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So, if you could design a new kind of record business…

What would the label look like?
Here’s what I’m doing with zoomTone Records (not quite ready to launch):
1. No retail sales. All on the Internet.
2. Big discount if you subscribe to the music. We send you a new album every six weeks.
3. No attempt at radio airplay. It’s too hard and it skews the music you make.
4. MP3s of everything available for free download.
5. Recorded on SACD, which plays in your CD player but plays even better in an SACD player. “Music worth paying for.”
6. Live to two track. No compression, overdubs, edits, etc. What you hear is what I heard.
7. Treat the musicians fairly. In this case, it means no options on future music, they own the masters and they get the cash when a record sells.

More as it happens! (sign up for more info at zoomTone)

Where are the optimists?

A quick look at just about any news source covering the business world and you’re likely to be either frightened or depressed. Seems like everyone is a crook. What are these people thinking? Is capitalism doomed?

Me, I’m betting on small companies. Small companies are where the people doing the work are also making the decisions. I’m endlessly optimistic about the capacity for human beings to make money solving each others’ problems. It’s only when we create a new sort of royalty–an unelected ruling class–that these companies seem to get into trouble.

Can’t wait to see the new stuff that’s getting invented in someone’s garage right now!

Robert Heinlein said…

“There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history
be stopped, or turned back.”

I liked reading him when I was a kid. Maybe I should start again. Thanks to Nathan for pointing me to it.


I just got spammed by GENERAL MOTORS! I wrote a whole angry post about it, then decided it wouldn’t advance the conversation, so now it’s gone. Sorry. General Motors… oy.

Stopping spam (in our lifetime)

In a turnabout, the Wall Street Journal today decided that spam *is* a problem, and outlines the way a few companies are trying to put together systems to stop it. I’m up to about 100 a day, so it’s certainly not going away.

But maybe there’s a different way to think about the problem. Legislation, as we all know, is a double-edged sword, and clever server-based solutions seem to be porous to ever more clever spammers.

What if AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and MSN got together and announced the following policy:

We are now charging one-tenth of a cent for every incoming email we handle and deliver to our users.
Every sender is entitled to $2 a month in free email (which means an individual address can send 2,000 emails to various Yahoo accounts, for example, every month before it costs anything).
If you send more than your quota to our users, we start charging you. If you don’t have an account with cash in it set up with us, we bounce the rest of the email you send us. (yes, the spammers could start using lots of accounts, but it could move to a domain-based system instead of individual accounts).

What do these services get? Well, they cut down the spam received by 90% right off the bat.
Second, they make a bit of money on the legitimate newsletters and such.

What do users get? Less spam.

And what about the legitimate services? Well, if they are sending users an email every day, that’s 36 cents a year. If the email they send is worth less than that to either side, they probably shouldn’t send it.

By monetizing email, these big services create the friction that’s currently missing from spam. Without friction, it spirals out of control. With friction, on the other hand, mass mailers make intelligent decisions about what’s worth sending and what’s not.

Just a thought.

A big smile from CD Baby

So, at the risk of boring you, I thought you’d like to read the confirmation note I got from my order from CD Baby (see below) today. A far cry from Amazon’s boring confirmation (do you EVER read yours?)

A little creativity can build your brand in a big way:

Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with
sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make
sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the
crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party
marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland
waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package, on its way to you, in our private
CD Baby jet on this day, Tuesday, June 18th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did.
Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year”. We’re all
exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Adventures in the Music Business (part 2)

(part 1 is below this… go figure.)

This is a love letter to CD Baby.

They list more than 20,000 independent CDs, they sort them beautifully, they’re priced great, it’s just about the only place to find stuff like this, the customer service is amazing and the site is a textbook case of good design.

But that’s not why I’m writing about them.

If you click here you can see CD Baby from the independent musician’s point of view. You pay $35. Send them five copies of your CD. They warehouse it, build the page, create the digital mp3 samples and you’re good to go. And then they pay you every week when your stuff sells. They never delist anyone (why bother, it’s the web.)

To date, CD Baby has sold about a quarter of a million copies of their disks and paid, on average, about $6 a title back to the artists. This is approximately 6,000 times as much per record as the typical artist makes when they work with a label (until they become the Rolling Stones, but that’s a different story).

CD Baby doesn’t care WHICH independent artists succeed. They’re just betting that independent artists WILL succeed.

So the math is this: 20,000 plus musicians create homemade CDs (or invest the money to do it in a studio with all the talent they can afford). They burn them themselves, or even better, visit the world’s best CD duplicating service and send em off to CD Baby. Then, they promote like crazy, sending their local fans to CD Baby, where, in addition to buying that album, they buy this album and those albums and on and on.

When everyone buys their music online (and if they buy it anywhere, isn’t that where they’ll buy it?) what purpose do traditional record labels serve?

Sure, that’s an overstatement. There will always be hits. We’ll always buy Britney Spears or whoever takes her place. But as the marketplace continues to nichify (is that a word?), as radio stations continue to have less influence, as Morpheus makes it easy to preview whatever you like–we can become our own editors. If the new Martha’s Trouble CD sounds just as good as the well-produced Shawn Colvin album you love, why isn’t this a better process?

Adventures in the Music Business (part 1 of many)

Alert readers of Fast Company will note that I’ve been spending a fair amout of time looking at and thinking about the music business. A few reasons:
1. I love to listen.
2. I think it’s fascinating to watch an entire industry crumble, and to think about how it might be different.
3. In the midst of this uproar, I’m starting a record label.

More on the label as it develops over the next few months (because of blogger, you’ll want to read this backwards if you’re not keeping up… from the bottom up. This is part one, naturally.

As I wrote here a month ago and in Fast Company last week, the industry is based on scarcity. Scarcity of shelf space, of radio spectrum, of hot acts and hits. And now, the world in conspiring to make all of those scarce things not-so-scarce any more. With niche markets and Limewire and Amazon and home 24 track studios, all the old stuff goes away.

What takes its place? More on that (read above) in a moment.

The Loch Ness Monster of Internet Marketing: The Gold Box is missing

You can go look for it (below) but it appears very infrequently. Don’t know why…

The Gold Box is not earthshattering, but I LOVE IT

Readers will know how fond I am of the promotional, and I believe that the web is the greatest promotional device ever.

Well, Amazon made me smile today. There, with no fanfare, at the top right hand corner of the page is a little gold box.

Click on it and it shows you an offer. You can either discard it (forever! you can’t go back) and go on to the next one (there are five a day) or buy it on the spot.

I was hooked. I looked at all five. I’ll go tomorrow to look at more.

The key is that the offers have to be both relevant and honest. It’s not an offer if it’s not a lot of money saved. If it’s for something I’m not interested in, it’s a waste. If it’s just promotional hoopla, it’s not going to work. Instead, it needs to be special.

The cool thing is that once this works (and I think it will) then manufacturers ought to be willing to pay a bunch to participate. And my guess is that Amazon will be likely to pass on some of the money to us, the incessant consumer.

my only tweak: I’d let people email the offer to a friend if they don’t want it.