links for 2007-08-27

  • An Apple-centric blog that shows a lot of promise.
    (tags: blog)
  • Now “hackers” at Microsoft have a blog. Actually, someone needs to tell Microsoft that “hacker” means something totally different in the 21st century. Mainly security stuff should follow the current boring announcement.
    (tags: microsoft)

Making Money with Music in the Digital Age by Going Analog

One of the interesting things I find about the current “revolution” is how the digital space is becoming more and more fragmented. The post WWII era is characterized by mass distribution and global marketing where multinationals would push a product globally. Now this may still work with electronics, automobiles, and other consumer goods that translate well across cultures (at least the bastardized global culture of today) but it always felt forced when extended to movies and music.

Broadband and distribution tools like cheap hosting bandwidth, sites like YouTube and many other small players are giving creators a way to reach niche markets. Although it isn’t enough to knock down the big names in the industry, it’s more than enough to eat away at the market share of mid-level artists. There is no mainstream. The bell curve is stretched out in the middle and hard to capture.

What we now have is an ironic, “old is new” again creative market where we’re seeing a lot of fragmentation and fermentation in the trenches. Some have great talent while others are talented amateurs. What you wont find are boring entertainment executives without so much as an eye or ear for art calling the shots. This in itself is progress but it’s forcing all kinds of adjustments.

Music is definitely one of the first to go. A whole album encoded in high-quality is rarely more than 100MB. This is small change in the age of broadband and gigabytes of storage (soon to be terabytes). There is little to prevent music from distributing itself. But that’s just the digital side.

Check out this quote from an article about aging rock stars touring Germany to milk the baby boomers and old fans.

“It is business interests that are keeping them going. Sales of recordings have been falling for years in face of the digital challenge and new sources of revenue are needed: live concerts.” German critics mock wrinkled rockers on tour trail | U.S. | Reuters

Of course, this is referring to rockers from the golden era before digital downloads that built up their presence with years of hard work catering to an aging fan base that is more forgiving along with newer fans more in love with their past work than their current state. Still, I think this trend is more or less universal. The best way for an artist to make money in this day and age is to tour.

Although piracy sucks for an artist, I think it’s great that need is pushing artists to stay in direct contact with their fans. Some people just don’t think twice about copying a music file so much as they think about clicking and saving something they found on the net and as a result have become adverse to paying $12-20 for an album filled with a couple hits spaced between worthless filler. Yet, the live experience is something else altogether that can never be downloaded.

While iTunes is a great innovative solution that served as a true pioneer in digital distribution it’s essentially closed to Apple-approved content and I honestly don’t like it. I think it should be an open platform for independent artists to distribute their music (eBay-style) where artists can submit content at will for a minimal cut provided they have ownership.

In the meantime, it’s time for upcoming artists to take their show on the road, hone their skills, and build a fan base the old-fashioned way. Naturally, this doesn’t fare well for synthesizer-heavy cut-and-paste production with weak vocals that are digitally-enhanced (ie most of the mainstream) but hey.

Whatever Happened to Jodeci? Well, You Don’t Want to Know

I guess it’s only human that you never forget your favorite artists. You’re in your youth, they’re in their prime and all the songs get attached to unique moments in your life when all the experiences were fresh and your outlook less jaded. Unfortunately, fame and fortune kills talent in a lot of cases.

One of my favorite groups back in the day had to be Jodeci. These days it’s normal for R&B singers to be thuggin’ with tattoos and lewd lyrics talking about guns but back in the day, that was reserved for rap. R&B singers, whether they were reformed criminals and drug addicts or not, would go get a haircut, buy some fresh clothes and sing songs of innuendo rather than sing raunchy sex lyrics.

Jodeci broke so many molds but they were also very talented. K-ci and JoJo (blood brothers) were the main vocalists while the DeGrate brothers, DeVante Swing and Mr. Dalvin (now Dalvin DeGrate) did the back ups along with song writing and production. K-ci and JoJo released a string of hit albums on their own and that’s probably how most people know about them today, but just to give you a taste of DeVante’s production talent and charisma, witness how he kills it on the piano. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold up too well over time unlike artists such as Madonna or Prince (who still look like they used to).

Just to give you a taste of the production talent.

The killer version:

How do you go from this:

To this?

The official story is that K-ci and JoJo put out an album as a side project and the unexpected success of that put a Jodeci reunion on indefinite hiatus. While that’s mostly true it also steps aside the fact that most of them developed drug problems somewhere in between that period. Now 10 years later Jodeci is on the “Let’s Raise Money for Crack” tour trying to shop a new album.

Just check the evidence, you don’t get like this from just getting old. K-ci seriously looks like Dave Chappelle playing a crackhead. It’s almost scary.

I repeat, this is not a Dave Chappelle skit.

Then DeVante went and got a tattoo on his face. I mean, I could not make this up if I tried.

From flyness:

To Cracktastic:

Say what you want but getting a tattoo on your face is something reserved for drug addicts. Sad, because DeVante and his brother Dalvin were there not only for their musical production talent but to make up for K-ci and Jojo in the looks department as well (notice how prominently they feature in photos and album covers).

The way this seems to happen is that the artists get caught up in a vicious cycle and chewed up by the industry.

  1. Impoverished youths suddenly shoot to fame at a young age solely on musical talent, looks, and style

  2. Make more money than they and their whole family would normally see in a couple life times

  3. Get overworked and relatively underpaid.

  4. Go on TV

  5. Go on tour

  6. Get caught up in drugs and sex while on tour since they have no other life.

  7. Release another album

  8. Rinse and repeat from 3 if successful else go to next

  9. Realise at some point between album and tours that there’s not enough money to go around.

  10. Get in a squabble with the record company.

  11. Go on indefinite hiatus.

  12. Get released from contract once record company realizes you’re a washed up junkie with zero marketability.

  13. Start a reality TV series or go on a “comeback” tour to raise more money for crack.

  14. Then disappear for good.

I guess that’s why stars that die at a young age and in their prime have more passionate followers because they don’t have to see talent ruined by chronic drug use or see their favorite sex symbols get fat and bald. Plus these stars are surrounded by hangers on that constantly praise their every move instead of saying, “yo man, you look like a crack head and by the way your new song sucks donkey balls.” I mean if you get a packed club of 100 people screaming your name, it’s easy to ignore reality and pretend like people still want you.

All I can say is that the record companies got it down to a science where they bind young, hot stars to 5-year+ contracts and take away all the best years. It’s rare for stars to last so long like Madonna (who must do a lot of rejuvenating plastic surgery before ramping up an album), Janet Jackson (before the “wardrobe malfunction” and weight problem that never went away), or R. Kelly (I think he’s coming to the end of a good run).

Update 9/24/2010

The brothers are trying to “come clean” with their reality show fighting addiction. Let’s see how that goes!

Jodeci’s K-Ci & Jojo TV One Reality Show Premieres October | Clutch Magazine: The Digital Magazine for the Young, Contemporary Woman of Color

The Real Skype Out: The Silence Heard World Around

It’s true as they say, you’re only as strong as your weakest point. Just look at Achilles. Without the cursed heel he’d be more a god than man. The great Skype outage of 2007 was amazing in that it was one of the rare major blackouts to hit Skype in all their phenomenal growth. The reason? A massive number of Windows updates happening at once.

I seem to have this curse that anytime I use a tool I rarely use, it goes out. I was extremely puzzled when Skype went out and almost blamed my mac and internet connection. Well, so much for that.

You rarely think of over-dependence on a dominant service like Skype until it gets yanked away from you. In fact, many people jumped over to check out the gizmo project as a result of the outage. It’s always nice to have a back up.

It really illustrates two things:

  1. Always maintain a solid track record for crises
  2. Always be ready for your competitor to trip

I’m sure a lot of people will forgive Skype and not think about this outage again for a while. However, it wont take much to refresh memories and after the second one people will start thinking Skype’s no good. Such a fickle consumer base. The internet gives us so many useful tools for free. Still, it amazes me how outraged people get over service quality for great products that are given to us for free. I guess it comes with the turf.

What happened on August 16 – Heartbeat

Categories: web

The Icon: Bruce Lee

I was checking out a book on Bruce Lee’s martial arts legacy the other day and just couldn’t help but reflect and be inspired by the man. Although he died at a young age, he pursued martial arts with an intensity that couldn’t be matched by even serious masters at a young age.

He was the classic “warrior-philosopher” in the tradition of Miyamoto Musashi of the modern day and a rock star in the tradition of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, leaving a considerable legacy of promise and unfinished perfection. The pictures of him told an amazing story of the man, a body ripped to shreds; eyes that were painfully shy, intense, and expressive at the same time; physical fitness to utter perfection: one-thumb push-ups, impossible balance moves, and quickness.

He could be fierce as a tiger when striking an opponent while eerily cool and calm while absorbing an attack. His fighting form spoke volumes of a person obsessed with martial arts. Martial artists, bodybuilders, and athletes from all walks of life have felt his legacy. The abomination that is current Hollywood action flicks try to carry the torch with wire-action, stop-motion cameras, 360 degree panning, computer graphics, and other technological enhancements. Still, the more you chase Bruce Lee, the more you appreciate that he will never be surpassed or even replaced. His legacy is his.

I walked away from the book with lots of inspiration. I want to take physical fitness more seriously and also strive for something with more intensity, to make something mine and to leave it as a legacy.

Inspired in part by (I blatantly used the same video linked here): Paying Respects to Bruce Lee—The Original Mixed Martial Artist |

Social Networks: To Spam or Not Spam

One of the things about social networks is that they’re completely useless without users. You can create the best solution out there but unless you attract users to your site, it just wont spread. You need the momentum. So how do social networks get the initial momentum? They encourage you to spam everyone you know by bulk importing some contacts from one of your address books.

As a rite of passage some of these social networks come clean and start implementing a stricter policy against adding too many friends.

A few days ago, Plaxo Founder Todd Masonis blogged that we will be taking steps to drastically reduce the number of update requests that our members send out.

Plaxo’s Personal Card: An Apology

Or maybe not.

This is a nice screenshot from LinkedIn. I have a very bare profile on there that I mainly use to check out what my friends and acquaintances are up to. Obviously, I can’t be bothered to go around searching for people so I bulk import people from my address books. If you use gmail they have this helpful feature of automatically adding people you correspond with or at least have exchanged an email with.

The problem is people you exchange email with is a very loose definition of acquaintance as it includes everyone from close family to customer support. I realize that I should be taking the care to verify and carefully think who I should be asking to make connections. The problem is:

  1. LinkedIn makes it unusually easy to spam people in your virtual rolodex
  2. People have very different thresholds as to what they consider social network spam (some people are just more easy going while others hate it)
  3. When you start making connections, you naturally have to reach out to a lot of people
Of course, the easy solution is to simply throttle the person making these spammy requests rather than think of better ways to protect people who don’t want random requests while making it easy for new users to make connections.
It’s a volatile tango for social networks. They want to maximize growth without alienating users or making a bad name for spamming people. I don’t think it has to be this way. They could simply throttle requests automatically over the course of an extended period, check to see if the connection being requested includes mutual contacts, or differentiate between random requests within the site and people actually initiating contacts from email addresses.
A lot of social networks that break through eventually implement a hypocritical, “enjoy our service, but not too much” policy. I wish there was a better way.

The Future of Web Apps (After the Olympic Phenomenon)

I hope this post title doesn’t bring on a cease and desist… I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of web apps lately along with the “return to simplicity” movement we’ve seen of sorts. At the core of the issue is that we’re all human and with it come all the quirks and flaws that make us human. The explosion of information technology has changed our lives mostly for the better, I think we’re now more or less confused and bewildered by what the web has to offer.

When the web first emerged for the masses in the late 1990s, it did so with all the promises that came with such a revolutionary collection of technology. It would provide the crucial leverage for ordinary people to reach a bigger audience. Fast forward to contemporary times and just imagine if the web emerged in the form that it is in now. Great sources of information on any topic, free high-quality pictures and videos, free international phone calls, cheap hosting for your website or application, various publishing platforms, rich social networks and so on. The stuff we had in the 1990s was practically nothing more than an enhanced collection of MS Word documents online compared to what we have now, yet in a sense things “feel” less exciting than 10 years ago and even noticeably more than say 5.

Now that the novelty of the internet has worn off a lot of things about the internet have more or less faded into the background or the realm infrastructure. Just as none of us get excited about being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world via traditional land lines (unless we’re 5 years old and using a phone for the first time), we’re now at a point where we take the internet for granted. It’s such a seamless part of our lives that it’s hard to give it a place of its own. The only time we’d realize how integral the internet to our lives is would only be driven home by a total, global outage.

The Olympic Phenomenon

I call this the gift and the curse of open source (yes, “curse” is pushing it). If you’re just starting out in development of any kind, chances are you can find a variety of open source languages, frameworks, tools, or software to make it possible. Just look at the top 10 social networks out there (by whatever metrics). I’d be surprised if you even know the number 10 social network (I certainly don’t). However, in terms of features you probably wont notice much of a difference.

The reason why I call this the “Olympic Phenomenon” is because when you have everyone in the world competing against each other the difference between 1st place (a Gold Medal) and 10th place is very little indeed. In a lot of timed competitions the difference is measured in fractions of seconds. It takes a lot more talent and dedication to separate yourself from the fray while mediocre solutions are a dime a dozen and more or less free.

When you look at the Olympics, it’s likely you’ll only remember a handful of people and most of them would be medalists unless you root for a home country that doesn’t do so good. Yet, when you think about it, all the competitors are the top of the top athletes in their home country.

You see this on the internet a lot where someone will take a popular web app only available in English and copy it in another language to launch a successful domestic IT venture. Building your app in English means competing with the best in the world as well.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Information

Let’s face it, we’re all inundated with more stuff than we can handle. We tend to have a handful of favorite destinations and another roster of destinations that get visited less and less frequently. For an increasingly jaded audience applications have to be:

Categories: web

Twits and Such for 2007-08-14

  • jogged two mornings in a row, ‘twas a mad rush but I’m off to a good start minus work #
  • I’m feeling a wave of inspiration (interrupted to tweet) #
  • water tastes good! #
  • just wasted an hour for a bug (that was fixed in the latest build) of TextMate: F keys were disabled #