Wk18: Bandcamp – taking MySpace further

MySpace is in trouble. In  the last month or so I have taken my opinion back from “dead” to “slowly dying”. But even right now, it has become a forgotten destination.

MySpace leaves a big gap in the market. There were many things good about it. Most of all is the easy way for people to hear your music.

Which leaves me to Bandcamp. I really think Bandcamp will take over much of the gap MySpace leaves behind. And it’s really good.

What is the gap that MySpace leaves behind?

MySpace made social networking, but it didn’t realise, like Facebook, everyone would get involved. It was a place for music fans. It didn’t really have much for those who didn’t like music (or stalking).

On the other hand, Facebook is not a music site – and doesn’t want to be. And people don’t want Facebook to be one either – it’s about more than that.

Which leaves music fans, and young musicians, with a gap.

The thing that MySpace did best was make music immediate. You could put your new track, or demos, up on your MySpace straight away.

Which is the promise of the internet – that direct access to fans. That elimination of the middle men.

But the internet is full of music. I have claimed, for years now, the challenge of the internet for music is not discovering new music. It’s filtering it. And for some reason, being able to get yourself a MySpace profile is the first step. If you can do that, it seems, you can probably string a couple of chords together.

And it’s true. Spending a few minutes getting your MySpace profile together meant you were kinda serious about your music. And the brand was a good one. You could say, hey, check us out on MySpace.

The other key thing is music itself. Right there on the front page. Pretty much every band. If you wanted to hear a song – one that didn’t need to go through labels, publicists, CD manufacturers etc – just go to MySpace.

So that’s what we need. A trusted brand for musicians. A place to hear songs. One that is easy to sign up to, with no fees and complete control.

And I think Bandcamp has it.

Bandcamp isn’t a social network. I would argue MySpace in it’s last years wasn’t one either. Bandcamp us a sales site.

The core of Bandcamp is you can sell your digital music on their site. And it’s not a store where everyone is grouped together, like in iTunes. Every artist gets their own profile page. And it has taken a decade of learning about digital sales and made a fantastic system.

First and foremost is the music player. A by-product of album sales, every song is streamed in great quality. And not just 60 seconds – the full song. It is something that iTunes would love to do.

And from there, you can embed any track. I love the embed service because you can make the player look like anything. From a simple play button, to a large, pretty album player.

Here is the big player

And here is just a button

And there are several sizes in between.

I am working on building several sites, and I am recommending bands utilise Bandcamp as their music player. It was the one killer thing MySpace couldn’t do – make their player embeddable. With the large range of options, you can integrate music on any site.

(Which is much better than Soundcloud and it’s annoying wave form. Who cares about wave forms?)

It’s also not a Flash player, and works great on Apple’s iOS products.

The pages look great too. Taking in years of learning, it is customisable – but to a point. You can’t create real bombs like in MySpace. But it’s a neat modern design. And you don’t have to know html or any code to make something look great.

On the money side – Bandcamp takes 15% of each sale. They take the first sale, and you get the money for the next 14. And the cycle starts over again (It is less for more than $5000 worth of sales per month). It all hooks up to a PayPal account.

Although this started as the core of their business, it is secondary to the player. MySpace tried several times to integrate a sales mechanism to their site but couldn’t do it. Bandcamp have done it. If you like a song you hear, chances are you can buy it.

I say “chances are” because you don’t have to sell your tracks. You can disable downloads and just have your music up in their player. Not sure if this will keep Bandcamp in business, but it’s a good trick.

You can do a lot more with Bandcamp.

They will handle transactions for physical goods for you (you just pop them in the post). You can also add other digital products such as booklets as a bonus for digital albums. They even allow for hidden tracks.

Other pros – There’s a great stats page that can tell you what tracks people listen to the most. Every profile page has it’s own URL. If you wanted to be a metadata nerd and input ISRCs and UPCs, you can. If you don’t know what those things are – doesn’t matter.

It is truly international too. Any currency can be supported. And it takes PayPal and credit cards.

It just works.

But there are faults. Every profile stands alone – it’s not a site for discovering music on it’s own. Artwork size is small, which is odd because you can buy FLAC files for audio. There’s not a place for band profiles and info. None of the sales are chart eligible.

But the biggest con is you have to know your rights. If you have a digital deal in place – you can’t be on bandcamp. Is your label or distributor going to allow you to sell without them?

I have discussed this with PayPal and there is a possibility of splitting finances. But chances are your label would have to do it for you – leading to an accounting nightmare.

But for indie bands, why not?

Or, why not upload your demos on there? Why not just put any and all of your music online? Don’t need them to be downloadable.

Because there’s another problem approaching.

Streaming, cloud computing and all that is coming. But it is coming from above, with big businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple heading the charge. And you kind of have to be a big business to be in.

Major labels, major distributors – they can get you onto those services. But what about everyone else? And why do you have to go through someone to get your music online anyway?

That’s surely what Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer are thinking. And a whole slew of indie Australian bands. Almost every indie artist I talk to. And we just need a couple more medium level artists to jump on board to really create a groundswell.

Bandcamp is going to be big – and in the next year. And I’m excited about it. It’s going to fill a gap left by MySpace. And it’s going to put money in the hands of indie artists. And it’s free entry – and a breeze to set up.

So get involved. The sooner this joins the public consciousness like MySpace did, the better it will be for everyone. Go check it out and if you’re a musician, get involved.


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Wk15: Rip It Up – Time to become paperless

Books are pretty, but aren't the only paper...

Most people I know are generally caring for the environment. They don’t litter, they make some effort to recycle, they care about the planet (Liberal voters aside). But we are nibbling away at the edges when we should have swallowed the problem whole in some areas. The biggest one is paper – and what is stopping us from becoming a paperless society.

I love the term paperless. And I love the idea of it. God knows how many trees die for printing every day.

Digital ink should be the perfect solution to the paper problem. The computing tablets and e-book readers makes that solution even perfect-er. There will always be those who long for a physical book. But many wont care.

For my mind, e-book readers now are ready for the mainstream. They are mostly pretty good. Simple and powerful enough for prime time. A lot of people have them, of course, but they are far from ubiquitous. And even though the technology is there, there are many things still lacking in the e-books world.

Worst of all is the lack of actual e-books. Apple’s revolutionary iPad is great, except for the almost non existence of books on their store. And then there is the pricing. Physical books have been bargain basement fodder for years. But now they are back at full price in the digital world. When a book is not on an e-store, or it’s more expensive than the physical, then we are moving away from our goal of the paperless society.

When people get their backs up about e-books, and missing a physical copy, they think of well loved stories in beautiful editions. But not all books are beautifully bound volumes of Hamlet.

Magazines. Comic books. Instruction manuals. ANYTHING. Like I said, e-books are ready for all this content, but for many reasons, print companies of all sorts are slow to get their act together.

But they face a growing piracy scene. Magazines, comics, and even computing manuals are all online if you can dig around illegal download sites. Which shows people are using them. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s tough to put him back in.

It’s the same old red tape that has crippled music – royalties, contracts, pricing, rights. And if they don’t get their act together, piracy will.

Books, magazines et al are well and good. But at least there is some thought and some movement towards going paperless there. But Look around at your life and see how much paper is around you. And ask why that needed to be printed out.

The worse for me is receipts. And it is yet another area that Apple is innovating. Go into an Apple store and they can email you your receipt. No need to print it out and stick it in your wallet for easy losing later. And no trees lost. Some people claim we need physical receipts or else they are not valid. But again, I get my iTunes receipts by email and don’t print them out.

It brings up the people problem in the paperless mission. Some people still want paper because they think it’s more ‘real’. This of course, makes no sense. If I was going to doctor a receipt, I could doctor it then print it out anyway. Some perceive paper as something that is solid and forever, when I think the opposite is true. Files are backed up so many times now. And you can’t destroy a word doc in the washing machine.

Then there are people who still need to get faxes. FAXES! It’s 2011! The main reason being the need for a signature. Digital signatures are slowly becoming accepted. But even then, you need to scan in your own signature and attach it to badly set-up word docs (something I’ve done a lot of). I always try to email when I can. In fact, I made a hard line in my old department to not send faxes and not do business with people who need faxes.

One UK venue were particularly insistent on a fax, and we did not pay them for six months, with full support of my old management. I understand some people still use faxes, and that you have to cater to the stupid. But if fax is the ONLY way you do business, you don’t deserve to do business. Frankly, fuck you.

Receipts might seem like a small thing, but similar issues arise with business cards, train tickets and other small bits of paper.

Business cards are utterly redundant these days. They are used once, to enter contacts into an email for the first time. Once that email is set and the connection is made, the card is never needed again. Yet, we still make them. Because it is easier to hand someone a card.

How do we get around it? Sure, I can text my details but that’s cumbersome also. But at the end of the day, I just want to get people’s details into my smartphone’s contact list. Perhaps there is a bluetooth solution. At the end of a meeting, you can scan for what digital “cards” are available nearby (i.e. Everyone in the board room), and select the ones you want.

Maybe there can we a web solution. The way bands could, for a while, say, check out our MySpace. We are called Some Band. And you would know to go to MySpace.com/SomeBand to find them. That might be too much effort for the receiver, and maybe the card-giver wants more privacy. But those issues could be worked out. If we tried.

What is clear is there is a need to transfer “Small Documents” between people. Perhaps email is not even the way to go. I am really leaning towards a net work solution.

“I am going to send your my reciept/my card to the cloud. What is your Small Docs pin so I can send it to you”. I use an app on my phone that finds it in a click or two and downloads it for later use.

That technology all exists today.

The one that really bugs me is train and bus tickets. I have, in only a few short months in Sydney, clocked up hundreds of these. Some cities in the world have excellent scanner card systems instead, and that’s what we want.

But the ticket system brings up the most important hurdle of paperless. The initial cost. How much would it be to get rid of all those paper machines at train stations in favour of a scanner card system? Millions if not billions I assume.

But what is the cost to not do that? I think of the rolls and rolls of ticket machine cards delivered a day, and how that seems hopelessly outdated, even today.

Big companies do not care about making their services paperless (Apple is an exception). Because there is no reason to.

Do even people really care about Paperless?

Maybe not, but they should. We are really being too careless about paper. And with a bit of thinking, we can solve it. What do those bits of paper do anyway? Sure, keep Hamlet on the shelf, but everything else? It’s the everything else that is the problem.

I think there are really simple ways to start. For me, when I see people printing out a large receipt – say at an electronics store – I ask for them to email me instead. Of course they will usually say no. But I ask anyway. Second, I don’t accept business cards anymore. I actually find myself sometimes telling people to find me on twitter. But I usually take people’s numbers and give them a missed call.

The environment and technology sometimes seem naturally at odds. But with a bit of thought and a change in thinking, we can walk towards a world where we enjoy the benefits of both. And those steps can be very, very small.

Wk 12: I’m So Tired – Digital fatigue and retirement

"This Angry Birds game is brilliant!"

When I was young, I would program the VCR for my family home. I don’t think this was a rare occurrence. Most kids I know were better than their parents at it. They were old and didn’t understand how these new machines work.

Years later, I realised that I didn’t know how to tune a VCR anymore. The technology passed me by. I would sit there holding a tune button on the player. But now it was on the remote. And little cousins of mine were better than it than me.

For years this thought has haunted me ever since.

What if technology passes me by completely? How do I stop it?

The idea of “digital retirement” is taking, ironically, some strides in my life. Having just turned 30, many of my friends are wary and against Twitter. They just don’t ‘get’ it.

What is annoying is the arrogance of this statement. It’s almost as if they’re saying “Hmmm, I think the world is wrong on this one.” When the opposite is true. It is the point where you have retired from the digital world.

How does this happen?

There’s a Douglas Adams quote that is often used out of context:

– Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

– Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

– Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Adams used this in a piece about technology, and the DANGERS of perceiving things as wrong or weird just because you happen to be born at the wrong time for it.

But there is a deeper reason tied to another old quote.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

My problem with the VCR came because I already learnt how to program a VCR. And it is harder to forget something than it is to learn something.

Most people I’ve spoken to will not get a different phone from an iPhone on their next upgrade. The main reason seems to be – I can’t go back. Regardless on where you stand on the iPhone, learning a whole new mobile operating system is a pain. I was once given a Sony Ericsson phone for free, with a camera. And kept my old two colour camera-less Nokia because it was too hard to learn a new thing.

This is an important side point. People can get stuck in their ways. Apple has gotten there first with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Yet they struggled for decades against Windows because who could be bothered learning a whole new operating system? The digital world – although ever changing – is ruled by habit.

The other great example is when Facebook changes anything. Oh the complaints.

But the world is going to change with or without you. And pretty soon the technology and networks that support my old Nokia (let alone that sized sim card) will be gone completely. Do I rally against the future? Is it against the natural order of things?

If there is such a thing as “digital retirement”, something I personally want to avoid at all costs, then it comes from “digital fatigue”. That all this new technology is getting too much. And technology just grows faster and faster.

So, the way to defeat it might be the thing that keeps normal retirement and fatigue at bay.

Exercise.

Try new things. Keep active in the digital space. Try out new things. Get the blood flowing in those muscles.

The people I’ve met who I think are the best thinkers, and are ahead of the game, are naturally curious. And they have dozens of logins to try out every new service they hear about. And they don’t always understand them, but who does.

You don’t have to love it – the general opinion of chatroulette was that it was crap and a fad. Most people agreed, but who actually tried it?

It’s that attitude I love – constant discovery.

I am still excited by new technology all the time. I don’t always understand it, but I don’t understand all new music either.

What I am worried about, is if I ever get to the point where I say “I don’t get it”. If I hate it – fine. If I don’t even understand, that’s a worry.

Once again – take Twitter. We all knew that the first people to hop onto that would be those with the most free time and the least to say. We saw that with mIRC. Then with forums. Then on MySpace and Facebook. But those who never thought any of those things were worth their time were never going to ‘get’ Twitter.

I wonder what Albert Einstein would make of an iPad. Would he “get” it? I know my parents are amazed I have a French dictionary on my phone. Maybe he wouldn’t understand it – but he would understand it’s usefulness – maybe? Or maybe it would be too much for him.

But that retirement is bound to happen to me. And in a way, I’m looking forward to that too. I love tech, digital and inventions. That in my lifetime there may be something so new, so different that my mind just gives up on it – that’s exciting.

Until then, there is so much to explore. And to explore FOR THE SAKE OF EXPLORING.

Travel keeps you young, they say. And adventures in new digital technology can keep digital retirement at bay too.

Wk7: The real second life – Digital data after you die.

The dead can be a pain.

Much like pop music in the 60s, no one was quite sure how long this internet fad would last when it started. Now – as we live our most of our lives online – there are big questions to be asked. The biggest one is this:

What happens to all our digital data once we die?

It’s a hot topic for the last few months. I thought I would summarise the challenges and add some thoughts of my own.

The biggest question seems to be one of control. We leave behind a sea of digital data. We are told not to give out our passwords. But what happens to all this once we die. For those left behind, how do we access it?

Sadly – there is no one answer. The legal rights of estate executors versus the terms and conditions of social networking sites is a delicate fight. The law doesn’t side with either one, but it is sliding towards the side of the executors.

Recently, (link) Oklahoma passed a state law that gave an estate executor automatic control of the deceased’s digital accounts. But it is not that easy. Yahoo is very specific about their terms, and how you cannot transfer your account. If Yahoo was not an American company, the waters would murk further.

So just leaving it to your will may not be enough, from a legal standpoint. And there are other loopholes. Some technical (your will is public record, so leaving actual passwords in there, like bank ones, is a bad idea) and some cultural (leaving your estate to your children who may not be able to login to your accounts).

Evan Carroll and John Romano, authors of Your Digital Life (link) have lots more to say about this matter. They decry the lack of industry standard, and suggest you pick a “digital executor”. Someone who is digitally savvy and protect your legacy.

(Carroll also runs the Digital Beyond blog, that covers this issue http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com)

And what legacy is that? When you count them up, it’s a lot.

For most people, the obvious online profile you have is social media. Mainly Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and that lot. One step further is bloggers.

Then there’s User Generated sites. Flickr photos has been one that has been under contention. But there’s also YouTube.

Then services that are tied crucially to money. Your bank details are probably the most important. But there’s also Paypal. eBay. More. And various stores that take logins. Amazon. Music subscription services. iTunes login.

Games are another important one. Games like Warcraft and Second Life uses an invented currency with real life value. Although not based on money, equally crucial is any email accounts. Gmail. Hotmail. Yahoo Mail.

Then, there is simply the mark you make. Comments made on blog posts. Photos where you’ve been tagged. Music tastes submitted to Last.fm, or Apple Genius.

And there’s plenty more to go. Who owns all this data?

None of these services have a standard to do with death. Each treats security issues, and hence issues around accessing and transferring accounts, with varying seriousness. But with no standard to follow anyway, how can they come to a consensus?

(And what happens when we move beyond passwords? Are fingerprint scanners that far away?)

To try and counter this are the folks behind Digital Death Day (link). They are in their second year and have had two conferences so far and more to come. People from various walks of life are trying to get something done, and getting input from everywhere. They haven’t begun to work out a standard yet though. That is still very far away.

Beyond the rules of how things can be accessed – what should you do once you have access? How do you want to be remembered online? And how would you like to remember people you knew?

Beyond the lack of legal consensus – what is the cultural one? Is it weird for dead people to be on Facebook? Surely there’s a data issue as well. When Facebook touts it’s 500 million figure – are any of them dead?

And if we do get rid of someone’s facebook – what happens to their photos? Their comments? Their tagging? Is that not rewriting history?

And who owns it? If I put up a photo of you on my Facebook, is it mine – or yours? Do my executors have the right to decide what to do with my photos of you – ones that are tagged of you and on your profile?

Actually, Facebook is ahead of the game. They have a Memorialisation feature, which can be activated for people who have passed. It gets rid of things like contact information, but allows people to post messages. But no other service offers anything like it. I’ve not even heard of any other company looking into it.

And who said the internet was permanent anyway? In fact, far from it.

MySpace is falling apart. What happens when it falls apart completely? What happens to my profile? I’ve lost my old Geocities sites. Even URLs expire after a few years. Inactive Twitter profiles can be claimed. Some sites even clear out unused profiles after a while. How can you hold onto something that’s always moving?

If you were to freeze my digital life 5 years ago, it would look very different to my digital life now. What will it look like in 5 years time? And with even the devices we are using to view the web going through massive changes – will we leave any mark at all?

Maybe in a way that we don’t want. It maybe deleted from the web, but I’m sure I will always exist in Google’s database somewhere. That, for me, is even more worrying.

What will we leave behind? Everything? Anything?

Will my grandchildren be able to find my Last.fm profile, and see what my most listened-to artist for the week ending Feb 14th is Matthew Sweet? Will they even find this blog? What will they even do with that information?

What happens after we die? That questions seems to get bigger every day.

Digital Death Day – http://digitaldeathday.com/

Interview with the authors of “Your Digital Life” (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/10/132617124/after-death-protecting-your-digital-afterlife)

Evan Carroll’s blog – http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/

BBC article about the Facebook “Memorialisation” feature – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8691238.stm

MySpace's latest CEO speaks

All Things Digital has been covering the D7 conference, one of the big digital business conferences. Our hero Walt Mossberg has been putting up some great interviews. He’s such a cool old coot who can get away with saying just about anything. “People are buying iPhones despite of AT&T”.

But we thought we’d quickly post this. An interview with the two new heads of MySpace – News Corp’s Jon Miller (ex Facebook) and MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta.

Click on the image to watch video - we couldnt embed.

Click on the image to watch video - we couldn't embed.

Very interesting things in the first couple of minutes where Mossberg reveals the result of his polling (and ambushes his subjects). And then around 6 minutes in when they finally talk frankly about music, how they ever hope to make money, and how they feel about MySpace.

More cool videos here – http://video.allthingsd.com/