How Google Glass Will Change Music

See the guy with the MacBook Air? Yeah, that's not weirder than wearing glasses or anything...
Wave your Macbook in the air like you got AppleCare.

We’ll be remembered as the awkward generation that carried around small glass-and-metal bricks, pointing them at things of interest.

Seriously, have you been to a concert lately? Half the crowd is holding up an iPhone or Android device, taking the same grainy video with crap audio from a slightly different angle than the other three thousand people holding up their devices. It looks ridiculous.

Before I come off as some sort of elitist snob or luddite, let me say I celebrate those three thousand people and the video they take, however unwatchable I personally might find it. Who am I to declare someone’s creativity ‘crap’ just because it doesn’t relate to me? So what? 99.9% of everything ever created doesn’t relate to me!

So many technophobe critics make the embarrassing mistake of uttering something like: “More people that ever are creating, but most of it is crap.” When has that not been true? Crap has far outnumbered substance for as long as I can remember. Why not celebrate the fact that everyone is creating their own meaning? To the people in the crowd and their friends, that grainy video of their favorite artist is the coolest thing ever — not because it’s an amazing work of art but because it encapsulates a personal experience. There’s a wide range in between and it’s all valid creativity.

Like Douglas Rushkoff points out in his new book Present Shock, we are a generation that’s actually heeding the advice “live for the present” — perhaps a little too much, in fact. We are in our own little bubbles of curated niche content, and you can look at that as good or bad. Withholding our judgements for the moment, let’s allow that mobile devices allow this to happen and it’s only going to accelerate as we enter the “Google Glass is kind of a glimpse into the future.

Let me say right here that I think people who regard Glass as a fad are fools. Comparing Glass to the Segway or the Bluetooth headset may make haters feel better, but there’s really nothing new about the Segway or the Bluetooth headset. We’ve had motorized people-movers and wireless earpieces for decades. We’ve never had the ability to record visual and auditory memories as they are perceived. Our devices come close, but we have to hold them up in front of our faces and point them around. The hand will always be utilized for finer control — it’s not like hand-held devices are going to vanish. But for the purpose of recording pure audiovisual memory, Glass is the penultimate experience before our brains get jacked directly into the Web.

Glass is like a “selfie” of the soul… and you see how popular those are. “Selfies”, I mean, not souls.

Anyway, if you think people will be laughing at Glass-like devices in ten years — when they’re indistinguishable from regular glasses — you’ve got another thing coming. You’re the one people will be laughing at, pointing your glass brick around the room like a senior citizen, blocking my view at the Rolling Stones hologram show.


We get it, Glass looks silly and stupid now. So did the World Wide Web!

Okay, we got that out of the way: Glass is here to stay. So, the question I’m most interested in asking is: how will it change music?

We will certainly look back and cringe at the photos and videos we took of 100 other people with their arms up taking photos and videos of a tiny, blurry blob that might be a musician. When we go to a music festival 10 years from now, there may still be a few hands in the air with a handheld device trying to get a better shot. But plenty of people will prefer to capture the entire experience as they experienced it — not just the stage but the epic fight through the crowd to get to the front. Not just the hit single but also the cute person you met in the beer line. The music — as always — will be the thing that brings all these people together, and the technology will facilitate the connections.

It’s also going to offer an incredible window into the musician’s lifestyle. Fans will live vicariously through their idols — it’s the logical progression from the celebrity-worship happening on Twitter right now. Hordes of amateurs will quickly realize they too can live broke and free like a musician, listening to records and jam all day, party all night, and sit in a van for eight hours. That last part will probably not be Glass’d.

Musicians will evolve as well. What we’re really talking about is wearable devices with long battery lives and cloud-based storage with Wi-Fi access. That’s a very specific (and first-world) combination, but it’s happening with greater frequency. In 10 years it ought to be commonplace in developed nations. For musicians, that means never losing a musical idea, because any time your device detects you playing music, it’s going to automatically record. Every musician reading this just had a huge lightbulb go off. How many great songs are lost forever in the folds of our brains when we don’t remember the tune?

For those familiar with copyright law, a musical “expression” is “fixed” when it is recorded, and you are immediately granted copyright protection. Anyone with Glass and a guitar will be a walking copyright machine! The copyright industry can’t handle today’s complexity, they might just buckle under the weight of this new Glass-enabled consumer-creator.

Music discovery will become visual as well. All you need to do is look at the logo on a band T-shirt and say a simple voice command, and you’re watching their music video. If one of your friends mentions a band you haven’t heard, within 60 seconds, you have. It’s possible now with our mobile devices, but the amount of tapping it takes to get the end result isn’t worth it. Are you beginning to see the true power of Glass? That it’s not so much the things it does but how it does things?

To be sure, there will be Glass experiments that don’t work. I wouldn’t want to watch too much of a show from a musician’s point of view — it’s all hot, bright lights and awkward, sweaty faces. Too much access could demystify artistry, which to an extent is awesome and democratizing, but artists need to retain some sort of mystique to distinguish themselves from the herd.

You’ll never use Glass in a casino or while taking a final exam. It’ won’t be socially acceptable in every place at every time. Neither are today’s mobile devices.

But everyone will be wearing them at the concert, backstage, at rehearsal, in the studio — wherever music composition, performance or recording is being done. Not everywhere every time. But it’s undeniable that wearable devices like Glass and its ilk will become a big part of the music culture.

A lot can happen in ten years, but everything I mentioned here has an analogue in the way we use our glass-brick mobile devices today to record our musical experience. Through the Glass, exciting new rabbit holes will appear through which we can dive deeper into the music we love.

Kickstarter for Bands: How We Raised $4,300+ from 112 People


My band just raised $4,356 from 112 people in 60 days on Kickstarter to release our new album Pandemic.

I’ve been espousing the virtues of crowd funding for a while now, so I’m really glad we didn’t blow our goal of $3,666. Instead, we went $690 over our goal.

There were a few strategy/marketing moves that really worked, and a few unexpected but important issues that arose during the process. I’d like to share them here with my fellow musicians.

This isn’t about how to make a great video or a great campaign — I’m assuming your campaign is already totally awesome and your album rules. I’m here to give you the war stories so you don’t repeat the same mistakes and make real money with these Kickstarter best practices for crowd funding an album.

Why We Picked Kickstarter

The first big choice is Kickstarter vs. Indiegogo vs. Pledge Music vs. Sellaband vs. Patronism. The last three were either overkill or still in beta. For most bands, the choice is going to be between Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Kickstarter is the most established, fully-featured and polished of all the platforms. The only reason to consider Indiegogo is because unlike Kickstarter, you keep whatever money you raise even if you don’t reach your goal. You will pay a 9% fee instead of a 5% fee for this honor. When we weren’t 100% confident in our goal, we lowered it until we were. Indiegogo is perfectly fine (and charges the same 5% fee if you reach your goal), but we went with the established player. Remember, many of your backers will be funding their first project and will have to sign up with Kickstarter, so it pays to go with a trusted name.

Why We Set 60 Days to Achieve our Goal Instead of 30 as Kickstarter Recommends

I’m not going to dispute Kickstarter’s assertion that 30 days is the optimum length of a campaign — I’m sure their statistics clearly show it. But for us, 60 days was the right length. I think that for bands just getting their footing with marketing and sales, it’s better to have a longer window to utilize — think of it as a challenge to keep your audience’s engagement for a continuous two months. It’s hard to do, you will make mistakes, there will be lulls… but it’s a fantastic learning experience. If you’re not in any particular rush, more time will allow you to draw in more people from outside your fan base.

Delays to Watch Out for at the Beginning

Don’t expect to have your campaign up and running the day you decide to launch it… or, for that matter, anytime that week. Unless you’ve done a campaign before, you’re going to wait 2-ish weeks for Amazon Payments and your bank to work things out to where you can accept payments. You’ll need to provide tax info — oh yeah, you’re getting taxed on this income. You really ought to have an LLC and a business checking account, but you can squeak through DBA yourself with your personal account.

You may also be delayed if any of your campaign rewards (or any other piece of data) triggers Kickstarter’s moderators to flag your submission for violating the terms of service. That’s not limited to penises in the promo video and human blood as a $100 incentive. Our campaign was stalled because our top backer package offered free admission for life to any of our band’s gigs. Apparently, lifetime rewards are not allowed. There are dozens of “small print” rules like this. For us, it was an easy fix, but it’s important to be aware your launch can be delayed a couple days if it’s not up to spec.

Remember Shipping, Taxes, Fees and Declines when Budgeting

Setting your goal is all about figuring out how much money you are 100% confident you can raise, and then creating a budget to produce the album that matches that amount. When you do this, don’t neglect to factor in additional expenses that will have a significant impact on the money that’s left over to produce the record.

  • Shipping – Shipping gets expensive quickly and is highly variable based on where the recipients live. You’ve really got to budget for shipping, and for that you have to guess how many of each package you’re likely to ship. Take your guesstimated total and round it up to be safe.
  • Taxes – If your band has an LLC or a partnership, your company will be liable for the taxes. Otherwise, the person who handles the money will be on the hook. Like shipping, taxes are difficult for the average citizen to estimate, but you should be building in some room for cost overruns in your budget, and setting aside some money for taxes alongside.
  • Fees – Kickstarter will take 5% of total funds raised, and Amazon will take ~3% for processing the payments (less or more depending on how much you raised). This quickly adds up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars in fees — you will wish you worked at Kickstarter when you see what they take out. Factor the fees into the budget!
  • Declines – Backers’ cards are charged when the campaign ends. Depending on how broke your fans are, you may get a number of declined credit cards. Kickstarter tries to get the cash by sending alerts to the backer every day for seven days after the campaign. Then they give up, and the money is gone. Everyone’s going to have one or two declines, but some may have more. You’ve got a real problem when someone backs you to the tune of hundreds or thousands, and then their card declines, but there’s nothing you can do about that except try to build a relationship with that backer outside Kickstarter before the campaign ends (which is a good idea anyway).

In our case, all of the above added up to roughly 1/4 of our total production budget, so pay very close attention to fees and charges that may not be apparent at the outset.

By the way, we were worried about how long it would take to get paid after the campaign ended because we saw some people saying it took them up to two weeks. It took two business days for the cash to hit the Amazon account, and another day to transfer to our bank account.

The Hustle

A great video, a bunch of great packages, a great album… these are all… great. But they are nothing without the hustle.

Put briefly, we made a list of around 300 people we thought would back us at some level. We also had our 600+ Facebook fans and 300+ Twitter fans as a captive audience, and we hit them up every day. But as the deadline grew closer, we ran our 300-person list like we were doing a fundraising run against terminal illnesses.

Preaching to the choir is not everything — you absolutely have to be drawing in people from outside your fan base. Around 30% of our backers were total strangers to us before the campaign. We constantly were meeting new people on Twitter and pitching the album, and that was good for a few hundred bucks. Ditto on reaching out to the Creative Commons folks, who gave us a spot on their curated Kickstarter page because we license all our music CC-BY-NC-SA.

So get out there, meet new people, and get them to back your dream.

Musician as Entrepreneur, Band as Business – Take My Class!

Today I’m excited to announce the culmination of over two months of round-the-clock production work to answer the common musician question: “How do I make money from my music?

I proudly present Musician as Entrepreneur, Band as Business, an online course offered by Artists House Music on the Udemy eLearning platform. Watch the promo video below:

Earlier this year I teamed up with John Snyder of the awesome Artists House non-profit to plan a curriculum that would engage and educate a new generation of musicians. Artists House has a massive video library — John brought to the table hundreds of hours of video footage featuring interviews with the top names in the music business.

I edited that massive mountain of content into 5.5 carefully curated hours, and with John’s wisdom (and 85 pages of written advice) to guide the production, we emerged with a course like no other.

Please head over to Udemy to preview the course — we’ve made one section available for free so you can get a glimpse of the top-shelf, real-world education we are offering here. There are no boring lectures that drone on, just solid tips from folks who have already proved they know how to make money from music.

Compositions with Samples: A Music Discovery Market in Arrested Development

Girl Talk producing live. Photo by IllaDeuce. CC-BY-SA
Girl Talk producing live. Photo by IllaDeuce. CC-BY-SA

When you can’t sample something, you can’t discover you like it, and you won’t buy it.

Like many suburban white kids, my first exposure to hip hop was when Run-D.M.C. teamed up with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way”.

That collaboration was not just how I discovered Run-D.M.C., it was how I discovered the whole genre of hip hop. 2 Live Crew, Beastie Boys, NWA, Public Enemy, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and LL Cool J would soon follow, along with lots of awful hip-hop/teen pop crossovers I needn’t mention. For someone straight outta the Catskills, my hip hop roots run deep.

Was Run-D.M.C. showcasing its sound through Aerosmith’s composition? Or was Aerosmith showcasing its sound through Run-D.M.C.’s composition?

The answer, of course, is both. In this case, it was as much musical chemistry as calculated salesmanship. Both bands were rocking each other’s compositions as a platform for greater exposure. Run-D.M.C. appealed to fans of hair rock, and Aerosmith suddenly seemed relevant again, saving their music career. The whole thing was a marketing plot orchestrated by bearded studio magician Rick Rubin, who carefully arranged the profitable pairing in advance.

As any hip hop fan knows, creative appropriation of sound recordings — samples — are a fundamental building block of the genre. “Walk This Way” was staged, but most samples at the time were taken without permission. Hip hop had not yet begun to emerge as the commercial powerhouse it would soon become. It wasn’t until Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films that copyright law was brought down like a hammer against unauthorized sampling, and the practice suddenly became very expensive if not impossible.

Hip hop pre-Bridgeport was a revelation because it was a genre of music based on exposing people to other artists and genres of music through the actual composition. It wasn’t a composition as we traditionally thought of — sheet music with lyrics. Instead of notes, there were bits of sound recordings, with compositions contained within. Songs were transformed through sampling into new compositions that showcased artists and genres in a new context.

Hip hop wasn’t just a music genre, it was a music discovery platform.

The mashups, remixes and EDM of today are taking the mantle of genre-as-music-discovery vacated by hip hop after Bridgeport. I would argue that these genres are the natural progression hip hop would have taken had the creative act known as “sampling” not been stagnated by an unjust court ruling.

Today, you can discover several artists or genres in a single mashup. Like an audio scavenger hunt, listeners follow snippets of sound to their source, finding new favorite tracks and entire styles of music they didn’t know existed.

All of this is happening under the commercial radar right now because creating songs with unauthorized samples is technically copyright infringement. Girl Talk is the poster child for trying to make a career out of claiming such use is fair, using hundreds of uncleared samples and making lots of people scratch their heads as to how he gets away with it. There was a whole SXSW panel on it:

No one can argue there is a growing cultural awareness of Girl Talk-esque sampling as transformative, fair use among listeners and musicians. This contrasts with another widely held belief that there is a limit to sampling another’s work without payment. As they say in the video, “Puffy’s got to pay” when it comes to using the heart and soul of a song as the heart and soul of your new composition. In other words, any rational musician or listener can see there is a spectrum between fair use and copyright infringement when it comes to sampling. Unfortunately the law is generally absolutist about these things, and Girl Talk only avoids prosecution through conspicuousness. The fact is, anyone who samples any copyrighted song without permission is breaking the law and risking a lawsuit, and because of that, the professional mash-up musician is not allowed to be born.

Where does that leave music discovery via other people’s compositions? Will mashups/EDM atrophy without commercial support? Probably not. That’s the beauty of the illegal art form — it remains relatively un-compromised by commercial interests, and sustains a creative if chaotic scene. The uglier side — at least from a purely aesthetic perspective — is that the genre remains clogged with amateurs with no clear path toward a professional music career.

Much of the progressive talk in the music world around this issue centers on the concept of introducing a compulsory sampling license. Some serious thought and legal expertise has gone into developing this path toward copyright reform. The intent is to balance the welfare of the greater good and culture at large against what many perceive as too much power given to the individual — in this case, the copyright owner of the sample in question.

In the same way I can cover a song without permission so long as I compensate the original composer via a compulsory license, I could theoretically do the same for the composers (and sound recording rights owners) of my samples.

In practice, this is tricky for a number of reasons. For example, how do we set a compulsory sample licensing fee? Most people seem to think it should be based on what percentage of your composition the original sample represents, or what percentage of the original composition/sound recording you took. But how does one possibly determine that? Length of the sample? Whether it’s used in the chorus or the verse? Amount of sample transformation? The variables are endless. Calculating them in any standard format is flatly impractical — any attempt to do so would be fraught with compromise.

Then comes the personhood concerns — the idea that a person might not want their composition to appear in a particular context. For example, when Kanye West paid handsomely to use an Otis Redding sample on Watch the Throne, Otis Redding’s estate vetted every word in the song to ensure it matched Redding’s legacy. A compulsory sample license would allow me to use the same sample in a new composition called “Otis Redding Sucks” as long as I paid the requisite fee.

For those unfamiliar with music copyright, a song basically has two rights attached to it: the actual sequence and structure of the notes and lyrics as well as the actual recording. It’s another reason why sampling is trickier than cover songs — with a cover, you’re making a new recording, so you don’t have to pay or get permission to use the old one. With a sample, you’re dealing with two different sets of rights, which technically means two different licenses. Compositions are administered by performing arts organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SEASAC) on behalf of publishers and artists, licensing them is a fairly standard process. But many musicians transfer their song’s second right — the sound recording right — to a record label in exchange for financing the recording and marketing of their album. Thus, negotiations for sample use are not always entirely up to the artist, but their label as well. So in many cases, the composer would be cool with using the sample, but the record label that owns the sound recording would say no or hold out for more money.

For these and other reasons, it’s not likely that genres based on unauthorized sampling will reach any sort of widespread commercial viability any time soon. And that’s a real bummer, because we’re denying a generation of listeners one of the most vibrant music discovery platforms yet invented by humans — the composition-within-composition. Not to mention all the dough being left on the table.

Thankfully — as I always say — music finds a way. Bridgeport didn’t stop unauthorized sampling any more than Napster stopped unauthorized file sharing. In both cases, music discovery was driven underground.

We will continue to see the growth and evolution of compositions that make unauthorized use of other people’s compositions and sound recordings. I would urge all musicians to fight the good fight and protect their compositions and sound recordings with a Creative Commons license instead of relying on traditional copyright. With Creative Commons, you can protect your song against unauthorized commercial use while giving a wide berth to allow transformative uses of your song like sampling and remixing.

Sample culture will continue to thrive beneath the surface of the mainstream, waiting for a law to pass and unleash its bottled-up commercial potential. Until then, it will only get cooler and more creative, and samples will only gain more political power.

The corporations that control 75% of the world’s music would be keen to pay attention and change their strategy. Picture this: Girl Talk takes the stage with Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. at the 2014 Grammy Awards and they infringe 60 years of music in 5 minutes. Watch that mashup single become the new “Gangnam Style” overnight.

The Music Doesn’t Need Saving (Video)

Trying something a little new this week… a video blog.

I hear a lot of people say we need to “save the music” by preserving the old business models of the music industry. “If there are less career opportunities for musicians,” they argue, “surely there will be less good music.” I call shenanigans on this short-sighted perspective. There is more music than ever before, and a new breed of musician is being born, blurring the lines between creator and consumer. Bring on the new thing.

Why Our Band Uses Creative Commons Licenses (Video)

Copyright is good at protecting creative work… too good. Traditional copyright prevents people from sharing and remixing your work. But with a Creative Commons license, your fans are free to copy, share, distribute, remix or build upon your music or other creative work. It has safeguards built in to prevent others from failing to attribute you, or from commercially exploiting your work without your permission.

The Steady Decline of the Professional Musician

The professional music career is in decline.

We could start with the RIAA’s debunked statistics painting a worst-case scenario, but that only tells one side of the story.

I’d rather look at Google, the “do no evil” company and thorn in the side of the few corporations that control the majority of the US music industry.

Search terms can’t be gamed and framed the way U.S. Bureau of Labor data can… Google Trends searches are like Shakira’s hips, they don’t lie. Let’s take a look at some common terms associated with aspiring music professionals:


The search volume for music career, learn music, music business, songwriting and music sales are all noticeably down since about a decade ago. Seeing these and other terms on a downward trend paints a clear picture of a future with less professional musicians.

Who’s to blame? Depends on who pays your bills. If you’re an old school music business person, you probably blame the content-devaluing “information wants to be free” tech sector. If you’re a new school musician, you probably have a chip on your shoulder dug deep by the exploitative, self-destructing record business which is ineptly responsible for the scorched earth you have to Mad Max a music career on these days.

Before we seek blame or solutions, let’s pause for a moment to consider what this means. Back to Google Trends. What about search terms concerned with more modern, everyday music practices?


Search volume for how to remix, mashup, garageband, how to record and how to make music are on their way up. There are more “musicians”, but less of them qualify for the “professional” distinction. You might call it the “amateurization” of music. More musicians, less music careers.

This is fun, let’s take another look at the “old way” of doing things:


Yup, interest is flagging in music publishing, music job, artist management, music copyright and music law.

So there must be a huge explosion of amateur musicianship, huh?


Hmmm… less people seem to want to go the traditional route of learning guitar and song composition through formal experience in training. This would seem to jive with less musicians going pro. Also jives with all the time those damn kids play video games on their mobile phones.  They probably have a much more direct relationship to music creators, right?


Wow, crowd funding is exploding in popularity — there are clearly less careers these days built on exploitation and more facilitated through patronage. And lots of people seem to be picking up the habits of aspiring music professionals (Facebook pages, merch, albums). Perhaps we’re just in a slump, and there’s a digital music baby boom waiting to happen?

Of ourse, the situation is not as simple as I paint it here with the Google Trends graphs. For one, Google search terms are very broad in both scope and depth. If Kickstarter had an IPO, that might spike traffic, despite no correlating spike in user activity. Second, statistics can tell almost any story you want them to if you know how to frame them.

I’m not here to spew propaganda. I’m here to form solutions. Can this trend be turned around? Should we even care?

On the one hand, I believe we need more of a culture of entrepreneurship among musicians. The art/business divide is increasingly one of unsustainable, apathetic detachment from reality. It’s a cultural anachronism from a time when creative work found its utility in exploitation. Put simply, we musicians could use a little entrepreneurship with our sex, drugs and rock and roll. Everyone is creative nowadays — in a sense, creativity is getting more competitive. Those with the entrepreneurial skills have more and more opportunities for exposure than those skilled only in composition, performance or recording.

On the other hand, the music industry is growing, and while huge challenges remain (largely around copyright issues), it doesn’t seem as if the music market is in a downward trend. In fact, more people are listening to more music than ever before.

I think what’s happening is clear — we’re witnessing the dawn of a new creative class and a new type of creator-consumer.

We should continue to strive to figure out ways the old guard won’t lose all the value they invested in the music world these past few decades. But royalties — so-called “mailbox money” — are like a musician Social Security system, and just as unsustainable. Old rights owners (or their heirs) who no longer create anything are bogeying the music economy pie, leaving only tiny slices left for emerging, independent artists. This is why Spotify royalties are so low. I bet they love artists and would love to pay them, after all, they’re Swedish.

The purpose of copyright is to promote the production of creative works — how is that accomplished by giving the George Gershwin Estate millions of dollars? It may be a radical concept, but I think we need to divert some of this money into funding programs for the next generation of musicians. And we clearly need shorter copyright terms.

In any case, let’s push toward patronage and leverage the creative value in all of us to protect the independent class of musicians that represent our future. We may very well live in a world with more musicians and less professionals for a long time. But that doesn’t mean music is any better or worse off. Music is always awesome no matter how much we screw up the business side.

What is happening now is a redefinition of what a musician is (which is good because none of us can agree on a definition at the moment). We’re figuring out new ways (or rediscovering pre-phonograph ways) of doing business.

But as most fans and musicians would tell you, “Who cares about definitions and business models — turn up the music!”

Artist Growth: Great App for Musician-Entrepreneurs

artist_growth_ios1_mediumArtist Growth is a web and mobile app designed to amplify the entrepreneurial spirit of musicians everywhere. What’s next after first signing up? It’s time to customize your green, spherical avatar with a mesh cap and a pair of headphones.

Perhaps realizing that music and business are like oil and water in the minds of many musicians, Artist Growth puts the “fun” in fundamental music business practices. From customizing your avatar to creating “action tasks” around gigs and other events, the platform seeks to drive independent musicians toward the business goals necessary to flourish as a modern musical enterprise.

The Artist Growth crew is teasing a 2.0 release soon, but their current offerings are worthy of immediate attention. On the heels of this Editor’s Choice review of the app on, I decided to sign up and see what was up. After all, the green spherical avatar in the review looks exactly like me.

I instantly fell in love with the gamified UI when I started by entering an upcoming gig. After entering contact info for the other members of the band, Artist Growth prompted me to add an “action pack” to the gig, which creates a checklist of promo suggestions to get maximum attendance. It even prompted me to set a tour itinerary upon gig creation, ensuring all members of my band know when load-in, load-out, (and most importantly) dinner is.

Other highlights include useful functions to track band finances, generate set lists and schedule other tasks and appearances. These could all be easily handled outside of the app, but their inclusion shows a commendable commitment to completeness on the part of Artist Growth.

mzl.ezouirei.320x480-75While the business aids are a great mix of fun and functionality, the true asset Artist Growth has to offer is a partnership with The Indie Bible. The venerable directory of venues, press and media published for independent musicians is the backbone of the app’s “industry search” function. Splitting the U.S. up into regions, Artist Growth gives musicians the tools to comb through the nation’s music establishments and target them with promo and booking efforts.

Rounding out the checklists and directories is “AGtv”, the app’s built-in video content targeted to musician-entrepreneurs. It’s a surprisingly well-developed aspect of the Artist Growth approach, featuring “channels” of content from the leading voices in career advice for musicians. From TuneCore to Taylor Guitars to Ariel Hyatt, all the big players are represented.

I haven’t seen such a fully-integrated musician-entrepreneur app since Indie Band Manager established itself years ago as the utilitarian Swiss Army knife of self-managed musicians, allowing them to “rock both roles”.

Artist Growth is today’s über-accessible platform to draw in and develop a new generation of musician-run small businesses. The mobile and web apps are not without their kinks. However, they persevere with a slick UI and a respectable balance of functionality and ease-of-use, and I see immense promise in their pioneering platform.

The Artist Growth business model is interesting. The company is riding the wave of new apps relying on a monthly subscription fee ($5 per install) rather than a one-time download price. This makes total sense for a service designed to be ersatz manager to notoriously non-business-minded musicians. I wouldn’t be surprised if bands that dutifully complete the “action packs” see up to a hundred-fold return for their investment. Of course, there will be many suckers on the line as well, paying their monthly dues like a gym membership for a couch potato.

I’ll be on the lookout for Artist Growth 2.0’s relaunch — their $10/mo. “integrated” pricing plan looks incredibly competitive as a mass-market, more accessible TopSpin-style offering. In the meantime, I greatly encourage musicians to check out their iOS app and give the 30-day free trial a shot.

Don’t Panic: Young People Still Love Music, Just Differently

There is a growing, panicked chorus of voices in the music blogosphere asking the question, “Are young people tuning out of music?

Let’s all take a deep breath and relax, folks. Young people still love music, they just have a different relationship to it than us. We need to stop framing generational relationships to music as “worse” or “better” than ours. In fact, we need need to stop this whole “young people” talk — it’s making us look old and out of date.

The all-too-familiar argument behind this imaginary desertion of music by today’s youth could not sound less crotchety. “These kids walking around in a bubble with their over-compressed MP3s on their crappy earbud headphones! Back in my day we listened to records or the radio all night! Now they just play video games! They don’t pay for music, they don’t respect artist, they don’t even care who wrote the damn song, they just want to listen and forget it!” Even Flea has whined: “MP3s suck. It’s just a shadow of the music.” I thought Flea was cool!

The problem is that the older generations can’t help but view youth culture with a comparative lens. Once you make that mistake, your analysis is done for. Want to know how MTV dominated youth culture in the 90s? They literally turned teens’ bedrooms inside and out to assume their identity and then programmed accordingly. They got inside the teenage mind. You’ll never get into the teenage mind by holding on to anachronisms like big production budgets and adulation of musical “genius”. Skrillex songs and Eagles songs are apples and oranges.

Instead of gettin’ cantankerous with it in our old age, why don’t we see youth culture for what it really is? In fact, “youth culture” is inadequate because youth is culture in the sense that the younger generation drives cultural change.

The truth has been obscured by bitter anecdotes of musicians and fans who preferred the culture built by a music industry based on corruption and exploitation (just sayin‘!) When one sees youth culture for what it really is, there is actually more to be optimistic for in music than ever before:

  • The Semiotic JukeboxSemiotic democracy in action. Today’s listeners create their own meaning from art. They’re not lining up at the trough to be fed a product. Unlike previous generations of passive consumers, today’s listeners need to participate in the creation, production and performance of the music themselves. See mashups, dubstep, remixes, crowd funding, social networks. It’s a boon for personal expression. They want to participate in culture, not just consume it. They are living proof that the fulfillment gained in expressing oneself through music is a greater incentive than any copyright-granted market monopoly. This is why they reject copyright — it now serves cross-purpose to democratized creativity.
  • Lo-Fi Listening – A lot of people consider the home studio revolution the biggest driver of democratization in the music business. But “in the box” production wasn’t a playing field-leveling powerhouse until listener’s ears adjusted to the over-compressed earbuds. Add in computer speakers and used car stereos to their college debt-riddled existence and you’ve got enough questionable audio fidelity to make Neil Young admit that rock and roll actually is dead because it sounds so crappy. Or does it? In reality, young people have adapted to listen to and enjoy music at varying levels of audio quality and still enjoy it. “Legitimate” digital downloads are improving in fidelity as compression technology advances… and would you look at that, digital download sales have been on the up and up for a while. Today’s listeners haven’t lost their appreciation for hi-fi… they’ve just adapted to a world of constantly varying fidelity. It’s admirable.
  • Quantity over Quality – The youth of today prefer access to all music — good and bad — over access to a sliver of “really good” music (as judged by market consensus and manufactured popularity). Older generations were born and raised to adulate musicians as creative geniuses. This is a cultural construct from the American Romantic period. Ever wonder why the Chinese have “free-spirited” IP attitudes? They never had a Romantic period! They still appreciate that Everything is a Remix and it’s not just the author but also the shoulders of the giants the author stands on that is the wellspring of creativity. Thus, the old way of having a really small selection of the “best” music is inadequate. They are willing to sacrifice the upper percentile of quality for the benefit of all other percentiles, and their sacrifice should be commended. They will be their own judges of quality, thank you very much.
  • The Decline of Professionalism or the Rise of the Amateur? – This is the big one. You can look at it either way — but either way, it’s hard to argue against the trend toward fewer professional musicians and more amateurs. When equal temperament and music notation met the printing press and the industrial production of the piano, amateur music exploded — so there is a good past precedent for such “amateurization” in the wake of transformative technology. The big difference is that back then, the pros benefitted from the overall interest in music — these were generally amateur performers who still needed compositions. Today, the “amateurization” trend not only includes composition and performance but recording as well. The career musician — rare to begin with — is now a dying breed. Again, that can be a good thing or a bad thing to you, but ultimately, it just is. I for one think it’s a good thing because the purpose of music is social bonding, not generating wealth.

Instead of acting out of fear, let’s endeavor to understand youth culture, keep calm, and carry on.

Sweden Blows U.S. Away with its National Music Scene

ABBA-Album-Covers-1-750x758I was reading about a new IFPI report on digital music and how 1 in 5 U.S. music consumers now subscribes to a music streaming service. Man, we are really slow to get this whole future of music thing.

The article says “Of course the number is off the charts in Sweden,” and sure enough, a whopping 48% of Swedes are using some sort of music subscription service. But I couldn’t understand why the article said “of course”, as if it was supposed to be self-evident to me that Sweden would lead the world in streaming music.

As your typical xenophobic US citizen, I revered Sweden as a clean, pacifist, rich and equal society full of well-cultured, well-educated citizens. But I wondered, why are their music fans so evolved?

My first stop was the Swedish popular music Wikipedia page. With a population of around 9.5 million (just a million over New York City), its hits-per-capita has been through the roof since the 70s. ABBA, Europe, Roxette, Neneh Cherry, Rednex (OK, could have done without that one), Robyn, Basshunter, Nina Persson, The Cardigans, Ace of Base, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Avicii, Meshuggah, In Flames, Opeth… the quantity is matched by diversity. This isn’t even to mention Swedish producers like Denniz Pop and Max Martin who have written some of the biggest hits for U.S. artists in the past couple decades.

Is it something in the cool, crisp, refreshing Swedish mountain spring water?

Well, it was time to hit the offical Sweden Wikipedia page. I quickly found some more clues:

  • About 85% of the population live in urban areas.
  • Sweden has the world’s eighth highest per capita income.
  • The country is ranked as the second most competitive in the world by the World Economic Forum.
  • Sweden is one of the world’s most equal countries in terms of income.

Money and urban living certainly add up to heavy music consumption, but let’s dig deeper into the Music subhead:

  • Sweden has a prominent choral music tradition, deriving in part from the cultural importance of Swedish folk songs. In fact, out of a population of 9.5 million, it is estimated that five to size hundred thousand people sing in choirs.

Wow, so 15% of Sweden’s population sings in a choir. What do 15% of American citizens do?

OK, well, that’s depressing. Looks like the so-called “cultural leaders” of the world’s IP economy could learn a thing or two about music culture from the Swedes.

I Googled a little deeper and came across a 2010 article asking “What’s the Matter with Sweden? Wait, there’s something wrong? It starts:

“The first time the Knife got money from the Swedish Arts Council was in 2001… The electro-pop duo received 45,000 Swedish kronor (SEK), or about $6,327 — ‘pretty standard for albums back then'”

Wait, what? The Swedish government gave an eletro-pop band $6K to record an album? Can you imagine what Southern Republicans would say if the Bush administration gave Gwar $6K?

Reading down the article, one quickly realizes Pitchfork was just pulling a hipster fake out on you, and there really isn’t anything wrong with Sweden. Everything looks right.

Sure, it takes a tax rate around 50% of GDP (it’s closer to 28% in the US), but it adds up to tens of millions of dollars in arts and music funding. We’ve got the National Endowment for the Arts, but try getting a grant out of them for your electro-pop band.

Could it be that simple? Could Sweden’s secret be public funding of the arts?