Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Reflections on 2008 #2: The Music: Is it just me or are albums getting better?

They're out. Music lists. The 'Top 50' album & song lists are everywhere. And the more discerning, self-controlled list-makers are at least coming up with their top 10s. I must confess I do love this time of year as I'm a sucker for a good list. And so I have to do my own for this blog of course!

It's an opportunity to reflect on the year, have some fun and take a break from the seriousness of the previous posts on this blog. I know it can be heavy going at times, but that's what comes from studying and working in a business you love for eight years long. And of course this is an opportunity to thank you all for reading Juggernaut Brew and to wish you a very musical Christmas & New Year. Some thanks come in the form of these recommendations on music in 2008.

What I love most about music is passing recommendations on to others. However, it’s a tricky business, recommendation (ask Pandora, The Filter, Mufin et al.). What I really love to do is make my musical recommendations personal – aimed at the individual and their needs at any particular time. However, if you read this blog regularly I'm confident by now that we have a lot in common – a little community if you will. Please do try at least some of the music in these lists if you haven't already, as they come with my personal, passionate quality guarantee!

Albums – has the renaissance begun? It would seem so...

Now this is interesting. Judging by 2008, I sense that the album – never a perfect universal format – is undergoing a renaissance – improving itself under duress of the various digital forces impacting on it. I hope so, because I predicted this would happen, so I can claim a small forecast victory. However, it's statistically almost impossible to prove (Music PhD's might want to give this one a try).

Certainly, digital album sales are increasing more rapidly than digital songs, although that isn't really a strong indicator of the point I'm trying to make. Perhaps better, is the fact that, on total music subscriptions such as that operated by TDC in Denmark (Play) – where consumers have access to everything – it seems that album consumption is more common than single songs, with 85% of tracks downloaded as whole albums. It seems that despite the imperfections and exposure de-bundling, the album has a future, even if that is at ever reducing prices.

I love albums personally – they are still very much my musical currency of choice. Here is my ranked best 10, followed by the next best bunch, unranked. Finally, in a world where there is just too much music to listen to, I list a few as a kind of note to self, that I'm intrigued to check out, but haven't yet had the time.
  1. Merz: Moi Et Mon Camion. I wonder without looking how many 2008 round-up lists have missed this gem. All artists are musical, but some are more musical than others. If you like your pop mellow and multi-faceted, do yourself a huge favour – don't let this one pass you by.

  2. Mercury Rev: Snowflake Midnight. Music discovery is nothing if not serendipitous, but you have to be open to it and actively willing to set aside previous conceptions and dive in. I have know about them for years and never been convinced by what I've heard. Then I bought this on the strength of the reviews I read and was blown away. Ethereal and wonderful.

  3. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago. No doubt this is high up on many a list and deservedly so. Very few artists can claim to have made something as original, coherent and consistently good as this. Be interesting to see where he can go from here.

  4. Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid. Anyone who read my post on Elbow knows how much I love this band. I actually prefer their last two albums to this but whatever, this is clearly pop music (and album making) of the highest standards. Proof of what can come of sticking at it and practising your art.

  5. Death Cab For Cutie: Narrow Stairs. Since I love Americana and I love Wilco and Sparklehorse it only makes sense to take the closest thing to those I could find in 2008 and it's this. Unexpectedly great.

  6. Eryka Badu: Amerykan Promise. I love ambitious, audacious albums and am a bit partial to a concept album. This is a breathtakingly ambitious, genre-busting album that absolutely stands for everything the album format is and should be: a statement from start to finish.

  7. Ladyhawke: Ladyhawke. What a fabulous debut this is! For anyone who is, musically speaking, a child of the eighties, this is that rare thing – a brazenly unashamed nostalgia trip that works through sheer force of will. It's great for the gym as well. I put it just above the other great energetic debut of 2008 Santogold's Santogold!

  8. Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January. I did think about an alternative best of list for non pop stuff, but then it's all music and uses up the same senses and time available to us. I no longer treat it differently and find that I can listen to this stuff more and more. This is a Polish piano trio on the iconic ECM label. It's lovely stuff, well worth letting your world come to a stop for. Jazz post warning: I feel the need to write a Jazz post in 2009.

  9. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend. As with Bon Iver, you will find this one high up on all the best of lists. For me, this album is testament to one of music's most unique qualities – it grows on you like nothing else. When I first heard this it didn't do much for me at all. I thought it sounded contrived. But the more I played it, the better and better it sounded and in the end totally won me over.

  10. Paul Weller: 22 Dreams. Well well well(er). I never thought he had this in him. I have always found his post Jam stuff clichéd and a bit dull, but this is something special. Like the best music experiences, it sometimes helps to put your preconceptions to one side. 21 tracks long, it improves as it goes and by the end it doesn't feel like a bloated listen. A remarkable achievement.

The next bunch of albums I really liked in 2008, in no particular order: Aimee Mann - 'Smilers'; Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali; The Black Keys - Attack & Release; Esbjorn Svensson Trio – Leucocyte; Bobo Stensson – Cantado; Ry Cooder – I Flathead; James – Hey Ma; Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw; White Denim - Workout Holiday; TV On The Radio – Dear Science; Santogold – L.E.S Artistes; Martina Topley-Bird – The Blue God; M83 – Saturdays = Youth; Emmy Lou Harris – All I Intended To Be; Midnight Juggernauts – Dystopia; Teddy Thompson – A Piece Of What You Need; Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim; Natacha Atlas – Ana Hina; ACDC – Black Ice.

The albums I'm curious about this year but didn't get to hear yet are: Kanye West, Fall Out Boy; Jun Miyake; British Sea Power; The Stills & probably many more I've let wander off the radar! Help me Spotify, We7!

The albums I'm looking forward to most in 2009: Arctic Monkeys; Laura Viers; The Hours.

Finally on albums, it was great to see the return of upscale, special product. It started with the Radiohead In Rainbows Box Set from last year, but this year I thought the Laura Marling ‘Songbox’ was fab, and the Lost Campesinos! packaging for We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed looked good too.

It seems the best way to go is to stream or download what we want to sample for a while, but then to buy the special editions of what we really love enough to want to keep. That cuts down on all of the wasted plastic as well.

Songs – too many to choose from – solutions still required

How many new songs were released in 2008? A zillion perhaps? How on earth does one filter these? Playlists, compilations, recommendation engines, streaming services, editorial lists, or picks from albums. Combinations of all of the above, probably.

One interesting insight I heard recently was from Entertainment & Media Research – that people only love three songs a month (that many!). Personally, I am totally overwhelmed by song volume and so picks from albums is the only one I can work with. So here are my song picks from my favourite albums, in album order. This is my playlist for 2008. I'd do a Muxtape for you to download, except Muxtape got taken down (hence my last post).

  1. Merz: Silver Moon Ladders. I picture nothing but the St. Ives coast at dawn when I hear this, and what could possibly be better than that.

  2. Mercury Rev: People Are So Unpredictable. Maybe it's the line 'there's no bliss like home' – I mean, has this guy ever worked from home!

  3. Bon Iver: Re: Stacks. Come on now, stop your life for four minutes, lie on the sofa, put this on. How to disappear completely.

  4. Elbow: The Bones Of You. The single biggest inspiration behind this blog. 'Nuff said.

  5. Death Cab For Cutie: Cath. Lovely tune, unsettling lyrics. Nothing quite like it since Pearl Jam's Daughter for a combination quite like this.

  6. Eryka Badu: Master Teacher. Do you miss Stevie Wonder's best epic moments from the likes of Songs From The Key Of Life. No worries, try this.

  7. Ladyhawke: Magic. It is. It really is! Is this the best opening track on an album in 2008? One for a radio feature.

  8. Marcin Wasilewski: Diamonds And Pearls. When Jazz groups cover pop songs, the results are usually mixed at best. Prince by a Polish jazz piano trio? This nails it.

  9. Vampire Weekend: Where do you stop with this. The album is nothing if not wholly consistent throughout, but the track I like best is probably Oxford Comma, just for the witty English references.

  10. Paul Weller: Cold Moments. It sounds warm to me.

Other songs I loved: Teddy Thompson – Where To Go From Here; MGMT – Electric Feel; The Last Shadow Puppets – The Chamber; Santogold – Lights Out; Nick Cave & The Badseeds – Hold On To Yourself; Midnight Juggernauts – Road To Recovery; Adele – Hometown Glory; Aimee Mann – Stranger Into Starman; Amadou & Miriam – Sabali; Gutter Twins – The Stations; James – White Boy; Jaymay – Blue Skies; James Youill – No Surprises.

Gigs - Someone turn out the lights on the way out

I'll admit, I don't get out to as many as I once did and I can't handle festivals. But I do make every effort if I can see something special might happen – which was why I went to see Elbow three times! The Meltdown show at the Royal Festival Hall, with the 40 piece all male Voice Lab choir, was amazing – one of the top five shows I've seen in my lifetime and definitely the high point of the year. Will Elbow sell out Wembley Arena though? I don't know, because of the times we are in and because I think it’s a big step. I wish them the best of luck.

The low point was probably The Hours just a few weeks ago. Not because the band weren't good – they were very good – but because The Hours should be playing bigger and better venues than Proud Galleries Camden Lock. Maybe in 2009.

I also learned a lesson to follow ones instincts better when it comes to live shows. I regret I didn’t queue to see Bon Iver play in a tiny Brighton Venue of 200 people (doh!). But I’m glad I made the effort for Vampire Weekend later that same evening, in a venue of no more than 500 – they tore the roof off!

What can I say about the live business in 2008 that hasn't been said already? The year the bubble burst, the buffers got hit, the end of the road etc. As with albums, the 'format' of the live show is changing and will change further in 2009 – I think with the reduced quantity, we'll see a marked increase in quality. Lesser live bands will struggle to sell anything like the ticket numbers, at the prices, we have seen in the boom years.

My one sure prediction is that live, bands will need to work much harder. I thought it was interesting that Counting Crows played a series of shows in which the set list was entirely different each night. I think we'll see more of that. We'll also see more of like-minded artists get together for 'community tours'. I'd like to see James Yuill, Maps and Merz on the same bill for example.

Finally, will we see a reversing of the trend to give away free albums to promote the tour? Maybe, and I hope so. It has become increasingly commonplace for bands to give away their records in the name of building a following for their live shows. But with the bubble in demand for live bursting, it won't be so easy for artists to simply look to touring to make a living.

The Business - Solved. Next Year. Promise

I've deliberately focused on the music for this post rather than just the business. I think the music has been great and that has been the single biggest boon to the industry in 2008. The business is of course, the subject of all of the other posts on this blog and there are many more topics and angles stacked up for next year.

See you then. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Reflections on 2008 #1: Music's Big Mistake: Muxtape – the best music store we never had?

What's the one thing that the digital music business needs most right now? The answer is a business model with natural friction. Stay with me...

In my view, Muxtape was the most powerful music business idea in 2008. It was also one of the most workable new concepts because it had, in its very essence as a playlist service, natural friction. The song downloads could be DRM-free because the number of tracks was limited each time (to a playlist of typically 12-20 songs) in a way meaningful - and palatable - to both industry suppliers and consumers.

Contrast this with more compromised service launches later in the year such as Datz or Nokia's Comes With Music. These appear to offer a total catalogue to consumers, but of course they don't really, due to various imposed restrictions. Datz lacks brand new releases and then presents single songs alphabetically. Nokia's CWM has the majority of song catalogue but is restricted by DRM to one mobile phone and one PC. Any attempt to communicate either the completeness or simplicity of these offers to consumers will immediately ring false – they’re neither complete nor simple. However, any attempt to explain the restrictions will either confuse potential users, or simply turn people off.

These are unnatural frictions, placed upon these services in order to protect the music labels from potential cannibalisation of existing formats. This is a perfectly legitimate concern of course. Only a ship of fools would capitulate to the file-sharing minority by opening up entire music catalogues digitally at commodity prices (like free!). However, just because these frictions are imposed on these services doesn't mean that music fans will understand or except them. The results end up mixed at best, with Nokia and Datz talking of ‘market testing’ and ‘learning’ from consumers’ response. In other words a win-win for precisely no one – not artists, labels, publishers, service providers or consumers. Just more examples of potentially good music services with their wings clipped by the constraints of the current business.

It could have been so different with Muxtape. The service embodied a universal need among all music fans – to compile and receive music as a thought/gift/experience. It captured the best of recommendation and discovery. Because of this, it was popular. When it was launched in early 2008, Muxtape attracted 8,685 registered users in the first 24 hours and 97,748 in the first month, with some 1.2 million unique visitors to the site (those stats from the current Muxtape url). It had real, organic, buzz.

Muxtape lent itself quite well to each of the current payment models – advertising, premium subs, a-la-carte – or any combination of these. Its early success was built on the strength of the idea itself. As founder Justin Ouellette puts it: “My goal with Muxtape's design was to translate some of the tactility [of cassette mixtapes] into the digital world, to build a context around the music that gave a little extra spark of life and made the holder anxious to listen”. Spot on, and his early customers got the sentiment loud and clear.

For a truly absorbing read, go to the current Muxtape site and read Justin's very articulate account of the experience he had in taking his innovation to market and the industry's (mainly the major labels) response. Fascinating but a little bit sad at the same time.

Why does this happen in the music industry time and again? A young upstart with a great idea creates an early phenomenon – followed by a complex, stifling attempt to grow it within the rules set by the business – followed by an exhausted, emotional shutdown.

My hope for 2009 is a genuine, un-compromised music service offering - one that meets real, if latent, consumer demand. Muxtape had that extra special bit of insight – something real music fans understood and wanted to engage with. Digital music services launched by big brand telcos, physical music retailers, handset manufacturers and ISP's have, so far, lacked exactly that insight (with the almost singular exception of iTunes).

Why do the big brand institutions continue to try to invent the next big music breakthrough? Why not instead, seek out the bright young things and buy them in or partner with them? Surely that’s a better alternative than trying to re-invent the wheel, when the chances of building a service based on real insight, or even that little bit of luck & serendipity, are narrow. I'm sure there will be other start-ups in 2009 that will show the same qualities that Muxtape did, despite the difficult economic times we are in. And maybe because of the times, one of the bigger players will be savvy enough to pick them up and run with them. If so they could reap the benefits and rewards, and industry kudos, of being the challengers and even successors to the mighty iTunes.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Transforming labels - six ways re-evaluated

I was in a meeting the other day at which somebody asked me for a copy of a report I had written over 18 months ago. It wrong footed me a bit - I have mixed feelings about sharing something I've done that long ago.

It was a brochure I wrote and self published, about six ways in which record companies could build new revenue streams during these challenging times. When I got back to my office I skimmed through it with dread. 18 months is a long time and thinking moves miles on in that time frame.

I felt a bit embarrassed reading it, but a tiny bit proud as well – just for giving it a go and getting it done. After all, this brochure helped win me a couple of projects. And there it was on Guy Hand's desk the day he hired me to help Terra Firma understand the record business. The opening line of the brochure was quoted in a widely read leader piece written by Robert Sandall for Prospect Magazine. And, people who read it liked it, so I guess it served its purpose at the time. But on re-reading, I wondered, especially given the dizzying pace of change in the music business, how much of what I'd written 18 months back was in any way still relevant in the here and now.

It seems timely to consider this after a few weeks in which we've had a number of interesting things said by the majors – three of them anyhow. First we saw EMI reveal its new strategy of three new operating divisions: New Music, Catalogue and Music Services, along with the soon to be launched D2C 'learning lab' on emi.com. Meanwhile, Warner claimed that all new artist signings would have some element of multi-rights – partial 360 degree deals. And Universal (currently literally wiping the floor with its major competitors) somewhat audaciously revealed operating results that included a growth in revenues of 4%.

Revenue growth in the record business? Is that still possible these days? Obviously the answer is yes, though the vast majority of this was driven from core album business, thanks to two out of four major artist releases now belonging to the Universal roster. Pure market power works, even in a steadily dwindling market.

But my brochure was about going beyond the traditional and diversifying the core record business into new – and more profitable – revenue streams. My six ways to drive new business were as follows:

1. New retailing.
2. Brand partnerships.
3. Personalisation & recommendation.
4. Commercialising communities and D2C initiatives.
5. Customer loyalty.
6. Product innovation & programming.

Aside from evaluating whether this really is a list of coherence rather than a brain dump, I'll take a very brief look at each one, benchmarked against the success of real efforts made by the labels – or new entrants of course - in each area.

New Retailing
The idea here was to take particular titles or repertoire outside the traditional physical retail space and look for new retail partners. The Spice Girls famously did this with Victoria's Secret for example. And Hot Topic, Nordstrom and Starbucks had all entered the CD retail business in the US, so it seemed like momentum was building and might transfer from the US to other markets.

But it's gone rather quiet. Starbucks has scaled back due partly to the tough economy, but also due to a now badly exposed lack of real commitment to music. One-off successes like The Spice Girls have proved harder for the labels to scale across the piece. Meanwhile no new dedicated entertainment retail brand has emerged (I've been approached twice in the past two years by new physical ventures, so there is interest, but no execution). In the UK have we seen Virgin's enthusiastic re-branding as Zavvi, but that's not new. Giving a school grade verdict on new physical retail for music then, over the last 18 months? Has to be a D, for disappointing.

Brand Partnerships
This has been a potential industry panacea for a while now. No question, brands have been a shot in the arm for music in several key ways. One-off licensing deals have secured vital bottom-line income for labels. Some artists (notably Groove Armada) have successfully gone outside the mainstream label system directly through brand partnerships. And the synch business itself has grown impressively, as has public performance of music in general.

The innovation and creativity around individual campaigns (ads, festival sponsorships, TV soundtracks) has been a genuinely great development for the music industry. Listen around you – wherever you go or whatever you see on TV or in film, the music has become intriguing and of consistently high quality. No more jingles and less library music and a lot more money being generated. However, labels have so far failed to truly scale this across the piece, with initiatives like Universal's BrandAmp and Warner's Brand Asset Group fairly quiet after fanfare launches two years or so ago. Labels have not become creative agencies for their artists. For the industry this has to be a B+, but for the music labels, a C+.

Personalisation & Recommendation
By this I meant prioritising licensing to technologies focused around this. Back in December 2005, Gartner Research and Harvard predicted that, by 2008 25% of online music purchases would be driven from recommendation technologies. That just hasn't happened. It's taken iTunes ages to come up with Genius. As ever with Apple, it’s doubtful they'll share data on the impact on sales directly from that feature. Meanwhile, despite a flurry of activity, no real breakthrough has occurred. Pandora has struggled (partly due to licensing prices but also due to the hit & miss nature of the way it works). Recently launched Mufin has attracted rotten user reviews.

Besides, where a service is actually built around recommendation itself, there is and always will be a monetisation problem. Consumers won't pay directly for recommendation. The other issue is the illogical nature of music recommendation and discovery. It can't really be efficiently coded can it? Real music fans are so far underwhelmed by recommendation technologies – either collaborative, music-genome based or otherwise.

Personalisation is another thing entirely. The BBC & Google have both understood the power of allowing users to very easily personalise their home page and web navigation experiences. But when you login to the iTunes Music Store, where exactly is your personalised home page? Spotify is better at this and allows you to personalise the user interface in nice, subtle ways.

So things are developing. But overall the technology, services and licensing in this area has not driven anything like the impact predicted by Garner & Harvard. Combined industry efforts hear get a C- could and should, do better.

Label, Artist D2C
It's funny, 18 months ago I wrote passionately about artists creating communities for themselves (via artist websites primarily) rather than letting others do it for them. I tipped Radiohead to be the first to succeed with the approach – an obvious choice that turned out as expected with the In Rainbows digital release. Right now there is a lot of talk about capturing the artist-to-fan relationship better, and understanding fans individual and collective needs better.

Even if a lot of the talk is hyperbole right now, there probably is something in this. However, no artist has been really successful to date except Radiohead and Trent Reznor (although the definition of ‘success’ might lead to a different conclusion). In my previous post on this subject, I tip Topspin Media to make the most impact for artists going direct to consumer. Anyone interested in why should check out Ian Roger's recent keynote at the Grammy music conference in the US. Ian posted his slides online – recommended reading.

As for label D2C – we have a couple of imminent releases – so I will reserve any judgement until then. But the timing is iffy. With a slew of new digital services recently launched but yet to bed down, and even more coming, I don't think this is great timing for launching a D2C service. The impact could get lost in the crowd. So as I write this, commercialising artist communities gets a C, with label D2C specifically a D, notwithstanding new launches next month.

Customer Loyalty
The point I make in the brochure is that many fans would spend more on their favourite artists if given the opportunity, conveniently. Pre-orders, special-edition versions and fan loyalty schemes could be used to extract more value from fans. This has been done successfully, though again Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails seem to have capitalised more than most on the idea. I have hopes that Amazon, with its deep retailing expertise and scale, can achieve a lot in this area for a wider array of artists. Also, I think subscription services – yet to really come of age – can drive the elusive ARPU that everybody talked about when these first arrived a few years back. I think this is an area with a lot of commercial promise, but I don't think a huge leap forward has been made in the past 18 months really. Grade C.

Product Innovation & Programming
For me this is the single biggest area of impact. With the core music formats – albums, songs and videos being gradually commoditised from the combined impact of file-sharing, unbundling and music ubiquity, classic management theory would suggest that what this industry needs most is a re-invented core product.

But what would that be exactly? Digital brings all kinds of possibilities, such as multi-media bundles and of course, the all-you-can-eat music subscription. I'm surprised that we haven't had more EP type formats in the digital space, though there have been a few examples. I like iTunes Complete My Album as it is a dynamic price model – the more you buy the better the value (though isn't an all-you-can subscription 'complete my catalogue' by default?).

I still believe that long-form video and greater innovation with audio-visual content using digital channels, can improve music as both a product and experience. What did I mean by programming from a label viewpoint? Firstly, every label - the majors especially - needs a production business (most majors do and in Sony’s case of course, SiCo is a major contributor to the bottom line).

Rather than simply making multi-media programmes around artists, new albums or even non-music ventures, this function needs to do much more for the labels strategically. In order to achieve maximum impact for artists, there is a need to make the right content, get it through the right channels and platforms, at the right time and using the right brands as sponsors – all to reach the right audience. This is new in music marketing and is a subtle, strategic discipline that can be offered as a true holistic service to artists. No longer can labels simply spread content around in the hope that some of it will stick and trigger off demand for an album. The game is changing. Look back to my very first post on this blog on HBO – Music lessons from a content powerhouse – for more thoughts on this subject.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Artists the industry needs you. But we want your fans too

The music biz loves a panacea. So far this century we’ve had file-sharing, then online retail, then mobile music, then music & brands, then ad-funded music, then 360 degree deals, then total-music, so on and so forth. And now we have them all at once, with experimentation seen by some as the new solution.

A lot of recent talk that has intrigued me has been of ‘owning’ the artist-to-fan relationship, and making more of all that. Ticketmaster just bought Front Line Management and is re-launching itself with the intent of capturing the whole artist-to-fan experience, thing. We’ve recently had majors, most specifically EMI, talk about the same concept, quite a lot. Live Nation bought Music Today a few years back and Music Today was doing this from the outset – selling all sorts of artist stuff – direct through artist websites to a mailing list of signed-up fans. Now Amazon has launched 100,000 artist stores aiming to do a similar thing.

Not only that, a number of brand new businesses have been launched recently, with the central business model of helping artists manage relationships with their fan bases directly – same theme again. There’s been a whole slew of these launched, but my personal one-to-watch in the space is Topspin Media, for fairly obvious reasons – smart leadership and a well funded operation with some early successes in working with the likes of David Byrne & Brian Eno on their recent collaborative release in the US. The attraction of a model like Topspin, to artists, is that it enables artists to get a good start in managing all of their digital spaces and properties themselves and so to begin building a fan base that way (without signing to a label deal). Even more clearly, to my mind, these services enable established artists who already have a core & loyal long-term following, to keep their digital plots well watered.

I don’t doubt there is something in all of this, but what exactly? Is it just me, or is there a slight suspicion of alchemy with this concept?

As a fan (of say Elbow, which I am, big time) I can pretty much get whatever I want from Elbow, the way I want it, already. I’m happy to sign-up to the artist site provided I don’t get bombarded. I haven’t struggled to get tickets for the band’s shows and of course I buy the records and have bought a video from iTunes and rented another from Virgin Media. I read interviews with Guy Garvey in music magazines and listen to his 6 music show sometimes. As an Elbow fan, that does me, and is very fulfilling experience, thank you very much (after all, it is Elbow’s music that matters to me most). What’s more, I enjoyed shopping around for these things and the serendipity of just finding them available at the right time & place. I feel no particular need to get them all in one place at the wrong time.

Now it may well be that Elbow wants more fans like me or desires a wider audience. No problem there either. I have been evangelical about the band for two years and especially this year. I’ve recommended them, bought their record as gifts and taken friends to the shows. In some cases this has led to more fans for Elbow, thanks to that most powerful of mediums – word of mouth – something the band inspires a lot of I would imagine, just by doing what they do.

For the greater part of the artists out there that’s the way success will continue to happen. To this day, we don’t really have an example of an artist that has ‘broken’ (okay I’m not defining that term) through digital media alone. No artist that I know of has been able to make a living via building a direct relationship with their audience through just a kit bag of digital tools, unless that audience was built previously during a commercial recording career.

How many separate artist places does a fan want to sign up to and want to get stuff from anyhow? We’ve had artist subscriptions – Prince, The Who (remember ‘Hooligans’?), Madonna etc. - these have all struggled as commercial entities in themselves. And that’s for major superstars!

In this day and age, with more & more releases, commercially via the mainstream and via DIY platforms, are a zillion direct-to-fan artist properties what’s required? As an artist, can you work to foster loyalty in an age where, because choice and media proliferate, loyalty is exactly the quality that consumers demonstrate less and less? I’m not sure very many artists will be able to do that.

Myspace is living proof of the need to build a collective concept around what artists can provide individually. Fans aren’t dedicated to one myspace page. They will use myspace as a resource to find out about artists that interest them – including sampling the songs of course.

In the artist-to-fan space, who will win out? Myspace, Last.fm and iLike have sucked traffic away from artist pages for a couple of years now. If the labels want to take a more direct role in building the artist-to-fan audience, they will need to win this traffic back to artist sites. Either that or do deals to get data from these sites. But data feeds from these services might not make sense for specific artists when taken out of the context of the service itself. I’ve worked with data for a good chunk of my career and I’ve worked on CRM concepts – the execution of which is 100 times harder than thinking up the concept. If and when you do get the data and it’s clean and has context, it’s then what you do with it that counts.

Where choice explodes and content supply proliferates, common sense tells us what is needed most are aggregators, filters, curators etc. In digital, we need content brands that package & programme multiple artists and music genres in pretty much the same way magazines and retailers do in the traditional physical space. Just new, better ones with more immersive, addictive experiences for fans.

With digital, come all sorts of new opportunities for new entrants in the aggregator space – including ISP’s, device makers, music editorial and radio brands, even labels (if the roster makes cohesive sense). These aggregators bring in and build fans for artists with the added functionality of a direct transaction. Sure, if the fans want more from a particular artist, they might sign up to the artist’s site, but that happens already doesn’t it? And labels have the data from those, don’t they? So what exactly is new in the artist-to-fan space?

So again, my issue with exploring brave new territory in the artist-to-fan space is this: what is the big value-add? What is the nature of the connection being made, with what experience and content, and how, via which platforms?

Artist’s & managers should quickly delve beneath any hyperbole on this (in the same way they have done for 360 degree deals), and ask the searching questions about what relationship they want to build with their fans, how, and who should help them do it. The choices are out there and growing, but no one has really nailed it yet. It isn’t clear who will win out among the providers of these services, mainly because the services themselves are not being clearly articulated.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Music circa 2009: Comes With Apps

This post breaks with a tradition I have adhered to all my adult life, which is to never ever mention the C word until at least December 1st. I once complained vehemently to staff in Starbucks about having red Christmas coffee cups in October! I noticed that Starbucks are advertising proudly the fact that from yesterday (5th November), the cups are going red, so things are improving a little.

I also boycott several retailers every year due to an absurd commercial policy of launching Christmas before the Autumn is gone! But you know what? The clocks have changed, the nights are drawing in and my kids are already pouring through Christmas catalogues paying attention to detail that would put senior copyright lawyers to shame. Musically, we can all at least start to plan composition of our ‘best of the year’ lists (this blog will have one!). We will be reading such lists in the major music magazines in just a week or two as of course they launch their December issues in early November (who invented this need to bring everything forward?).

On the music market the big news in the UK this Christmas is of course, Nokia, which has at last launched its big Christmas market play, CWM (I assume no need to expand the abbreviation on this blog). I’m fascinated to see how it goes down, as is the industry in general. Will consumers go for it and more critically, if they do, will they stick with it? Making CWM a lasting proposition is Nokia’s biggest challenge.

This year, I am going one better than Starbucks, Boots, Q Magazine, Nokia and the rest of them by moving 14 months ahead - I am going to write my Christmas list for 2009, and it’s a list of applications I’d like to see working on top of my total music service.

Let’s make the assumption that CWM (and the swarm of all you can eat ‘total music’ services that follow) will take off and that music ubiquity will be with us (i.e. all of us who don’t already help ourselves on file-sharing networks) by Christmas 2009 (forecast warning: neither assumption is safe). Since we can all expect the entire music catalogue in some form or another for Christmas that year, I want some music based applications that can help me discover, choose, engage with and play my music. I want something that will get me beyond the snack fatigue I discussed a couple of posts ago.

New filters are needed, and by building application platforms on top of total music libraries, we can let music and technology fans and nerds let rip with creative ideas on helping consumers connect with music. Among the chaos this will create will be some truly ingenious concepts that will cleverly fill gaps in previously unmet consumer needs, or even drive new music consumption habits.

There is plenty of source material for app builders to get their code into: music editorial (okay that needs some licensing), music wikis, mp3 blogs and aggregators, mix tape & playlist sites and existing recommendation technologies (which need to be greatly improved upon). We even have twitter type applications which might become interesting when they can work for ‘rich media’.
I came up with seven desired apps before I began to run short on ideas, but it didn’t take too long to come up with these, so I’m guessing the actual quantity of music apps that could exist by this time next year is limitless.

The music apps market is about to become very, very competitive. Currently, most music apps are based on allowing users to create very basic tracks themselves, or to add ‘digital packaging’ to new releases – as with Snow Patrol, Pink and ACDC’s spreadsheet app. But apps that enable music discovery & choice, filtering the total catalogues we will have available to us, is where the big breakthroughs can come next year.

There might be around eight million or so digital tracks available by Christmas 2009, with up to a million newly released during next year if you count commercial and ‘DIY’ releases. As the common industry wisdom goes, only a tiny fraction of these will be commercially successful. The same goes for apps. With music ubiquity comes some sobering news, not for music companies necessarily, but for technologists, and it’s this: that fabulous, unique, fun music app you thought could be the next big music platform solution for the industry is now ready for you to submit, fully coded and tested, to iTunes & Nokia along with the other thousands of apps that will be developed for music. If you’re lucky, your app might chart and if you are really, really lucky, people will actually pay money for it. Technology is a hits business after all. Best of luck!

Here’s my starter list. How many could be hits? How many would you pay for and how much? Or do you think this will take the mystery out of music discovery? Feel free to comment and post your own suggestions.
  1. A ‘listen/buy’ hover-over button for the Sony e-book reader and Amazon Kindle, so as I read my copy of The Best 1000 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (the fabulous book by edited by Robert Dimery) I can get the some direct audio experience right there & then.
  2. A Metacritic.com plug in that enables me to order the week’s new releases ranked by their average critical review scores (so I can listen to the best-reviewed albums). I can also rank recent releases by their average user review scores. At last, I can sort the wheat from the chaff using crowd-sourced human opinion rather than a flaky recommendation engine.
  3. An app that shows me the guitar chords and tabs to Who Are You by The Who (it’s my favourite pop song and I can’t play it on guitar, yet) on my iPod or mobile screen in real time as the song plays. Lyrics ‘be handy as well of course, and no doubt karaoke apps will be big in Japan.
  4. A playlist generator for what I am about to do. For example, taking a business trip to Iceland today? Okay I’ll get Bjork’s “Wanderlust” of course but I might also get the Pet Shop Boys “Opportunities: Let’s Make Lots of Money” (although please forgive any credit related issues re Iceland). No more than ten songs per list though, its quality not quantity we want.
  5. My music heritage. It’s a social network app (sorry about that) with a difference. It enables me to punch in three song or album recommendations friends have made that have changed my life musically, but critically, why, how, where & when. The social networking technology does the rest.
  6. Instant song art. The blog Ear Farm did this, by entering a song title into Google with the words ‘picture of’ before the title. Results are random but fun, but then an app could do all sorts with the idea. Much better than those awful pattern graphics standard music players generate.
  7. Story text. It could be anything. It could be official, lovingly written sleeve notes by the artist or it could be a simple message from another fan about what the song means and means to them, or what listen out for in the song that might make it a more interesting experience for the listener. If I’m listening I’d like to read, and maybe write, some stories of the song I’m listening to.

Footnote. I may be getting a little ahead of myself with this post. For at least the past five years Deloitte’s Christmas Retail survey has shown the good old CD as the number 1 Christmas gift purchase in the UK. Surely this is the year that will change.

Footnote 2. I really like the Nokia CWM advertising in the UK. The choice of Santogold track is great and in the press ads the concept (that you can playback a song for what is happening in your life at any time) is really cool. But there is no way for consumers to make that an easy and fun thing to do, hence my application number 4 above!

Friday, 24 October 2008

The long tale - ten years in the life of digital music

Different versions of this post might appear on Music Tank’s web pages and in the Record Of The Day editorial.

Music Tank’s panel debate ‘Let’s Sell Recorded Music!’ (Part 1, ‘Here We Are Now Entertain Us’) started off in fine form, shaped into a good quality (for a panel!) discussion and then sadly, deteriorated into a debate about the pros & cons of legalising file sharing. The shock for me was the latter, which I hadn’t prepared for but should have seen coming. But let me first recap on events...

Feargal Sharkey opened with a keynote that drew heavily on statistics (impressively off the cuff) from the recent survey conducted by the University of Hertfordshire which, I gather, was all about how excited young people are about getting music through their ISP. This included an impressive 80% of those surveyed claiming they would happily pay a fee if given an unlimited music option with their internet service. Feargal also noted that each of the six major UK ISPs had done their own research into added value services, and that “the five letter word beginning with music” had come top on the list of consumers’ desires in every single case.

Basically the CEO of the newly created UK Music told us that the scene was set and the call to arms had begun. In his words "I can't think of any other industry that has total certainty and confidence at both ends of the supply chain. It's just the bit in the middle - the industry - which needs fixing".

I followed Feargal (note this isn’t easy!) with a review of legal music services, both newly launched, soon to come and those sadly recently deceased, like Wippit. Digital music has had a troubled birth – taking some ten years of development to reach just 20% of the market by value in 2008 – still a niche (one happily ignored by the likes of ACDC with zero impact on revenues & success it seems). I spelt out the five key reasons for this: a stubborn licensing policy by the labels; the complexity of securing global rights; a bungled DRM policy; high market entry costs and low consumer adoption. But since all of those are steadily improving here are five things to improve on as we move into a big digital year in 2009:
  1. Recommendation technologies aren’t good enough – we need more emphasis on editorial and programming expertise.
  2. Service relationships still need to improve – labels - license the music, by all means collect the advance, but then continue to service the relationship.
  3. Content development & product innovation need to overtake payment models as a major issue for discussion.
  4. Commercial models – we need services that offer multiple payment methods and partnerships that share equity, but don’t make it unnecessarily complicated J-V vehicles.
  5. Measurement, reporting & payment to creators – we need to get beyond the digital black box as a matter of urgency and start paying a decent slice to artists promptly.

But, in the spirit of the title of the debate I pointed to the optimism of the new major brands coming to the market – Nokia, MySpace, Amazon, Sky et al and even just for fun, compiled my own Top five (multi-market) digital music services to challenge iTunes in 2009 and the reasons why I picked each.

5. 7 Digital – why? Its partnership approach and MP3 policy.
4. Amazon – the Shopping Basket and MP3.
3. Omnifone Music Station – mobile is the long game & so are cars & home hi-fis which Music Station is branching into.
2. Spotify – proves how ease & simplicity of use is still the key feature.
1. Nokia CWM / Sony Play Now Plus – total music will change the game – we don’t know how or when but it will.

The panellists then chipped in with what I thought were great, valuable comments. Ben Drury and Russell Hart agreed that quantity wasn’t everything & that quality is what really matters, with Russell pointing out that his own consumer research suggests the average music fan loves only three songs a month (that many!). Phillippe Steinmetz of France Telecom pointed out that the Musique Max all-you-can-eat subscription was not cannibalising a-la-carte sales (as TDC in Denmark and Telus of Canada have also previously declared). Paul Hitchman stated how access was overrated and that it was the consumer relationship that mattered. All good, solid stuff to be taken on board by any new service provider in this complex game.

But then Andrew Orlowski (trust him) of the Register kindly introduced us to “the elephant in the room” – namely file-sharing. The trouble with any of the new services coming to market is that they just don’t match up to the file-sharing experience.

And so the key question in the debate surfaced and it’s a good one: with the new crop of digital music services emerging and the recent service developments shaping up (such as removal of DRM on downloads) would there be any need for ‘legalised’ P2P options in the market place anytime soon?

For me the answer is clear, but I hadn’t appreciated just how wedded some are, still, to the concept of legalised file-sharing. With statistics being quoted left right & centre about how many people would pay for the privilege (though they haven’t yet and there was no consensus on how much) and how many would then still buy or not by CDs or downloads, my only response was to look on open mouthed (and drink a bit more beer). For if I’ve done enough of anything at all in my time in this business, its research.

All the research I’ve commissioned, bought, read or seen suggests to me two certain things:

  1. We’ll never know the impact on the music business of a legalised file sharing approach until it actually happens and;
  2. That it will never happen, so we’ll never actually know.

The key trend in music if there is one at all, is fragmentation of consumption. Music fans want different things, not the same thing. They use multiple platforms in different ways. They like different types of music and to access it, listen to it and store it in different ways. Some fans are loyal to artists & some aren’t. Some like to own & collect music, others aren’t bothered about that. Some are wedded to the album concept, others to the song. Some want access to everything, others like to be told what to like. Demographics do influence this, but not as much as people think.

We can’t respond to this as a business simply by making everything available. Not without the risks being clearly understood or the guarantee that such an offer would be sustainably funded to cover the costs of doing business – not for one year or five but for the foreseeable future. For artists, it’s absurd to expect to make a reasonable living under a one size fits all model where all music is a utility. The incentive to create anything of real quality just isn’t there.

As for consumers, the ones we need to care about more are those with the conscience to pay for music, those who don’t file-share or those who do but would happily pay for a convenient or better alternative. In other words we should look to develop new digital music services for the vast majority of music consumers, not flip the entire business on its head to pander to a cynical minority.

Can we move on please people!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Time to bring back proper music television

Are Andy Burnham MP’s recent flirtatious comments about music on television an example of how far out of touch politicians can be from the industries that they represent, or is this the incisive intervention of a culture minister who is enough of a music fan to have a go? Was he really angling for a return of Top Of The Pops (TOTP) as some reporters interpreted? Surely not – that would be more than being just out of touch – it would suggest a tendency towards clumsy meddling.

Observing the industry’s response to the ultimate demise of TOTP a couple of years back was bleakly, sardonically amusing. This was like a music industry equivalent of a national wake on the scale of the death of Princess Diana. There was shock, grief but most of all a lack of acceptance. ‘How could the BBC has allowed it to come to this’? Music Week was awesome that week, especially a charming story about the BPI acquiring some rights to the TOTP brand. What were they thinking?

For a much more insightful review of the current state of music television you can read the Alexi Petridis cover story account in last week’s Guardian Film & Music (what a wonderful supplement this is for us lucky UK content fans – see my blog links). After spending a whole day surfing music based channels on mainstream TV (i.e. the telly itself not the internet version) and talking to a few wise owls in the production business Petridis dissected the current status quo succinctly as follows:
  1. There is actually more music on TV than ever before – just not during prime time.
  2. Subsequently, today’s music channels don’t feel like community viewing and they aren’t since viewing figures confirm hardly anyone else is watching.
  3. Pure music programming (i.e. excluding X-factor type formats) never pulled in huge audiences in the first place, with TOTP very much an exception to the rule.
  4. Music ‘television’ currently exists in a more invigorated form beyond the TV itself (i.e. online & mobile – an observation made by Malcolm Gerrie of Whizzkid).

It does seem that the last place to look for music shows is television, but only if you go to bed before midnight. Musically speaking, as a child of the 80s myself, there is no modern equivalent to The Tube (produced by Gerrie mentioned above) – a thrilling, edgy magazine show that not only showcased great music but delivered it with such swanky verve – ushering in the weekend brilliantly. But there is 4Music, Later With Jools Holland and Live from Abbey Road. Buried away deep on Sky Arts you can find the wonderful From The Basement, while BBC’s 3&4 are superb for archive music documentary. But the actual dedicated music channels – all 30 of them – are arguably all underperforming for their host networks these days.

The problem is that the majority of the target audience for these shows actually goes to bed before midnight. We’re beyond 30, we’ve got demanding jobs and kids and we are exhausted by 10.30 on a Thursday and a Friday night. It would be great to wind down with some quality music programming but we just can’t hang on that long. And the show line ups often fall a bit short to make that extra special effort don’t they? How often do major A-list acts crop up on the current crop of music shows?

We know from endless reams of research that the 18-24 year old audience are not watching telly but busy multi-tasking their way through a backlog of internet bookmarks, messages, texts, twitter feeds, downloads/uploads and maybe a touch of revision.

Basically, one has to ask: who are music television shows being broadcast to exactly?
We do have iPlayer of course and we have PVRs, so some of the target audience will get ‘round viewing music shows. But still, TV is not exactly a mainstream platform for new potential superstars that it once was.

But new platforms aren’t great for music shows either. The internet is actually more problematical for music than television is. Despite a recent glut of internet music TV destinations (Muzu.tv, MOG.tv, Pitchfork.tv, FabChannel, et. al. – some of them quite good) there are major barriers to the success of internet music television. There isn’t enough variety, depth and most critically, quality of content to go around. The reason for this is that these new internet based networks don’t/won’t/can’t pay decent prices for content. In short, there isn’t a working business model beyond promotion, yet.

As recently stated in a Deloitte research report (Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Perspectives on the UK Television Sector) “Until there is clarity over how the internet may pay its way, more and better quality content may not be forthcoming”. That’s absolutely true. It hardly matters that the internet actually surpassed TV this year as the biggest platform for advertising expenditure (according to Ofcom), because the individual destinations on the web simply aren’t rich enough to license, distribute or create the best content.

Here’s the supply-side problem in a nutshell: if you have a branded platform on the internet, it seems it’s not economical to pay good rates for high quality content, because your ad CPMs won’t cover it and you haven’t figured out how to make users pay. If you are a content producer, you can’t make content of the quality you want to if you can’t license it at a profit to the platform providers. It leaves a business in search of a model and a potentially massive audience without the content they would love to see. So we all have to get by on YouTube.

This analysis is all a bit sober and it doesn’t reflect my optimism for the future of music television at all. So let’s look at some of the possibilities.

First, the emerging live performance streaming business online. FabChannel and the forthcoming Love Live both represent lively new entrants in what must be seen as a promising sector. The previous supply-side barriers of technology (mainly bandwidth) and licensing seem to be coming down, the latter at least for non superstar acts. On the demand side, recent consumer research from Entertainment Media Research referred to the sector as ‘a potential goldmine’.

The real problems in this still nascent sector go back to business models. With FabChannel insisting on streaming being free, we may once again be setting too low a bar for what consumers are willing to pay to watch concert footage online. Relying solely on ad revenues simply won’t cover production costs be they £10k per hour at the lower end or ten times that at the high end.
Recent music releases in the theatrical sector have also been interesting. Last year VUE Cinema’s live, satellite fed showing of a Genesis concert in Düsseldorf (to multiple cinemas around the UK, broadcast in a unique high definition mix with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio) was an example of a new, much needed release window for music content. Though only valid for superstar acts (why Genesis though? Have you seen a more sedentary live act?) the idea of paying £10 to see a beautifully filmed, surround sound performance might be an attractive proposition for many music fans. I’ll be interested to see how the forthcoming Arctic Monkey’s movie release does.

Both online and theatrical platforms for music also make sense in the current economic climate. The looming recession is bound to hit the live sector hard and music fans may wish to get their live music fix in cinemas at a small fraction of the actual concert price. After all the live boom of recent times has not been about the art of performance as much as social drivers – the need for people to get together and party basically. If VUE, Odeon or other players can do something clever to meet these social needs, with great content at the core, they might crack open a new market.

But enough of niches, don’t we now have mass market technologies that favour music content both in the home on the sofa and out and about? Just about everyone has now invested in a HD ready widescreen TV – so can producers and networks deliver the content worthy of this new platform that gives audiences a much better audio-visual experience. The same goes for touch screen mobile. Ideal for music television, maybe not for screen size, but certainly for the combination of mobility and audio experience (watching a music video or live clip is far superior with headphones plugged in and the volume turned up – try it).

It seems to me we now have enough platforms for new music television formats – of the magazine type, music documentaries, films and filmed live performance. All that’s lacking is the content itself.

So maybe the UK culture minister is really onto something. TOTP is long gone, but we music fans deserve better than the current crop of music shows on offer. ‘Later’ is tired and the newer shows like Live from Abbey Road are just a little too high brow or lacking in really enticing line-ups. This is the perfect time for producers to come up with something new and exciting and for business thinkers to create a business model that can sustain itself.

Footnote - QUICK PLUG - The wonderful MUSIC TANK are running an event Tuesday 21st October at which i will speak about digital service development present, past & future - see links

Monday, 6 October 2008

Total Music will leave real music fans wanting

I’ve read with interest some of the coverage over last week’s announcement by Nokia on its highly anticipated Comes With Music service. It’s fascinating how much of the debate has missed the point entirely. The two most major of many criticisms levelled at Nokia have been for the fact that the service is a) heavily DRM’d (not MP3) and b) non renewable without a new device (i.e. not a music subscription service).

Those look like heavy limitations – and they are. But that isn’t the point of Comes With Music. Nokia isn’t really launching a music service so much as the mother of devices that happens to have music on it. Since nobody, including Nokia, knows quite how consumers will respond, the whole thing is an experiment – but a pretty significant one for the music industry.

You can see where it might lead. Project ahead just a couple of years. Buying a new hi-fi for Christmas – great - do you want the one with or without music? New car – with or without music? Laptop – same. No wonder the clever Omnifone is in discussions with servicing these platforms.

New fridge, microwave, disposable razor – would you like that WOWM (with or without music)? Maybe that’s going a little far but you get the point. One way or the other we are rolling slowly, inexorably towards music ubiquity. And, for many of us, that is both a hard concept to accept and an even harder one to understand from an entertainment point of view.

Think of an example – how many of your favourite albums did you become instantly attached to while snacking through it track-by-track , 30 seconds at-a-time, on your phone, on the bus, in a hurry to get to work and in a bigger hurry to check out the other 116 tracks you downloaded that morning? Answer = none. To really enjoy your music it just can’t work like that.

A few years back when Napster and Rhapsody launched what will now be known forever as ‘1st generation music subscription services’ i had a good play with both. For the first three months i was like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. The ability to sample whatever new music you wanted when you wanted (remember Windows DRM 10? I got it working on one Creative Zen device with both Napster and Rhapsody side-by-side! It blew up, but it was beautiful for a while there).

Then something curious happened – actually two things. First, i became blind & deaf when i signed in – i just couldn’t decide which of the 3 million songs i wanted to hear at that moment. Second, i got fed up spending all my precious listening hours ‘sampling’ new stuff that i didn’t ever get to really like. I listened to a lot of crap basically. I also suspect that most of it actually wasn’t crap, but just didn’t sound as good as it deserved to, when there was so much stacked up in the queue right behind it.

The concept of listening to whole albums became unworkable. I missed the old way of giving a record time to grow on you. Giving it time to unfold and reveal itself to you as a thing of relevance and depth, sometimes beauty (in a way i imagine the creators kind of had in mind). Hell i even think it may have helped to have invested some cash in the music to get proceedings underway! At least spending a tenner on the album motivated me to LISTEN and to listen properly, repeatedly.

This ‘snacking fatigue’ is the hidden downside in total music services and it may well be a more significant problem in the long run than compatibility and price. It’s these factors combined that result in the heavy churn rates for music subscription services (note snacking fatigue doesn’t have the same impact for movies, games or sports).

But will snacking fatigue weaken a proposition like Comes With Music? Not necessarily. For starters, by wrapping the music within the life-cycle of the device, Nokia has cleverly minimised churn at least within the first 12 months.

Beyond that, it’s really all about the audience. Nokia has thought this one through as well. CWM is squarely aimed at a younger music & phone fan, who probably file-shares regularly even though they can well afford to obtain a cool device. To the under 24 tech savvy multi-tasking brigade, music just isn’t what it used to be and they just don’t care. Music is a song-led snack, a soundtrack, a backdrop. It’s also sometimes used as social glue - it’s an APP for goodness sake.

A shame but there you have it. The key question is this: as a business, would we (the collective music industry) rather have £50 for everything, than £0 for nothing. The answer isn’t straightforward because it doesn’t fit well with the current supply model.

I think it’s worth a try, because it might be the beginning of something – and that something is a new, legal relationship with the under 24 year old modern music fan. The ones we’ve largely lost.
This brings questions for Nokia which go beyond the obvious ones raised so far. How does Nokia plan to gather & use consumption data to understand the CWM customer base? Will it share the data? How can it quickly segment those users with higher value potential and offer added-value services to keep them? What suite of added-value services will CWM develop? No doubt these are areas in which mobile network operators feel they could play a part.

We’ve recently witnessed another small success in one area of the uncomfortable marriage between music and technology - once again courtesy of Apple. The popularity of music related applications such as Shazam and Pandora for iPhone, demonstrate where we are headed. As with ringtones, it may well be that applications built to make music more fun on platforms like phones is where the future value is for tech-friendly audiences – play-listing, quizzes, rock family trees, games, re-mixing etc. And these apps work best when the music is just there, not a transaction away.

And for us real music fans, the old guard (note, plenty of under 24s fit into this category as well)? CWM just isn’t for us is it? The limitations are off-putting, but so is the snack fatigue. So is the sound quality of file playback on the phone. Nothing about it is for us just yet. Whether Nokia, and other new providers ushering in music ubiquity want to change that, is up to them.

This does mean that for the time being the industry can relax about one thing – cannibalisation. CWM, in its current form, won’t cannibalise music sales. It just won’t. Recent data from TNS ‘suggests’ that users of total music services in the UK might download 2.1 billion songs a year. Whatever this curious data point actually means (what possible value does a stat like that add?) it’s mildly interesting and encouraging that enough people are interested in the total music concept at all and that many of these are frequent file-sharers. But, for reasons discussed here, the impact on the business in the first few years is unlikely to be anything spectacular (see Jupiter's more sobering but realistic analysis on Mark Mulligan's blog).

This is the start of a new relationship with a large group of important music consumers. It’s how we manage that relationship over the next few years that will matter most.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Shifting the needle on new digital music services

This is the second post on new fit for purpose digital business. Following the previous post on music companies this one focuses on digital service providers.

It seems that in recent weeks, there has been a real rush-on in the digital retail space for music. We’ve had announcements from Nokia that Comes With Music is indeed coming soon, with Sony Ericsson pitching in with its own version of the ‘total music’ bundle – PlayNow plus (you can read a nice summary of differences between the two propositions on Mark Mulligan’s blog). We’ve had DRM dropped, Amazon moving into the space and the ongoing saga that is MySpace music now finally emerging with some real news.

In the UK We’ve had a recent announcement from Sky about its forthcoming SkyTunes music subscription bundle, with rival Virgin Media pitching in that it too has plans for a new music service – at least a music portal anyway. Also in the UK we’ve had our much beloved Aunty Beeb (well okay, her ambitious ruthless younger brother, Uncle Worldwide) planning its own branded and ad-funded music streaming service next year, tapping into The Corporation’s vast audio and audio-visual archive. And Amazon said to be launching before the year is out.

It’s enough to leave one breathless really – it’ll certainly hot up the air at the various forthcoming music conferences. My suggested subject for these events might be this:

Is the Digital Music Business Finally Bigger than the Digital Music Conference Business?

2009 is going to be an exciting time of it for digital music that’s for sure. One thing is niggling me about all this though – will this latest flurry of activity on the supply side really shift the needle for the demand for legal digital music? After all, we’ve seen supply-side digital surges before. IFPI’s digital reports (excellent resource if i say so myself as one of the founding authors!) show the high-level indicators each year...

Back in 2003 there were 50 legal music services worldwide, with retail revenues for digital just $20m. This exploded to over 500 services and $2.9billion by the end of 2007. But are those impressive statistics really? Online downloads made up just 48% of those revenues (with mobile – mostly ringtones – making up 47%, and subscription revenues a tiny 5%). With iTunes making up a minimum of 70% of online digital, it leaves only crumb-like revenues to go around the other multi-hundred digital music providers. And we know the profit margins are wafer thin. We’ve seen big brands like Virgin and HMV suffer digitally, while MP3 pioneers like Wippit have died a painful, slow death. As for new big digital brands – only iTunes and possibly eMusic, can be described as successful.

In short, digital music is a difficult market to trade in. And yet look at who we have coming to market!

So what is it that Nokia, Sky, Amazon et al think they can bring to the market that isn’t there already? It’s a searching question when you think about it. It’s not the ability to download single songs from a deep catalogue. It’s not DRM-free. It’s not the ability to sample-stream full tracks. It’s not a more ‘indie’ or long tail catalogue. It’s not music community. All those service elements are well provided for already. So what’s the answer? I’m not sure that these big brands are totally clear themselves.

They each have an angle of course. Sky – an ISP as well as entertainment network – can reach a family market via multiple platforms and is a master of the subscription model. Nokia has, for the time being, a 35% share of the global handset market and knows it must move into the services business. And Amazon has online retail licked. So how do these competitive advantages lend themselves to unique or compelling music services?

There are some fundamental service elements still to play with – price, product and customer experience are still up for grabs in developing something a bit special. But with labels gatekeeping price and savvy service providers unwilling to subsidise music, i think price can almost be ruled out as a differentiator.

This leaves product and customer experience as the two major drivers for breakthrough music services and i think both can be leveraged far more than they have been so far. Firstly, product. It’s silly that we are having debates about albums vs. single songs in a market where the value of both is being steadily commoditised. Kid Rock & Estelle’s non iTunes experiments are fairly meaningless in this context. A service provider that can offer a wider range of music products from one artist or in certain genres, in more interesting bundle packages, will attract interest from paying music audiences as well as file-sharers looking to upgrade a bit on what they can get for their favourite bands.

There are plenty of product elements in the mix to play with other than songs & albums. Video, session tracks, live footage, tickets, merchandise, games, information and editorial offer a plethora of ways a music service can be packaged, presented and sold to consumers, particularly if exclusivity, artist engagement and higher quality thresholds can be achieved as well. There’s no way around it – for a service provider to move the needle with something really special, it will need to get into the content development business – licensing exclusive windows and possibly commissioning exclusives directly from artists. This is very common in TV & film. Comcast, HBO, Channel 4 and the BBC all integrate backwards into production. It takes investment and risk and is expensive, but it’s done with a deeper knowledge of what consumers want than ‘pure-play’ producers, as Comcast demonstrated with its drive to create free VoD services.

Secondly, customer experience. It’s no secret there are major gaps here. Legal music services are still predominantly search based, song-album based and very much push marketed. iTunes has dragged its heals here – taking ages to offer Cover Flow, Mini Store, Complete My Album and now finally, Genius. Nonetheless, Apple shows how customer experience is based on learning by doing, and doing well. Meanwhile eMusic has had some success through focus on editorial and DRM-free.

With recommendation technologies improving by the minute, new open application platforms to drive major improvements in navigation (iPhone Snow Patrol app.) and great editorial brands to link up with (Sony Ericsson& Q), we are getting closer to truly personalised music services, slowly but surely. But it takes research, programming expertise and passion to leverage these resources to offer exciting music services to targeted customer bases.

It’s these elements new market entrants should focus on – not as an ad-on to the basic offer of a DRM-free song catalogue for cheap – but as fundamental to the music offer to consumers who want a better digital music experience and will pay for that pleasure.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Knowing your Elbow from your arse – a small lesson in artist development

Heartfelt congratulations to Elbow on taking the Mercury prize last week. I predicted it (i really did, ask my wife or hairdresser!) and was rooting for them (my very first choice would have been Merz, but he wasn’t nominated so never mind).

I say heartfelt ‘cos i really mean it. I love Elbow. Absolutely adore them. And i’m delighted to see a band reach a new career high (and maybe, just maybe, a breakthrough into the mainstream for a while) after 18 years on the slow burner.

I have a history with this band. I bought their first album Asleep In The Back when it came out in 2001, on the back of good reviews. It didn’t work for me so, i passed it on to a friend and forgot about Elbow. What brought me back to them four years on, was a strong recommendation from Eamonn Forde (friend, music writer & general man of impeccable music tastes) to try Leaders Of The Free World. I duly did, and liked it a lot – enough to buy tickets to see the band play at The Astoria. And that was that - hooked for life. From the moment the singer ambled on to the stage with nothing less than a Styrofoam cup (tea, coffee?) in hand, you could tell something was different about them. They played an absolute stormer that night. I remember saying to my friend afterward that they really should be playing stadiums along with Coldplay (if it wasn’t for the way they looked perhaps, as well as having a more complex, edgier repertoire). After that it was back to the second album Cast Of Thousands – very good (with the track “Switching Off” literally one of the most breathtaking pop ballads i’ve ever heard).

It was after that show, shortly after the release of “Leaders”, i was curious as to Elbow’s commercial curve and pulled their album sales from the UK Chart. Not a good picture at all. Steadily downward from album one in fact, despite a clear artistic improvement and consistently high critical response (see the chart courtesy of the UK Chart Co. and http://www.metacritic.com/).
The band were in that classic space so many bands have been before – getting better and better but selling less and less – in the hole basically. And when in the hole, it’s hard for band, manager or label (if the label still cares) to see a way out. Any cold hard (and blind) analysis by a label accountant would suggest one solution: DROP. Beyond such a myopic view, one can only look forward and hope something breaks for a band in that position. Whether it be getting a song in an ad or TV show, an endorsement from a DJ – whatever – but something.

That something for Elbow seems to me to be their new label. And here is where the business of the labels is so much maligned and under-appreciated – artist development. I know from speaking with the people involved that Fiction worked hard to get Elbow out of its deal with V2 and on to Fiction, for almost a year. Ironically in the end, Universal, which owns Fiction, bought V2 wholly and so could have signed the band by default. That deal does now mean of course that Universal now has Elbow’s catalogue, which suddenly looks like a very shrewd move.

So what happened differently for Elbow under Fiction?

It wasn’t the music. The band worked on the Seldom Seen Kid album (2 years in the making) entirely on their own – both recording and producing. However, from the moment the band signed with Fiction, what they now had was the unwavering support of that label’s founder Jim Chancellor, who believed in the band fully and dedicated the label efforts to getting Elbow’s music to the wider audience it deserved.

The other major difference for Elbow this time around was marketing power (maybe promotional clout is more accurate). Seeing giant posters all over London and full page newspaper ads for the Seldom Seen Kid was a surprise if a delightful one.

The band has worked hard as well. Elbow effectively toured the album continuously with a UK tour on release and appearances on the festival circuit throughout the summer (including one very special night during Massive Attack’s Meltdown, an unusual one off show at Delamere Forest and most significantly, a show-stealing sundown set at Glastonbury). Another round of shows starts with 3 nights at The Roundhouse next month.

But the critical thing is how varied and sustained the campaign around the album has been. In Jim Chancellor’s words the campaign was designed not just to promote the album but to “grow the record over six to 12 months”. A campaign of well chosen media placements (anyone interested in the inspiring music behind the BBC Olympics coverage would have discovered the song “One Day Like This” an SSK highlight) has culminated in the shot-in-the-arm Mercury nomination – with the band doing the rest.

All of which adds up to two insights of value to the business and those who observe and commentate upon it. First, the band would not have achieved this on its own. No way. We sadly don’t live in a world where good music rises miraculously to the top on its own merits - it needs the work.

Second, artist development drives how the business works. Belief in the best artist projects is often – as in this case - contrary to hard metrics or measures. However, a belief-driven campaign for an album like this one also works at its best when there exists a creative and cultural context (the alternative being blind belief which is plain foolhardy).

In Elbow’s case the context was all there: a very good and improving songwriting band; a brilliant (but grounded) frontman - a true auteur indeed; a very good song catalogue; a loyal if small, core following and a consistently brilliant live repertoire.

Most of all, perhaps, a band making sophisticated, emotive music with a very strong potential to connect. A band craving a wider audience if ever there was one. In the opening track on The Seldom Seen Kid, the wonderful “Starlings”, Guy Garvey sings the line:

“I guess this means i’m asking you to back a horse that’s good for glue, if nothing else”.

In backing Elbow it suddenly looks like this horse will be good for much more than glue. Glance back at the chart to see the effect post 1 week on from the Mercury's, with unit sales of 20k taking SSK to sales of 153k - now easily the bands best-selling record and back in the album charts at number 7 this week (from 61 last week). On the way to Platinum? Just maybe.

Footnote: If Guy Garvey writes a more entertaining line than “Charging around with a juggernaut brow”* I might have to change the title of this blog.

*The line is from the track “The Bones of You” from The seldom Seen Kid and is a song about looking five years back from a stressed life “cramming commitments like cats in a sack” to a more carefree time when one could oversleep to the point only when the head of your sleeping partner starts to deaden the feeling in your arm. As poetry in song it’s simply divine – there is no better lyricist in pop right now than Garvey.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Surviving Majors: How to Keep the Dream Factory a Dream Factory

“I got a job washing cars…across from the high rise building where PolyGram Records was. I would stand there with the hose in my hand and look up at the building with reverence, like it was a monument”.
Mark Oliver Everett (Eels) “Things The Grandchildren Should Know”, Little, Brown publishing, 2008.

This quote encompasses everything about the romance of the record companies as they were until very recently - dream factories, star making machines – institutions with a glam factor matched only by the movie studios or the plushest ad agencies. These days they are barely recognisable as such and are gradually becoming monuments of a bygone era. The irony is that Majors are the ones with the resources to affect a real shift in landscape and achieve market tipping points in their favour, yet they are so encumbered by existing systems, contracts, relationships and skills, it’s questionable whether or not they can transform successfully.

I can hardly write an opus here on a blog to suggest how every aspect of a major label can be transformed and it would be pointless anyhow, since writing is so much easier than doing. But based on my study of the majors while at IFPI and more direct experience of working within a transforming EMI, i can at least make a shortlist of areas in which i think, music companies can focus to achieve successful transformation.

I suggest three focal points as a way to begin to turn things around, but essentially, the name of the game is Content Development. There’s a lot more besides of course, but it has to start and end there. It’s also about Creating Culture – much more significant than ‘creating communities’, since communities follow culture. It’s certainly not about being a ‘record company’ – that model can only exist in the medium term for the most A&R savvy, cost conscious indies. The majors must very quickly, really shift (i.e. not just claim to be shifting) to being artist-centred, production and marketing companies.

My three points on which to focus the transformation are:

1. Shift from a products business to an artist business. Walking around the HQ of a major it can be a shock to see that the CD is still the core business – CDs (in some cases CD singles!) stacked everywhere in exec offices and staffers desks tell a graphic story – a travesty of wasted plastic. A visionary artist would be concerned about this. A visionary business leader would now simply ban CDs in the office (physical products of course still exist, but those are for fans, increasingly made-to-order, too valuable for freebies). Basically, the artist is now the brand and everything they create is part of the product portfolio for wide exploitation and revenue sharing. To think of the products as simply the recordings is limited and a ticket to continued slow decline. It’s the Marvel moment – when the iconic comic book company recognised that its core product wasn’t comics but the characters themselves.

2. Shift from an album producing business to a production company built around artist projects. Artists should no longer be stuck on a two-year album-to-album treadmill. Through working with a visionary company, they will create projects periodically whenever it makes sense, depending on profile and preference. Every tour would then be an opportunity to showcase new material and work better synergies between recording and live performance. Artist projects can be wider than just music. If Robbie Williams wants to make a documentary about UFOs or retro gaming, there is a market for that and EMI could be producing this content rather than letting others. The mandate here is to turn the promotional model on its head - to commercialise content based on live, pre-release and exclusives - and to widen and deepen audience relationships through improving content and making it bespoke for platforms and brands.

3. Shift from a promotions business to a marketing business focused on high value audiences. Radio plugging, advertising, securing a TV slot, tour support...the list of promotional activity around ‘working an album’ is a long hard slog. And arguably none of it can really be called marketing. Do these cyclical tasks really deepen the relationship between the artist and their fanbase, or broaden that fanbase significantly? Few of these activities collect any customer information or sense changes in consumer habits. Many artists are already cynical about the promotional treadmill already and will only become more so as all this activity promotes nothing much more than ever-decaying album sales. A visionary content company now needs to be brave enough to take all this activity and stop doing (some, not all of) it in the name of album promotion. Meanwhile, with production values at the core, music companies need to increase the quality of artist sessions, interviews, documentary footage and all else – and package this material for sale, license, or at the very least, direct marketing to the fan base or genre base for the artist. A move to bespoke marketing plans (increasingly digitally-led), for each artist rather than a throw it all at the wall and see what sticks model must prevail.

These would be my three main areas of focus. I deliberately don’t choose a focus on shifting from production to distribution - why take that risk when the distribution business is so fast-moving and over-crowded? I deliberately don’t choose a move away from content to technology – why fumble about in areas outside your core expertise? And i don’t think the model of advances needs such a radical rethink either (though advances do need to come down). The way the relationship is funded should make no real difference to overall revenue and profit outcomes really.

Obviously these shifts do mean that label-artist contracts must change to the sharing of the full portfolio of IP rights, there is no way around the need for this. There is also no way around the need for better creative decisions in A&R, since this model requires smarter investments in a smaller portfolio of artists (with digital, the tricks & tools for reducing A&R risk are now springing up everywhere and can be used far more systematically).

Organisationally there are obvious shifts required in culture, ethos and skill. In all content companies, ‘suits’ and ‘creatives’ sit alongside each other in a fragile juxtapose. Investments in skills should focus around filling this ‘white space’. It takes creativity – both commercial and artistic creativity – to do this. And a new relationship with artists based on transparency, trust, understanding and a shared vision. Artists would come to a new label for this, knowing that this is the environment in which they can achieve their best work and find the widest audience that deserves to see & hear it. That is the new dream factory model – to do great work and be rewarded for it with the widest most loyal audience your music company can find for you both.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Music Business 2012: An Alternative Market Forecast Courtesy of David Bowie

“It’s the beginning of nothing.
“And nothing has changed.
“Everything has changed”
So say a few profound lines of the lesser known, but excellent, Bowie song ‘Sunday’ (from the ‘Heathen’ album). Listening to this song recently got me thinking about the whole music space once again (note to self, I should really stop doing this). Just for the pure fun of it, let’s use Bowie’s lyrics to de-construct & re-build the entire music business in an alternative forecast.

First, “It’s the beginning of nothing”...

Majors are wrestling with the angels, technology upstarts with silver bullets (there aren’t any) proliferate, Live Nation is vexing everyone by signing big “360” deals (still, for now). Publicity stunts over how new albums are released just get more & more ridiculous with honesty box payment options, free songs and now whole albums down to 49p. Ultimately this is of course assisting music’s destiny towards being free (according to economists & futurologists on the web anyhow). Meanwhile industry bodies seemingly make late headway with solutions over file-sharing (though according to said economists and futurologists, none of it now matters that much, sadly). Hell in a handcart we go then, but hang on...

“And nothing has changed”...

Come again? We know that music consumption habits have transformed for good. Access to music is ubiquitous & largely free, when it used to be scarce and fiercely ‘gate-kept’ for sale only and even then at our risk since we couldn’t even listen first. No one’s bothered about keeping a music collection now, because a) music is too plentiful to make sense to own b) the music had DRM on it when we bought it and we’ve lost it since in a hard-drive crash or c) it didn’t have DRM on it, because we got it free from somewhere so who cares, or d) it’s still free on the web somewhere, so if we did want to get it back, we could, but probably won’t as a) universally applies.

But the majority of music consumers still hear about music first on the radio, still buy albums in HMV or on Amazon and very occasionally, actually take time to listen to recorded songs – usually while on the move or doing something else. Just like we always did.
So has anything really changed? Of course, but so-called radical shifts in music demand patterns have happened so gradually as to give the supply side plenty of time to regroup, assess, experiment, and transform. After nearly ten years of this, the industry that brings us all our music has changed beyond all recognition, right? Right?

We all know that the value chain which brings us music is totally broken and the only valid economic route is for artists to go ‘DIY’. Some people out there are positively praying that this is true because they hate the incumbent music industry institutions so much.

But hang on though. No major has gone under, yet. Some recently announced increased revenues, profits or both, and most have been making various strategic acquisitions. And most still sign new bands week in, week out. As for superstar artists, look at Coldplay – how huge are they? Digitally, physically, live, every which way, huge (and their album is actually quite good so people want to hear it, buy it, own it and even keep it). Meanwhile many indie labels are doing really quite nicely thanks very much, operating pretty much as they’ve always done.
So yep, nothing rally has changed, enough. Right?

Wrong - “Everything has changed”...
All the fundamental, tectonic plates have shifted – no doubt about it. We are now just waiting for a series of little shocks to happen that will really shake, rattle & roll (sorry) the foundations of the business of music. And we all know now how this happens now thanks to Malcolm Gladwell – tipping points.

If I was making forecasts, which I’m not, I would do so by applying tipping point theory. I’m no futurologist, mind. Then again, I’ll bet you some change that one or two or maybe even three of the following tipping points will happen over the next 3-4 years. And when they do, especially in combination, everything will change, and quickly.

Here are my five music business tipping points in chronological order (if indeed chronology applies to a forecast). You will probably have a few more of your own to add.

Tipping Point 1: A major global superstar artist goes entirely digital, no more CDs
Ø Mostly likely to: Radiohead
Ø Why: The band already got half way there with In Rainbows. They are free agents commercially and they are digital trailblazers. Eco concerns over CDs
Ø Pioneers: Lots of other bands who don’t matter enough to tip the scales
Ø Impact: A forced shift in consumption habits among those consumers who have yet to go digital for whatever reasons. The band builds a completely effective direct relationship with its massive global fan base. Many major acts will follow suit, even those on label contracts insisting this is the way they want to go
Ø When: 2008. The band will get on & start releasing digital only tracks, EPs & projects more or less straight away

Tipping Point 2: A record label realises that its global direct-to-consumer business is directly more profitable than with music retailers, and subsequently largely dispenses with low margin wholesaling
Ø Most likely to: Nonesuch
Ø Why: This label has cracked the code for a valid future model for selling recorded music – aim firmly at a high value music segment (in this case 35+ discerning music buyers with eclectic, sophisticated tastes) and offer them a simple, good value product conveniently and consistently (digital and physical albums for one price direct from the label site)
Ø Pioneers: Mute tried, Blue Note really should have made it work
Ø Impact: The model will catch on. Topic, ECM, Mute, Domino will all do the same thing with considerable success. It will be attractive to artists who want to join the stable of their respected peers. Majors will get a shift on to make each label in their portfolio take a similar approach, but do to organisational constraints this will take a long time to happen
Ø When: Nonesuch from 2009, other indies from 2010. Majors might get ‘round to it eventually

Tipping Point 3: A new-entrant retailer really shakes up the consumer offer by aggregating the widest possible group of music assets for sale in one place, at amazing prices
Ø Mostly likely to: Amazon
Ø Why: The retailer already sells everything (at amazing prices) and has at least got started with its music offering. This has to be digital to be a profitable model
Ø Pioneers: ShockHound
Ø Impact: Will radically increase the average revenue per music fan of an artist (ARPU), since they can pre-order, pre-pay or subscribe to music, merchandise, tickets and a whole menagerie of exclusives
Ø When: from 2010, unless Amazon gets fed up with the complexities and bails on music

Tipping Point 4: A major label gets multi-right portfolios (previously known as 360 degree deals) working effectively as a standard model
Ø Most likely to: Universal
Ø Why: Combination of savvy, market power and momentum. Universal is busily acquiring the capabilities to both create and (critically) service multi-right contracts, with recent forays into management and merchandising through acquisitions of Sanctuary and others. If not through ownership, Universal’s market power will achieve this through partnerships with service companies in other industry sectors
Ø Pioneers: EMI, Live Nation, Nettwork
Ø Impact: The major label/‘music company’/’Dream Factory’ finds a way to survive, effectively sweeping aside all notions of disintermediation. Sony Music Entertainment could follow, Warner & EMI less certain
Ø When: From 2010

Tipping Point 5: ‘Total Music’ takes hold
Ø Most likely to: iTunes
Ø Why: Consistently innovative around consumer convenience, ease of use, style
Ø Pioneers: Nokia Comes With Music, SkyTunes
Ø Impact: Not as great as current thinking would suggest. Even though a large swathe of consumers will subscribe, there will be plenty of other consumptions models. Debates about music through ISP’s at last swept aside by those services with strong brand equity and service provision experience in music
Ø When: From 2011

Overall forecast by 2012 – generally positive but with plenty of casualties along the way.

All derived from one of Bowie’s bleakest, most depressing songs.