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Friday, December 19, 2008

200 New Music Startups

By one estimate, there have been 200 on-line music startups during 2008.  
These include 
  • 28 social and sharing sites 
  • 12 music video sites 
  • 25 music store and service sites 
  • 22 streaming music sites
  • 7 place-shifting sites (enabling music downloaded on one device and play on another)
  • 24 recommendation and discovery sites
  • 7 digital music labels
  • 13 P2P and file sharing sites
  • 9 game and virtual world sites
  • 7 live music and ticketing sites
  • 25 artist services sites
  • 8 on-line mixtape sites
  • 7 MP3 search engines
  • 10 music tools sites
  • 1 interactive music site
  • 1 "more cowbell" site 
Although it's difficult to know just how successful any of the new sites are, the sheer number indicates that there was some serious investor interest in the music marketplace.  All indications are that venture and angel funding will be way down in 2009.  It'll be interesting to look at this list next year to see just how many of the 2008 sites are still around, and how many new ones appear.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Digital Sales Not Always The Answer

The third and fourth largest selling music releases in 2008 are available in CD only, with no digital downloads whatsoever. Kid Rock's Rock N' Roll Jesus sold 2.5 million while AC/DC's Black Ice sold 1.6 million CDs.

Both acts are vehemently opposed to digital download sales and it appears they may have a point, since the lack of downloads hasn't seemed to deter sales for either.

While some say this was a brilliant move to keep fans from cherry-picking only their favorite songs, other would say that CD sales might've been even greater if these albums were available digitally.

It's also possible that Kid Rock and AC/DC's audience prefers CDs to digital downloads, something we've seen before from hard rock fans. Unfortunately there's no way to tell definitively if the addition of digital downloads would've helped these acts sales, but it hasn't affected the sales for #1 selling Lil Wayne or #2 selling Coldplay.

CD sales will never return to their heyday, but there does seem to be a place for them, at least in the near future. What could change the equation is if hardware manufacturers stop making DVD players in favor of cheaper flash memory units, which have no moving parts and are therefore a lot cheaper to manufacture. We'll see how close to reality these units really are at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Using Music For Torture

We've all heard about music used as a healing therapy, and for those of us who meditate or just seriously enjoy, music will transport us to a  pleasant other world.  When done well (or even not so well sometimes), music carries us to a place that we can't get to without it.  That's what it's designed to do.

But the US Military has found a new use for that beautiful noise - torture.

New reports have surfaced that Guantanamo, Afgani and Iraqi detainees have been subjected to long sessions of blaring music by artists such as AC/DC, Nine Inch Nails, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Mettalica, and even songs from Barney and Sesame Street.  The songs are played repeatedly at ear-splitting levels.

This is just another example of how an art can be perverted.  The unusual part is that this time it's not about money.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Radio Is Irrelevant

Radio used to be the lifeblood of music.  Airplay on any kind of station, from the smallest college station to the largest 50,ooo watter, meant recognition and an eventual audience for an act.  Not anymore.  Radio using music as it's main programming, like the traditional music industry, is dying a slow and painful death.

How did this happen?  Let's look at some of the causes.

1)  Local radio dies.  It used to be that each area of the country had its own sound by virtue of the fact that all radio was local.  As a result, the music played in Philly would be somewhat different than Miami which would be different from Memphis and so on.  When playlists became virtually the same everywhere, radio lost the edge that made it great - each city's unique playlist.

2)  Big Money buys in.  As radio became more successful during the 70's and the advertising dollars poured in, it became the beginning of the end since it attracted the Big Money station groups who bought up all the small indie stations.  Management became homogenized as did the playlist because of........

3)  The rise of the consultant.  In order to keep those ad dollars flowing, station groups hired consultants to program all their stations with a format that was proven to draw ratings.  Never mind that this destroyed what was unique about the station, or that the format that worked in LA might not work in Kansas.  Once you could hear the same songs in Wyoming that you'd hear in New York City, the element of music discovery was eliminated for the listener.  Radio became the same mediocre programming that we hear today with the same bunch of middle-of-the-road songs.

I've often thought that AM radio could be the saviour of radio because it's doing worse as a whole than FM, so it's able to take some chances as a result.  If a station would go back to the system that caused radio to rise to greatness (giving DJ's the authority to choose their own playlists), you'd see it take off again.  Especially today, people want to discover music but they want someone they trust to make suggestions (which was the basic premise of FM radio during its heyday of the 70's).  You can get that on the Internet, but you can't check the Web while driving in your car.

Recent Arbitron studies have found that 90% of adults listen to at least a short period of radio every day (only 50% of adults watch prime time television).  They're mostly unhappy with what's available to them, so let's give them something worth listening to.


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