Trendspotting: Celebrity Tech Investors

Everyone knows that Ashton Kutcher is active on the tech investment scene here (as mocked in Shit Silicon Valley Says) with stakes in notable ventures such as FourSquare, Airbnb, SoundCloud, Skype, Flipboard, Path and more. Now comedian Andy Samberg is in the game with his new tech venture, CanaryHop, the latest in a new crop of geo-social marketplace services a la LocalMind and Zaarly. And he’s just the latest addition in a growing list of celebrity tech investors such as Lady GaGa, Kanye West (Turntable.fm), Leonardi diCaprio, Lance Armstrong (Mobli), and Kim Kardashian (Shoedazzle)…to name a few.

There will be more celebrity investors to come too, I’m sure. Because tech is where it’s at. It’s hot, it’s cool, it’s lucrative and everyone wants a piece of it – the innovation, the disruption, the fame, the fortune. Whatever the cause, whatever the passion…there’s an app for that. Or one to be funded and built. The world is your oyster, the options limitless and the pockets deep. Don’t have a revenue model? Who cares! It’s users that count. But hey, with all of these user-driven models getting funded, the celebrity affiliation could be just the kick needed to drive consumer adoption, awareness and success. Would I have clicked on CanaryHop if it weren’t for this clever Andy Samberg video? Probably not. So two points to them for overcoming the first obstacle: getting noticed.

The tech scene is on fuego. Anyone living in the Bay Area right now knows this, feels it and is experiencing it first hand. We’re working and living like it’s 1999 out here (well, almost) and making a lot of people rich in the process (most definitely). It’s crazy. It’s fun. It’s….Revenge of the Nerds.

[RANT] Do Record Labels Care About Music Consumption Habits?

Global Music Consumption

Looking at this survey from The Nielson Company of global music consumption habits I think not. Digital music sales are flat, music consumption habits are changing and so are the demographics and desires of music fans themselves. So why is there no innovation in music product to cater to these new habits and consumers?  Why aren’t the labels listening? Why aren’t they cooperating and creating appropriate licensing models that will spur new product innovation and….revenue?

Clearly the old model of buy and listen isn’t winning the popular vote anymore. When the labels had control over music supply it was a very viable and lucrative model. But guess what,  they don’t have control over the supply anymore, whether they like it or not. Consumers have a choice and try as they might to squelch piracy with their iron fists of legislation, at the end of the day they’re losing…and making everyone suffer along the way. It’s a slippery slope of defense with an inevitable ending. The reality is right there in this chart. This isn’t the music consumer of yore. It’s a YouTube generation filled with a new kind of music fan that wants to experience music and share it. So let’s put this lame horse known as the old music industry out of it’s misery, make some glue, and build new product strategies that support both the artists and consumers. Goddamnit.

Music Industry Forecast: Cloudy

The music industry is in upheaval. Just look at the revenue projections – continued decline. The old model doesn’t work and, in desperation, the industry has tried many new models on for size: a la carte downloads, subscription services, ad-supported streaming. With the exception of iTunes, no one has had runaway success with any of these approaches.  So what’s next for the music industry?  Look to the clouds.

This week, TechCrunch, posted an insightful entry from digital music veteran Michael Robertson on Apple’s secret cloud strategy with iTunes and why their recent acquisition of LaLa is so critical. Like many, I assumed the acquisition was to further the development of the long anticipated subscription-based music service – like Rhapsody, Spotify, etc. Turns out this speculation is far from reality and there is no subscription-based service coming down the pike from Apple. The secret sauce to the Lala acquisition is actually it’s personal music storage service, which provides software to store a personal music library online and then play it from any web browser alongside web songs they vend.

The expectation is that Apple will unveil a mobile iTunes sometime in 2010 that will leverage Lala’s technology to copy users’ personal music libraries to the net (or cloud), making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet/computer. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience. Pretty cool, huh? The cloud-centric model is not lost on others in the space.  The acquisition of Lala will just help Apple get there first – again.

Cool Tech: iLike’s Local Concert iPhone App

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Ohhh, here’s a new iPhone app that made me very happy.  Meet Local Concert from iLike which allows you to keep tabs on your local music scene and when your favorite artists are coming to town. The application tracks all of your favorite artists (culled from your iPhone or iTouch library), alerts you when they’re coming to town, enables you to buy tickets, listen to their music and share concert alert news with friends – all from your iPhone.

The other cool feature is that it allows you to track the concert calendars of your favorite local venues. This is particularly great for me because sometimes my music library doesn’t always reflect all the artists I might want to see. I can envision the local venues tab of the app becoming a critical tool for my SXSW planning too.

Grab the free app here.

Sonos Launches New Controller

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Had a great time tonight mingling with like-minded music geeks at the launch party for the new Sonos Controller 200.  What is Sonos, you ask?  Simply it’s the best digital music management system out there.  It gives you the power to access all of your music in your house anywhere, anytime. And I’m not just talking about your digital music library.  The system comes with a host of embedded services like Rhapsody, Last.fm, Pandora, Internet Radio, Sirius/XM…it’s the perfect music tool for those afflicted with OCMD.

The original Sonos Controller was a bit of a beast.  So the Sonos Controller 200 (CR200) is a definite form factor improvement, and who doesn’t like that?  It’s palm sized and touch screen operated, just like an iPhone or iTouch. The company also has a free app for those devices that gives you essentially the same functionality, but that’s a little personal for everyday public consumption.  So the controller still serves as a necessary component to the system and I will be happily swapping out the 100 for the 200 in my home.

Setlist.fm: A Great Site for Live Gig Whores, Like Me

TechCrunch (by way of @epicurianzealot) turned me onto this great new Wiki-like site that serves as a repository for tracking live performance set lists of musical artists, called Setlist.fm. With festival season upon us, this is a site I will definitely be referencing to track the frequency of songs played by more well known artists. Setlist.fm also includes an audio and video playback feature as well as lyrics.

Plus they make it easy to integrate the set lists into your social media accounts, as seen below. Seen here are the set lists for the two Grizzly Bear shows at The Fillmore last month. I was always curious to know how similar or different those two performances were. And if they pulled out my favorite cover of Yes‘ “Owner of a Lonely Heart on the second night. Thankfully, they did not.

Grizzly Bear, “Owner of A Lonely Heart” (Yes cover)


Important Letter from Pandora Founder, Tim Westergren

I received this letter in my inbox today from Pandora founder, Tim Westergren and felt it was important to share. I’m not sure how many of you are aware of Pandora’s woes. The Internet radio giant has been struggling financially under unfair legislation issued by the Copyright Royalty Board that essentially doubled the royalties web radio stations must pay.  Clearly an overt attempt to thwart the propagation of Internet music. One that threatened to put Pandora out of business.

Thankfully, Pandora reached a resolution that will keep them in business.  But there’s a new bill in Congress, called the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848), that’s being presented to address this issue for the long term.  If passed it will create a more equitable and fair system for compensating artists across all forms of radio.

Please take just a minute to call Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office to ask her to sponsor and support the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848):

Representative Nancy Pelosi
202-225-4965

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My Top 10 Music Discovery Tools

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1. Sonos 

This powerful digital music management system is nirvana.  I simply cannot live without it. Not only does it enable me to have music in virtually every room in my house (through zone controllers), I can listen to and discover a limitless variety of music.  Sonos manages your own music collection and gives you access to Rhapsody, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Internet Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, and good ‘ol terrestrial radio.  And you can control it all from the palm of your hand.

On any given day, you will find me jumping from my ‘new music’ playlist in Rhapsody, to Sirius/XM Channel 26 for a little Blog Radio, then WOXY for some FutureSounds and occasionally, if I’m feeling uninspired and lucky, I’ll plug in a random band in Pandora or Last.fm.  I can’t think of any other tool that can allow you to do that in a quality listening situation (i.e. real speakers).

2. Rhapsody

I’ve long been a fan of the subscription-based music model and, therefore, have been an advocate of services like Rhapsody for quite some time.  The fact that, for $15 a month, I can play ANY artist or album I want, anywhere, anytime is priceless to me.  The integration of the service into Sonos is just the icing on the cake.  Whenever I read an album review or hear a new artist on the Internet, I just go to Rhapsody and queue up their album for a listen.  Granted, there are times they don’t have what I’m looking for but 80-90% of the time they do.  And that’s impressive!

3. Mojo

Another favorite music discovery tool of mine is Mojo, a free music sharing application that makes it ridiculously easy to share music online with your music buddies. With just a couple of clicks, you can browse, select and download music from any Mojo user directly into your iTunes library.  It’s a fabulous tool I use to troll my inner music circle’s music libraries on a regular basis.  I frequently hit their iTunes/Recently Added folder to see what new music they’ve uncovered and what they’re listening to on a regular basis. Music voyeurism at it’s finest!

4Songbird

Good bye iTunes, helllloooo Songbird! Developed by a group calling themselves ‘Pioneers of the Inevitable’ (love it),Songbird is a free open source media player and web browser rolled into one.  It’s like the power of iTunes and Firefox combined.  Not only can you manage and play your own music, now you can play the web too.  

For example, any media files stored on a website will show up as a playable file in the Songbird application that you can download or save to your library.  Even better, it has a built-in RSS subscription and MP3 file download so now you can subscribe to your favorite MP3 blogs as playlists!  Plus, it’s already integrated with HypeMachine, eMusic and InSound.  To get a better sense of all the features, watch their online demo here. The potential of this application is mind-boggling!

5. Internet/Satellite Radio

As unsophisticated as it sounds, I use both Internet and satellite radio on a daily basis to discover new music.  Mostly by listening to my favorite stations and programs, a few of which include:

6Blogs

More than anything, I rely on my trusted music blogs to keep me on the pulse. There’s no better source for cutting edge music information. Of course, there’s the tried and true, Pitchfork and Stereogum.  I follow all the blogs listed in my blogroll, but my personal favorites include: My Old Kentucky Blog, MBV and Aquarium Drunkard, See What You Hear, Hear Ya and The 405.  The MOG network is a good blog aggregator as well.

7Twitter

But why blog when you can micro blog with Twitter!  And I do so more and more these days.  It’s quite addicting and a great way to stay on top of music releases, events and news.  Hell, I even read the NY Times via Twitter these days.  I’m so ADD.  To efficiently use Twitter, you need to install an application like TweetDeck. Otherwise, it’s completely unruly. Get started by following me @indierockgirl, then check out this great Wired blog post on tips for discovering music through Twitter.  It’s a good tutorial!

8MP3 Services

I subscribe to both eMusic and Amie Street and find they have great music recommendations.  Particularly Amie Street. Their community-driven site has become a bit of an obsession and enables you to get music for cheap or for free depending on how much you participate with reviews, recommendations and such.  eMusic’s 17 Dots blog gives me the insider scoop as to what’s hot and what’s coming on the site.  Their subscription based music download model keeps me regimented in my music acquisition!

9. Music Recommendation Sites

Everyone loves Pandora, Last.fm, LaLa.  I personally find limitations with these algorithm-based recommendation engines. They are all fundamentally flawed to me.  I always find the same artists coming up over and over again.  I have been turned on recently to tools that take a more interesting approach to music recommendation.  One is We Are Hunted, the first online music chart.  It aggregates social networks, music blogs, torrents to chart what people are listening to on the web.  A true indie music chart!  

The other I’ve been playing with is The Filter,  the brainchild of rocker Peter Gabriel and uses a model based on Bayesian mathematics to predict the similarity of bands. It logs what you play, runs it through the maths-grinder, and pops out a list of what you’ll like.

10. Music Mapping Tools

Music mapping tools are a bit of a novelty for me.  I don’t reference them all the time but do play around with them occasionally, out of skepticism mostly.  I want to see if they can stump me. Try  TuneGlue, StumbleAudio, and Music Map for shits and grins.  After typing in your favorite artist name, you’ll be served up a visual array of related bands to explore.  Here’s a link to a whole review of music visualization tools if you’re into that sort of thing.

Happy hunting!

We Are Hunted – The Online Music Chart

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Via @shakazolo and TechCrunch, I discovered a very interesting website – We Are Hunted, an Online Music Chart that charts what people are listening to on the web. We Are Hunted aggregates social networks, forums, music blogs, Torrents, P2P Networks and Twitter to develop a daily chart of the 99 most popular songs online. Yet another great music discovery tool I plan to add to my repertoire!