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Strike It Like A Lightning Bolt

January 12, 2012 Industry Trends No Comments

What can Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man, teach us about music?

I am quietly finishing my long winter holiday in a secluded beach village in Jamaica thinking about writing a music blog post. No, it won’t be about Bob Marley even though I think I could easily write one about him. My inspiration comes from a new Jamaican legend, Usain “Lightning” Bolt. Bolt is the fastest man on the planet. He holds the world records for both the 100 and 200 meter sprints and is a three time Olympic gold medalist preparing for London 2012.

Bolt set the 200 meter world record with an astonishing time of 19.19 seconds. Even as a kid he was fast. At age 14 he could run the 200 meter in just under 22 seconds. By 15, just under 21 seconds. It was easy for coaches to recognize that he had the potential to compete in the Olympics and be a champion.

Too bad we don’t have similar measurements in the music business where we can recognize which artists have the potential to have a career. Lots of people can sing in tune or play an instrument. It is not a special skill. Lots of people can run fast but only the elite can run the 200 meter in under 20 seconds.

So how do we find the music elite? Those artists that have a chance to go on to have a legitimate career in music. I think we have a measurement now: Audience size.

For example, if an artist has had a Facebook page for a year without thousands of fans or the fan count isn’t growing significantly it is like a 15 year old running the 200 meters in 24 seconds. Fast, but little chance of competing in the Olympics one day.

The good news is that unlike sports, things can change for artists. A low audience or fan count means one of two things. First, you’re just not good enough. You need to write better songs, be a better musician; you haven’t found your “voice” yet. Or, second, your strategy for spreading your music is wrong.

What I am suggesting is for artists to have more critical self awareness. No complaining about the system. It is easy to recognize if you are not good enough at sports to be a professional. Can you run the 200 meters in 20 seconds? If not, you don’t go to the Olympics. Do you have 2,000 Facebook fans? If not, you can’t go to the next level.  Face it, and get real.

Emerging Indie Bands in Catalonia

January 11, 2012 Industry Trends 1 Comment

In the last few years, our country has seen a very strong boom of high quality Catalan bands that sing mainly in Catalan – and they are crushing it!

This is surprising for two reasons: first, because there has never been such a growth of bands, talent and quality in Catalonia. Secondly, because music sung in Catalan is not only having a large impact on the Catalan public but also on the rest of Spain.

Knowing that, it is not strange that iTunes chose the album Els millors professors europeus by the Catalan band Manel in last year’s iTunes Rewind 2011 as the Most Influential Album of the Year in Spain.

To understand how this came about, we need to go back to the 90’s, when the boom of “Rock Català,” took place, led among others by Sopa de Carbra, Sau, Els Pets or Lax’n’Busto. Most of the bands that integrated this movement (with some exceptions) would play a sticky type of rock, using Catalan as the main language, with a strong socio-political background that worked as a gathering element among the fans. “Rock Català” became a phenomenon capable of filling stadiums in our region; it became more than a concrete style and developed a category to itself – a genre that defined a purposeful way of thinking and seeing the position of Catalunya inside Spain.

And what happened after that? Fans grew up and some of the most important bands retired and ended their musical activity. Little by little, the movement lost its intensity and started to be seen as something antique, old-fashioned and at some point, as something limiting. Some bands even gave up singing in Catalan to avoid being identified with the “Rock Català” genre!

Then followed a few years of experimentation, during which bands moved between the references of the past and the idea of searching for a new language. That’s when new bands started to bloom: bands using Catalan as a language but with renovated languages and new messages more focused on the quality of the music than on the political message they were projecting.

Nowadays, these bands have gathered once again the “Rock Català” fans of the 90’s, as well as the fans who did not want to sympathize with the movement because of its ideological content. The fact that these bands have broken the socio-political barriers by eliminating the ideological element has allowed them to reach a much larger audience.

In addition to Manel and other first line indie bands such as the Majorcan’s Antonia Font or Els Amics de Les Arts, there are many other groups that also deserve attention. The Orchard has the pleasure of working with a big number of them, including Refree, El Petit de Cal Eril, Sanjosex, Mazoni, Roger Mas, Mishima, Óscar Briz, Litoral, Guillamino, Standstill and many others.

Check out this Catalan Indie Scene playlist on Spotify to get a taste of the trend.

What’s Shakin’, 2012?

January 5, 2012 Industry Trends No Comments

I am far from a media pundit who has artfully created a list of predictions for 2012, but as a person with half a brain, of course I have my own expectations for this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

The direct-to-fan focus for 2012 will be on selling tickets. I cannot adequately express how frustrated I am when I try to purchase tickets within 2 minutes of big shows going on sale (LCD, M83) and yet there’s not a ticket available. For those artists who share my frustration, I suspect there will be more of them selling straight to their fans. Plus, while D2F is a media darling, its still tough for most artists to create a meaningful sum of money from it. Adding tickets to the mix will help to justify the effort required to create a D2F campaign.

I will continue to watch TV through Netflix, Hulu and rabbit ears. I can’t imagine ever spending money on cable again.

As mobile becomes more dominant, streaming services with apps that work across all devices will grow the most. I listen to music on my computer, Android, and rarely on my iPod, so I don’t download music (and haven’t for about 6 years) because it’s no fun to manage all those MP3s across all that hardware. And as for phone-specific services (either manufacturer or carrier), there hasn’t been a breakthrough service yet. My money (literally) is on the growth of Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, and the like.

I am going to love Local Natives’ second album. Whenever it comes out.

People’s listening habits will continue to be influenced by their friends through social integrations like Facebook and Spotify, rather than a product like Turntable.fm. Turntable was insanely fun when it first launched and I spent many hours in an Orchard room, but it’s way too demanding for everyday music listening.

Brad Navin will start tweeting. You heard it here first. Start following him now.

How To Discover Music (and Minimize Distraction) with Ex.fm

December 23, 2011 Industry Trends 1 Comment

Ex.fm has been rocking my world lately. It’s a plugin for the Chrome browser (as well as stand-alone site and iPhone app) that allows you to keep track of favorites songs, make playlists and queue tracks to play later. While this functionality is available through a number of other services  (Rdio, SoundCloud and HypeMachine, for instance) they are all limited to songs within their ecosystem. Ex.fm is unique in that it is completely open ended: If it has a play button, ex.fm can grok it, regardless of the platform.

Before ex.fm, a few minutes on my favorite music blogs could result in 30-50 open tabs full of good music… most of which I would never listen to. Either my browser would crash, I’d become distracted, or I’d accidentally quit. And, as I’m sure many of you can relate, if one of those tabs is playing something, or if I open a link that, God-forbid, auto-plays, I’d be frantically scrambling to figure out, “which tab is that coming from?!”.

Ex.fm elegantly handles all of these issues. For any track that can play in a browser, ex.fm will pop a little button in the bottom right of your window, which shows you a potential playlist of how many tracks are on the page. From there, you can add tracks to your playing queue, or heart them for later reference. This is great for music blogs, as you can just hit play and listen to every song on that page. Then you can close that tab, and the music will keep playing. No matter what tab you are in, you can always access your playlist to pause, play, adjust volume or reorder tracks with one click on the ex.fm extension button, which lives conveniently to the right of your URL bar.

If you sign up for an account, you can take your queue and listening history with you wherever you go. If you’re a blogger, DJ, music nerd or just a completist, this can be invaluable because ex.fm remembers not just the songs you played and queued, but every song on every page you’ve ever loaded.

Another extra handy perk: there is an iTunes-esque interface that allows you to sort your library, not just by artist or date, but by website too. I’m often surprised to see that a new artist I just “discovered” has actually been in my periphery for a while, but I’d been too caught up to notice.


Why Listening is Sometimes Just As Important as Talking

December 22, 2011 Industry Trends No Comments

I have just been watching some great presentations by a man you may well have heard of, Gary Vaynerchuk - author of “Crush It” and “The Thank You Economy” – about how to market in the social age.

These talks are amazingly insightful and I would highly recommend them. In fact, I am going to buy both books to share around my office in London.

It got me thinking about a lot of things, but mainly about social media and how people are often solely interested or concerned with what they are going to say.

The most common thing an artist or a manager says to me when we discuss social media strategy is “What should I be saying and how often?” Should they be pushing out content, adverts, marketing emails, status updates, blogs, newsletters and should it be weekly, daily, or multiple times a day? Wow, I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

Now, I am being slightly tongue-in-cheek as content is of course an important part of any social strategy -content is still king!

However, Gary Vaynerchuk and his writing always reminds me that, as well as thinking about what to say and how to say it, we should be thinking about how to listen and how to collect and make sense of what we hear. This is as true for business as it is for any interaction in life. People can sometimes talk too much without really listening to what others are saying.

Have you ever used the search function on Twitter and searched your artist or label and looked at what people are saying? It’s amazing what you might find out.

Most of us tend to think first about what to say in those 140 characters. However, I would suggest that that the single most important function of Twitter is the ability to search what people are actually saying.

Listen first and then engage.

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