I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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When is 1000 true music fans not enough?: Faith No More, Kylie Minogue, hallyu, and J-pop

If you don’t know the artists (Faith No More & Kylie Minogue) and musical genres (J-pop & hallyu) mentioned in the title of this post, that doesn’t make you odd. You just aren’t aware of these music more popular outside of the U.S. (and the “hallyu wave” is not limited to music).

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have fans — they have many! The U.S. music audience often doesn’t get to hear the music popular elsewhere, yet American music is popular worldwide.

As Frederick Stiehl in his article about J-pop/Hallyu artist BoA,

America has known few foreign artists outside of Latin America or Britain. Indeed, America has proven itself to be quite resistant to foreign singers, and especially to non-English artists. A few exceptions include Icelandic Bjork and German Rammstein …. However, both of these artists demonstrate a specialized style, known to but not followed by “mainstream” Americans.

So where does subgenre begin when it includes an international superstar like Kylie Minogue?

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I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.

One More Tardy Guest To The Online Music Party?

Mashable is reporting (via NY Post) that Facebook is planning to get into the online music game


The long-standing rumor that Facebook will launch its own digital music service is back in the news today. According to The New York Post, the social network is in talks with a number of existing players in the online music space regarding what the paper calls an “outsourcing deal.” As opposed to MySpace, who forged a deal with the four major record labels to launch its own digital music venture last month, Facebook already plays hosts to a number of popular music apps on its site. With more than 5 million active users, iLike is by far the most popular, with other apps like imeem, Pandora, and My Music (by Qloud) with user counts in the low six-figures.

As I blogged about earlier, at this point the field is getting quite crowded with digital music services, and when MySpace (a former music industry game changer that helped to launch careers) is no longer bringing anything new to the table, what the heck can Facebook do? But Mashable’s right, there is too much potential revenue in this for Facebook to ignore and the joint venture aspect of Facebook’s approach is something that would actually bring something of value to both the consumer and to the start-ups. As a Facebook user, I am very much looking froward to what this might offer. Honestly, though, I do wonder why so many of these start-ups and large online companies are focusing on the consumer so much, when there is so much opportunity found among the ashes of the music industry. I think an application like Bandcamp (making it possible for musicians to distribute and market their own stuff) is the realm social media start-ups can really innovate can create something brand new. At least that’s what I’d do if I had a few million dollars to throw at a start-up.

Edit: Due to this post being hit with lots of spam, we’ve turned off commenting for this and a couple of other posts.

Well played, Uncle Trent!

I am really enjoying Nine Inch Nails The Slip thus far. This morning the full-length album was made available free of charge on the NIN.com, withe the following message:

the slip is licensed under a creative commons attribution non-commercial share alike license.

we encourage you to
remix it
share it with your friends,
post it on your blog,
play it on your podcast,
give it to strangers,

I am thinking this is the unnamed sequel to Year Zero, though musically it sounds like an aggro With Teeth. (Which is not a bad thing.)

I’ve read comments a lot of fan online who want to “donate” to the release of The Slip. Honestly, not to speak for the man, but I think this is a “pay it forward situation.” Take that $10 and pay for the release of the next new/independent artist whose album you’re interested in. (In addition to seeing NIN on tour this summer, of course.)

I think I’ll be doing my part to spread the word by sharing a new track from The Slip each day on this blog along with some links to new artists with releases this year that would love your cash!

Gonna buy me a Wii! Not a CD?

In the past two weeks, two important events have occurred related to the entertainment industry — Record Store Day and the release today of Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA). The first is a sign of a highly wounded element of the entertainment industry and the second is a sign of the most robust element of the entertainment industry.

In March, the video game industry managed to clear $1.7 billion, up 57 percent from March 2007. Software sales totaled $945.6 million, a 63 percent increase, due to popular games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Rainbow Six Vegas 2. GTA is expected sell 8 to 9 million copies today and to make $400 million (no, that is not a typo) in its first week of release.

The difference between where these industries are heading is quite striking. The video game industry continues to face increasing criticism for violence, sexual situations, and sexism (exemplified by all versions of GTA). But video game-based negative outcomes aren’t being directly implemented by the industry itself upon its fans. With music, the public views all the negativity as being created by the industry towards fans. What is killing the music industry is the process of going after one’s own customers.

Yet so far I’ve made the choice to spend my entertainment dollars on music rather than video games. As someone who has never illegally downloaded music — no, not even for the rare Japanese only remix, I despise the industry’s tactics so much that I buy most of my music used from those same music stores that hosted Record Store Day (sorry, Chris Gaines).

Overall, the music industry responses to trying to hold up a dying business model are pushing people into devaluing the efforts of the artists that are creating and recording music. Gamers can focus their efforts on enjoying their games, while all music fans must deal with being considered downloading Godzillas.

A slightly different take on the NIN release

So yesterday Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails unveiled his latest album, a two-hour instrumental offering called Ghosts I-IVexclusively online. He did it without any mainstream promotion, though within the NIN fandom there had been over two weeks of anticipation, based on a very cryptic post left on the nin website/blog. So while the NIN fandom – myself included – was expecting a big announcement(I was hoping for a tour, myself), to the rest of the world, the CD was a “quiet release.” In truth, it was anything but.

Shrewd on Trent’s part, as he knows us crazydevoted NIN fans, those of us who would easily consider shelling out $75-$300 for a “special edition” release are his bread and butter. While the industry/legal ramifications of this release are what’s currently crashing the nin.com servers right now as curious bloggers and music fans who like to collect music for free sample the tunes in question, at the end of the day, the NIN camp kept the “promotion” viral and local, letting the fanbase (blogs and fan boards like Echoing the Sound, primarily) do the heavy lifting for him.

Both Radiohead and NIN see the benefits in this. I think we’re in an age now where the lifelong music fan is increasingly becoming a rarity. While I am a huge supporter of Creative Commons and remix culture and a very vocal critic of the RIAA’s strong arm tactics – bullying music lovers while grossly overcharging for product, at the same time the growing fan consensus of file-sharing as the norm leaves working musicians in a bad situation. Studio time isn’t cheap, and musician have to eat an pay rent like the rest of us.

To me, Creative Commons licensing and digital distribution aside, what’s going to keep the music industry alive is this kind of hyper-focused marketing – knowing your fanbase well, communicating directly and intimately to them, and delivering something unique that you know they’ll value (and most importantly pay for.)So while I think that many of us can agree that the recording industry has got to change, the second question is, what model will allow artists to make any kind of profit from their work, so that they can support themselves and make more music. I think Trent may indeed have a answer here.

BTW: my first impressions of Ghosts I-IV are here.