Tuesday Feb 17, 2009

Start Believing in Artists, not the Music Industry

A few months ago, while driving home from the in-laws, we heard Normcast episode 119, a German podcast full of nice little fragments, pieces of music and other fun stuff. In this episode, Norman played Matthew Ebel's song "Everybody Needs a Robot" (lyrics, YouTube video) and, being the geek that I am, I liked it a lot.

Goodby Planet Earth Album CoverI asked Norman whether the song was podsafe, it turned out it was not, so I asked Matt directly for permission to use his song in a podcast. He kindly agreed and so we played it during HELDENFunk episode 22 around September 2008. As a way of saying "Thanks!" I bought Matt's latest album "Goodbye Planet Earth" off of CDBaby.com, a website where independent artists such as Matt can publish their own CDs without the need of a traditional record company.

Later, during an event called "Mission Future", which was part of Ars Electronica 2008, I watched a presentation from Pim Betist about a cool new website called "Sellaband". Sellaband is a crowdfunding website that brings musicians together with their fans (called "Believers") and help them raise real money ($50,000) to record an album in a high-quality studio, with professional producers and market it using a real distribution chain.

Now, the two powers have collied: Matt recently joined Sellaband and he's on his way to financing his next album there!

Why am I telling you all of this? Because this is the biggest shift in the entertainment industry since the introduction of recordable media.

Think of it: Now artists can create their own CDs, all by themselves, from writing the lyrics, writing the music, producing demos, connecting with fans, raising funds, managing production and selling their work, all without a single mention of what was formerly known as "the recording industry". While the RIAA and their likes are still behaving like little kids who have lost their toys, music artists have started to take control over their carreers and simply optimized away unnecessary intermediaries out of the equation.

Beer and Coffee Album CoverSo how does this work? A little bit like owning stock, but with more fun and better "dividends": The $50,000 budget that is needed to produce an artist's album is split into 5,000 "parts", at $10 each. For as little as $10 (1 part), you can become a "Believer" in an artist that is listed on Sellaband. Being a Believer gives you the right to receive a limited edition of that artist's album, once it is recorded. Think of it: This is cheaper than most regular CDs, so there's nothing to lose here. Actually, this is just where the fun starts: Each part entitles its owner to 0,01% of the album's revenue. So if you have a good "nose" for finding successful artists, you can even get some money back out of your investment! You can own more than one part and the more parts you buy, the nicer the perks become. From "Believer" (1 part) to "Promoter" (2 parts), "Publisher" (5 parts and you start earning publishing revenue), "V.I.P." (10), "Crew" (50), "Music Angel" (100) all the way to "Executive Producer" (1000 parts, free trip to the studio baby!). Check out the full "what's in it for me" list.

Back to Matt: His music is a modern version of songwriter-style piano rock. A little bit like Billy Joel, maybe with some Elton John thrown in, but with a modern twist: He likes to add loops, electronic sounds or samples into his songs to add to the atmosphere without them becoming distracting. The lyrics are insightful, full of life, spirit, humor and a little irony. Check out his bio for a much better description of him and his music.

But Matt is more than that: He is a leading example of how an artist can connect to his audience using Web 2.0: He has his own paid subscription service, sells his music online on iTunes, CDBaby and MySpace, including online merchandise on Spreadshirt.com, he blogs, has over 100 videos on YouTube and you can follow him on Twitter. His concert calendar is online and if you can't make it to one of his shows, you can watch him online on UStream. To me he's simply the Piano Man 2.0.

And now you can enjoy a part of his next album, too! Check out his profile on Sellaband.com and feel free to invest in his work.

BTW, Sellaband is a social network, too: You can check out my profile and add me as your friend there, too. Then we can together check out other great artist and change the way the music industry works, just by Believing in the artists we like.

Monday Dec 17, 2007

A Day in the Life of Constantin 2.0

The Web 2.0 hype of the last few years asks the question of "Web 2.0: Waste of time or useful?"  But to me it's clear that social websites, blogging and podcasting have changed quite a lot the way I use the web. Here's an exemplary day of my Web 2.0 style life:

Between waking up, getting dressed and driving to work (sometimes I eat breakfast, too), I sync my iPod with my PowerBook so iTunes can fill it with my favourite podcasts. On my 25 minute commute to work, I regularly listen to "Blick über den Tellerrand", "POFACS", "Extremetech.com", "EGM Live" and the "AVForums Podcast" (The current december episode has an interview with Tomlinson Holman of THX fame!). Old school radio hardly plays a role in my car, only when I forgot to bring my iPod, or when the trip is real short. If I have time (as in: long trip, airplane, etc.), I enjoy listening to "Braincast", "Scipod", "Semi-Coherent Computing", "Spektrum Talk", "The Daily Source Code" (although it has a low SNR...) and try out some new ones.

In the office, I sign in to Plazes, XING, Facebook and lately even Twitter, and Dopplr to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. It depends on my current mood whether I type something interesting into the various "What are you doing now?" fields, someone please consolidate all this stuff into a single entry mechanism!

How do these add value to me? The obvious one is that it's now easier to manage contact data with friends and colleagues using XING, LinkedIn or Faceboo. Plazes and Dopplr let you know where people are, facilitating ad-hoc meetings. As work and leisure life styles become more and more global, keeping track of your friends' whereabouts will be more and more useful. If someone robs my house while I'm away, I'll just blame Jörg, or install a wifi camera at home that sends email whenever something moves :). But there's much more to social websites as we'll see blow. Micro-blogging, such as Twitter or to a lesser degree the Facebook status or the Plazes activities are as useless and as indispensable as small-talk is in real life. IM may give us an electronic alternative to 1-to-1 or 1-to-many chatting, but micro-blogging is more like the kind of chat you have with strangers while waiting for the bus or while being at a party, only global and with many more people at once.

During work, I'm currently doing some research on the adoption of blogs and podcasts within the company with Jörg. I also help create the HELDENFunk podcast and sometimes I present on Web 2.0 in general to customers. It's interesting to see the many shades of gray between people that are into blogging, podcasting, social networking etc. and those who are not, multiplied by the permutations of IT-literate people and not, US, German, UK and other nationalities, IT producing companies vs. IT consuming ones, management type positions and individual contributors, friends, relatives etc. Large, if not worlds of varieties in terms of Web 2.0 adoption. But this is only fun, my real work is more centered around IT consulting on CPUs, Systems, Solaris, Grid Computing, Workstations, etc., but I digress.

Between pieces of useful work, I relax my mind by attacking my friends on Facebook with Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves while retaliating their blows with my Slayer. Or I challenge someone to a movie quiz. Or other senseless, but fun stuff. Is this time-wasting 2.0? I'd say this is more like a fun way to say "Hi" to friends over the web or maybe like the quick game of snooker, table-soccer, etc. down the hall. A social, fun way to take a breath in between work.

More work. We're planning to do a new movie, after our "CSI: Munich - Saving the world with ZFS and 12 USB sticks" one was so popular. The thing with user-generated content is that it enables you to reach many, many more people than you would ever be able to present physically in front of. Quite a good thing if you're in any knowledge related business. My typical customer presentation involves 5-15 people about 1-3 times a week with the occasional presentation to an audience of maybe 20-200 about 2-3 times a year. Altogether this is in the order of 1500 people that I can reach with a traditional presentation. Well, our CSI movie has been downloaded more than 50000 times so far. I have to divide this number by 5 or so for the co-authors, but that's still an order of magnitude more people than I could ever present in front of. The HELDENFunk podcasts have accumulated a couple of thousands of downloaded episodes, which again helps me better get my messages through. And my blog has hundreds of hits each day, too. Check out Alec's wonderful video on a very similar matter. And hey, producing podcasts and videos is a lot of fun, too!

On my way back from work, more podcasts are in order. At home, I usually do most of my blog-reading and blog-writing as well as some more Facebook, XING or other Web 2.0 style things.

I hope to write something useful into my blog about once a week. A blog entry consumes about 2-3 hours of work because I try to write longer, more interesting articles with good content. There are of course many other styles of blogging, but I tend to subscribe to the views of this article: "Write articles, not blog postings" that my colleague Roland found somewhere. Blogging saves me quite some time in the end: Some howto-like stuff that I get asked a lot gets converted into a blog entry and then I can point people to it instead of explaining things all over again. For reading blogs and other syndicated content, I find Google's reader to be quite useful. The list of blogs I like to follow is more or less what you see to the right in my blogroll. Many useful and intriguing ideas I have found in blogs that I'd never have found elsewhere...

There's still a lot of stuff in Web 2.0 land that I don't do. I'd like to create my own personal podcast, but I'm still missing some time, concept and courage, but who knows. And I'm not convinced that Second Life is useful - yet. It's a great PR outlet for some companies (including us) and virtual worlds are clearly the way of the future. It's just that Second Life is too much, well, kinday version 0.1-ish. It sort of feels like the early days of Real Networks in the early nineties when audio quality sucked due to not enough bandwidth. SL has some serious scaling problems and the user experience is not ready for the masses (which IMHO is a requirement to make any Web 2.0 service useful). But it's clearly a step into the right direction. Check out projects Dark Star and Wonderland if you want to see how scalable 3D worlds look like and how they can add value to real businesses.

Am I a Web 2.0 addict? I don't think so. I try out a lot, but the the stuff that sticks usually is the stuff that adds real value to my work and personal life. The key thing here is to try out new things often, with an open mind, then try to understand what these services really do, and decide for yourself where the value to you lies. And yes, "fun" is a legitimate value, too :).

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