Blogging: One Month In—A Retrospective

Today marks one month since I started blogging every day, and man has it been a long month. Though long doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and in the last few weeks I’ve found myself able to talk about a number of topics that might not have occurred to me otherwise. True, a lot of my posts have been on topics like music and tech that I continually follow, but the desire to write every day has enabled me to streamline my thoughts into a more digestible format.

In the last month, I’ve discussed numerous things in the music and tech space, including:

Yet I’ve found myself able to write about things that otherwise would seem unimportant, had I not had a goal to write every day. I’m not sure writing posts on writer’s block, on singing, art, and on concepts of passion would ever have occurred to me without the goal to produce new material:

Perhaps the most intriguing thing that’s happened though is how my desire to write has only become more engrained in me. I’ve always been a writer—essays, journalism, poetry, and research papers always came fairly easily to me, and even provided a sense of enjoyment most times. But now my writing has taken on a whole new dynamic in my life.

In fact, it mirrors what artists tell me when I ask why they choose the tough path of day jobs and long nights on the road: “I do it because just like I wake up every morning and need to breathe, I need to play music.” And that’s how writing is to me now. I wake up ever morning and need to breathe, and then I need to write.

The Typhoon Keeps Coming for Tidal

It’s not been an easy couple of weeks for new music service Tidal. A slew of bad press and criticism during and immediately after the service’s launch is continuing to be a thorn in the side of the company’s leadership. So much so that a major restructuring was just announced; things aren’t about to get easier any time soon.

I was first a little skeptical of Tidal during its much-hyped launch, then again when it enjoyed a spate of criticism from mainstream band Mumford & Sons, and most recently when producer Steve Albini piled on to the already bruised service. Things have just been really bad for Tidal since it emerged in the last few weeks. Now it seems that the service itself is intent on rubbing salt in its own wounds.

Business Insider broke the news today (as did other sources like Digital Music News) that Tidal was being strongly shaken up; 25+ people on the Tidal team were being fired to make room for a new direction. Of these, the name that surely drew the most attention was And Chen, the now-former CEO of the service. Maybe it’s just me, but firing your CEO just a couple weeks after your very public launch seems to say a lot about a company’s fortunes, at least in the short-term.

Former Tidal CEO, Andy Chen

Former Tidal CEO, Andy Chen

Chen’s removal will make room for Tidal’s former CEO Peter Tonstad (who was the former CEO of Tidal’s parent company Aspiro Group). In an statement to BI, Tidal commented on the impending change:

TIDAL’s new interim [sic] CEO is Peter Tonstad—a former CEO of parent company Aspiro Group. He has a better understanding of the industry and a clear vision for how the company is looking to change the status quo.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but did Tidal just admit that their now-former CEO—Chen—was basically unqualified for the job? Because that’s essentially what I heard. After all the fanfare that Tidal inundated the press with around its launch, I thought for sure that they at least had a concrete plan to try and accomplish their goals. As critical as I was at the time, I at last figured that their leadership had sufficient experience and vision to make the Tidal brand somewhat competitive for a little while. Clearly that’s not the case.

I was critical of Tidal before because I thought (still think) that they’re attempting to sell a product (service) that essentially is very expensive and not wanted by enough people to offset the expenses to provide it. I was critical because the artists who I saw standing up on stage during the launch don’t need any more money in their pockets, and it came across to me as greed.

Now I’m critical of them because changing your CEO and firing 25+ employees ~20 days after your very public launch is not a good way to start the spring. It shows both a lack of preparation for your business market, and frankly a lack of appreciation for your prospective audience and their thoughts. Actually, you come off as socially tone-deaf.

We’ll see how this progresses, but I must say, I am really not impressed with Tidal’s handling of this entire situation. This is not the way to build trust in an industry that is basically overrun with distrust, and filled with people who are used to getting taken advantage of. This is not a good start; not a good start at all.

Tidal’s Choppy Waves Keep Rolling

The choppy waves keep on coming for Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal, as today it was hit again with another round of criticism. I myself outlined my thoughts on the Tidal service first in a post when it launched, and then again in a questioning follow-up post earlier this week. This time, though, the critique comes not from disgruntled music streaming fans or competitive services, but from Steve Albini.

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Tidal logo

Tidal logo

For those unfamiliar with Albini, he cut his teeth in the mainstream spotlight producing albums for artists like Pixies and Nirvana, and has become an outspoken critic of many of the streaming services in the last decade. A criticism from Albini can’t be as easily dismissed as it might otherwise be particularly because he has both the industry experience and insider knowledge to call those in the industry on their bullshit.

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Steve Albini; Photo courtesy: Jordi Vidal, 2014

Steve Albini; Photo courtesy: Jordi Vidal, 2014

Albini has been critical of the mainstream music machine even before Kurt Cobain’s death, jumping into the mainstream music business debate in 1993 with his piece entitled The Problem With Music. He’s done the math and lived out many of the results, and so when Albini takes aim at your service, you better realize that other people in the music community will take notice (even if the mainstream isn’t).

In an interview with Vulture.com, Albini used phrases like “little streaming fiefdoms” and the “budget version of Pono” when referring to Tidal. While the latter comment is a critique on the mainstream listener’s ability (or even care) to distinguish between lossless quality and normal mp3 audio quality, the former is almost a little more telling. “Little streaming fiefdoms” is pretty telling in and of itself; it’s dismissive of what Jay Z and company say Tidal is (and purportedly will be), instead asserting that the service is yet another little city-state vying for validation in the greater streaming landscape.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this particular thought process is what it means for the dynamic of the current landscape; as Albini (and others) become increasingly critical of services that act like little principalities, the traditional walled-garden approach to music seems to be under siege. And there are those of us who rejoice in that. The walled-garden concept works well in numerous areas of tech and business—it’s great for security, healthcare, and finance. But it is not good for media, and music specifically.

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Criticisms of Tidal on Buzzfeed the day after its launch

Criticisms of Tidal on Buzzfeed the day after its launch

Music is freedom, and needs to be treated as such. To constrain music to the dynamics of a walled-garden system is to take away so much of the actual discovery and freedom that is associated with it in its purest form (though many would argue that there’s still plenty of “discovery” to be had). Regardless of this fact though, it remains an important fact to note that people of Albini’s caliber are taking aim at people like Jay Z and services like Tidal.

One might even argue that they—whether they intend to or not—are clearing the path for new music services yet to be launched. Only time will tell in that regard. For me though, this does not go unnoticed. Anyone interested in the future of the music industry would do well to keep these criticisms catalogued and fresh in mind. It’s precisely by graphing these grievances that we will begin to see how the future of the music industry will unfold.

Lending Artists Millions of Dollars Is a Terrible Idea

The Setup

This morning, Peter Kafka posted an article on a new company seeking to make its name in the evolving music industry: Alignment Artist Capital. The company, according to Kafka’s piece, wants to essentially work as a lending institution for artists who need the money. Except instead of doling out a couple hundred bucks here and there, it will have the resources to lend millions at a time.

money_bags

A Completely Outdated Business Model

This, for anyone who didn’t already think so by this sentence, is a terrible idea. It’s a rehashing of the same dynamic the record labels have had with artists for decades, sans the ownership percentages over artists’ creative material. Kafka is aware of this as well, noting that, “Alignment isn’t the first entity to advance money to artists…lending money to musicians is one of the core functions of music labels.” [1] That’s very true; lending money to musicians is one of the core functions of a music (record) label, and it’s one of the main reasons their obsolete business model is failing them now.

Don’t be discouraged, though. There’s still plenty of money to be made in the music industry. In fact, it’s on an upswing. But not in the major label space, or using any of the traditional business models of those labels. The new upswing is with the independents—that’s where I would lay my chips.

With all the tools now cheaply (or freely) available to budding new artists, the traditional artist/record label model doesn’t apply anymore (something which Kafka notes as well as “harder to justify”). The reality of the situation is that most artists can get the basic things that they need—access to distribution, access to recording equipment and programs, access to merchandising platforms, access to producers/promoters, etc.—without signing away anything. That begs the question of why they would choose to take a monetary loan if they can do most (if not all) of the necessary things themselves.

New Artists Don’t Need Millions (of Dollars)

And there’s something else: funding an artist (band or solo) like a startup is indeed a unique idea—but a misguided one. Artists don’t need millions of dollars out of the gate to be successful in today’s market(s). The sums of money are too large to apply to most of the new artists who might be interested in taking it, precisely because the economics don’t work in their favor; it’s highly unlikely that throwing a million dollars on your fire will create a lasting fanbase for you. Core fanbases are made on the road, sleeping on couches, driving crappy vans, connecting with your real fans—all things that can be done without a multi-million dollar loan on your shoulders.

In the startup world, there’s a delicate balance between taking VC money you know you’ll need to survive (to the next round), and not taking so much that you end up diluting yourself beyond reason. The same principle holds true here: the concept that new artists should take millions at a time is analogous to a startup raising a Series B when they only need a Seed investment of possibly a quarter of that.

Why Incur Debt You Don’t Need?

AAC cofounder James Diener is quoted in the article saying “We’ll give the artist and their entity financing so they can go build a record label.” That’s like giving someone financing so they can go invest in a line of new and improved floppy disks—i.e. obsolete and irrelevant. The fact that this seems to be one of the main drives behind AAC’s plan tells me that they are still mentally tied to the old model of the record label, only now they’ve decided to cut their prospective losses by dealing only with the financial side (and not the creative one).

Based on my years in the independent music arena, I see these sorts of monetary entities as having a very difficult time breaking into the independent spheres—essentially where they need to be in order to really thrive. Buying streaming services, record labels, summer homes—these are things most artists don’t care about and don’t think about. I suppose a few do, but the numbers of those people are well below anything you can build a real solid business model on. The Jay Z’s of the world are astronomically outnumbered by the independents who are on the rise, now with distribution at their fingertips.

I wrote last week that artists are becoming savvier business people, and I can see them steering clear of these sorts of institutions at all costs. They understand that injecting millions of dollars into their brand image doesn’t buy them fans—that’s a belief propagated by the major label industry. Rather, they know it has to be done by way of live shows, personal attention, and appreciation of core fans; all things which can be done on their own, and without incurring debt (remember my article on crowdfunding?). I suppose there will be some customers of course, but I don’t see this ever catching fire in the independent industry. And that’s the next growth phase of music.

So why would artists incur massive debt if they do’t have to??

I wouldn’t.

Would you?

 

Notes


[1] Notice here that Kafka used the term “music labels.” I have a friend who used to work for Warner Music who explained this phenomenon to me. The reason that the term “music” has replaced the word “record” is because the major labels have become so bloated with an obsolete business model, they need to start making money off of revenue streams that they traditionally never touched: live ticket sales and merchandise sales. Traditionally, their main revenue streams were from record (or CD) sales, hence the term “record label.” Yet in the wake of the massive disruption of their business model, they have taken to calling themselves “music labels” in order to explain their practice of now taking money from revenue streams traditionally left for the artists.

Tidal Is Really Just a Ripple in a Larger Ocean

The Basic Background

Yesterday, Jay Z and company relaunched Tidal, the new music streaming company that they’re convinced is “the future of music.” After a $50+M purchase of Tidal (in the form of Aspiro) last year, Jay Z has been bending our ears with how the rerelease of the new service will be the best thing ever for artists, revolutionize the music industry, provide the best listening experience…blah, blah, blah. Only it likely won’t do any of those things.

Not the First Anything

In order to understand why Tidal likely won’t make good on any of the things Jay Z and his companions have promised, one needs to understand how the music industry works. First, let’s get something out of the way that’s been bugging me since I heard it during the launch party last night: “Tidal is the first ever artist-owned music service.”

No it’s not. NoiseTrade has been around since 2006, and was founded by singer/songwriter (that means artist) Derek Webb. So already it’s clear that the Tidal team needs to do a better job of researching their claims before making them.

No, It’s Really Not “Artist-Owned”

Next, the phrase “artist-owned service” is nice and poetic, but it’s frankly wholly untrue in this respect. Let’s examine the laundry list of artists now attached to the Tidal moniker and company:

  • Jay Z – Signed to Roc Nation (which he owns, and which had distribution deals with Sony Music (2009-2013) and Universal Music (2013-present)
  • Rihanna – Signed to Roc Nation (see above)
  • Beyoncé – Signed to Columbia (which is owned by Sony Music)
  • Alicia Keys – Signed to RCA (which is owned by Universal Music Group)
  • Daft Punk – Signed to Columbia (which is owned by Sony Music)
  • Madonna – Signed to Interscope (which is owned by Universal Music Group)
  • Kanye West – Signed to Def Jam (which is owned by Universal Music Group)

I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the “first ever artist-owned music service.” Frankly, it’s not really even “artist-owned;” it’s “label-owned by extension.” Let’s call it how it is, and pretending that these major label artists are independent operators is to fabricate an ideal (but false) reality. While it looks as if these artists belong to a whole slew of different labels, as my previous post on major label monopolies shows, this is a misleading thought process as they are more or less all owned by the Big Three. If anyone thinks that any of these artists will have the power to do things outside the interests of the three major record labels, they’re dreaming.

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The Big Three Major Labels and Their Subjects

The Big Three Major Labels and Their Subjects

Basically the Same Layout

Next, let’s talk about why the business model of Tidal is fanciful and unrealistic. TechCrunch reported earlier some details demonstrating that Tidal’s layout and functionality are basically a ripoff of Spotify’s layout. From what I’ve heard, Tidal basically copped Spotify’s layout, changed the colors, and added a few tweaks—but it’s not really all that different.

Married to An Obsolete Business Model

In terms of business model, what seems to make Tidal the most different is its decision not to offer a free tier (as Spotify and most other music services do). Rather, they will offer a high-quality lossless music experience for $20/month, and a downgraded, “premium” lower quality experience for the same $10/month that Spotify and other services charge (which, by the way, is an obsolete business model anyway). Jay Z and others at Tidal are banking on the hope that the rabid music fans out there will want to pay more money for higher quality music, in addition to more exclusive content on the Tidal service first.  While some music fans may in fact do this, it’s not a scalable hope because those fans are not the majority of music listeners.

Also, note that I said “more exclusive content on the Tidal service first“—which means it will definitely be available on other services too, just maybe a week or two later. And why not? Do you really think that the major labels who work with these artists are going to forego any revenue stream, just to keep Tidal more exclusive than the rest?? I don’t.

Tidal logo

 Tidal logo

So basically Tidal is going to offer the same major label music that is available everywhere else (including on non-music centered services like YouTube), but they’re going to nix the free tier (where most of Spotify’s conversions come from anyway) altogether and double the going rate for a monthly subscription. All the while, they will be aiming their service at a more niche market while providing non-niche music. Here’s my reality based on my experience in the music industry: high-fi, low-fi, it really doesn’t matter if your business model is outdated and your marketing strategy is insufficient for an overcrowded market. But yeah, this will definitely end well.

An Unscalable Model and Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Let’s move on, and I can’t believe no one has really focused in on this, especially those within the tech community (though it was mentioned a bit in the TechCrunch report): Jay Z has enticed these other major label names into becoming a part of this service not by offering them money up front, but by actually giving them equity percentages of the company. As reports that the equity numbers hover somewhere around 3%, this is an admirable shot by Jay Z. He’s trying to tie those artists’ respective loyalties to Tidal by making the service’s benefits their benefits. If Tidal does well and goes up in value, so do their stakes.

There are only two problems with this: 1) it’s not scalable, and 2) too many cooks in the kitchen. In an industry (tech startups) where founders are always told to limit the number of cofounders (the “too many cooks in the kitchen” nightmare”), Jay Z has amazingly disregarded the whole thought process and it seems no one has really noticed. What’s more, conducting company decisions in a “town hall” style is going to spell disaster for Tidal; you just can’t run a company like that. There needs to be one captain at the helm of a ship; any more and the ship will capsize. Also, keep in mind many of these artists don’t even work well with others in the studio—now they’re all going to run a company together? Right.

So to recap: unscalable business model and too many cooks in the kitchen.

More Dedicated to the Needs of Which Artists?

While I admire the desire by Jay Z and others to create a service that is more dedicated to “the needs and rights of artists,” let’s also be clear which artists those people are. They are not the artists the world-over who are coming up and trying to find their fanbases; they are the artists who already have legions of fans all over the world. We’re not talking about the girl from Minnesota who wants to be an R&B singer, or the punk band from Toronto who want to find their core fanbase. We are talking about (mostly) pop, rap, hip-hop, R&B, pop-rock, and other well-known stars who want to extend their control beyond their music to dip their toes in the music-tech industry.

I’m only critical because these are exactly the kinds of artists who really don’t need help right now. They have enough money, and even if they hop from label to label, their fans will follow. They have already found their fanbases and core listeners. It doesn’t matter which label or service they’re on, those fans will still find them and listen to their new albums and go see them on tour. So basically this is yet another rehashing of the same major label music that we’re already drowning in anyway. And while I’m a fan of some of these artists myself, I nonetheless am critical of what appears to be another desperate money grab. As the following screenshots demonstrate, though Jay Z and others may not see it that way, the point is that most of their fans will ( and do):

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Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 1

Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 1

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.12.36 PM

Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 2

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.12.56 PM

Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 3

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.13.12 PM

Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 4

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.13.28 PM

Comment from BuzzFeed coverage of the Tidal release, number 5

If these artists really wanted to distance themselves from the major labels and the current music business dynamic, they would look for ways to explore other paradigms, rather than look for ways to make an obsolete system work.

In the End

In the end, I commend these artists for taking a step into a new arena, but I question their motives and the realities surrounding Tidal as a company. Personally, I think Jay Z way overpaid for Aspiro, and is seeking to build a service that really only artists (and that is to say a select kind of artist) will really appreciate and use. I don’t think that Tidal sets itself apart enough to really take over the demographics targeted by either Spotify, Apple Beats, or even SoundCloud. I think it’s a lot of bluster, but without any real solid business prospects. Only time will tell, but I think that Tidal is going to have a very tough time right out of the gate. We’ll see if Tidal is part of a rising tide, or simply another ankle-slapper service.

Artists Are Not “Bad Business People”

Two Differing Opinions

“Artists are not good business people; they need to be told what’s good for them.” Those were the exact words that came out of his mouth. And I disagreed with every single one of them.

But let’s back up. Last summer, I was having a conversation with an entrepreneurial peer of mine about the current state of the music industry, and possible avenues forward. He’d had some success with a small company working with a few venues, and with some other music industry professionals (who, as shall he, remain nameless). By all accounts, I thought my peer would have a positive outlook on the future of the music industry as he, like me, had experienced numerous problems that could be solved. And yet, his outlook was dreary at best; and at worst, insulting.

When we began discussing what possibilities there were to build tools to better enable artists to make informed business decisions, his response was terse, arrogant and negative: “Artists are not good business people; they need to be told what’s good for them.”

It’s All About Access to Knowledge

Immediately I knew our opinions on the evolving music industry would differ from then on. First, no, it’s not a true statement to say that artists are “bad business people” anymore than one could make the insinuation about construction workers, for example. In an industry where so much of the business has traditionally been done by a major label or other third party, artists are just now realizing that they have access to the tools to simply learn about how to be good business people, and many are taking advantage of the opportunity. No one would expect someone who’s never had access to a certain type of education to understand the intricacies of said education.

It comes down to simple access to tools and means of learning, traditionally things that have been outside the reach of most artists—after all, educating artists on the inner working of the music business never was in the best interest of the major labels. So if this is the case, why then would one criticize artists for not having knowledge of business dynamics when they have traditionally been denied such knowledge and experience in favor of a more “savvy” entity (a management firm or label, for example)?

Who Actually Knows “What’s best”?

Second, the statement that someone needs be told “what’s best” for them is beyond arrogant: it’s plain insulting. Many of the evolving concepts of business strategy that are popping up in the music industry nowadays I find are coming from the artists themselves. These are the people who are looking to new vehicles of distribution like the internet and new business models such as free or freemium as viable ways to push their careers forward. And from what I can tell, they’re getting pretty damn good at it. I find the things I learn that should have been so obvious to me many times come from discussion with artists themselves, opening my eyes to a reality I may not have previously considered or understood.

So if artists are continually researching and discovering new methods of business strategy to effectively compete in the new digital era, why is there still this pervasive view that they “need to be told what’s best for them?” Perhaps it’s just a difference of worldview, as with between my peer and myself. Whereas he appeared to see the world through a lens that was dismissive—and even bitter—I see possibilities abounding for how the industry can change with the technology available to give artists more power over their own careers. It’s arguable the in the end, the only opinions that matter are those of the artists, as they are the ones producing the material that so many other people are trying to find ways to monetize.

My Bet

Whatever the next big thing will be (and it’s anyone’s guess in this sort of fickle content market), what I don’t doubt is that artists will begin to step out from behind their guitars and amps to shape their own futures (much like programmers are being encouraged to step out from behind their keyboards and aspire to roles in management). I wouldn’t be so quick to underestimate the artists out there. In fact, just the opposite: they know what they want, and now they’re beginning to see how to successfully get it. For me, my bet’s on the artists 

 

Thanks to Mom and Dad for reading early drafts of this.

Four Music Industry Posts Refocused

This week I threw a lot of notions and facts about the music industry out there, so I thought I would take a moment today to help refocus on them. Rather than write another post and add to the pile of important things to understand, I thought it better to simply restructure this past week’s posts in an easier, more digestible way of reading them. Here’s a short list for a few posts that went up this week, with a short description of each.

1. Two Stories of Sexism in the Music Industry – Two stories of my own experience that illustrate the sexism and gender inequality in the music industry that needs to be rooted out and eliminated. As with the tech industry, the music business has refocused and taken aim at gender discrimination, but these two short examples prove how things need to be better.

The sexism problem that needs to be solved

The sexism problem that needs to be solved

2. The Lie of “Live Won’t Save Music” – The wonderful adage of “Live won’t save music”—and why it’s a flat-out lie. The dynamics of the “live” factor in the music business (including the economic realities), and why “Live won’t save music” only applies to those artists and music professionals still grasping at the old, obsolete business model. An examination on how people need to restructure their thoughts on the music business if they want to be able to create a new, more lucrative business model.

3. Why Isn’t the Music Business Fully Crowdfunded? – Inspired by some things which I heard VC Fred Wilson postulate during the LAUNCH festival earlier this month. Discussions of the freedom that crowdfunding has allowed artists, and why it’s contributing to a trend towards staying independent. More than that, though, an examination of how artists can leverage the dynamic of crowdfunding for a better return in their own pockets.

4. Tell Me Again How There’s No Monopoly in the Music Industry – A simple chart that shows the incredibly monopolistic spiderweb of the major record labels and their subjects. With SONY in blue, Universal Music Group in green, and Warner Music Group in red, it’s not hard to see how three CEO’s (of these respective companies) essentially control all the music in the mainstream. If that’s not a monopoly, I really don’t know what is.

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The Big Three Major Labels and Their Subjects

The Big Three Major Labels and Their Subjects

New articles coming next week. There’s a lot more in the music industry to uncover, and definitely a lot more than needs to be changed.

Two Stories of Sexism in the Music Industry

The kind of BS sexism we need to eliminate

The kind of BS sexism we need to eliminate

The Scourge of Sexism

With the issue of gender equality fast becoming one of the central topics in Silicon Valley (and by extension, the tech and startups industries) at the moment, I can’t say I’m anything but pleased. The problem of gender discrimination and the glass ceiling is long overdue for a solution. While I harbor no fantasies that such a solution will be found overnight, I am nonetheless pleased to see that there is a major effort being made to reform these shortcomings in the tech industry.

As a male, I can confidently say that gender discrimination hits very close to home for me; my parents both practice civil rights litigation, with a focus in employment discrimination and sexual harassment. I grew up seeing cases of blatant discrimination (and unfortunately it makes me angry to say I still do), where the the ugly beasts of intolerance and sexism were clearly visible. The latter, in particular, surprises me again and again because we are taught to believe that we’re moving forward in eradicating sexism—but not fast enough in my opinion. We still have a lot of work to do.

While the tech industry is starting to really spotlight and root out sexism within its ranks (as well it should), other industries are lagging too far behind in my opinion. The music industry, for example, is still too hampered by outright sexism for my taste, even after movements like third-wave feminism and Riot grrrl punk began to shatter the mold. It’s not a foregone conclusion by any means, and there are many within the music trenches who are trying very hard to change it for the better—to level the playing field so that gender becomes irrelevant—so that talent is acknowledged and validated by its inherent existence, regardless of the artist’s gender.

But let me provide two examples of what can be changed, and how people can step in to make the music arena more tolerant and progressive. Neither example makes me happy to share (less happy to have experienced), but perhaps that underscores their importance.

The Sleazy Promoter

The first example happened a couple of years ago, in the spring of 2013, and goes like this: I am good friends with a band whose members included a female element (the singer and drummer). The group was set to work with a promoter to book shows in their home state (which, though eliminated by name, I can say is quite a big market for independent music). The promoter made inappropriate and unwelcome advances towards the female band member(s) and the group cut ties, not wanting to work professionally with someone of such poor character quality. The promoter then retaliated by threatening to call every promoter within the state, seeking to destroy the group’s reputation, thus effectively cutting out their feet from under them. (In this particular state, I can say with confidence that there are at least seven major cities and/or scenes that they most likely split their time between).

I was in Amsterdam at the time, on my study abroad program. I woke up one day to a frantic “what do we do?? we’re going to get totally screwed by this person!” email from the singer. Even through text it wasn’t hard to clearly read her fear and anger over the situation. So her solution? Reach out to me in search of some advice.

The response I sent her was simple: I explained to her that I was behind her, and would throw the entire weight of my blog and radio show behind her and the band (and would bring in other artists I knew for support if need be). I even offered to write a letter as a professional contact (DJ and journalist) attesting to their quality as a band and professionalism as people, which they might use to send to anyone to rebuke the slanderous threats of this sleazy promoter. She seemed calmed by that offer (and most thankful, as you can imagine!) and we decided to see just how events would proceed.

In the end, the promoter never made good on his threats, and the whole situation seemed to blow over. But I never forgot that frantic email (I’m sure she hasn’t either), and to this day I’m still good friends with her and the band. The point is this: such a situation should never have occurred, and it very quickly seemed to spin out of control. But in situations like these, one needs to have the wherewithal to step up for what’s right. I didn’t do anything I didn’t think others wouldn’t do in the same situation. You don’t do it for pats on the back—you do it because it’s right.

The Sexist Tweeter

The second example happened more recently, during the Super Bowl this year. One of the Super Bowl commercials was to promote the hashtag #LikeAGirl to promote gender equality. This is one commercial I loved and supported, and I made so known on Twitter. This was the result:

The sexism problem that needs to be solved

The sexism problem that needs to be solved

I was actually staggered by the sheer sexism of the comment that I saw on my post. Someone telling me that I was sure to “get laid” for supporting “those feminists.” I was angry—actually I was seething. Not only had this person insulted the women that my comment was meant to support, but had dragged my name down too by insinuating that my motive was “to get laid.” I work with numerous artists—many of them with a female element—and I was pissed that this person had seen fit to insult not only people I work with, but people who are my friends.

The music industry is like the tech/startup industry in this respect—not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but trying very hard to get better. And here was someone dragging us back to the dark ages. This is exactly the sort of thing that people in both industries (or any industry) need to find and root out. The people who make these comments and hold these views are toxic. It’s not (and won’t be) easy, but it has to be done. And it will be.

I for one will be on the lookout for it in the music industry, and will call anyone on it. I encourage other to take aim at sexism and gender discrimination in their respective industries which they know best. Music is my world, and I will not have it polluted with this sort of poison. Don’t step into my house and disrespect my business contacts and friends, it’s as simple as that.

Tell Me Again How There’s No Monopoly in the Music Industry

Most all of the record labels you know are owned by three major parent corporations: SONY, Universal Music Group (UMG), and Warner Music Group (WMG). Even Sub Pop, the once-famous Seattle independent label, is now owned by WMG. The only pseudo-famous label not on here is K Records, which became famous around the same time as Sub Pop for releasing off-beat alternative music in the ’90s. But for most everyone else, it’s just a question of which corporation you have pulling the strings. Tell me again how there’s no monopoly in the music industry.

(Click image for larger preview.)

The Big Three Record Labels, and All Their Subjects

The Big Three Record Labels, and All Their Subjects

SONY:

  • SONY/ATV
  • RCA
  • Epic
  • Columbia

Universal Music Group:

  • EMI
    • Virgin
  • Island
  • Motown
  • Def Jam
  • Republic
  • MCA
  • Capitol
  • Geffen
  • Interscope

Warner Music Group:

  • Reprise
  • Atlantic
    • Elektra
    • Roadrunner
    • Atco
  • Sub Pop
  • Fueled by Ramen
  • Parlophone

Fred Wilson Believes in Things That Everyone Else Thinks Are Wrong (But Are Actually Right)

A couple of weeks ago I attended the LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco, where I saw a number of amazing speakers over a three-day period. Needless to say the cross-country trip from Atlanta was worth it. However, despite the fact that there were numerous speakers whose points have stuck in my head since then (particular favorites of mine were Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter), Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn), Chris Sacca (VC) and Tony Hawk (yes I’m a huge fan of skating and the Brown Brigade)), the speaker whose comments were most easily accessible to me was Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures).

Since the wrap-up of the festival, Jason Calacanis has published a couple of posts and tweets noting the fact that his fireside chat with Wilson was one of the most popular interviews of the whole event. This I readily believe, as I sat with rapt attention as Wilson discussed a number of topics. Actually, Wilson made so many good points during his chat that I need to dissect it through a number of posts rather than in just one.

Of particular interest to me though was one thing that Wilson said. It clearly demonstrated to me his line of thinking when it came to identifying new companies that he liked to become (or was likely to become) involved in: “Believe in something that everyone thinks is wrong (but actually turns out to be right).”

That terse statement, which Wilson actually attributes as something Bill Gurley once wrote, underscored his thinking when it comes to herd-mentality and how he identifies opportunities. While I’m sure there are certainly other factors at play, the qualifier word “wrong” is an interesting choice for his (Gurley’s) adage; it implies quite clearly that he identifies opportunities not only in areas or with companies that might be viewed as rare or unconventional, but ones which may be entirely against the grain of “logical” thinking at the time. This by extension highlights the fact that one can expect Wilson’s current and future investments to be in areas or companies wherein others might not dare even entertain the notion of involvement. He benefits from the fear factor that clears the road in front of him to make it an open highway while others see the words “do not enter.” [1]

Though I’ve followed Wilson’s blog for some time now, since LAUNCH I’ve been reading his posts with this new thought in mind. With each new post I read, there’s now that nagging question in the back of my mind: “what’s the thing in this post that Wilson has identified that others think is flat-out wrong (but is actually right)?” There isn’t always a phrase with a blinking sign screaming “it’s me!” but the point remains that with each subsequent post comes a learning opportunity to go back and reexamine a possibility that I might have dismissed earlier as a “do not enter” sign.

I’m interested to see Wilson’s posts over the next month or so. I’m curious to see what piques his interest enough to blog about it that others may have already dismissed or avoided. I suspect that Wilson’s thought process might very well be as alternative as his Egon Schiele-esque Twitter profile pic (by the way Fred, kudos on that; art-history nerds like me rejoice in the fact that so many within the tech industry use so much modern art imagery). I believe that’s precisely how he’s able to identify opportunities that others miss, or dismiss altogether.

 

Thanks to Dad for reading drafts of this.

 

Notes


[1] Wilson also stated that he had been on the board of a non-profit called DonorsChoose for a few years, which, as he put it, “does exactly, exactly what Kickstarter does” for teachers and public schools. As a result of his involvement with this previous venture, which was raising between $30-40M at the time, Wilson notes that he had a bit of an inside look at the very sort of mechanism upon which Kickstarter was building.