The Spotify-SoundCloud Supergroup Is Dead

Originally published on Mattermark on December 29, 2017. 


tl;dr: The SoundCloud and Spotify deal is dead. For Spotify, no deal avoids unnecessary headaches. For SoundCloud, the road ahead looks lonely as the platform heads into 2017.

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Cream. Bad Company. Temple of the Dog. These were some of the greatest supergroups that ever existed. The Spotify-SoundCloud union could have been next, but like many supergroup concepts, it only lasted a short time.

The real question is why. Ultimately, in my view, the deal died because SoundCloud tried to become something that it wasn’t, alienating its core fan base in the process.

It was easy to argue that a Spotify-SoundCloud combination could benefit each party: SoundCloud’s independent-heavy catalog and Spotify’s major label material are natural complements.

But the prospect is no longer on the table. It recently became known that Spotify passed on acquiring the little orange cloud.

Let’s talk about why that happened.

Supergroup Not

2016 was not kind to SoundCloud.

Despite signing deals with major labels, securing its largest to-date funding round, and launching its own subscription service, key questions remain concerning its current operational results, where it fits into the M&A landscape, and what an independent SoundCloud looks like in 2017.

Fiscal Expense

Mattermark recently examined, broadly, who could afford to buy SoundCloud, now that Spotify has left the table.

To understand why Spotify might have passed—neither Spotify nor SoundCloud responded to requests for comments regarding this piece—on SoundCloud, it’s worth remembering the smaller firm’s P&L.

SoundCloud’s revenue quickly expanded from $1.8 million in 2010 to $9.6 million in 2012, to $19.6 million in 2014. Its losses tracked upwards, however, from $2.01 million in 2010 to $14.9 million in 2012, to $44.2 million in 2014.

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Much like Spotify and other streaming services, some SoundCloud revenue quickly passes through its books. In SoundCloud’s case, around 80 percent of its revenue from a portion of its aggregate top line goes right to labels. Spotify’s results are similar.

The context for those numbers is simple: SoundCloud has raised around $193 million to-date over a series of five rounds. Just comparing the company’s through-2014 losses, SoundCloud has spent around half its raise so far. And since we’re not including more recent operational results, that figure is very conservative.

The Sophomore Slump

If 2010 to 2013 was SoundCloud’s breakthrough album, then 2014 to 2016 was its disappointing follow-up.

Beginning in 2015, SoundCloud started to move away from its initial user base of independent artists and began courting major labels. The company inked a deal with Warner in later 2015 and Universal Music in early 2016.

Warner and Universal were joined by the last remaining holdout in March of 2016 when Sony signed on. That effectively marked the end of SoundCloud’s days as the independents’ playground.

Following the three major label deals, SoundCloud released SoundCloud Go, its entry into the music subscription wars. The company has yet to report major gains from the subscription product. I’d posit that it may be difficult for SoundCloud to entice music fans to the service. If potential subscribers are interested in mainstream music, they can already go to other music services.

Money Talks

While Spotify sports extensive independent material, its focus is major label artists. That fact did not escape those who made the argument in favor of the combination. SoundCloud’s huge base of independent EDM, acoustic, rock, and other artists could help balance the scales and provide a funnel into the Spotify nest.

If the argument for Spotify buying SoundCloud was that the latter could help the former pull in independent music, do SoundCloud’s operational results matter?

The answer is yes, as Spotify doesn’t want anything to threaten its impending IPO.

Earlier this year, I took a deep dive into Spotify’s own financials, examining the numbers and reasons that they already might have a tricky path to IPO. New cost centers could make that already difficult-looking trek nigh impossible.

Even with SoundCloud’s legal issues seemingly taken care of by major label deals, SoundCloud’s subscription service arrived to lackluster reviews, and its sizable debt may present too much of a headache for Spotify just before their looming IPO.

This is all especially stark considering SoundCloud’s desired price-tag of $1 billion. Even with Twitter’s most recent $70 million investment into the service, valuing it in the neighborhood of $700 million, Spotify would still need to pay an additional $300 million to close the difference.

2017

What does this all mean for SoundCloud’s future?

As with Spotify, the major labels now have a vested interest in SoundCloud’s existence. But that doesn’t mean that they have a long-term interest in its health. As I noted in my previous Spotify piece, the labels may not want to kill SoundCloud, but they also don’t have to go out of their way to help it. So long as it sends in revenue, who cares?

Some people will care. The danger could be that independent artists may care enough to go somewhere else more focused on them. (Since they operate independently, SoundCloud’s major label deals have no sway over their prospective decisions.)

SoundCloud’s challenge is that the faster it rushes to catch up with Spotify and Apple in the mainstream arena, the faster it may alienate its key demographic of independent artists; in working to compete with the larger, mainstream players, I wonder if SoundCloud has become what its initial user base—its core point of differentiation—was trying to avoid

We’ll see in 2017.


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

How to Write Like an Editor

How thinking like an editor can bullet-proof your writing.

Originally published on my Medium on December 2, 2016.

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I come from a family of writers. My parents are both attorneys, and I spent my formative years in school learning how to write bullet-proof essays. It wasn’t until long after college, though, that I really began to see writing in more lights than simply as “a writer.” In fact, it was only recently that I’ve been able to think and write like an editor.

If you look around the blogosphere, and on Medium in particular, you see a lot of the same stuff. Not the same topics per se, but the same issues with the writing. A lot of it’s choppy, half-baked, passionate but not convincing, and many times riddled with grammatical mistakes. A lot of this can be avoided though.

A lot of time people see writing as a number of things — none of them good. They see it as tedious, superfluous, nonchalant, boring, or easy.

Writing is not easy, and writing on a higher level than “just writing” is a skill which takes constant practice and dedication. But for time-sake, here’s a crash-course to make your writing tighter, stronger, and all around better.

(Note: This won’t cover non-writing aesthetic choices, like pictures, gifs, videos, etc. This is focused solely on the art of writing and editing.)

Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Grammar
  2. Spelling
  3. Tenses
  4. Formatting
  5. Thesis
  6. Argument
  7. Length
  8. Style

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Grammar

Let’s get this one out of the way early. Poor spelling and grammar will kill any piece you write. Every time. Without fail. Don’t think you’re fooling anyone — we can all tell when you’re too lazy to proofread your article for mistakes. Learn to love multiple drafts.

So Rule #1 in writing like an editor: edit your damn article.

Caveat: I’ll cover this more in Style, but keep in mind that sometimes the most readable pieces aren’t necessarily the ones that follow 100% of grammar rules. This took me a long time to learn and become comfortable with. Be at ease using contractions, beginning sentences with “and” and but,” and using slang terms like “gonna,” “bullshit,” and “fuck.” This gives your writing personality and makes it much less stilted. Just remember not to go overboard with things. If it doesn’t serve your argument, don’t fuck around with it.

Rule #1: Edit your damn article.

Spelling

We live in the era of spell-check. There’s literally no reason for spelling mistakes. If you don’t care enough to use spell-check, I don’t care enough to read it, end of story.

Tenses

This usually falls under grammar, but it’s important to break it out here. A lot of people seem to have problems with tensing, even some of the smartest, most insightful writers I enjoy reading (including hyper-successful founders, investors, marketers, etc.). It’s something people stumble over when it doesn’t make sense, and a lot of times it’s hard to pinpoint.

The best advice for keeping proper tensing is to read the wonky sentence out loud and see if it flows. If you’re having trouble with it, your readers will too. It should flow easily off the tongue, and if not, reexamine your tenses.

Formatting

Like grammar and tenses, formatting is one of those things you’ll need to take a step back on and read through an editor’s eyes. It’s one of the most tedious parts of editing, but one of the things that sets good pieces apart from complete crap.

Look and Feel: First, does it look good? If it’s blocky and hard to read, chances are people will never read it (unless you’re maybe already famous). Break things up — the “new paragraph” is your friend.

Italics, bold, and underline are essential to making something interesting to the eye, but don’t overdo it. Too much bold and you’re shouting at me; too many italics and you’re making me read a French pastry recipe.

ALL CAPS: Like bold, all caps is akin to yelling at me. Try to stay away from this. However, if you’re going to yell at me, make it count. Do it only if you really need to.

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Bullet-points: Learn to love bullet-points, but don’t go overboard. Unless it’s an article that’s meant to be mostly in list-form, don’t overdo it. Not everything has to be bulleted — I’m reading your article, not your grocery list.

Punctuation: Vary your punctuation (more on this in Style). Learn the difference between a hyphen (-) and a dash ( — ), and when to use them to break up your text.

Rule: Hyphens are for combining words (like punk-rock) while dashes are used to break sentences (see 3rd paragraph of introduction).

Quotes: Ok, say it with me now: Double quotes (“ ”) are for the beginning/end of any quotation, while single quotes (‘ ’) are for a quotation within a quotation. That means if you’re quoting an article in which the article is quoting something or someone else, you need both. Also learn when to use block-quoting as opposed to singular, smaller quotes (Medium has thankfully made this much easier for people to understand and use).

Colons and Semi-colons: For fuck-sake, do not use colons or semi-colons if you’re not 100% clear on how to do it. Your writing won’t suffer much — if at all — if you leave them out. It will suffer A LOT if you put them in and don’t know how to use them. Stick to what you know and don’t try to over-impress your reader.

For the record though: Colons usually break a sentence right before you list something, or move to a clause or phrase which is meant to clarify the previous clause or phrase.

Semi-colons break a sentence and separate two independent clauses which tackle the same thought.

[Brackets]: Last thing, but very important. Brackets are used to tell your reader that you’re changing something from the original quote, but more for formatting, aesthetic, or clarification reasons. For example, if you’re simply changing the tenses of a word from singular to multiple, just put the “s” in brackets so I know you’re making a minor edit.

Like this: “Kurt Cobain drew influence[s] from his favorite album[s] when writing the follow-up to Nirvana’s second album.”

Remember: [Brackets] are not the same as (parentheses)!!

Thesis

This is the “idea” we all learned about in 3rd grade that “goes at the end of your first paragraph.” Except that’s bullshit, and much too simple.

Your thesis is your main concept, but isn’t necessarily your “argument” (see next point) and doesn’t necessarily need to come at the end of your first paragraph. It goes wherever it fits best, though this is usually towards the top of your article.

The thing to remember about your thesis is that it’s your broad topical concept, which means it’s flexible. Flexibility is good. Don’t feel shackled to a boring, hyper-specific point. If broad works better for the sake of your piece, then go broad, and get more specific in your argument.

This is how you write like an editor: accept that flexibility is a good thing, and that there is no 1, 2, 3-step process for plugging in pieces to make a good essay. Experiment, beginning with your thesis.

Argument

I see this a lot as an editor. People confuse their thesis with their argument. They are not the same thing. Your thesis is the concept or topic you’re going to tackle; you’re argument is how you hammer your points home.

Do not, for the love of God, use the 5-paragraph essay format unless it fits your topic and article. This is meant to be a learning tool, not something you do when you actually start writing complex pieces. It’s too constraining, and makes people put in (or leave out) points depending on how many spots they have left between their intro and conclusion. Again, writing is about flexibility, not rigidity.

Here’s the big secret: make your argument fucking bullet-proof. Take a side, and pound your theory home. You don’t need to be a jerk about it, but hedging your bets and sitting on the fence is a very tough thing to do right, and takes a ton of practice. And even then, it’s really only good in certain situations.

If I can drive a truck through holes in your argument, reexamine it. Leave some flexibility for yourself so you don’t back yourself into a corner, but make your argument solid. (Hint: this is where you use all those wonderful quotes, links, and examples we’re all so fond of).

Length

This is something that’s become somewhat taboo in our bite-sized, bloggish culture. The concept of writing anything long is considered “old” and “ramble-y.” Posts that appear “too long” are labeled “tl;dr” and relegated to the bottom of the pile.

But the reality is that some pieces should be longer. Or not. It all depends on the article and what you’re writing about.

If you’re just giving me a list of things (ideas, tips, etc.), then let me know at the beginning that it’s a listicle. If it’s just a fleeting thought to consider, don’t gear me up at the beginning for a long thought-piece, otherwise when you end abruptly, it feels like the bottom has just dropped out.

But if it’s a topic and argument that demands a long-form length, then be damn sure you give the piece what it requires. Trying to squeeze too much into a bite-sized article is a sure-fire way to tell your readers you have no idea how to articulate what you want to say. There’s a reason that publications like The New Yorker specialize in long-form content: they know how to flesh out an argument, and how to do it well.

Cut, Cut, Cut

Be willing to cut. Sometimes less is more. Be honest with yourself: if those extra two paragraphs don’t serve your argument or style, kick ’em to the curb. Learn to love deleting extra junk. There’s nothing as paralyzing as “blank-page” syndrome, but there’s nothing more unsightly than flabby content that serves no purpose. If you write 3 pages and delete everything except for the 1 paragraph that’s exceptional, it’s a good day.

Understanding length and how to use it to your advantage is equally as important as understanding how to format to your advantage.

Style

Now we’ve finally come to the most important thing no one tells you about and everyone forgets about: your style is everything. It took working as an editor for me to understand that everyone has a unique style, and that’s what makes someone’s writing compelling — or boring.

Writing like an editor means understanding what style works for you, and really flexing your creative muscles with it. It means exploring the types of slang that make your writing your own, what types of structure you totally own, and what topics are in your wheelhouse. If you’re an expert in something, write like you are. If you know you’re not, then proceed more gingerly and don’t try to pretend you’re something that you’re not.

Use punctuation that you’re a master at; there’s no “learning on the job” when it comes to punctuation. Poorly chosen punctuation can absolutely kill a piece with potential.

The reader can always tell.

The irony is, the more you write about something, the more you know about it, and the more you begin to develop original thoughts on it.

Your voice is your own, and is the one thing you have complete control over. Understand that voices change and evolve over time — your early writing will look a lot different from your more mature pieces. This is a good thing. Learn to isolate what makes your writing voice special without getting bogged down in the past. Once you have it, run with it.

And that’s about it, for the moment.

And that’s about it, for the moment. I could tackle tons of other topics like introductions, conclusions, transitions, titles, citations, or writing a series of pieces, but I think I’ll save those for another day. The important thing to remember is that writing is a process. One and done isn’t how to play the game.

If you’re going to write something, get in the trenches and get dirty. Don’t make me read some half-hearted piece of crap if you don’t have anything real to say. The hard part is knowing what’s real enough to write about, so I’ll leave that up to you.

Find me on Twitter and let’s talk tech, writing, and music!

Dear Medium Publishers, Do Not Request My Story If…

Dear Medium publishers, do not request my story if you’re not going to respond to my follow-up emails. I work very hard on every piece that I write, and I take my writing seriously.
You should take it seriously too.

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What I Want to Know

Any time someone requests to put one of my stories in a publication, there are some things I want to know. These are:

1. When will you want me to submit it?

Some publications want to wait a certain amount of time before publishing and some do not. I don’t want my piece just floating out there in the ether. If you want to wait and push it out later, let me know so I can plan for that.

2. Will you want to change anything, and how will we agree upon that?

I’m very particular about what I write and how it’s written. I have no issue with altering it a little to fit the publication’s desires, but I want to know how the process goes. Is it casual and easy, or are you going to act like my boss? (Hint: this is not the right way to persuade me.)

3. What kinds of things will you want to change?

Every publication is different and has certain things they want to project. I respect that. But I need to know what sorts of things in my piece you might want to change. Are they stylistic things, title or header changes, or will you want to change something that now affects the overall message of the piece?

Some style things I can do to part with, others I will not—it just depends on the piece and the message. And it depends on how accepting and respectful you are of my style as a writer. If the article in question just cannot be morphed to fit the publication, perhaps we can collaborate together on an idea for a new piece that is exactly what you’re looking for. But never try to force anything.

4. How’s your grammar?

Grammar is extremely important to me. I am obsessive about the need for grammatical correctness, so make sure your publication seeks to make sure every piece is grammatically well-written—I want to be in the company of other competent writers.

It nonetheless is a tricky play because phrasing and writing can sometimes be grammatically incorrect even if it is colloquially correct (for example, if I’m writing an informal piece and use the phrase “I wanna”). As an editor of a publication, I expect you to be able to identify the difference between colloquially correct phrasing and straight grammatically incorrect sentence structure.

5. Who has the final say?

It’s your publication and you decide what’s good enough to go in; I respect that. But this is such an important question because of how Medium is set up. Once a piece is submitted and accepted into a publication, it’s open to the editor to edit as they see fit. This is one reason I’m extremely picky about who I work with.

Based on the questions above, I want to know who will have the final say. If you want my piece to say one thing and I want it to say another, I want to know if you’re just going to go over my head and edit my post without my knowledge or consent. I’m much more likely to continue to submit to your publication regularly if you respect my ability to say, “I’m not sure I want to edit this piece like that, but perhaps we could do another piece together.”

 

What a Request for My Story Should Look Like

This is a conversation I had with an interested editor during July. Notice how the person was extremely accommodating to my questions and patient when providing the answers. This is how a request for my story or collaboration should go:

My email, after the initial request for my story:

Their response:

My further response, and the beginning of a working relationship:

That’s how your requests should pan out if I have questions.

A Response Email Takes Five Minutes

In writing and publishing, as well as in every other part of life, it’s about the relationship that’s cultivated.

This is especially important if you’re asking me for material with an understanding that there will be no monetary compensation. 

There have been a lot of great pieces recently on freelance writers and not writing for free or for “simple exposure.” Personally, I think think this is an individual choice for each writer. At this point in my career, I’m ok with it, as long as what I get out of it in the end is a solid relationship with real opportunities for networking and exposure. If you tell me you’re going to give me exposure, then do it: tweet about my article, and tag me so that I can continue to build my writing reputation.

Not Answering My Follow-up Email

Because these are some of the basic things I consider when I’m writing a piece, requesting my piece and not emailing me back about my questions tells me:

  • a. You’re not serious about really wanting my piece
  • b. You don’t care how I feel about my piece as a writer
  • And/or c. My piece isn’t important enough to you to send me a simple response email

Time is valuable, and I don’t expect you to answer all of the above (and any further questions I might have) in one sitting. You don’t need to write me a book of a response, but really, a response email acknowledging my questions takes five minutes. My time is valuable too. If you want to work with me, then work with me, and treat my time as a writer as equally important as I treat yours as an editor/publisher.


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Takeaways from AngelList Radio’s Podcast with Tyler Willis and Jason Calacanis

Yesterday I listened to Tyler Willis have Jason Calacanis on the AngelList Radio podcast. Despite the fact that the episode was recorded a couple of months ago, I couldn’t stop listening to it. In fact, I was about halfway through it the second time when it occurred to me that I should take a few notes on it to summarize the incredible amount of information that Tyler and Jason discussed (it is an hour and a half long, after all).

Jason Calacanis; image courtesy of the AngelList Radio podcast

Jason Calacanis; image courtesy of the AngelList Radio podcast

The sheer amount of important information covered makes summarizing all of it challenging, but I’ll give it a try. I should note, though, before delving in, that some of the most poignant things covered were in the form of life stories and philosophies from Jason, a summarized transcription of which does not do them justice. To really soak up the underlying meaning of what’s listed below, you really need to listen to it for yourself. Possibly multiple times.

Moving along though. The points which Tyler and Jason hit can most aptly be placed within a number of areas of thought and consideration.  

These are:

  • People
  • Mentalities
  • Entrepreneurs and Founders
  • (Angel) Investing
  • Democratization

I’ll do my best to tackle each one of these, but keep in mind that these are just a few of the points which struck me as the most powerful. I will discuss some in more depth than others, as a number of them are self-explanatory.

People

Jason’s view of people in my mind basically splits into three main veins: human calculation, relationships, and arguably the most important one, empathy.

Human Calculation

This goes to “Jason’s Law of Angel Investing,” which according to Jason is: “I don’t need to know if the idea’s going to win, I [just] need to know if the person’s a winner.”

Jason looks for and reads the things that other people might miss: body language, personality, and interactive cues. As he mentions, he will talk about the [founder’s] idea through the lens of trying to figure out if [s/he’s] a winner or not. This sort of human calculation sets Jason up for the long game, something which he discusses as being a part of his overall strategy.

Relationships

Jason is extremely bullish on his relationships, wanting to be the first call a founder makes when things are going wrong, when the situation looks dire, or just when founders are having a hard time. He discusses understanding that being a founder is lonely, and sometimes all one needs is an ear to vent to; someone to “shoot the shit” with. Perhaps this goes back to Jason’s major in psychology; certainly his ability to read people and situations benefits from such a thought process. 

Life is relationships, pure and simple. Everything else is secondary, and Jason aspires to (almost obsessively) cultivate his relationships. (That’s a good thing, by the way).

This however, leads into what I consider to be one of the central theses of the discussion: empathy.

Empathy

Startups are hard. Actually, that’s a lie; startups are fucking hard. And sometimes the best thing is when someone will just sit and listen while you vent and fume for a little while. Loneliness kills, and having a friendly ear can make all the difference on those tough nights.

One quote seems to capture what Jason’s mentality would be during those nights on the phone with a founder having a hard time: “When I invested in you, I knew the odds were against you, and I still believed in you.” That pretty much sums up all that needs to be said.

Jason’s philosophy of accomplishing close relationships simply by being a nice human being—“buying [the founder] a cup of coffee, buying them dinner, or just saying ‘I believe in you’”—is exactly how I see the world as well. Cultivating relationships means doing what you can for other people because you can do it, not because you see some reward at the end of the tunnel. In the long run, good relationships do tend to reward people in often unexpected ways, but that should never be the crux of the relationships. Relationships are empathy and positivity. It’s about being magnetic.

Mentalities

Within the context of mentalities, Jason hits on a number of notions, though the one that sticks out to me the most is his focus on the “journalistic mentality.” Clearly a holdover from his time as a journalist, Jason discusses how he looks for people who exhibit great journalistic skills: an inquisitive mind, good communication skills, and being able to read situations well. In many ways, this connects with a lot of his poker metaphors. (There are lots of poker metaphors).

As he points out: “What happens when you interview [people] for a long time is you start to understand when they’re full of shit and you start to tell…who’s full of greatness…” Bluntly put, this is very true. I experienced it a lot during my time as a music journalist, speaking with artists and other industry professionals. Being a journalist is one of the best ways you can get to know the industry you want to be in.

“[A journalist] equals an inquisitive person who can communicate well.”

Entrepreneurs and Founders

Jason spends a lot of time talking about how he identifies great founders and what anyone should be doing and/or thinking about if they want to be an entrepreneur.

Know “Why”

First and foremost, know “why.” Why are you doing this, what is the underlying reason?

For Jason, answers like “the market seems open” or “I wanted to try being a founder” don’t cut it. It speaks to the authenticity if a founder is doing it for a larger reason than just trying to take advantage of a particular market situation. There needs to be a certain inevitability to what they’re doing, and how they see the world (something which Chris Sacca has also touched on).

As Jason sees it, there needs to be a real sense of purpose in the founder(s), a mission: “The world needs to evolve in this way, and we have the solution, and we NEED to implement our solution to change the way the world works.”

Jason: “Really talented people tell you where the world is going, and then you get to be part of it. And then you get to help them launch the rocket.”

Don’t Screw Your Supporters

They need to have the integrity not to screw the people who supported them early on. This is exactly in line with a well-known adage in the music industry which I always quote: “For those who forget us on the way up, we’ll see you on the way down.” Don’t forget the people who made your rise possible.

Be a Punk

Founders need to be punks.

Ok so Jason didn’t actually use this word, but as I explained in my post here, that’s really the type of mentality he is describing when he articulates what he looks for in people.

Additionally founders need:

  • To have an armor; a relentless drive, and be relentlessly resourceful
  • Have maniacal execution skills
  • Unstoppable determination

(Angel) Investing

Jason relayed a lot of information about investing and investment strategy. He discussed a lot of his personal strategy as well as how new investors can get in the game and start to learn the ropes.

For the sake of time (and because a lot of this is fairly self-explanatory), here’s a rundown of what he discussed:

  • Tips (for Angel Investing)
    • Spread your bets
    • Start by making investments slowly over a year
    • Even if you lose money, you’ll learn something
    • Always try to learn before diving in head first
    • Join syndicates
    • Get in the game and start
    • Double and triple down on your best bets
    • Meet with founders as much as you possibly can
    • Play the cars of the best investor at the table if you’re new to investing
    • Do the work, be proactive
    • Play the long game
    • Be patient and learn
    • Financial performance will come; focus on a portfolio strategy
    • Investing is a fight/struggle
    • Don’t ever discount anybody
    • Make a 5-year plan
    • Pro-rata rights
    • You want the “difficult” people; these people “mix it up”
    • Focus on being the most valuable and helpful person to the founder
  • Need to Have
    • A comfort losing a lot of your money (which you invested)
    • A comfort with the “shitshow” realities of investing
  • Don’t Be an Investor If
    • You’re annoying
    • You’re a control freak/obsessive person
    • You can’t remain cool and calm
    • You can’t remain classy in the face of defeat
    • You can’t deal with bad news
    • You can’t be a mensch

As Jason articulated: “I have to be the most valuable [person] to the founders. [I ask myself,] ‘Am I doing the most for that person?’”

How did Jason get to this thought process? When he started investing he made a list of all the things he could do for founders to provide value to them. Then he did them.

Democratization

The last major point which Jason discusses is democratization. In this case, he’s referring to the democratization of knowledge and power, and how dynamics have totally shifted in the last 10 years, allowing for entrance into entrepreneurship for tons of people who previously had very little recourse.

Interestingly enough, as he’s discussing the democratization of knowledge which can be used for growth, development of new skills sets, and other such things, I’m just reminded of an article I wrote a few months ago on the democratization of music. True, Jason is describing a different type of democratization process, but the parallel works. In the same way that scarcity has become an obsolete mentality for music, so too has scarcity of startup and entrepreneurial knowledge become obsolete in the worlds of business and tech.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins.

“[Entrepreneurship is] stumbling around in the dark room, fumbling around, until your hand hits the wall, and flicks on the light switch.” – Jason 

Jason also briefly touched on the differences he sees between his LAUNCH incubator and Y Combinator, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

All in all, the podcast was intriguing enough for me to listen to it twice all the way through, and then take notes on it for a post. I give it up to Tyler Willis for conducting a great interview, and look forward to a hopeful follow-up with Jason again.


If you enjoyed this, follow me on Twitter, where I talk tech, music, and funny junk 😀

Or, ya know, on that new Snapchat thing 🙂

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The Undeniable Hypocrisy of the Apple-Swift Saga

Image courtesy of Mirror

Image courtesy of Mirror

The Background

With Taylor Swift’s cleanup at the Grammys this year and attention over her misleading “victory” over Apple—and her subsequent partnership with the company—having waned (if not faded) over the last half year, it seems to be the appropriate time now to dissect what the fuck really happened back in July of last summer. Prior to the past few months when things seemed to have boiled down to a low simmer (focused mostly on SoundCloud and Spotify), the music news arena was blowing up over Taylor Swift’s push-back against Apple. Her open letter criticizing Apple, and subsequent statement that she would be boycotting the new music service—as she had done with Spotify—made it easy for the media to paint her as a martyr for “artists’ rights.” But that’s not the whole story. Not nearly.

When Apple announced early in June of 2015 that its new music service, aptly titled Apple Music, would not be compensating artists with royalties during the first three months of a user’s free trial period, there was significant push-back before Swift even got her letter out the door. The announcement was panned by the general music community, as well as by both artists within the mainstream paradigm, and the broad base of independents. When Apple retracted the statement and replaced it with a “fine, we’ll pay artists for the three-month trial period,” artists felt that they had won a major victory against the tech giant. Many even felt that Swift spoke up for them and that they benefited from her desire to help the general music community. Here’s why that’s wrong.

A Misleading “Victory”

Numerous sources reported on Apple’s recanting and Swift’s “victory,” from TechCrunch to Forbes to Mashable. But it wasn’t that at all. The retraction by Apple was telling of a much larger trend at play (and frankly, a much larger problem for independent artists which they should be focusing on). Swift made the same stink that she did when she “broke up” with Spotify, drawing on arguments like “artists shouldn’t give anything away for free” and her favorite “art needs to be rare to be valuable.” Soon after, Apple caved and said artists would be paid, and everything ended happily ever after.

Not.

While I wholeheartedly agree with Swift that artists shouldn’t have to give away their music for free if they don’t want to (as opposed to Swift’s catch-all “no free music ever/free music devalues your art” blah blah blah), I don’t think her motives are as angelic and altruistic as they might initially appear. People should be asking why exactly Swift made such a big fuss over this. Why? Because it really cuts into her bottom line. A bottom line that many of the independents she somewhat claims to “speak for” don’t have. Their economics are a very different reality from hers. Swift lives in a completely different universe, and no, as Matt Atkins wrote in a great Medium post , she is not an “independent artist.” Her signing to Big Machine Records makes her seem more independent than she really is; make sure you remember that she owns a huge stake in Big Machine, and that it’s distributed by Universal Music Group. So no, Swift doesn’t see it from the same perspective as that of an indie band in the garage in Ohio just trying to scrape by.

If an Independent Tried to Strong-arm Apple…

This doesn’t make Swift a bad person; it simply makes her human in looking out for her own best interests. At the time, that aligned with the best interests of the general music community. But people should not confuse happenstance with correlation.

Swift was able to strong-arm Apple into changing its position on paying royalties for the free trial period, and I commend her for that. But I can pretty much offer a dead guarantee that if it had been an independent artist who took to Twitter to complain (and many did, mind you) or write to Apple, nothing would happen. I’m not even sure they would receive a response email addressing their grievances. The fact that their position changed as a result of Swift’s vocal stance was a sheer coincidental benefit for the independent music community.

Artists who are not on Swift’s level (that is to say, most artists in the world) should be asking what could and would happen if and when their best interests don’t line up with hers. (Never mind the fact that Apple completely screwed up an independent artist’s entire catalogue upon Apple Music’s release). The moniker of Swift as “the Apple-Slayer” was nice and poetic, but all the more misleading. It painted Swift as the David to Apple’s Goliath, but that’s on a whole incorrect. Swift is just as much a Goliath as Apple is, and that’s precisely the reason that Apple caved to her in the first place. Had she been the David-level artist she parades around as (and which most independents actually are), she most likely would have been roundly ignored, as most independents usually are. When Apple caved, it was a good week for all artists. But what happens when Swift decides that what’s best for her is to choke the radio market and keep out other artists who might be stepping on her musical toes? I can’t imagine that she wants to give up any of her power.

It’s All About the Power

And that’s exactly what it’s about: the power. Swift has the power to turn heads and make things happen the way she wants. But that could be very bad for other up-and-coming artists. Swift, ironically, has become yet another gatekeeper, akin to the ones she so readily criticizes. She’s signed to an “independent” label which is distributed by one of the Big Three labels (Universal), and she has the clout to mobilize legions of fans (when she’s not suing them, I suppose).

But what about her whole “anti-free” mentality? That’s directly at odds with a lot of the thinking within the independent music community, where artists increasingly see their music as a means of marketing, rather than an end commodity for sale. What happens when push comes to shove and she’s on the other side of the fence from the much broader—but much more unknown—independent music community? She will still have the power to push her agenda, and they will simply be more obstacles in her way.

The reality is that no artist, of any caliber or genre, should have the power to dictate changes like that. At the time, it worked out for the better, but next time will be another story.

Subsequent Partnership

All of this made the announcement of Swift’s subsequent partnership with Apple more confusing, and in some ways, harder to swallow. After all the stones that were thrown, and all the press that was garnered (a calculated effort, I’m sure), the end result was somewhat anticlimactic. We were all ready for a super showdown of a major mainstream artist (yes, that’s what she is, live with reality) bucking the system and sending a message for musicians everywhere. What we got was…well…predictable.

As soon as Apple caved, so did Swift. She caved to using the service when it turned out that her open letter would get her exactly what she wanted. That sounds logical, except for the fact that she pretty much abandoned the “Apple-Slayer” independent gauntlet when she stopped focusing on how the new service would be for non-mainstream artists, and just said “ok.” In so few words, it seems that Swift was content to “take the money and run,” so to speak. Her victory really wasn’t a victory for anyone who wasn’t seeing massive streaming or airplay already anyway, so let’s not treat it as one.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Perhaps the most glaring result of Swift’s flirtatious battle with Apple, though, was the fallout over her own contracts. In the wake of her open letter, other types of creatives called her on her own hypocrisy, though this time, they weren’t musical artists: they were photographers. In an open letter of his own, professional photographer Jason Sheldon shined a light on Swift’s own hypocrisy in her company’s contracts with photographers at her shows. According to the Washington Post:

Swift’s management company, Firefly Entertainment, demands that photographers who shoot Swift’s concerts to do so on a “one-time-use” only basis and relinquish any rights to republish or sell their photos. Additionally, the contract states that Firefly has the “perpetual, worldwide right to use” the very same photographs in just about any way it sees fit, without compensating the photographer for their usage.

Wow, let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. Swift—the great “Apple-Slayer” and champion for artists’ rights and fair compensation—didn’t (doesn’t?) even feel that those same dynamics should apply when she’s the one who has to pay royalties. That’s pretty staggering.

As she wrote in her own Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Considering just how much Swift seems to think that “valuable art should not be free,” it’s fairly amazing that she doesn’t go out of her way to create the best working opportunities for other creatives. In fact, the only thing it does is make her an undeniable hypocrite. If she wants to sit on top of the mainstream and act in a holier-than-thou way, that’s fine, but she should at least be honest about it. She shouldn’t be parading around as some “champion for the independent artist” when clearly her actions say otherwise. It essentially negates everything she’s done to “bring attention to artists’ rights.”

Perhaps the most upsetting thing of all is that many were lulled into thinking that Swift is something that she’s not, including other artists, and independents in particular. This was akin to telling someone that they now had a spokesperson they could trust and count on to speak up louder than they could for their general rights, only to find out that person wasn’t nearly as altruistic as they initially appeared. Most frustratingly, though, it has the power to negate arguments made by others who really are looking to campaign for artists’ rights. Swift’s hypocrisy has the power to undermine other voices (ones who might not be as loud as hers), and to take the focus off the matters that need to be addressed.

(Legal) Iceberg Ahead

Even as the fallout from the Apple-Swift roiling seems to have unfolded months ago, so too was there something else on the horizon for Apple which spelled a different kind of trouble: monopoly. As the FTC subsequently sent out subpoenas to competing music services following its initial probe of Apple Music, attention began to focus again on the tech giant in a way that is less than flattering. The “war” which Spotify started last July with Apple seemed to spread to other areas of the collective music business conscience. Apple Music may not have been “doomed” as Tidal was (or seemed to be) upon its initial release, but it does have new things to take care of that other services don’t need to account for.

Perhaps the irony of the whole situation is that Apple’s legal issues regarding Apple Music really only surfaced after the service was announced and released. Inasmuch as Apple would like to pretend that it has enough money to push its way through to any opinion and finding that would benefit it, it still must contend with U.S. legal code, not to mention its own Terms of Service. Power and money notwithstanding, the outcome of the said legal issues won’t resolve super quickly.

In the End

In the end, the whole Apple-Swift saga that encompassed the end of last summer really wasn’t what people reported it to be. It won’t (and hasn’t) really resulted in a super-massive victory for independents beyond some news attention, and it actually served to highlight some dirty little secrets in Swift’s own business affairs. I don’t know if the saga is concluding or just in a lull itself, but I don’t think this “picture-royalty” thing is going to go away anytime soon. Now that the dam has broken, I bet we’re going to see many more creatives (photographers for sure) speaking up over the next year or so about their business experiences with Swift, and I don’t think they will all be positive.

As for Apple, it continues to chug ahead after the release of Apple Music, albeit in the shadow of the new FTC probes. Though the service boasts a few interesting features, few of them can really be described as “new” or “earthshaking.” While ex-BBC host and DJ  Zane Lowe likely made U.K. listeners happy on the new Beats 1 radio program, for us in the States he was a somewhat irrelevant “exclusive” for Apple to tout (simply because most Americans didn’t know who he was). If Apple really wants to set itself apart in the long term (10+ years), it’s really going to need to do better than a few exclusive names. I suppose we’ll see, but for the time being, the Apple-Swift saga has left a sour taste in my mouth that won’t be going away any time soon.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — December 28, 2015

It’s the end of 2015, and the last Hit List of the year is here! I’ve enjoyed doing this so much, you can bet you’ll see a ton more lists as 2016 gears up next week. I figured since the year is just about over, I wanted to take a moment to grab a last slew of artists you might have missed, so all the people on the list this week are completely new to The Hit List. I’m loving the funk grooves and the pop-punk melody, and the fact that these artists span nearly every continent just makes it all rock harder. 2015 is just about over, but not yet, so give these awesome people a spin. See you all next year with some more sick music! ;D

1. Heard It All BeforeKiziah and The Kings – 2015

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2. Stay Single EPLike A Motorcycle – 2014

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3. SexsmithSexsmith – 2015

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4. Bored Up!Bumsy and The Moochers – 2015

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5. FearDrawing Blanks – 2015

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6. Room EPThe Loveless – 2014

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7. Half MeasuresCross – 2015

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8. Tell Lie VisionTell Lie Vision – 2015

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9. Washed, Dried, Brain FriedPowder for Pigeons – 2015

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10. Sonic MetanoiaThe Purple Curfew – 2014

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11. HARPSHARPS – 2014

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12. A Celestial StoundAltair’s Plight – 2015

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13. E.P.Neverhood – 2015

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14. BessyPurge – 2014

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15. Let Go Of It AllArrows Of Time – 2015

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16. Yearbook (EP)The Reckless Idols – 2015

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17. IntaceptaBandita – 2015

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18. CairosCairos – 2014

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19. A Glorious MessAVENAL – 2015

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20. Dust From SaturnDust From Saturn – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 30, 2015

It’s been a blusey few days and this week’s Hit List reflects that. I’m loving the deep vibes and crunchy riffs these artists have going, and it just seems to work well with the overcast November weather outside. There are a bunch of awesome Atlanta bands on here, as well as some cool up-and-coming artists from France, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these artists some love on this long Monday!  \m/

1. Welcome to the Whist Coast (EP)Whist – 2015

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2. MillipedesThe Head – 2015

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3. Us Kids – SingleChelsea Shag – 2015

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4. Blood LinesThese Little Kings – 2015

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5. SecretsThe Acorn People – 2014

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6. FacesSydney Eloise & The Palms – 2015

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7. Staring at the SunCherry White – 2015

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8. FiendThe Symphony Crack Orchestra – 2012

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9. Skies CollideSkies Collide – 2015

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10. Bottoms Up (EP)Old Pints – 2015

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11. StayStonewall Station – 2014

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12. Up Not DownThe Bright Black – 2015

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13. Medicine EPLucille’s Voodoo – 2015

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14. EgoblasterEgoblaster – 2015

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15. It’s Alright to See BlackI Shot Samo – 2015

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16. Sleepless NightsNever Count Me Out – 2015

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17. Death of a CynicOnly Forever – 2015

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18. Nothing LastsMigahawk – 2015

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19. FloraThe Assiniboine Forests – 2015

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20. WLTEWe Like The Echo – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 16, 2015

I’m dipping back into the coffers this week with a ton of albums that have made an appearance here that I just can’t stop listening to. There’s a great mix of geographies, from Australia and around Europe to the U.S. and Canada, proving that great independent music is popping up all over the place. Some of these albums just dropped, and some have been around for a little bit, but all of them will keep you rockin all week, so hit ’em up! I’m absolutely loving these artists, and I hear rumors that some of them are heading back into the studio soon. ;D As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these albums a nice long listen!  \m/

1. OmensThe Furies – 2015

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2. MillipedesThe Head – 2015

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3. Welcome to the Whist Coast (EP)Whist – 2015

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4. Time and PlaceThe Playbook – 2013

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5. Francis Duffy & The KingpinsFrancis Duffy & The Kingpins – 2015

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6. Skies CollideSkies Collide – 2015

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7. For Machines EPLimb to Limb – 2015

For Machines EP

8. Scars EPForever Still – 2014

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9. Bring the A GameBeneath the Reef – 2015

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10. Xero EPXero – 2014

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11. The Black Album (EP)AggronympH – 2015

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12. Walking HomeGenevieve Walker – 2015

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13. AnchorsThe Wonderlife – 2015

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14. Paint the SkyTigerface – 2015

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15. Where It EndsThe Joy Arson – 2015

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16. The Devil Never ComesMolly Rhythm – 2014

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17. StasisLucid Fly – 2015

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18. Darkstone Crows EPDarkstone Crows – 2015

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19. RTP EPReady The Prince – 2015

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20. BedouinCoastal Break – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 2, 2015

Amazing new Hit List this week to go along with the dreary November weather outside. Like the clouds hanging low overhead, the indie-rock vibe is strong this time around, with a good mix of sub-genres and some adrenaline punches here and there. One of the thing I’m loving about this slew of artists is their experimentation with a variety of instruments (beyond the simple guitar/bass/drums setup), so listen for the instruments you don’t normally hear mixed in ;D As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these people some love!  \m/

1. Love Songs for the Love-Impaired – Vices I Admire – 2014

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2. Perfect Little Princess – SingleFlying Kangaroo Alliance – 2015

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3. PerceptionsAll Comes Down – 2015

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4. Dollmination – The Inferno Doll – 2015

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5. Summer Suicide EPIt’s The Lipstick On Your Teeth – 2015

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6. VagabondA Reluctant Arrow – 2015

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7. OmensThe Furies – 2015

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8. Centaurus EPCentaurus – 2015

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9. In Bloom – yougetthewordswrong – 2015

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10. BurstVenus In Aries – 2015

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11. Tottie & the Wanderers – Tottie & the Wanderers – 2015

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12. Serene Calmidity – Royal Lips – 2015

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13. EPDriven Astray – 2015

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14. Horse – Animals in Suits – 2015

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15. EscapePaper Clips – 2015

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16. Falling Satellites – Dinky – 2015

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17. The Deaf KingMorrowville – 2015

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18. FootstepsThe Stereotypes – 2015

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19. Starcoast – Starcoast – 2015

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20. Populi EPPopuli -2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — October 26, 2015

I was in a decidedly metal mood while compiling this week’s list, and it definitely shows. From industrial to progressive to melodic and metalcore, the Hit List this week boasts a sick number of riff-masters absolutely slaying it! And yet, there’s more than metal here; as I was going through my industrial-metal groove this week, I found myself leaning even more into the industrial and darkwave vein, and it certainly shows. The list this week feels cold and metallic, and that’s just how it wins. It’s a dreary day here in Atlanta, and the cold, calculating feel is just right. Check these people out, they’re killin it in the best way. As always, albums are in no particular order, so make sure you get all the way down! \m/

1. Save Me EPForever Still – 2015

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2. EgressorThe Body Politic – 2015

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3. The Black Swan TheoryImber – 2015

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4. DollminationThe Inferno Doll – 2015

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5. DestinationNovembervägen – 2015

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6. RelentlessThe Nixon Rodeo – 2015

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7. Passengers – EPThe Fallen Prodigy – 2015

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8. The Lost [EP]The Beautiful Monument – 2015

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9. For the Dearly DepartedThe Funeral Portrait – 2014

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10. F-Units EPF-Units – 2015

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11. The Black Album (EP)AggronympH – 2015

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12. BurstVenus In Aries – 2015

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13. Dead Echo ParanoiaElectric Deathbeat – 2015

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14. Everything Is RelativeAll Around – 2015

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15. DarkwingDark Matter Noise – 2015

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16. Propagandadevknob – 2015

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17. Rock Is Dead and I Know Where the Bodies Are BuriedMarion Crane – 2014

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18. The Last Ones LeftSituations – 2015

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19. AugmentNoveaux – 2015

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20. The DomeHacking The Wave – 2015

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