Tagmusic

AKB48

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AKB48 is, according to Wikipedia, “a Japanese female idol group produced by Yasushi Akimoto. The pop group has achieved enormous popularity in Japan. It is also one of the highest-earning musical acts in the world, with 2011 record sales of over $200 million in Japan alone.”

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Source: Wikipedia/kalleboo

Before my trip to Japan I wasn’t aware of the group, but the system is friggin’ brilliant, in a very Gibson-esque, or maybe more Sterling-esque, way. Allow me to quite Wikipedia some more to give you a better idea:

AKB48 holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s “largest pop group”. Currently, it consists of four subgroups: Team A, Team K, Team B, and Team 4 with 16 members each, summing up to a total of 64 girls. There is also a number of aspiring members, who are called “kenky?sei” (“trainees”). The member lineup often changes; when girls get older, they “graduate” from the group, while new members are cast through regularly held auditions. Having several teams not only allows the group to reduce the load on its members, since a daily concert at the theater is given by only one team, but also gives AKB48 opportunity to perform in several places and even countries simultaneously.

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Source: Wikipedia/kndynt2099.

In other words, it’s a huge operation, with enough members to target any niche audience, be it ever so small. The graduation mechanism allows for (theoretically) unlimited spin-offs, so new members are lined up at any given time. The internal competition modes and merchandise sales should be a money machine like no other, and the high number of members also allows them to leave the traditional paths of “touring” with all its physical and regional limitations. Getting the audience involved both in terms of meeting band members (which is easy for the band, as there are so many members, and slightly harder for the audience as tickets for AKB48’s small trademark live gig at Akahibara are given out by lottery), and in terms of voting mechanisms: Fans determine in “general elections” which of the members are involved in recording new songs etc. I can only assume that the voting mechanism are charged for in some way or another. The potential for upsell is ludicrous, but there’s more to it.

It’s post-something, that much is for sure, and very much hits a certain flavor of the zeitgeist. But post-what, and pre-what? Pre completely computer animated, personalized artist-avatars, maybe, and maybe just post-human in the more traditional sense, or at least post-individual. But that doesn’t quite capture it all. There’s something going on here on many layers that I can’t quite put my finger on just yet.

Fair Trade Music Label

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We prefer to know if our coffee & food was produced organically and if the farmers got their fair share, so we buy products that carry a Fair Trade certificate. But what about our music? Ever so often music labels are criticized for ripping off their contracted artists. Well, let’s see if that’s true. Let’s give an incentive for labels to pay their artists well and treat them fairly.

Could a Fair Trade Music label or certificate be the solution?

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

Why not use this definition for Fair Trade Music, too:

Fair Trade Music is a music production and trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in music production and trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better music production and trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, music producers and workers – especially in Major Labels. Fair Music Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional music production and trade.

Is there already any initiative out there?

(And could someone please come up with a better name, and a logo?)

Update: There’s this initiative called fair-trade-music.de, but the website seems poorly maintained. Is this still active? (Thanks Martin!)

Music, Video, Links: Some Brainteasers for the Weekend

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Hey there. Since an appointment just got cancelled I figured I might as well put together a post with some brainteasers and fun stuff I stumbled upon over the last couple of days. In other words: Welcome the weekend!

First up, I strongly recommend you check out TheSixtyOne, a great music discovery and sharing service. The service comes with a lot of built-in challenges, making music discovery even more playful than other services. (Yes, you can level up, too.) It’s as interactive as it could possible be, and therefor pretty much addictive. It’s worth it, too. Also, you can also choose to browse Creative Commons licensed music only, which I always find neat. Particularly, and despite the NSFW title, I recommend this song:

Also, Us Now is a great 60 min documentary about grassroots initiatives and social media. I haven’t yet managed to finish the whole movie, but I’ll definitively watch the rest this weekend:

Us Now and the next recommendation, Brain Pickings, via my buddy Johannes Kleske. Brain Pickings is a blog full of true brainteasers and awesome stuff. Somewhat along the same line, also more geared towards trends & design, is PicoCool by Emily Chang, which just was relaunched.

In other news:

  • Thomas Praus and I will be taking sponsors for Likemind Berlin (the next month or two are covered, but afterwards it’s your chance – it’s the best, cheapest and most fun sponsorship you could wish for). Get in touch via Twitter (@thewavingcat) or email (peter at thewavingcat.com).
  • Sunday, 7 June is election day for the European elections. This is important; if you live in the EU, please vote. If you don’t vote, stop reading this blog ;) On Youtube, you can find plenty of hilarious election campaign TV ads (German clips; it’s really unbelievable what kind of videos the parties produce.)
  • Next week at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum (GMF) I’ll be moderating a panel on Citizen Journalism and Freedom Of Speech with interesting and incredibly brave bloggers, activists and citizen journalists.
  • Being around the corner for GMF anyway, I surely won’t miss out on BarcampCologne3 (hashtag #bcc3). If you’re there, say hi!

That said, have a great weekend.

iTunes in the Cloud: TheCloudPlayer.com

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From the phantastic guys of Soundcloud (Henrik Berggren and Eric Wahlforss comes a new neat little gadget: The Cloud Player.

TheCloudPlayer.com Screenshot of TheCloudPlayer.com

The Cloud Player is a completely web-based audio tool, looking kind of like iTunes and with its basic features like smart playlists and shared playlists. The twist: It plays all the music created by the ever-growing community of SoundCloud. They built it as a little side-project over the last few weeks and just released it over the weekend. (Henrik kindly gave me a preview last week at Likemind.) And what can I say? I don’t know when these guys ever get some sleep in between running an up-and-coming startup, DJing, finishing a university degree and what not. But: It’s awesome.

Social cooperation & music distribution

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In the Commons Research wiki, I stumbled upon this Free Culture paper (PDF abstract). In the paper, Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School, author of The Wealth of Networks and also seen in the video below), Leah Belsky and Byron Kahr (both of Yale Law School) analyze “social cooperation and the production and distribution of creative works” (which is also the title of the paper). In short: How can artists make a living off working with their fans, and without major labels?

Video: Yochai Benkler’s TED Talk on open source economics

How can artists make a living?

Benkler, Belsky and Kahr looked into cooperative models, i.e. models that allow (and depend on) active participation by fans:

Cooperative models—approaches to the sale and distribution of media that rely on voluntary contributions and other pro-social fan behavior—are beginning to appear in many different forms among a diverse range of artists. (…) Generally, cooperative approaches explicitly authorize fans to download their music without paying for it (or after paying an unusually low price), but appeal to fans’ sense of obligation in asking for discretionary contributions. Beyond seeking monetary compensation for digital downloads, some artists have appealed directly to fans accomplish a variety of goals, including: raising funds necessary for recording and distributing new material, planning and promoting of live concerts, developing videos and other promotional tools, and remixing previously released material. (…) Indeed, the basic logic of the tip jar is emerging in myriad iterations, with models evincing a wide range of sophistication and ambition.

Now except for donations, what models are there? I could imagine all kinds of ways to get your fans involved. One point raised in the quote above that resonated particularly with me is the part about involving your fans in planning and promoting live concerts. Promotion, sure, that’s fairly straightforward.

But what about the planning of concerts? It seems to me like this could be tricky, but also really compelling for both fans and artists. Just imagine a small, relatively unknown band. (Obviously they need to have played some concerts before to have at least a small fan base outside their own circle of friends.) They decide to go on tour, no matter if it’s through Europe or the United States. They announce their plans on their blog and plan just the first two or three stops of their tour, which they also feed into event planning websites like Upcoming. Of course, they blog and twitter the whole planning process. Then they just take it from there – no further planning beyond, say, the first three concerts. It’s all played by ear from that point on, by word of mouth, recommendations, invitations.

Could that work? Would the band get an email or phone call after their second concert and be invited to come to Austin, Texas in two weeks time, find fans to house them and maybe get some catering sponsoring? Through their blog and PayPal, could they ask their fans for the travel budget they need, or maybe a ride? Every step could be coordinated, planned, organized, and of course documented, online.

This seems chaotic and insecure at first, but I would imagine this kind of trip would create a very deep relationship with the fan base, it’s very unmediated and direct. It sure isn’t easy. But who says being a musician needs to be easier than other jobs?

Do you know any artists that have tried something similar?

How I tried (and failed at) legally buying music in Germany

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Please note: What’s about to follow is a rant. It’s also advice to music labels. Short-short version, dear content traders: Make your stuff more easily available.

This is a story of a sucky customer experience. As customers and experts alike will tell you, users like to rock, not to suck.

Buying music online is supposedly easy. Or so you’d think. And indeed it can be, as I learned from the awesome music subscription at emusic.com, where I get 30 tracks per month. (I love it!) Alas, emusic.com doesn’t have access to all the music out there, so if you’re looking for something in particular you might end up with zero search results there.

I just tried to buy the new Gnarls Barkley album, The Odd Couple. Sadly, emusic.com didn’t have it. But hey, it’s 2008 and the labels aren’t the stupid, slow & bullying giants they once were, right?

Right??

So let me try to briefly describe my journey – trying to buy a normal, major-label pop album.

First up, iTunes, as linked to from the original Gnarls Barkley website. I’m sure there it would have worked, but since iTunes writes your email address into the files you buy, I don’t really feel like buying there. I don’t know if having my email address in my music would cause any harm as of now, but I’m almost sure any kind of (even stripped-down) DRM is inherently evil and will lead to trouble at some point. There goes iTunes.

Second stop, 7digital, “The Home of MP3 Downloads”. 7digital has the album, even though the price (7.99 British Pounds) seems a bit steep for a digital download. But ok, I’m willing to cough up the price for a regular physical CD even though distribution costs equal nearly zero for the label. Why not. Hey, you need to sign up to their service instead of just buying through your credit card. Ok. Wow, even the newsletter signup is opt-in. Unless, of course, you don’t fill out all the form fields – after showing me an error message, the newsletter was suddenly ticked, I didn’t notice after having it checked beforehand and clicked, and all of a sudden had a 7digital account and a newsletter I didn’t want. As a user, I simply didn’t want to feel like being tricked into a newsletter while buying a simple music album and, slightly grumpy at this point, canceled the purchase.

Third, good ol’ amazon. The US version, amazon.com, offers The Odd Couple for an amazing $5.00. How awesome is that? I was already sold. I even agreed to download the Amazon Download Manager. For whatever reason I would need that I still haven’t figured out. After it was installed and I clicked the Buy button — nothing. Not living in the US, I’m excluded from music downloads. Books aren’t a problem, neither are electronics. But digital goods, those zeros and ones, no way.

Fourth, disappointed from the amazon.com experience, I went back to the German amazon store, amazon.de. I could have spared myself the effort: In Germany, Amazon doesn’t sell music downloads.

From there it went downhill. Where I found DRM-free Gnarls Barkley music, it was their old album, which is great, but wasn’t what I was looking for.

My conclusion? I tried to pay you money for music. I tried hard, and annoyingly long. As long as this kind of effort doesn’t allow for a legal, DRM-free download, the music industry has no reason whatsoever to complain about losing sales. As bloggers and press people learn early on: Make your stuff available. Make it easy to get it. That is the first and most important rule when trying to increase your reach and your sales, or when you simply want to get your message out. Music labels, learn this lesson. If you hide your goods or don’t bother making them more convenient to use, those regular folks out there (us!) won’t bother either.