Music vs The Music Industry

Interesting piece from the BBC, courtesy of Herdmeister:

The music industry say that they can’t develop new acts. Well, I’m not sure we need them to. “Developing new acts” often means “finding acts that sound like someone else that’s broken through.” Maybe not if you’re Bella Union, but most labels aren’t Bella.

The main reason we don’t need their help is because recording has become so cheap. We’ve never needed label help to define a sound – not really. The only help we’ve needed is recording dollars. Because recording used to mean going through a half a million dollars’ worth of equipment.

But the current vogue for music that sounds basic – Fleet Foxes included – reduces the requirements for recording. At home I have a set up worth a few hundred quid. That plus a laptop, and I can basically record an album which would be of releasable quality. (I may not have the talent to use it, but then there are a lot of people out there who do, and who are hungry for work.)

In fact, that right there is the real problem. What the current vogue for downloading IS doing is harming the prospects of good quality producers. Studios have been shutting down at a scary rate. Those that remain are offering recording space, with engineers, for hugely reduced rates.

So don’t spare a tear for labels that don’t think they can develop new acts. But do worry about the livelihood of the producers, and the studios – the people that really do create new sounds.

Brand Bravery

It’s annoying, isn’t it, when agencies bang on to clients about being “braver”. In my experience, clients react quite badly when you imply the reason they’re not buying your game-changing creative idea is their cowardice. Rather than their good sense, for example, or unwillingness to gamble millions of pounds’ worth of revenue.

But here’s a reason brands should be brave: peacocks.

If you’re interested in evolutionary theory, some of the most fascinating bits are the condundrums, like how eyes have evolved when half an eye wouldn’t work, or why we grieve after death.

And one of the stupidest conundrums in the animal kingdom, from a Darwinist perspective, is the peacock’s tail.

It’s big. It’s cumbersome. It offers no survival advantage at all, and lots of costs: easy for predators to spot, hard to keep clean (I imagine), and not easy to run with.

But the “peacock theory” suggests its stupidity is exactly why it’s evolved. If you’re a peacock, and you’ve managed to survive this long with a great big pointless tail, you must be (forgive me) quite some cock.

In other words, stupid displays of bravery make you attractive, because they show others that you’re strong.

I think that kind of bravery is quite interesting from a brand point of view.

If brands take certain visible risks, it can be a good thing. When Google visibly try, and fail, with new products, it says they care more about innovation than cost control – a powerful statement of their values.

When Apple bring out a product with no visible market, it says “we understand human interaction better than humans”.

When Henry Ford said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse, he’s telling everyone from shareholders to history writers that he doesn’t need focus groups, because he’s a visionary.

When pretty much any brand does something “offensive”, it says it’s certain enough of its appeal among a certain group that it doesn’t have to worry about pleasing the masses.

Bravery implies strength. But it has to be bravery about the right things.

Risking people’s lives, or your ideals is not good. Cavalier pharma companies aren’t strong and admirable, they’re just cavalier and dangerous. But risking your own personal safety, or your own bottom line, is fine.

So brands should be brave. But they should be brave selectively, in a way that’s driven by principle. They should appear to play maverick with their cash flow. They should try stuff that’s well-intentioned but might not work. Then talk about it. They should prototype publicly.

And maybe agencies should try taking some risks too. Rather than asking our clients to buy “braver” work, maybe we should bet on it financially. That’s a far more credible idea of bravery than the one we usually mean…


Recently our CD wrote a script when he was drunk.

I read it when I was sober, and it was brilliant. Beautifully written (and he’s an art director), it had a natural, organic flow to it that just seemed to work.

The idea was only ok, though. That was the bit we had to think more about when we were sober.

Which made me think: does our instinctive mind work better when we’re pissed?

Clearly our conscious mind doesn’t. Reaction times suffer. We make worse decisions in many ways.

But what about the part of our brain that makes connections? Writes poems? Has ideas?

Are we more creative when we’re pissed? Or less creative? Is there some kind of ideal oscillation between drunken execution and sober organisation?

And if so, can we start having free wine in agencies, please?

Content Graphs

Interesting article on the future of information distribution online:

Broadly, it adds a third model to the two “intelligent” ones we already have, so you end up with:

1. search – you say what you want, we find it

2. social graph – your friends suggest info you might like

3. content graph – relying on trusted content hubs to provide info

Given newspapers are all fighting for survival, and trying to figure out how to make online business work, it will be interesting to see whether there’s any future in this. Or more specifically, whether there’s any financial future in this…


Here’s a slightly more robust-sounding expression of the idea that companies should think about value beyond the tangible stuff:

It’s an idea echoed by Adair Turner recently in Prospect magazine, who think the outgoing head of the FSA should be chancellor for his attacks on the “social uselessness” of banks.

The problem both these ideas highlight is a kind of tyranny we have in society today. The tyrant isn’t a person, it’s a single measure: GDP, or growth. Both of these are supposed to bundle up somehow everything that could possibly matter into one number. And provided it’s heading north (in the case of GDP), or in double digits (in the case of growth), everything’s rosy.

What I like about these ideas – apart from the fact that they suggest specific ways the world might be a better place – is that they challenge this single-measure tyranny. Nothing can be a proxy for everything. Over-simplification means things get lost – sometimes, really important things, like happiness or the integrity of community support systems or certain job markets.

We could probably all learn something from the idea that single measures are too blunt.

(Cough *AI* cough.)

Connecting People With Wisdom

Sometimes questions can be even more inspiring than ideas. A great example comes from the New Scientist, which basically asks, how do we prevent old people becoming a cost, and make them a source of social income?

Or to put it another way, and partly answer the question in the process, how can we help connect people with wisdom?

What a great way of thinking about the ageing society: as an opportunity, not a problem. And an opportunity which dovetails nicely with the massively accelerating ways we have for sharing pretty much anything: photos, information, recommendations…


Filesharing: Grr

Well, this is fun.

Fun, but annoying as hell.

So superficially, the argument that filesharing is killing music is similar to the doomed claim made by the British Phonographic Institute in the 1980’s that “home taping is killing music”.

But really, it’s nothing like it.

Home taping still required an original somewhere. Someone had to know someone fairly nearby who’d bought a copy. Swapping happened physically – you had to be nearby to get hold of a tape. And degredation across generations of taped copies would just be too bad to deal with after a while.

Now, a digital copy is a perfect copy. You can copy an mp3 a million times and it won’t download. You can do it from anywhere.

So I’d say the anti-filesharing lobby has an awful lot more to worry about this time around. As demonstrated amply by the fact that sales of recorded music are falling off a cliff.

I almost look forward to the time when bandwidth improvements allow this to start happening with films and games as well – with a commensurate drop in investment and quality.

Then maybe people will start to take the problem of endless, lossless copying of copyrighted material seriously.