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Talk at Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island

September 22, 2011 - 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

I’m giving a talk about “changes in music” at the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island. Wikipedia tells me the venue is the “oldest community library still occupying its original building in the United States.”

I’m told to expect more of a public conversation than a formal lecture, and have been asked to come prepared to talk about everything from new genres to new delivery systems (i.e. Spotify, the iPad). It’s part of a salon series on New Frontiers that the library is doing this fall. I believe the talk is free & open to the public. Address: 50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840-3292 – Phone: 401-847-0292

It will coincide with a visit to my mom’s house. You are not invited home for dinner.

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12 May 2009

A brief quote about music under capitalism

(Diptych photos sourced from and

…consistently fascinated by the ties which bind music and the marketplace. This quote from a book review in today’s Wall Street Journal concisely framed the issue that faces record companies or any other content producers whose business depends on publishing content in fixed forms, then distributing it through closed, tightly-controlled networks:

    “Just as there is still a robust market for news though not through newspapers, people have not lost their appetite for music. Why else would ‘American Idol’ flourish or a Dutch company spend an estimated $200 million for hte catalog of Rodgers and Hammerstein? What has changed is our custom for paying for music when we can gain access to it so easily on the Internet. Neither the news nor the music industry has come to terms with the digital technology that makes their products freely available or cost next to nothing.”

Also good was this paragraph about the decadence that set in among such content producers at the end of the 20th century, especially in music.

    “Big is bad in Mr. Suisman’s book, and commercialism inevitably crass and coercive. The ‘soundscape of modernity’–the formation of which he chronicles in engrossing detail–is, in the author’s view, inimical to democracy. ‘Consumers relished the greater range of choices,’ he writes, ‘but insofar as musical activity was linked to consumption, the boundaries of music came to depend increasingly on what the industry decided to market.'”

As long as we live by capitalism — eyeballing it, I imagine that should last at least a few more hundred years — dealing with the marketplace is not only an inconvenient truth, it’s a situation all artists must reconcile themselves with, and a system they must find a way to function within. As reluctantly as they may do so, it is worse to hold one’s nose up and pretend this is not the case.

by Ken Emerson from “Music & Money” in the WSJ, a review of a book I have not read Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music by David Suisman

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1 April 2009

Media in the Age of Digital Media aka The Cloud, The Book, Shirky & Me

Eight years ago (!?!), while freelancing for an unusually open-minded alternative newspaper called LA Weekly, I started on what I imagined as a triumverate of stories about the death of old music media (vinyl, CDs, etc.) and the birth of…something else in the era of the Cloud. I’ll summarize them in more depth below but essentially, the first effort was about Art in the Era of Digital Media, and the second was about Business in the Era of Digital Media. The third article would have to be about Media in the Era of Digital Media, but I have yet to write it.

There are a number of reasons why.

First the positive perspective: I am pretty good with artists and often able to spot progressive musical memes early on; I have a pretty solid business head on my shoulders insofar as I am pragmatic, if not ahead of the curve, about money matters; I am not, however, much of a technology guy. My hope was that someone else more directly involved in high level thought about publishing might write that third article for me.

Now, the bad news: I haven’t found that person or that article quite yet. Rays of light, however, have begun to shine through. As the collapse of old media institutions becomes more and more apparent, more people in the content industries (journalism, academia, publishing) are making credible efforts at writing my theoretical piece — one that roughly explains how media creation and consumption will look in the future. After the jump, I summarize my pieces, then point toward three recent efforts by third parties to sketch out the future!

Read more »

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19 February 2009

Touch & Go Goes Out of Business

Originally posted to a music industry listserv which will go nameless. I heard from a few people that they enjoyed the sentiments so I am re-posting it here, loosely written internet style typos and all:

Just wanted to send a response & some, erm, deep thoughts about commentary going on on the [redacted] about Touch & Go’s sudden shutdown.

Brassland was one of a few new labels to switch to T&G distribution as of January 1, 2009. Very bad timing = erm, yeah. End of the universe = no. Death knell for anyone running a company based only on the sale of recorded music using a business model Factory Records and Touch+Go pioneered = perhaps.

I don’t want anyone to mistake me. This change is kind of ruining my life right now; is likely to cost my company + a few of the bands I’ve worked with tens of thousands of dollars; and some of the people working for me (especially myself) will have to put in many many man hours of labor to keep the train on the track. I’m definitely bummed out & somewhat annoyed.

That said, my feeling based on talking to a number of people more intimately involved in T&G’s current operations and those of competitors who know the retail environment well is that this is maybe something that just had to happen like it did. Could T&G have laid off a chunk of its staff and operated for months or years as a skeleton of its former self? Probably. Am I sort of surprised & upset there wasn’t more in the way of private efforts made before the announcement to help shore up distribution options for the labels left homeless by this change? Yup. But is T&G still doing this in a pretty classy way? Yes. From what I understand all the employees left (other than a few laid off last week) are being offered at least 6 weeks to wind down their affairs. In this economy, in this industry, that alone is something of a radical gesture — and an example I think any of us would be proud to emulate. And so far the employees still there are being helpful in trying to make this transition as painless as possible for us labels…

After the shock wears off, I get the sense a lot of us will, yes, look back at this as the end of an era — but also as an oddly fitting conclusion to this chapter of Touch & Go’s story. It’s like a band that breaks up with out all the bullshit and fanfare of pretending that a break-up can be candy coated.

Mostly I’m taking this as a very public revelation that Touch & Go’s founder, Corey Rusk, and his staff were pretty amazing + talented individuals for being the only people to take that business model and make it function on the scale that no one else ever made it succeed. Factory Records certainly didn’t take it this far, nor have any of us who have followed in the T&G footsteps.

I haven’t gotten to the anger stage of the grieving process — and maybe my feelings will be different when that happens — but there you go…

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