Monthly Archives: May 2008

how did fans discover “Brad Sucks”?

This forum thread on bradsucks.comnet about where community members first heard his music is a great source of data on how internet musicians should prioritize distribution outlets.

A quick undisciplined survey of the results:

  • 14 soundtrack (Brad Sucks’ music was used as a soundtrack to a video, and the forum poster followed a link in the video back to the source of the music. The video was usually but not always on YouTube).
  • 10 recommendation (boingboing, webjay, william gibson blog, friend to friend, press)
  • 6 reaper (catalog licensed by Magnatune for inclusion with remixing software)
  • 4 remix (A remixer used Brad Sucks’ music and the forum poster followed a link in the remix back to the original).
  • 4 Magnatune site
  • 3 podcast (Brad Sucks’ music was used in a podcast).
  • 3 music recommendation social networks (This category is not exclusive)
  • 2 webcast
  • 1 search (accidental discovery)

Almost of these have to do with the free culture subculture associated with things like Creative Commons and Ogg Vorbis. Having a social niche has been a good thing for Brad Sucks.

Given that Brad Sucks is on the Magnatune netlabel, the company was effective at creating attention. Discovery via soundtrack, Reaper, a remix, the Magnatune site, and podcasts are all more or less from Magnatune’s distribution, licensing and promotion. Magnatune had economies of scale that an individual band wouldn’t have, since its investment in a single distribution outlet applies to all of its acts at the same time. This suggests that netlabels do have a role to play in the long term.

Recommendations in various outlets added up, but no one outlet had a big payoff.

Having the music bundled with Reaper was a beautiful move. It created exposure to remixers who got it with the software, and when they published their remixes they created a secondary wave of exposure to their listeners.

Even though the free culture subculture was a big factor, hardly anyone bought Ogg Vorbis or FLAC and Brad has dropped it.

Having music hitch a ride with other distributable projects is an incredible magnifier of attention. Soundtracks, reaper, remix, podcasts, and webcasts all bundle Brad Sucks, and when a third party includes your work their own distribution projects contribute to your distribution. Bundling creates network effects.

stigma of unoriginality

Crosbie Fitch’s comment on my post about interlinking between musician blogs:

I suspect that a lot of the non-linking behaviour on musicians’ websites comes from the subtle cultural indoctrination we’ve been living with for a few centuries now (since the advent of copyright) that a musician who is influenced by others is a lesser musician (by exposing themselves to considerable risk of being less original).

Copyright effectively says that the only works worthy of the public’s attention and so deserving of their reward are works that are wholly original – any derivative work is a trespass upon the work of the ‘original’ creator and warrants their consent or veto, and first claim to any reward.

There is a big economic incentive to be a singer/songwriter rather than just a singer, even if the original songs you write don’t contain original ideas. Publishing rights are far and away the best way to make money as a musician. Jimi Hendrix earned many times more than Noel Redding not because he was the bandleader but because he was the songwriter. Classical stars earn less than pop stars partly because there are no songwriting royalties for them.

Copyright has created another incentive to write new songs rather than cover existing ones — most musicians can’t get a license to cover a song on the internet. Writing is a way to keep from getting sued.

musician blogs are mules

What’s missing from these three excellent musician sites, all of them full-fledged blogs, as well as from my own musician blog?

  1. Brad Sucks
  2. Jonathan Coulton‘s blog
  3. TweedBlog

All of them take advantage of internet standards. All of them have a strong centralized hub for their own presence, which they use to point outwards to any presence they maintain on distribution points like Myspace. All of them publish their own music on their sites in MP3 format with full songs rather than 30 second samples; none of them limit their music to pointers into sale outlets like the iTunes store. All of them develop momentum by publishing regularly.

But none of them link to other musician blogs.

And why should they? Playing is essentially selfish, and player’s blogs are naturally inward looking rather than outward. A player blog which pointed outward would be just another music blog, except that it would corrupt the flow of recommendations with bias for the player’s own creations.

The problem is that successful blogging is recursive. Blogs blog about blogs. It’s not an accident that there’s an echo chamber. Blogs which attract links are those which generate links to blogs that may link back to them. It’s a Darwinian fitness test. Does your blogging get other people to blog about your blogging? If so, you’ll get links. If not, your blog probably won’t generate enough attention to sustain itself.

Musician blogs are like mules. They’re a final generation that can’t breed more generations.

Obviously I wouldn’t be doing it myself if I didn’t believe in it. I just don’t know how to tackle this issue. MP3 bloggers post what they have gotten from CDs, filesharing networks, or other MP3 blogs. I have never seen a blog post music from a musician blog or a social site like remixfight unless the blogger was directly affiliated with the source. Why would anybody link to a musician blog?

music is for playing

Guitar Tutorials Rocket Up iTunes Podcast Charts:

Chord books and music lessons still sell, but for visual learners, the best option is probably the video tutorial. … of the top 20 podcasts offered by iTunes, six are iVideosongs tutorials. The second most popular podcast on iTunes is iVideosongs’ “Beginning Guitar 101.”

The wave of interest in guitar tutorials comes amid renewed interest in the instrument, spurred at least in part by wildly popular games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. IVideosongs’ chart success comes only a few weeks after the company made its tutorials available through Apple’s service.

You have to go down to #24 on the list to a music podcast (NPR’s “All Songs Considered”) oriented towards passive listening rather than playing.

Vess Ossman playlist on Soup Greens

Over on Soup Greens I have posted a playlist of pre-1923 recordings by a banjo player named Vess Ossman.

The playlist is a standalone page of hand-coded HTML. The design is influenced by Muxtape. The blog post over there is a stub to enable comments and channel blog visitors into the playlist.

The blog post is at http://soupgreens.com/2008/05/14/vess-ossman-playlist/. The playlist is at http://www.soupgreens.com/vessossman/.

My goals in terms of my own music were to provide context and to keep the flow of fresh content up. Context gives notes a back story and cultural kick. Fresh content creates momentum.

My technology goal was to explore playlists as a form of album packaging. I wanted to do such a tight job on the page that it would give the same kind of experience as opening a new CD and listening while you read the liner notes and look at the pictures, so I really sweated the graphics, writing, song selection, outbound links, and usability. I don’t want people to download the MP3s; I do want them to listen with the page open, and ideally to return to the page when they want to hear the music again.

I couldn’t figure out how to give the playlist social liveliness of the kind that Greg Borenstein articulated in his comment on the Jon Udell piece. Ideas are welcome.

looking at Ingrid Michaelson site

Here are observations on the site for Ingrid Michaelson’s music.

I like:

  1. Music autoplays on the home page. That’s what the site is about, let’s not waste time and clicks getting to it.
  2. Navigation within the site never interrupts playback. As I write this I’m been having a continuous enjoyable experience with the music for about fifteen minutes because nothing has yet happened to break the flow.
  3. Front page goes straight to news. There’s a sense of freshness. This approach is in contrast to a Flash splash page or a static explanation of who she is.
  4. Main menu uses standard language for features rather than making up cute words for the same things.
  5. Intimate blog-scale presence rather than larger-than-life arena-scale presence.

I don’t like:

  1. Nothing viral anywhere. This should be front and center. For example, the XSPF player widget in the header should have an “embed this” box next to it.
  2. Framed design prevents linking to sub-pages, including bookmarking. They should have used an AJAX bookmarking library.
  3. No free MP3 download. Huh? C’mon. I mean…
  4. There should be direct links to songs in the news section, so that you have a sense of chronology and freshness in relation to the music.

IT Conversations piece

Jon Udell has posted an audio conversation between us over on IT Conversations.

Jon’s very Charlie Rose. Great talk guaranteed.

I wanted to follow up on an exchange about making mistakes on your instrument. Here’s an audio excerpt:

Imagine that we lived in a world where all photography was the kind you see in magazines. In this world all photos are taken by professionals and all the people who got their pictures taken are models at the peak of their career. If you had your picture taken normally, you’d think you were hideously ugly. That is the musical world we grew up in, and it’s bogus. Things don’t have to be that way.

no singles, please #2

Good bloggers have a warmer and more intimate voice than writers in publications like the New York Times. This applies to musicians as well.

So let’s say that, per yesterday’s post here, we’re moving from a world of albums containing singles to a world where musicians release a series of songs that accumulate like posts in a blog.

You’d expect successful musicians in the new context to have a warmer and more intimate voice. They would let flaws show. They would be avoid grandiose sounds like kettle drums. They would be less physically attractive. They would dress down. They would be quirky.

Old style: Janet Jackson on janetjackson.comJanet Jackson 'Discipline' photo

New style: Port O’brien on Aquarium DrunkardPort O'brien