Archive for October, 2009

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Vivian Darkbloom’s Wii Guitar

October 30, 2009

Finally, rock star guitar posturing is being put to good use! Rob Morris, frontman of Cambridge, MA’s Vivian Darkbloom, uses a Wii remote to control his guitar effects. The position and acceleration sensors in the controller, fixed to the body of his guitar, lets him access a range of effects by how he holds his instrument (check out the video above to see it in action, or this one for more background).

You can check out the Wii Guitar in person tonight (Friday, October 30th)  in Cambridge—Vivian Darkbloom has a gig at TT the Bear’s. Doors at 8 pm.

And I can’t help but think that Rob Morris should get together with John Mileham of The Franklin Kite.

MP3: Vivian Darkbloom – Cold War

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The name-your-own-price model: some data

October 26, 2009

WoG distributionIndie musicians are thinking and talking about the name-your-own-price model for digital music (what Radiohead did with their last album). There’s a dearth of data though—Radiohead, for example, never released their numbers. But last week, San Francisco-based indie game developers 2D Boy ran a NYOP birthday sale for their game World of Goo, and they plotted and shared the distribution of how much people paid for it. As well, they surveyed purchasers about why they paid what they did. (You can read their full analysis here.) One thing that really stood out for me—and that has clear parallels to musicians—was the collateral rise in full-price purchases of 2DBoy’s other titles.

The other thing that struck me was that they plotted a distribution of how many people bought the game at different price points. But that plot didn’t take into account how much money they made at each price point – one person who pays a dollar is ‘worth’ as much as 100 people who pay a penny. So I took their data and replotted it, first multiplying the number of people who paid in each price range by how much they paid (this is analogous to something I do in my day job). It’s only an approximation, since I took the amount paid as the mean of each bin but it’s probably a little lower, since a lot more people would have paid the round number than any other amount (for example, for the $2.00-$2.99 bin, I approximated the amount paid as $2.50, but I imagine a lot more people paid $2 than any other number, so that would skew the mean lower). You can see from the graph (click for a cleaner PDF) that people who paid around $5 contributed the most revenue, followed by people who paid $1 and people who paid $10.

What does this mean for musicians? Well, it seems really discouraging that most people paid the minimum amount. But you can think of this group of people as just taking a chance on you, and helping to get the word out. Because when you put it in dollar terms, the many fewer people who paid $1, $5, 0r $10 had a disproportionate impact.

Note, of course, that the NYOP model is a whole different world when you’re dealing with physical CDs, since they don’t have a negligible incremental cost.

(thanks to @zeroday for the pointer!)

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In heavy rotation at zed equals zee

October 19, 2009

DNFMOMD photo

Some music, mostly local, that’s getting a lot of listens here at zed equals zee headquarters.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (pictured): Boston music power-couple Sophia Cacciola and Michael Epstein (also of The Motion Sick) are Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, currently working on a Prisoner-themed EP.  I went to their debut show and was just blown away by Sophia’s vocals, and I’ve been listening to the few songs they’ve released, on repeat. DNFMOMD don’t really lend itself to a ‘recommended if you like,’ since they don’t sound like anyone else, but maybe Kim Deal Gordon*-fronted Sonic Youth?

MP3: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – Episode 1: Arrival [more]

The Beatings: What post-punk is supposed to sound like. There’s a fantastic (in both senses) review of Boston’s The Beatings new album, Late Season Kids, over at Ryan’s Smashing Life, and more MP3s for you to listen to.

MP3: The Beatings – Bury You [buy]

Eric Schmider: We’re welcoming new Boston arts and music blog Bean Town Vision to the scene and thanking them for the intro to local retro-oriented indie rocker Eric Schmider. You can read a full bio and a preview of the upcoming show (Wednesday, October 21st at Toad) with his current project, Mollycoddle, over at Bean Town Vision, as well as download some more demo MP3s.

MP3: Eric Schmider – Knee Deep [more]

Rah Rah: Regina, SK’s Rah Rah just released their debut full-length, Going Steady, and I’m enjoying it immensely, especially the quirky love song, “Tentacles” (about accepting free tango lessons from a beautiful troll, and a betentacled beloved).

MP3: Rah Rah – Tentacles [buy]

*Edit: Gordon, not Deal. Not like I didn’t just read Goodbye 20th Century. Where is my mind?

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Music, tech and culture roundup

October 13, 2009

sunboxes

Help with research on music blogs: This came out a month or so ago, but I forgot to share it. Sophie Vernon, a master’s student at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, is trying to understand the relationship between music blogs and word of mouth. She’s put together a survey; it’s really short, and if you’re reading this it’s relevant to you, so go help her out.

Billy Bragg on piracy. A couple of weeks ago, a group of UK artists convened to discuss the issue of Internet piracy. Billy Bragg wrote an editorial for the Guardian where he makes a point I haven’t seen very often: he argues that any attempt to suppress filesharing entirely (by the recording industry asking legislators for ever-more-draconian sanctions) would entail giving unacceptably high control of the Internet to corporations. Read the full editorial here.

Sun Box installation: Important Records is hosting an installation art piece by Craig Colorusso this Saturday, October 17th. The piece consists of an array of speakers, each playing a guitar sample. As they’re solar-powered, what you hear will depend not only on your trajectory through the site but also the length of the day. Important is a Boston-area label, but it’s not clear where the piece will be set up; you can e-mail for details. (Via Justin Snow of Anti-Gravity Bunny.)

Policing leaks with politesse. Last year, z=z covered the new Hold Steady album, which had been leaked. We had noted that a company called Web Sheriff was sending ‘highly civilized takedown notices’ to blogs posting leaked tracks, so we posted a link to the approved track—and received a thank-you note, much to our surprise. The Guardian has an article on the company that is policing unauthorized tracks with reason and social engineering, not by threats.

What CD sales mean for artists. Last year, of 115,000 CDs released, only 6000 sold more than 1000 copies. Over at CNet, Matt Rosoff takes a sobering look at what different levels of CD sales means for artists. This is not likely to be news, but it pretty succinctly makes the case that CD sales alone aren’t going to make being an artist sustainable.

And, finally, some nerd love. Rolling Stone has a track-by-track guide to They Might Be Giants breakthrough album, Flood.

464 Massachusetts Avenue

Arlington, MA  02474

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What will music fans pay for?

October 9, 2009

portrait-debcha

This piece was crossposted to Music Think Tank.

Earlier this week, I talked about how NPR and webcomics have a business model that’s predicated on the primary work (the radio broadcast and the webcomics themselves, respectively) being available for free; once the overhead is covered, the incremental cost of additional readers or listeners is approximately zero. I pointed out that music has historically been very different: the business model for music is based on people paying for the music itself. But now that music can be transmitted digitally it also has, not coincidentally, an incremental cost of zero. And unlike NPR, you don’t need a radio transmitter to share it with your friends.

I know that there is ideology on both sides: people who feel that all music should be free, and people who feel that downloading any music you didn’t pay for is theft. But how you feel about the issue doesn’t change the facts: listeners have the option of not paying for music. And, as Cory Doctorow has pointed out, it’s never going to get harder to move bits around than it is right now. So it might be time to think about a business model that reflects this.

I’m not a musician. I’m a fan. And from my perspective, it’s clear that fans do want to support artists that they like. Taking a page from NPR’s book, here’s a list of things that fans will pay for, even if they can get your music for free:

The music. First and foremost, many people will (and do) pay for digital music, even if they don’t have to. This might be because it’s easier to use iTunes than BitTorrent. Or it might be because they want to support the artist. Or both.

CDs and merch. Atoms, not bits. Do you pledge money to NPR to support the programming, or for the This American Life DVD? I’ve bought merchandise even when there was no rational reason for me to, simply because it was a way to support an artist I love. I buy CDs at concerts, because I know the money goes directly to the artists (and because I can listen to them in my car).

Relationships. Anything signed or limited-edition is not just about the article itself—it’s about expressing a relationship with the artist. And relationships aren’t fungible. Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer are two excellent artists who have close relationships with their fans, who in turn support them.

An experience. The canonical example of this is, of course, the concert – whether it’s $5 to see your favorite local band or hundreds of dollars for an arena show. But this also includes things like doing ‘shrooms in a Lamborghini with your favorite drummer.

Something unique. The illustration at the top of this post is a commissioned portrait (“Portrait of the Blogger, with Johnny Toaster,” by rstevens). Definitely worth paying for.

A narrative. What’s a story worth? Apparently, quite a bit. The Significant Objects art project posts thrift-store finds for auction on eBay, along with the back stories. But the back stories are fictional, and are described as such. Nevertheless,  the items go for substantially more than their market value.

What are you willing to pay for? What have you offered to your fans? Other thoughts?

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Music, webcomics, NPR, and money

October 5, 2009

box of money[click for full Diesel Sweeties strip]

The topic of creators and money seems to be in the air at the moment. Last week, Amanda Palmer wrote a blog post, “Why I am not afraid to take your money,” which is burning up the Twitterverse and the blogosphere, and a recent PBS MediaShift article discussed financially self-sustaining webcomics.

In the webcomics article, Richard Stevens, the creator of Diesel Sweeties, describes how he makes a living off his work by selling merch, like t-shirts. His site gets about 30,000 hits a day; he reports that he only needs one or two percent of these readers to buy something to make the whole thing self-financing. While he provides something to everyone for free (the comics), he also provides the opportunity to support the comics by buying something.

It dawned on me why this sounded familiar when I turned on my radio to discover that WBUR is in the middle of a pledge drive: it’s exactly the model that NPR has been using for decades. It’s the nature of digital distribution that, above a certain threshold, works have an incremental cost of zero: once something has been created, the cost of instantiating and distributing the creation is pretty much negligible. NPR is one of the few cases where this was true in the pre-digital age: once they’ve paid for their news bureaux, staff, and transmission, it doesn’t matter if ten (or a hundred, or a thousand) extra people tune in—it won’t cost them anything extra. And even though only a tiny fraction of their listenership donate, it’s enough to make up 30% or so of their operating budget. NPR puts more emphasis on your money supporting the programming and less on the Car Talk CD you get, while Stevens puts more emphasis on you getting the cute red robot and less on supporting the comic, but the net result is the same: the fraction of the people who pay for physical items can support the whole digital (or radio) endeavour.

NPR and webcomics are native to the world of zero incremental cost, and have a financial model that reflects this. The music industry, on the other hand, does not. They were in the business of recouping their costs with every CD sold, and now they are trying to recoup costs with every track downloaded. But that’s clearly not working anymore. More on this to come.

PART 2: What will music fans pay for?

MP3: The Flying Lizards – Money (extended mix) [buy]

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This weekend in live music: z=z picks

October 2, 2009

BurmaBikes

This is a killer weekend for live music in Cambridge, at least in the z=z worldview.

Friday: Montreal’s Besnard Lakes are headlining at TT the Bear’s, and a lineup of bands including Kingsley Flood are playing a free (as in beer) show at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville.

Saturday: Double-plus-good bill tonight – first up is another show at TT the Bear’s with local luminaries The Motion Sick, Aloud, Sidewalk Driver (CD release) and John Powhida International Airport. A couple of blocks away, Electric Laser People is playing at the Cantab Lounge.

Sunday: The main event – it’s Mission of Burma Day! The legendary Boston band is playing a free outdoor show at MIT to celebrate the release of their new album, The Sound the Speed the Light. Head on over to the East Campus Courtyard at 2:30 pm.

[for a less idiosyncratic and more comprehensive view of what’s happening in Boston musically, I urge you to check out Boston Band Crush’s listings]

MP3: Mission of Burma – 1, 2 ,3, Partyy! [preorder]

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