The Vevo Piracy Scandal and What We Can Learn About Access

VEVO was caught illegally streaming the Super Bowl after some investigative journalism by Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch. VEVO, an entertainment company owned in part by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, is openly against piracy. That’s what makes their illegal streaming of the Super Bowl even more ironic in the eyes of consumers, artists, and music businesses that have bore the brunt of the record labels’ wrath over the past decade.

VEVO CEO Rio Caraeff wrote a post explaining the mistake, which can be read in part below:

“A guest of our lounge asked for an NFL game to be aired. We said no. There was a laptop hooked up to that fed into the large TV screens around the bar. Unfortunately, the laptop was easily accessible to the public. That was our mistake for not making sure the laptop was more secure. While VEVO staff was in other areas of the venue, the game was put on – via a website transmitting ESPN’s broadcast of the NFL game – without our permission or knowledge.

As soon as we realized the game was airing to the room, we removed it and went back to playing VEVO videos. The game was not aired in its entirety. Rest assured, we rectified this mistake as soon as we became aware what was going on.”

I’m going to give Caraeff and VEVO the benefit of the doubt, they probably did not intend to illegally stream anything. It just happened. But I think this event puts many current technology issues into perspective. Clearly some people at Vevo’s event wanted to see the Super Bowl and coming across a legitimate streaming source for the game probably isn’t easy if you don’t have the proper TV setup.

What consumers want is ease of use and access, even if it’s at a price. Apple’s iTunes made music consumption easy—their catalogue is fairly robust and provides music at a decent price and in a way consumers favor (i.e. you can buy one track instead of the whole album, and you can do it quickly). The entertainment industry as a whole needs to come up with a viable model for distributing all forms of content at the click of a button in order to curb piracy. 

I’ve listened to several technology podcasts where very wealthy individuals admit to piracy even though they are more than willing to pay for content. In many cases it’s not about paying for content, it’s about accessing content. Between Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and many other content providers, consumers still can’t get everything they want. Until technology catches up with the demand for readily available content when and how people want to consume it, then piracy will be the fall-back option for a sizeable percentage of consumers (regardless of ethical considerations). Now all we need to do is replace decades of backroom deals and outdated corporate structures so we can aggregate all the content as we please.  

When The Lines of Music Creation Blur

Electronic and DJ music is sweeping the Grammys, apps let you tag audio at the Super Bowl, sites like uJam let you manipulate music with nothing more than your browser, and people record sound straight to their mobile devices. The lines are getting blurred when it comes to music creation. I had to defend the art of DJ-ing to a coworker of mine, who thought that DJs just made a playlist and pressed the play button on their console or laptop. Simply put, that’s not the case (most of the time).

It’s clear that music creation is much easier now than it was in the past. Clearly it’s no longer about how you make your music – you don’t need a guitar, piano, or a mic to be considered a musician – it’s what kind of music you make that determines your success, not how you made it. Any person in their room can consider themselves a DJ, but why are certain artists relegated to the bedroom while others find themselves performing in front of thousands? Simply put it’s the nuances of a mix, a vocal melody, or a beat that make a song what it is. Original creation is still a must. Even still, two different DJs can play the same song, but one somehow gets a little bit more energy out of the tune. It’s all about dynamics. 

As technology improves, the cost to run an online business, create an application, store files, or create a song all decreases. But creativity is a constant. More creative people are enabled to make something that we call music, but we still need the creative people in the first place. What changes is how we define music. Some define music as any sound, others fall into a more rigid, traditional criteria for what constitutes music. As you see more and more categories pop up in the Grammys and more genres getting their own cultural piece in The New York Times, the more accepting people will be of all forms of new music.

This generation’s rock n’ roll might be rock n’ roll. But it’s also electronic music, hip-hop, and everything in between.


Music Controversy for the Sake of Music Controversy

Sometimes it seems artists like to stir up controversy just because they can. The idea that all press is good press. I often wonder if there’s any need to single out one particular artist when you’re trying to bash radio-friendly music. The Ting Tings did just that. NME reported that the band is straying from their first album sound and don’t expect everything to turn out so hot on the charts:

“The band said they would rather ‘puke on their own feet’ than sit alongside the likes of Guetta on radio playlists and that they aren't after ‘cheap nasty hits.’”

Many would find it noble that a band like The Ting Tings are willing to sell fewer records in the hopes that they won’t have to water-down their music to fit some mainstream ideal for pop chart success. That’s perfectly fine.  But why single out David Guetta? Is he even the most cookie-cutter you can get? While very pop-friendly, Guetta still appeals to a whole scene of electronic dance music fans outside of the mainstream radio audience. It’s too easy to bash Nickleback or Justin Bieber, so The Ting Tings picked the next rung of music celebrity.

The comment section in the same NME article has several references to Noel Gallagher, formerly the main songwriter of British rock band Oasis. One says: “What does Noel Gallagher think of this?” Gallagher is  notorious for controversial statements about fellow musicians. His outspoken personality has garnered him a lot of press, for better or for worse. At the same time he is also a veteran of the business. The Ting Tings are still up-and-coming, so their reputation can help propel them or hold them back. It seems like they have to make a decision what kind of reputation they want to embrace.

One-off comments will probably come and go, but some musicians keep adding to the fuel and build a reputation of critiquing over time. Kanye West didn’t just interrupt Taylor Swift’s speech at the VMA’s, he built his reputation of controversial actions over time. They all added up to what the public now perceives of Kanye. For some, the controversy creates an allure—an intangible quality that makes many artists seem less human but all the more unique. Other artists might fall into the category of bitter, jealous, scornful, or just plain mean.

The question is, is this a risk worth taking? Or maybe it’s not calculated and you just speak from the heart. Audiences reward authenticity, so if you’re going to call someone out based on something you believe in, you better mean it.


MegaUpload Might Not Be Every File-Sharing Site

Some tech savvy individuals are decrying the shutdown of MegaUpload, the file-sharing site that allowed for numerous public file transfers (both for legitimate and illegal purposes). The FBI seized MegaUpload on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and criminal copyright infringement. Many worry that the FBI’s seemingly calculated move after the SOPA/PIPA protests to shutdown MegaUpload represents a slippery slope that will lead to other file-sharing sites like Dropbox or SoundCloud getting the brunt of the government’s wrath. 

The problems happen not when sites like MegaUpload make it too easy to put up files, but when they make it too hard to take them down. Sam Rosenthal, owner of Brooklyn-based Projekt Records, wrote on Digital Music News about the takedown policies on sites like MegaUpload that operate under the DMCA:  

“Your file will be gone within 24 hours. If not, file the complaint again with your next batch of illegal files. Because yes, you will be doing this same thing next week. And the next week. And the next week.... it's a never-ending process. The DMCA puts the burden on you. Thanks, Mr Senator.”

Unlike YouTube, which works with rights-holders and their own algorithms to take down copyright infringing files along with any duplicate files, MegaUpload does not remove every file that is the same as the original copyrighted file that was taken down. Instead, the onus is on the rightsholder to keep issuing takedown notices after new versions of the original copyrighted material pop up again and again. This kind of burden for artists and other creative authors does not offer a balance between the freedom of speech the Internet provides and the fairness intellectual property owners deserve.

Some argue that we shouldn’t blame MegaUpload or other file-sharing sites for piracy. We don’t blame car companies for drunk driving accidents or for people exceeding the speed limit, so why are we holding file-sharing sites accountable? I believe the analogy holds true, but we must also recognize that some nefarious actors in the business want you to share files illegally because it helps their bottom-line (i.e. more activity nets more premium account subscribers or advertising revenue). It is not illegal for a company to WANT something, but if they are willfully disobeying the law to promote illicit activity, that’s a different story. It’s unclear exactly where MegaUpload falls under this legal umbrella, but maybe the FBI knows more than we do in this situation. Or maybe they wanted to assert a little control after the Internet pointed a big middle finger at Congress over SOPA and PIPA.

Update: I recommend reading "MegaUpload Could Spawn Caselaw More Destructive Than SOPA" for all those interested in getting more opinion on the legal matters.

Stop the Social Media Begging

Begging for likes, tweets, and social media mentions of any kind has been common practice for everyone from social media “mavens” to Fortune 500 brands to starving artists. Everyone wants their share of the social sharing pie. With many Youtube sensations making a career out of asking for a subscribe or a thumbs-up at the end of every video, it is hard to ignore the allure of social media begging. As a marketer myself, I understand the power of a call-to-action and enticing a consumer, user, customer, and/or viewer to engage actively with your content. But before you jump into the world of social media begging: STOP.

Stop now. Step back and think of what your method is for asking, what you plan to achieve, and the medium you are using to achieve your goal. In the world of ad dollars, Youtube stars are looking for big numbers, in terms of views, on a regular basis to make their money and get more exposure (hence the constant ask for subscribers and thumbs-up on their videos). Just because a Youtube user does this, it does not mean it is right for an artist.

As an artist, you are most likely trying to build a long-term fanbase. You definitely do not make fans (that stick with you) by asking for constant retweets or Facebook shares. In some cases the first thing I hear from an artist is that I should like their Facebook page. That is even before they ask me to check out their music in the first place. That would be like me asking you out after meeting you at a bar before I even let you open your mouth. Sure, there is some chance you will say ‘yes’ – maybe I succeeded on account of my suave demeanor or the confidence I had when asking you out before I even knew your name, but either way it is going to come across as disingenuous or even desperate. 

From time to time I will be accused of marketing too hard. If that happens, I go the furthest away from that as possible, engaging in conversation in a more meaningful way and changing the person’s opinion of me completely. From the onset I was looking to start a conversation, not be spammy, but the way someone perceives you is not always the way that you think you present yourself. Be wary of that distinction and the medium you are using to promote yourself to others. Then ask yourself if begging for some social media appreciation is the right way to go or if there is a more viable long-term strategy. 

20 Weird Names from Bands You Might Have Actually Heard Of

Here at HypedSound we appreciate a little creativity. If you’re willing to pour your heart and soul into your music, and then name your band something outrageous or downright farcical, well we’re on board. We put together a list of 20 weird band names from bands you might have heard of (i.e. they sold an album or two, got some press, swung by your town on a package metal tour, or just downright blew up).

1. The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza

2. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

3. The String Cheese Incident

4. Dog Fashion Disco

5. Rumplestiltskin Grinder

6. Butthole Surfers

7. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

8. Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade

9. We Were Promised Jetpacks!

10. Throbbing Gristle

11. Meat Puppets

12. Iwrestledabearonce

13. Death Cab for Cutie

14. Between the Buried and Me

15. Mr. Mister

16. Jesus Lizard

17. Anal Cunt

18. TV on the Radio

19. Gov’t Mule

20. They Might Be Giants


So how many of these 20 bands have you heard of?

Your Band as a Democracy

Listening to the stories of the most legendary bands, you often get the sense that not all bandmembers were created equal. There often seems to be one bandmember or a couple whose ego or power outshine the other members. The members of Metallica were notorious for hazing Jason Newsted when he entered the band after Cliff Burton’s death and clearly Jason didn’t have an equal say in matters. UrbanDictionary even has a term called Lead Singer’s Disease (LSD): “The tendency for the lead singer of a rock band to become egotistical and impossible to work [with].” Tags for the term include Axl Rose, David Lee Roth, and Liam Gallagher.

But does a band’s rise to fame create the inevitability of LSD or other frontman equivalent? Not with Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society. In a recent interview, Wylde presented an alternative style of bandsmanship, where all members are equal and free to do as they please. An excerpt from the interview reads: 

Wylde: If anybody wants to leave Black Label for those reasons or you get a higher paying gig if you go out with Celine Dion, I’m not gonna stop you. It’s like, ‘Steve, you can always come back here.’ I’m not gonna stop you from makin’ more money. Go and make the dough and if one of the guys wants to jump onboard a Whitesnake tour or something, you can always come back here.

Ultimate Guitar: Black Label is a real democracy.

Wylde: That’s the way we roll and that’s what makes it unique. ‘Cause we all still talk and hang out and I mean even the guys that aren’t in the band that are playing in other bands.

Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you’re The King. In the case of B.B. King, well you’re known as The King, but you can still be diplomatic. In Soul of the man: Bobby “Blue Bland”, author Charles Farley writes about blues great Bobby Bland:

“Bobby Bland was also a leader easy to follow. He deferred to Scott in almost all matters musical and was fair, calm, and evenhanded in dealing with all members of the group. Unlike other stars who were infamous for their inflated egos and hair-trigger tempers, particularly in dealing with band members, Bobby was firm but always a gentleman.”

Farley goes on to write that even after jazz musician Glenn Miller disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel, the band still was able to move on. Just like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you want your band to live on despite your departure or passing away. Obviously a major organization and business runs differently than an artistic band that only holds a few members, but why not at least provide an opportunity for the legacy of the band to remain? Some bands break up even during their peak because the inflated egos of its bandmates (or one singular bandmate) ruins it for the rest. Tensions rise and things fall apart.

With Wylde’s interview, the perception is that a democracy in a band is not the norm. Perhaps to reach a musical high note, someone needs to take the lead, but that doesn’t mean burning bridges or discounting other bandmembers’ contributions. If a working band like Black Label Society can do it, with a fiery frontman like Zakk Wylde, everyone else can too.


10 Musical New Year's Resolutions

1) Learn the classics 

Ever feel like you’re so absorbed in your own music creation that you forget about the tunes that started it all? Go back and learn a few classics on the instrument(s) of your choice. They’re great for around the campfire singing or possibly sparking your own creativity for new music. 

2) Support local music 

Show up to a local show, or if you’re going to see your favorite headliner then show up early to see some local talent. Everyone could use a little support sometimes.

3) Donate to a Kickstarter music project 

Help fund someone’s record production or local concert! With your help, they can make their project happen and you can get a CD, concert ticket, or other incentive the band wants to give out. Electronic music group Late Night Alumni recently completed their own Kickstarter.

4) Listen to the whole album 

Haven’t listened to a whole album from start to finish recently? We’re all busy, but try to find that artist that you really enjoy and listen to one of their albums all the way through. Sometimes listening to a whole piece of art puts you in a mood where you see things differently.

5) Thank everyone

Have an email list of fans you’ve been neglecting? How about some bloggers that could use a quick ‘thank you’ for covering your work or the work of your favorite artists? Whoever it is, send them a short (or long) thank you for their support of the music scene.

6) Practice everyday           

Don’t let a day slip by without practicing. Maybe you can’t fit in two hours today, but you could slip in 15-20 minutes before bed or set your alarm so you can play before leaving your house in the morning. The minutes add up over time.

7) Warm up

Sometimes we get overzealous and don’t warm up properly before playing. For vocalists, this could be dangerous, for those with an instrument, it could be hurtful as well. Don’t forget to warm up every time. Electronic artists might not have the same physical constraints as other musicians, but it can help to get the creative juices flowing to spend a few minutes messing around.

8) Discover ‘The New’

Go out and find a new genre that you’ve never listened to or gave a chance. Try to understand the nuances of the genre. Or if you want to really test your boundaries, find at least one song you like in a genre you normally hate. Maybe you’ll find a new guilty pleasure.

9) Use a new music tool or application

There are hundreds of music apps and tools to help you share, discover, or manage music online. Find a new one and take it for a test run. This year I started using to help me aggregate music I listen to from across the web. 

10) Network in the physical world

Most artists probably do a fair bit of networking online, but don’t forget to network in real life and make some lasting connections. If you don’t play live much, consider joining a meetup in your area based around the kind of music you like. 


Where’s the Value for an Artist: Facebook Likes, Email Addresses, and The Rest

Digital Music News Graph

According to a recent poll by ReverbNation and Digital Music News, musicians believe Facebook “likes” are three times more valuable than any other social connection with fans, be it email list signups, Twitter followers, or Youtube subscribers. Facebook likes eclipse MySpace friends and Google+ subscribers by an even greater margin, though those statistics don’t seem to be as much of a surprise at this point—MySpace has steadily gone downhill in attention and Google+ has yet to make its definitive mark on the music world.

Based on the time people spend on Facebook, I am not surprised at the degree to which Facebook Likes beat Twitter followers. Twitter is a broadcast medium that doesn’t play as well with video, music, and sharing as Facebook does. But what about email list subscribers? Is an email address three times less valuable than a Facebook like? I’m going to argue ‘no’. Keep in mind, the poll was for what artists think is better based on their own perception, not a measured study on where value is created (be it in engagement or through monetary results).

My comment on Digital Music News for why email addresses beat likes goes as follows:

When you have someone's email, you have them for life (assuming they don't change their email address frequently or you manage to get unsubscribed/lumped into junk mail). With Facebook, if someone stops engaging with your page for a little, you'll quickly be replaced in the algorithm that determines someone's news feed. There are many liked pages that I never even see anymore in my feed. For email newsletters, I might ignore you for a while, but you might get me back a little later when I have more patience or interest to click on your email.

Even if your fans spend more time on Facebook than in their email inbox, you’re always going to be at the whim of Facebook’s algorithm for showing stories, the security of your Facebook fan page and potential spam, or worst case scenario Facebook could lose popularity over the coming years. Do you believe people will stop checking their email three years from now? Whose going to be around longer, Facebook or email? Maybe everyone will be using a Facebook email address eventually, although at this point, that’s a little hard to believe given Facebook’s track record of privacy concerns. I personally don’t have too many concerns with my own privacy on Facebook, but I generally like to keep my business email separate from my personal email and separate from my Facebook messaging. Each one has its own purpose.

If you want to have the closest relationship with your fans, with the least amount of competition from competing marketers, brands, and other musicians, email is probably your best bet. Coming from experience in the lead generation business, there is a reason brands are willing to pay more for an email registration than a Facebook like—in e-commerce, emails are more important. I’m willing to bet the same is true in entertainment, especially if as an artist you’re trying to sell music, tickets, or merchandise to fans sometime down the line.

How Bold Is Louis C.K.’s Move to Sell His DVD for $5?

Louis C.K. decided to sell his latest live DVD, Live At The Beacon Theatre, as a DRM-free DVD download on his website for only $5. What are his intentions? What will be the result of this foray into online distribution? The reasoning for this he explains below:

To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.
Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way.

So how bold was Louis C.K.’s move? After a post on TechCrunch, a commenter named Sean Hammons replied, “The publicity he’s getting is worth this decision alone. I didn't know he had a new special coming out anytime soon, but because all the nerds love how he's doing it, I am aware and he has my $5!” The self-deprecating comedian also made it to the top of Reddit with the news and gained publicity all over the Internet with his appeal to the good graces of the masses.

Radiohead attempted a similar gesture back in 2007 with their album Rainbows, where they used a pay-what-you-want-to pricing scheme. For their subsequent album The King Of Limbs, the band decided to go back to a regular flat pricing model. Radiohead’s idea for music downloading was an attempt at getting goodwill and a reasonable return. Will Louis C.K.’s decision succeed with this same philosophy? Definitely. All the publicity Louis C.K. gets for his album is free marketing. If you take away the need to pay for this kind of marketing, then you significantly increase your margin (even if you’re charging much less to buy the DVD than you would otherwise). Also factor in the benefit of not having to cut in others on the profits.

Now fans, or prospective fans, don’t have to think to themselves whether paying $19.99 for a live DVD of Louis C.K.’s comedy is worth it. Now they can pay the equivalent of an expensive cup of coffee, and even if they don’t enjoy the DVD or think it’s “worth it” in the conventional sense, they can think to themselves that they did a good thing by buying into Louis C.K.’s business model. It’s win-win for Louis C.K. and the consumer.