Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A&R2.0 ... Did A&R get much easier, or harder?

I recently came across this excellent video on YouTube and I started wondering how Web2.0 has affected the work of Artist & Repertoire Managers?

We all know what effect the Internet has had on music distribution, but this is not the only aspect of the business that is being affected. A&R managers with piles of tapes on their desks and scouting in dark and dodgy clubs for the next big thing seems to be a thing of the past …

Web2.0 has created a completely new platform and has shifted the selection and evaluation process from the A&R Manager to the “public”. A popular Youtube video is a statement by itself, MySpace helped launch The Arctic Monkeys and Lilly Allen. So where do the A&R Managers now come in?
I guess the challenge now lies in the selecting the publicly selected (quickly spotting what is hot online) and evaluating which act can be added value too? Or rather which act can add value to your own business?

Keeping a close eye on the Buzz that lives in the Blogosphere is certainly a prerogative to A&R nowadays. So, an A&R manager should now primarily be a social media participant, a Web2.0 pioneer. This seriously relocates the A&R's biosphere. From the club to a laptop.

I guess A&R will still be an "art", but a very different one.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

It's no iPhone, but still ...

Not really a Web2.0 marketing tip, but a cool low-budget tool that keeps you connected ...

The UK launch of the 3 Skypephone didn’t generate much buzz, which is probably due to the Perfect Media Storm that came with the UK launch of the iPhone. However, this mobile phone should be a great buy for only £49.99 (or free with a £12/month subscription package). Even though it doesn’t really excel in anything else but Skype, it still seems to do pretty well in all other aspects. It’s small, light, 3G, comes with preset “optimised for viewing” web access via Launcher (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc), has a 2MP camera and does everything you would expect from a mobile phone.

The Fair Use policy allows plenty Skyp’ing and seemingly you would get an additional 1GB of non-Skype data traffic according to this excellent online review.

Hmmm … should I put this on my Christmas wish list now?

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Woohoo for Wufoo …

I stumbled upon this online forms builder when looking for a way to easily gather and centralise feedback from customers. I started off with the trial version, liked it a lot and moved on to paid subscriptions which are really worth it.
What impresses me most about Wufoo is the ease of use and the way in which data becomes easy to act upon.
So, Wufoo not only allows one to easily build and customise online forms but it also allows notification of people via e-mail when a form was filled out. The collected, centralised data can then be reported on via an easy to use online reporting application.
Another functionality I started using in a more efficient way is the possibility of sending a customised confirmation e-mail to the person who has completed the form. This confirmation e-mail can be html-edited and customised so it fits the look and feel of your own corporate e-mails.

I must admit I initially didn’t see the full potential of online forms, but since then I have been using Wufoo constantly in order to automate data collection and some of the respective processes.

Example 1:
You could ask trainers within your company to complete a Training Completion form after a training session they conducted. This form asks for the e-mail addresses of the trainees and the Main Contact can be automatically sent an e-mail asking for his feedback. This feedback form can then be used to evaluate if the training sessions are consistent with the needs of your customers and it can also ask for feedback about the trainer. This data can then easily be reported upon (even including graphs) and exported to Excel.

Example 2:
Let’s say your organisation is organising multiple events. You can easily send an e-mail campaign (using online platforms such as www.campaignmonitor.com) inviting customers and prospects, but you need to collect all their feedback, centralise it and make it easy to report on and update. Wufoo makes this data collection ultimately easy and will send out the e-mails that contain all the confirmation data your customers need.

To summarise:
Wufoo allows to ask for your customers opinions and needs; and keeps the responses manageable. And, isn’t that an essential part of marketing … knowing your customers? Just by asking you will be able to identify opportunities, improve customer relations and generate new business.

Friday, 16 November 2007

AddThis?! Yes you should!

Social Bookmarking sites … oh boy, where should I start or rather where should I stop?

My first question would be: do we really need all those links at the bottom of every Blog Post? When even the BBC's web site is using such links, it can't be that wrong really?

However, when you click on such a link you still need to be logged in to your social bookmarking platform. Now, if you are actively using a social bookmarking site, you very likely will have the Bookmarklets (browser buttons) installed.

But, if you are using this you don't really need all those links at the bottom of a Post to remind you to bookmark something you think is worthwhile?

Anyhow, if you want to add social bookmarking links at the bottom of your posts, but you don't want the hassle of keeping up to date with the latest bookmarking hype, AddThis offers you the optimal solution.

Just add a piece of code in your Blogging platform's html template and you're done. No need to worry about social bookmarking links anymore … Phew!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Technorati Tags, much ado about nothing?

Technorati Tags have been confusing me, hence the reason for this post...

Firstly, let’s try to make a distinction between Labels, Categories and Tags.
I have been using Blogger and this blogging platform uses “Labels”, while Wordpress uses “Categories”. Remark: Wordpress also started using Tags as an extra method of indexing content, which we could describe as being micro-categories. Technorati however only talks about "Tags".

Wordpress and Blogger (I will soon investigate TypePad) allow for your Blog feeds to automatically ping Technorati (and others) so your content gets indexed and your Posts become available through these Blog Search Engines.
For your content to contribute to the Technorati Tags pages however you need to use the category system in Wordpress or the labels system in Blogger. But, does it really matter? What good are the Technorati Tags doing to your Blog? 
You do not need to use Tags for your content to be indexed by Technorati (or Google Blogs)!

How would you search for content using a Blog Search Engine? Would you just search for Tags? I know I am not, I’d rather use the advanced search function on Technorati.

Also, why would I put loads of Technorati “tag” links at the end of a Post, summarising the tags I used? This would mean I am leading the traffic away from my own Blog. I would be ok with this, if Technorati’s Tag pages would send much traffic back. But it doesn’t for me. Maybe it does for you? Please let me know if you experience a different story.

Are all Technorati links at the end/bottom of a post to be avoided?
No, of course not! But simply linking back to a quite generic tag such as “Thailand” (mea culpa … been there done that) won’t do you any good. You could however link back to Technorati content that is directly related to your own post. Just check how Seth Godin uses “Technorati Links” at the end of his Posts. This still leads traffic away from his own Blog, but at least it shows the organic network of links towards his original post.

So, does this mean that we should completely forget about tagging/labeling/categorising our post’s content? Absolutely not! This is something you do for your readers in order to provide them with an easily accessible “Table of Contents” and eventually even sub-categorisation. (Wordpress uses this concept of sub-categorisation)

Add a “categories cloud”on your Wordpress Blog or a Labels page element on your Blogger Blog and readers will instantly be able to evaluate if the content will be of interest to them.
Your cloud, or list of labels, can be considered as a “Weighted Table of Contents”.
This obviously implies that you should be careful when using categories for “labeling” content.

To summarise:

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

DRM-Free, but still not a good enough deal ...

So, it's been a few weeks now that Apple and EMI announced their DRM-free initiative.
initially I was very excited about this because this was a necessary evolution if online music distribution is to grow into a long-term feasible business model since the usage of purchased music wasn't "flexible" enough in the current situation. Mainly due to limited usage permissions and device specific restrictions. The quality of the music is another obvious issue that needs to be taken into consideration.
But, is this sufficient to convince me to buy music online? Well, I'm afraid it isn't!

I again purchased 2 audio CDs on Amazon.co.uk! WHY?
> Because the price was right (one was cheaper than iTunes, one was slightly more expensive but then again it was a Special Edition),
> because I can rip the CDs in the audio quality I choose,
> because I can Get the Album Artwork in iTunes anyway,
> because I use the audio CD as a perfect back-up,
> because I'm just old school about owning the little shiny discs,
> because buying online doesn't offer me any advantage (I don't mind waiting a day or two for my CD)!

1) If I was into alternative music, there would be a couple of reasons to indeed purchase music online. Maybe the music isn't available on any physical carrier, maybe it's only available on vinyl but I can't be bothered with vinyl, maybe online distribution offers a feasible distribution model to bands, musicians, performers that otherwise would never get published?
2) A wireless connected world, where my music is safely stored on a server that can stream my music (purchased, customised radio channels, etc.) to multiple streaming-enabled devices like my car stereo, my mobile phone (no more mp3 players needed, which explains Apple's iPhone I guess), my home entertainment system, portable audio devices, etc. In this context it is interesting to see how initiatives like MediaMaster will develop?

Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Future of DRM = No DRM

Finally someone saw the light ...

I was really pleased to find this article in my mailbox today: EMI, Apple partner on DRM-free premium music >
Finally, I screamed to myself, someone got it right. Hmmm, why am I not amazed it was Steve Jobs who managed to pull this again?

I recently had been reading about Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems and I couldn't help but have very mixed feelings about the entire concept of DRM.
Technologically it doesn't seem to make sense, and marketing-wise it makes even less sense!

Let me elaborate on this...

DRM systems use technology in order to restrict the "use" of copyrighted content. Often the restriction in usage is just a way to make sure that the content (e.g. a downloaded song which a user paid for) isn't easily "distributed" to other people. When buying a song online, the buyer gets granted a set of "permissions" via the License that came with the downloaded song.
To my understanding DRM uses a mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical (PKI) encryption technology.
Let's assume the content we are legally downloading is a song. This song is first encrypted and sent to our device (laptop, mobile phone, ... ), but strangely the key to actually decrypt it is also being sent along with the encrypted content. On a mobile phone it is likely to be the Java Client that will handle this decryption key in a way that is kept invisible from the end-user.
Compare this to the encryption technology used for movie-DVDs. The data on the disc is encrypted but you actual own the decryption key (inside your DVD player). Let's have a look at history and remember the times when a messenger was sent out on the back of a horse with an encrypted message ... nobody would have been so stupid as to actually send out the instructions on how to decode the message together with the encrypted message! Well, it seems that DRM does exactly that?!
Again to my understanding, and please correct me if I'm wrong, on top of the symmetrical encryption used to encrypt the song, another layer of -pretty safe- asymmetrical PKI encryption is used but only to "unlock" the permissions granted by the License. So, the Licenses are being handled in a pretty secure way, but the original content isn't really.
So, from a technological point of view DRM looks quite similar to building a rock-solid house on quicksand... it just doesn't seem to make sense.

When I buy a CD, I own the physical carrier and I can use the content of it to my own liking ... as long as I don't copy it, broadcast it, distribute illegal copies over the Internet, etc. I can however sell the CD, I can lend it to someone else (as long as that person doesn't intend to copy it), I can give it away, I can swap it for another CD, I can play it in my car, on my laptop, on my hi-fi, convert it to mp3 and play it on my mp3-player.
When I buy an album on iTunes however, the usage becomes more restricted because I become a Licensee of the digital content, being a "party obtaining rights under a license agreement". I have restricted rights and by default I can only play the content on an iPod, my laptop and my hifi (through a cable or Airport Express), and I can burn a CD to play the songs in my car for example. If I would decide to transfer my songs to another mp3-player (not from the iPod family) I would need to rip this audio CD and use these newly generated mp3-files. I can however NOT lend the original mp3-files to anyone else, I can not give them away, I have only a limited amount of devices I can activate these files on and I can't sell them once I'm getting fed up with listening to them.

Another issue is the quality of the files. An audio CD obviously offering better quality than compressed files.
So, when buying an album on iTunes I end up paying quite a lot of money (especially in Great Britain: compare the price in £ to the price in $) for a product that definitely isn't as versatile, that I can't sell and that is of lower quality.
When you also actually acknowledge that there is an illegal peer-to-peer file swapping universe out there where songs - sometimes in better quality than on the legal sites - are being swapped for free, then the restricted usage and lower quality of legal sites such as iTunes just don't add up.

Now, just compare the price of Norah Jones' latest album on Amazon.co.uk and iTunes:
On Amazon.co.uk you pay £6.97 for the "Not Too Late" audio CD.
On iTunes you pay £7.99 for the same album. So you basically end up paying more for the "privilege" of being restricted to limited usage permissions.

Apple however has done a pretty good marketing job with iTunes, because it takes quite some skill to sell less good products for more money.

The introduction of DRM has never been a market or customer-orientated approach. It was just something shoved down the throats of customers by a record industry that ran scared and tried to hold on to its' old business models.
It took balls (pardon my French), or should I say courage, for EMI to actually make a 180 degrees paradigm shift and go for a DRM-free distribution of music. I really hope future will show us EMI did the "Digitally Right" thing ;-)
Now let's just hope that other companies will follow this example and legally downloaded - and paid for - content is of excellent quality and can be played back on whatever device is ours.
I might finally be convinced to start buying music online now ...