What We Can Learn From P*Star

When I say “rapper”, what do you think of? Probably not a preteen girl spittin’ rhymes about how she isn’t ready for a boyfriend yet. This documentary might change that.

PStar (Photo Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)
PStar (Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

P*Star Rising is a documentary by Gabriel Noble that follows the growth (literally) of a 9-year-old female rapper from Harlem named Priscilla Diaz, stage name: P*Star.  While I don’t know if I would have picked a name for a 9-year-old that produces google searches about the adult entertainment industry, I was instantly won over by this little girl’s wittiness and extremely apparent charisma.  The film recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.  Check out the trailer.

We can all learn a few things from P*Star, the artist, and Priscilla Diaz, the girl.

Connections make you or break you. P*Star wasn’t born rapping (although that would be pretty sick).  She didn’t get signed by a record label because of her musical genius.  She got signed because her father, an ex-rapper from the 80s, knew the right people.

While most of us aren’t lucky enough to be born into families with connections in the field of our choice, we can use social media to forge connections with people that will help advance our career.  Start seeking out people on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter that will provide you with an outlet for your work.  Maybe it is a museum curator, or a record producer, or an employer.  Join the communities that these people are part of and start a conversation.  Make a connection by asking questions or establish yourself as competent by answering other people’s questions.  The questions can lead to an email, the email to an interview or audition.  Most successes don’t come from luck; they come from someone saying “Hey, I know this great person you should hear about.”

You can’t do it alone. There are going to be hard times.  Really hard times.  I don’t care how strong you are, you can’t believe that you are going to make it without some support system.  Whether it is monetary or emotional support, you need someone that will always be stable, because there will be times when everything else is not.

Have an interesting story. The thing I like most about P*Star is that she has a story.  She grew up in poverty with a heroine-addicted mother and cocaine-selling father.  Her father cleaned up his act and took her in, teaching her how to rap.  She had her first gig when she was 6, was signed to a record contract at 10, and now has a leading role on PBS’s revival of The Electric CompanyFind some things, or a series of things that make people go, “Cool!

Ask Terry Lickona Your Burning Questions

PBS Engage is inviting users to ask questions of Terry Lickona, renowned producer of the long running music program Austin City Limits, Monday at 4pm. Lickona will answer user submitted questions in an hour-long chat from SXSW.

PBS Banner at SXSW 2009 by fragility_v2
PBS Banner at SXSW 2009.
Photo by fragility_v2

Submit questions by 4pm or join the discussion live. If you are in Austin for SXSW, you can stop by the PBS events in person. Tell them Teague sent you.

Creative Commons Doesn’t Cannibalize Sales

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor (Photo by Capital M)
NIN Frontman Trent Reznor
(Photo by Capital M)

Chris Anderson recently posted “The best selling MP3 album of the year was free” on The Long Tail blog. Apparently, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the best selling MP3 album of 2008 despite being released under a Creative Commons license that allowed for free, legal sharing.

The album grossed more than $1.6 million in revenue duing the first week in release.  Creative Commons blog has more:

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

This would seem to be another big win for proponents of alternative models to the traditional intellectual property attitudes stemming from the physical goods economy.

RIAA Strong-arms ISPs Instead of Customers

Image by chazlarson
Image by chazlarson

TechCrunch today reports that the RIAA is changing tactics:

Instead of dragging music downloaders and file-sharers into court, it has somehow convinced ISPs to take on the role of digital policeman (and jury and judge).

The original story in the Wall Street Journal has full details, but the gist is that the RIAA will provide ISPs with IP addresses of file sharing offenders.  Those offenders (or accused offenders) will be warned and, after three strikes, have their internet service disconnected.

It beats sueing “several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl,” but details are unclear as to the appeals process.  At least the court system is set up to handle disputes like this.

Will “Repo!” Steal Hearts?

Repo Promoting in Downtown Berkeley Image from shellEProductions’ PhotostreamDoes anyone else hate the phrase “Instant cult classic?” Instant classic is like instant chocolate brownies. It might temporarily fix your chocolate craving – but it’s nothing like a dessert you spent a couple hours baking from scratch.

Well, NPR is also a little skeptical of the idea that someone can deliberately create a cult film. Repo! the Genetic Opera is an upcoming movie starring Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Alex Vega and. . . uh. . . Paris Hilton. Combining organ repossession, rock musical numbers, a big bad corporation and a distinctly “Blade Runner” feel, the creators of “Repo!” seem confident that alternative kids will come running to a film made just for them.

Beth Accomando at the NPR pop culture blog points out that the movie is using a web-heavy marketing strategy out of necessity – they have no money for a big budget ad campaign. I am impressed that the film’s creators are interacting directly with fans – but I wonder if you can classify people who have yet to see a film as “fans.”

Increasingly, savvy directors and producers have deputized fan communities in the fight to keep a movie franchise making money. This creates a sense of “ownership” that is actually quite different than the fans of a cult classic like Rocky Horror. Rocky fans go to midnight showings because they aren’t supposed to: The film wasn’t intended to be made fun of and shouted at and have toilet paper strewn all over it. It’s not just an alternative film, it’s an alternative film-going experience. Whether or not “Repo!” can capture that sense of forbidden fun is yet to be seen.

Radiohead’s Pick-Your-Price a Success?

In Rainbows Album Cover Image from WikipediaThe Chicago Tribune has a good set of numbers from the Radiohead “In Rainbows” release. As you may recall, Radiohead offered the album as a download in advance of the physical release and allowed fans to choose what price to pay for the album (if at all).

A few highlights:

  • $8 million from 100,000 box sets sold
  • 1.75 million CDs sold (on top of box set sales)
  • 1.2 million fans on the concert tour
  • 3 million copies sold overall (including digital)
  • Web sales alone exceeded the total sales from their previous album
  • Upon physical release, “In Rainbows” debuted atop both the U.S. and U.K. pop charts

What do you make of this? Do you think the experiment was a success? Are theses numbers indicative of a good business model despite the number of users who downloaded the album for free, or is this the effect of a quality album coupled with Radiohead’s previous popularity?

Is this evidence compelling enough to make you consider a similar model for your own work?

Dr. Horrible MP3s available from Amazon

Felicia Day of Dr. Horrible Image from BobbyPromFor those of you who prefer your internet-musical-extravaganza soundtracks sans DRM, the Amazon MP3 store is now offering Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack. We’ve talked before about Dr. Horrible before, and I am a fan, but I do think it’s a little strange that the soundtrack costs $8.99 when the entire show could be had for $4.99 on iTunes.

I guess that’s the price you pay for convenience. Honestly though, who would pay $0.99 cents for the opening 9-second track? Joss, I think you missed the mark here. Amazon lets you set variable pricing (one of their major distinctions over iTunes, as far as labels are concerned). Take advantage of that and pick some reasonable prices rather than just going with the default. Your fans will thank you.

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem: DRM done right? Or yet another failed attempt?

Here’s what we know so far. DECE will announce details at CES in January. The general principle is something along the lines of a digital rights locker in the cloud that keeps track of what content you have purchased and have rights to play.

Burned (read: Destroyed) DVD Image from Night Star RomanusThe major goals of the project are interoperability, allowing users to copy content onto household playback devices (as opposed to streaming only) and to enable writing to physical media.

Sounds like an ambitious project, and maybe a pipe dream given the walled garden approach that most content providers have been pushing thus far. But with a list of players that includes most major media corporations, some serious technical expertise, the device manufacturers of both HD disc technologies (and then some), and at least one major retailer, this might have a chance to get past the conception stage.

The list of companies signed on so far is Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros.

What does this mean for indie producers? That remains to be seen, but for most of us, there’s already an alternative. What else supports interoperability and portability of content to offline and physical media? What lets viewers watch what they want, where and how they want to? Anything without DRM. Just sayin’.

Royalties for Digital Goods

Amazon Kindle
Image by jblyberg

Seth Godin recently posted on his blog about the Kindle ($359 from Amazon). He mentions publisher resistance to lowering prices on digital books, similar to studio or label’s resistance to lower prices on film, tv, or music. They all claim that lower prices would mean less revenue for the artists, authors, actors, etc.

If you eliminate the cost of physical products, you should be able to lower the total cost, raise the percentage that is paid to the content creator, and still make a profit. Unless the reason to keep prices high is to maintain the bloated physical distribution arm of a studio/publisher/label.

Maybe the idea is just to keep milking the connections that keep traditional distributors on top of the promotional game before an agile content aggregator/digital distributor/promoter comes along who doesn’t have to keep supporting the whole physical production and distribution department and can afford to simultaneously pay the creators more and charge the consumers less. Imagine what that would be like.

Anybody who Legally Downloads Music is an Idiot…

Steadicam Operator
Photo by Carolyn Coles

That’s what record store owner John Kioussis told Steve Guttenberg of The Audiophiliac.

Do you agree with Kioussis? Is legal digital music so bad that it’s not worth obeying the law?

Certainly there have been arguments made that draconian DRM has limited the appeal of legal sources for downloaded music. If media owners and creators do not or cannot provide their media in a format which meets consumer needs, the consumers will find an alternative source for that media.

Consumers in the digital age expect to have flexibility in when, how, and where they consume their media. The popularity of DVRs is driven by the desire to watch programs when it is convenient for the consumer instead of when the broadcaster decides to air it. Podcasting allows consumers to choose when and where to watch or listen. DRM that locks media to a particular device or method of viewing limits the consumer’s choice and, ultimately, pushes some percentage of those users to seek out less regulated formats of the same content, or other content entirely.

There are also the issues of fidelity. A 128kbps MP3 is not the same quality as a 44,100 Hz audio CD. Most legal sources of downloadable music don’t offer lossless file formats (excepting a notable few). There are, however, lossless file formats, such as FLAC, that are extremely popular among concert bootleggers. Thus, fidelity is another justification used by downloaders who choose alternatives to the legal avenues of music distribution.

As for John Kioussis? The rest of that quote is “You can get it for free, why pay for it? Download it illegally, who’s going to catch you? Legal or illegal, they sound the same.”

Regardless of getting caught or not, the best reason to find a legal option is to support the hard work of the artist(s) who created the media that you are enjoying. After all, without continued support, artists wouldn’t be able to continue to produce their art (excluding the independently wealthy and famously successful minority).

Traditional record deals don’t benefit the artists nearly as much as they do the studios, but changes in technology are bringing about a new wave of digital distribution options that allow artists to cut out the middlemen and connect directly (or in a manner closely approximating directly) with their fans.

So, if you want your favorite artists to keep producing art, maybe downloading music legally doesn’t make you an idiot. In fact, by searching out sites that offer the best deals to artists and supporting them, you can help shape the landscape of direct media and further the trend of direct connections from Artist to Fan.