Well, it was good while it lasted…

Hi there,

Sorry to make it about us for a moment, but…. it was entirely expected but nonetheless rather sad to learn that amongst the casualties of Elon Musk’s scorched earth moves at Twitter will be Revue, the very platform responsible for sending this email.

I could probably ramble for a while about how Revue should form part of Twitter’s broader strategy to accommodate long form content, but in truth our annoyance is a little more selfish.

Since shifting to Revue – which enabled a re-design of the Digest into the form you see now – our open rates have rocketed. Our average open rate is now above 60%, which is insane for a newsletter of this type. Your feedback has been incredible too – additions of things like the hot takes and more images etc have all been well received. We’ve even seen other newsletters copying our style, which is super flattering.

Now though, we need to find a new home. Again. Apparently we will have until the end of the year, but honestly given Musk’s volatility right now, we feel it might be wiser to move sooner rather than later as it’s entirely possible the whole platform might vanish overnight.

To allay any fears then, I think it’s worth confirming that we’re exporting emails and generally readying for Revue to vanish overnight. Hopefully it won’t, but who knows. In an ideal world, someone will buy it, but I don’t think that’s where Mr Musk’s head is at right now.

Watch this space. Ideally we can turn this into something even better. 💪🏻

For now, enjoy the news below, and we’ll be back next week. I think if we do move platform, we will also let you all know so you can be sure to check spam filters and suchlike (inevitably such moves can cause some volatility on that front!).

In the meantime, have a great weekend,

D.

🎶 written whilst listening to the legendary “Blech II” mix of Warp’s catalogue, mixed by DJ Food and PC. Not available on any streaming services (a common issue with mixes), hence the YouTube link. Is this one of the greatest mixes of all time? Yes – only bettered IMO by the pair’s Ninja Tune colleagues, Coldcut, and their ridiculous, genre-smashing “Journeys By DJ” mix. If you’ve never heard either before, I genuinely envy you discovering them for the first time now.


Amazon sees 100M songs as a draw, but are the majors tiring of DSP bloat?

Hi there –

There’s an interesting paradox in two news stories today. First is that Amazon Music is now making available a catalogue of over 100M songs for Prime users to listen to – albeit only in shuffle mode.

The second is that the constant growth of Spotify’s (and to be fair, other DSPs) long tail of music is both creating a cost issue (on the basis all this music requires storage somewhere in the cloud) and frustration among the major labels, who are viewing the platform as one increasingly clogged up with poor quality music.

So, Amazon are wooing users with that big 100M number, whilst the majors (well, Universal at present, though I suspect Sony and Warner would feel similar) are tiring of the bloat of these systems in which all music is presented equally, when in their view it is not.

This 100M number has cropped up previously, when Apple Music announced it had that many songs on its platform. Ironically at the time, the point of their press release was to highlight how the company is helping users navigate that all. In reality, that detail was lost as everyone (myself included) simply focused on that monstrous number and asked what this was doing for music consumption in general.

I’ve felt for some time that DSPs are pretty broken in that regard, and are having quite a negative effect on listening habits. I am one of those people who now avoids DSPs for the most part in favour of physical formats, purely because I think the ritual of listening to music is more rewarding that way.

Does Joe Public feel the same though? Perhaps Amazon will be the canary in the coalmine in that regard. Will consumers settle for a listen-on-shuffle experience if it’s rolled into their Prime subscription? My gut feeling says no, but it will certainly be interesting to find out.

Once again though, I wonder how much longer this can go on before music fans crave a more focused, niche experience. Everywhere I look, the cultural signposts are there: people are increasingly tiring of social, tiring of the “all of everything all the time” gluttony of consumption, and alongside it, they’re burning out.

In the face of that, it looks like more and more companies are realising that the answer is to pull their customers in closer and super-serve that. This is why Amazon is offering more to their Prime subscribers. It’s why Disney is opening an ecommerce store to drive merch sales to their Disney+ subscribers.

It’s all about drawing down revenue from a diverse range of income streams. With that in mind, anyone sitting hoping that Spotify alone will pay the bills is crazy. The name of the game now is the focus on those artist-centric communities and super-serve that.

Have a great evening,

D.

🎶 written whilst listening to Monster Magnet’s “Dopes To Infinity“. I’d forgotten what a gem this album is. Perfect for a frazzled mind like mine to hammer the Digest out to 😆

Will artists quit Twitter, and if so is this the time to invest into communities?

It being Halloween, there’s precious little industry news to report, so I’ll apologise now for the short shrift you’re getting below.

That said, all eyes are on Elon Musk and Twitter today, as various stories emerge speculating on the future of the company now he has taken ownership. Perhaps the biggest development currently doing the rounds is that the company is going to charge $20/mo for Twitter Blue, and that this will be the only way to retain your Verified blue tick.

For me, this perfectly illustrates the complexity of the problem Musk now has to solve. In this case, he’s confusing the purpose of the Verified tick. It serves as a means to demonstrate that this is the official account for a person on the platform, thereby confirming identity as bona fide. Musk appears to be thinking it instead could just show that one is a paying customer.

In the world of music, that blue badge has been something of a lifesaver in the past, helping artists establish that they are the genuine article and not some imposter.

Should this $20/mo deal go ahead, it isn’t hard to see fake accounts popping up all over the place, potentially conning users and generally making trouble for all involved. Misinformation may well run riot.

As a day one move then, this one feels pretty ill-conceived.

I use Twitter more than any other social network. The Motive Unknown Digest is published through its Revue platform (something I sincerely hope Musk elects not to mothball). Even so, part of me kind of hopes Twitter goes up in smoke.

Hear me out.

We are moving into something of a post-social world. Facebook is struggling, Insta feels like it is going the same way, and the only platform really surging in growth isn’t a social one at all (TikTok).

At the same time, Web3 is providing an alternative approach here – one in which you control platforms plugging into your own data ID, rather than your data being littered across all manner of different companies.

With that change may come a very welcome simplification of things. For some time now, artists have complained about burnout around social media. Shifting to a new landscape in which you seek out the artist’s community and join it, rather than all the artists clamouring for your attention in one centralised platform (i.e. Twitter, Insta etc) may not be a bad thing at all.

Factor in the means to sell directly from posts etc – as is possible on the likes of Lens already – and it isn’t hard to see this as a positive step forward that benefits artists, better engages fans and generally brings a greater element of equity around engagement, among other things.

Put another way: if like me you’ve spent 15+ years on Twitter, what do you have to show for it? Twitter has accrued all manner of data about you to sell, but what did you get?

So perhaps change is due. It may well prove a little painful getting there, but I still don’t think it will be a bad thing to move to a post-social world of smaller, more niche communities with a far greater sense of invested value in each one.

Have a great evening 🎃

D.

🎶 written whilst listening to this amazing playlist of Drexciya-inspired electro/techno, selected by Father Dukes. Every one’s a banger. Enjoy!

P.S. Speaking of Lens – we are still able to fast-track whitelisting to join the platform if anyone’s interested. Just complete this form and we’ll process applications each Friday. You’ll need Metamask or any other ETH wallet to apply.

Data informed, or data led? That is the question…

Hi there –

AI continues to be a hot topic in the world of tech, and today brings the news that InGrooves have secured a patent for technology that predicts TikTok trends that might translate into streaming success. More specifically if I’m understanding this right, it also suggests when to focus more on TikTok and the organic growth, and when to spend on promo to translate that trend into plays on DSPs.

At first glance, it all reads as being rather clever. In real terms, I am a little sceptical, but only because history is showing us that whilst the dream of AI seems amazing, the realities can often be somewhat flawed.

Whether it’s AI music that sounds like a hot mess, AI copies of art that look like a stoned sixth-former’s A Level project, even AI personalities that descend into racism and humanity’s worst aspects, we are already seeing that AI is most definitely flawed.

With that in mind, I cannot help but have some scepticism around just how well this new tech from InGrooves will work. Of course, there’s case studies to accompany the press hype, but at the same time, the errors and misfires never get mentioned.

All that said, it will certainly be interesting to see if this makes a material difference to InGrooves’ position in the market, and whether it proves a solid draw for artists who may, for example, be looking for someone to translate their unexpected TikTok virality into a hit.

In the broader context, I also worry about the degree to which labels are investing in this kind of tech. I would think it inevitable really – to *not* research this whole area if you have the means to would be foolhardy too of course – but at the same time it speaks to something a friend remarked some years back, and which has stuck with me ever since:

“Be data informed, not data led”

I think it’s safe to say that Motive Unknown has sight on a LOT of data. With clients ranging from the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams through to the releases of innumerable indie labels, through to music brands like Sonos and platforms like Beatport, we see more data than most.

What all that sight has taught us though, is that when applied to the marketing in particular, it always has to be tempered with what I used to call “Mad Men Nous”.

Pre-digital, ad men of the 60s – as fictionalised in shows like Mad Men – had to rely as much on their gut instinct as to whether something would work. They didn’t have these monstrous data sets to draw upon. That meant, however, that they had to stay sharp, keenly tuned into the ebb and flow of popular culture in order to know how to penetrate that with whatever message they were being asked to deliver.

Through the years, I’ve seen bands get turned down for signings because they didn’t have enough Facebook fans. I’ve seen all manner of data points used as weak excuses for something not happening.

At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of mavericks who took their gamble on new signings, confident that this music would connect, despite in some cases barely being able to operate a computer, much less study any data. They did incredibly well too, I might add, establishing arena-tier bands still active today.

My point here is only that I worry that too much reliance on data may lead to everyone pointing the same way, chasing the same things. Of course, AI isn’t going to replace all A&R people and one of the more sensible arguments around AI is that it will sit in balance with human input too. I am sure the music industry may wind up in that place, as will visual art and all other areas being challenged by this new development.

At the same time though, I just hope too much emphasis isn’t put on this all. It feels like everyone is now painfully fixated on TikTok, and potentially on quick wins. That, to me anyway, remains a concern. Quick wins more often than not prove flighty. Real, lasting careers are built with careful thought, strategy and investment.

Have a great weekend,

D.

🎶 written whilst listening to Fred Again’s new album/comp “Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)“. Fred can do no wrong at the mo – he’s precisely what we all need right now: amazing music performed by a really joyous character. I can’t listen without smiling, heheh. Also, this Insta reel of him performing a track live – drumming and all – for Zane Lowe has to be seen to be believed. Incredible stuff.

Apple turns the screws on social platforms and Web3 – none of which helps new artists…

Hi there –

Apple has certainly taken the gloves off today, announcing a series of updates to its terms of service around its App Store, all of which move to derive more revenue through its commissions on sales.

A very notable shift is that the company is now seeking a share of the money spent on ad boosting via the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – a move that only last year the company said it would not do.

Now granted, the percentage of ad bookings made via the app is tiny, but it will now mean that those making use of it will quite definitely be paying more to advertise – and when that covers anyone from small businesses to rising DIY artists, that’s not a good thing at all at a point where everyone is being squeezed more than ever.

Apple isn’t stopping at ad revenues either, also adding measures that will seek to derive a share of NFT sales too, in a move that will doubtless irritate Web3 businesses currently trying to establish their own models.

Spotify has seized the moment too, once again decrying Apple’s app taxes, this time in the context of its attempts to sell audiobooks.

Total this all up then, and one can’t help get the impression that Apple is almost pushing and pushing to see how far it can go before regulators step in. After this latest move, I would imagine all efforts to change the App Store’s commissions will only increase.

Beyond that though, I suspect this also lends weight to developers evolving what is possible without apps, and it will certainly compel more people towards a Web3 world in which app taxes and suchlike might be more readily circumvented.

Oddly then, Apple’s move might not be such a bad thing, if only because it might spur innovation to work around these restrictions. Apple would argue that this puts users at risk, but equally I think only a very naive person would now claim that Apple is doing all of this with their user’s best interests at heart. This is about preserving strangleholds, and I’m curious to see if people will accept that.

Have a great evening,

D.

🎶 written whilst listening to two promo CDs of DFA remixes that I picked up for £1 each in the Exchange in Notting Hill. They were never commercially released, but here’s a playlist that covers most of their contents. Enjoy!

Bonus productivity tip: I’ve been really enjoying Sidekick browser to replace Chrome. If like me you work with a lot of webapps (Google Workspace, Slack, Monday etc) then it’s proving a terrific replacement. Faster, better organised, just an improvement on every level. Check it out

With Teeth: Investigating Facebook’s new “share music” feature

Yesterday TheNextWeb reported that Facebook is rolling out a new “Share Music” button to your status update box which, when clicked, would allow you to share any song you like to your friends.

So how exactly will this work? My hope was that it would be akin to Tomahawk, i.e. if a friend shares a track, the song would play via whatever services you are subscribed to. That approach is complex though; Tomahawk works in that regard because it is a desktop client, into which you have “declared” which music services you use. Facebook does not have that luxury; it is an entirely browser-led experience.

Continue reading “With Teeth: Investigating Facebook’s new “share music” feature”

With Teeth: Rdio, Spotify and the perils of user experience

For the last few weeks I’ve been using Rdio and of late something has become clear: I am now using it far, far more than Spotify, to which I am also a Premium Subscriber. Why? Because as a user experience, it is superior. Using it is a pleasure – one far more conducive to enjoying and discovering music as a true music fan.

The Rdio/Spotify comparison – to my mind anyway – serves as a study in simplicity versus bloat. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is about carefully studied user experience versus a “launch it now, fix it later” approach.

It feels trite to say that in some respects Spotify reminds me of MySpace, but allow me to expand on this. MySpace started going wrong when it felt like their service was not able to cope with the ways in which it was evolving. Features started to look bolted-on, sitting poorly within the interface and leaving users feeling like they were navigating a confused, poorly-designed site.

Spotify mirrors this in many respects. The social integration is poorly implemented and the way in which the new apps run feels not so much “how can this build upon what we have to truly enhance user experience?” as “how can we shoehorn this into the existing setup?”.

Continue reading “With Teeth: Rdio, Spotify and the perils of user experience”

With Teeth: I’d Missed This Excellent Feature of Facebook’s “Listen” Function

I was using Facebook earlier and realised something I’m not sure has been widely mentioned before now. As well as adding a “Listen” button to Fan Pages, Facebook further extends this when you browse the page whilst listening to music via Spotify (or, presumably other streaming services).

For example, here is one of my band’s pages, browsed with no music playing via my Spotify desktop app:

As you can see, the info there is standard: the top post is the bookmarked one by the band, and on the right you simply see which of your Facebook friends also like the band.

Now let’s look at the same view when I am playing any music in Spotify:

Continue reading “With Teeth: I’d Missed This Excellent Feature of Facebook’s “Listen” Function”

With Teeth: My Viral Marketing Presentation for Generator/Music Ally

On March 27th I attended a Generator/Music Ally “Music Futures” event, looking at viral marketing. Two presentations were made; the first by Ste and Drew from Powster, the second by me. Ste and Drew covered the bigger-budget end of virals by way of Powster’s own campaigns with the likes of Pendulum, Nero, Muse and more, and I thoroughly recommend viewing their showreel to see the kind of brilliant work they do.

For this reason then, my own presentation focussed more on the lower-cost or zero cost approaches to viral marketing (or, as I explain in the clip below, just good marketing – I hate the term ‘viral’) but also broadened out into general tips around approaching marketing music online. The aim was to provide practical tips that new, unsigned bands can take away and get something from. It seemed to go down well, as both Generator and Music Ally asked if I could make it available for both the attendees and the general public. So, here it is again – I hope you find it useful!

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With Teeth: Spotify Player, WordPress and the need for open source in music

Upon reading Spotify’s news of their embeddable player yesterday I must admit that I was initially really excited by the concept. After all, Spotify has aspirations to become “the OS of music” and on paper at least this move seems like a wise one. To some extent, it is.

Digging a little deeper though, I found my view changing. For one thing, the player itself isn’t particularly impressive – rather than exist as an entirely web-driven experience it instead is forced to launch your Spotify player. Immediately that introduces a number of obstacles to adoption. Firstly, you need to be in a country where Spotify has launched. Secondly, you need to have Spotify installed and an active user account in order to stream. Compare this to, for example, YouTube or Soundcloud and immediately the issue becomes clear: as long as this embeddable player cannot be openly used by all, anywhere on the web, it falls down.

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