Original Music

“Original Music” – a much better title than “World Music” for the wide variety of music from around the world imho at first blush.

I come to this term through the news that a pioneering scholar has passed – John Storm Roberts.

The NYTimes had a nice obituary/write-up (full text below) with this awesome quote:

“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”

Awesome. I concur – bring out the terrific music now please! And if it’s original, so much the better.

John Storm Roberts, World-Music Scholar, Dies at 73
Published: December 10, 2009

John Storm Roberts, an English-born writer, record producer and independent scholar whose work explored the rich, varied and often surprising ways in which the popular music of Africa and Latin America informed that of the United States, died on Nov. 29 in Kingston, N.Y. He was 73 and lived in Kingston.

The cause was complications of a blood clot, his wife, Anne Needham, said.

Long before the term was bandied about, Mr. Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979).

“Black Music of Two Worlds” examines the cross-pollination — in both directions — between Africa and the Americas, from the influence of African music on jazz, blues, salsa and samba to the popularity in Nigeria and Zaire of American artists like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix.

In writing the book, Mr. Roberts sought to connect a diffuse web of existing studies by ethnomusicologists. The studies typically appraised local musical traditions while ignoring the reach of Africa as a whole.

“It was like a landscape with a large number of artesian wells, and nothing linking them,” he told The New York Times in 1992. “And I conceived of ‘Black Music of Two Worlds’ being more like canals joining.”

“The Latin Tinge,” Mr. Roberts trained his ear on the influence of musical forms like tango, rumba, mambo and salsa on a wide range of American pop styles, among them ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, rhythm and blues, jazz, country and rock.

Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, Robert Palmer called it a “painstaking, pioneering” work, adding: “ ‘The Latin Tinge’ is an important addition to the literature of American music.”

John Anthony Storm Roberts was born in London on Feb. 24, 1936. His father, an accountant who often traveled abroad on business, brought him records that were then scarcely available in England: jazz and blues from the United States, Brazilian music by way of Portugal and much else. By the time he was in his early teens, John was irretrievably mesmerized by the sounds that leapt from his turntable.

A polyglot who came to speak more than half a dozen languages, including Swahili, Mr. Roberts received a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Oxford University. In the mid-1960s he spent several years in Kenya as a reporter and editor on The East African Standard, a regional newspaper. Returning to London, he was a radio producer with the BBC World Service.

Mr. Roberts moved to the United States in 1970, becoming an editor on the periodical Africa Report. He was later a freelance journalist, contributing articles on world music to The Village Voice and other publications.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Needham started Original Music, a mail-order company that distributed world-music books and records. In those pre-Internet days, Americans outside big cities found these almost as hard to come by as young Mr. Roberts had in postwar England.

In business for nearly two decades, Original Music also released many well-received albums of its own. Among them are “The Sound of Kinshasa,” featuring Zairian guitar music; “Africa Dances,” an anthology of music from more than a dozen countries; and “Songs the Swahili Sing,” devoted to the music of Kenya, an aural kaleidoscope of African, Arab and Indian sounds.

Mr. Roberts’s first marriage, to Jane Lloyd, ended in divorce. Besides Ms. Needham, whom he married in 1981, he is survived by two children from his first marriage, Stephen and Alice Roberts; three stepchildren, Melissa, Elizabeth and Stephen Keiper; two grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.

His other books include “Latin Jazz: The First of the Fusions, 1880s to Today” (Schirmer, 1999) and “A Land Full of People: Life in Kenya Today” (Praeger, 1968).

In choosing what to release on the Original Music label, Mr. Roberts did not disdain modern, popular numbers: by his lights, a song simply had to be good. This distinguished him from musicological purists who, in ceaseless quest for the authentic, recorded only material seemingly untouched by modernity.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1987, Mr. Roberts illuminated his selection process.

“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”


Lady Gaga – Brilliant

Which road leads to Lady Gaga?


Road A) Wierd Al Yankovic, Ali G/Borat/Bruno

Road B) Boy George, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna

Road C) All of the Above

Road D) None, She’s Totally Original!

I’m tempted to say mostly Choice A via Choice B, but of course, since it’s Lady Gaga, it’s with a twist. And of course, this is heavily based on my own biases and ideas. For Lady Gaga , despite all her amazingly amazing outfits, is really a blank canvas onto which we project our own ideas.

So those who want to see a brand new amazing pop star are seeing just that. Those who want to see an intelligent, sophisticated, and sneaky critique of pop music and pop stars are seeing just that. Those who want to see a musician being a fashionista are seeing just that.

And this is the true genius of Lady Gaga.

But her videos and outfits are also truly genius. If you haven’t seen any of them please watch them. After seeing them, you’ll really wonder “WTF did I just watch?” and then you’ll go back and watch them again. And again. Just as Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, Lady Gaga is bringing the Music Video back.

Exhibit A – Bad Romance

Exhibit B: Her MTV VMA 2009 Fashion Choices (Slideshow)

Exhibit C: Lady Gaga performing Paparazzi @ said MTV awards ceremony

And just in case I wasn’t clear earlier – I think she is totally taking the piss out of all of us – ala “old-school” Sasha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G/Borat/Bruno). It’s pretty amazing to watch her work over a whole scene. Kind of like watching those old Ali G episodes from “before he was discovered”. Just wonderful comedy, genius timing, and certainly a sense that it is possible to lose oneself in the world of the character. For just as Lady Gaga won’t appear “out of character” anymore, and the lines begin to blur (is she Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, or Lady Gaga?), it becomes both more difficult to take her seriously and also to doubt her.

I just hope she’s able to keep it going for a while – certainly she has injected a certain energy into pop which is positive, disruptive, and sorely needed.

You can listen to her music for free (just register, it’s easy) by going to Lala. And for more videos, check these out. . . (cause I know you’re not satisfied yet)

Ramata Diakite – Remembrances

The news has been spreading around the globe, and several news articles have come out over the past few days. Compiled here courtesy of my news feed:
Ousmane Sanou, le mari de Ramata Diakité : «Elle est décédée des …
Bamako Hebdo (maliweb.net) – Bamako,Mali
C’est en avril dernier que Ramata Diakité s’est remariée avec ce Burkinabé, inspecteur des impôts de formation. Qui après une vie politique agitée a été …

Ramata Diakité décédée , le vendredi 30 novembre, à Ouagadougou …
Bamako Hebdo (maliweb.net) – Bamako,Mali
Originaire du Wassoulou, née en 1972, Ramata Diakité communément appelée Ra est décédée le vendredi 30 octobre au Burkina Faso, plus précisément à …

Ramata Diakité, une diva au paradis
Mondomix – Paris,France
Originaire, comme Oumou Sangaré et Nahawa Doumbia, de la région malienne du Wassoulou, Ramata Diakité a succombé à une longue maladie le lundi 30 octobre au …

ECHOSTAR / Ramata Diakité : Un talent pur disparaît à la fleur de …
Journal Le Républicain (maliweb.net) – Bamako,Mali
C’est en ces termes que Ramata Diakité, disparue de la scène musicale malienne depuis sa sombre prestation à la rentrée culturelle de 2006 à Mopti, …

Disparition de Ramata Diakité : EN PLEINE GLOIRE
L’Essor – Bamako,Mali
Ramata Diakité s’en est allée dans la nuit du vendredi 30 octobre. C’était à Ouagadougou, où elle venait de rejoindre son époux Ousmane Sanou, …

Le monde des artistes en deuil : Ramata Diakité décédée le week …
Journal L’Indépendant (maliweb.net) – Mali
La chanteuse malienne, Ramata Diakité n’est plus ! Elle est décédée dans la nuit du vendredi 30 au samedi 31 octobre à Ouagadougou à l’âge de 35 ans à la …

=== Blogs ===

Malian Star Ramata Diakite Dies at 35
radio magico article – Malian Star Ramata Diakite Dies at 35.
Radio Magico

Malian Star Ramata Diakite Dies at 35 – World Music Central
Ramata Diakite, regarded as one of the most talented singers from the Wassulu region of Mali, died October 30 in Burkina Faso. She was 35. “During the past year, she had been battling a chronic illness, and although she appeared to be …
World Music Central



CIAAFRIQUE: R I P Ramata Diakité
By Ciaa
She just got married about 5 weeks ago , my heart goes out to her whole family and for the country for that matter because she was a great artist . You can listen to some of her songs on tube . Ramata Diakite REST IN EPEACE
. …

Ramata Diakite Has Passed to the Ancestors

I received the crushing news on Saturday morning that Ramata Diakite had passed on Friday night (October 30, 2009) at the age of 35. I’ll be updating this post as I get further information – my thoughts are kind of scattered, and I’m trying to sort out the best way to get news out and give proper remembrance for this wonderful human.

I first met Ramata in the apartment of good friend Mamadou Sidibe (n’goni player) in Brooklyn. Of course I knew who she was from living in Mali, and hearing her music on the radio. At that point, I was working with Madou and some other Malian artists to book shows, distribute music, and other management activity. But no one quite on the level of an artist like Ramata. Despite knowing this, she asked me a few weeks after meeting me to manage her. I declined, worrying I couldn’t do her career justice.

We kept in touch over the years directly and through Madou. I arranged for her to be part of the “1 Giant Leap” follow-up film “What About Me”. She has a beautiful contribution which has appeared on the “What About Me” TV series in the UK.

One of the creators of 1GL just sent me this, his journal entry from when he met Ramata:

4/12/04 … “Eric[h] gave me Ramata’s Cd and I listened to it in the lift up to my room. It sounded great, very powerful. When she arrived I played her track 29 and she just burst into it straight away and it sounded great. I burnt her a CD and said we’d be at her place in the morning. Off she popped and we did indeed turn up the following day. She lived south of the Niger in a really weird but quite affluent area. Its basically a building site with half of the houses finished and lived in. Her house was lovely, a small courtyard where we recorded the vocal and once again the splendid 70’s styling that is still huge in Mali. The tea here has set me loose from my energy holes and now the coffee is really doing the business. It’ll have to stop you know! Ramata rocked and I had a great vibe with her husband who was totally knocked out when I gave him a set of radio headphones to wear. I noticed between takes that he had his turned to 10 (the way I do) which is VERY loud. We did a second take on the roof which was great with a view across loads of other houses. By the end of the take all the roofs had people watching and about 20 people had gathered outside in the street below and they all burst into applause, it was great….”

The track that came from that recording session is here:

For more about this project, go here and click on “Mali” in the left bar. You’ll see some photos of Ramata from that shoot.

After a while, and a switch in her US label, she again asked me to manage her, and this time I agreed, and became her co-manager with Organic Music as the other management partner.

Over the past couple of years, we worked with her on conceptualizing and recording a more traditional album, which is yet to be released. We had hoped to have her in the US for a tour in 2010. . .

During the past year, she had been battling a chronic illness, and although she appeared to be getting better, she passed in Burkina Faso on Friday, October 30th. She had recently traveled to Burkina. Her body was brought back to Mali and buried there under the direction of the Malian Prime Minister.

Dear friend Markus James has posted a moving remembrance of Ramata over at Afropop Worldwide.

Ramata’s website

Ramata’s MySpace

Ramata on Last.fm

Some of her accomplishments:

* 2006 Tamani d’Or – Best Female Artist of the Year (Meilleure artiste féminine de l’année) – Malian equivalent to the Grammy

* Tamani d’or – Best Video (2005)

* BUMDA Best Artist in Mali (2008) le Bureau Malien des droits d’auteur (Malian Copyright Office)

* Sales of over 100,000 units of album «I Danse»

Some news coverage of her passing:

*Maliweb (in french)

*Maliweb (rough english google translation)

Inspired Words

Inspiring words, passed to me by my Uncle, whom I had the good fortune of acquiring as a friend and Uncle through my marriage.

The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

Harvard University Commencement Address

J.K. Rowling

Copyright June 2008

As prepared for delivery

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates,

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:

As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.

Thank you very much.

Availability, Lizard Brains, Reclaiming Focus, and other random thoughts

Three things have invaded my consciousness sphere over the past few days.

1. This quote [removed from context, but I’ll bring the context back around]: “Hyper-accessibility via blogs, smart phones and social media sites, coupled with chronic under availability (often caused by blogs, smart phones and social media sites)”

2. Seth Godin’s talk on “Quieting the Lizard Brain

3. Ideas for reclaiming focus at work

These all come together for me as I end the summer, and head into the fall. I’ve been struggling to pick up all my work and consulting projects post-vacation, and finding these things has led me to totally overhaul the home work space, prioritize and examine all my work and projects, and start to buckle down on finishing projects. Part of this has been a near complete absence of time spent on social media sites, although I’m finding myself shift to do more on my phone, something I must stop.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting all this into practice. Part of this means that I may not be as available/accessible as I (and you) may be used to, and part of this means that hopefully I’ll be completing a lot more projects. Pulling hard on the plunger, to use Godin’s visual metaphor.

Also, as I sat down to write this post, my buddy Eccodek’s “Spacehall Dub Ambient” came on shuffle. Alignment. I know I’m on the right path here. I still have yet to have a song with words come through the shuffle, so yeah for focus!

eMusic adds Sony (back) catalog

A little while ago this morning, I tweeted the following:

@soungalo: emusic adding major label (sony) content. nytimes: http://bit.ly/nHhMQ in emusic’s word: http://bit.ly/bslZC my opinions/thoughts l8r”

so now those opinions/thoughts (in macro blog format):

(but first the disclaimer) I work for MediaUnbound, and we have provided the recommendation/personalization for eMusic since November of 2008 (see the 17 dots post announcing this news).

Anyway, from the MUI (MediaUnbound) perspective, this is exciting news (non-officially – check the MUI Blargh for our official perspective). The addition of the Sony back catalog means that we get to help people dig into the amazing catalog that eMusic already has in place using Sony artists as entry points, as well as use the Sony catalog to fill out recommendations for indy artists and indy consumer profiles. One of the common issues among the public at large about eMusic has been that the catalog doesn’t contain stuff they know. Hipsters and those “in the know” scoff at this idea, but it is a real problem. If a person goes to eMusic, and can’t find something they know in the first 1-2 minutes, there is little chance that they will subscribe. Now, however, with the Sony catalog addition, and such artists as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, that argument will have a much harder time holding on. If someone says, “I don’t know what the heck is in this amazing huge catalog you have, but I like Bruce Springsteen”, we can really help that user find some interesting stuff and stick around a while.

Hopefully this catalog addition will do 2 things – 1) increase the number of users who subscribe to eMusic. 2) Give us a wider catalog from which to draw recommendations, meaning we can expose users to artists further down the long-tail in the indy catalog and drive additional sales/downloads of those artists.

From my consumer point of view, this is however a bitter pill to swallow.

trx/monthly/per track cost
NOW: 75/$19.99/$0.27
NEW: 75/$30.99/$0.41
NEW: 35/$15.89/$0.45
NEW: 50/$20.79/$0.42 (or 50/$19.99/$0.40 which is a little better)

So, I’ll see a monthly $11 increase if I keep up my same level of music consumption. In a short sighted view point, this is a bad thing (gah paying for music!). However, if one takes a longer point of view as a consumer, this isn’t really a bad thing. Back in the good ol days, I’d happily drop between $20-100 per month on physical product (cds, tapes, vinyl). Dropping down to $20 month for the equivalent of 5 albums is sure not a bad thing. Even going up to $31/month for that isn’t awful. And it should have a number of potentially positive effects – including driving up overall revenues for indy labels (and their artists) enabling them to keep this revenue stream alive (and keep all the currently-seflrighteously-angry-with-eMusic-hipsters) happy (even though they don’t actually pay for music). The new prices are also still $0.50-$0.90 cheaper than iTunes and a cheaper than AmazonMP3 (harder to calculate price differential since many Amazon albums are album only purchases).

Sometimes taking a step forward can be painful for folks, and it can be hard to see the bigger picture, but stepping forward is what keeps us going, so keep on keeping on eMusic!

p.s. – it has been very interesting to follow the twitter noise on this announcement this morning. a large number of “oh my god a price increase i have to cancel” freak-outs followed by folks starting to get excited about getting more really cool music in a great environment, curated by a knowledgable staff and kick-ass recommendation system.

[update: what is really also fascinating/mildly irritating to me is that the folks complaining about the price increase don’t seem to understand that eMusic is operating in an ecosystem, not a vacuum. Indy labels have been complaining for a long time about low payouts since customers don’t pay much. Remember this? Or this? all that sturm/drang about a couple labels pulling out of eMusic due to payout issues. one can’t have everything. if you want to support indy labels, and really support them, you have to support their artists – by buying downloads, buying merch, going to shows. there is not an alternative.]

Other Coaches

A friend who I’ve done some work with recently hipped me to Jodi Kaplan, who also provides coaching services to artists. Her work (here and here) looks really interesting, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to chat with her, think I could learn a lot from what she’s doing.

Every other person I see doing this work helps me refine exactly what I’m doing, what I’m offering, and how to be better at what I do. Being in a developing and growing field is a fun thing for sure.

Shirky Posts

Just got hipped to Clay Shirky, courtesy of a twitter friend @activecultures (aka Bill Bragin). Reading some of his posts on his blog, and enjoying them very much. Some posts to read, along with my fave points he makes:

* “The Music Business and the Big Flip” – One of my favorite lines is this: “Most new music is bad, and the users know it. Sites that sell themselves as places for bands to find audiences are analogous to paid placement on search engines — more marketing vehicle than real filter.”

What is fascinating here (other than that if a company like that is well funded it may well be a sales target for me in my day-job) is that it is true! I’ve never understood how sites touting themselves as the best place for unknown bands to find audiences (or vice versa) can succeed by any measure (MySpace excepted). Why do fans want to sort through the chaf themselves?

The other interesting aspect of this article is Shirky’s take on Collaborative Filtering itself. CF, to be a bit geeksnotty, is generally a term of low-repute in the recommendations space. Basically, CF is like first grade math for a recommendations company. If you can do that, great, but you need much more than that to actually properly recommend anything. If you can’t do CF, you are probably in the wrong space. Anyway, Shirky applies CF to mean something very different from that definition – essentially a nested set of lightly applied human filters to replace a traditional A&R department. Great idea. And also the kind of idea that needs wide traction to succeed, and has no obvious business model (aka – it’s hard to see how anyone can get rich building the infrastructure, so hard to see who will build said infrastructure).

* Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content – One of my favorite lines here is “These systems [micropayment providers] didn’t fail because of poor implementation; they failed because the trend towards freely offered content is an epochal change, to which micropayments are a pointless response.”

Again, fascinating. Previously, I was with CalabashMusic, and one of the ideas we threw around there was the idea of variable payments and micropayments for music (this was back “in the day”, when such ideas were actually kind of “new” – although since Shirky’s article is from 2003, looks like we were behind the 8ball even then!). One of the big problems we had was that such payment schemes are logistically tough, as credit card processing fees remain no matter where you put the payment, so micropayments are rarely scalable to a large non-paypal/similarsystem-using audience. So I’ve been skeptical of micropayment sites for that reason. Shirky’s post touches a deeper resonance with me however, since “free” really is replacing paid, no matter the cost, and the issue of mental transactions and percieved value also step in to destroy micropayments.

Final point from this – “It [the ‘net] likewise makes collecting fees harder, and soliciting donations easier.” So the takeaway for artists is – put good material out there, and make it easy for people to donate to your cause – whether by tipping you, buying a ticket to a show, becoming your patron, etc.

* The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed – finally just a quick note to say that the law of unintended consequences lives! And with today’s verdict agains the Pirate Bay, we’ll see what unintended consequences pop up (1000 new pirate bay-lets?)!


Just watched this video. Great stuff.  Very interesting questions, and they get at the core question for me – if there are cheaper and more efficient models of distribution that artists can get value from, shouldn’t we all be looking to learn from these models and adopt them? Shouldn’t we be looking for ways to increase the value for artists from these models instead of just shutting the models down?

My own personal pirate question has long been how to use the pirate networks in West Africa to distribute a release. They sell cheaper and get wider distribution than the legit channels of cassette (yes, cassette is still the widest form of music consumption in West Africa) distributors. Part of that is that they do not pay royalties or pay into artist collection societies. However, what if one could go directly to the pirates with a master copy of a new release, strike a deal with them to have them pay some amount to the artist (likely smaller than the “mandatory” rate, but much higher than $0), have them also press a bunch of cassettes for off-stage sale (also popular in West Africa, and lucrative for the artist), and then tell them “god-speed, sell the s$%t out of my album please”.

what would happen?