Future Soul Pilot

I am a London-based Digital PR/Social Media/SEO Consultant, music producer/anorak, deep sea diver, avid cyclist, worldwide traveller and football-loving technology bod! This page functions as a kind of online scrapbook/resource featuring my favourite blog posts and news items as well as my own personal reviews and recommendations in the worlds of music, sport, travel and technology!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Monkey screwed by Universe

Monkey screwed by Universe: "

As Metro writes:

“This grinning macaque shot to fame [...] after it took a self-portrait using award-winning photographer David Slater’s camera. Yet it did not receive a single penny from sales of the picture.”

Nothing to add really is there. Made me laugh. Happy Friday.


Monday, 3 January 2011

2011 social media predictions

2011 social media predictions: "

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who "minds the shop" at Partridge actor Steve Coogan's production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

Filed under: brands, cloudcomputing, copywriting, disciplines, freelance, marketing, monitoring, personal, PR, research, socialmedia, strategy, trends Tagged: 2011, del.icio.us, Facebook, forecasts, predictions, socialmedia, strategy, trends "

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Great moments in jazz: How Miles Davis plugged in and transformed jazz...all over again

Great moments in jazz: How Miles Davis plugged in and transformed jazz...all over again: "

How the tireless musical innovator came to make, in Bitches Brew, one of the biggest-selling jazz albums of all time

Between 1945, when he hustled his way on to New York's new bebop scene as Charlie Parker's teenage trumpeter, and the turbulent year of 1968, Miles Davis couldn't help being hip. Though tentative in the Parker days, he had a characteristically soft sound and coolly-timed patience of phrasing that became steadily more eloquent and assured through the 1950s and 60s, despite big changes in the musical structures around him.

From his personal stylistic breakthrough at 23 in 1949, when he was involved in the gracefully orchestral Birth of the Cool sessions, through the mid-50s years in a devastating quintet with the young John Coltrane, up to 1959's meditative, scale-based Kind of Blue and then the formation of another groundbreaking five-piece with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis was always at the cutting-edge of creative American music.

But by 1968, Davis was into his 40s, and young audiences were listening to Motown soul and funk, to James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone - not to unplugged contemporary jazz, however good it was. Davis was already edging his way toward a funkier sound within the edgy jazz setting of the Hancock/Shorter group. He was beginning to introduce the sound of the Fender Rhodes piano, and then the electric guitar, first with Joe Beck and then George Benson. In spring 1968, the quintet and Benson quietly slipped this revealing track into the otherwise freebop setting that had produced such classic mid-period Davis albums as ESP and Sorcerer.

Paraphernalia from Miles in the Sky

As Neil Spencer revealed in his interview with Davis's new partner of that time, the model and singer Betty Mabry, the trumpeter's musical transformation, influenced by Mabry, was soon to move into overdrive from these toe-in-the-water beginnings. It wasn't in Miles Davis's nature to go into a life-change cautiously. He declared in his autobiography about this period: 'Betty was a big influence on my personal life as well as my musical life. She introduced me to the music of Jimi Hendrix - and to Jimi Hendrix himself - and other black rock music and musicians. She knew Sly Stone and all those guys, and she was great herself. If Betty were singing today she'd be something like Madonna; something like Prince, only a woman. She was just ahead of her time.'

Davis had hired Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the mid-60s because they were innovative young artists who played in ways he didn't know (but soon learned), and a mixture of happenstance and restlessness was making him ready to do the same all over again. By 1968 the quintet was dissolving, with bassist Ron Carter unwilling to go electric, and the others increasingly absorbed in projects of their own. Davis was also spending time with Hendrix (they discussed a collaboration defeated by the guitarist's premature death), and considering how to create a Hendrix sound within a jazz-rooted ensemble.

Two English musicians, bassist Dave Holland and guitarist John McLaughlin, came into the band, as did pianists Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul (initially alongside Herbie Hancock), and the result was a fresh new sound, somewhere between the cool of Kind of Blue and the blues-funk feel Davis was after, on the album In A Silent Way. Then in 1969, following an initially fractious and then productive dialogue between the trumpeter and rock-minded Columbia Records boss Clive Davis, the seeds of a radical new approach took root.

Miles Davis began sketching pieces for multiple keyboards, with rhythm-patterns drawn from funk, but coloured by his old partner Gil Evans' approach to layering, harmony and texture. In August 1969, he brought his sketches and his new circle of musicians into Columbia's 52nd Street studios, and over three days struck a spontaneously jam-like balance between composition, open-ended jazz improv, funk and Latin-rock grooves and studio technology (with the gifted producer Teo Macero) that would transform jazz and contemporary music all over again.

Spanish Key from Bitches Brew

Bitches Brew was released in 1970, and became one of the biggest-selling jazz album in history - a landmark revisited with exhaustively-documented commemorative packages on its 40th birthday this year. Miles Davis's albums usually sold 60,000 or so - this one made half a million. Many traditional Davis fans didn't like it, but it was the diametric opposite of the commercial sell-out the cognoscenti always fears - the leader's blazing trumpet solos, John McLaughlin's razor-edged guitar or Wayne Shorter's plaintive soprano sax confirm this music to be as freewheelingly creative as anything Davis had recorded. It heralded the birth of jazz fusion, triggered solo careers for Zawinul, McLaughlin, Corea, drummer Jack DeJohnette, organist Larry Young and others - and nourished later chemistries of jazz and funk that have led to creative crossovers with hip-hop and other pop forms today. It was a breakthrough in music-making that seismically shifted jazz.

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Selling Out

Selling Out: "the who adverts 'Selling out' is a phrase that often comes up when discussing the 'sponsoring' choices of famous musicians and bands. There will always be the hardcore fans who want their idols to remain underground, yet want everybody on the planet to appreciate their music. Something of a paradox, and near impossible to balance. For smaller artists, a form of 'selling out' has become an important revenue stream; licensing music to TV and radio commercials, films, TV shows, computer games and promotional videos. However, there is still a backlash against some of the large, 'legendary' artists doing so. One example is often Pete Townshend and The Who. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, Townshend says that between 1982 and 1989, 'I was also learning how to run my catalog, learning how to be a publisher, learning how to make money outside of making records and touring. I developed quite a knack for it, and I was actually licensing songs for television, for commercials, for movies well before it was considered to be OK. I was one of the first artists to sit with journalists and answer to the idea that I was selling out a heritage and emotional catalog that didn't really belong to me -- that belonged to my fans, that argument.' Here is a quick rundown of some of the licensing options Townshend has chosen: - 'Baba O'Riley' for use in a commercial for a sports utility vehicle; - 'Bargain' for Nissan Xterra; - The theme from Tommy for use in a TV commercial for Claritin, an allergy medicine; - 'Who Are You? for use by TNN, a cable TV station; - 'Let my Love Open the Door' for use by NBC-TV; - 'Happy Jack' for use in a TV commercial for Hummer; - 'Won't Get Fooled Again' for use in a TV commercial for a MSNBC news program; - 'I Can't Explain' to the PGA Tour/ABC Sports; - 'I Can See For Miles' to Silverstar Headlights; - 'Pinball Wizard' to Saab; - 'Going Mobile' to CBS-TV in New York City; - 'Who are you?' to CSI: Las Vegas - 'Let My Love Open the Door' to JC Penny; - 'Join Together' to Nissan; - 'My Generation' to Pepsi. One he did turn down: in 2004, Townshend refused to let Michael Moore use 'Won't Get Fooled Again' in 'Fahrenheit 911.' On defending the accusation that he’s sold out by allowing the Who’s music to be used in TV commercials, Townshend said 'Defend myself against whom? The rock ’n’ roll thought police? I sell out every time I drag my weary old ass out on the road to play classic rock to beer-drinking saps who should know better. This may be art, but I own the copyright. I come from a musical family. I know music is special. But I also know it is how my family lives. I am quite unsentimental about it, unlike some of our fans.' What are your thoughts about using your music for television commercials? Do you view it as selling out? Do you say 'Good luck Pete, make all the money you can from any corporation willing to pay you'? Post your thoughts below... by Lee Jarvis. (Previously posted at UK Music Jobs' blog.) If you enjoyed this post, you may like to subscribe to my RSS Feed, subscribe for Email Updates, or follow my Twitter Feed.

Trends of 2010 No. 1: Growth and decline

Trends of 2010 No. 1: Growth and decline: "

The first part of our end-of-year roundup, originally published in the Music Ally report.

Is the music industry in steep decline, or growing steadily? Actually, it’s both. Worrying figures from markets like Japan and Spain should not be taken lightly, yet neither should the trend-bucking growth in the UK and Sweden.

Here’s something to chew over: some sample headlines from the Music Ally Bulletin this year. Nielsen reveals rise in US music purchases. Music sales up 10.2% in Sweden, says IFPI. Music survived economic crash better than games and DVDs. Digital albums growing fast in the UK. UMG revenues rose in Q3. UK recorded music trade income rose 1.4% in 2009.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad – again, headlines from our Bulletin. Missing: 24 million music buyers. IFPI’s 2009 figures reveal 7.2% fall in global recorded music revenues. More bad news for the Japanese music industry. US digital album sales in ’sustained decline’. Report claims €5.2bn piracy loss in Spain for 1H10 alone. US download sales flatten. WMG suffers from digital slowdown.

The single overriding lesson is not to generalise about ‘the music industry’, when the differences are so marked geographically and according to sector. In the UK, for example, PRS for Music has shown that growing live revenues are helping to boost the overall music industry pie, despite the travails of the recorded music sector. Yet in the US, 2010 saw plenty of talk about the live industry’s problems – a trend that may or may not cross the Atlantic depending on who you talk to.

Some conclusions are hard to refute: the struggle of the Spanish music industry, the worrying signs of mobile slowdown in Japan, and the way digital recorded music sales growth is a.) still not making up for the decline in physical sales, and b.) showing signs of plateauing in certain markets. Yet again, the danger is in generalising too much: TuneCore boss Jeff Price just published a series of blog posts claiming that “More musicians are making money off their music now then at any point in history “ – an assertion not incompatible with the concerns discussed above.

Sweden remains the outlier – or perhaps the model for other markets to follow. That 10.2% revenue increase in 2009 was boosted by a 98.6% increase in digital revenues, accounting for 16.3% of all sales. Streaming grew from 17% of digital sales in 2008 to 46.1% in 2009. It rather went against the claims that streaming cannibalises legal sales more than it does piracy – especially given that music piracy is hardly an unknown phenomenon in Sweden, thanks to The Pirate Bay and the local Pirate Party. Sweden also had its IPRED legislation, of course, and remains perhaps the best evidence for suggestions that reducing illegal filesharing and growing music revenues requires a carrot and a stick.

Among artists, there were clear digital winners this year, judged by a variety of metrics. Lady Gaga reaching one billion YouTube views (with Justin Bieber hot on her heels); Black Eyed Peas and Kings of Leon breaking download records on either side of the Atlantic; The Beatles selling two million downloads in a matter of days when they eventually made it to iTunes. Even Eye of the Tiger topped one million downloads – we’ll let you be the judge of whether to rejoice about that.

The point is that there are plenty of reasons for optimism about digital music and the business models around it, just as there are lessons to learn from services that have failed, or markets where piracy has run rampant. This may be a time for bold action on both sides of the carrot/stick debate, but it is certainly no time to write the industry off.


Trends of 2010 No.7: Music Gets Socialised

Trends of 2010 No.7: Music Gets Socialised: "

The seventh part of our end-of-year roundup, originally published in the Music Ally report. New to the series? Start from part one.

In 2010, as Facebook soared past 500 million users and Twitter climbed to 145 million, music services and music marketers saw a clear opportunity to tap into the ’social graph’. They became all the more powerful for it.

This co-incided with a big push from Facebook to make APIs available for web services and mobile apps to tie into its system more easily – Facebook Connect and Like buttons in particular. Both became increasingly familiar to music fans over the course of the year.

The impact of adding social features to a music service could be drastic. Spotify implemented Facebook Connect and saw its rate at which people signed up to premium subscriptions double – despite the fact that you didn’t need a premium account to use the social features. Pandora was equally quick to hook into Facebook, with services like we7 and Thumbplay also getting social.

Remember the days in 2009 when every week seemed to bring new speculation about Facebook launching its own music service? It didn’t disappear entirely in 2010, but it became clear that the social network’s real goal was providing the social backbone to as many music services as possible. New cloud services like QVIVO also launched this year using the Facebook social graph as their starting point.

One that it didn’t was Ping, but Apple’s music-focused social network was just as clear a sign of the changing dynamics of the market. The theory behind Ping was strong: let people tell their friends about the music they were buying and liking, while following artists’ updates – all within the environment of the iTunes Store.

Apple’s problem was that it opted against a deal to use Facebook Connect, perhaps underestimating the level of criticism Ping would get for not making it easy enough for users to find their friends. However, a later deal with Twitter – and ongoing tweaks to Ping’s functionality – show that Apple is in the social music game for the long haul.

Talking of Twitter, 2010 saw more artists flocking to the micro-blogging service, including resolute refuseniks like Kanye West, who quickly became one of the key attractions. Music marketers spent much of the year discussing ‘Twitter strategies’, while it emerged that if there is a best Twitter strategy, it’s to let artists who relish the service get stuck in by themselves.

The rise of Facebook and Twitter was accompanied by the continued decline of MySpace, as parent company News Corporation jettisoned CEO Owen Van Natta, and proceeded to revamp the site into a ’social entertainment’ service, designed to offer users a stream of music, TV and games recommendations based on the preferences of their friends. In November, MySpace even bit the bullet and integrated Facebook Connect to help users find those friends.

Van Natta’s next job after MySpace was at social gaming firm Zynga, which dominates a market that’s increasingly on the radar of the music industry. Some scoffed when futurist Gerd Leonhard suggested at MidemNet that the music biz could learn lots from Zynga’s FarmVille game, but by the end of the year another social game – Booyah’s Nightclub City – was running music promotions for Kiss, Keith Urban, Gloriana and the TRON soundtrack.

In a recent interview, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said games had been the first creative industry to be truly shaken up by social networking. Judging by 2010, music may well be next on the list – and Facebook won’t have to launch its own music service to do that. Sharing music used to be synonymous with piracy, but this year, the concept of ‘Share’ became a much more positive and powerful force for music fans, artists and the wider industry.

Music Ally Trends of 2010 1. Growth and Decline 2. Pressure on ISPs 3. Pirates Under Attack 4. Mobile Apps Mania 5. Clouds and Silver Linings 6. The Economics of Streaming Music 7. Music Gets Socialised 8. Google versus the Music Industry 9. Music Investment 10. Music TV Makes a Comeback


Trends of 2010 No.9: Music Investment

Trends of 2010 No.9: Music Investment: "

The ninth part of our end-of-year roundup, originally published in the Music Ally report. New to the series? Start from part one.

With so many tools available for bands to distribute and promote their music themselves, the question of whether bands really need labels regularly reared its head in 2010. It came back down to two things: someone to supply the initial investment, and someone to handle the day-to-day tasks around the business of music.

The investment issue was highlighted by an IFPI report in March, which claimed that labels invest around $5 billion a year in music talent – around 30% of their sales venues, with more than half of that going into A&R. As the report pointed out, that compares well to the R&D budgets of other industries.

“No other party can lay claim to a comparable role in the music sector,” said a bullish John Kennedy. “No other party comes close to the levels of investment committed by record companies to developing, nurturing and promoting talent. One of the biggest myths about the music industry in the digital age is that artists no longer need record labels. It is simply wrong.”

Yet three alternative sources of investment for artists were making waves in 2010: corporate investment, fan-funding services and brands. None was new as such, but the year gave us more of a sense of which artists they applied best to, and how successful they might be.

Corporate investment schemes may have a whiff of tax breaks for rich folk about them, but the UK success of artists like Madness and Prodigy have shown that financial backing can be a platform for older acts looking to make a comeback.

In both cases, once the initial investment was secured, the key was those artists partnering with savvy labels on their own terms, to help make their albums hits. The fact that in both cases the music was a return to form was, of course, also important. 2010, however, did not provide any evidence to contradict the assumption that corporate financing has yet to crack the challenge of breaking new bands, rather than reinvigorating old ones.

Fan-funding has gone through some rough patches, notably with SellaBand’s bankruptcy and subsequent sale. 2010 saw a definite shift in artist awareness of the rights given up to the first generation of fan-funding startups too. However, this was also a year for a new generation of fan-funding firms to make their mark: Kickstarter in the US and Pledge Music in the UK, for example.

So while Public Enemy embarrassingly failed to reach their initial target in a high-profile SellaBand funding drive, legions of unsigned or independent artists were taking advantage of Kickstarter’s flexibility to raise money for a host of different goals. Pledge, meanwhile, built bridges with labels and name acts, before late in the year announcing plans to offer label and publisher-like services to the most talented acts on its platform.

There were success stories too: the most startling coming in March when US artist Ellis Paul raised $100,000 to record a new album from just 300 fans, using Nimbit’s platform. “Many donors were just waiting to have an opportunity to help him financially,” explained his manager, hammering home the point that fan-funding works best for bands who already have a strong, engaged relationship with their fans.

Then there were the brands, with treadmill-toting viral stars OK Go filling their boots with brand partnerships, pinging between insurance firm State Farm, consumer electronics maker Samsung and Range Rover. Do they sell many records? The jury is out, but this band have certainly showed others one path to secure the necessary investment to continue making their music.

Finally, there were encouraging stories of D2C success from Amanda Palmer and Pixies on the artist side – among many others – and Bandzoogle and Bandcamp on the platform side. 2010 showed that D2C is not the label-killing panacea that it’s often talked up to be, but for the right artists with the right fanbases, it can be lucrative business.

Music Ally Trends of 2010 1. Growth and Decline 2. Pressure on ISPs 3. Pirates Under Attack 4. Mobile Apps Mania 5. Clouds and Silver Linings 6. The Economics of Streaming Music 7. Music Gets Socialised 8. Google versus the Music Industry 9. Music Investment 10. Music TV Makes a Comeback