All posts tagged digital

  • A Conversation With Faux Pas, Melbourne electronic artist

    An interview that I’ve published at Waycooljnr.

    Melbourne electronic artist Faux Pas a.k.a. Tim ShielLast week I wrote a feature article for Australian music website Mess+Noise about Faux Pas, a Melbourne-based electronic artist whose ‘digital DIY’ approach has intrigued me since Waycooljnr founder Nick Crocker pointed me in his direction.

    I’ve since found Tim Shiel – the man behind the Faux Pas moniker, pictured right – to be a great example of an artist willing to invest time in developing his online presence. Besides using his computer to write and record his art, Shiel offers his music openly and honestly with bloggers, and allows fans to buy and share his material with minimal fuss. Below is the unedited interview that I used as the basis for my Mess+Noise feature ahead of the April 2010 release of his new album, Noiseworks.

    Full interview with Tim at Waycooljnr.

  • Mess+Noise story: ‘Faux Pas: Artist 2.0’, April 2010

    An interview feature for Mess+Noise.

    Melbourne electronic artist Faux Pas, a.k.a. Tim ShielFaux Pas: Artist 2.0

    Operating under the Faux Pas moniker, Melbourne musician and broadcaster Tim Shiel’s success hasn’t been played out among Melbourne’s live music venues, but online, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.

    “I owe a lot of people a beer.”

    This is how Tim Shiel, also known as Faux Pas, jokingly describes his career so far. Unconfined by spatial constraints, Shiel’s success as an independent solo artist hasn’t been played out in Melbourne’s live music venues, but online. The beer-owing remark was a response to his experiences with community radio, which he credits, along with the internet, with disseminating his music to Australia and beyond.

    “I don’t play live shows, so radio airplay and internet exposure are really the two main ways in which my music gets spread out there. And the thing with community radio is – and I know this is obvious, but sometimes it bears repeating – in the majority of cases, it’s the individual presenters who make the call about whether they are going to put your stuff to air or not. So there are a lot of individuals who I’m heavily indebted to.”

    Full story at Mess+Noise. Visit Bandcamp to listen to Faux Pas – I highly recommended his work.

    I also used Tim’s perspective when ‘road testing’ online music service Guvera for Mess+Noise a few weeks back; read that story here.

  • Rolling Stone story outtake: A conversation with Gavin Parry, General Manager of Digital & Brand Development, Sony BMG

    Here’s an outtake from my first Rolling Stone story on streaming music subscriptions. It’s an interview with Sony BMG‘s General Manager of Digital & Brand Development, Gavin Parry [pictured below right]. Sony launched the digital music outlet bandit.fm in late 2008. I spoke to Gavin on 25th August, 2009.

    Andrew: As I understand it, Gavin, Bandit is currently a pay-per-download site, but in October, it’s being re-launched as a purely subscription-based site for streaming music. Is that correct?

    Gavin Parry of Sony BMGNo, that’s not correct. I think what happened with the article in The Herald and everything sort of spiraled out of control and there was misreport after misreport. Essentially what’s happening is we’re continuing the download service, and a subscription service will run along side of it. You can either choose to download on a pay-per-download model, or you can choose to be involved in a streaming model, which is basically a monthly payment plan.

    So it’s up to the consumer to consume music how they want, basically.

    It’s all about trying to provide as many options as possible, remembering that we also provide all our videos free to the user, free video streaming. Every featured artist on the site, which is about 1,000 featured artists at the moment and that’s increasing, they have three tracks each that are free to the users for streaming. That’s there right now.

    How long has the streaming service launch been in the works? I know Bandit was launched in November as a download service.

    We’ve had it in place since November, when we organized all our licenses. It’s always been in our plans.

    To my knowledge, all the major labels have music for sale in the store, but Sony is the ones running the site. Is that correct?

    Correct – you have to be very clear here. What happened with The Herald article is it said we were running the service on behalf of the industry. That is incorrect. At Sony, we’ve set up Bandit and we own and operate it, but we have licensed any music from any other three majors.

    And Sony is the main financial backer of Bandit.

    Yes.

    What do you think the benefits are of a streaming-based subscription model to the previous, per-download model?

    Bandit.FM logoI just think it’s about options. There was a lot of feedback online about how people don’t stream music to the PC and people would never use it. If you look at The Music Network this week, they did an article in there that said 50% of kids stream music to their PC on a weekly basis. We know how popular Spotify is in the UK and Europe. There is no doubt that a streaming service, not just to the PC, but to any Wi-Fi device could be quite popular.

    Conversely, what do you imagine some of the costs of a streaming-based site might be, such as high bandwidth and the necessity to allow many concurrent users?

    The cost from our perspective or the cost to the consumer?

    The cost from your perspective.

    From our perspective, basically you have to employ someone like Akamai to cope with the volume. We currently employ Akamai. You are familiar with what Akamai is?

    I haven’t heard of Akamai, no.

    Rather than streaming from our servers, we basically employ a series of other computers, a network of computers that Akamai operate to take the load off of us so the streaming that occurs from a local PC – if you’re in Perth and you’re streaming from Bandit, you’ll be streaming from a computer in Perth rather than a computer from our hosting arrangement. This means the biggest cost to us is actually paying Akamai to be able to operate that high bandwidth.

    There are also hosting costs, obviously to ingest and to hold – we’re up to about 70 Terabytes worth of data. The cost of hosting is pretty significant, as well.

    Where do Australia’s internet service providers sit within this discussion? Are you concerned that Australia’s network might be ill prepared for this kind of streaming model, given that other territories have had faster connections and unlimited bandwidth, compared to Australia?

    I think it will be fine. It just depends on what sort of plan you’re on. Obviously, cable will work fine; it depends on what plan you’re on with the ISPs. A lot of the bandwidth now should be able to cope with the streaming service.

    I can imagine traveling throughout the city and falling into black spots with mobile phone coverage and having the song interrupted by buffering might be a bit annoying.

    It’s the same thing you’ve got if you’re on a Wi-Fi network. You’re up to the vagaries of what the network might be. There are concerns but it will all be up to the consumer to ensure the bandwidth they’re paying for with their ISP is adequate to stream the music.

    With Bandit, did you consider putting in place an advertising-based free service, as Spotify had done in the UK?

    We essentially have got that in place with the video streaming, and with the ‘three free tracks’, which is a limited audio catalog. The problem you’ve got is the advertising model globally, when you actually look at Spotify and other services like iMeem and Last.fm, those services have really struggled to generate enough advertising revenue to continue to operate.

    On a similar note, is Bandit’s launch time to beat Spotify to the Australian market?

    Spotify logoNo, not really. To be honest, when we launched Bandit in November, Spotify was on the radar and probably has significantly upped its profile in the last twelve months. Bandit’s plan was always to have a subscription service operating around October/November of this year.

    The other thing I should mention is there is another service that we’ll operate, and again, this is all about providing options to the consumer. We’ll be operating a model very similar to eMusic as well. People can sign up and pay a monthly fee and receive a certain value of downloads.

    A certain value, what do you mean?

    Are you familiar with the eMusic model?

    No.

    You pay a monthly fee, but you are given a certain value for that fee. You’re given a value; for say $20 a month you’ll get $30 dollars worth of value that you can download. It’s not about streaming. Again, it’s a regular payment plan, but it’s all about downloads.

    Will this value package be launched at the same time in October, or is it currently available?

    The plan is we’ll launch it at the same time as we launch the subscription package.

    Are you able to provide some figures on Bandit since it launched in November, such as how many users or what is the volume of weekly downloads?

    We’ve got a monthly net browsers now of around 80,000. We’re doing about 2 million page impressions per month. We’ve got over 50,000 active users that have actually purchased something. That’s probably enough to give you an idea. We’re quite happy where we’re at after only nine months being operational. We’re pretty much on plan, as far as where we expect the service to be. We’ve done very limited marketing so far.

    I was looking around your website earlier, and I noticed that a lot of artists have unique content-rich splash pages, which includes images, artist’s recommendations, and news [example below left]. Who supplies the content that is displayed on those pages? Is it managed in house or is it syndicated?

    Queens of the Stone Age on Sony's Bandit.fmWe’ve got our own editorial team that puts together news stories, and also looks after Bandit on Twitter and our Facebook page. We also have licensed in the All Music Guide.  When you’re looking at all the biographies and all of the similar artists and influenced by, that all comes from the All Music Guide.

    What we’re trying to do is build a very deep, rich site that is more than just a download store. You can see how it’s been built by creatives. They’re very graphical and it’s a very appealing site. That shows with our average session duration which is around 15 minutes.

    How many staff are working on Bandit full-time?

    We’re still in development mode, so we’ve got a team of probably four developers. We’ve also got a person in customer service, editorial, operations, and also we have a programmer who deals with the other labels.

    It’s still a pretty small team of around ten, would you say?

    Yeah, which we’ll scale down once we’ve finished the development phase.

    What inspired the decision to make Bandit operate within the browser as opposed to an external program, such as Nokia’s Music Store?

    It’s really a matter of what you can support. If you build something within a browser – it’s really a phased approach. The first thing is once you build it within a browser, you know you’ve got a higher chance of compatibility with most computers. If you build an application, it’s much more work to get compatibility with all the various operating systems. It’s really initially a cost consideration, but having said that; we’re currently working on a download manager which is built using Adobe AIR. That’s basically an application that will sit above the site, which will manage the download process, and also manage your library. We have to roll that out in October, as well.

    October is going to be a big month for you, then.

    Yeah, the guys are flat-stick at the moment. We’ve got them down in the dungeon, working hard!

    Final question – are Sony using the Australian Bandit Store as a kind of testing ground for potential expansion to foreign territories?

    I think the focus is just making the Australian site a success, and then we’ll see where it goes from there.

    Fair enough. That’s all my questions. Did you want to add anything else?

    'Grunged' channel on Sony's bandit.fmThe other thing that we’ll be adding in October is a level of social networking, which will be quite interesting. In that case, the core part about Bandit is the channels. You can see different channels which split music be genre, by demographic. We put up the faith channel yesterday, which is all about Christian music. Coming in October, when we launch the social network piece, each user will not only have a user profile, but also will have his own channel. The idea is that a user can go on, select their own playlists, stream music, connect to other artist, connect to other channels, connect to other users, and in that way we’re actually giving people a lot more context. Their channel will be a representation of themselves, musically, online.

    This idea of ‘channels’ kind of makes me think that you’re trying to build on the concept of the radio station, so everyone has their own channel.

    To some degree, that’s it, the ability to essentially create your playlist. We think the subscription service also has quite relevance to families, and it’s not just focused on teenagers and young adults. I think the subscription model going to a family where they have unlimited music online, and they can basically just turn Bandit on to their stereo, set up their playlists, and play music in stereo, I think that is a big thing. In that case, they are actually setting up their own radio station.

    Okay, thanks for your time, Gavin. I appreciate it.

    No problem.

  • How I Pitched ‘For The Record’

    The Music Network logoIn June 2009, The Music Network published my first commissioned article. It was the first in a five-part series called ‘For The Record’, a retrospective feature on the album format and whether it’s still relevant. Start with part one here.

    I recall spending a couple of hours on a May morning putting all of my thoughts and feelings on ‘the album’ down onto paper, and then transcribing it into a document and emailing it to the assistant editor. At the time, these articles (and the resultant commissions) were just about all I had going, so I threw myself at the opportunity completely.

    It’s funny and a bit embarrassing for me to look back over this pitch, as it’s quite childish, incoherent and – as I’ve since learned – the exact opposite of what most editors look for in story pitches: brevity and clarity.

    Below is how I initially pitched the article to the magazine for their ‘Digital View’ section (which later became ‘Digital & Media’ after their redesign).

    The Music Network – Death Of The Album pitch (this is a placeholder title, btw)

    This is a feature discussing the reduced importance that consumers place on the concept of the album, and how the music industry should largely adopt a new ‘organising principle’ in order to match consumer demand. I will be careful to qualify this by stating that release schedules should be re-examined on a per-artist basis, though, because the album still has some place; it’s just been marginalised.

    The articles will use a consistent, measured tone that injects humour and attitude, but forgoes condescension. I’ll strive for objectivity here, though this is a topic that I could easily rant about subjectively. ;)

    I envisage five parts, though it could go one less or more. This will become apparent once I start writing.

    Precis:

    I: A history of the album

    • Why does the album exist? Who imposed the 74-minute limitation?
    • Summarise the development of the format; Sony, Phillips, competing technologies, how it took a decade for the CD to supersede the LP
    • Album historically serves as the preferred way to contain profits and maintain both consumer interest and a release schedule. Containment and maintenance.
    • From LP to CD to digital; the medium has changed but the ‘organising principle‘ (the album – a term attributed to Gang Of Four’s Dave Allen) remains the same
    • The industry revolves around the album: release schedules, record deals, album reviews, pricing structure
    • Why is this a problem? Hint at changing consumer habits, and part II

    II: What’s changed?

    • Objection: “I still listen to albums!” So do I. Because it’s still the most prevalent manner of distributing music.
    • It is important to understand this point: albums are still sold, whether digital or physical, but the widened choice afforded to consumers has resulted in a decreased attention span.
    • To illustrate: here’s a regular album. It’s front-loaded with some great songs, the ones that you heard before you bought it. Then you get to the second half of the album and, more than likely, it’s not as good. Think about all those times you’ve tried really hard to enjoy later tracks on album just so that you claim to honestly love it all. It’s hard work; I’d argue it’s an unnecessarily big ask on the listener.
    • It’s a complaint as old as the album itself: “A few of these tracks are awesome, but the rest are a waste of time.” Hi, MGMT.
    • Define consumer; who is buying music in which format? Different trends for different demographics
    • Discuss ‘killer versus filler’: Bob Lefsetz quotes here
    • No band deserves all of your attention, and it’s selfish of them to expect that from you. No band claims to be the best band in the world, except The Hives. So why do they tack noticeably sub-par songs onto the end of otherwise riveting albums? Because record labels are tied to the concept. Lead into part III.

    III: What hasn’t changed?

    • The main point to reinforce here is the change in consumer (listener) habit. Technology and portability has severed our attachment to the album format. Provide anecdotal evidence of what the album (LP) used to represent; a social object that could only be played in the home, or at a dance hall.
    • Every notion you hold about albums – the great, the poor – are built upon a format created to streamline label profit
    • If our attention has splintered beyond the confines of the standard 12 tracks/45 minutes, why do new albums keep appearing on store shelves, both virtual and physical?
    • Quote iTunes facts here – single vs album sales
    • Point out the correlation between these facts; that is, a division between consumer habit and industry habit.
    • Visual analogy: picture listeners and labels as running on two parallel lines. While the latter ignores the changing habits of the former, the two shall never meet. Piracy and discontent will deepen the divide.
    • Major label profits have dived as a result of piracy, sure, but consider an alternative: that consumers are sick of spending $20 on a disc with only a couple of good songs. It’s easier to download the lot and listen to what you want, or to just pick and choose individual tracks.

    IV: What needs to change in order to better serve consumer interest?

    • Marketing structures and strategies (thanks Jade!). Label-signed artists who are locked into multi-album deals have it tough.
    • These multi-album deals perpetuate the ‘few strong songs, mostly average songs’ trend to which we’ve become accustomed. To which we’ve responded with ignorance, piracy or pick-and-choose song downloads.
    • What we need is increased quality control on the label’s part. Work with artists to allow them to discover the medium with which they’re most comfortable releasing music, and then work with them to realise these goals.
    • Gone are the days of slapping a ‘one-format-fits-all’ tag on all artists, with the end-goal of album after album. There may be artists who still want to do that, absolutely. But to portray the album as the only marker of recorded success? This is a fallacy has been disproven.
    • It is vital that adequate pricing structures and business models are adopted for a variety of releases – single song, small collection of songs (EPs), live performances – to ensure that artists can live comfortably off their earnings. So that they may continue to make music.
    • This is an aspect that is often forgotten among the frequent discussion surrounding ‘the music industry’. All too often, we forget that the industry is built on the creative talents of songwriters, musicians and performers whose music engages. Music is an inherently social creation that is only becoming more social, as fans connect online and artist revenue streams continue their shift from recording-based to performance-based.
    • Discuss alternative business models; hint at part V

    V: The future of a reduced reliance on the album as the organising principle

    • I imagine a steady stream of single tracks, with occasional EP and album releases. I think Bloc Party have done this recently?
    • Give examples of artists who have tried alternative release models + quotes
    • Give examples of artists who have successfully trialled new models. Avoid relying on big cases here (eg Radiohead, NIN); if this is to be believed, I’ll need to give more compelling examples than artist with millions-strong fanbases.
    • Reinforce why a reduced reliance on the album is not a bad thing. Our listening habits have changed, but we still feel an attachment to the album concept. Cognitive dissonance might be worth including here.. or that could just dilute my argument. Will see.
    • Reinforce the ‘digital’ aspect here, for this is The Digital View, damnit! Digital is the entire reason that the album has become a less pertinent format of music dissemination.
    • But – what of record stores, if a reduced reliance on albums (‘records’)? There’s a discussion for another column, one that’s not necessarily attached to this five-part album discussion.

    After the articles were approved – and I totally rejoiced, as this was the first time I’d written anything other than CD or live reviews for money – I ran the above pitch past my friend, David Carter, who lectures at the Queensland Conservatorium. His expertise on matters concerning the music industry are documented on his blog, Where To Now?

    David’s comments in (an appropriately academic) red.

    I: A history of the album

    • Why does the album exist? Who imposed the 74-minute limitation?
    • Summarise the development of the format; Sony, Phillips, competing technologies, how it took a decade for the CD to supersede the LP
    • Album historically serves as the preferred way to contain profits and maintain both consumer interest and a release schedule. Containment and maintenance. think you might be missing something here re production and distribution costs that need discussion up-front; what was the first album? why was the first album? these might be better ‘organising principles’ here – trace development of the album as a collection of singles to autonomous artwork – point out that the album-as-art had to do with innovative / creative use of the medium rather than an inherent element of the medium itself
    • From LP to CD to digital; the medium has changed but the ‘organising principle’ (the album – a term attributed to Gang Of Four’s Dave Allen) remains the same
    • The recorded music? industry revolves around the album: release schedules, record deals, album reviews, pricing structure ‘music’ industry has always included other revenue streams – side point but worth pointing out
    • Why is this a problem? Hint at changing consumer habits, and part II

    II: What’s changed?

    • Objection: “I still listen to albums!” So do I. Because it’s still the most prevalent manner of distributing music perhaps a more important objection – ‘I still want to sell albums’?
    • It is important to understand this point: albums are still sold, whether digital or physical, but the widened choice afforded to consumers has resulted in a decreased attention span not so sure about this – Your assertion that ‘widened choice’ has resulted in ‘shorter attention spans’ is problematic – I don’t think you can prove a causal relationship here and not sure if it’s really attention span you’re talking about or a lower tolerance for filler? I think you’re getting at changing methods of the consumption / reception of music thanks to advances in computing and telecommunication technologies and while this has resulted in wider access to certain types of content the key thing here for music listeners has been the ability to easily re-order and separate out albums. It’s not the ‘internet’ that has ‘killed’ the album but rather the ability for consumers to ‘roll their own’ albums. – one point I think you’re missing in terms of what’s changed is ‘technology’; particularly the iPod. It seems to be there in III but not explicit here? Another point to make is that online the cost of manufacturing and distribution approaches zero for both content creator and consumer and this has fundamentally changed the marketplace.
    • To illustrate: here’s a regular album. It’s front-loaded with some great songs, the ones that you heard before you bought it. Then you get to the second half of the album and, more than likely, it’s not as good. Think about all those times you’ve tried really hard to enjoy later tracks on album just so that you claim to honestly love it all. It’s hard work; I’d argue it’s an unnecessarily big ask on the listener.
    • It’s a complaint as old as the album itself: “A few of these tracks are awesome, but the rest are a waste of time.” Hi, MGMT. this has always been the case with pop music and why labels used to sell singles; need to think about / discuss why digital is different.
    • Define consumer; who is buying music in which format? Different trends for different demographics and also think about what / why they’re buying and what they end up doing with it. Maybe there’s an element of musical discovery in exploring ‘album tracks’ by Nick Drake or Dylan (for example) that grow your appreciation for their artistry; maybe you want the physical backup of a CD; if your iPod is your only music storage device what happens to those mp3’s you don’t want to listen to anymore?
    • Discuss ‘killer versus filler’: Bob Lefsetz quotes here
    • No band deserves all of your attention, and it’s selfish of them to expect that from you. No band claims to be the best band in the world, except The Hives. So why do they tack noticeably sub-par songs onto the end of otherwise riveting albums? Because record labels are tied to the concept. Lead into part III. or because they don’t think the tracks are sub-par; because they’ve bought into the notion that the format is art rather than product; because the drummer wrote the song and was complaining about not getting enough writing / royalty credits; etc. – there are a lot of reasons albums contain filler, some of which pertain to market expectations but not all. Don’t think you’ve made this point convincingly.

    III: What hasn’t changed?

    • The main point to reinforce here is the change in consumer (listener) habit. Technology and portability has severed our attachment to the album format. Provide anecdotal evidence of what the album (LP) used to represent; a social object that could only be played in the home, or at a dance hall. think you can provide physical evidence here in terms of sales from the iTunes music store – overwhelmingly consumers are buying singles;
    • Every notion you hold about albums – the great, the poor – are built upon a format created to streamline label profit and a format that still must make monetary sense to the labels – even online; why? discuss.
    • If our attention has splintered beyond the confines of the standard 12 tracks/45 minutes, why do new albums keep appearing on store shelves, both virtual and physical?
    • Quote iTunes facts here – single vs album sales
    • Point out the correlation between these facts; that is, a division between consumer habit and industry habit.
    • Visual analogy: picture listeners and labels as running on two parallel lines. While the latter ignores the changing habits of the former, the two shall never meet. Piracy and discontent will deepen the divide. suggest you need to discuss / take into account that albums and bands still make money off physical discs – at present people are still buying CD’s, despite all the rhetoric; perhaps not so much that the labels are running parrallel to consumer sentiment but that they haven’t viewed digital downloads as a fundamentally different product?
    • Major label profits have dived as a result of piracy not sure if you should concede this point – have they dived because of piracy or because of a format / consumption shift? , sure, but consider an alternative: that consumers are sick of spending $20 on a disc with only a couple of good songs. It’s easier to download the lot and listen to what you want, or to just pick and choose individual tracks this is an old argument that I don’t think you need to embroil yourself in – this isn’t about copyright and piracy it’s about how (if) recorded music can be marketed and monetised.

    IV: What needs to change in order to better serve consumer interest?

    • Marketing structures and strategies (thanks Jade!). Label-signed artists who are locked into multi-album deals have it tough.
    • These multi-album deals perpetuate the ‘few strong songs, mostly average songs’ trend why? ideally everyone involved wants an album worth of strong songs – what stops this happening? wonder if there’s something here to do with advances in technology / no development money allowing a lesser level of songwriter / composer access to an audience? to which we’ve become accustomed. To which we’ve responded with ignorance, piracy or pick-and-choose song downloads.
    • What we need is increased quality control on the label’s part. Work with artists to allow them to discover the medium with which they’re most comfortable releasing music, and then work with them to realise these goals.
    • Gone are the days of slapping a ‘one-format-fits-all’ tag on all artists, with the end-goal of album after album. There may be artists who still want to do that, absolutely. But to portray the album as the only marker of recorded success? This is a fallacy has been disproven. not sure this is what labels are doing though – again, they want to make the most money they can from a release in the context of a very unpredictable market; if they thought they could do this with singles they would; why haven’t they?
    • It is vital that adequate pricing structures and business models are adopted for a variety of releases – single song, small collection of songs (EPs), live performances – to ensure that artists can live comfortably off their earnings there’s a fallacy going around that artists used to live comfortably off their earnings from record sales – it’s not true – very few artists (particularly major label artists) made / make significant personal profit from album sales; the real money for artists is and has always been in royalties, touring and merchandising. There is such a small percentage of records that actually make anyone any money it’s ridiculous – why then have record companies and artists perpetuated such a seemingly flawed business model? So that they may continue to make music.
    • This is an aspect that is often forgotten among the frequent discussion surrounding ‘the music industry’. All too often, we forget that the industry is built on the creative talents of songwriters, musicians and performers whose music engages. Music is an inherently social creation that is only becoming more social, as fans connect online and artist revenue streams continue their shift from recording-based to performance-based think you need to address the differences between music as product vs music as service in here somewhere
    • Discuss alternative business models; hint at part V

    V: The future of a reduced reliance on the album as the organising principle think you might want to review / throw out some of this and incorporate whatever’s left into part IV – particularly artist examples. Don’t think there’s enough new ideas here to warrant a fifth part.

    • I imagine a steady stream of single tracks, with occasional EP and album releases. I think Bloc Party have done this recently?
    • Give examples of artists who have tried alternative release models + quotes
    • Give examples of artists who have successfully trialled new models. Avoid relying on big cases here (eg Radiohead, NIN); if this is to be believed, I’ll need to give more compelling examples than artist with millions-strong fanbases.
    • Reinforce why a reduced reliance on the album is not a bad thing. Our listening habits have changed, but we still feel an attachment to the album concept. Cognitive dissonance might be worth including here.. nah – be honest; too many people out there already saying ‘this is the future’. not enough willing to say ‘I’m unsure / conflicted / fascinated’ or that could just dilute my argument. Will see.
    • Reinforce the ‘digital’ aspect here, for this is The Digital View, damnit! Digital is the entire reason that the album has become a less pertinent format of music dissemination.
    • But – what of record stores, if a reduced reliance on albums (‘records’)? There’s a discussion for another column, one that’s not necessarily attached to this five-part album discussion.

    Read the published articles here: part onepart twopart threepart four and part five.

    Note how the latter half of the series totally deviated from the initial pitch, as – like David rightly pointed out – there weren’t enough new ideas to warrant needlessly dragging the feature out. So I decided to interview some musicians instead; always a reliable fallback for any stuck music journalist.

  • A Conversation With Neil Ackland, Sound Alliance Managing Director

    Sound Alliance. You mightn’t be familiar with the name, but most Australian web users will be aware of their music communities: inthemix, FasterLouder, and recently, Mess+Noise. The alliance was formed when Neil Ackland joined Libby Clark and Andre Lackmann, who launched dance music community inthemix out of a spare bedroom in 2000. They’ve since expanded to a team of 45. Their influence on the Australian web industry is huge, so when the opportunity to interview Neil arose, I jumped at it.

    Andrew: Neil, you’ve obviously had a lot of experience with planning, goal setting, and so forth for the Sound Alliance. When planning a new venture, have you found it’s best to shoot for the top, as opposed to aiming for a less ambitious goal?

    Neil Ackland: Positively glowingNeil: I think it depends on how you value success, really, in terms of shooting for the top. I think we’ve taken a very long-term view to a lot of the ventures that we’ve launched. I think the game we’re in is not a make-a-quick-buck game, by any stretch of the imagination. I think our intent here is of running inthemix, for example, and sites like FasterLouder, and Mess+Noise, and [gay/lesbian community] SameSame require constant energy, nurture and investment – both in terms of time and money – to get them to continue to grow and to continue to flourish.

    I don’t think we ever went into this thinking that it was going to be a massive success [when inthemix first began in 2000]. We just saw an opportunity in the market to do something a little bit interesting. We saw some gaps there, and fundamentally just believed that online was the way of the future for the way people were going to consume content. Whether that happened in a year or ten years, we were confident that was eventually going to be the way it was going to go.

    Over the last couple of years, it’s started to really bear fruit. I think we’re an ambitious bunch and we obviously want each of our media properties to be the leading destination within that category. We didn’t come into it saying, “Let’s go global, and take in the world and become the next MySpace,” or whatever. It was always much more about providing a good solid base for Australian music fans, I suppose.

    What were your goals with Sound Alliance for those first couple of years?

    I’ll put it in context for you. Before we had Sound Alliance, inthemix [ITM] was the first business that we launched. It was set up as a hobby. We came together, the three partners here, and we’re all really passionate about dance music and electronic music, and we set it up as something that we do in or spare time, outside of our day jobs, and very humble beginnings.

    We never really had any great aspirations of it becoming Sound Alliance, at that time. It was more a case of wanting to do something we were really passionate about. All of us had day jobs that didn’t really fulfill our entrepreneurial flair, our passions, or our interests. They were just day jobs. We wanted to do something a bit different outside of that.
    It just flourished from there. The first couple of years were about were trying to establish enough of a business model around inthemix so that one day we could stop doing our day jobs and do it full-time. That was the first goal and the first dream that we wanted to achieve.

    It must have been an amazing time, at the point where you could quit your day jobs and focus on inthemix and Sound Alliance as a business.

    Yeah, I actually got fired from my job, so…

    That was convenient!

    [Laughs] It was actually the best thing that ever happened, to be honest with you. It was a good time. It was really exciting. I think whenever you’re launching a new business, you’re young, enthusiastic, and you are confident in your ideas and you want to go out there and have a go, it’s a really exciting time. I think that is what I love about setting up new businesses, that feeling of something new. I think ultimately, the three of us are all entrepreneurs at heart. We get a real buzz from seeing things, coming up with ideas, or working with other peoples’ ideas and taking them through to fruition.

    I look back on that stage of my career very fondly, because at that time, the game was much more about something that you’re really passionate about. I was just bouncing out of bed in the morning, really enthused and excited about the day. Working all the hours, going out on the weekend and getting amongst it and really immersing myself and seeing, and enjoying something that was very fresh and new at the time.

    inthemix was one of the first online communities in Australia that really had some momentum behind it. It was really exciting to be a part of that. You really felt like you were part of something bigger than just a business. It was much more than a business. It was a bit more of a movement, I suppose, at the time.

    So from starting as a part-time hobby, and not really measuring your goals in any specific way, how has that changed since Sound Alliance has become a profitable business, of late, with its numerous ventures?

    It’s changed a lot in a sense, but now there is a lot more responsibility. It’s far more professional and the scale of it has changed dramatically over those ten years. The same fundamentals exist; we’re still passionate about our product and our sites, and we’re really passionate about the subject matter: the music industry in general, and being a part of that.

    I think that running a team of 45 staff is a big responsibility. I think our business skills have probably expanded and evolved over time, quite a lot. I think we’ve really been able to refine our business model and our business skills, and learn about quite a diverse range of areas within the music industry. It’s become a real business now, rather than just a hobby.

    That’s good, because if you do the same thing for a long period of time, it has to constantly evolve and change, otherwise, you can’t stay engaged at the same level. I think for the three partners in this business, it feels like every year we’re almost taking on a new role and a new challenge. We’re constantly engaged, so it doesn’t feel like we’ve been in the same job for ten years because we haven’t; we’re always doing something new and fresh and interesting. It keeps us focused and really engaged with the business.

    You and your Sound Alliance co-founders were recognised as ‘Creative Catalysts’ earlier in the year. Are you often approached by young people who view you as a source of creative inspiration, or was that a new experience for you?

    We were really surprised by that. We were quite honored to be included in that list. I wouldn’t say that type of thing happens very often. I think we probably try to provide as much inspiration as possible to the people within our team: our staff, our contributors, our state editors and that type of thing, whenever we get an opportunity to speak to them face-to-face, or get some time with them. I think inspiration is really important.

    We put a lot of effort into trying to nurture talent within our business. We’ve had a lot of staff who joined us as contributors. Tim Hardaker joined inthemix as a part-time writer when he became a contributor while he was at uni. He’s been with us for six years and is now the General Manager of inthemix. Those are the types of things that we are quite proud of, in terms of not just giving people inspiration, but giving them opportunities to succeed, as well.

    In the early days of Sound Alliance, who were your sources of inspiration?

    Neil Ackland: eyez on the prize

    I was inspired by quite a few people in a lot of different areas, just generally people around me. I was quite inspired by different promoters and DJs. When I first came to Australia in ’98, I met quite a few different people around the Sydney scene. I found it really vibrant and really open and welcoming, versus what I’d experienced in the U.K.

    There were some interesting inspirations. Jon Peters, who was the brainchild of kGrind, back in the day. He was a really interesting guy who had some really stretched thinking and really out-there ideas. He managed to get people to buy into his ideas and I found that really inspiring at the time; that the power of an idea could be enough to bring a whole group of people together behind something. That was quite inspiring. I was always inspired by people who had come from not much, but who had still been able to achieve a lot with a bit of street smarts and because they were passionate about what they did.

    Did you have a mentor during that time?

    I didn’t, actually. I’ve always relied heavily on my business partners, and them on me in return. I don’t think it would have been possible to do what we’ve done with just me running the business, or just the two of us. I think the “alliance” part of Sound Alliance is one of our key strengths.

    There are so many facets of running a business and getting a business from where we were to where we are now. It’s not just beyond my own skill set, but just things I’m not passionate about that my other partners are, the technical or legal aspects or financial or accounting aspects of the business. All these different areas, I would look at any one entrepreneur who was able to launch a business on their own and try to do all those things and think that was pretty amazing, because the skill set required is really quite broad and quite vast. That’s why I always felt that I had support and a different skill set requirement amongst the three partners in the business.

    We help each other through the tough times, and we share in each others’ successes.

    Despite being the head of Australia’s largest independent online publisher, your personal online presence is reasonably subdued, in that you don’t tend to blow your own horn too often. Was this a conscious strategy from day one, or are you naturally modest?

    I’m not crazy about being thrust into the limelight, it has to be said. I prefer to let the results and our products do the talking rather than me, always. In the last year or so, I’ve probably taken a bit more outward approach to getting our name out there. I’ve had some success around that, but I don’t know. There is so much to our business that is just about the team effort. I’m happy to fly the flag for the team, but I don’t really see it being something that’s about any one particular person.

    You can see where I’m coming from though. Guys in their sales and advertising fields don’t tend to let their achievements speak for themselves too often. I respect that you’re pretty low key about your achievements. That’s really awesome.

    I suppose I’m very aware of the tall poppy syndrome in Australia. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, over the years, who have come out telling a big story and shouting from the rooftops about not a lot, in terms of actual delivery, or the reality of what they’ve got. I’ve always looked upon that type of thing with a bit of cynicism, and I just think it’s never really been our style. We’ve got a slightly different approach to the way we do things and that’s worked for us so far. We haven’t really felt the need to go shouting too much.

    Is there a particular reason why you don’t share your business and motivational thoughts with the world, in the form of a blog, or is it just a matter of being time-poor?

    It’s funny you say that. I am actually setting up a blog at the moment, which will be probably going live in the next few weeks. We’re going to combine blogs, so there will be a developers’ blog, which will be Andre [Lackmann] who is the CTO here. He and his development team want to share some of the work that they’ve been doing and invite input from other developers, around some of the social media tools. Myself, and Stig [Richards], who runs the agency [Thought By Them] here, will be updating our side of the blog, which will be coming at the music industry from amarketing/brands/advertising/digital kind of perspective.

    A lot of it does come down to just being dedicated to something and being very time-poor. I’m interested in changing. I do read a lot of blogs and I follow some people whose opinion I really value. I think we’ve got some interesting stuff to share. I don’t think we’ll be updating it every day or anything, but I’m sure there will be some interesting tidbits coming through.

    Definitely. I think you’d attract a significant audience if you guys told the story behind what’s going on with Sound Alliance and how you got there. That’d be a great story.

    Cool, thanks for the feedback. Let me know what you think of the blog when it goes live.

    I will do. Personally, my connection to Sound Alliance began when I started writing for FasterLouder in June 2007. I now write for Mess+Noise [pictured below right, in magazine form], and I’ve always thought it was interesting that one of these sites pay its contributors, while the other doesn’t. What’s the difference between the two?

    Mess+Noise: definitely not available in the supermarket.When we were initially presented with the opportunity to acquire Mess+Noise, we were really interested in the community. We really loved what they’ve been able to create and recognized how unique it was, in the sense that it really didn’t take a lot of time and a lot of different factors to create success in terms of doing a community online. Those guys have achieved that really well.

    One of the things we were really attracted to about Mess+Noise is that it had a real focus on allowing its writers to focus on quality, and not be constrained by either an advertorial approach to content or word limits, or the speed at which they had to respond. They very much did things their own way, at their own pace, and they said exactly what they wanted to say. We really respected that. I liked that about what they were doing.

    I think FasterLouder, for us, is a great platform for writers, photographers, and creative people to start engaging with the live music scene. I think the way we would view Mess+Noise is that it was less about the immediacy of having the gig review and photos up a couple of days after the gig; it was much more timeless, and focused on quality over quantity.

    We wanted to take a different approach with Mess+Noise and try to focus on that; really try to nurture some of the great professional writers and professional photographers who are out there, and bring them across to Mess+Noise to engage with the site.

    Our reason, I suppose, is that a young writer could hone their skills, cut their teeth if you like, by contributing to FasterLouder, and eventually when they’re ready, they’ll be able to move up to start writing for Mess+Noise, and start to be paid for what they do. That’s the path we’re hoping we’re able to take young writers and young photographers on, and that they can see that we can nurture those skills, give them feedback, and pass them through that process to a point where they can hopefully become professional writers or professional photographers.

    That’s really cool that you talk about it like that because I’d like to continue the discussion along those lines. I found my experience to be exactly what you said. Taking the time to contribute for free is wonderful and a great opportunity for people who are just starting out in web publishing; often the experience, the community feedback and the industry freebies are seen as a reward in themselves. But as you know, there comes a time when these free contributors decide to move onto paid work. I think the Australian street press has a similar staff turnover: writers learn the ropes and then tend to leave within a few years.

    FasterLouder: goes to 11, sometimes

    I think it’s really tough. It’s changed the dynamics and the economic structures of a whole range of things. The one thing I do think something like FasterLouder helps provide is an opportunity for feedback. It gives a great feedback loop and an opportunity for writers to see how many people have viewed their articles, and to get people to ‘heart’ and comment on it, discuss it. I think that is one of the great things that FasterLouder offers, in terms of being able to get some feedback on your writing.

    You could put something out on a blog about a gig that you went to on the weekend, but the number of people who are likely to see it is quite limited. I think you get to expose your work to a broader range of people and the pressure is not as intense, and as high as it would be as if you were writing for a very critical, discerning audience on a site like Mess+Noise. The parameters are not quite as restrictive.

    I think that’s really cool that you guys have kind of had that strategy from the start at FasterLouder, and then progressed on to Mess+Noise when the time was right.

    I think we tried to adopt that approach even before we had Mess+Noise, in the sense that the heads of the talented and the really passionate always pop up above the crowd, and we try to bring them in. As I said before, we’ve got staff here who came through that contributor process, and have now come through to be full-time employees down the line, or just contributors being paid by Mess+Noise.

    There are not millions of opportunities, but they do come up occasionally. Where possible, we always try to include the people who’ve worked with us over that time.

    The people who are really outstanding do tend to rise above the crowd and receive more opportunities, so it’s kind of a natural selection process. That’s cool. Moving on; your LinkedIn profile states that you’re adept at establishing profitable business models from niche social media.

    You’ve done your research!

    How long did it take for inthemix to become profitable, broadly speaking?

    Off the top of my head, I’m not entirely sure about inthemix. I think inthemix was probably more of a phenomenon than even we thought it was going to be. Our approach with what we did with our business was always to reinvest. inthemix, in isolation, had we just kept that company running as five or six people working on the business, it would be an extremely successful business, but what we’ve chosen to do is to build our company out, create Sound Alliance, and reinvest all that money back into building the business we have today.

    I think in isolation, inthemix is still a fantastic company, business, and community; all of those things, and it continues to grow. Every time we think we’ve definitely reached our maximum audience at the site, it defies belief and keeps on going. That’s a really solid business model right there. I didn’t really answer your question, did I?

    No, not specifically, but that’s okay. [Laughs] Has Sound Alliance ever sought venture capital funding?

    Yes, we have. We’re one of the few Australian companies in our industry who have succeeded in getting venture capital funding. I know a lot of people who have tried and failed. The process is exhausting, and it’s a whole new world out there, I can tell you.

    We managed to get a round of funding last year, and the partner is Albert Investments Group, which is a parent company of Albert Music, the publishing and recording business. They have music studios over in Neutral Bay; they’ve got AC/DC and Dallas Crane, and a few other acts. They’re a really great fit for us.

    We’ve really seen eye-to-eye with them in terms of the cultural sphere of our business and the fact that they’re family-run. They’re one of the oldest music businesses in Australia, and they ended up being a really great partner. There were a lot of companies fishing around out there when we were entering that ‘boom’ period just before the financial crisis There were a lot of conversations going on. I don’t think there was a single online company worth its salt that hadn’t been approached by numerous people, at that time. It was just the way it was back then.

    albert_music

    We’re very fortunate. We managed to take on a partner as a minority shareholder in the business, who shares our goals and our vision for what we’re trying to achieve. They are hugely supportive in getting us there, and have been able to provide a lot of value and not just in terms of capital investment, but in terms of the network they’ve been able to open us up to, their skills, and knowledge of the music industry have all been invaluable.

    So you guys had pursued that for most of your time as Sound Alliance, but you only found a partner, just last year?

    No, we’d only been out there looking for about nine months, or something like that. It wasn’t something that had been a priority prior to that.

    Returning to yourself; do you have a daily routine?

    Not really. If I had the choice, I would probably a lot more routine focused. My day is pretty irregular, in terms of what happens. I have a lot of regularly scheduled meetings that happen week in, week out but outside of that, I could be pulled in any number of directions, depending on what’s going on at any one time.

    In a way, I kind of like that aspect of my role, in that it’s very dynamic and it requires me to use left brain/right brain, and switch on and off in different occasions and at different times. It’s what keeps it really challenging. No, I don’t have a massive routine in terms of the way I structure my day.

    Has this changed since you started ten years ago?

    I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a massive routine person, in terms of what I do. I will always try and dedicate some of my day to researching into keeping up with what’s going on out there. I don’t always do it at the same time every day, but I’ll always spend some of my day doing that whenever I can sneak it in; when I’m on a cab checking my phone, checking out news stories and blogs, or when I get home before I go to bed at night, or however I can squeeze those types of things in. I don’t say “At 9:00 in the morning, I’m going to do this for twenty minutes.” I’m a bit more sporadic than that.

    Do you ever struggle with procrastination?

    When I’m tired, yeah, but I tend to make quite quick decisions. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t dwell on things too long. You have to use your instinct and your gut to make a lot of your decisions, where when you’ve got time to procrastinate and pore over the details, that’s great, and sometimes I’ll do that. But generally, my instincts will tell me which way to go and I just don’t have the time to procrastinate.

    So you don’t have any trouble remaining focused on the task at hand? You just devote the time necessary and then move on?

    Yeah, I think I can get through quite a bit of stuff quite quickly. I can process a lot of things during the day and move through quite a few things in a short space of time. If I have to focus on something, I’ll go home and work from home. If I’m writing something really important or working on numbers or spreadsheets, I’ll put my headphones on or get out of the office and try to focus on it there.

    Let’s talk about [Sound Alliance marketing consultancy arm] Thought By Them for a moment. Is it at the stage where companies and events come to you for consultancy or do you guys still submit proposals for these projects, like regular businesses?

    Thought By Them: they make ideasIt’s a lot more people coming to us now. It used to be, in the early stages, us going out there and trying to tell people about what we’re doing. We’ve never really been out there in terms of pitching all the time, and trying to win big pitches. We have taken the approach that what we’re offering is quite a specialist thing and it doesn’t suit all brands; it only suits certain types of brands at some stage in their lifecycle. More often, they’ve kind of found us rather than us finding them.

    With Thought By Them, we didn’t want to get too big, too fast. We try to focus on delivering really good value and really good ideas, and constantly innovating, rather than exploding and taking on too many clients. We’ve really focused on having one client in one brand category, rather than having a lot of different clients in the same category.
    It’s been a really organic approach. I think that’s really suited us because we’ve been able to learn a lot during that time, and really hone our skills, like how unique our position is in the market.

    How did the music licensing and CD production arm of Thought By Them come about?

    We don’t do too much of that at the moment, to be honest. It was really more a case of just seeing opportunities for brands. We don’t tend to work within strict disciplines, in terms of our work arrangements and that type of thing. We tend to be quite fluid, and try and react as things are going on amongst consumers and provide our solutions right to that, rather than sticking within a mandate of just being a digital agency, or an events agency, or a music agency.
    With music licensing, and that type of thing, if it’s the right solution for what one of our clients is looking to achieve, then we would recommend it. It’s not something that we roll out as part of any standard product offering.

    I’m assuming that digital music distribution has affected the CD production aspect that you guys offer.

    Yeah, but the CD production stuff is such a small part of what we do. We’ve only really done it a few times for specific clients when it’s been a requirement, but it’s not really a core part of what Thought By Them is doing.

    You’re a few years older than me, so you knew a time before the web dominated our means of mass communication. Something that I’ve been doing more and more in the last year is reaching out to individuals who inspire or fascinate me, such as yourself. Do you have any tips for approaching these seemingly ultra-busy, really important figures?

    [Laughs] I can only look back on the people who have approached me, and the ones that have had success in doing so. I’ve never shut the door on anybody or denied anybody my time, if they’ve been polite in the way they’ve approached me and I think I can assist them. If they’ve taken an interesting approach, then I’ll always give my time.

    I’d be surprised if many other people who are in the industry would take a much different approach to that, but I’m sure some people do. Generally speaking, I think if people were reaching out, asking for information and advice, I’m more than happy to try and provide it, if I can squeeze in the time.

    Nick Crocker: checking all the boxes, and the checkered shirtsWith Nick Crocker [pictured right; Native Digital owner, and my mentor], for example, when he first got in touch with me, it was a matter of a mutual friend saying, “Hey, you should catch up with this person. It’s worthwhile meeting up with him,” as he came to me through Luke at Universal. There was never really an agenda. It was just an interesting guy worth catching up with, much the same way as he now passed your details along to me, and we’re talking today.

    I think it’s good to really try to work on your network. You don’t always have to start by targeting somebody who is right at the top of your inspiration tree. You can find your way there by other means.

    It’s best to just have a go. I think you’d be surprised; a lot of people have this misconception of “Oh my God, I could never just find that person’s email address, or contact them through LinkedIn or Twitter, and ask them if they fancy coffee.” There is no harm in trying. I think you might be surprised. I’ve probably had a couple of people approach me with an ulterior motive; maybe they were a recruiter or something like that and I might not have got back to them, but generally speaking, if I think it’s somebody who is doing it for the right reasons, I’ll always respond.

    I’ve definitely found what you mentioned about being surprised about who will meet up with me. It’s an approach that Nick introduced to me this year, and I’ve definitely been blown away by the response, the respect and attention that I’ve received from some people I would have never thought would have given me the time of day. It’s pretty amazing.

    There is this outward perception that the music industry is so unapproachable, and that all these people are up on a pedestal, but it’s not like that at all. I think they’re all just real people doing their thing, and one of the things that always attracted me to work in the music business is that I saw this bunch of people that had all come together of their own steam. Their own entrepreneurial tendencies and flare are at the core of what the music industry is all about. It’s a whole bunch of people who are really passionate and determined, and they really love what they do and really love the industry itself.

    I’ve found it’s quite consuming and quite seductive to be so drawn into a space by that. That’s why if you’re talking about getting someone’s time, they’ve all been in that position before, so I think most of them recognize that and they’re happy to pass on any pearls of wisdom they might have, to do their bit.

    Much as you have, today. Did you have any specific tactics that you used to connect with inspirational or motivational figures when Sound Alliance was starting up?

    Not really. I would just try and make sure that I was very present. I think if you’re really passionate about working in the music industry, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. You got to do your research, get out there, go to the gigs, go to the clubs, or whatever your particular genre interest is. Meet the people, network, and get amongst it. That’s how opportunities and many things arise. I think you’ve got to live the life and get amongst it if you really want to be taken seriously in getting into this space.

    We’ve just been interviewing some staff this week. We invited some junior staff members to come back in and do a presentation to us on some ideas of how they would help promote some releases. The presentations yesterday were from this young guy and girl, and I was blown away by the amount of research they’d done, and how they seem to know our product. They’d gone into this great level of detail to understand what it was they were coming back with, even though they hadn’t really been given direction. Even though their ideas were slightly off in some areas, it was so impressive just to see people going to that level. I think that’s what it takes to get your foot in the door in this industry: you have to really stand out, and be really prepared to go the extra mile.

    There are a lot of people who just think “Oh yeah, it’d be cool to work in music,” or cool to work in fashion, or whatever, but it’s not really the right reason to be involved in something.

    My final question, Neil, I understand that Sound Alliance has a new web project on the horizon. Can you give me any hints on its focus?

    We’ve got quite a few actually. I don’t know which one you’re talking about. [Laughs]

    I can talk about a couple of things we’re doing. We’re re-launching inthemix towards the end of this year, though there’s no specific date set yet. It’s a fairly major sort of overhaul for inthemix, in terms of functionality, tools, the design, and what it offers.

    I think it will send that whole community off onto the next level, in terms of their engagement with the site, what they can do with it, and what it can give them. That’s something really exciting, whether you’re a DJ, producer, or just a punter, we’re going to offer a lot of things on those levels that are going to enable them to connect to other people in the same space and really take the essence of what ITM’s strengths are and style them up a little bit more.

    inthemix has been running on the same platform for about four years and we know it’s a little bit tired and dated; it’s not exactly Web 2.0. We’ve been honing a lot of those tools on our other sites and seeing how people use them and interact, and getting them ready to roll them out on the big beast [ITM]. That’s a pretty exciting project for us, pretty massive, and it brings to an end about a four-year development schedule.

    The Sound Alliance heirarchy

    We’ve basically been putting all of our sites onto one codebase, one unified codebase. It basically means you’ll be able to make a change or add a new piece of functionality and they’ll all simultaneously go across all the sites. It will just have a slightly different front-end design look and feel. It will mean we will be able to get new developments to the market quicker, cheaper, and much more effectively without reinventing the wheel every time. This is quite a big launch for us.

    We’re also working on a whole heap of mobile stuff at the moment; we’re just about to launch a mobile site for Mess+Noise, to give that a try. We’ve launched mobile sites for inthemix forums, and we’re going to be rolling out a whole range of mobile stuff, possibly some apps, and a few things down the track, as well.

    We have this other thing called Sound Alliance Labs which we just launched recently, where we’ve allocated a budget every year, and our staff can pitch their own ideas for development. We have a monthly meeting where they have to come in and pitch ideas, not necessarily revenue-generating, not necessarily great business ideas, but just things they’ve seen or things they think would complement what we’re doing. They can either pitch them to the management team either individually or as groups.

    If we like their idea, we give them a budget and they can work on it outside of their hours. So if the developers come up with a great idea for an iPhone app or something like that, we give them a budget and pay them outside of their standard work hours to go away and develop it. We’re going to give an award for the best lab project every year, based on all the submissions that come through. We’re trying to maintain a focus on innovation and make sure that our staff have an opportunity to do all the things they’re really interested in outside of work, while bringing the benefit back to Sound Alliance, for the greater good of the overall company rather than going off and doing them on their own. We can just see a lot of our team working on some really exciting things, and we wanted to bring that within these walls, rather than see that innovation go off elsewhere. It’s things like that which are exciting and fun and challenging.

    And it’s fascinating for an outsider. It’s been really interesting to hear you speak about your past, the present, and the future. It’s been great to speak with you, Neil, and I thank you for your time.

    Cool, happy to share with you. I hope it’s been useful, and I look forward to seeing what’s ahead for you.

    If you’d like to get in touch, Neil Ackland is on the emails and the Twitters. Coincidentally, Denise Shrivell of Digital Ministry published an excellent interview with Neil earlier this week that focuses on the business side of Sound Alliance. Take a look.

  • A Conversation With Mike Masnick, Techdirt.com Founder

    Techdirt.com has grown from a one-man operation founded by Mike Masnick in 1997 to become one of the web’s leading collaborative voices in analysis of issues relating to technology, economics, law and entertainment. The site has amassed 850,000+ RSS subscribers, 35,000+ posts, 250,000+ comments and a consistent rating within Technorati’s top 100.

    I interviewed Mike on behalf of the One Movement Word blog, where I focussed on questions relating to the music industry. Our unedited conversation is below.

    Mike Masnick of Techdirt.com

    Andrew: What inspires you to write about the latest in digital content?

    Mike: I actually think it’s a really important issue, that is, in many ways, an “early warning sign” of some economic changes that are going to impact many other industries, from healthcare to energy to consumer packaged goods to financial services. It’s just that digital content lays out the specifics much more clearly (and yet it’s still confusing to some people!). I’m hopeful that as people start to understand these issues, when the “bigger” similar issues come to the forefront, it will be easier to point back to what happened with digital content to make it clear how things should play out elsewhere.

    How do you keep Techdirt fresh with new topics each day? I imagine that you draw from a massive pile of sources.

    Yes, I definitely read a lot via RSS and (more and more) via Twitter. When I see something that strikes me as interesting, I write it up. We also get a fair number of submissions through the site’s submission page, which often alerts me to interesting stories I would not have seen elsewhere. These days, there’s always more content than I have time to write up.

    Which are the sites you check first when you wake up in the morning?

    I have to admit that I like to switch it up pretty regularly, so that I don’t get into a rut and find myself too focused on any particular source. That said, to get a sense of what’s going on, in general, in the tech world, I probably check News.com, Wired.com, Slashdot, Broadband Reports and Techmeme most frequently.

    You tend to decide your stance on an issue and argue passionately , as evidenced by the ‘from the (x) dept‘ lines under each article. How long did it take for you to hone this instinct to see issues in such an assured manner?

    Well, I’ve always looked at the blog as a part of a conversation, where I expect some discussion to take place — so I don’t necessarily think that I take a totally “assured” position on many things. Often I’m actually looking to see what discussion occurs in the comments, and from there my position becomes more clear as I discuss it.

    But, because of that, I do think the posts themselves have become more and more assured over the years, in part because of the earlier discussions I’ve had in the comments, where people maybe challenged this or that aspect of something, and it forced me to dig deeper and to better understand an issue to the point that I was pretty sure that where I was going with it was accurate.

    I learned, a long time ago when I taught university statistics that I ended up learning statistics much, much better once I started teaching it than when I was taking all those course and passing tests. That’s because when I was teaching it, students would ask “why” or wouldn’t understand the basic explanation I would give them. So I would need to really, really understand it myself, so I could better explain it to the students.

    I think the same thing is true with the blog. I definitely understood the economic framework when I started writing the blog, but when the discussions started and people started asking questions that I really was forced to understand the economics at play at a much, much deeper level, so that I could explain my positions back to people in a way (hopefully!) that they would understand.

    But, of course it’s always a learning process, and I’m always learning more. And it’s in those discussions that I learn, and I hope that the next post I’m slightly smarter for it. I think that will always occur. And it’s great. I love continually learning new stuff.

    From what I gather, Techdirt began as a source of customised news for tech companies. How has this role evolved since 2000?

    It’s certainly evolved quite a bit. We did customized news and analysis for many companies for a while (and we still have a few “legacy” customers in that space), but we’ve definitely moved on to focusing on the Insight Community as our business model, which was a quite reasonable evolution. Basically, as we were doing analysis for various companies, we often would realize that our internal team might not have as much insight or expertise on a particular story as the large readership on Techdirt. So we started to reach out to the folks in our community… and then evolved that into a formalized process called The Insight Community, to let companies tap into our wider community, rather than just our internal team.

    A second, more recent evolution, is the realization that the Insight Community isn’t just a great tool for internal research and analysis, but for marketing purposes as well. So these days, a growing percentage of the use of the Insight Community is to host public conversations that help market a company, allowing them to talk about issues with our community in a public way. It allows those companies to help build their brand and at the same time get insight back. On top of that, we allow companies to then repurpose that content, so many of them use the content developed by the Insight Community to help create their own blogs/whitepapers written by third party content. It’s really a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

    Seth Godin [pictured right] has been a vocal critic of tertiary education for business students. What are your thoughts on the value of business school in the modern economy?

    Seth Godin: vocal.I think it really depends on what you want to do. You get out of it what you need to. For certain jobs, it’s still quite necessary. I didn’t go the standard MBA route, but I did get a ton out of my experience, with two key points:

    1. I learned a lot more from my professors directly than I expected to. The “book learning” wasn’t a very big deal. But we had a very close relationship with our professors, and much of what I talk about today was heavily influenced by conversations I had with three or four key professors who helped me learn this stuff.
    2. The personal connections I made in business school have been too valuable to count. It’s difficult to overemphasize what an incredible help the connections have been — whether it’s in getting new business or just getting helpful introductions to people who can help or point in the direction of help.

    Which school did you attend, when, and what did you study?

    Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. I graduated in ’98. It’s a general management school, so you learn all aspects, but I focused on entrepreneurship. As an undergraduate, I also went to Cornell, and got a degree in “Industrial and Labor Relations” which is sort of an antiquated name for a combination between law, human resources, economics, business and organizational behavior.

    Do you ever struggle to remain productive? I imagine you’re constantly being pinged by emails and other distractions.

    Yes, there definitely are a lot of distractions and interruptions. Beyond all the writing, there’s actually running the business side of things as well (and having a life). So it’s pretty constantly busy around here. I generally learn to focus in on certain things and break up the day to take care of different tasks at different times.

    While the content on Techdirt appears to be heavily driven by your opinion pieces, at times, you seem to take on the role of the traditional journalist/reporter. Are you happy with the balance between opinion and fact on Techdirt at the moment, and do you have plans to direct it further down one of those avenues in the future?

    Really? I don’t think of myself as a traditional journalist/reporter at all. If I do any journalism it’s by accident, not on purpose. I think, these days, that everyone is always a bit of a journalist, so sometimes that comes through. But, on the whole, I’ve never thought of myself as a journalist at all. I don’t think that’s likely to change.

    What are the most important discussions taking place about the changing newspaper/news-media industry?

    I think there are a lot of important questions about how the news media business can survive or thrive in the coming days, and there are some great discussions going on there. A big part of it is whether or not newspapers should block off their content with a paywall (in my opinion: a dreadful idea that will fail miserably) and/or whether they should look to try to force others, such as Google to pay them (or get the government to change laws to benefit them). I think most of these discussions are misguided, and the real discussion should be on ways that news media publications can look to provide more value.

    Which writers inspired you when Techdirt began, and whose writing inspires you in 2009?

    The Public Domain: Masnick recommendsOn copyright-related issues, William Patry is fantastic, though, unfortunately he mostly stopped writing his blog altogether (he just did a post recently however, out of the blue!). He’s got a book coming out in the fall, which is wonderful.

    James Boyle is another one, whose book on The Public Domain [pictured left] came out a few months ago and should be required reading for those looking to understand the music business.

    Eric Goldman, who writes the Tech & Marketing Law blog, is a great read as well on legal issues.

    On business thinking, Andy Kessler, who’s written some great books and writes columns that every time I read one it makes me view the world slightly differently.

    As for when Techdirt began… it was a mixed bag. One of the biggest influences was actually Danny O’Brien, who along with a couple other guys in the UK ran a hilarious tech newsletter called NTK, which stopped updating at the beginning of 2007. It was a great loss. Danny works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation now, but doesn’t get to make use of his brilliant humor so much in his writings. I’ve definitely been a big fan of Clayton Christensen for a long time, too.

    As a heavy reader, what makes for engaging writing in the tech arena? Do you think that you’re a strong writer?

    I don’t think I’m a particularly strong writer. It’s something I actually work on, but I’m just so-so. I’m always amazed when I see really beautiful writing and wish I could be half as good. But, I think what makes more engaging writing is the ability to tell a story simply, the ability to have an opinion that you can stand behind with facts (rather than just for the hell of it) and the ability to interject some well placed humor. I wish I could do all of those things better.

    In your mind, what are the most important discussions currently taking place about the changing music industry?

    Techdirt logoI think there are two key issues:

    • New business models
    • New legal frameworks.

    These overlap at times, but the business models are important, because we’re seeing more and more evidence that stuff works now. That it doesn’t require some big or massive change. Artists who figure things out can make money now and do so in a much better way than they could have in the past. That said, I am worried about some of the efforts that I think are attempting to crowd out other solutions before they’ve had time to grow.

    On the legal side, I’m definitely concerned. The industry has long focused on a legal path to protecting and extending their business model in the face of any sort of innovation that challenges that old business model. And I think that harms new business models and musicians who embrace them. The innovation that’s occurring has been enormously empowering to musicians, and much of what is happening on the legal front could serve to hold that back. And the end result, I’m afraid, would actually be less creativity, less music and fewer useful business models for musicians. And that’s quite troubling.

    You wrote in a Techdirt article that you’re in the camp of “folks who never buy single tracks, but always look to buy the full albums of bands I like”. How have your music tastes changed in the internet age?

    I prefer to listen to music I’ve purchased. In fact, I still mostly buy CDs, though do occasionally purchase music for download from CDBaby or Amazon. In terms of what music I like, I listen to a lot of early ska/rocksteady/reggae honestly. So these days, it’s bands like The Aggrolites and The Slackers.

    Mike Masnick speaking at MESH conference, 2009

    One Movement For Music‘s tagline is “Artist, industry, fan united”. What’s standing between this vision of unity between artists, fans and the music industry? What do you think it’ll take to achieve this unity in the coming years?

    Yeah, actually, this is a really good question, and it’s a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time. There are solutions in this industry that truly are (as cliche as it sounds) win-win-win, where all parties are better off. Yet, so many of the old guard view the industry as a zero sum game — which is that if someone else is making a dollar, it’s a dollar I’ve lost. So the idea that someone could get something for free is viewed as a “loss” even if, in the long run, it brings back $10 dollars (or more). So, because of that view, some have always treated the market as a competition to get the very last dollar, and that doesn’t make for a very “united” front between artists, the industry and fans. Instead, you get all grabbing for scraps, even if it means everyone’s worse off.

    I’m very hopeful that a growing generation of folks are beginning to recognize that by working together, these new models actually do benefit everyone — including the fans and the industry — in such a way that everyone is happy with the results, rather than anyone having to pull one extra dollar. It may be idealistic or utopian, but I think it’s possible. It will require a lot more success stories, a lot more examples, a lot more money to be made — and perhaps a few of the “old guard” to retire.

    But it will happen, at least to a certain extent. There will never be perfect bliss, of course. But the resulting industry can be a lot more aligned where everyone benefits when certain things happen.

    Aside from Techdirt, where are the most important discussions about the changing music industry taking place?

    Hmm. That’s a good question. I think they’re happening all over the place. Hypebot is a great blog. Music Ally. I actually think that Wired and News.com have some of the better discussions on these issues as well.

    Mike’s opinions on technology, law, economics and entertainment are published daily on Techdirt.com. Contact Mike via Techdirt.com or Twitter.

  • A Conversation With Paul Hannigan, Moshcam.com Co-founder

    Paul Hannigan, Moshcam co-founder (yes, he chose this photo)Streaming concert video hub Moshcam is a super awesome resource for viewing professionally-recorded footage of bands that tour Sydney, Australia. They’ve been an intriguing player on the web music scene since 2007, yet I hadn’t seen their story told anywhere else. I was stoked when co-founder Paul Hannigan agreed to my snooping questions in early April 2009. Here ’tis: the most complete Moshcam interview, ever. Take that, internet!

    Hey Paul! I’ve researched you and your company as well as the internet allowed me. Can you describe how the idea behind Moshcam began, and how you decided to undertake the project with your two fellow founders?

    I’d returned from Los Angeles where I’d been working with a couple of successful start-ups (Citysearch, and GoTo.com, which subsequently became Overture/Yahoo Search Marketing) and had been helping manage and promote a few bands over there. Living back in Sydney at the time, around 2006, I wanted to do “something with music online”, which was about as specific as my thinking was at that point.

    As a fan, I found myself at shows at venues like The Metro and Enmore 3-4 times a week. As it happened, John Reddin, who was a friend and Head of Production at XYZ’s Lifestyle Channel, had worked on a number of television productions with Elia Eliades’ (the owner of Century Venues) production company. Elia had spoken to John about his desire to explore new territory with his venues online and John said “I know this fellow you should talk to”, and arranged an introduction. Through that meeting, the idea of Moshcam was born.

    Did you have any experience within the music industry, or were those connections gained through John and Elia?

    I’d been a drummer and a music journalist in Europe, and had some band management and production experience there and in the States. But I hadn’t been part of the industry itself in Australia, other than in a reporting capacity as Editor-in-Chief of what was initially Fairfax‘s Citysearch.

    Of course, as a tragic consumer, I’d just spent 3 months digitising some 6,000 albums in my collection, so if nothing else, it felt like I was propping up the industry! And suddenly, here was an opportunity to bring a love of music together with a background in content production and technology development?

    Moshcam doesn’t seem like the kind of business that’s built overnight. How long did it take to put concept into practice? I understand that you consulted with Melbourne web developers Hyro to build a custom CMS with sharing/playlist functionalities; had they undertaken any similar projects, or was this an all-new interface?

    moshcam_splash

    We spent 8 months developing a proprietary back-end solution for Moshcam. To a large extent, I knew what I wanted the site to be in terms of user experience and functionality, so interface design and architecture was relatively straightforward.

    The CMS was more of an iterative process in that we were really pushing into new territory around video serving and how to manage those assets.

    The Hyro project profile states that you required banner advertising intergration for revenue purposes, yet at the time of writing, I can’t see any ads on the site. When do you plan to include these, and is this the only revenue avenue down which Moshcam is treading?

    As a start-up that needed to build significant traffic from scratch, we always wanted to get the product right for music fans in terms of usability, first and foremost, before we thought about how to include things like sponsorship and advertising. Moshcam was always going to be a free offering, so naturally a free-to-air advertising model was going to be a part, but by no means all, of our model at some stage.

    However, I think it’s fair to say we are at an interesting juncture in the online world when it comes to music specifically, and there are a host of revenue models which may or may not play out in the months and years ahead.

    Moshcam’s stated aim is to make quality live recordings available to be streamed over the web for free. I can’t imagine that every artist you approach is accepting of this goal; what is Moshcam’s strike rate, and have you found that artists have become more welcoming of the idea since Moshcam started in 2007?

    Almost every artist we speak to directly loves the idea and only cares about getting their work out there.

    With record companies and managers, however, who are often the gatekeepers of approval for us, there’s still a great divide between those that embrace their artists’ music online and those who are more resistant.

    It’s easy to understand their concerns since they’ve seen revenues consistently eroded through free downloading but with something like Moshcam, increasingly they see it as a valuable showcase for the artist, both in terms of their existing and potential fanbase, as well as being able to show promoters who may not be familiar with their work just how well they can deliver live.

    Gary Numan hearts Moshcam. Maybe.If I had to give you a number, I’d say we’ve moved the strike rate from something like 10% to 40%, which given the number of bands that comes through Sydney is a significant figure. We just filmed our 500th show, which was Gary Numan at The Enmore Theatre.

    Moshcam is only licensed to broadcast each recording over the internet, so the shows currently aren’t available for download. In the coming years, do you think that labels will begin to request the ability to download recordings on behalf of the artists, perhaps at a per-song or per-show cost? This makes a lot of sense to me: stream the show for free, and include the option to buy a high-quality recording – via file download or on a physical DVD – for around the cost of an album.

    Absolutely. This is something we are working with the labels to put into effect. As record labels look for new revenue streams, this is one that previously did not exist. The revenue from a gig ends the minute the merch stand shuts up shop. What better way to extend the life cycle of that show than through making it available for fans to buy?

    As the aggregator of all this great footage, we are perfectly placed to offer just such a service. As you can imagine, there are a number of issues that need to be resolved in terms of licensing and technology, but we are very hopeful that this will be finalised soon.

    Do you present each artist with the same contract? Do some artists try to negotiate so that Moshcam’s recordings can be downloaded?

    We have a standard contract that varies only in the length of broadcast terms, from two years to ‘in perpetuity’.

    The download issue is not one that really comes up in the negotiations, other than the aforementioned assurances that we don’t offer it for free.

    Until we are able to put in place a site-wide download service, we link through to any band who makes their gig available for download or purchase elsewhere.. of which there are very few.

    Moshcam is now working in partnership with several Sydney venues. Are you planning to transfer the concept to other cities and venues across the country?

    The Gaelic Club. Colourful!We have built-in studios at The Metro and Annandale Hotel. We also have two mobile units and have filmed gigs at The Forum, The Gaelic Club, The Manning Bar, The Vanguard, The City Recital Hall, and the Hyde Park Barracks (for the Sydney Festival). As a result we have great relationships with those venues so whenever a band I’d like to see on Moshcam is in town, we can shoot at any venue with very smooth integration into their house operations.

    Other than being able to drill down to a very local level, there are no real economies of scale for us setting up in other Australian cities, since almost every band from another city we’d like to film tours and plays Sydney at some point.

    Internationally, I’d love to work with venues in Tokyo, London or Dublin, and New York or LA and cover the four corners of the rock and roll globe! Once we prove the model, I hope there will be opportunities to do just that.

    There was some controversy in Brisbane last year when Birds Of Tokyo‘s management kicked up a fuss over bootleg footage of new material that was recorded at The Zoo – coverage here and here. As a music fan, not a business owner, how do you feel about fans recording gig footage and uploading it to video streaming sites? I know that the quality can range from cameraphone-poor to semi-professional setups, yet I feel that there’s an inherent innocence in making an effort to record musicians’ work to share with other fans.

    It’s a dilemma isn’t it? As a music fan I want to see and hear anything and everything by the bands I love, but I respect the right of an artist to control their own output, particularly when it comes to quality – which, let’s face it, is the defining point of difference between Moshcam and 30 seconds of mobile phone footage on YouTube.

    Obviously the internet has moved the practice of taping shows into a whole new digital distribution environment. But personally, I can’t see how this does anything but increase artist exposure, and ultimately, sales. I do think there is often a lot of disingenuous talk about downloads not affecting sales, depending on who’s making what point, but when it comes to live fan recordings I really do think that is the case.

    How do you prefer to listen to music? How has this changed since you bought your first album?

    Shadow Paul jumps around to House Of PainI have a ridiculous amount of music stored digitally, both burned from my vinyl and CD collection and bought from iTunes.

    I was a bit of a vinyl junkie originally and took a while to make to change to CDs since it seemed a real degradation of the album for the sake of convenience. Tiny artwork, illegible lyrics, reduced dynamics, etc. I think that’s why I embraced the digital format so quickly, as I’d already done my grieving for the original artifact. Now, there’s just the music, and nothing else to get obsessive about.

    How do I listen to music differently now than back in the day? I’m a compulsive curator, so it’s almost always a playlist as opposed to an album.

    More people are listening to more music than ever before, yet the major labels are resistant to changes in consumer habits due to an effort to retain pre-internet revenue models. Agree or disagree?

    Well it’s a prima facie argument, isn’t it? There’s a lot of nonsense spoken on both sides about the effects of digital downloads on the industry. Most kids I know have never paid for music in their lives. That’s just the world they grew up in, it’s not a new digital frontier for them, nor is it a moral issue. They have larger music libraries at 16 than I had after years of buying music as a fan.

    But the point is, they would never have bought that music anyway. So it’s simplistic and misleading for the labels to say that this is somehow lost revenue.

    What’s more, these kids are incredibly indiscriminate about what they download, which exposes them to artists they would never have heard if they were buying one album a month with their pocket money. This gets them out to live shows; gets them buying merch, and gets them involved in online fan communities, often interacting with the artists themselves. All of which creates lifelong fans who will buy music in some form or other when a pricing model becomes both standardised and sensible.

    Likewise, a lot of people who buy music continue to do so, while downloading a lot of free stuff they wouldn’t normally buy to check it out – again, no lost revenue and wider artist exposure boosting live music attendance. Can it really be coincidence that we’ve seen an explosion in live music attendance since since the advent of peer-to-peer download networks?

    And then there is the percentage of people who are downloading for free the music that they would have historically paid for. That’s something you can’t refute. Human nature being what it is, and music costing what it does, means that a lot of people are saving themselves money at the expense of the label and the artist. And that’s a problem, especially for the artist. If a musician can’t make a living from their output, how can they survive to make more music?

    Moshcam Logo. "The gig is up!"

    That’s why the tour has become an income staple. It’s like a return to the strolling minstrel – bands as bards, singing for their supper!

    Let’s hope we see some innovation from the labels around pricing to get fans paying for music at a price that’s realistic, in the new digital economy. Whether that’s a tiered licensing model – which would save fans like me who still buy their music a small fortune – remains to be seen, but if you look at media sectors where this has been operational, such as subscription TV, you can see how it could be work for the online music industry.

    None of this is being held back by mechanics or technology. It’s all about pricing. However, I think there will always be a demand for a fan to buy an album or a song directly to own it, either as a digital file, or as something you can hold and look at.

    What excites you about the music and web industries?

    The immediacy. It’s like the fourth wall has been demolished. Although with that comes a loss of some of the mystique for fans and means there will probably never be any more rock gods, I think it’s really healthy.

    The internet is basically punk technology for music distribution. Now not only can anyone pick up a guitar, form a band and record some songs, they can get it out there on a scale that has never been possible before.

    And in the area of live music, I’m obviously thrilled that we can now capture a gig and share it with fans without having to get into the business of DVD production and distribution. As a fan, this is all part of what I love about being able to experience music outside of the established release schedule of a band’s label.

    Before the web, all you heard from a band was what the label released. Perhaps an album every couple of years; maybe a live album or a DVD. Now there are all these great auxiliary moments where you get to see and hear an artist outside the studio, being captured and shared in all sorts of environments.

    Moshcam was nominated for a Webby Award last month in the ‘Best Music Site’ category, although you were beaten in the end by NPR. Congrats! Was this a goal of yours, or a total surprise? 

    The Webby that Moshcam didn't win. No crying over spilt springs!Thanks! It was great to be acknowledged by our peers as doing something worthwhile.

    To be honest it was a total surprise. Obviously, we’d entered but we haven’t been doing this for too long and we figured we were probably still off the radar of the Stateside luminaries who decide these things.

    What are your plans to navigate the ‘interesting juncture’ in online advertising models, and what can we expect from Moshcam throughout 2009?

    One thing to understand is that we didn’t start this as a marketing model upon which to hang a product. It was a genuine project by three fans to build something compelling for other fans. That said, it’s far from inexpensive to maintain and obviously we have to find a way to pay for it.

    How will we do that? Well, one thing Moshcam enjoys is a startling level of engagement with it’s users. Fans are watching for an average of 31 minutes per show, which is almost 10 times the average for a website visit. And when you realise that video advertising is the fastest growing sector, it’s not hard to see a model there that could work well for us as the market matures.

    As discussed, we’re also very keen to work with bands and labels to facilitate a download service, should they wish to sell their shows. We’re also working on some neat licensing and distribution partnerships, and we have a 13-part TV show featuring signed and unsigned Australian bands running on cable at the moment called “Moshcam: Live and Kicking”. We’re not in the business of re-inventing the internet’s business models; we just want to be in a position to offer a valuable service to bands, valuable content to fans and be able to work with whichever models shake out as viable for us.

    As for the rest of 2009, you can expect hundreds more great gigs filmed, as well as a lot of new types of content, from backstage interviews to artist-curated playlists. You’ll also see Moshcam on the road around Australia capturing the best local bands in each capital city, and a couple of other cool initiatives we’re developing that will focus on getting some unsigned bands we love much wider exposure!

    As you can see, Moshcam is kind of a big deal. Unless I’m mistaken, their streaming concert concept is sailing uncharted waters on the national level, so to speak, and they’re probably a trend-setter on the international front, too. Remember, you read it here first! All 2,900 words! Congrats. To reward yourself, head to Moshcam and watch a show. They’ve got over 500 available, so if you can’t find one that you like, you’re not a music fan. Get the hell off my blog!

    Thanks Paul! He can be contacted via email.

  • A Conversation With Tim Kentley, Creative Director at XYZ Studios

    Note: This one is on behalf of FourThousand.com.au as part of their sponsorship of the Semi-Permanent creative conference, which is being held in Brisbane on 8 April 2009. The original article can be viewed on the FourThousand site here.

    The interview subject shifted from Executive Producer Hamish MacDonald to Tim Kentley shortly after my initial contact, which rendered most of my initial questions useless. Cue additional research, a hasty rewrite and resubmission. Tim got back to me soon after, which was awesome. Junior‘s 2008 interview with Tim is a great source of inspiration, so I was thrilled to build upon that initial conversation.

    tim_kentleyTim Kentley founded Melbourne’s XYZ Studios in 2003, and they’ve since gone on to produce consistently high-quality, innovative animated commercials that you’ve mostly likely seen on television – for clients like McDonalds, the World Wide Fund For Nature, Dodge, Havaianas and Honda – and wondered aloud: “how did they do that?”  As director at an oft-awarded, highly respected animation agency, Tim’s expertise and advice is highly anticipated at April’s Semi-Permanent creative conference. Tim kindly answered FourThousand’s call in the midst of several campaign deadlines: what a guy!

    Tim, I’m a big fan of Junior and I love the interview they did with you last year. You suggested that there’s no such thing as a shit job, and that any young creative looking for a career has to make the most of every opportunity. I’m supposing that you still hold the same ethos; has this notion of grasping every chance only became more important, as companies tighten the pursestrings of their advertising and marketing endeavours in the face of the current economy?

    I absolutely do believe that. It’s true of life in general. Like Dick Pratt taking the cardboard nobody wanted and turning it into billions. But to qualify, you will need to pick your fights – not every job is going to destroy the status quo. If its bread and butter, get out the bread knife and lard it up. But every once in a while, the stars will align and it’s time to re-invent the wheel.

    Your studio’s credo is that if the idea is original, then the depiction of that idea should be original too. I admire your desire for innovation, but realistically, how does your team avoid cliches and material that’s been done before? What’s the procedure for dealing with creative briefs?

    The procedure for dealing with creative briefs is to have creative bones. Then you will put yourself into the work – and nobody else’s. For truly creative people this is hard wired. I really spend little time looking at what other people are doing in the industry and more time looking at my brief, and the ideas simply start springing from it. I’m a director as well as a writer, animator, compositor, designer; wearing heaps of hats really helps, as you’re aware of what’s possible, what hasn’t being done. All XYZ animation directors have this skill. I think it’s key in animation, so you can really push stuff along without having to say to another brain – “can we do this?”.

    Do you find it’s difficult or painful to compact hundreds of hours’ worth of storyboarding and character modelling into a thirty-second ad spot? As the studio’s director, do you ever feel a sense of frustration that the target audience might ignore the art that you and your team produce?

    Yes to all. You know the industry well mate!

    XYZ is in its sixth year of operation now, and the studio continues to win a swag of awards each year. What have you got in store for the rest of 2009?

    Well, touch wood, I am glad to say the studio is pumping. I am directing a work for Grey in Amsterdam at the moment, using a photocopier tray as the animation tool which I am really excited about. This years ‘swag’ as you put it, is en route, with Stephen Watkins’ WWF job winning a Cube at the Art Directors’ Club in New York last week, and we are again a finalist for Australian Creative Hotshop of the Year and the First Boards Awards for Best Motion Design. Speaking at Semi-Permanent will be a blast, but here is the hot news off the press – the studio has just bought its own pad in South Melbourne. It’s an awesome space and we can’t wait to get in there, we’re setting sail on July 1! Oh yeah – a state of the art facility with no more body corporate, rent or landlords!

    Here in Brisbane, the last couple of months has seen more people either freelancing or starting their own business, at least in the circles I frequent. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s best to start on the bottom floor – in a down market – to keep costs down. Do you have any advice for these startup businesses based on the hard slog you experienced when kicking off XYZ?

    Well it’s a hard time for businesses, and I do think it’s a harder time to start a business, because clients don’t want to take risks with unproven vendors, as every job is now critical. There is now little-to-no overflow from busy studios, so no hand-me-down jobs to give new studios a break. BUT – if it’s in your blood – do it. If your experience is anything like mine, it takes years in the trenches taking everything you’ve got, however you can get it. Just start and dig deep; with time, talent rises to the top.

    You’re a speaker at the Brisbane Semi-Permanent creative conference next month. Can you drop any hints as to what to expect from your presentation?

    I’ll pretty much just come out all quiet-like and take you though a few jobs. Nothing crazy!

    A thorough examination of Tim’s mad animation and direction skillz on the XYZ Studios website comes with my highest recommendation. Thanks again, Tim!