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Two Year Recap

Two years into writing this blog, I'm starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of things. I'm endlessly greatful for all my regular readers and feedback I've gotten for my writing.

It's crazy how much has changed for the music business in the last year. Here are some highlights (and a lowlight) from 2011:

I outlined a strategy to manage the coming dominance of streaming music services.

I broke down how to sell out properly. My most popular post to date! I'm proud of this one.

I took a stab at creating a rough formula for predicting a band's success. I believe this is a great lens to view your band's performance through as is, but I'm still tinkering with revisions on this one.

I discuessed challenges to the 10,000 hours to mastery theory.

I pissed off a lot of people by criticizing BMI for suing a restaurant for playing music without a license. This post was a sore spot for me. Readers misunderstood my prediction that the payment of traditional royalties will decline and my disapproval of suing a small business as me saying that I believed music should be free. Far from it. This was written with the assmption that, whether we like it or not, we have to adjust to the new realities of the business. Piracy is here to stay. At the time of posting, I backed off my position due to the massive blowback from music think tank, but the more I ruminate on this post the more I stick by my predicitions of waning influence for traidtional royalties as digital music continues gaining marketshare.

I wrote about how being too polite and nice can hurt your career.

It's been an eventful year. I'm stoked to see more and more people getting value out of this blog.

Thanks for making all this work worthwhile.



Facebook Is Not A Website

Facebook is not a website anymore, it's an operating system. Same with Google and Apple. Amazon plans to follow suit with the recent release of the Kindle Fire.

And these platforms are becoming increasiingly interconnected with many other websites you use daily. Ticketmaster, Spotify, CD Baby, and eBay have either already integrated ot plan on full integration into Facebook. Youtube just added a "buy it now" button for songs wo work with Google Music. All of Apple's products are designed for integration.

In order to survive as a musician in the digital world, you need to make your music compatible (available) with these big four platforms (not that big four, sorry). Most all internet traffic will be centered around these behemoths and if fans cannot get your music here, you'll either be pirated or worse, ignored.

How important is it to be on the "operating system" as your fans?

Magazines have been reluctantly making the transition to digital subscriptions for years, but with low renewal rates and slow growth, it was not as profitible a channel as it could be. When Apple released the Newsstand icon as a default on the iPhone and iPad, sales of digital subscriptions went through the roof.
PixelMags reported a 1,150 percent growth increase in the first week after Newsstand and iOS 5 debuted on Oct. 12. It’s now sold over four million digital magazines.
Why? Digital magazines finally aligned with the same platform that fan's were using. The Newsstand app moved magazines from being buried behind apps, to being front and center on the home screen. The product stayed the same, only the platform changed.

New music/tech websites form and disppear every day. Some will grow large, but most won't. A majority of your online sales will come from major platforms, as that's where most of your customers spend their time.

Make sure you're available on the same "operating system" as your fans.


What Can Music Learn From Video Games?

In an interview at a recent tech conference, Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve (the video game company behind Half-Life and Portal), gives some fantastic hard data on the economics of sale pricing and freemium models of digitally distribution.

For those of you who aren't gamers, Value has a web service called Steam where you can purchase a game online and have it download directly to your computer instead of having to buy a physical copy of the game. You can download the game any number of times, but you have to be signed in to your account online to play. Simple, unobtrustive DRM (digital rights management) that protects creators but doesn't screw legitimate customers.


With an estimated 70% of the digital game distribution market, Steam has access to more data than you could ever ask for on pricing and consumer behavior.

And they decided to share some insights with us. Groovy.

From the Geekwire transcript of the talks, Gabe Newell on piracy:
One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates. For example, Russia. You say, oh, we’re going to enter Russia, people say, you’re doomed, they’ll pirate everything in Russia. Russia now outside of Germany is our largest continental European market.
...the people who are telling you that Russians pirate everything are the people who wait six months to localize their product into Russia. … So that, as far as we’re concerned, is asked and answered. It doesn’t take much in terms of providing a better service to make pirates a non-issue.
Pay attention to your customer's wants and needs and they'll pay you for the effort. This business knowledge is far from new, yet it's also ludicriously easy to overlook. Don't do draconian DRM as it'll chase off paying customers and move them to less-hassle piracy.

Software-as-a-service / cloud platforms such as iCloud and Spotify seem to be the way forward as they balance DRM with customer service and price. However, royalties from these sources are small and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Use them as entry-level services for new fans but don't put your entire catalog on them.

Gabe goes on to talk about the company's pricing experiment by making Team Fortress 2 a free-to-play (aka freemium) game:
Why is free and free to play so different? Well then you have to start thinking about how value creation actually occurs, and what it is that people are valuing, and what the statement that something is free to play implies about the future value of the experience that they’re going to have.

And then the conversion rate, when we talk to partners who do free-to-play, a lot of people see about a 2 to 3 percent conversion rate of the people in their audience who actually buy something, and then with Team Fortress 2, which looks more like Arkham Asylum in terms of the user profile and the content, we see about a 20 to 30 percent conversion rate of people who are playing those games who buy something.

So that’s a fairly surprising and fairly recent statistic, which is that there seems to be something about the content that significantly changes how your monetization occurs, with apparently much broader participation than you would see out of something like FarmVille.
They first get the customer interested in the product, then increase the value they offer to the customer as the customer become more commited. Again, it's a simple concept that's simple to forget.

No matter whether your're talking about video games or music, It's all about making it easy to become a fan.


Major Labels Don't Care About Their Artists Or You

Despite what their emotional ads say, the RIAA's attempts to police the internet are not about protecting artists' work; they want only to create a legal structure where they alone benefit. This is about an old business model resisting change.

Remember, record labels are venture capitalists, not patrons.

Pro-Piracy website TorrentFreak describes UMG's campaign to shut down the website MegaUpload:
MegaUpload is currently being portrayed by the MPAA and RIAA as one of the world’s leading rogue sites. But top music stars including P Diddy,, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West disagree and are giving the site their full support in a brand new song. 
It's almost as if the artists and labels have different interests, gasp!

Here's the video in question:

Block This from TorrentFreak on Vimeo.

UMG forced YouTube to take down the video. No surprises there.

But wait, there's more!

The video is legally owned by MegaUpload as part of a marketing campaign. 

Wait, so Universal can shut down videos simply because it doesn't like the message? I thought copyright-infringement laws were put into place to help me as an artists?

Would it ruffle your feathers if a major label tried stealing royalties from an independent artist? Does it surprise you that the same people who wrote the SOPA act are entertainment lobbyists?  Are you shocked that the head of the MPAA used the great firewall of China as a shining example for a way to help artists?  (Ai Weiwei would disagree.)

It was never about protecting artists. It's about labels defending their competitive advantage through any means necessary, legal and otherwise.

When an argument rests heavily on an emotional appeal, be very certain you understand who actually benefits from the agreement.

UPDATE:Megaupload sued UMG. UMG reveals that it has an agreement with YouTube that it can issue takedown notices for ANY video without any proof of ownership.

The video is back on YouTube.


Spotify Takes Another Shot at Pandora

Spotify added a radio feature where you can build stations based on your favorite artist. Unlimited stations, unlimited skips, and access for both free and paid subscriptions.

I don't see any remaining competitve advantage for Pandora that Spotify can't match. Spotify is going to be the new heavy-hitter for the digital music marketplace.

My Crash Course for Streaming


Why Being Polite is Overrated

Negativity as a tactic is severely underrated.

We're taught to say something nice or not say something at all. After all, art is subjective so even if we don't like something, we don't have the right to critique, right?

But what do we do when the execution of the song is obviously flawed?

Sometimes, however, the best thing you give someone is a piping-hot plate of uncomfortable truth.

Steve Jobs was notorious for his outbursts of anger, but there's not a person in the world who wasn't affected by the inventions he shepherded into the market. He busted heads because he had to bust heads in order to release high quality products.

To make a masterpiece you must be willing to disagree.

Sometimes forcefully.

In fact, arguing and sarcasm make you more creative by forcing you to view concepts in a different light. Negativity improves group performance on idea-generation tasks. Competitive tasks improved creative output, (like Eric Clapton competing for the love of Layla). Moderate rule breaking is positively correlated with number of leadership roles. Anger at people who slacked off can make them up their effort (assuming they cared in the first place). Being angry also makes you process information more analytically. 

Being negative will also help you be more persuasive.
Negative reviewers were perceived as more intelligent, competent, and expert than positive reviewers, even when the content of the positive review was independently judged as being of higher quality and greater forcefulness.
However, don't storm into your next band practice, punch a hole in the wall, and go full-on Ghaddafi expecting magic to happen. A willingness to be negative when needed is different than oppressive pessimism. As anyone who has worked in a dictatorship of a job knows, pervasive criticism without positivity leads to learned helplessness. This is about the necessary balance between being emotionally sensitive to the needs of your band mates and being assertive enough to push through hard decisions to get serious work done.

Negativity is a tactic, to be used in some situations where strong analysis or action is needed. Breaking deadlocked negotiations, evaluating new opportunities, critiquing new songs: all of these are times where a little negativity might be needed to push through resistance. Trying to write new songs, improvising, networking or marketing: these activities would be much better served by positivity.

The next time you're stuck, step back and ask:

Should I be using a soft or firm touch to solve this problem?


*Shout out to Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree, almost every link referenced was from research he found.


Will Too Much Growth Kill Your Band?

Growth consumes resources.
Whenever an opportunity arises, you have to make an honest assessment not just of the benefits, but of the costs to following through.

Although money is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about affordability, that's not all we have to consider. Credibility, motivation, man-hours, and even sanity are all limiting factors to growing your band.

Even if you do have the funds and credibility to play a festival show on short notice, would your drummer have to cancel her first vacation in six years?

Burnout is a very real issue, especially for a DIY band that can't offload extra work to a management team. Pushing people beyond their burnout threshhold is dangerous. Push too much and you risk losing band members's effort or, even worse, band members. (Made this mistake.)

Remember how hard it was to find and audition new members of your band? There's a limited supply of musicians who would be a good fit for your band, so constantly churning through members is rarely in your best interest.

As you begin to grow your music career, more and more opportunites will begin to innundate you.

Not every opportunity is a good one; 50 fans in a 50 capacity room is better than 75 fans in a 150 capacity room.

Are you pursuing good growth or bad growth?


Credibility Dollars

Let's invent a currency.

We'll call it Credibility Dollars, CD$, and it represents the credibility of your taste and recommendations.

Each time you recommend something to someone, you're risking a little bit of your CD$.

It's an investment.

If they like your recommendation, people being to trust you. You get your investment of CD$ returned, plus some extra. Great success.
Lead friends to a crappy show, however, and you don't get any CD$ back and you've wasted that investment.

How selective are you when spending your credibility?

In the last month, have you gained or lost credibility?


You Don't Need More Gear

I've been critiquing lots of local releases as of late, and I'm noticing how much time is wasted chasing phantom progress. Some recent examples I've heard as of late:

"I'm not ready to start playing more shows. I don't have pro gear." 
"Once we get signed, we'll start building a fan base."
"We just need more exposure!"

Sitting down and creating is hard. With each artistic effort we face nebulous goals, irregular progress, hazy feedback, no deadlines, mercurial collaborators and an endless list of setbacks. We may get better, we might not. One of the awful realities of creative work is that it's possible to spend six hours writing and still get no useable ideas. It's easy to feel like you're held hostage waiting for a slim visit from the muse.

The only way through this resistance is hard work.

However, it's much easier to say that something else is holding you back. (If only I had a $1200 guitar, I'd really be able to shred!)

By laying blame elsewhere, we rationalize the fact that we're not doing work by saying "There's no point in doing the work, because _____ is preventing me from succeeding." Believing that your success is subject solely to forces outside of your control is a lot less stressful than facing fear of uncertainty. 

I'm not saying chance has no part, far from it. Luck very clearly factors into many, if not all, success stories. What I am saying, though, is while we have to deal with the hand we're dealt for variables such as luck and inborn talent, hard work is one of the variables related to success that we can actually influence. We have only so much mental energy we can expend per day before becoming less and less productive. As such, it's paramount that we focus our energy on what we can change instead of wasting precious effort complaining.

So what's your excuse?

Bonus points: Here's a great read on Internal vs. External Locus on Control i.e. whether you believe the outcome of events is more related to personal effort or external influence.


Killer DFW Bands: Playdough

I haven't been this blown away by a local group in at least a year.

Playdough, a local MC, joined forces with Heath McNease to spit over Wu-Tang beats.

Brilliant flows, exquisite production, and superb lyrics. It's hip-hop bliss.

(Full disclosure, I'm a sucker for the Wu-Tang Clan)


What IS Exposure?

"Getting your name out there."

Some are willing to give away their entire catalog for free in  hopes that the extra exposure will build loytalty and gain fans.

Other artists insist that every piece of music should be paid for and don't care about exposure.

What, exactly, is exposure worth?

My thoughts:

A) The exact value of exposure-for-exposure's sake is nebulous at best.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to calculate an exact value for each additional unit of exposure, so to speak. Much like advertising, the benefits are only visible over the long-term and are often difficult to directly quantify.
For example, how many additional fans would you expect to get for making an album available for streaming online for free? Would these additional fans buy enough of your music, merch, or shows to make this trade-off a net benefit for your band? This great post by Frank Woodworth does the math to estimate profit per stream, but attempting to discern the value of increased fans and their propensity to purchase is strictly guessing. 

As much as I'd like one straightforward answer, it seems justifying a decision based on the value of exposure is a subjective choice. In the case of streaming, I choose a blended approach. 

B) Some types of exposure are more valuable than others.

Hypebot: I understand you gotta get paid,
but both you and I know this ad you run isn't
worth anything to 99% of DIY artists.
Paying your own tour expenses in order to tour with an internationally popular band that fits your genre would (probably) be worth it. Paying to get your music tweeted about by a local music blog may be worth it. Paying to get your music available on a Chinese web store if you're a Tennesse-based funk band will not be worth it.

C) Opportunities that tout "exposure" as their primary selling point should be looked at skeptically.

Often, the word exposure is a red flag that a service or person is trying to take advantage of you. We've all had fantasies that if we get our music in front of the right A&R person / magical wizard, our entire musical career would be solved forever. Companies who base their value proposition on offering bands exposure are playing to this fantasy. 

In our early days, my own band bought into one of those compilation CD rackets where we had to pay $200 for a box of compliation CDs which one song of ours would be on. We were going to be taking baths in exposure-flavored champaigne!

After dropping the cash and getting the compliation, we quickly realized that the other tracks on CD were awful and didn't have any rhyme or reason as to why they were all included. It was a mess and we couldn't, in good conscience, charge people for that collection of debris. I'm pretty sure we ended up throwing the box out.

Our email inbox is so flooded with these kinds of "opportunities" you'd think we were one email and a thousand dollars away from a world tour. That exposure must be some pretty powerful stuff!
How do you feel about the concept of "exposure"? Does your band give away free music or not? Why do you make the choices you do?


Fake Artists Worth Millions

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. - Marcel Duchamp

Pietro Psaier did well for an artist, selling over 5,000 paintings in the last 10 years and grossing well over a million pounds from auctions. He traveled the world and regularly hung out with famous artists like Andy Warhol and John Lennon.

However, Pietro Psaier probably never existed and attempts to verify his identity have been fruitless.

Does it even matter if he was real or not?

We buy emotion, not product details.

We care about Evel Knievel not because he jumped X number of feet, we care about him because he jumped over 19 cars. Same distance, but using something we could easiliy visualize (the cars) instead of hard details (distance), he was able to capture our imagination by triggering an emotinal response.
The better you craft the emotional context that people experience your music through, the better people will pecieve your music. 

So go ahead, crate fake persona or start a beef with another band.

Be an entertainer.


How to Sell Out Properly: Update

The Economist just put out an article describing the new function of A&R staff at major labels, and covers a few familiar ideas along with some new ones.

With less returns to album sales, labels want to reduce the risk of their investments:
One is by outsourcing the discovery and promotion of artists to television. Sony Music was quick to realise that singing competitions such as “American Idol” and scripted shows such as “Glee” were a uniquely powerful means of touting artists, especially in America where most radio is local. As The Economist went to press, Scotty McCreery, an “American Idol” winner, was perched atop Billboard’s album chart. Earlier this year Universal Music signed a deal with “The Voice”, a new competition show.
An even better way of reducing risk is to bet on acts and albums that have already hit the jackpot. Mr Joseph describes himself as “fairly obsessed” with what is known as catalogue A&R—repackaging old albums. Universal has done splendidly with new editions of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. Next month it will release anniversary editions of The Who’s “Quadrophenia” and U2’s “Achtung Baby”. The 30-, 40- and 50-somethings who buy such records have more money than teenagers, and are less likely to pirate music.
TV compeitions are playing the lottery and catalog A&R is recycling old major label material. Both of these methods are about major labels trying to sustain the old business model as long as they can.

"Getting signed" isn't as lucrative as is used to be, either. Average first-album advances are stagnant, with increasing demands on rights.
Those longed-for record contracts, when they finally appear, are seldom lavish. Robert Horsfall, an artist manager at Sound Advice, says the normal range for a first-album advance in Britain has been stuck at £75,000-150,000 ($119,000-237,000) for many years. And record companies increasingly demand a slice of live-music and merchandise revenues. Bidding wars for talent have become rare, partly because there are fewer record companies. There may be fewer still when EMI is sold, as is expected soon. Small wonder that a few artists, having reached the point where they could get a record deal, decide to go without.
Is there any doubt that a huge part of being a successful band is being a solid small business?


How Can I Improve A Student's Motivation to Learn?

Don't call them smart.

I'm serious.

Jonah Lehrer goes over some classic psychology research by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller showing how calling students "smart" can backfire.
Her most famous study, conducted in twelve different New York City schools along with Claudia Mueller, involved giving more than 400 fifth graders a relatively easy test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After the children finished the test, the researchers told the students their score, and provided them with a single line of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence. “You must be smart at this,” the researcher said. The other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”
The students were then allowed to choose between two different subsequent tests. The first choice was described as a more difficult set of puzzles, but the kids were told that they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other option was an easy test, similar to the test they’d just taken.
When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.
Dweck’s next set of experiments showed how this fear of failure can actually inhibit learning. She gave the same fifth graders yet another test. This test was designed to be extremely difficult — it was originally written for eighth graders — but Dweck wanted to see how the kids would respond to the challenge. The students who were initially praised for their effort worked hard at figuring out the puzzles. Kids praised for their smarts, on the other hand, were easily discouraged. Their inevitable mistakes were seen as a sign of failure: Perhaps they really weren’t so smart. After taking this difficult test, the two groups of students were then given the option of looking either at the exams of kids who did worse or those who did better. Students praised for their intelligence almost always chose to bolster their self-esteem by comparing themselves with students who had performed worse on the test. In contrast, kids praised for their hard work were more interested in the higher-scoring exams. They wanted to understand their mistakes, to learn from their errors, to figure out how to do better.
The final round of tests was the same difficulty level as the initial test. Nevertheless, students who were praised for their effort exhibited significant improvement, raising their average score by 30 percent. Because these kids were willing to challenge themselves, even if it meant failing at first, they ended up performing at a much higher level. This result was even more impressive when compared to students randomly assigned to the smart group, who saw their scores drop by nearly 20 percent. The experience of failure had been so discouraging for the “smart” kids that they actually regressed.
Totally counterintuitive, yet research since the original paper (1998) bears these findings out.

So when you're trying to motivate someone to perform better, praise and reward hard work (which can be changed) and not innate talent (which can't).


What Do We Do About Streaming?

There's been quite a raging controversy over Spotify over at Hypebot as musicians across the industry chime in with their opinion on the streaming service. 

Zoe Keating, Cellist and brilliant DIY musician, talks about how independant artists are treated unfairly.

         That’s it. That’s my complaint: fairness.
If Spotify would level the playing field and make the distribution equal to all artists. I would lay off (since I am sure that my constant complaints are a total priority for them!). Now, if Spotify was to make those royalties algorithm-based, they’d have my full nerd support. For example if, thanks to their 'related' algorithm,  people listen to small-artist X after listening to large-artist Y, then I could see that a particular play, not all of them, of artist Y could be ‘heavier’. However, if people end up at artist Y by searching for them directly, the play-weight should reflect that. Data, do it with data!
But just to pay tracks from major labels more because they are major labels, that is so OLD. Where is the revolution in that?
Four indie labels have already withdrawn from the service. Sam Rosenthal of Projekt, the most recent label to pull out, issued a public statement explaining the label's decision bluntly:
For a stream on Spotfy.... NOW READ THIS CLOSELY..... on average $0.0013 is paid to Projekt's Digital Distributor. 5000 plays generates around $6.50. In comparison, 5000 track downloads at iTunes generates $3487. To be clear: I am not suggesting that every stream would have been a sale at iTunes. Believe me, I understand the reality of the music business. I am providing that as a comparison for you. Let's look at this another way: To earn the U.S. monthly minimum wage - $1160 - 892,307 plays a month are needed at Spotify. This is not a viable number for artists.  
Spotify responded to Projeckt by changing the subject:
Spotify does not sell streams, but access to music. Users pay for this access either via a subscription fee or with their ear time via the ad-supported service [just like commercial radio] - they do not pay per stream. In other words, Spotify is not a unit based business and it does not make sense to look at revenues from Spotify from a per stream or other music unit-based point of view. Instead, one must look at the overall revenues that Spotify is generating, and how these revenues grow over time.

Spotify is generating serious revenues for rights holders, labels, publishers and the artists that they represent.  We have paid over $100m to rights holders since our launch, and the overwhelming majority of our label partners are thrilled with the revenues we're returning to them. Spotify is now the second single largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe, according to IFPI.
But is this current royalty structure sustainable? According to Spotify's filings in the UK, it lost $42 million on licensing fees in 2010 alone despite a five-fold increase in revenues from the previous year. 

What does all of this mean to an independant artist? Is streaming worth the loss in income so more fans can listen to your music? Can you ever break even on streaming? Is it better to just ignore the whole deal?

Here's how I see things playing out:

1) Streaming services are similar to radio in that both benefit major labels with more money and muscle than independant bands. 

When it comes down to corporation-level negotiations, a DIY artist will always be at a disadvantage. Self-sufficent bands don't have legal departments, lobbyists, consultants, piles of cash, or a fanbase ranging into the millions that can be used in negotiations. If Spotify can't sign a DIY singer-songerwriter it's no big deal, but if Spotify doesn't have access to the entire Universal Music catalog, the streaming service will be severely crippled. The streaming service has to make that deal.

As such, these large entities leverage their influence and power to ensure that they maximize their benefit from negotiations. Organizations not at the table miss out.

It sucks, but I don't see a solution to this problem without either a PRO stepping into negotiations or a coalition of DIY artists forming their own right's group.

2) There's no turning back, the cloud is here to stay.

For better or worse, streaming services figured out how to monetize piracy. Judging by the success of Rdio and Spotify, businesses have made their services more appealing than piracy. Unless there is a game-changing method of piracy to replace BitTorrent, the ease of use of the cloud will continue to draw in customers. (Piracy in Sweden is down 25% since the Spotify's introduction.)

Businesses won't give up this revenue stream without a fight.

3) Streaming is marginally better for indie musicians than radio.
Radio was a passive music experience, with a song selection heavily influenced by who had the most cash for promotion.

Streaming/cloud services/piracy enable an active music experience by allowing curious fans to give new bands a try. It won't pay much, if anything, but it does benefit smaller and niche bands that wouldn't get much airplay on traditional radio.

A minor win.

4) Streaming an album is a moral dilemma.
As a fan, it was absolutely awesome to hear the new Mastodon the day it came out for free on Spotify. Now I've got no qualms about throwing dollars at Mastodon, I've bought every studio album because they're that gravy. But. having spun the album a few times, there wasn't any reason for me to buy the actual album anymore.

This is a mammoth moral dilemma.

Instead of Mastodon seeing my entire $10 for a digital download (minus iTunes' cut), the money is instead spent on a subscription to an intermediate who only offers the band a fraction of the $10. The middleman (streaming) scoops most of the profit off of album before it ever hits the band.


How do we cope with this?

5) Delaying and limiting releases to streaming is an effective compromise.

By delaying release of new material to streaming services, we ensure that super-fans who are willing to pay for a "brand-new" album actually pay for the album, while not excluding casual listeners who may convert to a sale later down the line. This is the same method of price discrimination that movie companies use; movies don't come out on DVD/Netflix until months after they've left the theaters. This ensures that movie-buffs willing to pay a price premium to see a movie in theaters actually pay.

For the same reason, any b-sides, rarities or limited-edition material shouldn't be released to streaming services as this would discourage willing fans from paying at the cost of providing the material to casual fans, who really won't care about "extra" material.

What are your thoughts on streaming?


Do We Really Need 10,000 Hours to Achieve Mastery?

(Warning, long post)

By now you've probably heard about the 10,000 hours theory popularized by Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers. According to Anders Ericsson's work on expertise, to attain mastery in something (such as playing bass) you'd need the equivalent of 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. (Three hours a day for ten years) This message, like many disseminated by Gladwell, has reached audiences far and wide. The Freakonomics team of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt even uses this theory to propose an explanation for why so many all-star soccer players are born in the first few months of the year (age cutoffs).

But Ross Tucker and Johnathan Dugas of Sports Scientists took at a different look at Ericsson's data in the context of athletic performance.
"Let me start out by saying that culture, training, diet, opportunity are all crucial to producing sporting champions or elite performances.  But the problem with the debate as it stands is the relative dismissal of physiological factors like genes, and also the extremely oversimplified view that "it's all about the training", or that science suggests genes don't matter.  My purpose with these posts is thus not to dismiss the role of training, culture or belief, but rather to balance out the argument with the facts.

And in so doing, to give an indication of just how complex it really is - the only certainty is that whoever says that success is due to one or two things is wrong."
Tucker and Dugas point out a huge omission in Anders Ericsson's work; the 10,000 hours theory talks only about averages without regard of variance. Even though the average practice time needed is 10,000 hours, it's possible to get that average by having one person practice 17,000 hours and another practice only 3,000 hours. That's a few practice years worth of difference.

Concerning a study of high-performing darts players by Duffy and Ericsson, Tucker and Dugas note that practice alone doesn't tell the whole story:
What is most interesting about this is that 10 years of practice explained 25% of variability, while 15 years explains 28%.  So clearly, the more you practice, the more you can explain performance.  That's not surprising, but the question is this:  How many hours of practice would it take to explain "most" of performance as a result of practice?  Look at the quote in the figure above, where Ericsson writes that "the development of expert performance will be primarily constrained by individuals' engagement in deliberate practice" (Ericsson, 2009).  Well, 28% is not "primarily constrained" and even though more practice explains more of performance, there is clearly a lot missing from this practice argument.
Tucker and Dugas propose a different theory that is equally valid using Ericsson's data:
Ericsson concludes that these children just accumulate more training time and that this explains performance.  The difference between the "best experts" and the "least accomplished players" is the training time.

But what if it is exactly the other way around?  Let's take two children at nine years old.  Do they have the same ability to play on first exposure?  Ericsson's model says yes, and that the difference comes later, when one child practices more, gets better teaching.  But what if the difference is present from the very first note, the first exposure to the activity?  The parents of a child who shows some ability encourage further practice, they invest in teaching and training, and this child, by virtue of the fact that he/she has more ability to begin with, accumulates more practice.  

But the child who has little innate ability makes the violin sound like the death march of stray cats, and their parents do not encourage more play.  In fact, they discourage it - the "go play outside" syndrome takes over, and the child is never exposed to teaching or practice.  His trajectory is set precisely because he has less innate ability.
Same data with a wildly different conclusion. For anyone who has taught before, it's very obvious that some students have more innate talent and drive than others.

Clearly, practice will always be important to success. You can't pick up a Squier at a garage sale and become Frank Zappa over the weekend. That'd be crazy (awesome). But denying that people have differing levels of innate talent is as silly as denying that tall people exist.

In fact, I even saw a tall person last week!


What Happens When Someone Jacks Your Swag?

Musicians aren't the only ones who have to deal with piracy, this'll make your head explode with righteous fury.

Two websites were ripping artists' work off of their DeviantArt websites and reselling them on canvas for hundreds of dollars a painting, giving no money back to the artists. The offending website even bragged about how much it was "helping artists.'

The same thing happened recently to a group of graphic designers as well. (My favorite part is where they point out the scammers trying to re-sell the Time Warner Cable logo. Wow.)

This is heinous. 
What can we do?

A) Was DRM right? Is the only way forward to continuously develop new ways to manage access to our art?
Not quite.

Treating your fans as criminals by default might discourage the occasional theft but it comes at the cost of punishing people who legitimately purchased your music. Even control-loving Apple had to relent on pushing DRM through iTunes when the customer outcry grew too strong.

There will always be pirates and there will always be paying customers.

Guilty until proven innocent? Or innocent until proven guilty? (aka Type 1 or Type II errors)

Who will you favor?
B) Patrol the web ourselves looking for signs of our work being stolen? Maybe hire interns? Lawyers?

The probability of this time/money investment paying off is slim. The internet, like the universe, is infinite. You could search 24 hours a day and still miss infringements. Launching satellites into the unknown is for NASA. You're a musician, you should be creating music!

As I said previously, people can steal your songs but they can't steal your brain. Longevity as a musician comes from consistently producing great work.

That being said, however, TinEye is an awesome reverse image search that is a great tool for finding people using your images. An occasional check on TinEye would be a good idea to check and see where your visual arts are being used.
C) Give up?


D) Copyright your work?

If you're worried about someone stealing your work, copyright it. This won't really stop a pirate, but it gives you recourse should you discover someone stealing your work.

Under US law you automatically own the copyright to any work of art/music you produce as soon as it is recorded in a tangible form, like a recording or sheet music. However, actual time of creation is difficult to establish in court as it essentially would come down to both parties saying they created the work first.

Thankfully, around $35 you can get a Performance Right (PR) and Sound Recording (SR) copyright to your music through the US Copyright Office. Any question of ownership is solved and should you need to take the claim to court you'll stand a good chance of winning sweet cash money from whomever is stealing your goodies. (note: I'm not a lawyer, but this is my understanding of the basics)

Copyrighting songs isn't perfect by any means, but it's cheap, effective, and simple enough to be well worth the effort.


Back to the top story, the group of aggrieved artists is filing a class-action lawsuit against the website. With the help of copyright and strength in numbers, these artists will probably prevail. At the time of writing, the offending websites were down.

Right on.

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Do You "Support Local Music"?

We're going on a bit of a detour today.

Over at the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong takes a look at a fascinating study by Christopher Bryan on using the power of words to create action:
"Countries around the world have tried many tactics to encourage people to vote, from easier access to polling stations to mandatory registration. But Christopher Bryan from Stanford University has found a startlingly simple weapon for increasing voter turnout – the noun. Through a simple linguistic tweak, he managed to increase the proportion of voters in two groups of Americans by at least 10 percentage points.

During the 2008 presidential election, Bryan recruited 34 Californians who were eligible to vote but hadn’t registered yet. They all completed a survey which, among other questions, asked them either “How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?” or “How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?” 
It was the tiniest of tweaks – the noun-focused “voter” versus the verb-focused “vote” – but it was a significant one. Around 88% of the noun group said they were very or extremely interested in registering to vote, compared to just 56% of the verb group.

In two later experiments, Bryan showed that these claims translate into actual votes. The day before the 2008 election, he sent his survey to 133 Californians who were registered to vote but hadn’t yet. After the election was over, Bryan used official state records to work out what his recruits had actually done. The results were clear: 82% of the people who read the “vote” question eventually filled in their ballots, compared to 96% of those who read the “be a voter” question."
 Why is this so?
"Bryan thinks that the subtle change from “vote” to “be a voter” plays off two psychological quirks. First, when we use predicate nouns to describe ourselves, we see the words as reflections of our essential qualities. This creates a far stronger impression than verbs do – it’s the difference which defining who we are, versus to what we do. As Bryan writes, “People may be more likely to vote when voting is represented as an expression of self – as symbolic of a person’s fundamental character – rather than as simply a behaviour.”

Second, when we use predicate nouns to describe future behaviour (“to be a voter”), we not only reflect on our qualities, but on the qualities of the people we could be. These words offer a vision of a future identity that’s up for grabs. And voting, regardless of whether people do it or not, is generally seen as positive and worthy – it’s something that people feel they should do. “Using noun-based wording to frame socially valued future behaviour allows individuals, by performing the behaviour, to assume the identity of a worthy person,” writes Bryan."
(Emphasis mine)

What we learn from this experiment is that people make decisions based on their own concept of identity. This topic keeps recurring in this blog because it's a fundamental aspect of human behavior. (Previous posts here and here)

Identity is the frame through which we view the world and make decisions. Do you listen to metal or are you a Metalhead? Do you like delicious food or are you a Foodie? Do you support local music shows or are you a Local Music Supporter?

There's a huge difference between the two.

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What is a Fan Worth?

New fans are expensive. You have to pay for fliers, press, merch and your songs in addition to social media, email lists, networking, bear costumes, pyrotechnics and everything else.

A super fan that's been digging your music for months is cheap. Send a quick text or email and you have an extra body at a show.

Smart businesses have known forever that it's worth spending money to retain customers. It's about Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), a wonderfully self explanatory business term.

A fan who only buys one ticket to your show has a lifetime value of $10. You're not going to retire on that, but it's appreciated.

Now say this same customer loved your show so much they'll see you whenever you're in town. Assuming you tour the city once a year and you only plan on touring for ten years or so, that same fan's lifetime value shot up $100. Now that's groovy.

It's easy to get caught up in short term thinking, especially in the early stages of a music career when you're making negative dollars. If a fan comes back a show later and wants to return a shirt for whatever reason, it's easy to justify a "No Refunds" policy since you're already behind a couple hundred dollars because of the shirts. They'd be annoyed, walk away, and that would be the end of that. How did this action affect that fan's lifetime value? Will they invest more or less on your band in the future?

However, you can make an arguement against being fan friendly goes like this: You say it's cool to return the shirt. The fan says thanks, but doesn't buy anything else and walks off. It's a monetary loss, sure. And what if everyone did this, you'd be broke!!!

To be fair, some people are just jerks. If bunches of people try gaming your good will, then by all means cut it off. But remember, how you treat your fans affects how they percieve you. Even if they returned the shirt, they still thought highly enough of you to buy it in the first place. It's better to err on the side of being too good to your fans than too tight with finances.

Fans fill up your wallet, not the other way around.

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How Much Merch Should You Stock?

I've changed my mind since writing that merch problems are an insult to your fans. While I still agree that losing revenue and bumming fans is bad karma, I'd like to refine my position.

When you buy inventory, you're forecasting demand. Easy for Walmart, difficult for musicians meeting at Taco Bueno. So when you decide how much to buy, you can either err on having too much or too little merch, so let's take a look at the costs and benefits of each decision..

Excess Inventory (Pro):
   Less risk of lost sales / bummed fans.
   Bands with larger fan bases can still possibly sell excess inventory.
   Bulk discounts.
   Less waiting for fan orders.
Excess Inventory (Con):
   Higher up-front costs.
   Higher risk of having unsold inventory (taking a loss).
   More inventory to track and haul around to shows.

Limited Inventory (Pro)
   Lower up-front costs.
   Less risk of unsold inventory.
   Easier to experiment with different items. (Top sellers are easier to scale up, bad merch is easier to drop)
Limited Inventory (Cons)
   More risk of lost sales / bummed fans.
   No bulk discounts.

Personal experience: We waaaaaay overestimated demand on our initial release. We could have saved a significant amount of money by buying less merch in preparation for our first release. Since our first release was paid out of our own pockets, overpaying was not only a bummer but it's left a chunk of our capital sitting idle in the corner of the practice room.



My advice for your band?

For an entry-level to mid-level band: It's better to err on the side of too little. In this stage you're still experimenting with merch, sound, marketing and whatnot. Since you're not relying on your legacy material as much as a more established artist, you should always experimenting to find what your fans want the most. Having demand drive your decisions will save you money AND help you get a feel for what sizes/things your fan base actually wants.

For a mid-level and above band (extended tours): It's better to err on the side of too much. Esetablished bands have breadth of both material and fans. If a shirt doesn't sell on one tour, you can carry it over to the next one with a better shot at selling than only a local band. And since larger bands rely more on merch, the risk of missing a sale hurts much more than a smaller band that's still building out a product line.

What's your take?

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Going Viral is a Waste (Pt. 2)

As I've said before, don't build your band's strategy around "Going Viral". It's a short-term strategy, and speed of adoption is inversely correlated with longevity (The quicker you rise, the faster you fall). Wasting your brainpower and creativity on ineffective strategies instead of building a solid musical catalog will burn you out fast. A music career is built on making superb music, not making superb stunts.

Tim Harford gives us a great analysis of the research work on social media marketing by Duncan Watts from Columbia University.

...we notice the successes simply because they are successful, and overestimate the likelihood of success. And there’s a survivor bias: in our analysis of what works we ignore what fails. “People think it’s all about videos of cats or cute children,” says Watts, “But there are millions of videos that have these attributes but haven’t spread.”
...The first surprise, then, is that the typical Twitter cascade is both rare and tiny. Ninety per cent of tweets are never retweeted, and most of the remainder are retweeted only by a person’s immediate followers, not by those at two or three removes. 
The second surprise is that beyond the mind-numbingly obvious, it’s impossible to predict which tweets will start cascades. Simply knowing that a user has started previous cascades tells Watts and his colleagues almost everything they can divine about the likelihood of future cascades – which is not very much. (It is not especially useful to know how many followers a user has if you know about their previous success in starting cascades, because the two pieces of data overlap.) 
Viral videos are the lottery. High payoffs, but essentially infinite players and loooooooong odds. Doing sustained, fan-focused marketing isn't sexy but it's been working for generations.

Am I saying give up social media altogether? Never! Just remember it's one of many tools in your marketing toolkit. Don't expect spending 4 hours a day crafting "the perfect tweet" is your ticket to becoming famous for your music.

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Food for Thought

For less than $20 a month, you can get unlimited streaming songs (Spotify) and movies (Netflix) whenever you want.

Twenty years ago this would get you one CD or one movie a month.

Has your band adjusted to this reality yet?


Your Fans Have Your Back

There's a fantastic happening making the rounds among nerd-ish websites today. A writer for Gawker went on a date with world champion Magic: The Gathering player Jon Finkel, and she called him a loser.

Fans of Magic: The Gathering, a delightfully addictive collectible card game, rained down hellfire and righteous fury upon the unsuspecting writer.

But this wasn't a PR disaster at all.

We can learn a couple things from this ordeal:

1) Fan/Nerd-Baiting builds buzz and strengthens fan's devotion.

As this article in Forbes points out, it's a possibility that she knew this would happen.
Gizmodo’s readership is hugely male, and hugely tech savvy and therefore mostly “nerdy” in the traditional sense. To post something trashing a “geeky” activity like Magic the Gathering would be the equivalent of their video game blog Kotaku writing a post trashing professional eSports. Oh wait, they did that too.
... as of the time I’m writing this, that article has 529,280 views.
She probably benefited quite nice from the number of hits generated by the article, but the real story is about fans of Magic and Jon.

This is the same as rapper feuds. Being a fan of music, Magic, or nachos is a part of our identity. When someone talks smack about your band, it's an affront to your taste. You gotta back up your people. (In group bias)

And as fan's come to the defense of their favorite artist, both devoted and casual fans begin to see the vast numbers of people who are dedicated to the artist. Current fans connect and bond, prospective fans look into the artist to see what all the hullabaloo is about. Remember how everyone came to Michael Jackson's defense when he went to trial for some seriously nasty allegations?

Nearly one BILLION people watched his funeral service.

Social Proof. Learn about its power.

A beef could be good by drawing out your committed fans.

2) How you respond to a crisis determines the outcome.

When word of this broke, Jon Finkel took it like champ and created an IAMA on Reddit to control the message. (IAMA stands for I Am A _____, Ask Me Anything! It's popular format on Reddit where the famous and not-so-famous can talk directly with fans.)

In the thread he responded, coming across like a normal, chill dude. No lashing out at fans, just an average guy with some cool stories to tell.

In a heated argument, the person who remains calm and collected is in control.

Considering he had an article written about how crappy a date he was, I'd say Jon came out on top:

The topic of "controlling the message" is a big 'un. Expect more on this later.

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Would You Sue a Restaurant for $30,000 If They Didn't Pay You Royalties?

Edit: Oof, this post has been the most negative feedback I've gotten.

I'll gladly admit I'm wrong, and simply leave this post up only for reference. I still appreciate the feedback, however. Getting my thoughts on track is very important.

Read below if you really care to.

This makes me queasy:
Restaurant Owner Ordered to Pay BMI $30,450 For 'Illegally Playing' Four Unlicensed Songs

This is not about feeding musicians, it's about feeding the "Royalty Collection Agencies".
BMI began sending communication regarding the restaurant's lack of proper licensing back in September of 2009, but it wasn't until May of 2010 that BMI even bothered to visit Fosters to verify that the business was actually playing unlicensed music. (From page 32 of the PDF.)
So without verifying anything, BMI starts demanding payment from a restaurant for "Piracy".

This is how the mafia demands "protection".

To which BMI would retort: "But it's all 'For the Artists'!"

Would you sue a restaurant out of business for playing your songs and not paying you a few dollars?

Of course not, that's terrible business! The restaurant is playing your music to a captive audience, this is a good thing. From psychology we know that people prefer things more simply by repeated exposure. (The Mere Exposure Effect)

From Wikipedia:
In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be.
Music is marketing material, not the profit driver it once was. You want more people listening to your music, this is a good thing!

The traditional performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC) are scared; the era of terrestrial radio domination has passed as competition for ear-time has shot up exponentially. They somehow decided it wasn't important to deal with the issues of streaming internet radio, satellite radio, and cable TV so now SoundExchange swooped in to become the only entity in the US allowed to collect digital royalties.

Oops. Their business model just got OWNED.

Better start suing fans!

These traditional performing rights organizations made sense thirty years ago, but not anymore. Without the concentrated market of old-school radio, songs don't get as famous as they used to since people listen to what they demand, not what they're fed. (Jeff Bridge's new album sold only 13,000 copies, which is now enough to break into the Billboard top 25!) Without monster-hit songs, the amount of royalties collected on a per-song basis will continue to drop, shrinking the margins of these agencies as they have to chase down royalties for more songs for less pay. Unless they fundamentally change their business model, I don't see traditional performing rights organizations having an important role in the future of music.

My suggestion? While I'm registered with ASCAP, I'm not counting on the $50 registration breaking even. SoundExchange will probably play a bigger role in your career, so I'd make that a priority over traditional performing rights orgs. Still, I don't really figure royalties into my business plan as they'll only become significantly large long after I'm making better money from other income streams.

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Why do videos go viral in the first place?

Alrighty, I gotta admit I'm surprised.

I wrote this post last week with the intent of posting it in late september, but Lefsetz beat me to the punch. He even made the "empty calories" analogy I make. Glad to know he thinks the same though.

So it goes.

Having said my piece on viral videos before (Part 1) let's take a different approach this week and look into how and why media "goes viral".

Have I mentioned that Jonah Lehrer is one of the best science writers out there today? Here's his analysis of Jonah Berger's (University of Pennsylvania) recent research into media sharing.
It’s one of the most popular online videos ever produced, having been viewed 355 million times on YouTube. At first glance, it’s hard to understand why the clip is so famous, since nothing much happens. Two little boys, Charlie and Harry, are sitting in a chair when Charlie, the younger brother, mischievously bites Harry’s finger. There’s a shriek and then a laugh. The clip is called “Charlie Bit My Finger—Again!”
Three hundred fifty-five million views.

But why?
In his study, Mr. Berger demonstrates that such states of arousal make people far more likely to share information. For instance, when he had subjects jog in place for 60 seconds—Mr. Berger wanted to trigger the symptoms of arousal directly—the number of people who emailed a news article to their friends more than doubled. He also boosted levels of “social transmission” by showing his subjects frightening and funny videos first. “Levels of arousal spill over,” Mr. Berger says. “When people are aroused, they are much more likely to pass on information.”

This builds on previous work by Mr. Berger in which he analyzed 7,500 articles that appeared on the most-emailed list of the New York Times between August 2008 and February 2009. While Mr. Berger initially assumed that people would share articles with practical implications—he imagined lots of pieces on diets and gadgets—he discovered instead that the most popular stories were those that triggered the most arousing emotions, such as awe and anger. We don’t want to share facts—we want to share feelings.
In a piece The Atlantic did on this same study, social psychologist Kim Peters says:
"What we share may have as much to do with the stimulation provided by the environment as with the information itself."
And that's why viral marketing is dumb.

There's an infinite number of ways to arouse emotion. Creating a classic album for your fans arouses emotion. So does a video of a guy getting hit in the crotch. Both activities will get you huge amounts of hits.

But hits / "friends" / retweets are not dedicated fans. Viral marketing is junk food; full of calories (hits) and not much else. These numbers are transient fans who saw a cool video of "that band that fell down the stairs a bunch". And now they're bored with your video and don't remember your name.

The real danger of "friends" is that these numbers are easily quantifable whereas actual fans can't easily be counted. My facebook feed is full of bands touting how many facebook "likes" they have. It's fun to compare, sure. But don't treat it like a measure of your band's "true" worth. Correlation doesn't prove causation.

Focus on creating real fans with brilliant music.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch videos of dogs on skateboards for the next hour.

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Link: Lefsetz' New Rules for the Music Industry

Lefsetz write a concise and illuminating list of the New Rules for the Music Industry. (Yes, I linked to him last week but this article was far too good to ignore)

My favorite point:

8. Social networking is for fans.
Twitter and Facebook are irrelevant until you get traction. They’re rallying points for those who already believe. Once you’ve got fans, feed them information about gigs and goings-on. Once you’ve got a plethora of true believers, tweet and post about your inner life. No one cares until you approach stardom.
Thoroughly worth the read.


Everything Is Connected (Continued)

Touching off of last week's post, I'd like to share with you how getting personal training helped improve my musical skills.

I've been into lifting weights for a couple years now as a way to blow off steam and keep myself healthy. After hitting a frustrating plateau in my weight lifting for a couple months, I decided to get over being stubborn and ask for help from a personal trainer.

I've had more progress in these last six months than in the last four years. Wow.

Lessons I've learned:

   -There's a limit to how long you can have an effective workout. Anything over an hour and you're getting diminishing returns. 30 minutes of optimal practice a day is more effective than two hours once or twice a week. Not only will you be more focused, but you'll retain more of your practice over the long term.

   -Change your workout every 6 weeks. Your body adapts to how you train it. When you hit a plateau, it's time to change your patterns. P90x calls this concept muscle confusion, but that's primarily a marketing term for what trainers have known for decades. Plus, constant change keeps you from getting bored and not focusing intently on your practice.

Even better, midway through a workout, an idea pranced through my head. What if I were to take what I've learned from my trainer and applied it to my practice?

My Current Bass Guitar "Workout"

Grinding on scales can get boring, so this practice regimen aims to sandwhich in the boring drills with fun improv stuff. Practice sessions are to last ONLY 30 minutes. If I'm "in the zone", I go on to the next day's routine because Practice is more effective if you vary between different tasks, such as between dexterity and improvisational exercises.

   -A Day, Speed Scales: One scale, two octaves starting at bottom, 3 different fingerings, fast. Then do it in 3rds, arpeggios (135 and 1357), picked and fingered.

   -B Day, Ear Training: I'll pick a song solo I like, preferably not a bass solo so I'll expand my style, and try to learn it by ear. Miles Davis has brought my solo game up a few notches already.

   -C Day, Slooooooo Scales: Same scale as A day, two octaves starting at top, all conceviable fingerings, played painfully slow, arpeggios (135 and 1357), played as eighth notes, triplets, doubles, and triples both picked and fingered.

   -D Day, Brain to Instrument Improv: This exercise is to help improve the connection between what I think and what I can play, which has been something I've been wanting to fix for some time now. First, I listen to a 30 second segment of a song I want to work with. Then, I'll sing an improvised bassline into my computer's sound recorder. After that, I'll try learning the part I sung on my bass.
Two important things I've learned:

Everything is connected.

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Link: Lefsetz Says Festivals Are the New Radio

Lefsetz kicks some serious ass in this post, with his prediction on the direction of the industry:

Let’s revisit the formula. You hone your chops, barely able to break even until a festival organizer booking a city-based event makes a deal for you to perform. Then this same booker makes sure you’re featured on the YouTube stream. With this imprimatur, people pay attention.

Festivals are the new radio and bookers are the new deejays. It’s just that simple...
The more technological breakthroughs we develop, the more important it is to get back to our roots. I love my computer, but it’s the opposite of music. It’s cold and unthinking, whereas music is warm and fuzzy and positively alive.
And the best place to demonstrate this is live.

And the best place to do this is where everybody is watching.

We can spread the word so quickly online. But no one wants to hear about anything that isn’t great, that doesn’t have substance.

City festivals are the launching pad. Bookers are the linchpins. Food and amenities add to the experience, but the real drawing power is the music. When done right, it’s enough.
Music is