The Big Sleep and the Music Industry… Part Two

Hundreds of articles have been written about the fall of the music industry, but there’s a story I tell clients when the conversation turns to it.  I finally went back and researched the two articles I talk about.  This is Part Two.

In the five years that passed since the 1995 article I referenced in Part One, the recording industry was hell bent and singularly focused on establishing a new, higher quality format for music that would replace the CD and maintain the traditional album configuration.

MIX 2000In December of 2000, Mix Magazine dedicated an entire issue to this new format; DVD-Audio (A).  The DVD-A standard was 5.1 (five speakers and a subwoofer) with 24 bit resolution (the existing CD used 16 bit audio and two speakers).

I reference one of the several articles in this issue (Paul Verna, “DVD-Audio Arrives!”, Mix, December 2000, pp. 37-44.).   “DVD-Audio is finally ready for prime time; the Warner Music Group released its initial batch of DVD-A discs on November 7, 2000.  Those releases – on the Warner Bros., Atlantic, Elektra, Teldec and Erato labels- carry a suggested list price of $24.95, packaged in jewel boxes and clearly labeled as DVD-Audio titles.  More Warner releases, including titles on the Nonesuch, Giant and Rhino catalog imprint are set for a December 2000 and January 2001 release.  DVD-A players (prices range) from the low hundreds of dollars to $1,200 and up.  Most of the DVD-Audio players in the US incorporate the encryption technology mandated by the recording industry (RIAA) and some include a watermarking chip that is designed to protect music copyrights.”

As consumers, we were mostly unaware of some extremely important issues that either led up to, or paralleled the announcement.

  1. For four years, the music industry had been locked in a serious battle with the movie industry concerning this format.  After all, films were already produced in Dolby 5.1.  It was basically equal in quality.  But, from a patent standpoint it didn’t financially benefit the music companies.
  2. Sadly, over time, the product the music industry had begun marketing wasn’t music.  Music was just the advertising jingle for their real product which was the delivery medium.  Every time a new format was introduced, the industry banked on significant revenue as consumers upgraded their existing music catalogs.  Since we owned Frampton Comes Alive on vinyl, we would buy it on Cassette, CD and then again on DVD-A.
  3. Not surprisingly, the DVD-A announcement was DOA.  In February of 2001 ( TWO MONTHS AFTER THIS MIX ARTICLE), the file sharing site Napster experienced it’s peak historical usage with over 25 million users and 80 million songs shared.

By July of 2001, the RIAA got the courts to shut down Napster, but the iceberg had already gouged the ship from bow to stern.  It turns out that consumers didn’t care about improved quality OR owning media.  The music industry lost site of the real product…music.  Incredibly, the industry at that time had no plan to take advantage of downloading technology.  Despite what is now obvious, they literally didn’t see it coming.  Their resultant solution was to bring legal action against consumers and providers of illegal downloads.  And make no mistake, this was illegal.  As a result, iTunes is now the largest record label in the world with estimated 2013 revenues of 13 billion dollars.  No wonder the recording industry has been so reluctant to release their catalogs!

Of the eight record labels mentioned in the article, only four still exist.  Ironically, an enitre industry whose business model was based on the fact that their consumers could hear… didn’t listen.

The Big Sleep and The Music Industry… Part One

Hundreds of articles have been written about the fall of the music industry, but there’s a story I tell clients when the conversation turns to it.  I finally went back and researched the two articles I talk about.  This is Part One.

Don’t ask me how I remembered this article, but I did.  While that may seem miraculous enough, it’s nothing compared to the luck I needed in finding the story again.  …There were reasons that I kept these old industry magazines…  Those reasons elude me now… wait… isn’t that the definition of a hoarder?

Anyway, the story was buried  in between the pictures of million dollar studios and ads for the equipment featured in those studios.  The piece wasn’t listed on the cover, or even pushed to the back page as a final statement.  Borrowing the title of an older REM song, “The End of World as We Know it”, it was hidden in plain sight on page 26.

MIX 1995I was a subscriber to MIX magazine for about a decade beginning in the mid nineties.  At that time, MIX was generally accepted as the premiere industry magazine for recording and sound-for-film studios.  I remembered this article from one of the issues (Ken C. Puhlmann and David G. Lampton,”The End of the World as We Know It,” MIX  October, 1995, pp. 26-31, p 352) .  The authors did an excellent job of laying out the possible future for the audio industry.

“The advent of the World Wide Web marks the beginning of a new era, an era of shared knowledge and distributed computing.  Every day, billions of bytes of data are donated to online archives around the world.  It is not unreasonable to assume that nearly the whole of human knowledge will one day reside on networked computers.”  They go on to say, “The most popular service providers are Prodigy, Compuserve and America Online…most providers allow Internet access, and recently, some providers have added Web access; several have even provided the ability for individual users to create their own Web pages.”  The authors recommended using dial-up speeds of al least 14.4 kbps because “the relatively large file sizes would preclude slower connections”.

“One of the most dramatic changes engendered by the Web may be the dwindling role of the record companies themselves.  The Internet will spawn an online independent music industry in which the Web-savvy musician will no longer have to compete for the attention of a record company to disseminate music.”  Given the prior comments, their final paragraph would have seemed really over the top for 1995.  “The world has changed; to compete and participate, each of us must change as well.  The sword has been withdrawn from its sheath; the blade glitters in the flickering light.  Position the sword carefully.  Now, fall upon it.  Your re-birth awaits you.”

Among the many ads in this issue for now-defunct products and companies was a turnkey, computer recording system that boasted a 17″ CRT monitor…for the “unbeatable price” of $9,995.00.  Ouch!

The music industry had begun to think of itself as an institution.  They made the rules.  They told us what music to like, what music to listen to, and what music to buy.  What… do you think it was the independent-minded college radio DJ’s that discovered “the next big thing?”  Those stations were actively marketed to by major label subsidiaries.   The music industry was clearly in the drivers seat.  Sales were steadily rising, and by 1999, they would report all-time-high revenues of 14.6 billion dollars.  How could they go wrong?  What a lesson!  As business owners, we need to be careful not to tell our customers what they want.

In Part Two, we’ll jump forward five years to December of 2000.


Digital Media Strategy. Do You Have One?

Web Site, Facebook Page, Blog, Twitter Account, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest…yadda yadda… Check, Check, and Check.  By now, most companies have decided to which social media platforms they will be committed.  They’ve  decided how analytics might be the measurement of success, and have staffed the marketing team with someone who focuses solely on social media, right?  Right?  Let’s play a game…

STRATEGOAt some point, your next VP of Marketing will probably have been a Director of Social Media someplace.  End of story.  The biggest measurable change in a company’s inside marketing operation over the next few years, will have come from social site management.   Most CEO’s have held the VP of Marketing title at one time.  Do the math.  Sooner or later your boss will most likely have been “That college kid who played around on Facebook for two years.”

Here are four things you might consider when implementing a Digital Media Strategy for your organization.

  1. Platform.  Sites used to distribute information and link potential clients/supporters.
  2. Content.  The information being presented at these sites.
  3. Frequency.  How often the message is posted.
  4. Organizational Guidelines.  Who has the responsibility for creating content?  Who has approval and accountability?  When interaction is encourgaed with people outside the organization, who determines appropriate dialog?

Mud-Hut Studios can help you with all of the above.  However, eventually the biggest concerns we hear from clients are regarding content.  What stories should we tell?  What format should we use to tell these stories?  How do we visualize the content? (see Developing a Marketing Script)

We have much experience with content production, and we believe that consistent, branded messages are the key to your marketing plan.  What do your clients need to hear?  What do your potential clients want to hear?  What do you want to say?

Let’s talk about how our inexpensive Impact Media might help you.


Ripping the Phone Book in Half

PHONE BOOKSo many changes in just a few years!  I have to shake my head in wonder at some of this.  I know businesses that were paying over $1000 a month for yellow page ads.  Now let’s be clear, people traditionally USED yellow page ads and this expenditure was probably justified.  Ironically, some of the last consistent advertisers were pizza shops… many people still used the phone book to order pizza… now we can basically text and pay for orders from our phone.  So, how does a company reach people that no longer use phone books?  Is there a way to spend money on marketing that has a chance on reaching an audience?  What does $12k buy you these days?

As I stated in my article, Digital Dog Years, the world is split into two categories; things you can do on your handheld device and then… everything else.  Are there things that your firm can put online that could provide consistent information to your potential clients/partners?  After all, normal business hours don’t apply if we’re all connected to each other all the time.  Website FAQ’s, Articles, and YouTube videos can answer most of the same questions your staff normally answers during the day.  We might even argue that it can be more effective.  People are used to media telling them why they should buy from the advertiser.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s on TV or YouTube.  It takes pressure off your sales rep too.

And, by the way, $12k buys you alot of media production these days.  I have clients who’ve committed to putting their entire product line in short Impact Media clips on YouTube.  Not only will they save money this year, they won’t have to update the media for some time.  AND instead of a marketing expense, these clips become company assets.


Can You Afford Paper?

LITTLE KIDThere was a time in our history when paper was too expensive for the average writer.  Paints and canvas were an indulgance for the rich; materials were simply too costly.  It’s crazy to think that these items were for the elite, not the everyday artist.

Prior to the 1990’s, the equipment used in recording studios was so expensive that musicians were paying more than $100/hour to get the use of a facility that owned some of it.  In fact, time was so expensive in the early days that only well capitalized record companies could afford to rent the studios for the musicians.  The rate included the studio engineer who, by the way, most likely had a college degree in electrical engineering.

Video equipment followed the same plot line.  Before the early 2000’s, Only TV stations and high-end independents with rates to match could afford the equipment necessary to produce professional looking videos.

Today, with a credit card and stops at a big box electronics retailer and a music store, you can take home enough equipment to do both jobs.  Hey, pick up some paint and paper and you can be a writer and an artist too!  I’m being facetious.  The point is this; if you think that media communication is important enough to do it regularly, than you need to consider doing it yourself.

Ian Kanski from IMR Digital and I have discussed this many times.  He believes that once technology can be placed directly into the hands of creative people, everything changes.  The story teller, the artist, and the musician need no go-between.  Once they understand the tools, they can begin presenting their vision.

Sometimes technology learning curves require patience and practice.  Just because we can go buy a Fender Stratocaster at any music store doesn’t mean we’ll be Jimi Hendrix.  So before we set up media production in that empty bedroom/cubicle by HR, there are a few questions that I usually ask my clients;

  1. Do you have a creative person on your staff that would be interested in this type of role part time?  Maybe they have media experience.  Maybe they think it would be fun.
  2. Do you have a digital media strategy that includes the need for professional final products?  Hey, smart phones do a great job of taking pictures and capturing video.  Audio is another story, but if short, regular FB posts are your objective, then good audio may not be necessary.
  3.  Is there a way that Mud-Hut Studios can help you set up your studio cube, train personnel, or even provide on-site production/examples for you?  I am happy to work myself out of a job… I’m used to it!

Little House on the Scary. A Brief History.

FIREPLACE FINALHow far back in time would we have to travel to find our families gathered around a fire?  It would have been a near daily occurrence. fire had warmth, light and was basically the stove.  As education became more common, male family members may have taken turns reading from the bible or borrowed novels by fire light.  Eventually even the girls were allowed to go to school, and they participated.  It’s not too hard to visualize this picture.  If we haven’t been camping, we’ve certainly seen examples of early living in movies.  Versions of this family gathering played for centuries around the globe and it certainly still exists today in much of the third world.

Urban homes began installing electricity in the early decades of the 20th century.  The first radio broadcast was in 1920 and by 1922 there were 600 radio stations.  While probably in the same room as the fire place (central heating didn’t become a common goal until the RADIO1930’s), the radio caused the family to lean in together to hear the static, words, and music.  The radio had replaced the fire as the central gathering point.

In the 1950’s the television replaced the hulking radios in the family room.  We moved as a group from the dinner table to watch Gunsmoke.  Whether we really liked the programming or not was irrelevent.  The TV was the new fire and like the vacuum tube radio technology before it, you could even say it glowed…

Whether the family gatherings were mandatory or not could be argued, but it was probably punishment to be banished from them.

Today, If your family consistently  eats together around a table, I congratulate you.  If you move en masse to a family room, I envy you.  If by chance you then regularly carry on meaningful conversations, I gape at you.

Everyone has their own TV; we can access the world from any room in our home via wireless link; and if you’re reading this, I guarantee that you have used electronics to communicate with another member of your household who was somewhere in the same living space.

Here’s the undeniable irony;  We are more connected now than ever before.  Despite the weirdness of texting someone in the same house, it doesn’t matter whether they’re even in the same state.  It feels the same… like they’re under your roof.  This is why anybody can do business with anybody.  We’re all just settin’ ’round a bigger fire.

Digital Dog Years

The processor in the IPhone 4s is 100 times more powerful than the Intel 8088 CPU in the original IBM PC.

Yawn…  Well of course it is.  We’re old farm hands at technology change and that farm’s been bringin’ in a personal computing crop for 30 years.  I get it.

The reason we should stop right where we stand in the middle of the field during harvest time is this:  When was the last time you burst through the front door with a new piece of technology and exclaimed, “It’s twice as fast as my old machine, and only cost half as much!”  Has it been two years?  Five years?  More?  We don’t BEAUTIFUL NESSIE FINALtalk about hardware technology advancement any more.  We talk about applications.  We’re concerned about what we DO with our new toys.  This represents a MAJOR shift in focus.  Think about what first time users (aren’t many around any more) say when they show you their new smart phone…  “I can do email, Facebook, Twitter, text, watch video, TAKE video, scan bar codes, get recipes, Skype, and… I can even make phone calls.”

We don’t mention “the Internet” anymore.  We can do ANYTHING we want to with music.  Well… you get the picture (and don’t forget to take that picture and share it with your phone).  Our lives are now broken down into to two categories…Things that CAN be done on our smart phone, and things that CANNOT be done on our smart phone.

Here’s the thing.  The introduction of the original IPhone (which arguably ushered in this era) was a minute ago in 2007.  What makes this so important is that it’s more than good ol’ advancing technology; we are witnessing CULTURAL change.  The way in which we consume information has changed.  Has your business kept pace?

Media for Non-Profit Organizations

Traditionally Non-Profit organizations produced media (video) for one-time events like galas, fundraisers, TV campaigns, or other  similar situations.  These “movies” were expensive,  Video firms set up booths at Non-Con (I just made that up) and quoted some pretty hefty five figure numbers.  There was an entire sub-industry of production companies that traveled around making these films.   Unfortunately, the productions generally didn’t have an ROI that made them popular.  They were often shown only at a single event or a few other fundraising meetings.  The last time most Non-Profit organizations updated their media was when the director said, “Our VHS machine broke, so we need a new video on DVD”.  Whether the organization sent home a VHS or DVD is irrelevant, the only machine it probably saw was the crusher inside of a garbage truck.

Ironically, the stories of hope that these agencies can tell are boundless.  I simply can’t think of another industry that offers so many opportunities to document improvements in people’s lives.

Here are a few thoughts…

  1. Predictable funding to Non-Profits is dangerously low.
  2. The need for alternative capital sources is undeniable.
  3. The complexity and needs of clients are at an all time high.
  4. Delivery Platforms are abundant and free.

It’s never been more important for Non-Profits to market themselves and it’s never been cheaper.  The Non-Profit agencies should be producing regular content for two very important reasons.

  1. It validates their importance in the community.
  2. It offers evidence to the ever-more-important independent revenue source, that funding this organization offers more benefit (See?  We even document our impact).

Whenever I present these concepts to my clients, I say, “Don’t run back to the office and put social media on the agenda for the staff meeting next week.  Put it on the agenda and never take it off.”  At a minimum, do short web-cam updates once a month…or simple depictions of industry statistics.




The Battle of Rap

CJ Anderson (ChronicLz) has recorded so many songs here that neither of us can remember them all.  Among the things that make him unique is that he is nationally recognized in the world of “Rap Battles”.

Chronicllz03Wait… a music genre that morphed into a competition!?  Outside of the more mundane fiddle contests and battles of the bands, I can’t think of anything that even touches this in terms of a quantum change in entertainment.  This is unique.

When I first heard about this art form, I was clueless/skeptical to say the least.  After watching some of these battles on YouTube, I now believe…    (WARNING:  Explicit Lyrics, Urban Attitude, etc.).  FYI, I have seen NOTHING in my twenty years in the entertainment industry that compares to it.  There are world leagues associated with this art form.

Two competitors (usually from different geographic locations) with only tenuous social media knowledge of each other go into a ring.  They have written several rounds of verbal abuse for their opponent and use these words as weapons.  Nothing is off limits.  If they find out that their opponent’s mother died of cancer, they will use it.  Knocking the opponent out (making them freeze or lose lucidity) is the objective.  There are unbiased judges that render decisions, but the fights are posted online for thousands to judge after-the-fact.

While Mud-Hut has done hundreds and hundreds of Hip-Hop tracks over the years, ChronicLz is the only client to compete in world ranked Rap Battles while continuing to produce his own music.  In 2009, at CJ’s suggestion, Mud-Hut hosted a battle that included Real Deal,  (an internationally ranked battler and MC) and many other participants and fans.

Whether or not you like Hip-Hop, is irrelevant.  If you like “extremely different”, this artform is worthy of a one-time exploration.  It’s crazy.

Again…(WARNING:  Explicit Lyrics, Urban Attitude, etc.)




Media, Meteor, Meatiest

GROMMES PRECISION WEBMud-Hut will be 20 years old in October of 2012.  I recently finished my fourth major studio upgrade, and it gave me a reason to think about the amazing experiences I’ve had.  Five different computers and operating systems (starting with DOS), a music industry that imploded on itself, and cell phones that record with better quality than the equipment I started with, seems incredible.  The hundreds and hundreds of releases on cassettes, vinyl, CD’s, DVD’s, and USB drives, are impressive, but what really excites me are the thousands of awesome clients I’ve met.  I’m humbled by the number of talented and hilarious people I’ve worked with.
Sure, I could recall the tale about the all-nighter spent flashing the ROM on my first CD burner from my Window’s 95 platform, or that this is my fifth major web design, but it doesn’t compare to the incredible people I’ve met.  From drug dealers and their posse’s to Baptist ministers and their bibles, “I’ve had a most righteous journey, braw!”
One time, I had a band that got so drunk that the bass player started crying during the mix down.  “I’m sorry!” he sobbed.  “I just played so bad today…I let you guys down”.
A. There was nothing wrong with his playing.  B. If there was, nobody else in the group would have been able to catch it.  They finished three cases of beer and had purchased more.  I put a cap on alcohol consumption simply by recounting this story to subsequent clients.
Then there was the burned out bass player who sat on the couch in the studio studying an apparent age-appropriate book from my coffee table, “Where’s Waldo?”.  He proudly announced to us that he had just found Waldo “Three times in a row!”.  When we realized that he had done this while staying on the same page, we became absolutely incapacitated with laughter.  There were literally guys laying on the floor.
As I said, the best part is the people!