Music Biz Musings

Monday, June 05, 2006

CHANGE OF ADDRESS!! I've moved to Studio UES!

A week ago, Blogger locked my blog after mistakenly identifying it as spam. After countless attempts to contact them to reconcile the problem, I received no response. After reading horror stories from other Blogger users who've had their blogs deleted without notice, I feared the worst and quickly set up a new account.

Just tonight, Blogger finally reviewed and unblocked Music Biz Musings (whew). However, I plan to continue blogging on my new site, Studio UES. (All postings from this blog have been transferred to Studio UES).

So... please visit me at Studio UES and update your feeds! Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Taking a stand on overexposure in the U.K.

According to Reuters UK, Gnarls Barkley’s hit “Crazy” is no longer going to be available in British stores. Reportedly, the pair want to focus on the release of their next single and were worried about overexposure hurting overall sales. “Crazy” is the best selling song of the year in Britain and has been #1 on the singles chart in the UK for 9 consecutive weeks. But, for those of you who still haven’t gotten your fill, no worries because the single will still be available for download online. (FYI – for more scoop on Cee-lo and Danger Mouse, check out the article over at the Mirror)

But while Gnarls Barkley initiated the withdrawal of their music themselves, James Blunt had it done for him. A UK radio station responded to the cries of their listeners who were sick of hearing his hits “You’re beautiful” and “Goodbye my lover” and banned him from their playlist (AFP via Yahoo News).

I guess this is why they say you should go out while you’re on top. Let people miss you and leave them wanting more rather than wishing you (or your music) had left months ago. It’s not James Blunt’s fault, of course, that radio overplayed him, but good for Gnarls Barkley for trying to take back some control over their exposure.

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A note on the utility of consumer research

A Business Week article provides some interesting examples of companies who have used ethnographic research to help them develop or revitalize a product, break into a market, and transform a culture.

Ethnography is a qualitative, holistic method of researching human social phenomena. Generally speaking, it involves observing participants in their own environments and conducting in-depth interviews without imposing the researcher’s own conceptual framework. The job of the researcher is to utilize the information collected to better understand the “native’s” point of view. In the business world, this information can be used to inform product design & development or other strategic decisions.

As an example, the article discusses Sirius Satellite Radio’s use of this type of research in the development of their portable satellite radio, the S50. Sirius enlisted the help of ethnographers who studied the ins and outs of the behavior of 45 individuals in their own environments. The researchers derived insight into the most important factors related to the consumption of media and entertainment among these participants and made recommendations to Sirius regarding how to incorporate specific elements into a portable satellite radio that would tap into these needs.

I bring this up primarily because it relates to my previous post about what will be required to develop a true competitor to Apple’s iPod (and because I’m a little biased because of my own research background). An ethnographic analysis of consumers’ music discovery, organization, and sharing practices would have the advantage of linking what customers say with what they actually do (something that other qualitative methods such as focus groups can not provide). Used in conjunction with existing quantitative research data on consumer preferences, this type of research may provide further insight into the mind and habits of the digital music consumer that could assist in the development of applications and technologies to propel the digital music world forward – for Apple or anyone else who beats them to it.

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The Quest to measure up to Apple - what will it take?

So, it’s safe to say that Apple and its iTunes Music Store had a hell of a week last week. There was that deal with Nike that I reported on previously. Then, two radio stations teamed up with Apple to offer customized iTunes stores on their websites (TUAW). (In case you missed it, Hot 97 out of NYC and Power 106 in LA have developed their own iTMS’s that feature the music of hip-hop artists, exclusive station iMixes, and DJ recommendations for download.) Finally, as if that weren’t enough, NBC joined hands with the heavyweight as well to sell some of its news programming. (AP/Yahoo News)

And, while Apple’s expansion continued, other would-be contenders for market share continued to make efforts to take them down. For example, Engadget reported on an online viral marketing campaign led by Sandisk to promote its Sansa e200. The campaign – hosted on idon’ – encouraged viewers to stop acting like sheep following the herd (and indeed there are sheep everywhere on the site – all wearing iPod earbuds) and instead to choose the alternative, in this case the Sandisk player. It remains to be seen what impact the campaign will have on promoting the cause for SanDisk, but, Mp3newswire did recently highlight some additional contenders for this summer.

But, what will it take for a company to effectively compete with Apple? Well, as a recent article in the Observer points out, it’s going to take a lot more than an isolated piece of technology or a little buzz to compete with, let alone overtake, the success of iPod. The article aptly points out that Apple’s success with the iPod is due primarily to three key features: 1) its simplicity, 2) its ability to create applications for buying, playing, and organizing music (via the iTMS and iTunes) and getting them to work seamlessly, and 3) its ability to draw customers in by responding to growing consumer interest in creating their own experience.

If and when a product does emerge as a true iPod killer contender, it is likely to be part of a larger vision to provide consumers with even more control (i.e. more interoperability and less restrictive DRM), enhanced applications for customization and music access (for example, content lockers – check out this Washington Post article), and perhaps, as I talked about in a recent post, access to new technologies in music discovery tools and consumer-generated playlists that offer features beyond iTMS's current iMix playlists. Ultimately, to not only draw consumers in but also draw them away from Apple would require both improving upon Apple's current system of features and filling in the gaps with new technologies and interfaces that open up new avenues for music discovery and portability.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Back Seat Driving - The Dixie Chicks' Marketing Strategy

“It’s either a clever marketing ploy, or the Dixie Chicks have decided to commit career suicide. It’s too early to tell which.” So said the recent 60 minutes piece .

I’m not so sure either of these things is the case.

The general strategy – to reposition the Dixie Chicks as “rock-ish country”, get rid of conservatively-based country fans and focus on maintaining a core group of progressive female fans – was the only way to go, in my opinion. The alternative – make another country record marketed to their original fan base and pretend the whole thing never happened – would have left the band members suffering emotionally and probably wouldn’t have proved to be a hit in terms of sales as die-hard conservative fans would still not have “let it go”.

In terms of execution, there have been some hits and misses. The campaign has obviously been extremely successful in getting coverage in the press (and in the right kind of press with the right kind of audience). Coverage in the NY Times , 60 Minutes, and Time Magazine have generated much needed buzz around the release. This press was particularly important given that the ladies are still not being given much radio airplay (Billboard via CNN) . And, just as the coverage generated criticism that the promotion was all about politics and not about the music, a handful of solid album reviews were released (e.g. Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, LA Times), reminding consumers and critics that, in spite of the political drama, the Dixie Chicks are still making good music.
So, the buzz has been good, the reviews have been good, and, according to first day sales (Hits Daily Double), the Dixie Chicks are on their way to a good first week. But, there are a few problems with the campaign that I believe may hurt sales and the band’s reputation in the long run if they are not attended to. In particular, these problems are related to the band’s image in the minds of listeners and its lackluster online marketing efforts.
Who are the Dixie Chicks?
The NY Times article states “But this isn't really a fight about President Bush or freedom of speech. This is a fight about the identity of country music.” Personally, I don’t think that has been made entirely clear. In the 60 minutes piece, it seemed the women were primarily interested in two things – removing themselves from a country music scene whose values they did not espouse, and venting about the emotional difficulty of coping with the overwhelmingly negative, sometimes physically threatening, response to Natalie Maines’ statements about the President in 2003. It was also clear that they wanted to promote a sound that is a little more rock and a little less country and speak to a progressive female audience. OK, so it’s about breaking from country music's "redneck identity"…or so we thought, until the band’s recent refusal to promote their album on “The View” (New York Post). The reason for the refusal? - they were trying to think about “what Bruce Springsteen would do” in promoting his work, seemingly implying a desire to be thought of as budding grassroots activists in the vein of The Boss. So is it about bucking country music because you wanted people to be clear about who you are and what you believe in, or is it about fighting against President Bush and instigating political change? Ultimately, this is about one thing only – the identity of the Dixie Chicks, and my biggest gripe about the PR in this campaign is its failure to identify and send a clear, unified message about who they in fact are and intend to be. Assuming the DC were held back from truly being themselves while playing within the country music realm, what should I expect from them now? Are they rebels who just want the freedom to speak their minds? Burgeoning activists who intend to step up their involvement in the promotion of political change? Or just three women who don’t want to be rebels or activists, but just didn’t want to feel caged in by the rules of country music? I still don’t know. Should I think of you as comparable to Pink? To Neil Young? Or to Michelle Branch?

Even if they work to clarify this message to the public, the fact is that they have positioned themselves as a band that prioritizes its political values enough that they needed to part completely from their conservative fan base – a pretty serious move that implies pretty serious devotion to progressive values. As such, even if they don’t want to be Bono and change the world or Neil Young and center their entire album around politics and the president, if they are wise, they will demonstrate their commitment to these values through some amount of activism; otherwise, it will appear as if they were really more interested in creating a buzz for marketing purposes than in behaving in accordance with deeply rooted values. And that would mean death for the band in the long-term as they would have burned bridges with their conservative country fans and disappointed their progressive followers who expected more from them.

Online Engagement
Promotional segments in the media will soon end and, with limited airplay, the women need to somehow maintain the buzz surrounding the album in order to sustain sales. The interactive marketing campaign has the potential to play a critical role in promoting sales through promoting word of mouth; however, much more needs to be done in this campaign for that to happen.

First, the positives. The band put up a new site at MSN where fans are offered streaming audio of the full album, and there is also a link out to MSN music to provide fans the opportunity to buy current and past releases (interestingly, they’re still listed under “Contemporary Country”). In terms of providing music access to current and potential fans as well as driving sales, those are the pros of the site. But, beyond that, the interactive content on the band’s site is severely lacking in several crucial areas.

Activism? What activism?
Go to the Dixie Chicks’ official website or MSN Space and you will find absolutely nothing related to political issues or activist causes. Again, it’s unclear the extent to which the DC want to become politically involved, but they’ve built their separation from country music around the need to freely express their values, so, even if they don’t want to tour with Bruce Springsteen promoting political change (Washington Post ), they would be wise to, at a minimum, provide some information about causes consistent with their beliefs in order to reinforce the message that they are serious about their political values. As an example, consider the website of another progressive band who recently released an album, Pearl Jam. There, you’ll find an “activism” link which provides a list of organizations supported by the band as well as an opportunity for fans to “talk back” about these issues. It’s a simple and effective way to reaffirm a band’s image and values in the eyes of its fans, and, for the DC, it’s a good way to build relationships with new fans who were driven to investigate them based solely out of political interest.

“To the fans who have stuck by us, we really appreciate you”
Nope. There’s none of that. Anywhere. Go to and it’s pretty much just buzz central – headlines on all the press they’ve had over the last couple of weeks, but nothing addressing the fans. That site drives you to their new space at MSN where, again, there’s no clear message to the fans.

What are the Dixie Chicks doing to nurture a relationship with fans who have stuck by them and potential new fans who are checking them out? Relationships aren’t one-sided and artists must put forth an effort to develop and maintain fan relationships if they want to succeed. And that doesn’t just mean “Join our mailing list by entering your email address here”. Even a simple message from the Dixie Chicks to their fans on their website expressing their gratitude to those who’ve shown support and their eagerness to hear from newly acquired fans would be a step in the right direction. I have no problem with the Dixie Chicks wanting to get rid of some of their original followers. Frankly, if someone threatened my life, I’d tell them to screw off too. But I think there needs to be more of an effort to embrace fans who have stuck by them and reach out to consumers who are giving them a try because they share in their political sentiment.

Consider again Pearl Jam’s website (Sorry to perseverate but it’s just got all the right components). In addition to an activism link, there’s also a link to join the band’s fan club which offers exclusive members-only benefits – “Join the greatest fan club on earth dedicated to the greatest fans on earth”. How fabulous is that? Promote a following while complementing your fans, making them feel special by offering them exclusive stuff, and letting them know how important they are to you. It’s a love fest and I like it.

Community Forum
Sticking with the failure to incorporate fans into the plan, there’s virtually no opportunity on the Dixie Chicks’ sites for fans to engage in a conversation with the band or with each other. Consumers will find an outlet to post their opinions, whether on the Dixie Chicks site or elsewhere, but providing a forum on the site will allow fans a safe place to congregate, allow the band the opportunity to monitor fan conversations, identify the demographics of their evolving fan base, and identify areas in which they might improve outreach. In addition, by imposing structure on message boards and blogs through moderation and compartmentalization of threads, they can control, monitor, and address negative messages more effectively.

To be fair, a blog has been established on the ladies’ website, but with mediocre activity levels and content. Additionally, the band recruited a law school professor as their blogger which I don’t understand at all. Why not employ a fan – a new fan who recently connected with DCs new sound or a long-time fan who fits the ladies' preferred fan base – to engage in a blogging dialogue with the public? (Of all the people who could have been utilized to connect and build trust with fans…a lawyer?) Even more interesting, why not set up a blog hosted by a fan who was offended by Natalie Maines’ statement in 2003 but who respects the band’s stand today – that would attract a diverse readership and potentially convert some fans who are on the fence. Anyway, “the professor” also goes on to write a series of articles that are posted on the site that are somewhat immature and not appropriate to the Dixie Chicks core audience.


The ladies’ producer, Rick Rubin, was quoted in the NY Times as saying “What turned me on, though, was that even though people were divided over what they said, people cared what they said, and that's a very strong position for an artist to be in.” He’s right. But after the buzz is over, what will they be saying? And can they make more of an effort to engage in a conversation with their fans? We’ll have to keep our eyes on the charts (and on their website).

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Buzz on Music Discovery Tools

Cool review over at Extreme Tech where Jeremy Atkinson evaluates the caliber of eight free online music recommendation services (MusicStrands, LivePlasma,, Audiri, Pandora, Mercora, Yahoo Launchcast, & Atkinson and his team rank the services according to five criteria, including navigation & usability, quality and depth of the music library, media offerings (e.g. streaming radio), community networking options, and the quantity and quality of recommendations. In the end, scores the most props, with Pandora a close second (I’m a fan too – want to know what I’m listening to?).

This review, of course, comes on the heels of Dahlen’s buzzworthy Pitchfork feature from earlier this week that provided an extensive discussion of the origins of and potential future for these music discovery tools.

As the community of digital music consumers grows larger, we are learning more about the ways in which they prefer to try on and incorporate new music into their playlists. Recall the research published by McGuire & Slater of Harvard Law that reported a strong interest in online music discovery among consumers and, in particular, for consumer-generated recommendation tools. Thus, while the developing technology behind music discovery tools is critical to consumers’ trust in these services, the communities surrounding the tools are just as important. With regard to artist discovery, Dahlen aptly mentions that these recommendation services provide the best opportunity for marketing musicians in the long tail and introducing consumers to artists and bands who would otherwise never even make it onto their radar screens. But, if set up appropriately, it’s probably not just artists in the long tail who would benefit from optimization of these services. In the Harvard study, fifty-eight percent of online music listeners surveyed reported feeling that, since using an online music service, they are exposed to a wider variety of music. While in some cases, a “wider variety” could imply incorporation of long-tail artists into their playlists, in other cases, it may simply imply a crossing over into a different, but still popular, genre of music based on the recommendation of some trusted virtual buddies.

At any rate, for the industry at large to capitalize monetarily on this process of viral music expansion, the services need to link up with online retailers to promote legal purchasing of the music. For example, on, when you click on an album or artist, you have access not only to consumer reviews and related recommendations, but also to links to purchase the album at Amazon, iTunes, or several other retailers (what McGuire & Slater deemed “providing a short path to a transaction”).

Anyway, as technology continues to evolve and new competitors emerge, it will be vital to monitor consumer preferences and buzz so as not to squander a potentially really cool way to market and distribute music in Web 2.0.

Oh, and for those who want to read more about the topic, I’d encourage you to keep an eye on the blog of Sun Microsystem’s researcher Paul Lamere who is working on the Search Inside the Music project.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sports and Music - A match made in heaven

Nike+iPod = "cha-ching"
Up first, Nike and iPod team up (Digital Music News). A talking shoe, iPod-focused apparel, and a special Nike-sport music section in the iTunes store are just a few of the directions in which the partnership is headed. Check out for more info on the offerings, as well as a video ad illustrating how the nike shoe “talks” to the iPod. I don’t want to be a member of the cult, but I just can’t help it. As a lifelong runner and music enthusiast, I do think it’s pretty damn cool (though clearly totally frivolous).

America's favorite pastime
Major League Baseball partners with CenterStaging’s to capitalize on the symbiotic relationship between sports and music entertainment. will feature behind-the-scenes footage of acts like the Pussycat Dolls and Earth, Wind, & Fire, and will mutually link with to encourage visits to both sites. Business Wire

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Some notable marketing efforts of the past few days...

Life Wasted
Pearl Jam distributes the video for its most recent single under a Creative Commons license (CNET ) . Big news for Pearl Jam because it’s their first video in eight years, but bigger news for the music industry at large as it’s the first time that a major label has agreed to release a video under these conditions to the public in light of worldwide conflict over DRM and public consumption. Are other majors soon to follow suit? We shall see… but for now, you can download the video for free until June 1st at Google Video. I've embedded it below here....just 'cause I can.

Interscope partners with Doppelganger to create cyberlounge to promote Pussycat Dolls (Yahoo News) . The lounge offers an opportunity for interaction among fans via instant messenger, and, of course, access to purchase the group’s music and merchandise. The promotional tactic was utilized last year by artists like Ashlee Simpson and Bow Wow and represents yet another interactive marketing opportunity for artists to connect with fans in a virtual world. If you’re curious, check it out for yourself at the Pussycat Dolls Lounge .

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Monday, May 08, 2006

From track to jingle?

An article in today’s New York Times touts the advantages of using artists’ music in commercial advertising. In the spirit of adapting to today’s changing music industry, many artists and labels are more open to consideration of such partnerships because of the need to diversify potential sources of revenue. Just last week, Kelly Clarkson lent her voice to Ford’s new ad campaign (Brandweek)

But the association of an artist’s music with a brand is not a sure-fire mechanism to be thrown into a business model. The considerations are different depending upon the stage of the artist’s career and the nature of the artist’s fanbase. Some fans would consider it sacrilege for their band to allow an advertiser to use their material, while other artists’ fanbases are more apathetic or forgiving. For known artists, it is important that their established image be consistent with that of the advertiser. And, while advertising may provide an opportunity to help break a new artist, it may in practice be difficult to negotiate the use of the new artist’s material with major advertisers who are wary of using material from artists whose music and fanbase are unknown or still developing.

Nevertheless, if you’ve got the right artist, at the right stage of the game, with the right fans, and a relevant brand match…it may just work.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Catch it while you can

In case you missed them on David Letterman, you can watch Pearl Jam’s 10-song set on Innertube. While Pearl Jam is promoting their new album, a J-Records release that came out on May 2 (Reuters) , CBS is promoting their new ad-supported broadband video channel, Innertube, which will broadcast current CBS programs, play rebroadcasts of past programs, and launch content-diverse original programming (ClickZ).

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MySpace - it's not just for Indie bands anymore

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that two candidates in the race for governor in California have developed MySpace profiles in an effort to target younger voters. In light of the Ad Age article I mentioned in a previous post in which marketers are warned to be wary of the fickle, anti-advertising minded youth who use social networking sites, I wonder how teens will feel about politicians invading their territory?

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Warner Music Group all over the news...

It’s been a busy few days in the WMG camp. First, on May 3, it was reported that EMI’s $4.23 billion takeover offer was rebuffed by Warner (Bloomberg). Then, the company’s second quarter report was published, showing a net loss of over $7 million – less than predicted – coupled with notable increases in revenue from digital sales (Financial Times). Speculation abounded that WMG would use this to its advantage in bargaining with EMI over a merger. Then, just to keep us on our toes, Bronfman told UK reporters yesterday that Warner had no need to merge (or not merge) with anyone (Evening Standard). Well, given that we’ve been watching this story for about six years, I suppose it won’t hurt us to wait a bit longer…

As if all this merger news weren’t enough to sort out, emerging legal matters the company is facing are also coming to light. First, Warner is dealing with lawsuits related to the pricing of its digital downloads (Wall Street Journal). In addition, as reported by Grant Robertson at Engadget’s Digital Music Weblog, Warner is also being sued by two independent labels who claim that its radio promotion activities are anti-competitive. See Warner’s Quarterly Earnings legal proceedings statement.

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