Free the Music Metadata!

So if you read my last post about the SFMusicTech, you know that I’m back on a music metadata kick.  While I’m sure I was a little more in-tuned to it because of work that I am doing with one of my clients, it seems like I heard ‘if we just had the metadata’ a lot at this conference.  This is something that I have been thinking about for a long time (lets say since 2007 when I first registered the muzetta.com), so I’m going to try and pull my current thoughts together around this.

So to begin with, what is this magical metadata, and how does it help us?  The short answer is it’s the information about all the music you like to listen to – the track title, artist, release year, genre, etc.  How does this help us?  It depends on who you are.  If you are a music consumer, it can help you find what you want to listen to, as well as learn interesting facts about that music and perhaps find cool related music.  If you are an artist or label, proper metadata helps get you paid.  In this digital age, where we are buying or renting (streaming) ‘bits’ instead of plastic discs, payment comes from identifying and reporting on these tracks; this is why you will find a lot of passion in the industry about proper metadata.

So whats the problem then?  The problem is that currently there is no authoritative, freely available source of metadata that is used across the industry.  Currently there are many islands of metadata controlled by different organizations with different agendas; generally this data is hard to obtain, and once obtained, there is no good way to tie it all together.

So whats the solution?  I think it really comes down to follow the money.  Currently there is a lot of money clogging up the system, both figuratively  and literally.  By providing a way to make this money flow more effectively, we may be able to fix the problem.  The challenge is there are incumbents that would rather sit on this money, and it is going to take a bit of both carrot and stick in order to get them to move.

I’m going to further explain and explore possible solutions to this problem over the next couple of posts.  In the meantime, join the conversation.  Is this a problem that only a few of us metadata geeks care about, or is this a larger problem that needs solving?


#SFMusicTech Summit XII Wrap Up

Metadata, metadata, metadata.  With the switch to digital, everything relies on metadata, and right now the system is broken.  The gatekeepers don’t want to let it go, and the new players haven’t figured a good way around them.  This was the theme going through my head long before the ‘Towards a Credits, Rights & Terms of Use Database’ panel capped the day off.  From Brad Prendergast of Sound Exchange complaining about the state of the data that they receive from webcasters (and subsequently delaying payment of moneys owed to artists), to East Bay Ray wanting a way to track all the content on pirate sites so artists could get paid their fare share of ad revenue,  it kept coming back to a source of high quality metadata that people could freely use.

Here are the highlights of the panels I went to.

Community Conversation: Internet Radio

Kurt Hanson of RAIN, along with Brad Prendergast from SoundExchange led this discussion.  It was interesting to learn more from the people directly playing in this field.  The good news is that there is money to be made through in-stream advertising and banner ads, the bad news – it doesn’t come close to covering the costs paid out to Sound Exchange, let alone support you.  Brad did a good job of deflecting the arrows shot at him regarding rates, and just presenting ‘the facts’.  One of those facts, which I already knew, was that the data that Sound Exchange receives is in terrible shape.  They have their repertoire database which does a good job of decoding this, but this problem is one of the reasons there is so much unclaimed moneys.  If we had a good source of metadata, and everybody used this, that would help…

How Musicians are Making Money

This was where the entertainment really started.  Meant to be a discussion around how musicians can make money, it was soon coopted by ‘East Bay Ray‘ of the Dead Kennedys as a rant against music piracy and Google/You Tube’s low payout rates.  Antony Bruno, the moderator did his best to reign him in, but there was little he could do.  Steve Rennie, the manager of Incubus, did a good job of providing the counterpoint of quit bitching and live in the current world and figure out how to make money.  Poor Kristin Thomson of the Future of Music Coalition was hardly able to get a word in edgewise.

How We Will Experience Music in the Future

This was a standing room only panel where the emotions were running high, all off of one statement made by Max Weisel.  Max made the assertion that someday a computer will be able to create the perfect music for YOU!  Not recommend, but actually create the music, cutting the human being out of the relationship.  This created a firestorm.  Dave Allen did his best to ‘play the adult’ and temper Max, but Max would have nothing of it, and even went so far as to play a bad piece of violin music that was entirely computer generated.

Intellectually I believe that Max is correct, emotionally, I hope he is dead wrong.

Data / Analytics Eating the World

This panel revolved around the how analytics has changed many different industries, from politics to fashion. I found the fashion industry comparisons very interesting, as it is similar to the music industry – based around creativity, and you never quite know what is going to cause the next big hit.  Analytics can help for tracking and predicting the mainstream, but not the outliers.  My take away from this panel – track everything!

Towards a Credits, Rights & Terms of Licensing Database

I was really looking forward to this panel, but in the end, I was a bit disappointed   I guess with all the heated debate shown throughout the conference, I expected a bit more passion – there was some, but nothing compared to last Summit’s metadata panel, where everybody was agreeing that all parties need to work together to solve the problem, but you could see everybody pointing at the other person behind their backs. I heard Zoë Keating saying that we need to figure out how to give the credit so artists could get paid, and she is ‘happy’ to enter her data in order to get there. I heard David King, one of the creators of YouTube’s ContentID system, say that this is a hard problem that costs a lot of money to create and maintain, and once created the data providers don’t want that data in the public, or else Google would have graciously solved this problem for us years ago. I heard Robert Kaye of MusicBrainz talk about the wonders of being a metadata hippie and the life of open, and how if people would just use the MusicBrainz ID…   And then I heard Kevin Lewandowski of Discogs talk about using open data to solve a business problem.

What I didn’t hear was anything from the incumbents – where were the publishers, SoundExchange, PRO’s, the labels. What is going to make their life’s easier if this data becomes freer, or why do they need to keep it locked up.  I didn’t really hear any solutions except that maybe someone should sue the PRO’s to try and get them to release their data.

To me, Discogs is going in the right direction.  There needs to be a business reason to support free data, free data in itself doesn’t quite work.  The challenge becomes how to keep the data free, how to not become one of the incumbents who’s life depends on closed doors, contracts, and NDA’s.  Stay tuned, I will have a post up around this soon.

Wrap Up

I love the SFMusicTech conference – Brian Zisk does a great job of putting on an interesting, affordable show, and most importantly, securing plenty of free beer.  This was a great show and now I’m looking forward to the next one.  If you are in the industry, make sure you don’t miss it.

 


Lots of Thoughts on the Billboard Future Sound Conference (#futuresound)

So I have spent the last two days stuck in a room full of music geeks discussing the future of music.  It was a blast!

First off, a big shout out to Hypebot for the pass to the conference, without that I could not have justified going.

So the name of the conference was “Future Sound”;  however there were a few tweets from the conference commenting on that it should have been called the ‘Current Sound’ conference.  While in many ways I agree, I also think the characterization is unfair in that all you have is the current and using that to try and project forward – I guess a bit more ‘projecting’ and a little less ‘look at this great thing I built’ may have helped.

So what is the future of music?  It’s a place where content creators, rights holders, content users, and consumers all get along and cooperate; where everybody gets their share of the pie, and if doesn’t take a law degree to understand what is going on.  Yea, right, we’ll have that right after world peace.

So I didn’t get to the conference until 4:00 on Thursday (darn SFO weather, always fly into SFO as early as you can because it’s not a matter of if , but how long you will be delayed).  I did get there in time to hear Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy talk.  It is clear from his presentation that Pandora totally sees itself as a radio replacement, trying to be a better radio than radio; my reaction to that was where the hell is radio, and what would happen if it did get it’s shit together and did something interesting, could it kick Pandora into the ground?  Pandora being a better radio than radio show just how far radio has fallen, I personally get bored with Pandora after a half hour of listening, then again, I get bored with commercial radio after fifteen minutes.  All I can say is thank god for living in Seattle and having KEXP.

Next up to the podium was Rick Farman from Superfly Presents – you’ve probably never heard of him, but you have heard of his creation – the Bonaroo Music Festival.  I really liked where he was going, trying to take the ‘trust’ that has been created as the curator of these festivals, and extend it to the rest of the year.  I was able to have a short discussion with him at the cocktail party, and really liked where they are going.

Last up for the day was Steve Greenburg of S-Curve Records talking about the changing landscape of the music video.  He then went ahead and showed the video they had just completed for one of their bands – it was a combination video and game.  It was very cool and highly engaging, but what I wrote down in my notes was “couldn’t get music placed in game so created their own!”  OK, maybe that’s not fair, but I have to ask the question of how much did that cost, and is that sustainable?  Yes, it gets you noticed for five minutes, but can you build off of that.  What happens when everybody is doing this, and you know longer standout.  It’s like the world of artist apps – for a while everybody needed to have one but once everybody had one, whats the value (that discussion came on day two…)

So it was a great first day – they were touching on lots of my themes – radio, or the lack there of, trust, and the creation of that trust through non-traditional ways; this is great.  I drank to much at the cocktail party, had lots of great conversations and lots of encouragement on what I’ve been working on; I then wondered down to the Gordon Biersh brewery under the Bay Bridge, and sat out on the deck and drank more beer and had a heart attack on a bun  (the hostess looked at me strange when I requested the deck since it had been misting every once in a while; I informed her I was from Seattle and she smiled and found me a table…).  It had been a great day, but the beer was off the the burger wasn’t anything special.   Little did I know that would be the theme for the next day.

So day two started out with Ian Rogers interviewing Seth Goldstein of Turntable.FM, perhaps the hottest music startup around right now.  I found it interesting that Turntable is pursuing licensing, but Seth’s reasoning appears sound – they can only serve the US market using statutory licensing, and have had to cuttoff access to anybody outside the US (of which there were many); it will be interesting to see if they can get that user base back by the time they get the licenses.

So in many ways the highlight of day two was listening to Daniel Glass.  Daniel is a ‘old time’ music guy that gets it, and is having loads of success doing things the old fashioned way at his label Glassnote Records.  His advice – listen to your kids, hire young interns, and try to stay small.  “People want honest and authenticate records, that is why Adelle and Mumford and Sons are at the top of the charts”.  I hope he is right.

The next panel was by far the most contentious – lowering the barrier to licensing.  David Israelite of the NMPA gave a short ‘teleprompter’ talk on the changes the NMPA wants to see in order to simplify the problem of licensing publishing rights – basically forcing the creation the creation of a small number of ‘designated agents’ that a publisher would need to join in order to get paid for the use of their works – basically duplicating what the performance agencies (ASCAP/BMI) have done on the performance side of licensing.  Les Watkins of Music Reports Inc. doesn’t like his proposal, and by the end they were starting to get into it.  The way I see it is pick your evil – a ‘performance society’ model becomes self  serving and inefficient, the private model like Music Reports, well they are just as self serving, but maybe a little bit more efficient.  The current mess of trying to track down publishing rights or risk getting sued because you couldn’t find them, that just doesn’t work.  I think there needs to be both a carrot and a stick to get the publishing industry to move into the modern age.  This conversation then dovetailed into a Sound Exchange presentation.  There was only one thing in this that grabbed by attention – an initiative to create a ‘repertoire database’.  Could this be that magical authoritative data source of who owns what?  That would be nirvana, but I’m not holding my breath…

So the next several sessions were based around social music.  So I can go on a tirade here, but I have already started another post with a working title of ‘Social Music – What if my Friends Suck’.  Here are some bullet points from these sessions:

  • Muve Music – Music service for people that live on their phone, not their computer.  Very nice play in conjunction with Cricket Wireless, very nice way of finding a niche (but very large niche) and filling it.
  • Soundtracking – ‘Share the soundtrack of your life’ – ‘We are about expression’ – and so is Twitter, and we all know how much meaningless chatter goes on there…  Yes, I am sounding my age here, scary.
  • Myxer – Thanks for sponsoring lunch, but you must have done to good of a job feeding me, because I can’t really remember anything from your presentation except being amused by your CEO talking on stage and your evangelist standing at the podium running the demo on his iPad and looking kind of like a frustrated DJ trying to get the mix to work.
  • Slacker Radio – “It’s more than an algorithm”.  They have real music programmers – professionals, people, I may have to give them another look and see how well they utilize those individuals.  Thanks for the free month coupon.
  • Ticket Fly – “40% of ticket inventory goes unsold!”.  Anybody that puts pressure on TicketMaster is alright in my book, you know how many concerts I have chosen to skip because 20% plus fees has put it out of my comfort range?
  • Shazam – Have great click through rates on their song identifications, but is that enough?  Doing interesting promotions with artists (but how many can afford to pay for that?)
  • Reverb Nation – “There are fans for every artist, you just have to find them”.  OK, maybe not everybody, some of us just suck, which is why we are building music companies instead of playing music…

So after all the presentations came the second most contentious panel – “Cost of Content”.  This was fun as you could tell all the speakers were holding back less it ended up in the back alley in a fist fight.  You had the UMG guy defending the company and stating that they have become much more flexible, and the tech company CEO’s agreeing, but not really.  You had Charles Caldas of Merlin acting like the kid that always has to play second chair and thinks he deserves to be in the front with the big boys.  Key quote from Charles was that he was “frustrated with the majors desire to shape what think a service should look like” – how are we going to innovate when we aren’t allowed to step out of the box.  UMG countered that they are being a lot more flexible and are doing the deals, and it was pointed out that part of the problem was that the labels were being overwhelmed by the number of startups coming to them looking for licensing.  Jeff Smith of Smule had a good point – “Kids aren’t going to pay for music directly, how do we get them to pay for it indirectly” – I had to retain myself from jumping and running on stage and go into a tirade – someone gets it!!!!

The last panel of the day was around “The Developer Sandbox”.  EMI and Echonest announced their partnership, and there were a couple of app developers talking also.  Not very interesting – why would I build an app for one of your artists?  I’m sure the Paul Lamere will probably build some cool things with that data at the next music hack day, but per my earlier comment about apps is if everybody has one, why would I want it?  There were several tweets about not wanting anymore ‘single purpose apps’.  Agreed.  And App developers are not going to solve your problems for free.

By the end of the conference I felt like there was something missing – and even after five miles of wandering around San Francisco and two blisters later, I still haven’t quite figured it out.  Maybe it was the lack of the discussion about the artist – they were hardly mentioned.  Maybe it was the lack of discussion around what really could the future look like to get us to the nirvana where the artists and the fans are as close as possible, and there aren’t so many damn people sucking money out of the middle.  We have a bunch of people throwing shit at the wall, but quite honestly, I’m not seeing much of it stick.


The Fallacy of ‘Similar Music’

There are many different sources of streaming music available today – Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, etc…  All of these rely on what I call the ‘fallacy of similar music’.  You put in a starting artist or song, and it builds you a playlist of similar music.  While this makes getting started relatively easy, after about a half an hour I get really bored.

As I get more into photography, I am figuring out the difference between a snapshot and a portrait is the ability for the picture to create an emotional reaction in the viewer, music is the same way; a well crafted playlist will make you go ‘oh wow’.

I have yet to find an algorithm that does that.

Do you want to listen to snapshots or portraits?


Decibel Conference

So I finally made it over to Seattle for a couple of panels at the Decibel Conference.  The Decibel Conference is are a set of panel sessions that are held in conjunction with the Decibel Festival, an electronic music festival held every year in Seattle.  I went on Friday, where the primary focus was the business of music.

So what was really different from this conference compared to say SFMusicTech is that the participants were primarily from the artist community, vs. technologists.  This gives you a whole different perspective, and brings you down to earth compared to the technology conferences.

There were three panels I sat through and participated in: Changing Landscapes: How Will The Record Label Look in 2020, Music-as-a-Service: How The Music Stack Looks In 2011, and Lessons Learned: A Music Startup on Launch Day to Success.

So what did I learn?

  • The industry is a mess (reoccurring theme…)
  • There is a very large disconnect between the artists and the technologists
  • The technologists think they have the answers, but the artists don’t know where to start, and some don’t trust the technologists; some even blame the technologists for the mess we are currently in.
  • Music curation is a theme that keeps on coming up, be it as one of the roles of a label, or as part of that latest and greatest startup idea.
  • We are in a startup funding bubble, especially in Silicon Valley!

The Record Label in 2020 panel was the most interesting, if for no other reason it was mostly a discussion amongst everybody in the room.  Topics ranged from ‘will labels as we currently know them exist in 2020′ (answer, a resounding NO), to what is the role of the label (in the future, a curation filter).  One of the big questions was how will artists and labels make any money.  ‘Brand sponsorship’ was one of the answers, which then brought up the ‘are you selling out’ if you associatie yourself with a Brand (personal opinion, not really, we all sell our souls to some extent in order to pay the rent).  I never really got a chance to get my theory across – you won’t make money off of your digital bits, but you can generate cash by tying your digital bits to ‘something of value’ – be it vinyl, a t-shirt, or ?? (but personally, not a CD – that is just a package for digital bits which doesn’t serve any value but to take up shelf space).  In the end I think we could have kept on going for quite a while longer, and wish we would have.

I honestly don’t remember much about the ‘stack’ discussion – it was much more of a traditional panel, and I can’t say that any of the startups seemed all that inventive – they just talked about what they did, and tried to tie that back to the problems they thought they were solving; I didn’t feel any of them did that great of job of showing significant value to differentiate themselves from other players in their already crowded markets.

So the Music Startup panel was interesting just from the perspective of ‘holy shit, this sounds so 1999′ – how are you going to make money?  Not a clue, and we don’t have to think about that now because we’re a silicon valley startup and we’ll figure it out but now we just need to get eyeballs.  Yes, all true, but do you even understand what your cost structure is going to be and have a clue about how many eyeballs are going to be needed, and how much money Pandora has burned through getting to their IPO (which doesn’t even mean they have succeeded…)

So what do you think – what will labels look like in 2020?  Are we in the middle of another technology bubble?  Should I move down to Silicon Valley and try and get me some of that cheap money??

 


Do you TRUST your DJ?

So I walked into PlayNetwork the other morning, and was making my morning tea, when I noticed the overhead was playing some classic jazz – no idea who it was, but I was enjoying it.  It kind of struck me that here I was listening to something I was completely unfamiliar with, yet I trusted it was good, and that the next song would probably also be something interesting; I asked myself why I felt this way, and it struck me, it was because I ‘trusted my DJ’.  I know the music programmers at PlayNetwork don’t put together crap, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of ‘changing the station’.

Commercial radio have transformed DJ’s into voices, but don’t trust them to pick music anymore.  What is interesting is that with the tracking capabilities of the ‘Personal People Monitors’ that are used to track ratings, it has been shown how much people will jump from station to station when they here a song they don’t like or are unfamiliar with.  If they actually trusted their DJ, would they be so quick to move?  If commercial radio empowered their DJ’s to be more than voices, and allowed that trust to be rebuilt, would you see as much jumping around?  Looking at the success of stations like KEXP and KCRW, which do have real DJ’s, I think they would – what do you think?

Do you trust your DJ?


#SFMusicTech Wrapup

Well another SFMusicTech conference is over, and now it’s time to distill it all.  So short answer, the music industry is still as screwed up as ever.  Nobody can figure out how to make money, and everybody points fingers.  In one panel you have Micheal Robertson from MP3Tunes saying that you can’t make any money in a business that requires licensing from the major labels, in another panel you have the artists complaining about not getting any royalties.  Unfortunately, they are both right – there is a lot of money flowing through the system, but the artist never sees any of it.  One insight that I had while listening to all this is that the music industry is primarily made up of middle men.  You have the musicians, you have fans – how many people can get between them.  While at your next live show, please go buy something at the merch table – at least the artist gets to keep most of that.

On the technology side, the only thing I saw that I thought was really interesting was from ThingLink.com – they are offering an easy way to take a picture and embed a bunch of links into it.  Yes, I know that is just a web page, but I think they do it in a very interesting way.  Everybody is doing location based concert listings, and everybody is going to get eyeballs and then figure out how to monotize – by they way, no, we are not in a bubble…  Oh, and everybody is looking for developers.

From a geek standpoint, the best panel was the HTML 5 discussion.  While Adobe/Flash isn’t going away anytime soon, they are going to have to adapt (which they are doing already).  Biggest benefits of HTML5 appear to be being able to ditch a big chunk of your flash application (but not always all).  Big downside – yes, you guessed it, compatibility…

So interesting undercurrent that I liked to hear – pushback on the algorithm – the need for the human part in music discovery, the role the DJ used to play, and how Pandora hasn’t replaced that need.  These feeds very much into some of the stuff I am doing. and is something that I have been preaching for a while.


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