All posts tagged download

  • The New York Times story: ‘How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout’, May 2017

    My first story for The New York Times. Excerpt below.

    How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout

    Its businesses and consumers burdened with some of developed world’s slowest speeds, the country is a cautionary tale about big-money ambitions.

    The New York Times story by Andrew McMillen: 'How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout', May 2017

    BRISBANE, Australia — Fed up with Australian internet speeds that trail those in most of the developed world, Morgan Jaffit turned to a more reliable method of data transfer: the postal system.

    Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by his studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days.

    “It’s really the big file sizes that kill us,” said Mr. Jaffit, the company’s co-founder and creative director. “When we release an update and there’s a small bug, that can kill us by three or four days.”

    Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.

    For many here, slow broadband connections are a source of frustration and an inspiration for gallows humor. One parody video ponders what would happen if an American with a passion for Instagram and streaming “Scandal” were to switch places with an Australian resigned to taking bathroom breaks as her shows buffer.

    But the problem goes beyond sluggish Netflix streams and slurred Skype calls. Businesses complain that slow speeds hobble their effectiveness and add to their costs. More broadly, Australia risks being left behind at a time when countries like China and India are looking to nurture their own start-up cultures to match the success of Silicon Valley and keep their economies on the cutting edge.

    “Poor broadband speeds will hold back Australia and its competitive advantage,” said John O’Mahony, an economist at Deloitte Access Economics. A 2015 report by Deloitte valued the nation’s digital economy at $58 billion and estimated that it could be worth 50 percent more by 2020. “The speed of that growth is at risk if we don’t have the broadband to support it,” he said.

    The story of Australia’s costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country’s 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

    For the full story, visit The New York Times. Above photo credit: Jason Reed for Reuters.

  • Australian Penthouse story: ‘The High Road: Silk Road, an online marketplace like no other’, February 2012

    A story for the January 2012 edition of Australian Penthouse, reproduced below in its entirety. Click the main image for a closer look (which will open a PDF in a new window), or read the article text underneath. You can click any of the below images and screenshots for a larger version, too..

    The High Road
    by Andrew McMillen

    Silk Road is an online marketplace like no other. Totally anonymous, the website uses sophisticated encryption software and a digital currency to facilitate the worldwide sale of prohibited items, particularly illicit drugs. Australian Penthouse investigates.

    “Imagine how exciting it is when you get something in the mail; even the shittiest thing, like a free sample. But in this case, you’re getting drugs that you really want to take, and get high on. It’s a compounded experience of excitement; an exponential high.”

    A 24-year old man who lives in an inner-city suburb of Brisbane is describing what he felt upon opening his mailbox one day in 2011 and discovering a package containing one gram of cocaine. It was addressed to a person who does not exist. He does not know the source of the substance beyond its country of origin. This was not the first time he had purchased drugs online; his first order was for one gram of MDMA powder. That package was sent to a house that he knew was unoccupied; it took around nine days to arrive from Canada. He checked the vacant mailbox daily. “I’m still waiting for some undies off of eBay from Hong Kong,” he says. “[The MDMA] arrived way quicker than that.”

    Why the alternate address in the first instance? “Because having something illicit sent in the mail seems fairly thick,” he replies. “It seems so simple; too good to be true. I wanted to put some form of buffer between myself and the order I made, as a ‘test run’.

    “One day it was in there and it hadn’t been intercepted. I didn’t get immediately arrested when I took it out of the mailbox. Since I didn’t use my real name, it didn’t seem possible to get traced back to me. It still hasn’t been.”

    These orders were made using a website called Silk Road. It can only be accessed after installing anonymity-enabling software called Tor. All purchases are made using Bitcoin, a currency which only exists online and whose public transaction history can be untraceable if handled correctly.

    My interviewee randomly discovered online mentions of Silk Road in May 2011, and pursued the intriguing concept all the way through to installing Tor and trading Australian dollars for Bitcoin; a process he calls “semi-prohibitive” owing to the persistence and tech-knowledge required to check all the boxes before users can place an order. In four transactions, my interviewee has ordered three grams of MDMA and three grams of cocaine at a cost of “close to AUD$700”.

    So what motivated him to take a chance on buying illicit substances online from a complete stranger?

    “I’m interested in taking drugs casually, but I hate the process,” he says. “I don’t know any dealers. Even if I want to get weed, I don’t know anyone, so it always becomes this drawn out process of finding someone who knows someone who knows someone. It’s a real pain in the arse. Whereas this way, it’s so direct and private. I didn’t leave my room, and then nine days later there was something in the mailbox that was for me. It’s discreet and exciting. Imagine the fun of shopping on eBay, but then you can also get high.”

    Visiting Silk Road for the first time, I feel a little like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. After downloading the correct Tor software bundle, I connected within five minutes. A warning appears at the bottom of the registration screen: “Be advised: This website is experimental. We do not guarantee your anonymity, protection from law enforcement in your jurisdiction, or protection from other users of this service. You and you alone are responsible for the risks associated with entering and using this website.” The site does not request any information from its users beyond a username and password; not even an email address. And then, you’re in.

    The site’s bright, clean design displays images of nine items for sale; among them, ‘red joker’ ecstasy pills, one-ounce of the ‘purple kush’ cannabis strain, a $50 Australian banknote and syringes. When I first visit the site in late August 2011, one bitcoin is worth USD$11.15; a fortnight later, the exchange rate has dropped to USD$6.18 per bitcoin.

    The nine ‘featured’ items change upon each page refresh. A column on the left categorises the goods for sale: ‘drugs’ is split into sub-categories like ‘dissociatives’ (11 items for sale), ‘psychedelics’ (123 items), ‘stimulants’ (65) and the most popular category, ‘cannabis’ (237). Other categories include ‘digital goods’, ‘money’, ‘XXX’, ‘weaponry’ and ‘forgeries’.

    At first, it’s a little overwhelming. What Silk Road [SR] offers is the online equivalent of strolling down a dim-lit alley filled with surly guys wearing heavy trenchcoats, except that you can contemplate purchasing their goods while lounging in your underwear, without fear of being stabbed.

    Each page on the site generally takes a few seconds to load, regardless of the user’s connection speed, due to an overcrowded Tor network. A page called ‘how does it work?’ describes the site as “an anonymous marketplace where you can buy and sell without revealing who you are. We protect your identity through every step of the process, from connecting to this site, to purchasing your items, to finally receiving them”. Lengthy guides for both buyers and sellers are freely available. The latter guide states that “every precaution must be taken to maintain the secrecy of the contents of your client’s package. Creatively disguise it such that a postal inspector might ignore it if it was searched or accidentally came open.”

    It concludes with a ‘final note’: “Regardless of your motivations, you are a revolutionary. Your actions are bringing satisfaction to those that have been oppressed for far too long. Take pride in what you do and stand tall.”

    There’s an active and boisterous SR forum community, which is hosted off-site and requires an additional registration; this process requests an email address, but a note states that it doesn’t have to be a legit address.

    After poking around the site and smirking at some of the items for sale – condoms, an e-book of Neil Strauss’ pick-up artist classic The Game, military training manuals – I decide to engage with a few sellers by requesting interviews using the site’s private messaging system.

    Within 10 minutes, three sellers respond enthusiastically to my request; one says, “I’ll even give you a media discount if you order.” The website’s administrator, who goes by the username Silk Road, also responds. “Sorry, we aren’t doing interviews at the moment,” he says. “Good luck.”

    Of the 27 SR sellers I approach during a two-week period on the site, seven respond thoughtfully and at length to my questions. They are mostly based in the US and Canada, though one is Australian. All seven request that I don’t mention their usernames. A few prefer to conduct the interview using PGP text encryption, which adds another element of spookiness to the situation. Most of the sellers found their way to Silk Road after the site was covered online by Wired and Gawker in June 2011.

    When I ask what they like about Silk Road, I’m met with a range of responses. “Being able to provide a safe and anonymous way for someone to purchase something that they choose to put into their body,” says one seller. “It’s nice how it turns drug dealing into an office job, with less risk and more stable demand while interacting openly with customers,” replies another. This focus on administrative duties is echoed by another seller, who says it’s “nice to have everything so organized and centralized, it really cuts down on the time spent per order which is a huge plus when you’ve got a mountain of them to work through.”

    One source remarked aloud, ‘this is the future’, upon finding the site. “The free market has provided for one of the oldest needs in human history,” they elaborate. “[SR] removes the elements of danger that exist in in-person black market arrangements, and offered anonymity for all parties involved.”

    I ask what sellers don’t like about the service. One tells me, “while the majority of users are honest and trustworthy, you always have to keep your guard up. There are plenty of scammers here on SR.” Another is frustrated by the long wait between making a sale and receiving the bitcoins in their account. “It can take a while for people to finalize transactions, so the money gets stuck in escrow until the customer remembers to finalize, or it auto-finalizes after like 20 or so days.”

    One seller is concerned about the silo-like nature of the site: “Having everything organized – vendor statistics easily accessible, reliance on a single server, etc – all makes any vendor, or even SR itself, a juicier target for LE [law enforcement].” An Australian seller replies, “I don’t like being out in the open. Even though I feel rather anonymous within SR, I could always make a simple mistake with my packaging or use of encryption that would give me away.”

    A few of my respondents reveal that they have sold drugs in the real world. One dubs the online process “much easier” than face-to-face sales. “SR buyers have no info about me whatsoever. Whereas with a face-to-face transaction, a buyer might know my name, what I look like, the car that I drive, or the city that I live in. So if they get caught, LE goes up the food chain. Here on SR, there’s nowhere for LE to go.”

    Another seller says SR is preferable because it “takes potential violence right out of the equation, and mitigates theft; you can’t exactly take someone to court for robbing you during a black-market trade, which is why there is so much violence. I prefer SR to offline, any day of the week.” One seller candidly replies, that SR is “better and cleaner. Customers are more educated and nice, and it leaves you more spare time to study, play with the kids, and clean the house. It’s telecommuting at its finest.”

    None of the seven sellers I interviewed would detail how they package the illicit substances sent through the international postal system. A couple mentioned that it’s an unwritten law among SR sellers to not disclose such methods, though I learn by reading the forums that vacuum sealing is common. The young man from Brisbane who received MDMA and cocaine in the mail didn’t want to discuss the appearance of the packages he received, either.

    All this illegal activity must be a rush, even if the process does become somewhat normalised due to the volume of orders that some sellers process. I have one final question. What does it feel like to sell illicit drugs over the internet to complete strangers?

    One replies, “honestly, it can be quite nerve racking. I have no idea if I just sent some illegal items to LE. That’s why it’s so important for a good vendor to use all precautionary tactics to keep important info away from them. Leaving no DNA or fingerprints, and sending from an area where you don’t live. It’s not unusual for a vendor to be wearing hairnets and multiple layers of gloves while packaging the material. If there is even a one-percent chance of some identifying marks on or inside that package, it will be thrown out.”

    Another says, “It’s awesome. Most of the users on Silk Road are good people, and it’s always been a pleasure providing them goods that their corrupt governments have denied them. By simply living our lives and doing what we want to do, we break the government’s iron fist. It’s pretty satisfying.”

    “It feels great,” agrees another. “I get to make a positive contribution in the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to drugs, such as old folks, and people in remote locations.” The seller shares some feedback received by a buyer that they found “really touching”. The feedback reads, “I don’t want to sound all sentimental and crap but in all honesty, my friends and I have become closer and happier with ourselves and each other, thanks to you and your stuff. It’s really been a bonding experience for everyone. We aren’t really the partying type and instead like to chill and talk for hours. Thanks to you, we have shared some amazing experiences.”

    The seller tells me that “getting feedback like that makes those nights spent sweating over a hot vacuum sealer seem worthwhile!”

    For more on Silk Road, visit its Wikipedia page.

  • 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.

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Sony’s Bandit.FM music subscription service’, October 2009

    In October 2009, my first story was printed in Rolling Stone Australia. It’s 600 words on a couple of music/tech issues; not exactly the most glamorous first RS article , but it’s a start no less. The story is below; click for full-sized PDF.

    Rolling Stone Australia article from the November 2009 issue on streaming music subscriptions

    This was the fourth story I’d pitched to the magazine. Here’s my original pitch:

    Bandit.FM: Under The Hood

    Sony are launching their Bandit.FM music subscription and download service in October 2009. Let’s take a closer look at the strategy and technology behind the site. Are subscription services really the future of music consumption – as everyone seems to be yelling this year – or is at all hot air and marketing?

    What will I discuss? (sample questions)

    • Who’s backing the site? (eg. venture capital beyond Sony’s involvement?)
    • How long has this been in the works?
    • Why launch now?
    • How long did it take to get all four major labels on board?
    • Each artist seems to have a unique ‘content rich’ splash page containing imagery, a bio, and artist recommendations (eg. http://bandit.fm/sixstring/karnivool) Who supplies the content behind these pages? Were these compiled specifically for Bandit, or is the content supplied by external sources?
    • How many staff are working on Bandit full-time?
    • What are the advantages of a subscription-based streaming service as opposed to an advertising-based service?
    • What opportunities will Bandit allow for Australian indie bands?

    Clearly I was unable to answer all of those questions in the article, but the issues I raised warranted a commission.

    Hey Andrew,
    Am quite interested in the Bandit story, but only as a short thing, maybe around 600 words tops. You think you can get something meaningful in that space?

    November 2009 issue of Rolling Stone AustraliaIt would be good to get perspective on it that wasn’t just from Sony – the main thing is this can’t be a PR piece for them. A non-Sony artist who will be for sale there is good, maybe a comment from someone at one of the other majors. Nokia also do a subscription of sorts, so maybe that’s something to consider…

    After submitting the story initially, I was asked to rewrite, as the tone was “a little too “essay”, not “news” enough for one of our short pieces”.

    To give you an idea of the timelines associated with the story,  the article was finalised in late August, and it’s only appeared in print this month, for the November 2009 issue [pictured right].

    It’s been a great experience, and I look forward to writing many more stories for Rolling Stone. Many thanks to Matt Coyte, Dan Lander, Stephen Green, Nick Crocker and Neil Strauss.

  • 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.

  • I download music. So what?

    Okay, this.

    According to data released by IFPI Communications in the UK this week, it is estimated that more than 40 billion illegal downloads of songs occurred during 2008.

    While digital downloads accounted for revenues of around $3.7 billion last year, it is estimated than more than 95% of downloads are still via illegal means.

    Yeah. So?

    I hear a new artist, or existing artist’s new release on the radio or on MySpace or on YouTube or in street press or through a friend recommendation.

    I immediately check whether I can acquire the mp3s, through a variety of channels that I won’t divulge here. If I can – awesome. Download immediately, save to disk; in most cases, transfer to iPod. Then:

    Listen to music. Do I like?

    If yes:

    • Tell friends to listen to music
    • Attend show if they tour – most often in a reviewing capacity
    • Bring friends to show
    • Buy album (in rare cases)
    • Buy merch (in even rarer cases)

    If no:

    • Tell friends not to listen to music
    • Do not listen to music

    This is how I’ve operated for over a year. I’ve written about this before.

    Impress me, or get the hell out of my ears. There’s simply too much good music out there to waste even a couple of minutes listening to a poor, or even an average song.

    It’s 2009. The above data should not be surprising. I doubt that many musicians dare to dream of making a decent full-time living from their craft. Competition grows stronger each day, and attention gets diverted further.

    I download music regularly. This is my musical microeconomy. What’s yours?