Cowboy Junkies – “Cacadias”

Cowboy Junkies – “Cacadias

Cowboy Junkies are back and aging like a fine wine with their latest release Renmin Park, the first of four planned over the next 18 months collectively titled “The Nomad Series.” Renmin Park was inspired by Michael Timmons’ trip to China on the Yangtze River and is themed around “a fictional love story of two people whose worlds will forever keep them apart.” How hopelessly romantic.

I personally was inspired and honored to share a virtual classroom earlier this year with the talented Mr. Timmons through the Berklee School of Music on Topspin, a technology platform designed to help artists take control of their musical destiny. He’s done just that and is thriving creatively without the constraints of a label. So kudos to you and your Topspin widgets, Michael!

The Vinyl Debate – Part 4: Q&A with Shamal Ranasinghe of Topspin

The Music Industry Expert: Q&A with Shamal Ranasinghe (pictured on the left), VP and Co-Founder of Topspin, a technology-focused direct-to-fan marketing, management and distribution platform designed to provide artists the tools they need to market music directly to their fans and build successful businesses.

To read the entire series, click here.

theOCMD: CD sales are in a tailspin.  Some have even proclaimed the format dead. Interestingly, in that same period, vinyl has taken off. Do you think this is coincidence or not? Does the music industry need a physical format to survive?

Shamal: This is not a coincidence. Thanks to the promotional and distributional efficiencies of the Internet, fans can consume music in whatever format they want. The rising format of choice is digital in both downloadable files and streaming, and digital’s superior convenience and accessibility are causing CD sales to rapidly decline. These same efficiencies have made it easier for vinyl stalwarts to discover and acquire music in their preferred medium since it’s easier than ever for artists to directly merchandise and promote their music on a variety of formats. And no, I do not think the music industry needs any one kind of format to survive. Music is more important culturally than ever before and is too intrinsic a human quality for it to ever die. It will only grow in human relevance. Thus, there will always be an industry in and around music regardless of format.

theOCMD: From the artists represented on Topspin, what impact does a physical product, like vinyl, have on sales? How have you seen vinyl sales grow among your artists?

Shamal: At Topspin, about 48% of transactions have a physical product but these physical + digital packages represent about 76% of revenue. Here’s a slide to represent that graphically (http://www.flickr.com/photos/21542327@N06/4319531229/).

Topspin artists have seen that bundling physical with digital drives the overall sales and revenue of their campaigns. I also see more and more artists offer vinyl in their campaigns because now the tools exist to create a variety of flexible offers from vinyl to USB shaped Uzis (http://getbusycommittee.com/store/). I’m excited to see what the future holds for creative marketing in multiple formats.

theOCMD: Is vinyl a trend or here to stay?

Shamal: I think it’s here to stay at least in our lifetimes. Vinyl has a stronger chance of surviving in the long-term over CD’s as there is an inherent analog audio quality to vinyl that is considered better than what you experience with digitally encoded music. The CD format is just another digital format not much more differentiated than a digital file with a bit more artwork and plastic so the substitution effects should make the CD obsolete sooner.

theOCMD: Analog vs. digital.  What’s your preference and why?

Shamal: I like the convenience and immediacy of digital for my daily music consumption on my PC and iPod. Digital helps me to swim through more music than ever before. On the other hand, I collect vinyl as well and play it when I want a more in-tune music experience so I can savor the sounds and depth of the music. Plus it’s kind of ritualistic taking the record out of the crate, pulling the vinyl out of its sleeve, putting the needle on the record, and getting up to turn the side on the record. It seems laborious describing the process, but I feel I’m more connected with the experience of listening to the music when I play vinyl.

theOCMD: What do you hope the music industry will look like in 10 years?

Shamal: I hope the music industry will achieve a true revolution in how artists and fan connect directly with each other. There has definitely been a revolution in the way fans experience music thanks to disruptive distribution platforms like the old Napster and legal services like iTunes, but the revolution has yet to be fully realized for the way fans are able to support their favorite artists. We are focused on this specific area at Topspin and have seen promising indicators that if given efficient and convenient options, fans will pay for their music and compensate their favorite artists directly. Once these methods and mechanisms are perfected over time, artists will be able to thrive and survive based on their direct connection with their fans.

Trendspotting: Vinyl’s Comeback – Part 1

I’ve been tracking this trend for a while, the resurgence of vinyl.  I find it intriguing. Not long ago, vinyl was presumed as dead as the 8 track. While there was always a market for used and vintage vinyl among the hardcore collectors, the appreciation for analog has now crossed over to the younger generation and more casual listener. Now record shops, vinyl record shops, are back en vogue and popping up everywhere.

It got me curious to know what’s behind all this.  Is vinyl a fad that will fade or is it here to stay? Is it any coincidence that as the CD has died, vinyl as re-emerged in it’s place? As much as we love the convenience of digital music, do we – at the end of the day – need something to hold and touch? Or is it the music industry that needs a physical format? Does analog truly sound better than digital? Or is being a vinyl lover just a way to differentiate yourself from the music masses?

I decided to ask the experts and have gathered perspectives from a cross section of industries and disciplines. Over the next few days, you’ll hear opinions on the subject from:

  • The Acoustics Expert: John Dahl of THX
  • The Vinyl Expert: Vince Slusarz of Gotta Groove Records.
  • The Music Industry Expert: Shamal Ranasinghe of Topspin
  • The Marketing and Trends Guru: Seth Godin

It was a fun project and I hope you enjoy the series and their perspectives.  And please, chime in and tell us what you think.

Albert Cross Debut “Broken Side of Time” Released Early

Alberta Cross Broken Side of Time

Alberta Cross“Broken Side of Time

The band has released their debut album on their website for streaming and digital download today – a full week early. (And using Topspin, I might add.) One of my favorites for 2009, go get it!

Download Fanfarlo Debut Album for $1

fanfarlo_reservoir

Fanfarlo, “I’m A Pilot”

Hey, do you like Arcade Fire?  Then you’ll definitely like the debut album from Fanfarlo called “Reservoir“.  They think so too and they want you to hear it.  So until July 4th,  the band is offering the entire album, plus bonus tracks, for just $1!  Download it now.

But don’t let the cheap price fool you.  The album is excellent. And I applaud their viral marketing efforts.  I love to see new bands think outside of the box to get the word out and use innovative technologies such as TopSpin to enable those ideas. Bravo!

SXSW 2009 Friday Highlights

Friday at SXSW kicked off in style with a great day party hosted by Insound at Club De Ville.  Obits opened the day with an impressively scorching set, followed by one of my favorite bands, The Handsome Furs, who’s energy and chemistry did not disappoint.  I had yet to see them live so was thrilled to get up close and personal with them at such a great venue. (Loved Alexei Perry’s leopard print jumpsuit too.)  American Analog Set followed but they were a bit too quiet to be appreciated with a crowd in the full throws of an all you can drink PBR pint party, so off I headed to the Spin private event at Stubbs.

At the Spin party, which was a blast, I caught The Black Lips – who lived up to their infamous stage performance reputation — Glasvegas and the seminal band of the 80s Echo and The Bunnymen.  Ian McCulloch’s voice was amazing and the band’s performance was one of my highlights of the festival for me. Between sets we were entertained by the likes of The Crystal Method and NASA.  A great show all around! Thanks Spin!

Without missing a beat, we headed to the TopSpin party to see White Denim crush it. If you don’t know this band already, you are missing out.  Exposion is my favorite album of 2008 and they are absolutely incredible live.  Whew, okay.  I’m a good nine bands in and we haven’t even gotten to the official SXSW schedule yet!

The evening kicked off with Alberta Cross.  Man, these guys are good.  Really, really good.  One of the SXSW sleepers, in my opinion.  Loney Dear was up next with a lackluster performance, but all was redeemed when we made it to Emo’s Jr. for King Kahn & The Shrines.  Holy crap!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like them. Absolutely and completely crazy live performers.  People were hanging from the rafters, taking off their pants, moshing and giving puja to the holy Hindu, King Kahn. I didn’t think the night could get any better until we ended up at the mother of all after parties to see Starf**ker.  My new favorite band.  I loooovve them!

Listen to Obits, “Pine On“:

Listen to Handsome Furs “I’m Confused”

Listen to The Black Lips“O Katrina”

Listen to Echo & The Bunnymen, “Killing Moon” 

Listen to Glasvegas, “Geraldine”  

Listen to White Denim, Shake Shake Shake” 

Listen to Alberta Cross, “The Thief and The Heartbreaker”

Listen to King Khan & The Shrines, “No Regrets”

Listen to Starf**ker, “Iaadeedaa

 

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The Handsome Furs at Club De Ville
Glasvegas at Stubbs

Glasvegas at Stubbs

The Black Lips at Stubbs

The Black Lips at Stubbs

At the Spin party.  Music, hipsters and free beer - oh my!

At the Spin party. Music, hipsters and free beer - oh my!

Echo & The Bunnymen at Stubbs

Echo & The Bunnymen at Stubbs

Alberta Cross at Rusty Spurs

Alberta Cross at Rusty Spurs

The Legendary King Kahn enjoying a well deserved drink after his performance at Emos Jr.

The Legendary King Kahn enjoying a well deserved drink after his performance at Emos Jr.

Starf**ker Rules!

Starf**ker Rules!

Me with The Black Lips frontman.

Hanging with The Black Lips frontman.

iTunes Rumored to Launch Subscription Model – Finally!

I read today on the ListeningPost about rumors that iTunes is planning to launch an unlimited music subscription service in late October with the release of iTunes 7.8.  It’s reported the annual subscription fee will be $130/year (or $100 for MobileMe subscribers) and will give users the ability to download to nearly half of all the songs in the iTunes store in a 256-Kbps format.  The other half apparently will require a new deal with copyright holders.

It sounds like the model will operate similar to Rhapsody.  Subscription songs would be playable in iTunes and would be transportable and playable on certain devices – namely the iPod and iPhone.  According to the tipster, when you log on to iTunes, you will get the option to ‘Buy’ (purchase and keep) or ‘Get’ your music (download and Play throughout iTunes Unlimited Subscription).

Hooray for Apple for taking a step in the right direction. I’ve long been a proponent of the subscription-based music model and a huge fan of services like Rhapsody.  It just makes sense.  And with the emergence of even more technologies like Topspin, we will see more and more artist going direct to fans with subscription-based offers.

Now if only Apple would budge on their DRM policy and move to pure MP3s.

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