Book Update #4: Refining & Pitching “Music is Free”

Pic1One decade ago I decided to write a book. I blogged and I blogged and I blogged. The book never amounted to more than a fragmented manifesto, but I did get noticed enough to make some cool music/tech biz career moves working for iLike and Pump Audio.

One year ago, I resolved to work every day toward accomplishing the goal of writing my book. I also started my fourth blog, the one you’re reading now. Don’t worry, a fifth is on the way.

One year ago I collected 500 index cards, each with a topic I wanted to cover in the book. This became the first of dozens of outlines, which became the first of several books. I really did write about three or four versions of nearly half of the book, only to scrap 90 percent of it and start over. I figure I’ve written 200,000 words by now.

2012 was a banner year for the blog. Thousands of readers streamed to my ethical defense of a generation during the debate between NPR’s Emily White and Cracker’s David Lowery about the ethics of filesharing. A post about the origin of music continues to draw thousands more as a popular StumbleUpon link. I was asked to contribute a guest post to the Musician’s Union in the UK, and this article continues to be top Google search result for the query “How do musicians make money?”

As great as the blog was going, progress on the book was steady but slow. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning how to write non-fiction. I thought my years of blogging, of writing for newspapers and magazines, of technical and professional writing had steeled me for the rigors of non-fiction book writing. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was surprised at how little it resembled any other type of writing I’d done prior.

I love doing the research, often more than the writing itself, but the amount necessary to tell a story of the scope I’ve chosen is enormous. I have found it necessary to develop a reading habit in order to write the book with the veracity I would demand of any author I read. The writing was a grind as to be expected, but it still had those great “eureka” moments when prose and purpose crystalize.

It should have been obvious to me from the start, but the most critical part of book writing was the most challenging: To tell a compelling story that many people could empathize with. I soon realized there was no point in writing a book if it wouldn’t connect with people.

I ditched the polemical manifesto and pursued the “story” in “history”. I began to look for the novel, compelling, human stories that illustrated the point I was trying to make. Suddenly, it became clear: my book was about people sharing songs. I would title it “Music is Free: The History and Future of Song Sharing”.

And it would be published by a traditional publisher.

Back in August of last year I told you my book was “almost done”. One of the big lessons I learned since then: don’t ever say something is almost done, especially something like a nonfiction book about the entire history of music… and the future of music too.

Somewhere along the way I decided that I could always self-publish it, but it would be much more fun to get the backing of a real publisher, and that’s what I’m doing now, shopping this book to publishers and agents. I’m going to LA in a couple weeks to meet up with a NYT bestselling author to kick off a long stretch of pitching my book.

The more obvious question, especially to anyone who knows me and my stance on copyright: Why go with a traditional “dinosaur” publisher? Why sign all of your rights over when it’s the antithesis of what you believe in and what your book is about?

To the first question: Only a traditional publisher offers the real physical book distribution to a huge chunk of potential readers who prefer to consume it that way. It’s what my target audience wants.

To the second question: I haven’t signed anything yet. 😉

Not incidentally, I’ll be a copyright expert in twelve weeks thanks to this Harvard Law School (HarvardX) copyright course. I was one of 500 out of several thousands students selected to participate. By spring I’ll have the foundational knowledge to really give substance and expertise to my book — perhaps just in time for my advance to roll in.

As I shop around my proposal (drop me a line if you’re interested) I’ll be changing the format of the blog a little bit. Since I’ll be pretty busy with Zac Shaw Goes to Law School, I’m going to be musing here on some of the topics I’m simultaneously tackling in the book. In other words, not so much current events, but more testing out core parts of my book’s hypothesis as the final draft falls into place.

Thanks again for supporting me all these years, I can’t wait for you to read the finished text.

Book Update #3: Table of Contents Revealed, Writing Almost Done

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, and for good reason. As my summer sabbatical draws to a close, so to does my writing process. That’s right, the book is in its final writing stage, the end is in sight!

Of course, I still have the modest task of editing ahead of me, but I will be getting some help from friends over the coming weeks. I plan on having a finished, edited, designed eBook ready for publication in November 2012.

Though my original plan was to self-publish the entire book, I’m now thinking it’s strong enough to seek a real publisher. Besides, what have I got to lose? If I don’t get a publishing deal on favorable terms I am fully confident I can self-publish and reach a sizable audience on my own. Not sure if I’ll go all the way with a literary agent, but there are about a dozen publishers on my short list and a few connected people in the social network, so we’ll see what they think of the book… if I can get it through the door.

As I muddle out the release details, I’ve been sprinting to the writing finish line. A surprising portion of the writing process has essentially been rewriting, or editing as I go along. It seems like for every four paragraphs I put into the book, only one comes out. This is intentional because I want every sentence to be important and every paragraph to read well yet be packed with information. It’s almost more like sculpture than writing.

Another part of the original plan — to write a brief work of 150 pages or less — has steadily faded from view over the past weeks as the book pushes 200 pages and still has a way to go. A nontrivial part of that was my decision to include footnotes and annotations with the text. Part of the challenge of writing the book is leaving out highly illustrative details for the sake of clarity of prose, so the added notes give me the satisfaction of revealing deeper meaning to the concepts put forth. It’s turning in to a full-on non-fiction epic with hundreds of cited sources.

Lest I leave you with nothing but an update, I’d like to reveal a little glimpse into the finished product. While I’m still a ways from publishing excerpts (let’s wait until it’s edited), the organization of the chapters hasn’t changed in weeks so I’m confident that I’ve arrived at a final list.

Oh, and one last thing before I share the chapters. The name of the book will not be Mediapocalypse. While the book certainly takes a pessimistic view of the music industry, it is ultimately an optimistic book about rediscovering the true meaning and power of music, and using technology to eradicate the old, corrupt record business. Therefore, Mediapocalypse was relegated to a chapter title. So what is the new book title? For several reasons, I can’t tell you yet. But I guarantee it will spark a lot of controversy. Stay tuned!

CHAPTER LIST (with brief descriptions):

  • Introduction– Why it’s time to change the way we think about music.

PART I – [title of the book which I’m not yet revealing]

  • Chapter 1 – You Are the Music – Music exists within us, the music industry exists to control our access to it.
  • Chapter 2 – Broken Records – How the business of recorded music cyclically destroyed and renewed our relationship to it.
  • Chapter 3 – The First Song – Recent scientific research into the origins of music reveals how utterly central it is to the human experience on both individual and social levels. This is the evolutionary case for the true meaning and power of music in a world that views it merely as entertainment product.

PART II – A People’s History of the Music Industry

  • Chapter 4 – Performance Anxiety – How the music industry emerged from performance in ancient societies, the church, and how music was redefined by a wave of pre-Industrial technologies (approx. 0AD-1875).
  • Chapter 5 – His Master’s Voice – The invention of recorded music and the seedy origins of the modern music industry. (approx. 1875-1925).
  • Chapter 6 – Around the Dial – Broadcast technology reshapes the industry as exploitation of recorded music and its artists reaches new heights (approx. 1925-1950).
  • Chapter 7 – Low Ethics, High Fidelity – As technology advances, so too does systematic corruption within the music industry. A generation rediscovers the power of music only to relinquish control of culture to corporations. (approx. 1950-1975)
  • Chapter 8 – The Diamond Industry – The obscene wealth of the music industry grows more consolidated, seemingly in direct relation to its ethical and cultural bankruptcy. (approx. 1975-2000)
  • Chapter 9 – Napstermath – As digital technology shatters the industry’s control, the record business adopts litigation and lobbying as its primary business model, stagnating but not stopping the inevitable musical revolution. (approx. 2000-2010)
  • Chapter 10 – Mediapocalypse – The end of the record business is the start of a brave new music industry. As we enter a markedly different new golden era of music driven by digital music technology, the old business model refuses to go quietly.

PART III – Listening to the Future

  • Chapter 11 – The New Musician – Moving from exploitation to patronage by directly connecting with fans and growing in number and purpose, the new musician blurs the line between amateur and professional to the benefit of our culture.
  • Chapter 12 – The New Listener – Interactive, participatory listening and a direct artist connection means today’s listeners are more involved in the music ecosystem than ever. We explore how the frequency, diversity and depth with which people listen to music is increasing.
  • Chapter 13 – The New Industry – Examining survivors of the apocalyptic war on digital music, and the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Chapter 14 – Sound Visions – Educated guesses on trends in the near-future of music.
  • Epilogue – Post-Music – Considering the heady implications of a post-music future, from singularity to apocalypse and everything in between.

Mid-Week Wrap-Up: The David Lowery vs. Emily White Debate and Three Music Apps I’m Using

Writing has been heady and traffic has been heavy on the blog this week. I’ve been fully engaged in this David Lowery vs. Emily White debate as it goes viral. Boing Boing has a great wrap-up of rebuttals and of course you can check out my original piece here.

It’s been incredible reading all sides of the debate and I think we’ve all come away learning something important about each other. I know I’m reinvigorated to get back to writing the book full-time as well as getting my new music non-profit venture founded and funded. You may see less of me on the blog in the coming days, but rest assured I’m in a basement somewhere in Upstate NY hunched over a keyboard next to stacks of books.

Before I split to get on with it, I wanted to share with you some of the cool new music app discoveries I’ve made recently. They’re thanks in no small part to the incredible API masters at The Echo Nest and their wonderful site which reports on all the latest music apps.

This is My Jam is built on an utterly simple concept. Each week, you choose a single song and tout it to the world as your current favorite. This is My Jam does a number of things right to make this app a compelling experience. First, I think the idea itself is great because it hits the sweet spot in terms of how much of my listening experience I want to share with everyone. To me, pushing updates every day on what I’m listening to seems excessive. is cool because it makes my listening history available without pushing it to the world all day. Once a week seems like the perfect quality control too — it ensures whatever song I pick will be the best of the best. As someone who spends at least a few hours a week listening for new music, it’s the perfect balance. Add to that a well-designed UI, a robust music catalog to choose from and just the right balance of reminder emails to drive engagement, and This is My Jam is something with staying power. Check out my jam here.

TastemakerX is a fantasy stock market for music. You buy and sell shares of bands, that’s it! It’s a fun little diversion to check into each day and see how your band portfolio is doing. Some buy shares in their favorite bands, others try to play the market and notice emerging trends. I’ve taken the latter approach, doing research on sites like Metacritic and Pitchfork to check for new releases (would have done that anyway). Since there’s a 5% commission on all sales, and a 25,000 unit starting bankroll for everyone, you really are forced from the start to be shrewd and patient with your trades (it’s all play money of course). The mobile app makes for a great waiting-in-line time-waster, and the full-featured website gives a home base to track your portfolio. It’ll be way more fun when a few friends start to play, but for now I’m enjoying trying to climb up the leaderboards, and going long on R. Kelly.

WhiteNoisePro is handily the best white noise app in the iTunes app store. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the iPad and as such have been using the WhiteNoisePro app in my headphones to drown out background noises. There are dozens of sounds that can be blended and customized to create a unique aural atmosphere. The UI is most impressive in the mode where you’re placing audio sources in your environment and changing their volume, pitch and other parameters. I’ve got a nice crackling fire with some wind and ocean waves, and a mechanical hum to ground it all. It’s funny to be enamored with an app that basically does its job best when you don’t notice it, but I’d recommend it for any of your white noise needs.

I Wrote a Guest Post for the Musicians’ Union in the UK

Recently I wrote a guest post for the Music Supported Here blog, which is run by the Musicians’ Union, “a globally-respected organisation of over 30,000 musicians working in all sectors of the music business” out of the UK.

I was asked to write about “what it takes to be a musician today”. Since I was writing for an audience of professional musicians, I figured I’d write about “what it takes to be a successful musician today”, defining success as making a living playing music. Of course, I started by pointing out that money is rarely the reason we play music, but money is the only reason we’re in business. Therefore, while it takes great music to succeed, all the hit songs in the world won’t make you money unless you or your manager can run a business profitably.

The days of the entrepreneur musician are upon us, and I’m trying to do my part to spread the gospel. Read my guest post here.

Mediapocalypse Book Update #2

Well, folks, I’m back for another book update as the first month of project Mediapocalypse comes to a close. With the book having pretty much taken over my life at this point, on the rare occasion that I venture into the outside world I get the same two questions: How’s the booking coming along? What’s it about?

It’s coming along great, thanks. As is my style, I’ve been inventing my own method as I go along, only to later find how close it is to the established process. This is most apparent in my focus over the last couple of weeks: the bibliography.

In many ways, writing a book is like writing an album. Songs are very much reconstituted from influences, or as Kirby Ferguson would say, Everything is a Remix. Similarly, a nonfiction book begins as the sum of its sources.

Since I first became interested in the subject a decade ago, I have amassed a voluminous library of music nonfiction. Thus, half of my bibliography was already done — I simply had to dust off my MLA style guidelines and start typing.

I am unashamed to admit that during the rest of the bibliography process, I got a huge assist from Once I had catalogued my own collection, it became clear that I had a single mission: to find any and every other book that would be a useful source. Luckily, made discovery painless, with its related product referrals and faceted search. Even better, it was easy to ascertain the quality and content of the works via customer reviews and the ‘look inside this book’ feature. What’s a library again?

My bibliography (at least the book portion) is now complete. I’m sure to find a handful of secondary and tertiary sources during the writing process, but right now I feel super-confident about my factual foundation.

Posting the bibliography before the book seems sacrilegious and anticlimactic — like playing an audience tracks from your favorite artists and then asking them to guess what your album will sound like. Instead, I will give you some stats…

There are 107 nonfiction book titles currently in my bibliography, comprised of 17 primary sources, 34 secondary sources and 56 tertiary sources. I read each primary and secondary source carefully, and key passages are highlighted and marked on a 1-4 scale of importance. Any relevant notes are scribbled in the back of the book (or, on the iPad, in Evernote). The tertiary sources are skimmed rather than read cover to cover. Many of these are the dryly academic texts, from which I am seeking only to mine facts and evidence.

Of the key sources, I’m 30 for 51, meaning I have 21 more full books to read, along with a few dozen tertiary sources to skim. Yeah, that’s a lot of reading. At present, I’m reading at about 150 pages per day, which averages to around three nonfiction books per week, so I should be done sometime in mid-June.

Thinking myself rather smart for inventing the bibliography-first method of nonfiction book writing, my lovely wife, who holds a Master’s Degree to my High School Diploma, pointed out this has been standard practice for decades. Maybe I should pick up a book on nonfiction writing? Nah, making it up as I go along is too much fun.

Enough with the reading, you say, how is the actual writing going? And what the hell is the book about?

My writing process at this point is essentially the opposite of pulling meat off the bone. Poring through my source notes, I attach meaty facts and concepts to my skeletal outline in a program called OmniOutliner, nesting text into hierarchies. In the process, themes and topics emerge almost organically. In a way, I’m not deciding what the book is about explicitly — the patterns in my notes of interest are telling me what it’s about.

The dispassionate answer to the topical question can be found in a tag cloud. I tagged each of the books in my bibliography from a list of 60 terms describing topics, and then fed them into TagCrowd to see what my major themes were. Here were the top 20:

business, cognitive, commodification, copyright, corruption, culture, digital, history, industry, legislation, listener, litigation, meaning, musician, neuroscience, origin, philosophy, society, sound, technology

I think that’s a pretty good description of what I’m going for. But to give you a better idea, I will share with you the general structure of the book, in terms of the major “parts” that I will organize chapters within. This builds off my decision to proceed chronologically, interweaving the story of the musician, listener and industry to build my overall thesis. It’s shaping up to be a sort of “People’s History of the Music Industry” Howard Zinn-like epic retelling of history from the perspective of its losers — in this case, musicians.

After a typical introduction, the book will be comprised of three major parts:

Part I tells the story of the origin of music, and how musicians and listeners came into being. I seek to answer the question “What is music?” by defining the relationships between these two groups, using all the interdisciplinary tools at my disposal. This epic story spans from millions of years ago to the dawn of the 20th century, as we end Part I by introducing the origins of the music industry.

If Part I tells the story of how and why musicians, listeners and industry came into being, Part II describes how the industry came to dominate the relationship shared by those groups. Over the course of the 20th century, we witness the subjugation of music’s meaning and purpose to commerce, and examine the paradox of popular music. This section appropriately ends with the rise of Napster at the beginning of the new millennium.

Part III brings us from the digital music revolution to our present-day crossroads. This is where the payload of my thesis is delivered. The narrative threads of musician, listener and industry culminate in a blunt and critical appraisal of why the record business deserved to die, and the unprecedented opportunities listeners and musicians have in the aftermath of the industry’s fall. It ends by looking ahead to the new business of music, and how digital technology will continue to shape its future.

I’ll wrap it all up with a unique epilogue, which will use the book’s content to look ahead to chart a futuristic vision of the relationship between musician, listener and industry during the rest of the century.

In the end, I hope to publish a book that can be enjoyed by musicians, listeners and industry alike, though they may all get something different out of it. Core to my mission is to challenge readers to reconsider everything they thought they knew about music, and to become a more active participant in its creation and/or consumption.

That blog post may have been a book unto itself, but what can I say, I’ve got the writing bug. Stay tuned for more updates and announcements.

Mediapocalypse Book Update #1

For those of you who don’t already know, the purpose of this blog is mostly to chronicle my journey as a first-time book author. The nonfiction book I’m currently working on (currently sharing the same working title as the blog) is something that’s been cooking on the backburner of my mind ever since Napster first hit the scene. To put it bluntly, as a musician and fan, I couldn’t help but notice how the music industry was ruining music for profit.

Ten years and hundreds of pages of notes later, I now have a unique opportunity to take a sabbatical from my regular full-time job as a producer of websites and other creative media. I am using that time not only write my magnum opus, but to engage in entrepreneurship related to blending creative technology with my deep knowledge of the dynamic between music industry, musicians and listeners.

Now two weeks into the process, I’m sure I’m not the first to remark that writing a book has been, above all, a humbling experience. I kept writing the perfect outline, only to wake up the next day and write a more perfect outline. Even worse, as the outlines evolved, the stack of research questions that needed hard-sourced answers grew and grew. Dipping a toe into research was alarming (and eye-opening), with so many contradictory figures and findings from supposedly reputable sources. Yes, writing nonfiction was hard — and I hadn’t even written much yet.

Somehow though, all these fast-accruing research tasks and content refinements snowballed recently into a big breakthrough in terms of structure. For the first time, I feel like I have laid the foundation and erected the scaffolding of what will be the final book. Up until now, I was thinking of the book as building an argument, because what I am writing about is going to primarily challenge many deeply-entrenched views of music and the industry, some of which are taken for granted.

However, when I really thought about it, I realized I should draw inspiration from the books I most loved to read, and a couple in particular came to mind. Both Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to Present — very different books on disparate topics — had the same general narrative structure. There was an overlying chronological progression, but at the same time, three primary topical narratives weaved their way through each chapter of the book. Often, a chapter would have a dominant topic, but the aim of the larger narrative was to illustrate the interplay between the three topics in the title.

My eureka moment was in realizing this is exactly how I should present my book. One of my foremost goals with the book is to provide a new understanding of the interplay between musicians, listeners and the industry. By threading these topical narratives chronologically through history, through the present and into the future, I would have a content structure that is proven and fits my communication goals like a glove.

Now my studio walls are beginning to look a lot like a scene out of a police detective TV series, with timelines stretching across walls dotted with key events, running along separate tracks which represent the narrative of the primary themes. I recently began organizing my timeline in Preceden, a pretty awesome web-based “fancy timeline creator”. Stepping back, I see everything starting to take shape, with repeating cycles and unique accents — like a song. It’s all very befitting for a book on music.