with their iTunes/Amazon recommendations for further exploration. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the digital landscape is filled with those types of collaborative filtering and algorithmically based recommendation solutions, and they all feel mechanical. For the most part, the last thing people want to feel about music is mechanical. Music is about emotion.

Which brings me back to why this Blue Note Spotify app is so unique. It’s not the technology. It’s the human factor. It’s the fact that EMI’s lead developer for this project–Walter Gross–is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate jazz fans I’ve ever known. And it is that passion combined with that knowledge that permeates every aspect of the app and makes it feel more personal. More special. Like every recommendation and discovery within the app is coming from someone who really WANTS you to have a great jazz experience. Someone who knows what a jazz neophyte might find daunting and what they will likely find compelling…someone who knows what an jazz snob will want to dive into for a deeper look. Someone who can put themselves into the mindset of a fan at several different levels and come up with the content, experience and interface that will satisfy on all of them. This is hard work, and in this case superbly executed. More apps of this quality on Spotify will give it a leg up on the competition.

Will there be an automated way of creating this type of experience someday with a combination of algorithms, crowd-sourcing, and social networking recommendations? Perhaps. It would be really cool. But I think labels, tech companies and app developers might be better adding a few more music hounds to their Ruby or Objective-C teams to build out their music apps, services and platforms. Because that human factor can create a digital music discovery and consumption experience that’s truly superior.

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AT&T Data Plans & Apple’s Cloud Computing

June 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

In case you missed it, AT&T announced some changes to their unlimited data plans for iPhone/iPad/other smartphone users. In short, the “unlimited” plan is being replaced by a tiered system that will provide a discount for light data users and challenge heavier users to curb their bandwidth habit or risk paying some overages. AT&T claims that by offering a lower cost-of-entry for data plans, they can grow their smartphone business significantly. They also claim that “only” 2% of their customers are using more than 2 gig per month which is now the top tier data plan (and $5 less per month than the current unlimited plan). Not surprisingly, consumers are crying foul across the whineosphere (Twitter, blog comments and pretty much anywhere that consumers are allowed to post their feelings), and some in the press are predicting that this is a major flub by AT&T that will only benefit Verizon & Sprint who will be poised to steal customers with more attractive plans.

Nothing really shocking here in terms of reaction to the announcement, but I find the timing curious. Rumors have been swirling for months that Apple, having acquired LaLa and then shut it down while building a huge data center in North Carolina, is preparing to launch a cloud-based entertainment initiative. Further rumors suggest that this initiative may be announced by Steve Jobs next week at the WWDC.

Now, rumors about Apple announcements aren’t exactly rare and part of Apple’s special marketing sauce is getting the press, the blogosphere and consumers chatting about what surprises are in store well ahead of their events. But given that it appears that any surprises around next generation iPhone hardware have already been revealed, one might think that Apple has additional surprises up its sleeve. When AT&T made their announcement about the pricing changes in their data plans, I thought perhaps this meant we might not hear about an “iTunes in the cloud” type of service from Apple next week. After all, what good is the promise of unlimited access to your content if the 3G pipes you use when away from WiFi (like when driving) are not unlimited? But then I got to thinking…when they announced the iPad, the hype around the device (it does have “wow!” factor) and the controversy around it (plenty of people still claiming that its an overpriced, oversized iPod touch that has little practical use) overshadowed the totally groundbreaking and unique offering made from AT&T–a month-to-month data plan without a contract. Is it possible that new ground will be broken once again, and data usage for iCloud accounts won’t count against AT&T monthly data allotments? Given that audio and video access comprise the majority of big data usage, if that becomes gratis by signing up with an Apple/AT&T ecosystem, that could be a pretty strong selling point. This combined with a rumored refresh of AppleTV (perhaps a hybrid device that combines MacMini computer with AppleTV functionality) and Apple could become the most powerful force behind entertainment in the living room, on mobile handsets and tablets. And imagine a scenario where the superb Pandora radio service becomes a part of that ecosystem…a lot of other companies out there would be playing catch-up.

Again, no hard facts in play here, so I’m as guilty as the others of rumor and speculation. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough…I know I’ll be following the action next week.

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Dell’s Approach to Twitter

January 7th, 2010 · No Comments

Seems pretty obvious when you read this, but its pretty clear that a LOT of companies don’t take this approach…and the same rules could easily apply to artists.

Want to Make Money on Twitter? Take a Look at How Dell Does It : Technology :: American Express OPEN Forum

→ No CommentsTags: Music (Business) · Online Music Marketing

Trent Reznor on Concert Ticketing

March 17th, 2009 · No Comments

Mad props to Mr. Reznor for a well-considered explanation to his fans regarding concert ticket pricing, availability and scalping/reselling.

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Augmented Reality: More Like Harry Potter Than Star Trek

March 9th, 2009 · No Comments

I’ve seen two examples of “augmented reality” today, this article about Topps baseball cards in the NYTimes, and the solar/wind power site that GE has set up. There are some other examples in this YouTube video:

YouTube Preview Image

Really neat stuff though it will need to quickly move past the novelty factor to have staying power as a marketing tool. Certainly Topps is making good use of it to differentiate their brand of sports cards at a time when their business has suffered an ~80% decline since its peak days. From a music industry perspective, there are clear possibilities for liner notes, as well as potential for download cards and other physical printed media associated with live and recorded music. If the technology has the capacity for full-on UGC or capability for at least some degree of user customization, there could be some cool community and even social networking opportunities.

Definitely a technology worth watching.

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Words of Wisdom from Neil Young

March 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

A guest blog post from Neil on Hypebot is a really good read this morning. Inspirational paragraph:

Today’s web world has created a new way. Artists today can go directly to the people. There is nothing standing between the artists and their audience. Freedom of expression reigns. People today feel that they should be able to get all the music and art that they want, from the artists who they appreciate. When that conduit is broken, the connection is weakened.

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FORTUNE: Neil Young takes on the iPod

July 24th, 2008 · No Comments

FORTUNE: Techland Neil Young takes on the iPod «: “‘Apple has taken a detour down the convenience highway,’ Young told the Brainstorm audience after taking the stage for an interview with Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey. ‘Quality has taken a complete backseat – if it even gets in the car at all.’”

The sound quality of iTunes downloads is what prevents me from being a regular iTunes customer…they just don’t sound very good. I certainly like the convenience of iTunes, but I’m not ready to do much iTunes buying until they offer a lossless option.

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It’s American Brandstand – Marketers Underwrite Performers – NYTimes.com

July 7th, 2008 · No Comments

At a time when online file-sharing is rampant, record stores are closing and consumers are buying singles instead of albums, getting into the music business might seem like running into a burning building. But as record labels struggle to adjust to a harsh new digital reality, other companies are stepping up their involvement in music, going far beyond standard endorsement contracts and the use of songs in commercials.

It’s American Brandstand – Marketers Underwrite Performers

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Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice

June 5th, 2008 · No Comments

A blog post on the New York Times website leads to a study done by the University of Washington regarding DMCA takedown notices.  Here is an excerpt from the overview:

Although the implications of being accused of copyright infringement are significant, very little is known about the methods used by enforcement agencies to detect it, particularly in P2P networks. We have conducted the first scientific, experimental study of monitoring and copyright enforcement on P2P networks and have made several discoveries which we find surprising.

  • Practically any Internet user can be framed for copyright infringement today. By profiling copyright enforcement in the popular BitTorrent file sharing system, we were able to generate hundreds of real DMCA takedown notices for computers at the University of Washington that never downloaded nor shared any content whatsoever. Further, we were able to remotely generate complaints for nonsense devices including several printers and a (non-NAT) wireless access point. Our results demonstrate several simple techniques that a malicious user could use to frame arbitrary network endpoints.
  • Even without being explicitly framed, innocent users may still receive complaints. Because of the inconclusive techniques used to identify infringing BitTorrent users, users may receive DMCA complaints even if they have not been explicitly framed by a malicious user and even if they have never used P2P software!
  • Software packages designed to preserve the privacy of P2P users are not completely effective. To avoid DMCA complaints today, many privacy conscious users employ IP blacklisting software designed to avoid communication with monitoring and enforcement agencies. We find that this software often fails to identify many likely monitoring agents, but we also discover that these agents exhibit characteristics that make distinguishing them straightforward.

Tracking the Trackers–Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice

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Ian Rogers Advice to Guy Hands

May 27th, 2008 · No Comments

Ian Rogers posted his advice to Guy Hands at his blog and it makes for some very interesting reading. His core premise:

“With the disappearance of advantaged label competencies such as superior production, distribution, and marketing, reconfigure your labels to be based around affinities and focused narrowly enough to serve roughly the same audiences from release to release. The labels would be very small teams responsible for fan cultivation, focused and direct marketing, and A&R. They would rely on EMI for service, support, and tools (generic marketing would happen on the EMI mothership, for example).”

Ian, as many of you may know, was head of Yahoo Music for the last couple of years before leaving to head up a new top secret music project called Topspin. Ian is also one of the smartest digital music guys out there, and his comments are insightful and worth a moment to consider. His comments deserve better commentary than this quick blog post, but two things stand out in my mind based on what Ian has said here.

First of all, Ian has had an impressive career in music and has spent a lot of time looking at the business from the perspective of artist, label and digital music expert. This alone gives him instant cred, but Ian’s true cred comes from his musical DNA–Ian has always approached things from the perspective of music fan. This is a mindset that many executives in the music business (particularly at major labels) have lost touch with and a reconnection is critical if recorded music is to survive. Secondly, and more directly to Ian’s point, the notion of serving audiences “from release to release” is troublesome to major music companies–they are not structured to handle that. An artist out of an album cycle generally does not have a project manager, budget or resources allocated to maintain the connection between artist and fan. Most of the readers of this blog are in the industry, and many have had the experience of sitting in a marketing meeting to discuss the setup of an artists’ new album and heard the question asked, “How are we going to reconnect with the artists’ fanbase?”. Ian has eloquently stated what I’ve been asking for years….”Why did we lose touch with them in the first place?”

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New Research Report from Pew on Internet and Consumer Choice

May 21st, 2008 · No Comments

Pew has just published a new study on consumer purchasing habit,s and the impact of the Internet as well as traditional media on their decision making. Clearly, the digital arena continues to grow in importance but it is only one part of the media mix, and carries different weight among different consumer groups.

Click here to see the questionnaire and here to read the results of the study.

→ No CommentsTags: Music (Business) · Online Music Marketing

Expanding the Last.fm Experience

May 5th, 2008 · No Comments

If you are a last.fm fanatic, here’s a great site that will waste hours of your time as you see all the cool things that last.fm can do with the help of its user community. From social networking applications to desktop apps, there’s something here for all but the most casual last.fm user, and even the more casual users will be entertained by the various graphing, mapping and other visualizations of your listening habits compared to those of your friends.

Now…will someone please write a FLAC player for Mac with built-in scrobbling and tagging capabilities?

Build Last.fm: Extend your Last.fm experience

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The Blanket License Debate

March 13th, 2008 · No Comments

Ahead of the actual discussion led by Jim Griffin at SXSW Friday, Wired has posted and overview of a notion that has been whispered about in the hallowed halls of the major labels for years…a fee imposed on ISPs that provided end users with an “all you can eat” music service. Read Music Industry Proposes a Piracy Surcharge on ISPs for additional details, but the idea is pretty basic. All ISPs would put a fixed amount (for example, $5 per month per subscriber) into a pool, and that pool is then divided up between the various rights-holders (performers, songwriters, labels and publishers). An independent third party would be responsible for dividing the pie according “popularity”.

I’ve been a proponent of figuring out the details on such a model since the early days of Napster, but such a notion was blasphemous back then and is only starting to gain some interest now that its clear the toothpaste can’t easily be put back into the tube.

There are unquestionably a multitude of issues that would need to be worked out…would this require Federal regulation of ISPs in the U.S.? What is are the global impacts and requirements? What technology would be agreed upon to determine the exact content of the traded bits & bytes? What privacy issues would arise from the implementation of such technology? What about the technology itself? What are the development and deployment costs? What about advertising and marketing plans/committments in a world where “street date” ends up being whichever day the music leaks? And what about the enormous hurdle of getting all of those stake-holders to agree on the raw dollars, the allocations, the methodologies and a manageable audit pathway?

These questions are just a handful that represent the tip of the iceberg. And while plenty of folks at the labels that I’ve discussed this with have balked, myself and plenty of others believe that resources put into figuring this out will prove to be well allocated, and with the right solution will more than outweigh the current resources being put into anti-piracy (both technology due diligence and legal fees). In fact, should this become a reality it only makes it easier for many new music business models to gain traction. But make no mistake about it…the notion sounds interesting but the necessary legwork and underlying platform are enormous tasks to undertake, and likely years before they could be reasonably implemented.

Feasible? Folly? What do YOU think?

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Obama vs Clinton–A Web Marketing Lesson for the Majors

March 6th, 2008 · No Comments

This article from Fortune/CNNMoney.com about who is using digital marketing more effectively for campaigning should be discussed at every major label marketing meeting.  The entire article is worthwhile, but this particular Q&A exchange between Fortune and Publicis CIO Rishad Tobaccowala hits the bullseye.  The major labels have historically taken a more Clinton-esque approach despite public and press outcry to approach the web in a more Obama-like fashion.  That said, in both the election and the fate of the majors its unclear if an “Obama digital strategy” will secure a win…but I believe it will.

Why else is it better to be the digital candidate in ’08?

Well, think about it for a minute. Unlike Obama, she’s used traditional media almost entirely, like her town meeting on the Hallmark Channel. She got maybe 250,000 viewers. But the Black Eyed Peas made this great music video about Obama. It gets almost a million views a day online. The Obama campaign quickly realized how powerful it was and ran it on their home page.So part of their ability is to figure out from the blogosphere or via crowdsourcing, whatever you want to call it, what works and begin using it. A lot of the Obama campaign messages are not their own but they point to and highlight stuff created by others. It’s created by the crowds.In fact with over a million donors contributing, they position the entire campaign as one owned by the people. That’s what makes it so authentic. While both teams spin stuff, Clinton’s team tends to be rather unsubtle in their use of spin and attack and this really does not work as well these days.

Why not?

It’s so much harder to control the message with the Internet so widely used now. The spin comes back to bite you. I think the Clinton staff haven’t really understood. Every time they try to spin stuff, they look like jokers.For instance, after every state they lose they say it does not matter. Online there are jokes and parodies about this including calling it “Mark Penn’s Insult 40 states strategy.” Think of it this way. Traditional media is based on command and control. But the digital world is all about grassroots. Traditional media is about authority. Digital is about authenticity. You can see it in the language they use. Obama uses the language of “we and you,” which is inclusive and nods to the wisdom of the crowds. She uses “I and me.” His stuff is about “yes, you can.” Which is about the buyer. She talks about “experience from day one.” That’s about the seller. That doesn’t resonate anymore.One key thing you recognize from everything from MySpace to the blogosphere is that people want to have a voice. We keep talking in my business about how the buyer is in control. Her campaign believes the seller is in control. That’s why it’s better to be digital. That doesn’t mean you knock out analog. Obama still relies very heavily on traditional media, too.

Obama’s Web marketing triumph – Mar. 3, 2008

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Last.fm Helps SXSW Music Fans Find The Sounds They Crave

March 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

From Mashable: “The Web-based social music service of great renown has assembled a nifty thing dubbed the SXSW Group page, where site members can nab themselves their very own “Band Aid.” What’s a Band Aid? Simple. A list of bands whose SXSW shows you might be interested to catch while down in Texas. The names are all culled from that algorithmic montage that is your music preference data set.”

Last.fm Helps SXSW Music Fans Find The Sounds They Crave

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Publishers vs Online Music Stores: Fighting For Scraps

February 15th, 2008 · No Comments

The ever astute Paul Resnikoff offers his viewpoint on the brewing battle between publishers and digital music provider MusicNet. This is a perspective worthy of consideration. Back in the early 90s when I was in the wholesale end of the music business, it seemed like the CD price wars at retail and the razor-thin margins we were all working on were only making one business wealthy–the trucking companies. Fast forward to the present, and one can’t help but wonder if the only people we’re making rich are the lawyers…

Resnikoff’s Parting Shot: Fighting For Scraps — Digital Music News: “Now, publishers and online music stores are bickering over royalties, and how many pennies should be paid for the usage of on-demand digital songs. They’re throwing lawsuits, crying foul, and lobbying copyright judges for favorable percentages.

But percentages of what? Freely-obtained music – from protocols like P2P and BitTorrent – account for more than 95 percent of all digitally-acquired music – at least. And iTunes controls the paid market that remains, leaving everyone else – including MediaNet-powered properties – in the fringes.

Is that worth a protracted royalty fight, one that drains resources into legal fees, endless proceedings, and business protection strategies? Especially at the expense of expansion initiatives, alternative licensing concepts, and the creation of broader, progressive publishing licenses for digital formats?

And by the way…if you’re not subscribing to Digital Music News, you’re missing out.

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R.E.M. Releases New Videos Under Open Source License

February 14th, 2008 · No Comments

R.E.M. Releases New Videos Under Open Source License : “R.E.M. today released 11 videos for the first song from their forthcoming album, all in MP4 format in HD and under an open source license. ‘Supernatural Serious,’ is the first single from the band’s next album, ‘Accelerate,’ due to be released April 1st.

(Via ReadWriteWeb .)

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When Pirates Get it Right…Perhaps We Should Pay Attention?

February 11th, 2008 · No Comments

While similar to countless similar rants of years past (clueless record industry should provide better digital offerings and value to consumers), I have to give this one a lot of credit for pointing out the value of “convenience services and marketing”. Sure…there are always folks for whom “free” will be the prime motivator, but there are also plenty for whom speed, convenience, and a friction-free experience has a value worth paying for. High quality audio, properly tagged content….sometimes its just paying attention to the details and understanding the wide variety of ways in which consumers want to acquire and enjoy that content that can make the difference in where a consumer thinks to go for their download. In the meantime, take a moment to read this:

Wanna Beat Piracy? You Have to Do Better Than Them!: “One important thing here that the entertainment industry doesn’t understand, is how piracy works. Piracy works very, very well. The albums and videos and movies come quickly; they’re thoroughly checked by the community, they’re well organized, they have standards of quality, and they’re free. To beat that, you need to offer content that’s just as fast, just as good, just as organized, and then give something extra to compensate for the ‘free’ part: higher quality bitrates, extra digital content, extra physical content (shirts, concert tickets, coupons). You can’t miss out any of these elements because your content will ultimately be worse than the stuff on Mininova or The Pirate Bay.”

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Web 3.0: Is It About Personalization? – ReadWriteWeb

February 6th, 2008 · No Comments

Web 3.0: Is It About Personalization?: “On the UK’s Guardian newspaper site today, writer Jemina Kiss suggested that Web 3.0 will be about recommendation. ‘If web 2.0 could be summarized as interaction, web 3.0 must be about recommendation and personalization,’ she wrote. Using Last.fm and Facebook’s Beacon as an example, Kiss painted a picture of a web where personalized recommendation services can feed us information on new music, new products, and where to eat. It’s a marketers dream…

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