Transmission-1

Is Terry McBride a visionary or just another manager looking for a buck?

Terry McBride must have the same DNA as Steve Jobs.  Because when you listen to them, it’s hard to find the holes, they seem to have it all figured out, you nod your head in agreement.  But are you just swept up in the reality distortion field?

Terry says an act is a brand, and you can’t limit your thinking to discs, you’ve got to expand into all revenue platforms, you’ve got to give the people what they want, how they want it.  And he’s waxing rhapsodic until this dude sitting next to me whom I’ve referred to as a scumbag, Bill Nguyen, of lala.com, raises his hand and says Terry’s wrong, it’s just not SCALABLE!

Now Bill is trying to sell CDs, maybe he’s got a vested interest, but then he starts going all tech and you begin to think this small man wearing white Crocs has a very large brain.

You see WE come from sitting in front of the stereo, mesmerized by records.  We’re trying to figure out the new world from OUR perspective.  But there are a bunch of people who grew up in a different world, who were addicted to bits and bytes, who DIG music, but it’s not their PASSION.

Bill’s already been to the mountaintop and back.  He’s built a company and cashed out.  It’s about taking venture capital money and finding a business model that WORKS, that can deliver enough revenue to make the whole operation profitable.  And is niche the future?  Or does mainstream have its place?  I’ll argue the latter.

Too much has been made of the long tail.  It’s become the mantra of wannabes who could never get traction and newly-enlightened executives.  Whereas a study of the data will tell you that anybody can have a blog, and sometimes everybody seems to, but it’s far under a hundred that get the vast, vast majority of traffic.  What makes one think it’s gonna be any different in MUSIC??

Terry said he turned down a multimillion dollar re-up for the Barenaked Ladies.  Rather than signing with a major label, they decided to go their own way.  Instead of taking the four mil for a new deal, they put out a Christmas album and made THREE million.  Sounds FANTASTIC, certainly if you’re into dollars.  But do you know anybody who’s GOT this record?  Does it have any TRACTION?  Do you just want to make money and stay home and count it, or put on your jersey, run out on the field and play?

Terry told me he figured the label could at best break a radio single.  But what were the odds?  Wouldn’t it be better to give up a chance at that success and play for fifty percent?  Sure, it makes sense, but he gave up ever having another hit.  And do the BNL die a slow death, never adding to their fan base?

It’s COMPLICATED!  And the concept of this conference is we’re gonna figure it out.  That’s bullshit.  But it IS interesting to hear what everybody has to say.

You see it’s small meetings.  Eight people and a facilitator.  And at my first group/panel, we had a guy from Rogers, the communications company.  He said Terry’s ideas were all well and good but there wasn’t enough BANDWIDTH to let everybody demand what they wanted when they wanted.

Curiously, Nic Harcourt thought radio was dying a slow death.  Even though he’s a king in that field.  I believe it’s about filters.  He’s the ULTIMATE, he lasts FOREVER!

The head of Sony Connect talked about how fucked up his company was.  How they had a hundred different digital devices and only TWENTY used Sony’s proprietary DRM.  But he had one of their very cool e-Book readers that he passed around.  It does 50,000 pages before it needs a charge.  I thought the screen was a bit dark, but he said you could read it as easily as a newspaper on an airplane.  I felt if this wasn’t the future, the future wasn’t very far away.

Then you had the indie label head who talked about extras for discs, that’s what they wanted in Japan.

And the head of Arts & Crafts, who said sometimes you’ve got to give it away in order to build a fanbase for the live shows.

Then, I coaxed a response out of the ACCOUNTANT, who works for Price Waterhouse Coopers.  He was reluctant, but it is was HIS words that made sense.  It’s about the right service at the right price.  That the music business model is broken.  Labels got away with dictating price for eons because you couldn’t get the product any other way.  But now that you can, the structure has to change.

And everybody agreed that subscription is the future, but WHEN??  And do you own ANYTHING?  After all, Rhapsody’s pretty damn good TODAY and it only has a million subscribers.  But then the Sony guy said the technology was lacking, and the guy from the Orchard agreed and the Rogers guy said it was a pain in the ass for a kid to play a song fifteen times in a row on Rhapsody, like Terry’s daughter did with a track he brought home.

With this data, Terry decided THAT track would be the new single.  Not that he told the act how he came to his decision.

And Terry’s going on about selling tens of thousands of Brand New CDs without ANY radio or TV.  It’s the enabled 98,000 virtual street teamers who are moving the record.

But then he laid out the marketing plan for Sarah McLachlan’s Christmas album.  Releasing it in October, four weeks earlier than holiday discs were usually dropped.  And not ramping up the marketing until the seven week window within such records sell was reached, meaning the album entered LOW DOWN the chart and then went UP!

Then again, Starbucks sold the vast majority of CDs.  They put it next to the cash register in exchange for Sarah playing Howard Schultz’s charity event in the Hamptons.

But if the disc is dead…  And major labels are history…

Well, Terry said SoundScan wasn’t an accurate measurement tool of success.  And in Canada, where Sarah’s record was released independently, she being out of her major label deal, they sold THREE TIMES as many.  Well, I believe that was proportionately, after all, Canada’s a smaller market.  Do you need a major to penetrate the U.S?  Then again, you can make a direct deal with Starbucks, you don’t need a label.  Then again, would Starbucks have made the deal if Cllve Davis couldn’t push the button on marketing/advertising?

And Terry says you’ve got to collapse the copyrights, so you own ALL of the intellectual property.  But what about that old entertainment business axiom, you’ve got to GIVE a little to GET a little, if not a LOT!  Sure, if you own all the rights it’s easier to license, but is that outweighed by having the big guy market your records?

Then Terry told me to wait for the new Avril album.  He had a whole cell phone plan.  He was going to tell a STORY on mobiles.  And I thought just give me some music I want to play.  I don’t really care about marketing.  Give me a band who hasn’t whored itself out to Madison Avenue, one just speaking to me.  If you’re good enough, cream will rise to the top, like in the blog readership example above.  It wasn’t traditional marketing, but WORD OF MOUTH that made those blogs king, that made the old records king and can crown new ones in the digital age.  I believe niches are important, but mainstream still counts.  Maybe not watered-down, but ubiquitous nonetheless.  We all need something to rally around, otherwise we live in a Tower of Babel society.  Do you have to sell out to make it?

You tell me.

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