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Dave Kusek on The Cloud, Topspin, Hype Machine, SoundCloud, and the death of MySpace

Dave Kusek, the author of The Future of Music, is a man who needs no introduction but just in case you don’t already know him he’s Vice President at Berklee College of Music and he is responsible for managing the online music school,  He also  recently launched a  new service that helps musicians empower themselves called, Music Power Network.

Since he is a prolific blogger, futurist and strategist, I wanted to ask him his opinion about some of the hottest buzzwords in the Music Business Today: The Cloud, Topspin, Hype Machine, SoundCloud the death of MySpace,

Ariel: OK Dave, here’s how this will work. I am going to throw some one-sentence statements at you pertaining to the music industry. I’d like you to state whether you think each statement is true or false, and then provide an explanation for your choice.

Dave: Sounds good. Shoot…

Ariel: “The Cloud” will change the way we think about music ownership.

Dave: True. I think it’s all about access rather than ownership; that is truer every day, as there is now much more music in the market. Just knowing what is out there is a challenge. It is going to become more important to find music and listen to it than it is to “own” it.

Just look at SXSW. There are 2 or 3 thousand bands playing. There is no easy way to figure out which ones I really want to go to listen to.   I am counting on recommendations from my friends and buzz in the media to help pick what I should listen to.  That is true at SXSW and also true on a daily basis.  Knowing what to listen to is more important than having it in your collection.  That is becoming more true every day.

There are lots of people currently working on this challenge. Someone is going to find a really slick way to find music that we are truly interested in, and that software will become invaluable.

The Echo Nest is getting close. They are combining what people are talking about on the public web, with purchase data and behavioral data. They are also providing a very sophisticated musical analysis of the songs and relating that to the social graph.

I am really looking forward to what they and other similar companies are going to come up with.

Ariel: MySpace is dead. It will never return to prominence.

Dave: True…probably. The reason that I hesitate is because they are well capitalized, massive, and known for music. There is a bunch of smart people still working there, so I wouldn’t write them off completely; but it’s probably true. People are so interested in new things that MySpace will be eclipsed by something that we probably haven’t seen yet.

Ariel: All the hype around Topspin is deserved.

Dave: True, but it’s not about Topspin it’s about direct-to-fan marketing tools. Topspin just happen to be doing a really good job of creating buzz and their software is really extraordinary.  But it is the idea of direct-to-fan that is really compelling.

I don’t know if it’s possible for any one company to provide all of the necessary tools that you will need. Just look at what Peter Gotcher, the financial guy behind Topspin, did as the founder of Protools. That software has been a staple in the audio industry since it’s creation, but it’s certainly not the only audio tool that anyone would use.   Most people combine Protools with Reason, Ableton, Cakewalk, Waves and other programs to complete the suite of tools they use to create music.

The same is going to be true with the new generation of direct marketing software being developed.  I also think about Salesforce from the corporate sector.  Salesforce is customer relationship management software used by thousands of companies to help manage their user bases. Topspin is not all that different.  If you are using Salesforce in your business, you are most likely using other tools along with it to track your sales and engage with your customers.

Ariel: If you are not a cool, indie rock band, you can’t approach Hype Machine bloggers.

Dave: Hmm…that’s more false than true.

The reason I say that is bands can waste incredible amounts of time and energy trying to promote themselves when their music sucks. With Music Power Network (MPN), we are encouraging bands focus on their art and to find good managers and marketing people, so they can concentrate on making great music, practicing, writing, touring, etc.

To go to Hype Machine to try and build buzz is probably a waste of time.   If your music is wonderful, people are going to know about it and spread the word.

So I think it is way more important to practice, write great songs, and develop your craft than it is to try and generate buzz.  If you don’t have great music, you aren’t going anywhere.  And if your music is truly great, people are going to spread the word for you.

Ariel: SoundCloud is the best possible way to move music around the Internet.

Dave: At the moment, true.  They are the YouTube of audio and are making it easy. I love the way their system is open. You can tap into their API and link SoundCloud into your own application and website.  That is how they are going to grow their importance.

If they stay focused on just delivering audio, SoundCloud could become ubiquitous. If they try to compete with the people who are supporting them, it will get problematic. If they just work hard to be the very best at storing, streaming and accessing audio, they will do very well.   It’s a great service.

Ariel: Having engaged fans, followers, and friends are more important than “press” coverage.

Dave: Sure we just talked about this.  Great music is more important than anything. If you are great, people will find you and many will know about you.  It really is that simple.  You will have 1,000 fans, then 10,000 fans, and so on because you are great. If you are writing music that people can relate to, you will find an audience. Great music will lead to all the press coverage, and word of mouth promotion and a huge fanbase.

If you get press coverage and you suck, it won’t do much. It may make your mother happy, but that’s not the name of the game.


Hang With Dave Online:

His Blog:

Twitter: @DaveKusek

About Dave’s Music Power Network: Music Power Network (MPN) is a dynamic, interactive service for working musicians, producers and business people. Unlike the book, it is constantly updated with new content and resources that reflect the changing marketplace. Instead of reading a book and then deciding how to use the information, MPN provides online lessons, video interviews, a large and growing database of resources and other online tools for people seeking to have a successful career in the music industry today. Whether you are a band, indie label, songwriter, artist management company, production company, or other music business, MPN provides a toolkit that you can custom tailor specifically to your needs.



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Reader Comments (27)

"Great music will lead to all the press coverage, and word of mouth promotion and a huge fanbase.

If you get press coverage and you suck, it won’t do much."

Then explain me why there is so much crap music ruling the charts? Ke$ha? Jonas Brothers? Miley Cirus? Great music never find an audience without mass promotion.

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

@ Febreze

"Crap music" rules the charts because that is what's promoted in the mainstream media and on the radio. If you want to be a pop music star then it's still a good idea to approach major labels.

But, if you want an actual sustainable career, where you make your living off music, you can do that through connecting with your fans and having great music.

With the old system, a tiny percentage of artists on major labels were ever promoted enough to became a hit. That sounds like playing the lottery to me. The tools to connect your fanbase, promote and distribute your music are readily available to you now.

Why go back to the old system?

Great post Ariel.

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

Great interview! Dave Kusek is the E.F. Hutton of music. Thanks, Ariel.

I am a huge fan of what I'm calling "Fan-Generated Business Models" and totally agree with 'Having engaged fans, followers, and friends are more important than “press” coverage.' In fact, one of the bands I am managing are using fan-generated press, reviews, and testimonials to great success over media coverage!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterWicked D

I happen to love that "tik-tok" Ke$ha song, so there. :)

That said, do we really believe that great songs are all we need? How many great songs have you heard that are criminally underappreciated or ignored entirely? I hear great-yet-unknown songs every day, lost in the din of decent-but-not-great songs that have some promo behind them.

Great songs give you an advantage, but people don't randomly search out new great songs. You have to put yourself in their path.

March 30 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Great interview. I'm on MPN and it's been a wonderful tool to use that Dave created.

Being a musician starts with making great music that people will like. I met a musician, who is big in my area who told me (and I quote), "You don't have to be talented to be in this industry, it's about marketing it." I didn't really agree with him 100%, because I do think you have to be talented and creative in the music because that's the core product. How it's marketed requires some other skills, but if you make bad music--no fans, no income, no shows, no music career. It's really that simple to me. I'm not sure how he does it other than he's surrounded himself with very talented musicians in his band to cover for him.

Brian Franke

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Franke

great music alone won't do it. That always needs to be the focus and it's like the pre-requisite - it's kind of like breathing, it is necessary to sustain you and without it, you won't be going anywhere, but you need to do more than just that. You need to promote and market yourself, connect with fans (as cliche as it sounds), basically take the initiative to do the things a label used to do yourself. If you're good enough and people are responding to you, over time you'll create something and reach a point where you don't have to do those things yourself anymore - but yes, the tools to do it yourself are all readily available.

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

First of all: "great" music in general doesn't excist, period!
I decide what is "great" music.

"If your music is wonderful, people are going to know about it and spread the word". Don't make me laugh.
As you say "it’s about direct-to-fan marketing tools". That to me is: tools to market, not wonderful music!
I see these bands on TV and a few months later I see them play at all kinds of festivals.
That's not because people bought their music and then they are interesting to book.
No, they were on TV and now bookers think: "Hey, let's book 'm because people know they were on TV"!

If you get press coverage and you suck, it won’t do much. It may make your mother happy, but that’s not the name of the game.
Ask Paris Hilton's mother!

@Mike Venti
To a lot of people Bach, Beethoven, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga is "crap music".
And to a lot of people it's "great music".
And in this day and age how long can you have a sustainable career?
Fans forget you in a wink of a moment, so don't kid yourself.

Absolutely right! Put yourself in their path, but how? That's the tricky question.

@ Brian Franke
Being a musician starts with making great music that people will like.
No! Being a musician starts with making great music that YOU like!
If not, you are a whore!

Yes, totally agree.

So if yo want to sustain a musical career, if you you want to be a rock & roll star, sell your soul to the company, who are waiting there to sell plastic ware. The Byrds all knew about it in 1967.

Oh, and I released a CD. And I am following all the marketing guru's on the internet.
And I want to be known for my music.
But there is one thing. I am not going to write and play "great" music, because I have no idea what that is!
No Style No Rules Just Music!



March 30 | Unregistered CommenterHarry

It's interesting to me how everyone is screaming "MySpace is dead!" while if you go over to Alexa MySpace is still usually in the top 20 (& were in the top 5 still when people started clamoring about their demise). Facebook & Twitter & YouTube have more traffic right now, but they certainly aren't as music oriented or as easy to meet new folks on (in my experience).

The top music oriented sites are never really mentioned anywhere I know. They're both from China & are Baidu & QQ.

Sorry, lack of sleep. Baidu & QQ aren't really music oriented - their search engines (including mp3 search options), but they do generate a decent percentage of traffic to my site....

I have to STRONGLY DISSAGREE with Dave on Hype, marketing and hype is 99% of your route to success. There is plenty of worthless songs being sold for real money simply because of slick marketing and hype. Take the entire Hip-hop catalog for example, what separates one great hip-hop rapper from the next? Skill? Songwriting? No, marketing and hype do. Spend 99% of your time marketing, then hire the guy who sat on his bed riffing all day. Also he is dead wrong on myspace friends, for every friend I add over 5,600 myspace deletes one to keep my account "small". I've had to stop adding band profiles, which sucks because they are some of my best fans. The rest I am unsure of, however I'll check out this Topspin thing.

~ CrowfeatheR

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

There are a lot of people preying on musicians at the moment. With that being said, people will only listen to what they are told to listen to. It's as simple as that. I care not what any A&R person or any other expert says. The internet changes on a daily basis. I can actually remember a time before the internet. Freaky huh? There is no clear cut model that works although some will tell you they can forcast the future. Tonight Myspce is 18 on the hit parade, one ahead of Microsoft, I'd hardly call that dead. People are online for themselves and not for any musican unless they are buying tickets to a show they were told to go see. I'm seeing Jeff Beck in June but I digress. There are certain parameters that are acceptable to making a song good but 95% of the listening population can not comprehend let along make a determination as to whether a song is good or not. Approx 95% of all music sold is created by approx 2% of artists. Those are awful odds. According to ASCAP the current working musician who soley does music as their living, makes approx 28K per year. That is below or close to poverty. Witihout full fianacial backing and "some" talent, a lottery ticket and $5 will get you a ride on a bus. I'm choosing to ride my bicycle tonight and damn glad I hold a degree in electrical engineering, just in case. Peace.

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Pillar

"Take the entire Hip-hop catalog for example, what separates one great hip-hop rapper from the next?"

Obviously you're talking from the outside looking in.. and if you don't truly understand or like a genre of music then you should probably keep the asinine comments to yourself.

What seperates one rapper from the next is skill, song writing ability, charisma and the ability to connect with your fans just as it is in any other genre.

And just as in any other genre marking and pr can sell a mediocre song!!

Sure hip hop might not be your cup of tea... but again.. don't knock something you obviously have no understanding of!!!!!!

"Take the entire Hip-hop catalog for example, what separates one great hip-hop rapper from the next? Skill? Songwriting?"

Yes and Yes. Hip hop songwriting is much more demanding than any other genre, especially in terms of density and length. Aside from Townes van Zandt and Dylan, I can think of few non-hip hop lyricists who ever dealt with content standards as high as a great rapper does.

Helpful Hint to Avoid Sounding Racist and Dumb: "hip-hop rapper" is redundant, in addition to being a clear signifier that your opinions don't mean shit because you know nothing about what you're talking about.

Remember: I'm here to help you!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Well said! I especially like the par

"in addition to being a clear signifier that your opinions don't mean shit because you know nothing about what you're talking about."

because I was so pissed but was trying to address it diplomatically. Lol.

I'm not a huge metal or punk fan but I don't knock the artists just because I don't particularly understand the scene.

Three things:

1) Dave never said you HAVE to be great to get exposure, he's just saying that if you ARE great, you will (not that I agree with that).

2) People should really start defining "great music" when they use it. I think probably the most useful definition would be the percentage of the music consuming population who thinks your music is above their "greatness" threshold. So even if 100% of people think you're pretty good, you're not great.

3) All of these ancillary things that bring an artist to the fame and fortune–production, marketing, press, relevance to the time period & culture, location, connections–are multipliers of how inherently "good" your music is. And they also are multipliers of each other.

For example: if you live in Los Angeles you're more likely to have friends and connections in the entertainment industry. The stronger those connections are, the less "great" your music has to be for them to offer to hook you up. If you have great connections you're more likely to get picked up by a great producer. If you work with a producer you're more likely to get press. If you get lots of press more great producers will want to work with you, etc.

But you can still be great and if some of these puzzle pieces are missing you'll never make it. I think Sneaker Pimps's 1999 and 2002 albums "Splinter" and "Bloodsport" comprised some of the best, most accessible songwriting of that time period, and so do a lot of the people I play it for, but it had almost no commercial success. I don't know enough about them or the year 1999 to tell you why, but this whole "great music will get heard" thing doesn't always work out.

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Great music is more important than anything. If you are great, people will find you and many will know about you.

Obviously the second sentence above is a bit of a generalization but what about the first? Whether it leads to success or not, trying to produce art or great art (at least in the eyes of the artist) is surely a laudable goal.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

@ Justin and Indie Records

Since when is one not allowed in this blog to express his opinion on hip hop OR rap?
Since when do I have to fully understand a subject of discussion in order to express my opinion?
Or else keep my mouth shut.
Since when is hip hop OR rap exclusively reserved for a single race?
Since when does the argument "you're dumb" contribute to the discission?

"Remember: I'm here to help you!".
Well actually not. Because he's not coming back after being bashed this way.



April 3 | Unregistered CommenterHarry D

@Harry D,
I think you are totally missing the point of my post.

If I was to make a comment about how jazz or classical is not relevant anymore... I'm sure that there are a a host of people who show me the errors of my ways.

His post showed and OBVIOUS disdain for hip and the people who create it.. and it was just plain WRONG!

Make a comment and voice your opinion but if you are wrong you will be corrected.

It's as simple as that.

@Harry D,
Also... If he doesn't come back that's on him.... or maybe... just maybe... he'll THINK before making a comment. Hmmm. What a novel idea.


People are absolutely allowed to do as they please -- in fact, they're genetically compelled to do it. Just like I'm compelled to do what I do. It's an ecosystem and it's beautiful.

Feedback is how complex adaptive systems learn. An article got posted, someone rather stupid gave their feedback, and got some feedback in return. Now they're slightly more experienced for it.

Everything else you read into what I have to say only existed in your head, especially the bit about rap being only for one race -- that was particularly stupid of you.

Now, if you want to talk about the negative utility value of trying to correct the dumb, that's an argument I'm very sympathetic to.

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

A brief look at Topspin and I note it costs 5 - 20%. It looks quite 'deep' and confusing, definitely not a 1am read. Bandcamp, however, is very straight forward and free (at the moment at least).

It would have been interesting, as ever, to see more artist examples to back up the reasoning - who are the bands wasting their time on myspace? Who are the artists failing on Hype Machine? Which bands suck? Who are the 'great' acts having success without hype?

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterTim London


Agreed, but you'll run into the same aesthetic problems that triggered the earlier argument on hip hop. Asking "Which bands suck?" is functionally identical to using a quantum warhead to start a black hole in the middle of the room -- no light will ever escape again and nobody inside the room will realize what's happening until it's far, far too late. It's an endless recursion of personal preference.

We're still a good 5-10 years away from the stuff that gurus are promising now. It's the information age, sure, but that information is very, very expensive and exclusive for the time being. In another decade, hopefully less, there will be a grown-up conversation about those questions -- and talking about "What Works" won't be a matter of personal taste because it will be based on the band's actual numbers, conversion rates, sales, average income per gig, etc.

Because as we all know, you can be on the cover of every magazine and 10 days from bankruptcy, and you can be flying under the media radar and selling six digits worth of merch every year. The conversation about "Success" these days is a bit too much like the conversation about "Talent" -- subjective, and mostly based on nothing but nothing.

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

@ Indie
What is wrong with expressing your disdain for politics, religions, the music industry, certain genres of music and the people who are in it? A lot of artists were pretty good at it. Zappa, Dylan, Eminem, Sex Pistols & many others.
Sometimes it changed my view on things. And the ones that feel offended allways react like they were stung by a bee!

"Make a comment and voice your opinion but if you are wrong you will be corrected".
Now you sound like the Pope to me.

@ Justin
"Helpful Hint to Avoid Sounding Racist" in conjunction with "hip-hop rapper".
Why might "hip hop rapper" sound racist?
Enlighten me please.


April 5 | Unregistered CommenterHarry D

Ignorance = the original racism.

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

@Harry D
First of all he made a blanket statement that could have been applied to any genre but specifically directed it at hip hop as if only it was guilty of such transgressions.

Personally, I'm sick of ignorant people who insist on bashing hip hop and obviously have no real knowledge of the music beyond a story in the media about a rapper or whatever.

He made a comment that I didn't agree it.. and I responded with a counter statement in the same way you're responding to me.

You've may not have liked the way I responded... much like I didn't care for CrowfeatheR's post.

That's what the forum is for.... discussion... so I really don;'t see the issue.

damn.. excuse my grammatical mistakes.... lol...

Great interview, it's good to have a well respected opinion on these subjects. MySpace, I'm not sure it can come back from where it's currently at. It's just a load of musicians promoting to each other, only already established artists can gain something from it (A place for their fans to hear their material etc).
As Dave said new technologies are always coming up, even the sites you listen in this post aren't guaranteed to stay around for any amount of time.
Having said that there are some good useful tools out there for musicians, it's just about finding the right ones and making all the relevant ones available via one source (Say the artists website).

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