House Concerts and 21st Century Touring

Last year Chip and Dan Heath wrote Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, and since them I have had a new appreaciation for sticky ideas and the market or strategic position they create. This morning I came across the gem featured in my blog post title, house concerts and 21st century touring.

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Magic Numbers

Kevin Kelley has got me thinking.  While he’s blogging away in California, I’m having the exact same thoughts and discussions with people here in North Carolina.  Wild!

Consider this article written in March: 1,000 True Fans.  It quantifies what life in the long tail is like if an artist has a number of  “true fans” who would basically buy anything at a given price level year-in and year-out.  And it concludes that with 1,000 true fans, art is sustainable at a very reasonable cost.

But then in April, he argues against himself in The Case Against 1,000 True Fans.   His argument is that while the math is valid, there simply are not any musicians who have 1,000 true fans (other than those who benefited from the legacy of the old-world music biz).  And he’s asked his (substantial) readership to either help him find three (3) such people, or concede his case to Jaron Lanier.

Do you know of any such people?  I’d love to meet them!

Creating value when copies are free

Kevin Kelly is a technology, brand, and design maven, not to mention Senior Maverick at WIRED magazine. He is in the process of writing a new book, and he’s collecting his ideas online in an area he calls The Technium. I just read his latest installment, and it reads like a manifesto for The Miraverse. To wit, he asks the question

If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?

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Last night I was invited by some friends to sit down and watch Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, a DVD that embodies many of the ideas I’m attempting to realize with The Miraverse.

First, there is the premise, which Herbie lays on the line straightaway: that to grow as a musician, he must walk outside the lines of his comfort zone, meeting other artists halfway or more than halfway.  In the first few segments, he explains this idea of sharing, give-and-take, and you can see the chosen artists saying “yes” but acting as if “OH MY GOD!  IT’S HERBIE HANCOCK!!  WHAT DO I DO?!?!?”  It takes Herbie a few times to really get the message “just be yourself” through through to them.

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John McLaughlin — Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds (DVD cover)

The DVD of my dreams has just been released by Abstract Logix, and I’ve already started buying it by the dozen: John McLaughlin’s Meeting of the Minds, the making of Floating Point. It is my hope that when Manifold Recording opens and The Miraverse comes into existence that we will be hosting musicians and archiving such creativity and experiences as the Meeting of the Minds DVD captured.

I’m a big fan of John McLaughlin’s music and musicality. When he came to Durham last year, I was lucky enough to procure 4 tickets to his Fourth Dimension concert so close to the stage I could touch it. At that time we had already received zoning approval for the studio complex, but we had not yet received a building permit. I went to that concert at the Carolina Theater of Durham both as a fan and as a prospective producer. How would his live concert measure up to what I believe could be an even better experience–an opportunity to see and participate in the creative process with a musical genius like John?

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If you were famous for 15 people, what would you do?

Amy was listening to Sound Opinions, a radio program brought to us by WUNC on Saturday afternoons, and told me somebody was describing The Miraverse. I only caught the last exchange between the host and his guest, but the comment was highly google-able. The guest said “the world is changing from one where everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame to one where one is famous for only 15 people”. And voilà, here is the link to perhaps the first utterance of such, back in 1991.

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The rest is noise…

The Rest is Noise (cover)

I read a fair number of books, though not nearly as many as Amy. And many times when I discuss these books with others, they say “can you send me your reading list?” Well, I’m going to start a new category on this blog, which is books and it will be used whenever I reference a book that’s relevant in some way to the experiment that is this studio project.

I visited our local bookstore this morning (talk about a business that’s almost as bad as the studio business) and saw The Rest Is Noise and had to pick it up. First, because the topic “listening to the twentieth century” is of great interest to me. Second, because the cover art is fantastic, and third because the inside jacket cover presented to me the very insight that has inspired me to create The Miraverse inside of Manifold Recording. Namely, while paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollack sell for hundreds of millions of dollars, the equally influential music of the twentieth century struggles against the presumption that music is a dying art.

I have not yet read page one of the book, but here is what I’ll be attending to: I believe that we are presently (in 2008) discovering that consumerism is the true dead end. Not only does it kill the authentic self, but it’s destroying the earth as a habitat for humans as well. The fixed media form of art is particularly conducive to high valuation because it is unique and excludable. The diffusive form of music, which must be shared to be experienced, and which notably does not exist except when performed, presents a much greater challenge. All sorts of changes in copyright laws and other statutes to make music more like a painting have largely failed to create the ever-appreciating values we have seen in the world of paintings.

I believe that the problem with music as an industry is that we’ve tried to make it too much like a fixed medium, and records and CDs have only made this confusion the mainstream assumption. We need to return to music as a performance art, and we need to recognize the value and authenticity of experience. What is it worth to hear the greatest players playing the greatest music in the greatest halls or rooms? No, I’m not talking about Billy Joel and Sir Elton John playing piano at 125dB in a hockey rink. I’m talking about environments that fulfill music’s highest technical and artistic aspirations. This was the explicit goal of the design of the Music Room. (And to make it sustainable, we made it a carbon neutral recording studio.

I look forward to seeing how Ross’s narrative validates or challenges my own. Perhaps he’ll find an excuse to come to Pittsboro NC and hear for himself what a 21st century environment does for twentieth century music.

Linda Ronstadt had her chance…but who’s going to get it now?

Growing up in the 1970s, Linda Ronstadt was one of the first female vocalists that made me want to spend more time on the Rock and Roll side of the FM dial and less time listening to classical music on our local NPR affiliate, WMHT. But a few weeks ago, completely by chance, I heard her talking about her experiences in the Music industry as a special guest of the NPR news quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and the course of the interview practically wrote a blog posting for the Miraverse concept. Here’s my transcription of the relevant stories:

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More coming to the right side of the loudness wars

As reported in ocregister, Death Cab for Cutie are trading volume for quality and integrity in the loudness wars. And not a moment too soon! The acoustic assault of over-compressed songs not only fatigue the mind, but harm the ears as well. I’m glad to see that more people are starting to realize that a three minute song should not be mixed like a 30 second TV commercial.

You can read the full report at the ocregister website. — a modern way to produce music

Just before the new year I learned about, a very well designed portal for hiring session musicians and producing music.  Gina Fant-Saez has done a fantastic job engaging world-class studio musicians, engineers, and producers (who have a minimum of 15 major album credits) and creating an environment where requests can be made, tracks can be played, and talent can be paid.

I hope to meet with CEO Gina Fant-Saez on my next trip to Austin and discuss with her how the great work her team has done could possibly meet the infrastructure requirements of Manifold Recording and provide a commercial engine for The Miraverse.  It is exciting to see so many good potential frameworks for launching a new generation of creative and commercial approaches to 21st century music production.