Thursday, June 7, 2012

Quality Is A Moving Target

Today I read a good article by Stephen Carmichael on Music Think Tank called "How Google And Search Engine Optimization Changed The Music Industry." In it he puts forth the premise that search engine optimization has changed music because it emphasizes good SEO technique as a means for high search ranking, which in turn means that "quality music" usually takes a backseat to what happens to be currently popular.

One of the examples he shows is how Rebecca Black's viral hit video/song "Friday" still ranks highly on a innocent search of the word "friday." If you were living in a cave last year, "Friday" became a huge hit mostly because it was so bad that you had to experience it at least once. Unless, you were a 13 year-old girl. Then you probably thought it ranked right up there with Justin Bieber in the pantheon of greatest music of all time.

And that's the problem when we try to define "quality music" (or quality anything for that matter). As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Skrillex's music might be nirvana if you're into EDM, but it might be the depths of audio hell if you're into Nirvana the band. And likewise if you're a big dixieland fan or marching band fan, or classical music fan, or hip-hop fan....... you get the point.

In fact, Frank Sinatra is regarded as one of the greatest singers and musical icons by most of the world (take a look at this footage of Ol' Blue Eyes in the studio), but I had a very knowledgeable and well-thought-of music professor from a major university write me about his poor technique and phrasing and how it crushes him that the masses over-rate him so. Quality is a moving target.

That's one of the reasons that I try to never make blanket statements like "This is bad," "This is good," or "This is mediocre" when doing the weekly song analysis on my Big Picture production blog. What I consider good or bad is probably exactly the opposite of someone out there, and who am I to say that they're wrong?

Music is something that you can't touch, but it can touch you. It's all about how it speaks to you and makes you feel. It might be a hook, an arrangement, a melody or lyric that has that special spark that only you hear, even if the rest of the world doesn't. It's your special connection that takes you to another dimension that maybe only you can get to, and only from one particular song. Who is any one else to dare comment on that connection?

That's why it's so important for an artist to keep searching for an audience, because regardless of what kind of music your doing and your proficiency level, your audience is out there. It may be just a dozen people, but they're waiting for you to find them. The music you make will be really important to them, even if the rest of the world doesn't get it.

Making a hit is really, really hard, even for the best hit makers. When a song becomes a "hit" (meaning that some group of people immensely dig it), it's happened for a reason. There's magic that's involved that should at least be appreciated, even if you can't get your arms around it. Any music that touches the heart of another is special. The smartest in our business know enough to learn from that and apply it to their own work. Because in the end, music quality is a moving target. Hitting the bulls eye is the tough part.
You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Has EDM Peaked?

Electronic Dance Music image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
Every trend in music has the same trajectory, be it big band, rock n' roll, folk, British invasion, grunge, hip-hop, and now it appears, EDM (electronic dance music). The trend usually follows a path that goes like this:

1. The movement starts out small locally and grows by word of mouth via a small tribe of ardent supporters.
2. As the trend spreads, it picks up more and more followers from city to city and country to country, yet still stays under the radar of the masses as it continues to bubble with excitement.
3. The trend hits critical mass and breaks out with a huge world-wide hit or a breakout artist.
4. At that point every record label scrambles to get in on the act, signing artists of a lesser caliber in the same genre. Professional songwriters begin to adapt their styles to employ the latest trend and are sent to co-write with trend wanna-be's by the record labels and artist management. The music world looks for hits, not art, so it can cash in.
5. The once exciting latest-thing becomes a watered down homogenized version of it's former self, but lives on in the media as the hottest thing for a few years, as the early torch-carriers become slowly demoralized and leave the scene.
6. The trend never really dies, but it diminishes in importance and visibility as it's replaced with something newer and fresher.

Anything sound familiar here? Aren't we up to #5 with EDM?

EDM has been the biggest scene/trend that no one knew about (except those millions of insiders) for the longest time. When a DJ can get 50 to 100,000 people to pack a stadium and hardly cause a ripple in the news, that's still pretty underground. But it doesn't take long until the big money catches on and things change, and that's what's happening in EDM today.

Take a listen to the top songs in just about any pop chart and you'll find products of the EDM trend. David Guetta, Nicki Manaj, Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull, the list goes on but the music unfortunately doesn't get any better as we get contrived songs created for the masses.

As I always say, art is something you do for yourself, a craft is what you do for everyone else. We are now in the craft stage of EDM.

Today we see an article a day on EDM in mainstream media like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, major promoters like Michael Cohl and Bob Sillerman getting involved because they see big bucks they think they can make, major labels on the prowl for new EDM talent at the recent EDMbiz conference, and the rest of the music world trying to catch up to a trend that's already passed them by. See what I mean?

I hate to say it, but it's all downhill from here. EDM will continue to grow for a few more years, but its most vibrant, creative time is probably now behind it.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How To Connect With Video Influencers

It's always about relationships, whether in our every day lives or online. We can't get ahead in life or business unless we cultivate those friendships, and that goes for promotion as well. But how to you pitch someone who has more influence that you without either coming off as needy or as spam?

Here's an interesting video from Tim Schmoyer at that shows you one of the best ways to connect with a video influencer (or any influencer for that matter) to build a relationship.

If you don't have the time to watch it, Tim's 6 tips are simple:

1. Become engaged in other creators blogs and videos
2. Be genuine
3. Start with your niche
4. Collaborate with others at your level
5. Give a glowing review
6. Invest the time.

Watch the video as Tim explains in depth.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Monday, June 4, 2012

7 Points About The Future Of Facebook

Facebook f's image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 music industry blog
It's been a couple of weeks since the Facebook IPO, and we can all see a little more clearly what happened and maybe get a hint to where the social network might be going. Here are some thoughts that I have on the network as it currently stands, and what the future may hold for it.

As you'll see, there are 6 points, some good and some not so good. Let's begin.

1. Facebook still has room for growth. It's at 900 million users now, but that doesn't include much of Asia. In fact, most of the countries where Facebook has its greatest penetration (like the United States) are only around 50%, while India, Japan and Russia still are less than 5%. This is one reason why investors were somewhat bullish on the service, because no matter how big it is now, odds are that it will get bigger soon.

2. Facebook is a force. It gets 9% of all online visits in the US, according to Experian Hitwise. It's users are extremely engaged (the average user spends 20 minutes per visit). It could make money from revenue streams not yet in place, like the new phone, selling data on its users, monetizing storage or photos. It may seem like a one trick poney at the moment with advertising, but it doesn't have to be.

3. Kids aren't using it anymore. There's lots of empirical evidence that the current generation of teenagers (ages 13 to 17) don't find FB cool anymore. In fact, the largest growth (in the US anyway) seems to be in the over-45 demographic. Most teens are looking to Google+ (so they can keep their conversations within their Circles) or Tumblr instead. How can a network be cool if your parents are using it? This is a long term problem that FB faces as it loses the next generation of users.

4. They haven't figured out mobile yet. While FB has been able to make some real dough through advertising, it admittedly hasn't been successful at all on a mobile platform yet. You may not feel it, but the world is moving to mobile (especially outside of the US where bandwidth is higher and cheaper), and while the days of the the laptop may never come to an end, we'll soon be using our phones for much more than we ever envisioned. Unless FB can find a way to monetize mobile, it again has a long-term problem.

5. Facebook's advertising model is shaky. Major advertisers are beginning to question the value of FB ads. Of course, GM made headlines right before the IPO when it announced it was pulling its ad budget from FB, but other advertisers are looking to do the same (check out this article in Forbes from the ad buyer from American Apparel). It seems that the ads as they now run are very ineffective. Let's face it; do you ever in bother to look at any of the ads? This is a major problem for FB, and it's more current to medium term.

6. People don't like Timeline. Facebook hasn't been good with updates and it seems that every one raises the ire of more people than it pleases. Timeline has been universally panned, and as it becomes standard on FB, look for more people to check out social alternatives as a result, and never come back.

7. But they have $16 billion to make purchases with. This is the saving grace for FB. Say what you will about the IPO, but Facebook made out just fine, wringing every last cent out of the market instead of the middlemen getting it. With that much cash on hand, they can buy and develop other profit centers even if the current onces fold. But Microsoft, Yahoo and Google also had huge mounds of money and their acquisitions didn't amount to much, so the track records of public internet companies isn't that good. Still it does give Facebook a fighting chance if everything else goes wrong.

Did I or would I invest in Facebook? Hell, no! At least with Apple you had a genius, with Microsoft you had a monopoly and with Google you had a forerunner with massive momentum. I see none of that with Facebook. But don't count them out. That $16 bil in the bank is one formidable tool.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

5 Ways To Turn Fans Into Superfans

Wrist Band Merch image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
There are a number of lists available for developing fans, increasing fan engagement, and taking casual fans to the next level of superfan or "tribe" (in master marketer Seth Godin parlance), but a post from merch packager United Manufacturing has some good ones that I've not seen before.

You can read the entire list on the UM site, but I've singled out the ones that I really like below:
1. Always have cheap merch handy as a free giveaway. Stickers, patches, guitar picks, necklaces, wristbands are all less than a buck but reap a lot of goodwill. 
2. Share some dark secrets on your blog. Fans can relate when things get tough, and if the post is done well, it can quickly increase their goodwill with you. As a good example, check out Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward's site where he outlines his pain at not being able to do the upcoming tour because of some "unpleasant" contract negotiations. 
3. Conduct a live webcast with the fans. There's nothing better than a live shoutout to your fans, especially when they can give you a shoutout right back. 
4. Showcase fans in your music videos. What better way to make fans a part of your tribe than to feature them in a video. 
5. Post photos of their gifts to you on your website and social networks. Fans are always sending gifts to the artist they love. Show your appreciation right back by featuring photos of those gifts, or reprinting their emails, on your site, blog, and social network feeds.
There are a lot more tips that you can read in the original article, but the ones above that I singled out you don't often see on many lists, and they can be the most effective of all.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.


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