2012 Music

I’m not going to post my ‘most listened to music’ list like I did last year. For a variety of reasons my music wasn't syncing to my Last.fm profile for the entire year so the data isn't accurate. That said, here are some great artists that I hadn't listened to all that much (or at all) in the past that I listened to quite a bit last year.

  • The Lumineers
  • The Shins
  • Iron & Wine
  • Hayes Carll
  • Angels & Airwaves
  • Townes Van Zandt
  • The Felice Brothers
  • Whiskeytown
  • Beach House
  • My Morning Jacket
  • Band of Heathens

I also discovered a genre called post rock. It’s very relaxing and great to listen to while you work. Some of the bands I like include The Six Parts Seven, This Will Destroy You and Marconi Union. Check out this somewhat depressing but very inspiring video that recaps the events of 2012 -- the soundtrack playing in the background is a great song by This Will Destroy You.

I also listened to a lot more of the stuff I listened to in past years, including:

  • Ryan Bingham
  • Steve Earle
  • Radiohead
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Micky & the Motorcars
  • Reckless Kelly
  • Bon Iver
  • James McMurtry
  • Bob Dylan
  • Uncle Tupelo
  • The Avett Brothers

Some new, some old -- 2012 was a good year for music.

The End of Rock?

I was listening to the Sports Guy's podcast the other day and he was interviewing Nathan Hubbard, Ticketmaster's CEO of ticketing.  It was a fascinating podcast, I recommend listening to it if you're interested in the ticketing space or sports marketing in general.

He said a lot of really interesting things through the interview but the most interesting to me was when he talked about the end of rock and roll.  He pointed out that music revolutions happen about every 50 years and the days of dominant bands with just a guitar, bass and drums are beginning to disapear -- rock has been around since the 1940's.

I try to follow new music pretty closely and I have to agree with Hubbard.  Like everything else, computers are taking over -- even music production. 

As evidence of this shift, take a look at the artists with the top ten selling songs in iTunes's "Rock" category right now and the song release dates:

  1. Nickleback - 2011
  2. Ram Jaam - 1995
  3. Trapt - 2002
  4. Ozzy Osbourne - 2003
  5. Goo Goo Dolls - 1998
  6. Disturbed - 2000
  7. Semisonic - 2003
  8. Daughtry - 2011
  9. Kenny Loggins - 1997
  10. Disturbed - 2011

Only three of these songs were produced in the last 8 years.

Conversely, here's the top 10 in the "Electronic" genre:

  1. M83 - 2011
  2. Ellie Goulding - 2011
  3. Skrillex - 2010
  4. Duck Sauce - 2010
  5. Owl City - 2009
  6. Skrillex - 2011
  7. M.I.A. 2007
  8. Parov Stellar - 2010
  9. Bassnectar - 2010
  10. James Blake - 2011

All of these were produced in the last four years.  

I suppose it's no surprise that technology has changed the game for musical sound and production, but it's a bit eye opening to see how far it has come.

Disruption, Illustrated

I came across a two very neat examples of disruption over the past few weeks. The first is from Digital Music News and graphically depicts music distribution by medium since 1981, it's fascinating to watch cassettes and CDs grow exponentially and then disappear just as quickly.  Depending on your browser you may need to slide your mouse over the image to turn it on.

30years.gif (550×500)

The second is from Chris Dixon's blog and illustrates recent disruption in the video game market.  Below are images of the instructions to play Angry Birds versus the most recent version of John Madden Football, arguably the most successful video game for the last ten years.

Over time the incumbent often builds complexity into its product to satisfy customers, to give them more.  But at the same time that complexity can leave new customers behind.  This creates the opportunity for a new entrant like Angry Birds to swoop in and provide a far more easy to use product for the majority of consumers.  At last check Angry Birds had sold more than 200 million downloads.

Angry Birds

Madden NFL 12

The Long Tail In Action

My favorite band, Micky and the Motorcars, is releasing a new album tomorrow titled, Raise My Glass. I'm pretty excited about it. I think I first discovered the band through Pandora -- they have a similar sound to many bands that I listen to.  I liked what I heard and bought a couple of albums and am now a huge fan.  I was finally able to see them live at the Bowery Ballroom here in New York last month.

Without the internet, I'm certain I never would've come across their music.  They're a little known "alternative country" band that doesn't get played on the radio even in Texas.  They currently have less than 9,000 Facebook fans (contrast that with U2's 10 million or Dave Matthews Band's 2.4 million).

I was thinking about buying their album and I realized that the purchase will be a perfect example of the "Long Tail" theory in action.  I built the graph below to help make my point.

The graph shows album sales for Michael Jackson's Thriller versus Micky and the Motorcars album that comes out tomorrow.  Thriller has sold more than 50 million copies whereas Raise My Glass will probably only sell several thousand. Marketers used to think that they had to find the next Thriller, the next huge album, if they wanted to make money. So they virtually ignored acts that wouldn't deliver an enormous fan base.  But the Long Tail theory tells us that there's actually more revenue to be had in the yellow section of the graph (the tail); that is, relatively low sales volumes of millions of different albums.; i.e. albums from bands like Micky and the Motorcars.

Because of distribution and marketing limitations, it was impossible to execute on the Long Tail theory 20 years ago.  But with technology, specifically the digitalization of music, the Long Tail is now no longer just a theory, it's a reality, and I'm happy to be part of it.


I like to say that there are two things that motivate customers: fear and greed. 

Songkick, a web service founded in 2007, addresses a very simple and common fear: not knowing when one of your favorite bands comes to town.

I signed up for the service a few weeks ago and I love it.  It has a very slick and simple UI/UX.  You simply “track” your favorite bands and the site builds your own personal calendar of events.  It then makes recommendations for similar acts that you should track.  You can also import your favorite artists from Pandora, Last.fm and iTunes.  One thing I’d like to see them add soon is a second calendar that’s full of recommendations that you haven’t yet chosen to track.  That would be great for nights when you just want to see some live music but one of your favorites isn’t performing. 

Once you’ve setup your profile and created your own calendar, the system will send you an email when a show from one of your favorite bands gets scheduled in your area (I've already received a few of these emails and it's pretty exciting when you see one in your inbox).

In short, Songkick has executed very well on an awesome idea.  If you like live music, you should definitely take a few minutes to sign up.

The Perfect Music Service

Amazon announced yesterday that they’re releasing an online service (a “cloud”) that allows people to store their digital music and access it from various digital devices, though they still have some legal work to do in sorting out licensing issues with the record labels. I’m a big fan of Amazon and the announcement got me thinking about the different music services I use and what I really want out of a music service. Currently, I use iTunes to buy music and Pandora to discover music and Last.fm to log my top artists, albums and songs. I don’t subscribe to any of the steaming music services like Rhapsody and I don’t yet interact with music-based social networks, though I could with my Last.fm profile.

All-in subscription services like Rhapsody are very appealing -- all the music you want, on-demand for 10 bucks a month. The industry consensus seems to be that the subscription services generally target listeners that have more money than time and ownership services like iTunes target listeners with more time than money. I can afford the subscription service but there’s something about owning my own music library and being stuck with it that’s appealing to me. Sometimes having limited options can be a good thing.

All that said, using three different services is a pain and there are still some things I’d like the services to do that they don’t. In a perfect world, here’s what I think an all-in-one service would include:

  • Cloud: all of the music I own (my library) could be easily accessed through the service and on demand on my home or work computer, or on the road with my BlackBerry, iPad or iPod
  • Discovery: the service would include a discovery component with various stations that could be streamed to any device (similar to Pandora now) but I could easily switch between channels that include songs in my library and channels that don’t
  • Ownership: I could buy a song or album and add it to my library at any time
  • Social: my library and listening history would be captured regardless of where or how I’m listening to it and could be viewed by “friends” and vice-versa
  • Live shows: a calendar with dates and venues based on zip code for every artist in my library as well as an option to see recommendations for shows based on my library
  • Recommendations: an area where I can see recommended albums based on my music library/listening history/friends tastes
  • Music Information: artist profiles and news, upcoming releases, charts, etc.
  • Advertisements: Option to pay higher fee to remove them

Because of the economics of the music industry I realize that I’d likely be paying a monthly fee in addition to per-song fee/album fees, and that's ok.

The digital music industry will very likely continue to be fragmented for quite a long time and there’s no doubt that different listeners have different needs that can be met by different services. But I’d bet on the service that is able to flexibly and cost effectively blend ownership, discovery and social into one platform.

The Hype Machine


The Hype Machine is a music blog aggregator that trolls the internet to find out what's hot and to give it attention. They just released their Top 50 Artists, Songs and Albums of 2008. For the last two weeks, I haven't stopped listening to the Top 50 Albums. You can find them here.

While I consider myself a music lover, I also recognize that I have terrible taste in music. I've always gone for what's most accessible, catchy and easy to get listen to. Hype Machine's Top 50 is not made up of that kind of music, not at all. In fact, I've only heard of five of the 50 artists:

  • REM
  • Beck
  • Coldplay
  • Kanye West
  • Lil Wanye

All of the others are completely new to me. I've already found a few new favorites:

  • Frightened Rabbit
  • MGMT
  • Vampire Weekend
  • M83

This music takes some time and commitment to enjoy, but it's well worth it.

Of course, the best part of Hype Machine is the Bloggers that are discovering and writing about the music.

Here are a couple of quotes that will inspire you to listen to the music and appreciate how cool this site is:

  • "...could be the soundtrack to an early morning drive down a country road."
  • "Who'd have thought the classic "American" punk album would be reinvented by a New Jersey punk band rocking out the basement circuit."
  • "Good music to listen to while jumping on a trampoline."
  • "It's dark, creepy and if it happens to be raining where you are, it'll be the perfect soundtrack."
  • "...an album best listened to alone, or at 3am at an open-minded party."
  • "It's the musical equivalent of reading someone else's diary."
  • "It's like watching the sun rise over distant mountaintops, over and over, familiar and captivating all at once."

If you haven't heard of a lot of these bands, I highly recommend giving it a listen.


I don't think there's a really great business model here but if I'm going to write about the economics of music, I have to write about Radiohead's democratic pricing model.  Basically, fans could pay whatever price they wanted for the album.  I hear that they got, on average, 8 bucks.  There aren't a lot of bands that could pull this off so I'm not sure this is an emerging trend.  Worth thinking about though.  Could this work for other industries?

Music & Business Models

I've been thinking more and more about monetizing music and I have to say that I would much rather continue to pay $14 for a CD then to see the whole industry shift to an advertising model.  Supporting art with ads is depressing and just plain wrong.

I mean how far can this go?

Imagine if museums didn't charge admission?  Instead, you could get in for free but all of the art would be covered in advertising?

The Music Industry & The Long Tail

There's a brilliant post from Seth Godin today on the music industry that's worth reading a couple of times.  And not just for people that work in the music industry. Check out it here.

Here's what I think is the most powerful sentence in the entire post:

"You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs."

I've been thinking about this for a while but it's nice to finally hear an expert say it so plainly.  To me, selling copyrighted music in the digital age is like selling the Mona Lisa  -- once you've sold one copy you've sold em' all.

Knowing how quickly old industries can disappear and new opportunities can pop up, here are a couple questions that we should all ask ourselves at least once a year...

If record companies can go from being extremely profitable to being forced to sue their customers to having a superfluous product and being forced to sell souvenirs and interactivity in about a decade, what could happen to my product?  And what am I doing about it today?