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« Are people asking themselves questions about you? | Main | The KamaSutra of Music Marketing »

Who says what now?

Cory Doctorow. He’s from the EFF and he’s here to help. Agree? Y/N
Image via Wikimedia Commons under a CC Licence

Yesterday, I sort of took Jupiter Research analyst Mark Mulligan to task about some fairly sloppy thinking. I did it on a blog of mine that almost nobody reads (sort of a scrapbook of things I note as interesting in passing), rather than in a major public forum like Music Think Tank, or on my own New Music Strategies site - because actually, it didn’t seem that important.

I wasn’t out to start anything - just kinda making notes.

Mulligan himself has painted the feedback he got as something of a firestorm, and has offered to host the raging debate he expects to ensue online at his personal blog. That’s fine. I recommend that strategy to you. Pick a fight, and then make sure you’re the destination where that dispute takes place.

I’ll freely admit that’s what I did when I debated Gerd Leonhard on his Music Like Water thing. Gerd gets far more readers than I do. Perhaps rightly so. If there’s going to be a discussion, then I was quite keen for that discussion to take place on my site rather than his. Not that any of my points or opinions were manufactured or orchestrated in a brazen bid to generate traffic - but if your goal is to attract some attention for something creative (eg: writing, recording) - then you want to be where the conversation is taking place online.

But this Mulligan thing got me thinking. I often lose track as to who I agree with and who I disagree with. I was surprised by Mulligan’s outburst - not because it was out of character for him, but because in my brain, I always had him pegged as someone who is likely to think the same sorts of things I think.

In this instance, not only did I think he came to the conclusions poorly - I think he also came to the wrong conclusions. In a follow-up post, he makes a briefly entertaining argument in favour of gun control, but very little else.

So I wondered if I had always disagreed with him about music online, or whether it was just recently, and only about “piracy” - a term he uses liberally, without considering his own clarification that unauthorised file sharing is NOT theft.

Which led me to consider - who do I actually think is right about all this stuff, generally speaking?

Who do I agree with again?
Now, I’m a strong advocate of taking every person’s arguments one at a time, and not filtering them through a preconception based on previous opinions held on other areas. Every idea should be weighed up on its own merits and debated accordingly. And you should always be prepared to change your mind about something, if a convincing case has been put, and has been argued rigorously.

But by the same token, we human beings like a bit of certainty and like to be able to compartmentalise knowledge. Nothing wrong with that, and it serves as a helpful guideline and shortcut. Wouldn’t it be helpful to just know ‘Oh, this is person X, who I think is right about A, but wrong about B’.

In other words - I want to know at any moment whose opinions I respect but disagree with, whose I think are right on the money, and whose opinions I have difficulty even keeping up with. And I want to be able to approach their writings with that in mind.

I mean - I know what I think (though I often wonder whether other people do - I’m so often misrepresented), and I guess I could characterise it in a manifesto (must get around to writing one of those), but I can’t help thinking how useful it would be to have a sort of baseball card style easy reference guide as to the main points, beliefs and hobby horses of the main online music (and related field) analysts and thinkers.

Superstars of online music industry analysis
It would have to include people like Gerd Leonhard, Cory Doctorow, Michael Masnick, Kevin Kelly, Michael Arrington, Bruce Houghton, Chris Anderson, Lawrence Lessig, all of my fellow Think Tankers…

Indications of where these thinkers stand on major issues like copyright reform, ad-supported music, major record label business practice, strategy picks for success, what their particular ‘schtick’ is - whether it’s advocating a particular model, predicting the future, getting angry at lawsuits, reporting breaking news, etc. - and perhaps even some way of tracking the way in which their ideas have developed over time.

I’d find it really useful - because I read an awful lot of this stuff. It’d be helpful to have a really easy overview of the whole terrain, figure out where people stand, and then artists and music businesses will be able to say “Oh, I’m a fairly radical Arringtonist when it comes to the major labels - but when it comes to music discovery, I’m a Warila-ite.”

I reckon a survey with 20-30 questions ought to do it. Answers can range from strongly disagree to strongly agree on things like:

  • I think the major record labels should perish
  • I believe we will emerge from a state of chaos and the industry will resolve into a new working model
  • The term of copyright should be extended
  • I think it is possible to build a music economy on the basis of free downloads

I’d love to see the results of that. Hell, I’d even buy the baseball cards, if someone made them. That Cory Doctorow’s a handsome man.

Of course, the final step would be to make a web app with a sliding scale on it so you could rate your own opinions about all of these things, and then press a button to find out whose blogs you should read so that your own ideas are always echoed back to you and reinforced - and you would never be confronted with a challenging idea ever again.

Oh, no wait…

Reader Comments (9)

Well having looked over the list I just want to say that I have about a near zero budget for marketing my music. Yet I manage to do just that via the dreaded Myspace, my blog, Facebook, iMeem, LastFM and an assortment of local, national and international contacts.

Now admittedly I knda suck at it because of scheduling conflicts that keep me from putting my all into it. My problem to solve and it is solvable. My point is, in my opinion, on just that one idea that you MUST have a substantial budget to market your music is false.

Semantics are really important when engaging in these text based debates. I am first to admit I generalize a lot of things at first glance. But I am trying to make it a point to understand the words I use before I go typing away. It's a work in progress. Point here is that maybe Mulligan made poor generalizations, i.e.; Piracy = File Sharing. Maybe his points were lost due to a lack of a more disciplined choice of words? Just playing Devils Advocate.

Maybe it comes from an underlying greed? Maybe a modest living is not enough? Maybe "Pop Star / Rock Star" aspiration is the foundation for such ideas? I want to make an income from my music but I am quite content if it tops out above $100,00.00 U.S.! That would be just fine. Anything more than my current day job salary is respectable to me.

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

That would be $100,000.00

I guess if I can't even type it correctly my chances are slim!

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

Well, I would also buy the baseball cards, Andrew. Aggregating the chaotical data is the next step on the internet, isn't it? Just put together a questionnaire and offer it to all te celebs. I guess all of them will discuss the results on their blogs and that will be a very loud echo chamber!

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterHilke

Andrew - an interesting piece and actually mirroring some of what I’ve been thinking this last couple of days:
a) as bloggers it is oh-so-easy to criticize others (I do it frequently, probably too frequently). In the end, though, any argument can be disputed. Even empirical evidence can be dismissed. One of the core values of the Internet is the ability to drive debate to a deeper level, without editorial restriction. But at the same time, the focus on difference and divergence can inhibit agreement and consensus
b) I actually think you and I have much more in common than we differ. I read and enjoy your New Music Strategies blog. I think nomenclature is one of the key differences. We label things in slightly different ways and perhaps place greater store on usage of different terms, 'piracy' for example. You're probably right to feel sensitive about how the labels have managed to make piracy synonymous with file sharing. Perhaps I'm victim of that as I use P2P, file sharing and piracy interchangeably, in the same way I would, for example, use quick, fast, rapid.
c) Blogs are typically opinionated and too brief to cover every tenet of an argument. If they're not, then they're probably too long for a blog. So there are a few things you and others picked up on (e.g. it's not an either/or debate) that I took for granted and didn't squeeze into my post
d) All that said, the difference of opinion is great and should be nurtured, here and everywhere else. Where the debate occurs isn't important. But it would be fantastic if we could collectively try to steer it to ultimate 'outputs'. Otherwise we're all just background noise.

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterMark Mulligan

It would be interesting to have some sort of map that brings to light the positions of the various forward thinkers who write about the music industry. Many times the writings of those with opposing views are most useful, either because they may have insights you have missed or vice versa.

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterJim Offerman

If we are going to have baseball cards can we put stale bubble gum in the packaging? (Only old-school baseball card fans will know what I mean by that)...Seriously though that is a good point that it is difficult to figure out where each of the "thought leaders" stands on the major issues. This doesn't happen in any other field that I can think of. I can't picture McCain and Obama preparing for a debate without much of an idea of what the other stands for.

Andrew, maybe you can put a section on your New Music Strategies blog that delineates exactly where you stand on these 20-30 important questions (in bullet points or with quick, direct answers) and encourage your peers to do the same the next time you encounter them.

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterPat W.

Dare I say that it doesn't matter what these people think? Sure, it would be interesting to hear what the more-well known industry critics think about the direction of the industry, but isn't this all just a bunch of hot air? McCain and Obama make policy. These guys don't.

Napster made music policy. Bittorrent makes policy. Myspace makes music policy. Major labels in all of their discombobulation (sigh) make music policy. NIN and Radiohead, amazingly, have made music policy.

1,000 Blogs might make music policy, but 1 or 2 don't.

Has it occured to anyone else that the music industry is about as close to a libertarian-free-market-anarchy system as it gets? The money goes (or does not go) quite freely where the consumers want it to, and the producers and facilitators of music are the only real ones to effect whats going on.

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Justin, it's actually the humans in those companies that make policy and they all read.

November 19 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Justin just lost me. There I was agreeing with most of his comments, and all of a sudden he abandons political economy, theories of control and power - and wanders off into a Disney paradise where music industry is a meritocracy in which the economic value flows freely to those who most deserve it.

Is that really what you think, or are you just being obtuse so you can have your own baseball card? :)

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterDubber

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