behind the streams: kids and their toys
  • FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010

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A couple of weeks ago I left my iPod behind after a weekend out of the city and was without my music for a few days. First of all, it's amazing how misplacing some important bit of personal technology can make you feel incomplete. Moreover, how can you go to the gym without your music? Plugging into the gym's entertainment system is never satisfactory and Pandora on my Blackberry doesn't satisfy as I always blow through my "skips" in the first fifteen minutes and am forced to listen to what Pandora thinks I might like to listen to.

As luck would have it my oldest daughter's iPod was on the kitchen counter (she's 17). She has forsaken her iPod Classic for an iPhone, so the little device is now adrift and available for anyone to use. I must say, it takes a real man to carry an iPod with pink rhinestones on it to a gym populated with younger/cooler/better-looking people.

Safely perched on an elliptical trainer for a stretch of time, I hit "shuffle songs" and gave the world of a seventeen year old girl in New York City a listen. I was nervous. My younger daughters still worship Disney Music and cracked out Chipmunk soundtracks. Luckily, the iPod was packed with an interesting mix, a nice reflection of my oldest's taste and I'd assume many of her peers as well. The top genres were "Indie", "Indie Pop", "Show Tunes" and "Classical. There was a nice assortment of music to fast forward through in search of the pounding rhythmic tunes that I needed to carry me through my allotted 45 minutes of sweating.

As I powered through her iPod a pattern emerged, all of the indie music (stuff we like here at Baeble) had come from samplers sent out by the labels and "Music Monday" free downloads from iTunes. What she appears to have bought was the classical music and "Show Tunes". With the Glee cast album in heavy rotation I thought about what this meant and the answer was very simple — she had bought what she otherwise couldn't get for free. I don't really know but I bet there isn't a Music Monday on iTunes for Classical Music and I am positive the folks who control Glee's music are giving nothing away. Obvious.

My daughter has been conditioned to expect free when it comes to music. A recent annoyed call from a friend at a major label about one of his artists on our site brought this together for me. He was surfing the new iTunes and looked up the artist and found our video podcast of the single from the session at the bottom of the page. Clicking on the podcast popped up a window inside iTunes and the single from the session started to stream to my desktop. First of all I hadn't played with iTunes in this manner in a while and now realized that Apple in a stroke had turned what was designed to be a marketing bonus for our loyal subscribers into a (un-monetized) streaming experience with in iTunes (I can only think this is for the benefit of Apple and Apple TV — Baeble is now paying the streaming costs of entertaining individuals in iTunes). He felt that this performance in iTunes and its availability for free undercut the potential sales of the audio single in iTunes. And he has a very valid point — as an experience, I prefer the complete audio / visual package. Why pay for a song when I can get a great experience for free for my desktop/iPod/iPhone?

We then talked through that we would like nothing more than to sell these singles, but then discussed the impossibility of getting a simple sales agreement for this through the already overburdened business affairs teams at every major and minor label that we work with, hence the need to make these podcasts "free". Another pratfall of the modern age of recorded music; red tape helps protect artists, but how much potential revenue is lost in the process of shielding them?

This little experiment solidified something for me and for Baeble — free is the enemy. Like everything else there is really no such thing as "Free", only the illusion that it's now deserved by an entire generation of music consumers.

Enjoy video podcasts and free embeds now, because we suspect they will not last forever. Our output of singles will increasingly only show up in partner sites that pay us for the use and the podcasts will be wrapped in Apps for the iPhone and Android and Tablets that bind people to our brand, embeds will start to carry a commercial load as well. And if you think Apple will continue to fight for free, just observe their own recent initiative of charging for songs that labels have been giving away.

All of this over a simple, abandoned iPod filled with free MP3s. But truth be told, it's a more apt metaphor than I first thought.-david moffly

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