Friday, 31 December 2010

Equations for the future

So the internet has been around a while now, the major labels are still suing their customers as their first response to free advertising (i call it sharing, the more dramatic amongst the industry call it piracy. Really? Piracy? Read some news articles on Somalian waters or the East China Sea to find out what modern piracy really is) but somehow they're still there and, more depressingly, we're still here.
But these things take time, a lot of time when your opponents (and perversely this includes people like the BPI who are supposed to represent me) have the ears of the government.
But to recap...

I think what we're seeing the beginning of is a mass levelling of the playing field.
Basically we will end up with fewer superstars but more people making a much more modest living from their music.
There are a multitude of alternative business models out there, they're all evolving, the trick is finding one that works for you.
Most of them are based around the following (which you'll see in a number of places on the web but i think it originated at Techdirt):
Connect with Fans (CwF) + Reason to Buy (RtB) = $
This is much the same as the 1000 True Fans theory but expressed differently.

Effectively it comes down to your ability to engage with your fans and persuade them to support you (CwF) and your producing a product that's sufficiently high quality to make it worth buying instead of downloading (RtB).

Personally i think there's a factor missing here, which, for lack of a better term, i shall call Elevation. And this what the current major labels do.
With the rise of free distribution mechanisms and cheaper technology there is more and more really good music being made. The challenge now for any artist to stand out from the crowd, to raise yourself or your band above the level of everyone else and get noticed.
Sadly it's not enough just to be really talented, you still need some mechanism to elevate yourself above the noise level.
The major labels have massive publicity and marketing budgets, that's how they do it but it doesn't work for an independent act.

Unless you're an independent act with a corporation-sized bank account. No? let's move on then... 

As always though, there are a number of alternative ways to do this. One way is via working out what your niche is and targetting that, there's a lady who writes songs about sailing (whose name i forget, irritatingly) who sells very well to, funnily enough, the yachting and sailing crowd. That's her thing and it's effective for her.
Another option is to consider your location and work out if you're in the best place for your music, different areas have different scenes, sometimes it helps to be part of that scene, sometimes it's best to be unique in your region. What you don't want to be is stuck in the middle.
Another option is to partner with a publicist / advertiser, there are people trying to make careers there as well and some mutual backscratching might be possible.

One approach that appears to be coming through is to target a really, really small niche, with a very high-end product (hat tip to Confused of Calcutta). The mass market is always going to be the territory of the major labels - don't try and compete, figure out what your Unique Selling Point is and work out how to make the most of it.

So i think the equation should actually be:
e(CwF + RtB) = $

But at the end of 2010 i find myself no nearer establishing what my business model is. So i suspect 2011 will be no more successful for me than this year was. Hopefully others will get further along that particular line.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Oi! McDonalds! Give it a rest!

Walking past the bus stop the other day and i noticed this (click for a larger image):

Yep, that's right, apparently McDonalds now have a trademark on the expression "and then some".
How can a common expression like this be trademarked? Surely there's some kind of prior-use protection on this kind of stuff?

And how does McDonalds get off on behaving like this? The English language does not belong to you, just because you want to use some words in an advert does not mean that no-one else should have the right to.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Put your money where your mouth is

I've always been a fan of political cartoons, a few years ago i started reading a few from the other side of the pond as a way of getting a different perspective on events being reported over here.
A couple of years ago i found the cartoons of Matt Bors, unlike a lot of the US political cartoonists he doesn't appear to be particularly partisan (though i think you can say he's definitely liberal) but just enjoys pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of the world political situation.
I like that.
But his cartoon today is a bit special. There's no joke to it.

I hope he doesn't mind me posting it here, because frankly, I admire the man, but i can't find an e-mail address anywhere on his website. I guess he gets a lot of shit from people for some of his cartoons.
Anyway, on this, he ain't shitting about.

Normal YAMDAC related blogs will follow shortly.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

I'm in the market for a new bike...

...because some thieving little shit stole mine last night. bastard.
So, any suggestions? What was taken was a heavily modded Giant NRS3 (the frame, chainset and stem are original, everything else has been upgraded), and i'd be looking for something similar (though i'm also thinking about a hard-tail).
I reckon i've got about £1500 budget.
What do you suggest?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Talking crap

I've been accused of this many times, but this time i'm doing it deliberately...

Toilets are funny things, i have no idea if it's different in other cultures, but here in the west we're still a bit embarrassed about it all. As such it's an area of design that really hasn't progressed very much (I know Toto are doing interesting things in Japan though) so i will probably return to it on a number of occasions.

There are few things in life more satisfying than taking a well-needed dump in the privacy of your own toilet. You know this is true.
Now compare this to the horror of those situations where you absolutely-cannot-possibly-avoid having to use a public toilet. Especially ones at any kind of transport interchange.
Slightly less unpleasant are the loos at work. There's probably a multi-point sliding scale that could be derived, but that's not the point of this post.

This post is about a change of architectural approach and the installation of some simple technology.

Let's talk architecture first; it's an area of design that likes to consider itself cutting edge, right up until you get to the toilets. They may have a swish new sink or a funky Dyson airblade but chances are, on the other side of the room, is the usual grim array of stalls.
I recently started working in a new office block, and there the architect has made a fantastic decision. Instead of one large room with a number of toilet stalls, half that number of sinks and only one hand-dryer (why do people always seem to think that that is an acceptable ratio?) the architect chose to put in 6 small, individual rooms off a short, central corridor. Proper rooms with proper doors and walls. They each have their own wash-basin and hand dryer as well.
The whole toilet experience is much more pleasant; perhaps this is why they appear to be better looked after by the staff as well?

"But wait!" You may be thinking, "surely that takes up much more floorspace? And surely small rooms retain the previous occupant's odour for a much longer time?"
Both of these are good questions, let's look at them one at a time.
Floor space. For the benefit of the regular office moves my company publishes floor plans of all our buildings. Using these i have been able to work out that, on a like-number-of-stalls basis, the individual room approach takes up only a fraction more space. It could easily be made to take up the same amount of space with just a small (read negligible) reduction in individual room space.
And what of the whiff? Well now, this is one area where it does appear to fall down. Despite each room having its own extraction duct it can be an unpleasant experience to step into a frequently occupied and heavily used room.
And that's where the simple technology comes in.

Toilet timers. I shit you not.*
Have display above each toilet door showing the time since the room was last vacated. Link the timer to the lock so that it reset when the door was unlocked and that way anyone entering the corridor can take a quick look around and see which room has the longest period of absence (and thus the highest chance of fresh air).

You may snigger at such a suggestion, but that is just our western embarrassment coming to the fore again. Ask yourself what other scenario would it be considered to expose yourself or others to aerosolised human faeces?
If you can think of an example i don't want to come to any of your parties.

So, individual rooms, with timers. Taking a dump at work could be as relaxing as doing so at home. Just don't install a magazine rack or your productivity could take a huge hit.

* Did you really think i was going to let you get through this without that joke coming in somewhere?

Monday, 5 July 2010

A light in the darkness

Driving along yesterday in the bright sunshine, approaching a roundabout the "other half" pulls out causing me to emit a more-than-slightly-panicked gasp as she then desperately accelerates across the gap. The reason for this sudden cardial exercise? In the bright sunshine she hadn't seen that his right-hand indicator was actually on and we shouldn't have been pulling out. I had seen this but hadn't realised that she hadn't until too late. As it were.

Anyway, we're alright, he probably gave us a mouthful, but there was no sudden impacts or deafening squeals of brakes and children.*

But it got me thinking.

Given where we are with the state of our technology and its inclusion in automobiles, why don't we have ambient-light-sensitive indicators? Ones that are brighter during the day and then revert to normal levels at night (so as not to dazzle or distract). Doesn't look like there are any patents on this one if anyone fancies making a bob or two...

Similarly, why don't we have pressure-sensitive brake lights? The harder you brake the brighter the light. This is potentially very useful information to following vehicles.

A patent was filed on this in 2004 FFS! Tell me we're not going to have to wait until it expires in 2021. Please.

Both of these things are absolutely piss damn easy to do, with obvious benefits.
So where are they?

And why aren't they on your car?

*As my brother is wont to say

Thursday, 3 June 2010

1000 just isn't enough

In my opening post i mentioned the stuff i'd been reading on the technium about the concept that's been doing the rounds for a while now, that a band can get by with 1000 true fans.

What defines a true fan is probably up for debate but for the purposes of these arguments it can be taken as someone who'll buy everything you release. Which is nice of them, but, and this is where it gets interesting, being a true fan they're more likely to want some kind of hard-copy product rather than just a download.

This, therefore, means upfront production costs. This is particularly true of any merchandise other than music (ever tried downloading a t-shirt?).

Production costs rack up quickly. Let's say that your true fan will spend £25 on your products per year, say, for the sake of argument, an album, an EP and a t-shirt. That's going to cost you about £1500 for a thousand t-shirts, about £1000 for a run of a thousand albums and a similar amount for the EP. These are ballpark figures, you can probably find cheaper if you search around but it's a good place to start.

That's £3500 you've got to find upfront (albeit potentially in installments) to produce the physical item.
Let's talk studio costs now. In fact, let's do it in reverse.
You have 1000 fans all willing to spend £25 (+ or - a few fans and + or - a few £)
So your merchandise income is £25k
less VAT of 17.5% (£3723)
less production cost (£3500)
leaves you 17700 (and remember this is your full time job)
Studio time will cost you probably £20 and hour for the studio and another £20 an hour for the engineer (last time i looked)
Now if you spend every penny of that £17700 on studio time, that works out at about 444 hours. If you compare that to a 9-5 job that's about 3 months. That's probably enough time to record an album and an EP.
But you're not going to be eating in that time, out of that money, partly because you won't have made it yet, partly because there isn't any left.

So you're basically going to need to live off your live performances.

Now i don't know about you but i have found one thing to be consistent on the live circuit - the "better" the venue (i.e. the more it is a recognised venue with appreciative audiences and big name draws), the lower the payout at the end of the show for a supporting act.
If i wanted to live off music i could probably manage it playing covers in bars 3 nights a week in the region. Just*.

But playing covers in bars doesn't get you true fans; you want true fans you have to be playing your own stuff. And that doesn't get you gigs in bars.

I dunno, maybe that's just me, but that's my experience. So basically, 1000 fans isn't enough. 2000 might be, 3000 is probably closer to the mark. And that's for a solo artist/duo. If you're a band then you've got to be looking at around 5000 i think.
And that's a helluva a lot of people to get interested in your music by yourself.

Which i'll come back to in the next installment...

* Money is drying up in the recession, fewer places are putting music on and fewer people are going out.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

This week...

I have mostly been listening to:
Meursault on (Which irritatingly i can't link directly to)*
Trouble in the Wind on myspace
Chris TT's new album on my CD player
Natalie Merchant's new album on my phone.

I'm trying to avoid overdosing on the Mumford and Sons, Joe Purdy** and Langhorne Slim albums (alba?) that i bought the other week and was in definite danger of over-playing.

Now, one of the things i've been doing this week is illegal. And it's not listening to the first two artists for free.
Yep, copying the Natalie Merchant album (that i bought legally) to my phone is format-shifting and that's illegal in the UK. What a pissing ridiculous law. Hopefully the new coalition won't stop at repealing the digital economy bill. But i suspect they have other things on their mind at the moment so i won't hold it against them if it takes a while...

Whilst i'm briefly on the subject of Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep, i should point out that it is, without a doubt, the nicest piece of CD packaging i have ever encountered. If you want an example of how to add value to the hard-copy in a digital world this is it.
The challenge comes when you think about how much this cost upfront. And this remains the challenge for trying to make money in a band by merchandising; whichever way you play it you've got to pay costs upfront, and that's money that could be spent on your next studio session or petrol to play at more gigs.

More thoughts on this will follow once i've checked out CD baby.

Oh yes, and be sure to check out Vestan Pance coverage of the Giro d'italia, complete with a the latest on the Landis saga.

* for someone in my job i should really be a bit more technically literate
** Is this the most ridiculously priced album on amazon?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Yet Another Music, Design And Cycling blog

Welcome, Wilkommen, Bienvenue, in the words of the best band in the world ever*.
So here we are on our first of an irregular series of blogs that will cover, generally speaking, Music, Design and Cycling. I've chosen to write about these three things as they are intrinsically linked in a singular way.
I.e. I'm interested in them.
But nowadays with music comes technology; so i'll be touching on that here and there as well.
In fact, we'll be starting with that.
I've just finished reading a very interesting article on The Technium called Better Than Free; it talks about ways to monetise a product in a world where copies are free. And it's a lot better thought out than most posting on the subject.
This is especially true when read in conjunction with two of his other posts: The Reality of Depending on True Fans and The Case Against 1000 True Fans.
It seems the debate is still very open with only one clear example of someone managing to make the new paradigm (did i really write that? I guess i did, oh well) work being Jonathan Coulton.
I suspect that where we will end up is with the rise of either the marketeer / artist or close collaborations of the two. Either way, it's not enough just to produce music and publish it on the web, nor is it enough just to produce music and play live. There's a huge amount of effort required to persuade people to get off their arses and come to a gig, and then another chunk of effort to persuade them to buy what they can otherwise get for free.
And sometimes that's kind of hard to do at the same time as holding down a day job.

* Blot - Midnight Oil