Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Dark Side

This started out as an Artist Choice about Steely Dan. I will get to that soon but for now I've been diverted by the vexed subject of Bootlegs.

A year or so ago I wrote to Shindig Magazine about the fact that they reviewed so many live albums that were defacto Bootlegs. I was letter of the month and there were some furious replies from fans who had to possess every note ever uttered by their heroes, seemingly regardless of whether their heroes got paid or not.

Robert Fripp has some decided views on Bootlegging which I read around 1979. The thought that "it's rather like taking notes of a personal conversation to circulate or publish later" stuck. This remember was written many years before the mobile phone became a fixture at shows; "This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through the lens of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft". The above comes from an article that appeared in Musician magazine, Bootlegging, Royalties and the Moment, find it online.

So the connection to Steely Dan? They have despite much touring in the last 20 years or so released only one highly unsatisfactory live album "Alive in America" in 1995. At least a dozen high quality recordings that sound as professionally produced as the official disc circulate online, and some, notably a recording from Missouri in 1993 get pressed up and sold as legitimate product. Often claimed as a radio show, online samples reveal a soundboard feed with prominent vocals & next to no keyboards or bass. There is also a set of pre Steely Dan demos that are currently available on Amazon as 25 different releases.

Why is this a problem? Donald Fagen has been vocal recently about the fact that there is no income from his old albums any more. While I suspect he protests too much (at least slightly) with a new vinyl edition of The Nightfly coming out and Steely Dan albums doing as well as or better than many other artists of a similar vintage; the fact that there are legitimate outlets, like Amazon, iTunes and eMusic selling fraudulent material in his name without the courtesy of paying him, or indeed the currently ill & unable to tour Walter Becker is doubtless galling.

One possible answer of course would be to release some of the hoard of live tapes and unreleased material himself. In the day of the super deluxe edition he is clearly missing out on a revenue stream. So Bootlegs are bad but Donald think before you whinge.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why I'm giving up on eMusic


I joined eMusic in 2005. If you don't know eMusic it is a subscription based music download service. The content is sourced mainly from independent labels,with a lot of catalogue secured, until recently, through The Orchard & CD Baby.

In my Linkedin articles recently I have been looking at the way companies disregard their customer base leading to loss of said customer & ultimately the business. eMusic make a great object lesson in what not to do, so here are some of the ways that a once great service has been brought down, and left me and many others throwing up our hands and saying "ENOUGH".


Play Pass The Parcel With Your Business.

 eMusic was launched in 1995, that's four years before iTunes. Since then it has been variously owned by its founders, Vivendi (French media company), JDS Capital Management (venture capital), and was most recently acquired in 2015 by TriPlay an Israeli cloud computing company. Each time senior management was changed and from the number of people listing eMusic as a past company on Linkedin, staff left in droves after each takeover. The upshot of this of course was a lack of expertise, continuity or direction in the business leading to...


Frequent Changes in Business Model and Direction

Or, how to confuse your customers. With content rooted solidly in independent music and strong catalogues in Classical, New Age and other niche areas eMusic had a great USP, something that allowed it to stand apart from the fights between iTunes and the big labels. Then in 2009 the majors, Sony, then Warners and Universal crept onto the site, in the USA at least. The then CEO however stated in The New York Times "the future of eMusic, like its past, is in pursuing not the fickle mainstream but the passionate fringe". The U.K. store stayed with the independents, presumably due to rights issues.Then in 2014 the major labels disappeared again. There was a renewed commitment to the independent arena. With new owners came another shift to sourcing catalogue from 7Digital, meaning that on the site's relaunch in May 2017 much of the content disappeared, again presumably due to rights issues. Each relaunch was of course accompanied by new branding. An image search on Google brings up 9 different logos.

Something to Tempt The Buyer...

7Digital don't appear to distribute a number of the best known independent labels, Warp & Eagle Rock have gone completely and Rough Trade have only 27 albums on the site for instance. There are no meaningful new releases, oh there is new music every week, mostly obscure compilations, bootleg live albums and out of copyright jazz and classical. The customers want the new releases they hear on the radio and read about online or in the magazines, and which were always on the old version of eMusic. For me notable absences are the latest Public Service Braodcasting album (they have everything else from them so why not this?) and the new Peter Perrett album which they are advertising but, at least in the U.K. is not available to buy. I could go on, other customers are on the Emusers forum. One of my main labels of interest Frontiers (Italian based so no U.S.rights clashes I guess) is still adding new content so it can be done.


Ignore The Customers And Hope They Go Away 

The @emusichelps Twitter has been silent since 9th May. the main @emusic one posts a couple of hopeful items per month and the old noticeboard died with its website. The main means of communication is through a Reddit page meaning that the posts about poor customer service, disappearing content and departing customers are hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. The new website looks ok and does fix a few problems from the old one, but is very hard to navigate, and searching for anything specific is now a lot harder, assuming you can find anything in the first place. Oh and integration to iTunes has gone as well.


There may be legitimate reasons for the problems, new websites have issues I recognise that, but if eMusic are working away in the background to solve the problems, they aren't telling the customers. And they need to; soon, while they still have a business. If they aren't doing anything because the switch to 7Digital's platform has fundamentally broken the business, then own up to it, and start fixing it.

The obvious take away from all this is that this weeks owners neither understand or care about their customer base. The community aspect of eMusic expressed through various forums was one of its strengths. The fact that it appealed to the music obsessive (me!) who wanted to dig into the site and find long forgotten albums and new obscurities was another. The decision to move to 7Digital was clearly made on a cost basis and seems to sum up the whole "relaunch". It won't do eMusic, It won't do.


Postscript

I have just been sent a user satisfaction survey by email. You can guess how it went, but the concerning thing is that the headline "we are thinking about doing this" items were Hi Res audio (good), major label content (see above), and connectivity to smart watches, TVs and car radios. There's something about fiddling while Rome burns here I feel...