“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Bob Dylan wrote that. It’s a line from “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding,” a track on the 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.” That’s right, while you were listening to Herman’s Hermits Bob Dylan was revolutionizing songwriting. By the end of the year he triumphed with “Like A Rolling Stone,” which not only contained its sneering lyrics and Al Kooper’s organ, but lasted over six minutes when AM radio ditties rarely broke three.
Bob Dylan was a revolutionary, breaking convention. One of the best and the brightest, he’d been inspired by folk music and twisted the past into something brand new. He had something to say, and refused to be embalmed, living in the past. Pete Seeger’s heyday was already behind him. Dylan went electric and went worldwide.
Twitter became moribund. It captured the zeitgeist and refused to innovate. Kind of like all those bands the Beatles and Dylan pushed off the pop chart. There was something there, but the old acts did not know how to reconstitute the elements to move forward. Tech is all about pushing forward, it’s what have you done for me lately. How did music become just the opposite?
Marc Benioff wants Twitter for the data, and the customer service opportunities. Kind of like a wizard A&R guy he wants to strip what doesn’t work and emphasize that which does. Meanwhile, the underpinnings are the essence. The treasure trove of information generated each and every day.
Music services generate said info. And insiders use it more and more. But still not enough. Meanwhile, users are basking in the glory of Spotify’s “Discover Weekly,” “Release Radar” and “Daily Mix,” all data-generated, all filling needs we did not know we had. You’ve got to hit ’em with the Hein, fast and furious, when they least expect it. That was Steve Jobs’s magic, he got you to buy that which you could not previously conceive, and kept upping the ante with new software products, most of which were free, from iTunes to iPhoto to…
We’ve had two great upheavals in the music business. One was classic rock and the other was MTV. Both drew out not only fans, but creators. But somehow the business has become calcified, protecting what once was as opposed to what could be.
Artists can’t stop bitching their cheese has been moved. If they were Oracle, they’d get Salesforce shut down. Yes, Marc Benioff runs Salesforce. His revelation was to put software online, in the cloud, as opposed to the old model of having servers inside the building. This is no different from the move from physical to streaming. Someone comes up with a new, more efficient way of distribution and…the smart money goes along with it, the dumb money stays behind.
But the dumb money rules the music business. Which believes change is anathema. The great crunch came and the record labels cut back. Instead of releasing more material, experimenting, because costs were so low, they got safe, they put out very little and it sounds just like what came before. Just try selling a non-friendly radio act to a record label, can’t be done, unless it comes with an already established fanbase.
Jack Dorsey was married to the past, no one could mess with his baby. Which is why old acts are superseded by new ones. You need a clean sheet of paper, you must see things differently. Like any act without hits the buzz on Twitter faded, and now it’s for sale.
Now there’s a roll-up factor here. That which seemed independent is oftentimes better as part of a conglomerate, where synergy can transpire. Spotify should not be an indie company. Not because it can’t make money, but because it can’t monetize its data as well as a bigger entity could.
And Pandora has hit a wall.
And iHeart is just catching up.
And Apple Music keeps having its lunch eaten. While it’s fixing its interface, Spotify is running circles around it with its utilization of data. Apple believes the big kahuna never fails, because of scale, but that’s not the story of Silicon Valley.
So what’s a poor boy to do?
No one at a label will take a risk, because no one has any ownership, they’re all employees who are afraid of losing their jobs. This is not Herb and Jerry allowing the fields to go fallow so they can reap huge rewards in the future.
And the best and the brightest see little opportunity. Who wants a job with no upward mobility where you can’t make that much money? And the acts provide no counsel. They’re all brands looking to sell out to corporations. That only appeals to the have-nots.
But there is a revolution happening in music. It’s the top list.
Radio is dying. Please embrace this truth, it’s the only way forward. Forget the disinformation campaign of the usual players. Stations want to make money and labels like the control. But online, on the Spotify chart, anything can happen.
And “Billboard” can’t even codify it. Because it’s still counting sales and saying one track streamed a number of times is an album, huh? Tech is about wiping the slate clean, and music is tech, never forget it, move into the future.
Radio hits are built more slowly than ever before. Unless you’re a superstar, it could take a year or more to break through.
But not on Spotify.
And it’s only about Spotify, because Spotify has by far the most market share and so much of its data is public. You can see what people are playing and how much a hit is streamed, EVERYBODY CAN SEE THIS! What I want from Apple Music is not exclusives, but data, what is happening behind the curtain? But the company has always been secretive and Jimmy Iovine likes to work behind the scenes and it’s a bad fit for the present and future.
It was not uncommon for a fan to own Yes, Ry Cooder, Little Feat and Doobie Brothers albums back in the early seventies. Along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. These acts sounded nothing alike, what drew people to them was their refusal to play it safe, they were all testing limits all the time. It was new and exciting, everybody was a music fan.
Those days need to come back.
It starts with the music.
Sure, fresh-faced kids propped up by old pros have a spot in the marketplace. This has always been the case. Can you say “New Kids On The Block”?
But now even the Weeknd, our most vaunted act, collaborates with Max Martin. And that’s just sad.
You’ve got to pay your dues. And not complain. And your way out is through art. And now, more than ever, the competition is fierce. You’re not only competing against more product, you’re competing against the history of recorded music, at everyone’s fingertips, for free!
If you’ve got a bad voice you must be an incredible lyricist.
Or get out of the way. We don’t need you. You can make your music, but don’t expect to become rich and famous, you’re cluttering the channel, you’re a Zune in the era of iPods.
And we’re looking for breakthroughs. A few brave souls who are willing to take the untrodden path, inspired by what once was into making something brand new.
And we need the labels to market it, to take risk, it’s their only way forward. They’ve utilized their catalogs to prevail in the present, but that won’t carry them into the future.
And it starts with recordings. Promoters can tap demand, but they don’t build it, unless you’re a phenomenal performer, and that’s rare at the outset.
We need to pull the entire populace along with us. And we’ll do this by throwing the old rulebook out and taking risks, which has become anathema to the entire industry.
We used to have a new sound every three years, wiping out the old. Grunge eviscerated hair bands. But for the last fifteen years it’s essentially been the same thing. Wouldn’t you get bored eating the same lunch for a decade and a half?
But the insiders can’t see it. They live for music, they believe they’re entitled.
Which is why disruption always comes from outside.
I want further disruption. Spotify is a good thing, it creates new opportunities. And if you don’t believe this…
You’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.