Life Happens While You’re Not Paying Attention

Kind of like the Supreme Court.

You vote for some guy who says he’ll lower your taxes, but the truth is this President gets to appoint a Supreme Court justice who serves for life and when a case comes up long after the exec is gone, you find out that the court is tilted in opposition to your desires but it’s just too late.

Kind of like this “managed services” article in today’s “Wall Street Journal,” wherein it’s stated HBO, Showtime and Sony don’t want to be on the regular internet, but in a separate channel with faster service, like the one that provides your phone connection.

Huh. Wasn’t net neutrality supposed to solve this problem?

But we all get frustrated when our Netflix drops out. Happened to me watching “House of Cards” last weekend. Of course, I bitch about Time Warner, if we only had more speed and capacity. Then again, metropolises gave monopolies to cable providers decades ago and we’ve got no choice to switch to.

Wanna know how to get rich?

Predict the future.

I’m reading this book “Becoming Steve Jobs.” It’s gonna be released on Tuesday. And in it both Jobs and Bill Gates see where the future is going and capitalize on it. Gates most famously by putting his energies behind software. Bill wrote a screed saying software should be paid for, not be a free add-on, and this was back in the seventies! IBM was so uninformed that it gave away the store, allowing Microsoft to license DOS to other manufacturers. Hell, IBM thought it was all about hardware. Isn’t it interesting it’s a services company now.

And that’s where Dell is going. And the pivot is so important.

That’s another point made in the book. That Jobs rarely ended up where he thought he was going. Pixar was a hardware and software company and the thought of making movies was an afterthought, a hobby at best. But when Steve saw the opportunity to change direction, he did. Too many people are married to the past, who they are. You went to school for one thing so that’s what you must do. So you’re chained to your desk as the world changes and then your desk is taken away, and you with it.

But, despite being able to change, Jobs always looked beyond. For the new new thing. Where we were going as opposed to where we’ve been. Hell, the Homebrew Computer Club was not excited by the Apple computer. They didn’t want to make money, they were hobbyists! Making it easy was a detriment.

So where is music going?

One thing we know is the complainers are lost.

If you keep complaining about the loss of recorded music revenue, you didn’t read today’s “Wall Street Journal” article wherein it is stated that roadies can earn $200,000. And that they don’t do drugs as much as gourmet food. The landscape changes, can you change with it?

What we know is distribution has been solidified. Streaming has won, it’s eclipsed the sale of CDs, it’s eviscerated piracy. These are all good things. Think about how you’re going to get your music heard, not how the financial odds are stacked against you.

And live has been organized and streamlined. You can rail about consolidation, but no one bitches that Live Nation stiffed them. Furthermore, Live Nation has the deep pockets to pay huge guarantees. And if you can’t get into a Live Nation building, if you can’t get your act booked, welcome to the real world, where losers abound and winners are rare.

But winners profit in the music sphere.

But what does the future hold?

The future is about music and mindshare.

Let’s start with the second first.

Sure, music is everywhere, but the landscape is chaotic, only dedicated fans know what’s going on.

Oh, don’t talk to me about radio. That’s like defending the steamship when you can travel by air. 18-24 year olds watch so much less TV, youngsters have never known good radio, stop being myopic and know that music discovery is a land of endless rabbit holes that most people are afraid of.

Music discovery will be fixed. We will know what to listen to. Someone will tell us. This person may not end up as rich as Bill Gates, but he or she will be very powerful and will use their position to exact a toll.

So far this problem has been addressed by techies, who believe in algorithms and endless choice. But music discovery is a human endeavor, that knows about limits. Power users bitch all day long that they can’t customize their Macs and iPhones, but most people love the devices’ simplicity. Where’s the simplicity in music discovery? Give me very few choices of very good stuff.

As for the music itself… We’re waiting for the next big breakthrough.

We had classic rock.

We had rap.

Electronic music is not it.

What is the sound that will enrapture the populace, get everybody listening like the Beatles?

Don’t laugh, it’s gonna happen, spontaneously. You won’t be prepared.

It will be done by people who have paid their dues, who have facility with the sound they are making. This is what Gladwell had right in “Outliers,” with the Beatles playing thousands of hours before most had ever heard of them. This is why Max Martin is so successful, because of the time he’s put in.

Right now we’ve got old men making new music with young people fronting it.

But these old men are cynical, they don’t speak from the heart, and therefore their reach is limited.

As for the retreads… Rock is dead. Hip-hop too.

But melody, changes and good voices are not.

So where are we going?

That’s the question you should ask.

When Napster appeared you should have known the CD was dead.

When Tunecore allowed everybody to place their music on iTunes, when SoundCloud burgeoned, you should have known there would be a race to quality, that people would migrate to the winners.

When it was revealed that the success of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” was manipulated, you should have known that the viral video was dead. Has there been one since? No.

When Apple announces the Watch you should know that convenience is key. That we want instant access to all our information and just like we don’t want to be in front of our desktop computer to access our e-mail, we don’t want to pull out our handset to see our texts.

Evolution happens.

But what’s even more interesting is revolution.

The seeds of revolution are being planted as I write this.

There will be economic revolution. The rich can’t rig the game and pull away from the poor and get away with it, not for long.

But artistic revolution is even more exciting. Movies went into a backwater and TV filled the vacuum. Did you see the TV revolution happening? When HBO aired “Dream On” and “Larry Sanders” did you know the “Sopranos” and “Game of Thrones” were coming?

They did.


HBO realized licensing films was a death march. Too much money and too much competition. They had to go another way.

Don’t listen to the complainers. They’re so mired in the past they can’t see the future. They’re advocating getting back together with your old girlfriend, and how often does that work?

Stop imitating success. The Apple II’s reign ended. The Mac survives on a totally different operating system.

Believe in yourself and your mission.

But know that every day bricks are falling and doors are closing that are going to impede your progress and your style. And it’s your job to stay ahead of the game, to navigate these waters, to use change to your advantage.

That’s what Tim Westergren did. Pandora wasn’t launched in a day.

That’s what Daniel Ek did. He was a hotshot programmer who’d already made his millions.

But then they triumph and you don’t like how it all turned out and you try to turn back the hands of time.

That’s a worthless endeavor. Enter the world while it’s still malleable.

One bold pioneer’s gonna blow music wide open, just you watch.

But it could be years.

“Streaming TV Services Seek to Sidestep Web Congestion: HBO, Sony and Showtime want separate lanes, spurring net neutrality concerns”:

“Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader”:

“Roadies: Unlikely Survivors in the Music Business”:

“Sales of Streaming Music Top CDs in Flat Year for Industry”:

“People 18 to 24 trailed the weekly averages for all adults in most media usage categories…”:


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  1. wally commented on Mar 21

    “We had classic rock.
    We had rap.
    Electronic music is not it.
    What is the sound that will enrapture the populace, get everybody listening like the Beatles?”

    Not necessarily. History has many art forms that developed to a peak, then declined and stopped.

  2. kaleberg commented on Mar 22

    IBM was not uninformed. They were moving towards the conclusion of one of the largest anti-trust cases of the era. It was such a big case, it was almost a full employment act for lawyers. I remember mentioning the case to a friend while we were walking down Fifth Avenue, and some well dressed guy in his 50s overheard us and started to rant. He was a lawyer on the case, working for one of the subcontracted law firms, and he had never seen anything like it. There were teams of teams of teams of lawyers all working for IBM and fighting the case over IBM’s ownership and stewardship of OS360, their operating system. IBM had already been forced to unbundle the system which allowed companies like RCA, with their Spectra series, and Amdahl to enter the market. IBM had originally claimed IP rights on the 360 series instruction set (as well as all device interfaes), but had lost in court. They could see where this was heading. (This might sound like science fiction nowadays, but back then the government tried to prevent companies from owning marketplaces. We also sent a man to the moon which some people don’t believe we did either.)

    When their Boca Raton division developed the first IBM PC IBM considered developing its own operating system for it, but were told not to by the corporate lawyers. Desktop computing was just starting, and the OS360 case not quite settled. Corporate didn’t want to have the case reopen with issues regarding any new system software. So IBM went open, wide open, buying an operating system and encouraging outside developers. It was a lot like Apple with its IOS app store. There was a huge marketplace being opened up for software because everyone knew that whatever IBM chose would become the standard. Everyone understood software by then. When the Apple II had come out a few years before the decisive application was the first spreadsheet, Visicalc. It was the proverbial “tail wagging the dog” with software sales driving hardware sales.

    Bill Gates did have vision. He was the bride’s maid who realized that he had to run faster and jump higher to catch that bouquet. He did, and the rest was history. I heard him speak in Boston. He said that someday the market for computer software would be as big as the market for dog food. He spoke to a big packed house of believers.

  3. Biffah Bacon commented on Mar 22

    Bill Gates was also an insider. That helps.

  4. Andy T commented on Mar 22

    Great post. Good stuff there.

  5. reedsch commented on Mar 23

    What I find fascinating is how much of science is [driven? inspired? predicted?] by science fiction. First comes the dream, then the idea, then the project plan.

    I read once where the first 30 years of computer technology were driven by defense, and the next generation was driven by entertainment. Now it is driven by fashion. Apple is a fashion company as much as a technology company. If you thought surfing the tech wave was a challenge, riding the waves of fashion is going to be equally interesting… and equally fraught.

    IMHO, irrespective of its creative offshoots (rap, punk, techno, etc. etc.) music has not changed much since 1968. A good song now would have been good back in then.

  6. unormal commented on Mar 26

    “Electronic music is just noise!”, the old man decried.

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