The Man From Google Returns

Chris Sacca made a return appearance in Aspen this year.  I’d like to say he was greeted with open arms, but it was clear he felt unexpectedly blindsided.  You see last year, after delineating all the initiatives of the search giant, Chris said he had an open door, er, open e-mail, policy.  This turned out not to be true.  Although Matt Drouin and a couple of other people got through, most queries were rejected.  Marc Reiter proposed a marketing initiative with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  His two e-mails and follow-up phone call languished in the ether, never acknowledged.

Actually, that was a theme at this year’s Aspen Live.  How the big tech companies, even the big MEDIA companies, just don’t get the music business, just don’t understand how heavy and powerful we are.  Shawn Gold, CMO of MySpace (CMO turns out to stand for "Chief Marketing Officer", who knew?) fielded a question from Amy Morrison of AEG Live, wondering why it was so difficult to market tours with MySpace, why the process was so labyrinthian.  She’d tried to make headway, but could get no traction.  Shawn asked Amy what the act was, obviously believing it was some independent developing entity with little traction.  But then Amy blurted out JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE!

The whole room cracked up.

Then there was "CSI"’s creator, Anthony Zuiker, lamenting how difficult it was to deal with the musical community.  He’d made a deal with a household name act to appear on one of his shows, paid them $50,000, but they had ongoing demands and they ended up NOT signing the acting contract, so that CBS was fucked, it affected DVD and other ancillary distribution, the headaches were such that Les Moonves said NO MORE!  Anthony implored us not to ruin it for everybody else, to be friendly, to see TV as a marketing opportunity, not to make so many DEMANDS!

Anthony is a brilliant, passionate, creative soul.  If we had people like him in the record business, we wouldn’t be in trouble.  But when I caught him in the bathroom at Matsuhisa a few hours later, I told him that I LOVED his story of getting screwed by the act, that that was ROCK AND ROLL!  Les Moonves might be HIS boss, but a true rock and roll act has NO BOSS!  CBS is churning out product, but a musical act only has one career, EVERY detail is important.  As for needing to please Les Moonves, a REAL rock act says FUCK YOU!  Who do you think you are, just because you wear a suit and are rich and terrorize employees.  I’M the one with the real power, I’M the one who truly controls mindspace, you should feel PRIVILEGED to be in business with me, to have my image and cred burnish your enterprise.

Yes, years after the Beatles, after the power of music has been indubitably demonstrated, the record business STILL gets no respect.  We’re seen as ELEMENTS of other media properties, not the ESSENCE, not the SOUL!  But that doesn’t mean our shit doesn’t stink, that we’ve always got it right, that those outside the system sometimes don’t have insight that we lack.

Mr. Gold had down the sense of community, the need to brand ONE’S SELF, that we in the music industry just can’t understand.  That our audience wants to use music as a tool of SELF-EXPRESSION, and by holding it back, by restricting rights, we’re only pissing fans off.

And Mr. Zuiker wants to create a Website that decodes music on television.  That not only lists what is played on what show, but provides clickable visual links, so one can see the EXACT USAGE in the episode, so one can drill down and find the EXACT RIGHT SONG!

But the big kahuna was Mr. Sacca.

I was stunned to find out the back story of our interaction last year.  You see he was pissed about what I wrote about him.  I couldn’t understand it, this is the kind of publicity money can’t buy.  But Chris revealed that the day my article appeared was one of the worst of his life.  For hours later, Barry Diller called him and wondered what he MEANT by saying Google was going to take on TicketMaster.

I guess I didn’t know I had that kind of reach.  Made me lighten up in my heart.

And about sixty percent of Chris’ presentation was identical to last year’s.   But the remaining forty percent…WHEW!

You see numbers, unlike promotion men, don’t lie.  With that vast trove of search data, Google can now PREDICT behavior.

Like with the movie studios.  By analyzing search queries, Google discovered it could predict within a week of a film’s release what the movie’s gross would be with approximately eighty percent accuracy!  But the studios said this was not helpful, because by the time this data snapshot was taken, they’d already spent their marketing wad, it was TOO LATE!

So Google went back to the numbers.  And found out, purely based on how often people were searching for a film, that SIX WEEKS OUT they could predict the gross of a movie with EIGHTY TWO PERCENT ACCURACY!

Now maybe you didn’t take statistics in college.  Hell, I certainly didn’t.  But these geeks, this is the shit they know.  How to take a mound of numbers, that make no sense to us, and come out with IMMUTABLE CONCLUSIONS!

Like in the record business.

Turns out search for a record PEAKS upon single release.  Yup, that’s the HIGHEST INTEREST EVER, when the track is first heard.  But as you well know, almost always, YOU CAN’T BUY THE TRACK AT ANY PRICE!  CERTAINLY NOT THE ALBUM!

So interest takes a nosedive.  Yes, in the ensuing four to six weeks, demand caves.  AND EVERYBODY STEALS THE TRACK!

Then, on release date, there’s another bump.  But the quantity of search, although not de minimis, PALES in comparison to the peak when the single came out.  As for the AFTERMATH of the album dropping, well, search drops through the floor.

Chris just didn’t get it.  What was wrong with our business.  Why didn’t they make the product available when there was DEMAND!

Holy shit, I’ve been saying this for years.  That it makes no sense to advertise when you can’t buy a product.  Look at Apple Computer.  When Steve Jobs announces a new iPod, he says it will be available in stores IMMEDIATELY!  And literally everybody rushes from the auditorium to the Apple Store to buy.

But we’ve got to create retail demand.  We’re in cahoots with the big boxes, showing them those CD orders, which we drove down their throats, are REASONABLE, that we can SELL THROUGH!

We want to enter the chart at number one.  To impress the act, our colleagues, the media, OURSELVES, that we’re big swinging dicks, that we’ve got it down, that we’re INDOMITABLE!

We care about everything but money.  Yes, WE’RE LEAVING MONEY ON THE TABLE!

What if a sales arc is long and sustained?  What if we don’t concentrate on one big opening week?  What if we’re interested in careers instead of moments?  THESE are the questions Chris Sacca is asking, THIS is what we’re blind to.

So really, the problem is us.  We’re not doing a good job communicating what we’re selling, and we’re not doing a good job of selling it EITHER!  We live in a private club, where we feel our ways of doing business, honed over DECADES, are the only way to proceed, and that outsiders shouldn’t be let in on our party.

But now outsiders have power.  Utilizing the TOOLS of technology!

Want to know if your act is happening?  If the buzz is building?  If you’ve GOT SOMETHING?

Just buy Google ads.  Yup, the clicks will provide real time research, a SNAPSHOT of what’s going on.

Yes, so many techies are arrogant.  They don’t respect our rules.

But can you blame them?  The way we operate, via antiquated systems, focusing on radio instead of new media?

One of my favorite Sam Kinison routines concerns people starving in Africa.  Sam says not to send them food, but SUITCASES!  That those starving souls SHOULD GO WHERE THE FOOD IS!

Now WE’RE starving.  We don’t want to move from where we’ve always lived.  We want help.  We want the law to protect us.  But that’s a strategy for death.  We’ve got to go where the PEOPLE are!  Where the FOOD IS!  Oh, there’s some low hanging fruit at Top Forty radio and Best Buy, but the REAL action is on that newfangled Internet.  Which is not new if you’re under the age of fifteen, it’s ALWAYS EXISTED!

We’re ignoring our customers.  Their needs, wants and desires.  No wonder this business is in trouble.

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