Facing the Music…

March 23, 2011

A guest post from (Roughly) Daily

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

- Bob Dylan

Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has become a runaway sensation. As Kevin Rutherford, a columnist for Billboard, explained, “Black’s video for ‘Friday’ is one of those rare occurrences where even the most seasoned critics of Internet culture don’t know where to begin. From the singing straight out of Auto-Tuned hell to lyrics such as ‘Tomorrow is Saturday / And Sunday comes afterwards / I don’t want this weekend to end’ and a hilariously bad rap about passing school buses, ‘Friday’ is something that simply must be seen and heard to be fully appreciated.”

And “seen and heard” it has been, closing in on 34 million YouTube views at this writing– not counting the scores of parodies floating across the web.

Music industry exec Jay Frank captures the impact of a performance that has been called “bizarre,” “inept,” and “hilariously dreadful” with a set of a simple comparisons that illustrate the upending of the music business:

WINNER: REBECCA BLACK
As she’s shown on her Good Morning America interview, she is making lemons out of lemonades. Make no bones about it, this song is selling (reached Top 20 on iTunes) and is going to be a valuable copyright for years to come.

LOSER: EVERY SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST BAND
At my SxSW panel on Saturday, I did the math. If you combined every view of “Friday” and its parody videos, approximately 62 Million minutes were spent on this song. That’s presuming that, on average, the viewers only watched half the video. In the meantime, if the approximately 15,000 SxSW attendees watched 12 hours of music a day for all 5 days, that would only add up to 54 Million minutes spent watching music. All hopes of fame from Austin got upstaged by a 13 year old.

WINNER: YOUTUBE
Their ability for anyone to upload anything produces overnight successes like this. This attracts even more people to their platform. Also, this firmly makes them a broadcaster, probably more than any previous video. 21 million views in a week? That’s more than nearly EVERY show on TV (cable or broadcast) receives in a week INCLUDING the DVR play. The fact that they have also successfully conquered with mobile apps and IPTV just increases their reach.

LOSER: VEVO
The music industry’s supposed white knight got upstaged in a big way. Turns out quality (of the song or HD transmission) doesn’t matter. The viewer goes to what they want to see. Also, Rebecca Black got more views in 9 days of “Friday” than Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” did in 3x the days. Lady Gaga’s a huge star. Her new video got massive blog pickup like “Friday.” It was also hugely promoted as an “exclusive” on the Vevo site. If “Friday” can beat all that, something is wrong with Vevo and there’s some explainin’ to do.

WINNER: NEW CHART METHODOLOGY
In Austin, I discussed with Eric Charland of Ultimate Chart about how high Rebecca Black will debut next week. With the numbers she’s had, it’s painfully obvious that this dominated the entire conversation. Quality of the song was irrelevant. Since it wasn’t in heavy rotation on pop radio, it likely won’t be at #1 on their chart, but it’ll properly debut high. This will give Ultimate Chart even more credibility on truly leading in identifying a song’s true popularity.

LOSER: THE ALBUM CHART
When the Soundscan Top 200 album chart is released on Wednesday, Adele will be battling a new album by Rise Against. Nothing against either artist, but this week the battle was Rebecca Black vs. everything else. If you use Google search as a gauge, there’s just no competition. The album chart has been irrelevant for quite some time. It no longer reflects our time. This should end the discussion and let’s focus on singles where the business IS rather than albums where the business WAS.

[TotH to Bob Lefsetz]

 

As we recall that unit sales of the best selling album of 2010 wouldn’t have made the Top Ten in 2000, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that U.S. Immigration authorities ordered John Lennon to leave the US within 60 days… thus beginning Lennon’s fight to acquire permanent residency, which he received in July of 1976.

John Lennon’s Green Card (source)

 

Further to a recurrent them (c.f., e.g., “ArtieTSMITW on the Future of the Media…“), from Merlin Mann, on his 43 Folders, “Kutiman, Big Media, and the Future of Creative Entrepreneurship,” a post on the future of entertainment, reproduced here in its entirety:

“So amazing, so illegal. What are we going to do with you, future?”

That’s my pal, Jonathan Coulton, remarking on the disruptively talented Kutiman, who has made an astounding series of YouTube video remixes that’s lighting up the web and (one imagines) generating a lot of wood amongst our nation’s libidinous entertainment litigators.

Here’s Kutiman’s “The Mother of All Funk Chords” (link includes credits for each video):

Unsolicited tip for media company c-levels: if your reaction to this crate of magic is “Hm. I wonder how we’d go about suing someone who ‘did this’ with our IP?” instead of, “Holy crap, clearly, this is the freaking future of entertainment,” it’s probably time to put some ramen on your Visa and start making stuff up for your LinkedIn page.

Because, this is what your new Elvis looks like, gang. And, eventually somebody will figure out (and publicly admit) that Kutiman, and any number of his peers on the “To-Sue” list, should be passed from Legal down to A&R.

Everybody knows the business has moved from legal to binary files. The question now is how much more lead time old media companies and other IP-obsessives can afford to burn by pretending it’s otherwise.

In the mean time, though, you have to wonder how much artists like Kutiman (or, for that matter, Jonathan), really need the mixed basket of theoretical benefits that big companies with big distribution can provide. For a long-lived career, does a boot-strapping indie artist with giant niche appeal gain enough from a big-company relationship to offset the loss in agility, equity, and flexibility? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Because, even in the face of bullying, obfuscating, and throat-clearing from corporations with a homemade timetable for evolution, more and more folks like Kutiman will just keep making and releasing stuff. Cool stuff, “illegal” stuff, niche stuff, and stuff that doesn’t require the benediction of a middle-aged executive in order to reach its precise audience with almost zero friction or overhead.

And, that prospect should buoy and energize anybody with a scintilla of artistic entrepreneurship or the drive to just try making and offering their own stuff in their own way.

Man. What an exciting time this is. Seriously. We may not each have Kutiman-level talent and vision, but there’s absolutely never been a better time to at least give it a throw.

Amen.

New media rarely kill old media, they just force incumbents to move over and do the things they do well, even better.  So I don’t reckon that mash-ups are going to cost us the chance to see next The Dark Knight nor to hear the next American Idiot.  But they may well mean that we see fewer major studio movies and listen to fewer major label albums/CDs.  Because mash-ups– and the tools and connectivity that make them possible–are sure to change the entertainment landscape– to democratize it– in a powerful way.

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