The Race To Quality

Has turned most musicians into hobbyists.

I feel like I grew up in the dark ages. When getting a record deal was nearly impossible and if you did, especially if you were on Warner Brothers, you got reviews, airplay and consideration. In other words, we cared about novelty acts like Devo and the B-52s. They were sui generis, one of a kind. Now there are dozens of imitators, many good, few superlative.

And there comes the dilemma.

Most in music are myopic. They can see what is in front of them and not much more. They care about their music, which has a modicum of fans, they’re frustrated they can’t reach more, that they can’t make more money, the problem is Spotify or piracy or some other red herring when the truth is in a marketplace overrun with options, everyone races to quality. Or hits. Which may or may not be one and the same, but your best way to achieve a hit is to work with those of quality, which means if you turn down a chance to work with Max Martin, you want to be broke.

I’m not saying there’s not good music out there, but there’s little context. Unless it’s anointed, you may feel like you’re the only fan, and we live in a social world. In the pre-internet era you clung to the fringes to establish your identity, you were anti-hit. Today when you’re on the fringes you might as well be in the asteroid belt beyond Pluto, it’s cold and lonely, and unfulfilling.

But that does not mean people out there don’t yell. There’s a lot of yelling in music, but those who are not musicians, who are not living for it, tune out, and listen to the hits if they listen to anything at all.

That’s the problem in today’s music business, hit establishment, not getting paid. There’s a fiction that if everybody just paid for a subscription harmony would reign.

But look at television. If you’ve got time to watch everything, not only do you have no life, you’re lying. But the barrier to entry in music is so much lower that the tsunami of choice buries most listeners.

So now you know why the business people are so much more powerful than the artists. Because the business people last, and they have the power to make you successful. In the last decade you could have a viral hit, but today that’d be like finding your friend at Lollapalooza without a cellphone, good luck. The acts come and go, the business people remain. Except for a very thin layer of superstars.

So what does this mean?

Don’t expect to get rich making music. Don’t expect to even make a living. Blame the internet, but not piracy, apathy is a bigger problem.

The industry still operates by old rules. Which means get it on the radio. So those on the radio gain traction and everybody else is nearly ignored. Radio not only reaches many, it creates coherence for the listener.

Press is irrelevant unless there’s radio or other attendant success.

Those from my era lament the loss of that which did not hit radio yet was successful. But that was in an era of relative scarcity, you could know all the records, you could make sense of what was going on. But now every week there’s a new number one, many times heretofore unknown by many, which quickly slides off the chart and is replaced by another. It’s like every week there’s a new math, but no one in the industry is trying to make sense of it, for fear of losing out.

We need attention paid to even fewer records.

We need to promote them in areas other than radio.

We must prop up the winners and forget the losers.

Music is not America at large, there is no safety net, no guaranteed lunch. And as soon as we get rid of that fiction, the better off we’ll be.

Close the doors to the music business colleges. Stop reviewing so many records in print. Stop pointing fingers at everybody but yourself.

Either be a part of the problem or part of the solution.

Even better, lead or get out of the way.

P.S. I just listened to Apple Music’s “A-List: Indie” playlist. De Lux’s “LA Threshold” was really good. But unlike a classic radio hit, it didn’t grab me immediately, I had to listen for a while, which doesn’t undercut its quality, but its ability to succeed in an instant satiation, click-away world. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of this act before, who can I talk about it with? And is it so good that I want to hear it again? In this case, yes, but a lot of what was on the same playlist was not.

P.P.S. The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” is probably the best track on the playlist, the Weeknd made it, are you as good as he is? If not, don’t give up your day job.

P.P.P.S. Kacey Musgraves’s “Family Is Family” is positively B-level work, stuff we had time for in the seventies, but not today. That’s what’s confronting not only Ms. Musgraves, but Alabama Shakes and Mumford & Sons, attention is so focused, expectations so high, that if you don’t deliver something just as good as what made your rep…GOOD LUCK!

P.P.P.P.S. Have you ever heard of Bob Moses? Certainly not I. Wasn’t he a basketball player, or a jazzer? But his track “Talk” reminds you of the Beatles testing limits in 1966, only the Beatles were there first, so this is not a brand new sound, but it is very good, but how can it compete in a world where stuff is hyped ad infinitum, like Ms. Musgraves and Jamie xx.

P.P.P.P.P.S. I’ve already forgotten the cutesy track that reminded me of the B-52’s, intelligent and irreverent. Once upon a time we sought out Jonathan Richman because there was no one like him, he was the brave outlier, now there are a zillion Jonathan Richmans, none quite as good, none deserving our attention.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. This is only one of a PLETHORA of playlists on Apple Music. No one can know everything, and the more you listen the more frustrated you get, you gain knowledge but you really just want to retreat to the ten tracks you need to hear, crossing all genres, so you can talk with intelligence, so you can feel plugged in. That’s right, too many music fans are now outsiders.

Television Trumps Digital

Buy this book. IMMEDIATELY!

“Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age”

The first thing I do every morning is check the headlines in the “New York Times” app, to see if the world blew up. I’d like to check the “Wall Street Journal” app but its functionality is essentially zero, it won’t update. What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where America’s number one business news source can’t distribute its own information? One in which everybody’s clueless as to what’s really going on.

It started with “The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson’s book giving hope to all the nobodies that the internet would save them, would finally grant them recognition and an income. Meanwhile, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have been completely ignored.

We were told the internet was gonna eat everything that came before, positively decimate it. What happened to music and then news would chomp up every industry as Google and Facebook got richer, as we all listened to the proclamations of Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page.

But this isn’t true.

Monday I was immediately hooked by a “New York Times” opinion piece entitled

“How Television Won The Internet”

Read it. You can even click away from my diatribe, I’m cool with that. Michael Wolff’s piece delineates what’s going on now. But nobody wants to listen.

Everybody wants to believe we’re in the midst of a revolution. But maybe we’re not! Maybe the prognosticators are invested in the new digital sphere or are truly clueless. Because the reality is the internet has become a vast wasteland of linkbait. Even worse, it does not pay. That’s right, internet advertising rates keep going down, so your only hope is to grow your audience, by making ever blander trainwreck content. It’s a fool’s errand, a death spiral, and we’re in the process of tuning out. Think about it, how many times have you seen the same linkbait about celebrities? But it’s even worse, the ads on this stuff don’t pay dividends, so companies want to cough up even less for it.

But everybody’s paying for television.

Not network. Network was kinda like today’s web. Made for everybody, resonating with nobody, beholden to advertisers. At least before Les Moonves got involved, Les made the cable companies pay for carriage.

Herein this book you have explained the history of cable television as well as the history of the internet. But nobody wants to know it. Because that would mean the world isn’t full of opportunity, that you can’t topple established parties with the click of a mouse. Turns out those who know how to make longform content that soothes and titillates us, that draws us to it, win in the end. The digital content online is just a sideshow.

Kind of like YouTube. Which now wants to be television. They’ve been telling us this for years. First investing in those who don’t know how to make it, losing millions in the process. Now wanting to be involved with the usual suspects. Like Netflix, which produced “House Of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” and…

Netflix is just another cable outlet. An HBO that is streamed. Only the delivery method is new. The rest is basic television.

And you wonder why everybody is getting into production. Because that’s where the eyeballs are, that’s where all the money is.

This book has gotten absolutely no traction because it was written by Michael Wolff. The internet entrepreneur turned advertising guru who left his wife for a young whippersnapper and is hated by everybody. Wolff might have gotten this article in the “Times,” he must know someone, he must be owed a favor, but there’s been a veritable blackout on his treatise.

I was astounded to find out the book was ALREADY OUT!

That’s right, I went directly to Amazon after reading the “Times” piece, once I saw it was written by Wolff knowing there must be a book involved, but in today’s world the hype comes weeks before release. You’re aware if you care. But not with Wolff’s book. At this late date, almost two weeks after publication, the book has TWO REVIEWS on Amazon! That’s like getting your record played on your kid’s internet radio station, worse.

You see life is about clubs. And Wolff ain’t in it. Neither were Zuckerberg or Page, but they are now. They give away money the way the old wave philanthropists tell them, they stow the hoodie, they show up at charity events, and they slowly realize they’ve got to have television. Have you noticed the Facebook leaks about video streaming this week?

But even worse, the more you’re in the club, the more myopic you become. That’s the problem with Apple, it was an enterprise that thought different, run by a renegade who was hard to get along with at best. Tim Cook is warm and fuzzy. Jimmy Iovine is the poster boy for the club. Hell, Apple Music is made for the music industry, not Apple or consumers!

So all innovation comes from renegades. And cable TV was built by renegades. And now its inheritors are reaping the benefit.

Don’t think about cable systems. They’re gonna be fine, they’re the internet pipe so they’re protected.

Don’t think basic cable airing the detritus of networks, although there is money in that, for the producers, especially if the series are hits. But the truth is this content has now moved to the web too. “Seinfeld” on Hulu is no different from “Seinfeld” on basic cable. The TV producers have just found another place to sell and distribute their content!

“Seinfeld” is mass.

“Breaking Bad” is not. But it turns out the future is in niche. I’m not talking tiny niche, like electronic klezmer, I’m just saying by having edges you appeal to an upscale core that appreciates the effort and is willing to pay for it. Teens go to the movies, oldsters stay at home and experience their subscriptions.

Wolff’s book is not a simple read. He tries to go Gladwell but fails. He injects some real life stories but they’re too short and he goes on theorizing. But the content is unreal! Wolff is saying everything you know but cannot put a finger on, that you think no one is paying attention to.

Yes, the internet has become a vast wasteland.

Yes, the internet is a vast sea of political correctness where you must be fearful of faux pas.

Yes, scripted entertainment is fulfilling, the entertainment paragon of our day.

Everybody in entertainment should read this book.

No, everybody in DIGITAL MEDIA should read this book!

We’ve been sold a bill of goods. Remember the dot com era? When everybody was gonna get rich and recessions were a thing of the past?

Well the truth is these internet behemoths are not as revolutionary as you think. Even Apple wants in on TV. Although the producers are wary of ceding territory.

We live in a land of television.

Which is really about story.

Which is really about life.

And that’s what we want.


Some quotes:

“And that, to a great extent, helps answer that inexplicable and frustrating question for digital people as to why television advertising hasn’t followed the American audience to its digital destinations – digital has defined itself as lower-end junk.”

“Digital media wasn’t stealing television’s business; it was entering it.”

“An analyst at the investment bank RBC Capital Markets, David Bank, summed up the dynamic and Google’s quandary in late 2014: an entire week of YouTube is roughly as valuable to major advertisers as a single, first-run episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory.'”

“What seemed clear is that the future of YouTube was not YouTube. It was the established video marketplace.”

“As the value of amateur video sinks, the hope at YouTube, and now, too, at Facebook, is in ‘premium video.'”

“Facebook might now still exist in something of an independent world of its own making, but in a world of exclusivity and of ultimate premium content, leverage is at best divided between producer and and distributor, between buyer and seller, and invariably tipping toward the hit maker.”

“And sports is money – pure and simple, brute and blatant. The appeal of technology is that you don’t need money; you’re offering efficiency and innovation, and profound changes in behavior. Sports goes to the highest bidder.”

“Information and entertainment (i.e., content) had to be cheaper, it had to be more plentiful (i.e., more space and time to fill), and, seeking ever more traffic, it had to appeal to a wider and wider audience.
The methods almost everywhere were aggregation, a modest repurposing of the same material from site to site, user-generated content, a kind of democratized or amateur – and cost free – approach to information and entertainment (similar to one’s sister playing the piano for houseguests in the 1920s), and bulk production, from the truly cynical and valueless, to the recruitment of lots of young people to do the best and fastest they possibly could (at the cheapest price), to the goofiest kind of mass sensibility (the cat videos and much other viral pulp), which would become the main drivers of social media.
It was in this that digital media (or all but the most specialized part of it) became the new wasteland.”

“A moralistic intensity consumes the Internet, lynch mobs pursuing all sorts of political correctness and constant challenges to ideological purity and unrighteous behavior and thought standards and new family values. While television elevates exactly the opposite life view. Its heroes are flawed men and women.”

“Digital media prosecuted all manner of isms and language and thought deviations, constantly trying to expose the hidden malefactors, while television was celebrating, and profiting from, the expansive view that human nature was complex, perverse, ever secretive, and never what it seemed.”

“The peculiar development, full of dramatic irony, is that television, with its more circumscribed audiences making much more active selection and choice, becomes upscale media, and digital, with its mass reach and reflexive actions, becomes the downscale side.”

Apple Music-Day Three

1. It’s about the money.

Never lose sight of this. Apple Music will only be a success if ninety days in, a great proportion of those kicking the tires pay to subscribe. And this is doubtful. Because most people are cheap and the only way you can compete with free is to provide a service you can’t get elsewhere, that is so good people clamor to pay for it. As long as music is free on YouTube, as long as Spotify has a free tier, Apple Music is screwed.

2. All the buzz is about the radio station.

Conversation is about Beats 1, not the on demand streaming service. And this is death for Apple, because Beats 1 may be good for the music industry, it might break records, but it does not generate cash, it does not help Apple’s bottom line. And if you don’t think that’s all Apple cares about, you’ve never sat in on an earnings call, you’ve never been the victim of a Carl Icahn or Daniel Loeb attack.

3. No explanation.

We had a WWDC introduction, but no advertising campaign illustrating what Apple Music is and why we need it. To assume the public knows is to assume they’re aware you can synch tracks to the handset such that no cellular bandwidth costs are involved. Most of the public still doesn’t know what on demand streaming is. It’s dubious whether most of the PRESS knows what on demand streaming is. In the wake of the Apple Music launch, numerous publications have posited the question whether the public needs streaming music, each and every one of these has included Pandora as an option. Yes, you stream Pandora, but Pandora is like the school cafeteria whereas on demand streaming is like a grocery store. Everybody hates the cafeteria, you get limited choice at best and then endless repeats, whereas the supermarket lets you purchase whatever you want. Furthermore, in music, you don’t have to cook it! But you do have to find it.

4. No online tutorial.

You’re on your own, even though you’re paying. What is this, video games?

That’s right, video games come with no instructions, no manual, you’re supposed to figure it out by yourself. Many do, a lot don’t. Which is why video games have a wall around them, you’re either a gamer or you’re not. And profits have been hurt by the move to mobile gaming, which is not only cheaper, but usually less complicated. Apple Music is a maze you can’t get out of, that most people don’t want to get into!

5. Wrong target.

The scuttlebutt is whether Apple will beat Spotify. That’s like asking if the Brewers will beat the Rockies. Only the hardest core will care. So far the story is too inside baseball. Those not already paying attention won’t.

6. Steep learning curve.

If you can use all the elements of Apple Music, you work there.

7. Lack of functionality.

You can’t import Spotify playlists, even though Spotify allowed you to import your iTunes library upon launch. You’ve got to take a big tent approach, you’ve got to satiate the talkers.

Apple Music will win or lose on buzz.

Wait a second, as I established above, it can’t win, it’s gonna close everybody out of their free account after ninety days, what a disaster. But to the degree it wants traction it’s got to get everybody talking about Apple Music, the on demand streaming service, the one people pay for. Hell, the company can’t even leverage the artists! There’s no “I Want My Apple Music” campaign. And, Beats 1 is too cliquey, a club that not only most people feel left out of, but most acts. If you didn’t get an invitation to host a show are you really gonna talk up the service? Fans respond most to acts, but they’re beholden to their wallets.

So we’ve got a worldwide radio station, whoopee! As one online commentator wrote, isn’t that what internet radio is, haven’t we had that for eons? The only difference is we’re supposed to believe in Zane Lowe, and most people have never heard of the dude until just recently.

We live in a customizable world. Apple Music on demand streaming allows this. But it’s not so easy to use and the company is mum on how to use it.

Is this any way to run a business?

Bobo Banned!

I’m sick of Amy Schumer, but I can’t get enough of Bobo.

Can we just see “Trainwreck”? Do we have to endure another three weeks of hype?

Amy Schumer was a less than Whitney Cummings beauty who made it on caustic remarks. She was the girl in your class who you hung with and suddenly wanted to make love to. She was America’s sweetheart.

Then she made a movie with Judd Apatow and we haven’t stopped hearing about it since. Howard Stern interviewed her on Tuesday.

Welcome to America, where we have to endure endless hype for a momentary affair. At least the Super Bowl has commercials to go with the game, they have a longer lasting appeal. But these movies and records? They rarely live up to expectations and they’re gone almost instantly.

Kinda like the Alabama Shakes LP. They put it out and people stopped talking about it.

Will the same fate hit Beats 1? Is it the new We had weeks of notice, building up to a three day frenzy, and now no one is talking about Beats 1 anymore. But at least it’s on every day, maybe it will flourish. That’s the game today, to be in it constantly, to put your head down and do the work.

I know Amy Schumer’s story. How she studied theatre in Maryland, how she switched to comedy in NYC, how she screwed a wrestler and doesn’t get as much sex as we think. She’s repeating it again and again, playing to the deep seats. We early adopters are everything.

That’s right, you can only rely on your core, like Bobo.

Bobo is a retired driving instructor who wears a wig. His IQ is challenged, but he is married, he does have children. He’s Howard Stern’s number one fan, and he got banned.

Did you see that Howard ankled AGT? A worthless show that paid dividends for Mr. Stern. It made him warm and fuzzy for America, showed his soft side, he leveraged his visibility to get A-List guests on his radio program. And the interviews are the nougat that keeps the show newsworthy.

But Bobo and the rest of the Wack Pack are the nuts and bolts that hold it together.

Bobo sold out the show.

That’s right, he made a deal with “General Hospital” to mention the soap opera five times in a phone call. But it was a prank, and he got banned for fifteen shows, until September 21st.

Howard’s only gonna do fifteen shows until September 21st? How am I gonna cope?

Even worse, how’s BOBO gonna cope!

I didn’t think I cared, but I do. Because Bobo lives for the show. And it’s amazing what people will do for fame and money, never mind love.

We all want a piece of the action, we’re all just a breath away from selling out for something better. We live in a giant “Let’s Make A Deal” nation where we want what everybody else has got, why are they living a life so much better than ours?

The torture.

Even better, the bit.

Everybody weighed in on potential judgment. Howard rendered the sentence. Ralph is going to be the probation officer.

And…I thought I didn’t care when I did.

That’s your goal, to get us to care. The content is secondary to the delivery. I’d heard Bobo had been banned for days. But when I heard the evidence just now, when I heard the courtroom drama, when I pondered Bobo’s fate…

I smiled.

And that’s all I’m looking for in this life.

A little connection and a little laughter.