Book recommendation: ‘Social Media Is Bullshit’ by BJ Mendelson

Social Media Is BullshitThis week I’ve been really enjoying reading the finely-titled book “Social Media Is Bullshit” by BJ Mendelson. Its a provocative title alright, but really the point of Mendelson’s ire here is not so much social media itself, but more the ecosystem of bullshit that has grown around it: the marketers, analysts and self-styled experts who sell social media as the solution to all our marketing problems. Ultimately, this book is a call for a bit more common sense in marketing and a bit less blind acceptance of stats and reports making often too-good-to-be-true claims. Certainly for me what resonated was the author’s attack on rather vague social media metrics being used as a genuine indicator of success. As various others (most recently Lucy Blair in her MIDEM blog) have pointed out, this is a real problem in the music industry and one that needs addressing ASAP. Radio 1 could be cited as a contributing factor to this problem in my view, purely because any campaign with an eye on their playlist focusses on the stats they know the station wants to see. However I think along the way everyone – myself included – has at some point fallen for the stats game and allowed it to dictate our strategies, and that is not a good thing.

What I like about this book is that it is not just an all-out attack with a wholly negative tone. Through the book Mendelson outlines the problems but crucially then offers solutions based on his own experiences. Reading those is a welcome dose of common sense and whilst the book isn’t perfect (and at some points lost me purely because marketing music is not the same as marketing soap powder or any other product), it certainly gives you grounds to sit and truly re-evaluate your perspective on modern media and what *really* works.

I wouldn’t say this is a book purely for marketing people either; arguably managers and label staff of any type should take a read to get that much-needed dose of perspective. Amid a multitude of blogs telling us these platforms are the future, that’s very welcome indeed.

Two book recommendations

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 10.00.32Its the weekend, so rather than talk shop I figured it would be nice to take a break and instead recommend two music books instead, as both are utterly fantastic.

John Higgs’ “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds” is possibly the best music-related book of the last couple of years. Now admittedly, I’m something of a KLF obsessive (and for those who’ve not heard me spin the yarn, I once faked an entire KLF comeback with my friend DJ Food), but even if you’re so-so on Drummond and Cauty this is still a fine read. The book isn’t a biography of the KLF per se; its more a journey through their career told via their influences. Taking in anything from Situationism to the Illuminatus Trilogy through to the number 23 and Doctor Who, what I love about this book is that it reminds you that now and again pop music can be both incredibly catchy *and* rather subversive at the same time. It doesn’t mythologise the band either, happily admitting that at times the band were guilty of retro-fitting theories around their actions (for example, Drummond cops to never having actually finished the Illuminatus Trilogy – a tome which carries arguably more KLF-related symbolism than anything, including the source of their “Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” title). The faintly comical part for me was the degree to which synchronicity carried so much weight in the book, purely because I then realised there were no small number of synchronicities between myself and the KLF too, as I’ve now worked with various people who also worked with the band back in the day. But I digress – do check the book out, its ace.

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Re: David Byrne’s article for the Guardian

Photograph: Chris Sembrot for the Guardian
Photograph: Chris Sembrot
I don’t really know what to make of this David Byrne article he wrote for The Guardian. I consider the man a hugely intelligent person who often presents other ways of viewing things… but in this instance I’m just not sure what his point is. He claims that mass availability will lead to the death of creative content and even the creative industries to some extent, but as countless people have proven that’s only the case if you’re viewing it within all the existing models that are out there. As Nicholas Jaar proved in his recent interview, there’s plenty of people finding models outside of the monopolies. It also doesn’t help that numerous figures he quotes in the piece have since been debunked as wildly inaccurate; it leaves Byrne open to criticism that he’s now speaking on a topic without full grasp of the facts.

I realise that makes me sound like I’m fully defending streaming media. I’m not; I accept that it could be argued that artists are getting ripped off in the context of this. Equally though, as Byrne himself acknowledges, that’s happened forever. That’s not to justify it happening – but in amidst that happening for centuries artists have still broken through, become successful and made a lot of money. It simply isn’t as black-and-white as he paints it out to be. I fear I’m starting to sound like a stuck record in saying this, but at some point this conversation needs to turn into a more constructive one in which ways to support artists and deliver revenue back are discussed and explored.

Amazon selling 258 song, 17 CD John Martyn boxset as a download for… £7.49

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.58.09My friend Andy just tipped me off as to this rather curious development: John Martyn’s “Island Years” boxset is available on Amazon for £150. Its a monstrous deluxe collection spanning 17 CDs and one DVD; quite the item for completists and hardcore fans (albeit at a pretty huge price to match). Its not just reissues of albums either; there’s a raft of previously unavailable music making this quite the collector’s item.

How come then, that the very same boxset is available on Amazon as a digital download – albeit sans DVD content – for just £7.49? [Update: link removed as item no longer available for sale]

I took a look around, and this boxset isn’t up on streaming services, nor is it on iTunes. So what gives? Have Amazon mistakenly made a digital version available? Is this some kind of exclusive deal?

The more I look around, the more I’m presuming this to be some kind of error on Amazon’s part. Certainly Universal have no reason to limit the availability of this item if they were making a digital version available, and to be blunt if they were picking an exclusive partner I’m not sure Amazon would be the one as they simply don’t generate much revenue for labels via the digital download side, where iTunes dominates the market completely.

So – can anyone shed some light on this? Only 258 songs for £7.49 may even beat streaming services in the “how little can music be sold for?” stakes…

Update: the keen-eyed Adam Webb has just informed me the same release is also on Play.com for just £1.99!

Update 2: The Amazon digital version has now been taken down, leading me to conclude this was a clerical error somewhere along the line. Play.com’s version remains on sale – for now…

Thom Yorke vs Spotify: some thoughts…

Thom Yorke of Atoms for PeaceIts been a strange few days alright. I was in Dublin enjoying this fine band at Hard Working Class Heroes, then I was rushing home on Saturday as a close relative was hospitalised, and then on Sunday I was standing next to people dressed like this. Surreal? Just a little bit. And now, having had an enforced couple of days away from compiling the Daily Digest, I return to find… yet more news about Spotify, a company who I’m starting to think should be sponsoring the Daily Digest on the basis of their near-permanent presence on it.

I can’t deny that on some points I do feel a little conflicted. Given I’d expressed some reticence about Spotify’s “Follow” button last week, Yorke’s remark that “Spotify [are] suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process” is one I struggle to disagree with. Equally however comments like “We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off” are frankly pretty petulant at best and plain wrong at worst.

Here’s the thing: Spotify are just doing what any company will do. If not them, then Rdio, Deezer, Google, Beats or any of the other competitors. And if its not any of them, it’ll be someone else. That is just the nature of business. You can only change things by presenting an alternative of some kind. So, amid all Yorke’s comments of empowerment and how artists don’t need to do this, only one thing kept recurring in my mind: “do it then”. Because as long as you’re signed to XL, having come up via EMI’s pre-internet marketing machine, standing there criticising whilst offering nothing by way of a solution is once again starting to bring to mind images of Yorke and Godrich as Waldorf & Statler, parked on the side and heckling like all hell.

Don’t get me wrong: I think criticism is healthy (hell I’m doing it right now) but this debate either needs more people involved, or a fresh line. Without those, it will soon become a tired headline and interest will fade – at which point one could argue that Yorke may have done more harm than good by ensuring total apathy on the part of the consumer. So – will anyone else step up?

Could music journalism be more profitable away from the web?

The Quietus - coverRecently you may have seen my post singing the praises of the new Quietus anthology, which might just be the finest compendium of music writing I’ve read in a few years now.

Since finishing it though, something about it has been playing on my mind. Perhaps not one thing; more a collection of realisations. In no particular order, these are:

1. I still don’t look at The Quietus website as much as I should – and I’m probably missing some good articles as a result.

2. I do all my leisurely reading via Kindle e-books, books and magazines. This is because I sit at a computer all day for my job; reading news & articles from one just doesn’t work from me. If I am reading from an online device, its my Nexus 7… but even then I tend to limit it to Kindle e-books because I want to focus and not get distracted by that “read for 2mins then surf on” behaviour that comes with websites.

3. The Quietus is, by their own admission, hardly raking in a ton of money from advertising – which, if I’m not mistaken, is their primary source of income as a business.

4. Something I loved about the Quietus’ anthology is that I enjoyed reading about artists or albums I wasn’t so familiar with every bit as much as those I was a huge fan of. Part of the reason for this was that I was reading these articles in an environment where I had the time (and lack of distractions) to really get into them. Had I been reading them on a website, there’s a pretty high chance I would – rightly or wrongly – have just moved on because when I’m browsing I’m immediately more ADHD about how long I spend on content.

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Music, marketing and the race to the bottom

Down, down... I do love it when I read an article that crystallises various random thoughts of my own into a clear and precise view on something. Yesterday, Matt Hawn sent me an article from James Penycate’s Ooh Brilliant blog, various points of which did just that. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been feeling (not to be too dramatic, but…) a sense of crisis about how exactly music is marketed of late. Facebook is becoming ever-more pointless as a platform from which to market (though perhaps not as a platform to carry word of your band – a very key difference). PR coverage on key sites feels like its becoming less meaningful as 500 labels queue up to grab a premiere on The Guardian, Pitchfork, NME or one of the other kingpin sites, which in reality may only be exclusive for an hour and which in my experience often actually drive very few plays. Overall, it feels like rising above the churn of “stuff” to get noticed is getting harder and harder. I won’t repost the main points of the article here but if James’s summary is “less noise, more quality please” (though the article runs far deeper than that) then I wholeheartedly agree. Someone recently commented to me lately that “cultivating media” should be a key element of building an artist up – all the more so now that the days of securing on going campaign-wide coverage via one site/magazine are well and truly over. However, if the media coverage one is securing is nigh-on pointless because it amounts to a mere mention or repost of a press release with no personal touch or passion behind it, it counts for very little. We’re all cheating ourselves here and it is becoming a race to the bottom. That desperately needs to change.

Attribution: How content creators get screwed and why it needs fixing

raceNote: this article first appeared on Drowned In Sound on September 3rd 2013.

Last week, Music Ally published a relatively small but nonetheless notable story: Daft Punk had surpassed 100m streams on Spotify – quite a milestone for both the band and the streaming music service.

The following day, the same story about Daft Punk appeared on the Music Week website. What was notable, however, was that Music Week had failed to credit Music Ally in any way. To all intents and purposes, it looked like news Music Week had generated themselves. The day after, the same thing happened on NME.com. Music Ally got in touch with both sites and pointed out that they had originated this story (that is to say, they hadn’t received a press release along with many others and run their version of this news – they’d happened to notice the stream count and turned it into a news post). Both sites ultimately amended their articles to give due credit.

In that instance, the issue was resolved perfectly amicably. However both episodes are fine examples of an ever-growing problem, namely the lack of attribution in online content creation. Ask any credible website of note and I’m sure they’ll give you at least one example. Drowned In Sound famously saw most of their interview with Paul McCartney reprinted by the Daily Mail with no credit given. Buzzfeed routinely run stories driven from Reddit – as do so many other websites that it would be entirely fair to describe Reddit as the primordial ooze from which 90% of viral content flows. Every day, photos, jokes and more are shared on social networks, with the creator of that content blissfully unaware.

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Got an Android device? Using Google Music? Then get this app:

Cast to UPnPI stumbled on this app the other day, and its a fine example of someone taking Google’s infrastructure (in this instance its Play Music app and the Android platform) and making something pretty awesome.

So what’s the app? Titled (rather un-sexily) Cast To UPnP/DLNA for GMusic, the app turns your Android device – and specifically the Play Music app – into a UPnP/DLNA host. In plain english, this means you can play your music from your phone (and this includes the All Access streaming part of Play Music) to any UPnP/DLNA receiver – like your Xbox360, a Sonos, XBMC etc etc.

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