Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hubbard Street Invites Audiences To Take A More Intimate Look At The Company

From the Chicago Tribune last week.

Dancers are also archivists
By Lucia Mauro
Special to the Tribune

April 8, 2007

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ensemble members Cheryl Mann and Tobin Del Cuore are well-known on-stage partners. But they've also carried their playful chemistry into unusual backstage roles as the modern troupe's archivists. What may sound like a stuffy job becomes creative magic in their unconventional hands.

More recently, in addition to their demanding dance schedules, Mann has honed her portrait-photography skills and Del Cuore his interest in videography. The pair collaborated on a video, "The Dancers of Hubbard Street," to be shown during the company's gala in conjunction with its spring engagement running Wednesday through April 22 at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Set to a hip beat, with the dancers warmly poking fun at themselves, the video begins with close-ups of their faces that seem to morph through their tightly shut eyelashes. Mann and Del Cuore set up the personality-revealing shots. They include: Terence Marling chomping on a heart-shaped cookie, Sarah Cullen Fuller luxuriating on a bed of tabloids, Robyn Mineko Williams stabbing a chocolate layer cake with Hitchcockian relish, and Brian Enos wriggling around in a bright-orange unitard before changing into goth-inspired clothing.

"I've always, always loved photography," says Mann, 34. "I would spend a lot of time looking at our family photo albums, especially black-and-white photos of my mom, who was a rock singer in Vietnam."

While recovering from an injury in 1999, she picked up her Canon and began taking photos of the dancers from the wings. In 2001, Mann had her first gallery show at the Arts Club of Chicago and has since exhibited around the city. She specializes in candid portraits of dancers -- some in motion; others celebrating stillness, laughter or reflection. Most of her images line the walls of Hubbard Street's offices.

"I want to be able to get to know the people I'm photographing and make them comfortable," says Mann, who was born in Knoxville, Tenn. "It's not just me holding a camera and expecting them to look good. It's a collaboration."

When Mann convinced Del Cuore to buy a computer, he finally was able to expand his video-production talents. A native of Norway, Maine, he says he once considered a career in graphic arts and recalls making music videos and doing filmed newscasts at home as a child with his brother.

"I like the balance of giving people direction and surprising them when they think the camera isn't on," says Del Cuore, 28.

Del Cuore joined the main company in 2003 after two years in Hubbard Street 2. In a short period of time, he also has videotaped a series of "Travelogues" that track Hubbard Street on tour. They show the gamut of a dancer's life: the drudgery of living out of a suitcase, injury, close friendships and the joy of performing.

Mann joined the ensemble in 1997. Both she and Del Cuore have been consistently praised as dancers with exquisite technique, measured calm and ego-free confidence -- qualities they apply to their visual-art careers. As dancers, they bring a unique sensitivity to their subjects.

"My favorite shot is the last bow a dancer takes from the side of the stage when they leave the company," Mann says. "There's something special about documenting the close of a chapter in their lives."

View their tour diaries and a slide show of behind the scenes snapshots at Hubbard Street's website here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Sorry State of Spam and What You Can Do About It

Again, from the very helpful Web Worker Daily.

A year ago, the Messaging Anti-Abuse User Group put out a report stating that over 80% of email is spam. Judging from my unfiltered inbox alone, I’d say that’s very true. Many say that email is dead thanks to the overwhelming influx of junk, but web workers still rely on it too much to say eulogies.

We can maintain control over our inboxes. Regardless of the email client or server you use, here’s an overview of the tools we have to fight back against those that insist we need larger sexual organs, free software and pre-approved bank loans.

First, admit that you are powerless to stop spam, at least at the individual level. You can make sure that your email address never appears anywhere a spammer can get it, sure. But how realistic is that? Legislation? Maybe. For now, you just have to get through your inbox.

For the sake of this article, we’re not going to talk about Exchange or corporate email filtering. If you get your email through a corporate server, you should have an IT person to talk to. The rest of us are usually on our own.

Web-based email and spam filtering inboxes

Gmail’s built-in spam filtering is now very good and getting better all the time. You can’t do anything to train it for your specific inbox, but Google does learn by its mistakes improving the filtering for everyone. Many have been known to send their email through Gmail simply to take advantage of its intelligent filtering. Since you can’t train it directly, you do need to skim the Spam folder from time to time to make sure you’re not missing legitimate mail. Yahoo’s free email accounts include SpamGuard, similar in function to Gmail’s filter but the jury is still out on whether it’s as effective. Most say not. With the paid Yahoo email accounts, you get the option of training/configuring the filter.

Along the same lines, paid services like SpamCop provide a clean, spam-free email address. You just forward your “dirty” email to it and SpamCop only delivers the filtered results.

Server-side filtering

If you have direct access to the server that manages your email, you can install and configure tools that will catch the spam before it hits your inbox. Most of these tools use Bayesian filtering to analyze the message on many levels and determine whether or not it’s spam. The advantage here is that you can get your mail via whatever desktop, mobile or web-based client you choose and you never have to deal with add-on software locally. If you pay per byte downloaded, this can save you a great deal of money. This is also your best hope if you get your email on a handheld device. A list of many different options can be found here. For Apache servers, SpamAssassin is a top choice.

If your email is hosted on a shared server, your service provider may have server-side filtering available for your account. Dreamhost and Pair Networks use SpamAssassin, for example. You have very little control over these filters, setting its aggressiveness with a slider. Too aggressive and you’re trashing legitimate mail, too lenient and you’re still filtering spam in your inbox. They are typically all or nothing, with rudimentary black and whitelist support at best. Having tried the server-side filtering tools at many different shared web hosts, I have yet to find one that I am truly satisfied with.

Client-side filtering

If you use a desktop email application chances are that it came with a spam/junk filter that you have to spend time training to get it to work effectively often with mixed results. There are 3rd party add-ons for desktop clients that work far more effectively, with finer control over the options. Brute force blacklists are useless now. For Outlook, the open source SpamBayes is outstanding, but it takes some tweaking to work well.

If you want set-it-and-forget-it convenience, I would highly recommend Cloudmark Desktop at $40/year. It installs as a plug-in to Outlook or Outlook Express and relies on its community to effectively filter spam. It works on the premise that spam to you is spam to everyone else. Once a message is marked as spam by one user, that information is immediately updated in the network so by the time you received the same piece of junk, Cloudmark knows it’s spam and filters it away. The more you use the filter, the more your selections are trusted by the system. The only emails that Cloudmark may have difficulty with are opt-in newsletters, where community members “block” the email rather than delete. Overall, Cloudmark has been over 99% accurate in keeping my Outlook inbox free of crud.

On the Mac OS X side, the best 3rd party add-on by far is SpamSieve. It’s a powerful Bayesian filter that just works and is well worth the $30 fee. SpamSieve works in Apple Mail and most Mac OS X email clients including Entourage and MailSmith and now, at last, Mozilla Thunderbird. The application installs a plug-in into the email client and runs alongside it. With minimal training, it’s not unheard of for SpamSieve to be greater than 99.8% accurate all the time.

Challenge/response filtering

Have you ever sent email to someone with an Earthlink account and gotten one of those annoying messages back asking you to prove that you’re a human being? These spam fighting tools put the onus on the sender to prove to the recipient in an extra step that they are not a spammer. It certainly works, since no spammer will take the time to type in the captcha to get their email through. Unfortunately, you are relying on the sender to take this extra step which they may not always do. If a prospective client wants to talk to you about a job, do you really want to take the chance that they won’t jump through your verification hoop? If you must, SpamArrest is a popular choice. Others here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The marvelous mayhem of Flickr and YouTube

In the olden days (a few years ago), posting photos to the web was a bit of a chore. And when you did post them, the images lived on your separate web space -- far from other photos posted by other folks around the world. Just those few years ago, posting videos was a distant dream, as bandwidth (the speed of your internet connection) and storage space was expensive.

Two web phenomena of the past few years have addressed both challenges, adding a whole new world of opportunity, connection, and social interaction in the process.

Both sites, Flickr and YouTube, are well beyond mere dumping grounds for photos and video content. They are social networking systems, designed to encourage users not only to post their content and browse the content of others, but to connect, comment, and cluster the content of others in a hundred different ways.

Flickr is a photo-sharing site with both free and ''pro'' account options. An upgrade to the "pro" account gives you unlimited storage, uploads, and the like for about $2 per month. Best to try the free account until you know you need more. Essentially, Flickr is a bundle of software and web scripts that help you upload digital photos to your account (through a web browser, by e-mail, or even from your photo-ready mobile phone), and then add elements to those photos like captions, text, tags, and keywords. You can invite anyone to view your photos, or you can limit access to a select group.

The cool part comes once the photos have been posted. Flickr has features to help you share your photos with friends and colleagues, and to view the updated photo streams of your friends as well. If you open up your photos to the world, then a whole world of users can find your images, comment on them, subscribe to your photo stream, or add you as a "buddy."

Having such a large user base contributing and browsing images makes Flickr an addictive place to visit, with photo galleries of the ''most interesting'' images on the site ("interestingness" is determined by how many links, comments, tags, and visits an image gets each day), and connections with amateur and professional photographers.

As a socially active site, Flickr is also an obvious ground for marketing people, events, shows, and other entertainments, which makes it a natural place to advance your organization, your artist, or your events. Imagine creating a Flickr account for your performing arts venue or your artist agency, posting promotional photos as well as images from the most recent events and performances. Flickr offers easy ways to include your evolving photo stream in your own web site, on weblogs, or anywhere else on the web. And the effective use of image tags ensures that your events or your artists show up on major search engines like Google.

For an example, check out the Flickr account of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

On the heels of Flickr came YouTube, a web site and system that does many of the same things, but with full-motion digital video. Users can post digital video to their free account, adding captions, descriptions, and keyword tags, and also view and connect the videos of others.

The synergy of this idea made YouTube the site to watch in 2006, as user-generated videos flowed in surrounding major news stories (London bombings, Hurricane Katrina), often with more speed and depth than network news could manage. The low barriers to entry also made YouTube a massive cultural phenomenon, with the rise of "video bloggers" (individuals posting video diaries of their lives, their opinions, and their creative expressions) and social networks built around favorite funny videos or long-lost film -- think America's Funniest Home Videos, on steroids.

For the arts presenter, manager, or artist, YouTube offers opportunities that were, until recently, too expensive and complex to consider. With a YouTube account, any arts presenter, manager, or independent artist can post videos for the world to see -- demo songs, performance excerpts, guided tours of a facility, video interviews with artists, and on and on. And as with Flickr, once content is posted, it can be dynamically included on your own organization's web site, promoted through e-mail, and linked to a larger world of arts lovers, business colleagues, or enthusiasts.

Already, Hollywood studios are posting movie trailers on YouTube, encouraging fans to spread the word about upcoming releases (remember Snakes on a Plane?...sorry if you do). Imagine a similar network of artist performance excerpts, interviews, and documentary footage, all connected to performing arts organization web sites at no cost to the agent, the artist, or the presenter.

A Caveat about Copyright
As Flickr and YouTube have grown, so has the challenge of protecting copyrighted creative work. Still images and moving images with sound often have complex ownership issues. And just because you have a digital copy of something, doesn't give you the right to post it for the wider world to see.

So, as you dip your toe into the content-sharing worlds of these two sites, be sure you have the rights or the express permission of the various owners of the content to post their work (the composer, the artist, the designer, the producer, the union, and anyone else who played a role in creating the image or video content).

Sharing is a wonderful thing. But you can only share what's yours.

[Ed note - for those visiting YouTube for the first time and wondering where to start browsing, Terry Teachout has compiled a wonderfully absorbing index of hundreds of amazing performances uploaded onto YouTube including Maria Callas, Louis Armstrong, Blossom Dearie, Edward Elgar, Leadbelly, Astor Piazzolla, Frank Zappa, and Stevie Wonder, among many many others. Just follow the link and scroll down nearly to the bottom and look on the right.]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Untangle the World Wide Web with RSS

There will be more on RSS posted in the future - how to set it up for your own site, reviews of news aggregators (such as Netvibes). But in the meantime, below is a great article from Reuters about RSS that ran December 29th.

Untangle the World Wide Web with RSS
From Reuters, December 29, 2006
By Robert MacMillan

“RSS” is one of the coolest things you’ve never heard of when it comes to the Internet.

Short for “Really Simple Syndication,” a name that seems designed to induce maximum eye glazing, RSS is in fact one of the best time-savers online. And it’s getting easier to use.

RSS is a way for Web surfers to keep up with the latest news or catch hot deals on travel packages, concert tickets and nearly anything else people use the Internet to buy.

Instead of typing in 20 different Web site addresses every time you want to see what’s new on, or your cousin’s blog, just get “RSS feeds.” Every time a page updates, you get an alert.

Media blogger Jeff Jarvis is one of the converted.

“I don’t use bookmarks at all, ever,” said Jarvis, who offers RSS as a way to read his blog at “If a site doesn’t have RSS, I find it a great irritant.”

RSS comes in handy in a variety of everyday situations, said Forrester analyst Charlene Li.

“I’m currently looking for tickets for The Jersey Boys,” she said. “And it’s completely sold out. But every once in a while something shows up on Craigslist.”

Instead of constantly checking Craigslist, Li sets up an RSS feed searching for four tickets, and if someone posts an ad for tickets, the feed will alert her.


So, why are so few people using it?

Only 2 percent of online consumers bother, according to Forrester, and more than half of that group is 40 years old or younger.

For starters, the name is deadly for attracting “average” Internet users — people who use the Web and handle e-mail, but quail at inscrutabilities like “service-oriented architecture” and “robust enterprise solutions.”

Then there are the orange buttons you find on Web pages. Clicking one produces a jumble of computer codes. It’s hardly the path to popularity.

“RSS is a horrible name,” said Li. “And those little orange buttons don’t do anybody any favors.”

People often do not realize that the computer code is useless. What they must do is copy the Web address in their browser, and insert it into their RSS reader. The lack of clear instructions on many Web sites dooms the service to obscurity.

Some of the top U.S. news Web sites are changing that, including The New York Times site.

The site’s managers plan to offer readers feeds dedicated to topics, reporters and columnists sometime in the first half of 2007, but in an easier way.

“Once we start doing that, you won’t get that very geeky screen,” said Robert Larson,’s vice president of product management and development.

“It should be incredibly easy for anybody, no matter what their technical level, to click a button and add a feed to their MyTimes page,” he said. is sprucing up its RSS system for sometime in early 2007, said Ann Marchand Thompson, the site’s editor for discussions, e-mail and RSS.

“We want to let people sign up for the news that they want to receive without having to feel like they need a technical background to do it,” she said. “They don’t need to know the code behind it.”

Getting RSS going on your computer is also simpler today. The two easiest ways are using newer version of the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, which contain RSS readers.

Yahoo and Google also offer easy-to-use RSS options. Specialized RSS readers like Bloglines and Newsgator are slightly more sophisticated and take a little more experimentation, but are tough to put down once you get the hang of them.

visitor stats

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Myspace - are you there yet?

I'm writing this blog entry after about 4 hours of sleep on the last day of our tour where we head from Chicago (last night) to Washington DC (tonight) before heading back to NYC (later tonight). Does this sound like the kind of performer/tourer you are? In which case you can really use Myspace to go way beyond "hey I have some friends" to using it as a tool to get your band out there.

Are you on it?
OK, Myspace has been around long enough that the schoolkids have gone off to Facebook. The punk scene has their own site. But music people, well.... we're always a little behind the curve, aren't we? And it just so happens that right now, EVERYONE is on Myspace.

To the extent that many bands I know are asking "Why am I still updating my website?" since everyone goes to Myspace for their info anyway. As of latest 2006, many bands' sites are languishing as their Myspace slots have their actual gig dates, latest info, etc. Clubs are ditching their websites altogether and just putting all their information here.

Why? Well, here's 4 reasons.

1) It's super-simple. You don't need any html skills. It's made for bands. Everything that you need is ready to go (except a press kit, and even that you can figure out). Upload a picture, tunes, bio information, and gig dates. And you're set to go - you have a site!

2) You're not separated from your community. By listing your Top 8, 12, 16, whatever, Friends, you've made a statement about who you are and the company you keep. Or, in some instances, where you want to be. Most major bands have myspace sites. Be Wilco's friend! Or, why not give props to Beethoven in your Top 8? This is part of your snapshot, and gives your viewers a sense of not only what you sound like, what your bio says, but what scene they can place you in.

3) You come up in Google searches - and anyone can see your profile at any time! Google your band name, and your myspace page shows up. Then anyone can click on it, and hear your tunes & get your info. Automatic Google placement, that's pretty cool, right?

4) Oh yeah: it's free! You don't have to pay for hosting costs, bandwidth, nothing. Good deal, right?

Make connections!
The great thing about Myspace is it's created with bands and fans in mind.

People are connecting in relation to the music they love. Sure, not every profile has music on it, but most do -- if someone doesn't make music themselves, they can take someone else's music and put it on there. If your fans put your tunes up on their Myspace page, it also boosts your official play count! Plus it's like radio play - everyone who goes to that page can hear your song.

That said, some of the really great work goes on behind the scenes. Say you're a DIY chamber music collective in Cleveland. You want to tour Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus, and get a show at Oberlin. What's the old way of doing this? Find clubs, art galleries, cafes, call them, give them your credentials, and beg them for a gig.

What's the new way? Make friends!

Locals will do the work for you!
So, do a Myspace search for "chamber music Toledo" and see what comes up. Or maybe "Charles Wuorinen Toledo" to find someone who's playing similar music. Add those guys as your friends. Make some nice comments. Check out each other's tunes. And now - it's time to go behind the scenes. Use the Messenger - not the comments field - and write them a note. You're going on tour in April and wondered if they wanted to help you set up a show in Toledo? You'll trade them for a hometown gig in Cleveland when they come out your way.

You won't believe it, but those guys in Toledo will be psyched to make the connection, and will - most likely - not only book the space for your show, but help promote it to their audience! You show up in Toledo, and, presto, you've got a gig - and, an audience! It doesn't always work that smoothly, or is that easy, and certainly isn't an automatic audience, but you'll be surprised by the power of this - especially if your work is compatible to the other group and you are ready to reciprocate.

Now, you won't be getting big money gigs, in all likelihood, from this. But if you're ready to be a little crazy and just *get on the road* to get your music out there (see above reference to current 11 1/2 hour drive to the next gig), Myspace is a great tool. Or, if you've got a good tour with some decent-paying gigs, it's a great way to fill out the off-days.

Quick marketing tips
OK now that I've talked about how to get gigs, there are some things you can do to boost your profile. The first thing is obvious. Get some friends. People like people with other friends. But here are some other pointers for Myspace newbies. Have fun with it!

1. Don't just add friends. Leave comments. If someone wants to be your friend, actually check out their page and say something nice. For two reasons - a) everyone who sees that page also sees your comment. More linking! b) Said person will often reciprocate and write something nice about you. Thus giving you more comments, thus making your page more active.

2. Don't change your songs every day. Get your play counts up; have at least 1 song in solid rotation so it's clear that people are really listening to your stuff. This gives others the feeling that you're a hot artist that they should actually listen to.

3. Get your friends count up - but - good friends. There are programs/spiders you can buy that will automatically add friends. You can get your friend count way up artificially, but it's better to have a smaller, solid group of fans.

4. Leave around e-flyers. Speaking of the comments field, create a little jpg graphic for your next gig, and go to your friends' pages and leave it as a comment. This will get your gig in the head of your friends, but also - again - everyone who sees this site will see your comment.

5. Keep it legible - be creative on your site but don't go nuts.
If you DO know html, you can mess with your Myspace page, from changing the background color to adding pictures to changing where the different boxes are on the page. You want the page to reflect you; and the Myspace troller's eyes will perk up when it's not a plain-jane white background. Give people a video or two they can watch. Get your logo/identity up there somehow. That said, if it's too busy so that you have to strain to get critical information - like "When is the next gig?" then you've done yourself a disservice; it's the internet -- people have limited time to see if they want to stick around.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tell Me What I Want To Hear

Okay, yes, 99% of America may know more intimate details about Paris Hilton than is healthy for anyone, but keeping on top of the names and careers of performing artists outside of those few still successfully clinging to the major mega-corporations can seem a daunting task. We're told that everything you need to know is available via the Internet, but how to shake out what you need from all those pages?

Newspapers used to offer a centralized place to learn a little bit about a lot of topics. Economic forces are reshaping their ability to do that job well, and alternative media sources available online are picking up the slack. Still, with no common place to turn, it can feel like you have to already know what you want before you can find it.

So how to keep on top of the trend-setting events happening beyond your own creative daily grind? Stories might be scarce in your local daily, but Flavorpill delivers a culturally-slanted selection of art, book, fashion, music, and world news right to your inbox. Plus, if you live in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, or Miami, you can subscribe to a weekly email newsletter that delivers capsule overviews of buzz-attracting shows in your town. The service is free; all you have to do is visit the site, enter your email address, and select which newsletters you wish to receive.

Along with the major dailies, the major labels in the record industry are also anxiously monitoring their bottom lines. Artists who are tired of getting lost in this shuffle have taken up many new approaches to recording and distributing their music independently, but perhaps none so sophisticatedly as those involved with the alternative-release model built by ArtistShare. Participating artists raise funding for their recording projects through their fan base by offering special interactivity options, like the opportunity to download scores-in-process or watch a recording session. You might pre-order a download of a new album with bundled interview content for $9.95 or sign up to be an underwriter ($1,000 and up) and snag a VIP invite into the production and release process. This is no throw-away vanity project for the artists: Maria Schneider and Billy Childs have already picked up Grammy awards for discs released via ArtistShare, and Bob Brookmeyer and Brian Lynch have just received 2007 Grammy award nominations. See how this can integrate with an artist's career by visiting Schneider's website.

The official channels, even those of the off-the-charts and under-the-radar sorts, can only be so useful for your particular areas of interest and concern. Services like Yahoo!Groups (or googlegroups, if you prefer -ed.) allow users to establish a communication network of their own or join one already up and running: think of it as a way to plug into a line of conversation between fellow colleagues and enthusiasts—online or via email—whenever you wish. There is no cost to start or join a group.

There are 24,949 groups talking about the performing arts on Yahoo already, so finding a good fit for you can take some time, but once you do, you'll be able to read what others have to say about a topic and email your thoughts and ask questions of a whole group with just one click. Or you can start your own group, even with just a handful of people, and build it as you meet new colleagues and invite them to join. All posts are archived, and you can also use the Yahoo!Group site to share and store networking resources such as files, photos, and a group calendar.

Though it can sound like an amateur tool for hobbyist, it's also a remarkable professional connector. I'm part of a group that includes several hundred women music journalists—many of them writers for the major dailies and glossies—and amazingly the conversation has been going strong for several years now.

Is This Really Helping Us? Mp3 blogs and the sublime chaos of online music

2006 has been a big year for music. Everything is changing so fast that it’s hard to know what’s a fad and what’s a fundamental shift in the way musicians and fans do business. Myspace seems ubiquitous. YouTube has made celebrities out of nobodies. Mp3 blogs are everywhere, and now they are all being archived and aggregated. Microsoft has entered the mp3 player fray, and what the hell is a mog? The New York rock scene is burgeoning, and the RIAA is kicking and screaming and scrambling for any penny it can find.

The question that I hope to answer is how, out of all of this confusion and over-saturation, do musicians stand to benefit? Call me an anarchist, but as a composer I can’t help feeling intensely optimistic about the chaos surrounding music this year. And here’s why:

Among musicians and record executives alike there is an idea that people have a limited amount of room in their lives for music. (So by extension, access to free music will fill some if not all of that space). The problem with this is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that digital music isn’t just changing music, it’s also seriously changing us. The fact that iPods create instant and random access to vast music collections, and that google and myspace create instant access to artists and their music means to me that musical “meta-geography” is drastically compressed. We get more music in less time and less space. But what does that mean?

1. Music is worth less now that the supply lines are so vastly broadened.
2. Fans know about more artists and are connected online to the artists they like.
3. Fans are more connected to musicians’ touring schedules, merchandise and videos.
4. Mp3 Blogs, podcasts, and web radio have created a host of new ways for musicians to get their music to an audience.
5. Internet users are becoming more knowledgeable about music because they hold more artists in their heads (and iPods/computers) at once. Just as how multi-disc CD players made extended and randomized listening possible, digital/online music has taken that plurality to a new extreme.

I won’t argue that this is all good news for major record labels and their artists. Those corporations depend to a certain degree on a uniformity of taste to skyrocket their profits. And the uniformity of taste is in a downward spiral. From the New York Times (December 11, 2006):

“Consumer fickleness has become evident on the Billboard charts, where the old blockbuster album appears to be a dying breed. More titles have come and gone from the No. 1 place on the magazine’s national album sales chart this year than in any other year since the industry began computerized tracking of sales in 1991. Analysts say that reflects the lackluster staying power even among songs in demand.”

I would call this “fickleness” a new plurality in global taste. I'd also call it good news. It’s not that people are listening to less music. It’s that people don’t depend as much on the record labels and Clear Channel to tell them what to buy. Now they can go on iTunes or eMusic and preview the album before they buy it. They can go to Hype Machine or to link to reviews/downloads and hear tracks, or go to an artist’s myspace page. And for the independent recording artists this is huge because they can now compete. The fact is that all of these new avenues are crawling with talented independent acts, which the record industry has managed to keep out of big radio and record shops for decades.

Of course there are problems:

1. A lot of mp3 blogs are just trying to get traffic (and adsense dollars), so they post whatever is buzzing on hype-machine and feed a kind of hyped conformity.

2. Many people are using Mp3 blogs to freeload tracks. (But I think all of that is actually reifying the value and meaning of “The Album” which is rarely posted in its entirety. And in my opinion most artists that aren’t already on a major label benefit from some free downloads of their tracks. I argue that some one would be more likely to see you live, buy your album, pass you along, if they’ve gotten a good taste of your music for free.)

3. Most Mp3 blogs are focused on one sector of taste: indie-rock. So the hip-hop, classical, folk, electronic, experimental, blogs might need to sprout their own hype machines so that their posts aren’t drowned out by Mp3-hunters/bloggers feverishly hunting for the next not-so-big-big-thing in indie rock.

4. The iTunes model of a paid download with restricted sharing capabilities is fading. CDs are things still worth buying and mp3s are everywhere for free, so why buy an mp3 that you can’t share?

So how can independent musicians use the new landscape of digital music promotion?

Find the blogs, podcasts, online zines and web radio programs that feature the kind of music you play. These blogs are always looking for new music, but case them first. I’d say, again, that the majority of Mp3 blogs right now are dedicated to alternative and indie rock. But there are blogs dedicated to hip-hop, dance, electronic, world, folk, experimental, classical, eclectic, country, etc. (post suggestions for non-indie rock blogs in comments), and most of the "indie-rock" blogs are open to many types of music. Read them and take note of what they request of musicians submitting their music. Many have disclaimers like this one from Said the Gramophone “if you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch: (emails here) please don't send us emails with tons of huge attachments,” or this amazing one from Confessions of a Music Addict. Be respectful, send smart and well put together emails, don’t spam and maybe you’ll get some bloggers to check out your CD, come to a show, write a review or post a few Mp3s.

Hype-Machine and are Mp3 blog aggregators, which means they archive the blog reviews and postings that your band receives. These are sites that actually keep track of the kind of press which was previously way under the radar. Of course if your band starts to get serious buzz from blogs, hype-machine will be great help, but that’s kind of like saying if you jump in the lake you’ll be wet.

It remains to be seen what a site like Hype-Machine will contribute to independent musicians’ struggle to connect with people who will like and support them. Hype Machine and friends have helped to fuel the frenzies around bands like Beirut et al but I don’t think the 20 year old who runs it has totally considered the way it’s shaping the hype that it wants to track.

Yet I’m still optimistic.

I’m optimistic that people all over the world are activating their own music tastes so much that they are creating serious new media force with mp3 blogs.

I’m optimistic that access to music has become so rapid online that if I want to hear the new Joanna Newsom album I can do it in one second.

I’m optimistic because even after listening to the whole thing on hype-machine I still couldn’t resist buying the album at a small record store in Greensboro.

I’m optimistic that a lot of musicians aren’t being so precious about when and where they are releasing their music. Leaking tracks to blogs and posting works in progress on myspace all draws fans in more and let’s people into the process in a great way.

I’m optimistic that musicians seem to be giving away their music more and more but also seem all the more hopeful about their chances at making a life out of music. I don’t think it’s false hope. The fact that the RIAA is hysterical about falling profits is good news for all the artists who have been and will be shut out of the Major Label Machine. The Internet is allowing those artists to market and distribute a lot more freely and effectively. The Internet is also making it more likely that the average Joe might listen to an independent act.

And finally I think that the more music people listen to the more variety and creativity they’ll desire. So the fact that more music is fitting into the same space in peoples’ lives is good news for anyone making music that is less than conventionally marketable. I hope that the chaos and innovation of online music culture actually goes hand in hand with more chaos and innovation in music making.

further reading:
Mp3 blogs Sell Out!
The Boston Globe on Mp3 Blogs
CNN Money on the Hype Machine
A summary of mp3 blog legality
Music is free now and here's why
How to Misuse the Hype Machine
Mp3 blog list on Hype-Machine

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Starting from Scratch? Three Website Solutions

I'm a regular reader of Web Worker Daily, and their post from today, "Microsoft Offers Free Domains and Web Space" is a must read if you're trying to get a web site up and running:

If you are a new start-up, where do you look to, to get your online presence started? You want to do it right, but sometimes there isn’t a lot of time to search companies out. Every day you aren’t online could mean the lose of potential customers. So why not try out a temporary solution until you find the right parties that can help you out at website development?

Microsoft has started offering a free small business solution that includes a free domain name. The new service called Office Live Basics gives users a free domain name with web hosting, web site design tools, 500MB of web storage, 25 email accounts, web site reports, and search engine advertising tools. Not bad for a business, or personal user just starting up. If you aren’t happy with Microsoft’s free offering, you can choose to upgrade to a $19.95/month, or a $29.95/ month account, each with more space.

GoDaddy also has some great offers for starting up online. For every domain you purchase at $8.95 through them, GoDaddy offers a blog platform, hosting with a website builder, email with a 25MB limit, 100 email forwards, and a website builder where you can build a five page website or upload your own designs. With GoDaddy, you can forward the domain name to you own web hosting supplier whenever you like, whereas with Microsoft’s solution, you must wait six months.

Other programs like these are out there to help small businesses, just make sure they are from a reputable company, the domain name you choose is registered in your name, and you can update the DNS records to point to another server down the line when you are ready to expand.

This is all good advice (and props to Chris Gillmer and the folks at WWD for their smart and engaging blog) - and for folks exploring this territory for the first time I think reading the descriptions above gets you a good idea of what kind of packages to look for when finding a web hosting and design solution. For the average artist, presenter, or manager, however, I think the GoDaddy interface is a little overwhelming, and the Office Live Basics package has overly restrictive requirements (only operates using Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows Server 2003).

Instead, for music-focused organizations, I highly recommend, which is part of Derek Sivers' CDbaby family and shares the same ethic: simple, direct, smart services for music folks. With hostbaby you get tools for building a website including a concert calendar, email list mailer, streaming audio, guest book, a news page, 500 MB of disk space, as many private email accounts as you want, spam-blocker, and webmail. All of it runs on their trademark foolproof wizard interface, and there really is no experience necessary to make a fully functional professional looking website. It's a $20/month flat fee, comes with excellent tech support, and to help get you started they'll transfer your existing site to their servers for free.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Quick, Free Tools to Measure Internet Links to Your Arts Org's Website

Even if you are no computer or programming wiz, there is an easy-to-use and fun tool for seeing how well-linked your art organization's website is to other websites and major search engines. Wouldn't you like to know how well your website is positioned on the search engines compared to a similar organization in your market or city? Or what about comparing your website's position to a similar arts organization in another city of your size? With one quick search you can also find out whether your website comes up in the top three search results for a specific keyword in all the major search engines. At no cost, and only a few minutes of your time, you can compare how popular your website is compared to others.

These free services are available from Marketleap and are an easy way to start benchmarking how well your website is positioned to perform. Below are further details about each of the three tools. Try them out!

Link popularity check is a great way to quantifiably and independently measure your website's online awareness and overall visibility. Simply put, link popularity refers to the total number of links or "votes" that a search engine has found for your website. Marketleap has designed this link popularity tool to help website owners find out who is linking to their site, but also to give a useful benchmarking report to quickly show where you stand in comparison to competitors and other major online players.

Search Engine Saturation simply refers to the number of pages a given search engine has in its index for your website domain. Not all search engines report this information but enough of them do to create some meaningful benchmarks for your search engine marketing campaigns.

Keyword Verification--Marketleap's verification tool--checks to see if your site is in the top three pages of a search engine result for a specific keyword. Some marketing experts say it's important to be in the top three pages of a search result because many people using search engines don't go past the third page.

Have fun with this!

Friday, December 08, 2006

International Collaborations Made Easy with Free Phone Calls and Online Storage

I discovered the power of online chat/telephony service and storage a couple of years ago when making a multi-media dance work called Efficiency – which included an original score by London-based artist – Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud). To undertake this transatlantic collaboration (I live in Washington, DC), we quickly realized we needed a digital solution to bridge our distance. With iChat suddenly we could have free hour-long transatlantic conversations (which I once considered unimaginable given international calling rates)!

Another great online telephony service – Skype had just come out as well, which works well for both Macs and PCs; is easy and free to download; and can even be used to dial landline or mobile phones (for a per-minute fee). You can use a web cam (or other digital camera) to suddenly have video conferences.

Our extended conversations were supplemented by forwarding one another files through online storage and delivery services. I was able to record videos of dance rehearsals; upload them to my computer; and then, edit and compress the video using iMovie so that I could forward them to Robin via online storage. And, he could forward me mp3s to try out in rehearsals. He eventually scored the first draft to a video of spliced together video projections and the live dancing in the final work. Once, we finalized the score, he uploaded the highest quality file (“apple lossless” – so we could play it on a theater’s sound system). And, I downloaded it to burn to CD and play during the performances.

There are several online delivery services that are free – like DropLoad or YouSendIt. The beauty of them is that you can transfer a large file easily without having a website. You upload the file; the service creates a unique URL; and it sends the URL via email to your contact, who can then download the file by simply clicking on the URL through their web browser. Since then, I’ve discovered MoveDigital – a fee-based service – which provides the same concept but in a more versatile way. You have a permanent account where you can share and store files in a more consistent way. (MoveDigital also creates a unique URL for each file.) This provides a method of having permanent storage for very low cost providing high-bandwidth connectivity (The basic plan is about $10 for 1GB of storage for a year). I now use MoveDigital on my site to deliver video content – but it can also be used to simply share files.

The applications are endless. An agent or tour manager can meet with venues by teleconference and then quickly follow-up the conversation by providing images and videos of an artists’ work through online storage. Imagine being able to see a quick video of the set that you will need to load into your space in a few weeks or seeing the in-progress dance you’ve commissioned while speaking to the artist in Brazil. You may even be able to get in touch with artists and companies in hard-to-reach places (somewhere like Bangladesh – as the Grameen Bank proves). Maybe like me, you’ll wonder what you ever did without it.

Ed. note - Skype just announced an unlimited yearly calling plan from skype to any mobile or land line phone in the US (currently free in the US, and a per-minute charge to other countries). Starting in 2007, unlimited yearly calling in the US and Canada will cost $29.95, $14.95 if you purchase before January 31, 2007).

If you're interested in learning more about how to transfer large files, see JoRoan's post about Pando.

Research and Marketing Using Wikipedia

Much has been written lately about the evils of Wikipedia, but many of the things that make it evil also make it useful. Because it can be edited by anyone, Wikipedia is particularly subject to both accidentally and purposefully bad information (yes, there are folks out there who purposefully wreck articles). Yet, that same openness means that it can be corrected by anyone (see Kyle Gann’s work on the Conlon Nancarrow entry, for example), and that people can start entries on any topic they wish. What this means to someone involved in the music business is that Wikipedia is a place where one can provide as well as gather information on topics near-and-dear to one’s heart. The more you provide value — quality information — the more value you get back. Information is a marketing tool, as much as it is an educational tool. The three things I find strongest about Wikipedia, and therefore use the most, are a) the ability to post information, especially new information, such as musical groups; b) the ability to link to other articles and to outside pages; and c) information on musical genres.

Posting an entry and linking it to other entries creates an instant marketing network. As information changes, you can update the article and its links. For example, if you find yourself with a new lead singer who has sung in many other bands, it’s quite easy to add that new singer into the entry on your band, link him to a new entry entirely about him, which has links to all the other bands he’s been in. Fans of those other bands will find their way to the entry on your band. It’s like Myspace but without the ugly design.

After you link to other groups, you can associate yourself with the many musical genre names that have been thrown around by music journalists since the dawn of music criticism. Or, perhaps you are a music journalist and want to define a new musical genre. Because it’s always being updated, Wikipedia is the go-to source for information of this kind. Can’t tell the difference between Wonky and Gabba? Math rock and Mathcore? Shoegazing and Dream pop? Now you can find out.

Whenever you create new entries, be sure to include resources: links to articles (periodicals) and books not written by you. This gives the entry credibility and keeps it from being removed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Get the HINT

Are you a musician? Do you need advice or information about health insurance? You're not alone. A 2001 Future of Music Coalition survey of 2,700 musicians revealed that the complicated process of obtaining health insurance overwhelmed many of them. This is particularly true for emerging artists – the kind who are just building their careers and are so busy touring and recording that they have little time to think about practical things like health insurance.

FMC has recently launched a web-based portal called HINT – the Health Insurance Navigation Tool. The goal of this project is to provide informed, musician-friendly support and advice to curious musicians who need information about health insurance, for free.

There are two parts to this project: First, there are a number of articles that give an overview of the options available for musicians. The web portal also has links to valuable resources such as Fractured Atlas, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, The Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center, among others.

Second, FMC offers a free telephone advice service where musicians and managers can talk to an insurance expert about their situation and get help evaluating their options. For many musicians, half the battle is just cutting through insurance jargon and getting advice that’s based on their own situation. The HINT website portal offers an easy way to schedule a telephone consultation with our health insurance experts, Alex Maiolo and Chris Stephenson (who also happen to be musicians), to discuss the options that best fit their needs.

Health insurance isn’t cheap, and there’s not much we can do about that barrier besides supporting federal policy changes that would inch us closer to universal care. But in the meantime, we can try and address the other obstacles. FMC sees this project as a safety net for those musicians who remain uninsured because of lack of support or clear information. Those musicians who reach out for help will get it.

Services covered in this post: HINT (free)

Visit HINT here.

Does SoundExchange Owe You Money?

SoundExchange has recently released a list of approximately 9,000 unregistered recording artists and approximately 2,000 unregistered independent record labels who have until Dec 15 to sign up and collect outstanding royalties totaling over $500,000. The not-for-profit organization – designated by the US Copyright Office to collect and distribute royalties from webcasters, satellite radio services and other digital music providers to recording artists and record labels – has registered over 22,000 performers over the last year, and is looking for a few more including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Eliane Elias, Joe Lovano, Ornette Coleman, Albita, Arthur Rubinstein, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Cubanismo, Daniela Mercury, Danilo Perez, Dave Valentin, and Devil in a Woodpile.

"For a lot of managers, they probably receive the form letter and throw it in the trash without even opening it," Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw said to the LA Times in an article last month. "Now that there's a big sum involved, people will start to pay attention."

The expiring royalties were collected from between February 1, 1996 and March 31, 2000. To see if your artist is owed money for plays since March 31, 2000 visit Signing up to collect royalties is the responsibility of artists and labels. It's free to apply to be a member and details are here.

Says Willem Dicke, communications director for SoundExchange on the search effort in October: “It's going pretty well so far. To date we have had 681 artists and 87 copyright owners who have come forward and contacted SoundExchange to collect their royalties and that's a good start.”

You can view the list of artists here.
The unpaid label List is here.

Services covered in this post: SoundExchange (free - and they pay YOU)