Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Someone gets it.

Or more ranting about Doug Morris, CEO of Universal.

This cNet article makes a bunch of points a little better than I did. Read it here.

In short, while Matt Rosoff won't call Morris a liar for claiming the industry was caught with their pants down on the downloading front and didn't know where to go, I will. As Rosoff points out, UMG had an early (failed) strategy and threw their lot in with Sony's Pressplay. When that didn't work out, they tried to sue the pants off everyone.

How fast they forget.

Now playing: Lionel Hampton - The Lamplighter
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Apparently Abraham Simpson is running UMG.

Hat tip to reader Sean Coon for pointing me in the direction of the Doug Morris Wired interview. Though it just hit today, I feel like I'm about the last person on the fact of the earth to comment on it. Regardless, here's the link and, if you haven't already read it, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Yesterday after I hit post, I was kind of wondering how those excerpts would play out in context. I guess I was just having a hard time wrapping my mind around how anyone running the biggest (I think) of the big four could be so clueless and lacking basic curiosity about technology directly impacting his industry.

Yet the excerpts were a good indicator of the interview. Morris comes off as a cranky old fart who can't accept the fact that the world keeps moving forward and is rapidly leaving him behind. That's all fine and good when you're sitting at home writing letters to the editor complaining about how you can't get a good nickel candy bar anymore and how they should bring back Matlock, but Morris is the CEO of a major multi-national. This is someone who's job is to be on top of the new, not ignoring or cursing it.

Now I will say this for Morris. At least he is a music guy. He's been in the business since the 60s. But you'd think for someone with that many years under his belt, he'd have noticed how technology is intrinsically tied to the recording industry. He's seen the LP, cassette, 8-track, quadraphonic sound and a few others come and go. You'd think if some schmoo...err...schmo who has never worked in the industry and wasn't even born until 1975 can figure out that each advancement in technology has affected the way people purchase and listen to music, someone with decades of experience might be able to see it too.

Isn't that what they're paying this guy to do?

I'm not a business major, but I always though the CEO was supposed to be the man, the brains of the operation. According to the article Morris seems to think "his job should simply be finding and breaking new acts." I thought that was the responsibility of the A&R folks. You may remember them, these are the folks that UMG laid off in huge numbers over the past ten years.

Artist's rendition of UMG CEO Doug Morris

I know this is the head slappingly obvious thing to say here, but the the problem with the music industry isn't college students illegally downloading music. It's the fact that the industry is run by dinosaurs like Doug Morris. These people don't just "not get it", they have no interest in ever getting it. They don't seem to understand that while they could throw their weight around in the past and were successful in forcing their will on consumers, those days are long since past.

And this is what I think is the central thing here. It's ego, plain and simple. These people are used to being right. They're used to being important. When they talk, people listen.

But the "digital music revolution" changed all that. Consumers didn't have to accept the format, pricing or album structures anymore. Digital files made these things obsolete. And considering the industry killed the single, forced the CD on everyone and continued to bump the prices (and profit margins) upward, there was a budding consumer backlash just waiting for the moment to do an end run around the Doug Morrises of the world.

Because this was something that didn't need them, they tried to ignore it. Because this was something they couldn't control, they tried to legislate it. Because this was something that would fundamentally change the nature of their business, they wanted it to be gone. So now you have a situation where the industry is trying to play catch up, but I think it's already far too late.

And Morris, you think Steve Jobs is the enemy? Sorry man, Jobs should be your best friend as he's about the only person doing anything right at the moment. You could have had your own Steve Jobs, Mr. Morris. Tech guys were literally everywhere in the mid-90s. Lest we forget, Napster was cooked up in a dorm room. If you couldn't figure out what was real and what was bullshit, shouldn't you have found someone who could? Don't you have people under you who you can trust?

Instead, we get to watch UMG and anyone else wanting to topple the Apple juggernaut throw their lot in with Total Music or whatever ridiculousness they will throw at the wall next. Sure, the subscription based music rental thing was tired before and failed, but, gosh darn it, this time the technologically ignorant Doug Morris is behind it, so I just know it's going to be different. (Side note, Memo to Morris: if it doesn't work with an iPod, it's going to fail. Period.)

Really, I don't know what else to say except I hope the shareholders of UMG take a long look at this interview. The captain of your ship doesn't have a map, wouldn't know how to read one even if he could find one and wouldn't know where to look for one, if he cared to, which he doesn't. And he seems to think he should be in the ballroom coordinating the evening's entertainment instead of navigating through all these icebergs.

Good luck and good riddance Mr. Morris.

Now playing: Amsterdam Funk - Turn
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you want an excellent example of why the major labels are tanking hard...

here's yet another reason why.

I really can't wait to read that whole Wired article. Those excerpts would almost be sad, if they weren't so infuriatingly hilarious.

You mean to tell me you're running a multi-million dollar multi-national company and you are so far out of touch with the outside world that you didn't even know where to start looking for someone who could explain current technology to you?!? Give me a break! If these are the people running the show, I say good riddance once and for all to the recording industry as it existed.

I like this line: "There's no one in the record industry that's a technologist." Horseshit! Who do you think invented the long playing microgroove record? The 45? Stereophonic sound? These were all things that came from RCA and CBS, two of the major labels. Granted, RCA was also a consumer electronics firm but ALL the major labels grew out of electronics firms. The entire recording industry developed because people needed records to play on their Victrolas and what have you and it only made sense for the hardware people to make the software.

Now, in this day only one of the big four is still directly tied to an electronics company. But it wasn't so long ago when the majors were divided in to two camps giving a (weak) push behind SACD and DVD-Audio. What was that?! Granted, no one really seemed to know what to do with it, but Sony and WMG were both big on one format or the other.

The difference between hi-res audio and the on-line MP3 thing is hi-res audio by definition would require people to buy their old recordings again. You can't rip your old CDs at a higher rate and get better sound (or 5.1 mixes.) From the get go, there were clear profits to be made.

With on-line stuff, the profits aren't so clear. And you can rip your current music collection to get it on an iPod. SACD and DVD-Audio were really more of the old way of doing things while the MP3 world would require a paradigm shift. Small wonder that during the time the labels should have been trying to figure out this newfangled iPod thing, they were trying to recreate the CD with those new formats.

Don't get me wrong. I like SACD and DVD-Audio. The stuff sounds great. But, it didn't take a genius to see even then that people were moving away from sitting at home and listening to music in a formal listening room type set up (which would be necessary for a 5.1 mix boasted by the hi-res formats) to MP3 players and that is where you should sink your time and resources.

Could it be any more apparent that the idiots running these companies just thought they could ignore this stuff and it would go away? I mean, how do you run one of the biggest record labels in the world and not at least have some understanding, some curiosity even, about this new technology that is threatening to eat your lunch?

The only sad thing about this is, when the industry collapses, it's going to fall on the backs of the artists. All of these suckers at the top who made the bonehead decisions will get their golden parachutes and will float straight into other companies they can ruin. When it comes to the actual musicians who make the music that these people have bungled selling, who car really say what's going to happen to them.

Still, I don't think the end of it all can come fast enough. Really, people this stupid don't deserve to be head burger flipper at McDonald's, let alone running huge corporations.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yet another example of how the industry doesn't get it.

Jermaine Dupri on Jay-Z's decision not to sell his new album on iTunes because of their singles based business model:

Here's the money quote:

"...Back in the day when people were excited about a record coming out we'd put out a single to get the ball going and if we sold a lot of singles that was an indication we'd sell a lot of albums. But we'd cut the single off a few weeks before the album came out to get people to wait and let the excitement build. When I put out Kris Kross we did that. We sold two million singles, then we stopped. Eventually we sold eight million albums!"

And I would say that is an excellent example of the kind of industry crap that has led to the present situation. Honestly, would anyone (aside from Mr. Dupri) argue the Kriss Kross album needed to be heard in it's entirety? Most people probably wanted the single and I'd wager it was probably the only track worth hearing.

People bought the album because they single wasn't available. And guess what? That album clogged used bins for most of the 90s because people didn't really want it. Don't you think that maybe forcing consumers to shell out for a full priced mediocre album when all they wanted was the single might have something to do with the resentment people have towards the industry?

Dupri wants to accuse Steve Jobs of ruining "the artist's canvas" but give me a break. Jobs didn't invent the single. Hell, until the mid-50s the recording industry was nothing but singles. And, until everyone decided to kill them off and force albums on the consumers, the single was still a valid way of purchasing music into the 90s. (In the UK, one could argue it never really died as they still seem to love their singles.)

Furthermore, I'd say being part of the movement that took away singles in favor of flaccid full lengths, probably has more to do with the current situation than Apple. If I recall correctly, most people I knew who were trading music on Napster back in the day before the iPod, were trading radio singles because that's all people wanted and you couldn't just get the singles any other way.

Back to the article, I have to add it's completely appropriate that Dupri would mention Soulja Boi preceding that Kriss Kross quote above. The problem is, Dupri, the executive, doesn't see that he's comparing one hit wonders that people only want a single from. He thinks they should have forced the Soulja Boi album on people like they did with Kriss Kross. Does he really think, in this day and age, 4 million singles would have translated to 4 million albums?

Dupri, you can try to frame this as artists vs. business men, but the reality is you keep tipping your hand and showing this is really business men vs. the consumer. The 90s are over. They aren't coming back. Music fans aren't going to stand for being forced to buy a full priced album when all they need is a track or two and you have two choices. You can either make that happen legally or your customers will turn to other means to get what they want.

Oh and next time you want to make a point, any point, about "artists," you'll make a much better case if you keep names like Kriss Kross and Soulja Boi as far away from your thesis as possible.

Now playing: Brad Mehldau - Paranoid Android
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vistalites 2.0

Vistalites 2.0
Originally uploaded by CaptainWrong

Here's the latest variation on the red/amber Vistas. The Ludwig mount was nothing but garbage, so I went with DW hardware. Much more expensive, but rock solid. I'm not sure how I feel about the toms being off to the side.

Just got the 18" floor tom today and I'm a bit disappointed with it, as I feel the auction over sold the condition a bit. Such is eBay, I guess.

Considering adding a red 14" tom for purely aesthetic reasons. Yes, this kit is getting ridiculously big.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking Inside the AudioLunchbox

OK, I promised I'd get back around to the mp3 sites, and here we are. I feel a little more confident talking about AudioLunchbox now as I'm into my fourth month with the service, but I have to admit, I don't know how much longer I'm going to stay there.

First off, like eMusic, AudioLunchbox (which I'm going to refer to as ALBX for the rest of this bit) offers DRM free mp3s files at about 192kbp VBR encoding. Once upon a time, I believe ALBX offered Ogg Vorbis files, but they no longer do. ALBX is also a subscription based service and the cost is a little cheaper than eMusic. You can also purchase music ala carte at 99 cents a track for most things, if you wish.

Now, they pricing gets a little weird here. One thing ALBX does that I really like is they don't charge more than 10 credits for an album. So, if you're downloading something like this Stravinsky album I downloaded and it has 23 some odd tracks, it only cost me 10. That's kind of nice.

On the flip side, ALBX has some labels on a variable price scheme whereas Matador releases (to name one) are four times the credits of everyone else! So a Guided By Voices album would run you 40 credits even if there were only a dozen tracks.

Interestingly enough, ALBX still has Epitaph releases (though there haven't been any updates in a while) and they are still at the one credit a song/ten and album rate. I'm kind of surprised by this, considering they just left eMusic over wanting a higher rate. It'll be interesting to see how much longer their catalog stays at ALBX or if they go to the higher rate.

This brings me to the biggest problem I have with ALBX. If you can't find anything to download at eMusic, don't even bother with ALBX as their catalog is even smaller and features even fewer large indies. Like I mentioned, there is Matador (at the higher rate) and Epitaph, but even then, the releases tend to be older and they haven't added anything new in a while.

Unlike eMusic which is constantly adding labels and albums, ALBX's catalog seems to be pretty stagnant. And it's kind of hard to put a finger on who I could recommend this site's selection too as it's kind of all over the map. Plus, most of what I've downloaded from ALBX, I could have gotten at eMusic.

The other problem I have with ALBX is their site is nearly a nightmare to use. The navigation is slow and awkward. Searching for an artist will sometimes reveal albums that might not show up the next time you look. Not to mention, I've had the unfortunate experience of trying to download an album that isn't actually available but hasn't been pruned from the catalog yet.

I will say, ALBX's customer service has been really responsive and quite generous with issuing credits for problems, but I've had to contact ALBX's customer service more times in my three or four months with them than I have eMusic's in my nearly two years using that service. They are good about setting things right, but too many of the issues shouldn't have happened in the first place.

I really don't feel I can recommend ALBX. It seems to be kind of direction less and just hanging on. In the end, that's really the impression I get from the site. It's like a store you go in and just can't understand how they're still keeping the lights on. With a better site and better selection, I'd be quite a fan, but as it stands, I'd suggest if you want to check it out, do a monthly subscription rather than buying an annual package.

Now playing: The Great Jazz Trio - My Funny Valentine
via FoxyTunes