Category Archives: music

The Many Models of Music

Wired is one of those rare magazines I usually read cover to cover during the month it arrives. Every now and then I get a nice surprise when I find an old article I somehow missed. Today is one of those days.

David Byrne wrote a brief, yet informative, article about the evolution of music distribution on page 125 of the January 2008 issue. It’s a topic I’ve thought about since the Napster days and I hadn’t seen someone map the landscape of artist options as succinctly as David has. He also did a better job than most at describing the music experience our genetics long for, not just a CD or recorded song.

David describes music as:

“Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context….Music was an experience…Technology changed all that in the 20th century….We’ll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to congregate at concerts…to pass music…to want to know more about our favorite bands….This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a piece of plastic.

He then proceeds to share six possible music distribution models, including the varying artist opportunity, problems and control that stems from each.

  1. Equity Deal: Every aspect of the artist’s career is handled by producers, promoters, marketing people and managers. Example: Pussycat Dolls, Korn, Robbie Williams
  2. Standard Deal: Label bankrolls recording and handles manufacturing, distribution, press, and promotion. Artist gets royalties and label owns copyright/recordings. Example: Talking Heads, most “big label” artists
  3. License Deal: Similar to standard deal, but artist retains copyrights and ownership of master recordings. Example: Arcade Fire w/Merge Records
  4. Profit Sharing: Minimal advance from label for recording costs and minimal marketing, share profits of record sales, not concerts etc. Example: Byrne w/Thrill Jockey
  5. Manufacturing and Distribution Deal: Artist does everything except manufacture and distribute. Artist has total creative control, but less marketing, bigger risk. Example: Aimee Mann
  6. Self-Distribution: Music is self-produced, self-written, self-played, and self-marketed. Sold at concerts, online with MySpace promotion etc. Freedom with significant financial constraints — easier for more established artists. Example: Jane Siberry (Issa), Radiohead

Unlike most commentaries on the music industry revolution, David didn’t point fingers or declare superior/inferior models. Rather, he recognized there are different strokes for different folks — with repeated references to what may be best for new bands versus established bands.

I’ve always felt the debate between labels, artists and consumers is too black-and-white. The model that works for Radiohead or Coldplay, might be a disaster for a brand new group with minimal audience and name recognition. The black-and-white debate also fails to acknowledge that artists have varying goals: some just want to make a living while others might aspire to being the top selling artist of all time.

The different goals and different models for success reminds me of entrepreneurs and new venture funding models. Bootstrapping, friends and family, angels, venture capitalists and banks all have a role for different entrepreneurs. The entrepreneur who wants to be the next Microsoft or Google requires a different funding path than the entrepreneur who just wants a flexible lifestyle or a family business they can pass to their kids. Trying to find a single “best model” for all entrepreneurs or all musical artists is doomed for failure, it’s a spectrum of options that unlocks opportunity for creators and consumers.

Related images: aimee mann, arcade fire, coldplay, david byrne, jane siberry, korn, radiohead, robbie williams, wired

The Police

This isn’t one of those inside-music VC posts that lists 3 new bands you’ve never heard of playing Greenwich Village this weekend. Although I love those posts, this post is about a band most VCs probably even know: The Police.

One of my portfolio companies, PayPerPost, just closed a great partnership with Universal Music Group and PPP is being used to launch the new 30th Anniversary Police CD and Tour (see Police tickets). For a VC who grew up listening to the Police and watching black-and-white “Every Breath You Take” videos on MTV, this is a cool new portfolio customer.

Go ahead, check out this track list and just try to avoid singing the tunes in your head:
Disc 1
1) Fall Out
2) Can’t Stand Losing You
3) Next to You
4) Roxanne
5) Truth Hits Everybody
6) Hole in My Life
7) So Lonely
8) Message in a Bottle
9) Reggatta de Blanc
10) Bring on the Night
11) Walking on the Moon
12) The Bed’s Too Big Without You
13) Don’t Stand So Close to Me
14) Driven to Tears
15) Canary in a Coalmine

Disc 2
1) Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
2) Voices Inside My Head
3) Invisible Sun
4) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
5) Spirits in the Material World
6) Demolition Man
7) Rehumanize Yourself
8) Every Breath You Take
9) Synchronicity I
10) Wrapped Around Your Finger
11) Walking in Your Footsteps
12) Synchronicity II
13) King of Pain
14) Murder by Numbers
15) Tea in the Sahara

They’ve put together a pretty informative and interactive site, including a store, discography, tour info and pointers to the Police MySpace and Fan Club sites. If you dug Sting before he got all solo acoustical, you might want to check out this anniversary CD. I expect it will bring back some memories or spark some old questions — like “who was in charge of wardrobe for that early garbage dump video of theirs?”

(charity post: PPP has donated proceeds from this post to Habitat for Humanity on my behalf)

Related images: the police, the police, the police, the police, the police

GUT: Gainesville Underground Technology

Steve/Colin: you guys can relax now. GUT was a success, big success, like “I can’t wait for GUT 2” success.

For those of you who weren’t there Wednesday night, the guys behind Orangeply pulled together a great unconference in Gainesville — for the underground tech set. The speakers were informative and entertaining. The panels were open conversations and packed with juicy digital music and news distribution nuggets.

If you couldn’t attend, the comic below hits the highlights. If that’s not enough for you, I guess you’ll just have to join us next time.

GUT: Gainesville Underground Tech

I’ve also attached one of GUT’s assigned viewings below — Steve Jobs’ Stanford graduation speech (nice tip Todd):