Art is for everybody

ala-artsIn the beginning there was music and dancing and theater and painting, and there were listeners and watchers. Those who performed for the king were compensated by the king in forms of currency varied in both treasure and usefulness. Food, clothing, shelter, fame and recognition, and most importantly, projects to accomplish were given to artists in addition to the occasional coin. In such a way, the arts were both reviled and revered, because the king’s wishes became theirs. In the film The Agony and the Ecstasy, artists in the catacombs of Rome noted this in one scene that included this marvelous quote: “We’re artists! We’ll always be slaves to another man’s nickel.”

Patronage for the arts is still practiced today, although little of it goes to the artists themselves. Mostly, the arts have been taken over by corporations whose interests rarely match those of their “employed” artists, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of music. Music today has betrayed itself by chasing wealth as its sole reward, and this is not only tragic but sad.

And we just assume that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

The Shirky Principle – that institutions will always try to maintain the problem for which they are the solution – when applied to the music industry is what led to its disruption by the digital age. Scarcity is the problem, and when consumers got tired of paying $20 or more for a CD with one hit, technology did something about it. Enter our dear friends at the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) who went to extreme lengths to halt the will of the people 15 years ago by actually suing its customers. This foolishness led to change, but the desire to protect “the industry” hasn’t given up. There’s still way too much money at stake, and music, unfortunately, is the ultimate loser.

Like the rest of the corporate owned and managed arts, profit is the bottom line in music, not expression of the arts. Originality is sacrificed in the name of repetition, copying, and the production of a sure thing. After all, the shareholders demand manageable growth, so their servants have no choice but to give it to them. Is this the meaning of the arts? I don’t think so. With the arts, as in life itself, one cannot serve two masters.

At the other end of the spectrum is YouTube. I won’t argue that YouTube isn’t part of an enormous corporation, but that’s not the point. I want to talk for a bit about what YouTube has done for the art of music, not the industry. The RIAA, after all, is now threatening lawsuits against YouTube in yet another grasping at straws in the name getting compensation for artists. Bullshit. The RIAA is many things, but it is NOT an advocate for artists, except where in so doing lines the pockets of its masters.

Meanwhile, there’s an awakening among artists everywhere that the web can be exploited to provide a distribution vehicle that can be used to create ancillary revenue streams. As I’ve written previously, YouTubeRed is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it’s YouTube’s way of creating a micropayment system for those artists whose music is actually played, whether sponsored by corporations or otherwise. This is a certain harbinger for the healthy future of all of the arts, because the output of artists cannot be treated like manufactured products anymore. The arts belong to everybody, and if we enjoy them, it’s our responsibility to pay for them in one way or another.

We’re at the dawn of a great awakening of right brain output, and this pleases me. Industrial age mass marketing was not kind to those wishing to distribute their creative wares, and we’re experiencing the fruit of that today.

The squeeze by consumers has uncovered certain ugly realities:

  • Wall art is mass produced, because it’s cheaper than originals (and no mall carries original work anyway).
  • Music is entirely hit-based and celebrity-based.
  • Repetition is the lifeblood of arts-related industries but the destroyer of the arts themselves.
  • Hollywood only repeats successful formulas.
  • Publishers will only publish that which they know will sell.
  • All of the arts are based on the bottom line, because the arts are “owned” and operated by corporations.
  • As a result, the commercial expectations of artists are entirely wealth-based and unrealistic.

The web, however, has disrupted everything by making everybody’s art available to anybody. Remember, the network views middlemen as a mistake and routes around them. Therefore, you cannot superimpose laws created for the one-to-many world of mass media over the infrastructure of the network. It simply doesn’t work, because scarcity doesn’t (can’t) scale when everybody’s connected. It certainly carries a different value than it does in a disconnected marketplace, and all industries will be forced to deal with this at some point in the not-too-distant future. I understand the desperate nature of disrupted industries, but that does not justify throwing existing laws at the problem, and this includes copyright. We’re going to need visionaries in both the public and private sectors that don’t have institutional corporations in mind as benefactors, but instead, the artists themselves.

The arts are for everyone. As James Allen wrote in his wonderful little book As A Man Thinketh, “The dreamers are the saviors of the world,” and I take this seriously. The prophets of old were among the most sensitive of all humans, for their connection to the world beyond was far outside the norm. So, too, the artists of today prophesy with their work, and we need to pay attention. The problem is that prophecy doesn’t necessarily sell, and that’s our horrific loss. Bob Dylan is a rare example of both, but even at the height of his popularity, his music was an acquired taste. Of course, this was when the message of much of the music world was more important than a song’s ability to recruit wallets. Again, our culture has suffered, because we cannot hear today’s silenced messengers.

Of course, change always takes time, especially with lawyers reproducing like rabbits and for whom “the law” is natural essence of their sustenance. I’m also one of the old guys, so I probably won’t see it in my lifetime.

Nevertheless, let me encourage anyone who works for or benefits from the arts to set your minds on change and help move the rock collectively forward. Not only is it in your best interests, but it’s best for all of our progeny.

The space jump’s stunning YouTube victory

Felix Baumgartner outside his capsule at the top of the world

Felix Baumgartner outside his capsule “at the top of the world”

The numbers are in from Sunday’s awesome space jump, and the message is another warning sign for one-to-many media. The event was “televised” live on The Discovery Channel and Velocity, for a combined rating of 5.2 million viewers. That’s a record for Discovery, by the way. It’s the highest rated weekend, non-prime time program in network history. Good for them.

However, another record was set over at YouTube, which, at peak, had 8 million simultaneous one-to-one 1080p HD streams.

I’m sure that the Red Bull team that pulled this off could have exceeded these numbers by providing the feed to CNN, Fox and the networks.

But they didn’t, and the end result is a chilling harbinger of things to come. Why? Because businesses with money, thanks to the good old personal media revolution-cum-great horizontal, can do what they want in terms of distributing the content they own and produce. Make no mistake, that 8 million number is S-T-A-G-G-E-R-I-N-G, because all of those people were able to watch it wherever they happened to be due to the one-to-one nature of the Web. You can say what you want about the efficiency of broadcasting, but today’s world is increasingly about individual choice and decreasingly about being forced into somebody else’s “schedule.” One of the Twitter comments during the jump was that those viewers on TV had to deal with commercials, while those of us who chose YouTube got to experience every single gripping moment.

And don’t be so sure that Google will follow the broadcast model downstream.

These are the kinds of thoughts that get me into trouble, but, folks, the evidence of change continues to mount, while the TV industry continues to crank out the kind of hubris that belongs in the first stage of grieving (TVB’s As the Ad Industry Envisions All That Is Bright and Shiny, Local TV Broadcasters Are Lighting the Way).

I’m afraid it’s just not going to end well for the people and the industry I love so dearly.

Close doesn’t count in database advertising

I’m constantly preaching the value of targeted advertising, and here’s a humorous exactly from today’s Web surfing. The image below is from YouTube, owned by Google. A little over a week ago, I did a Google search for “tall nightstands,” because I was in the process of a bedroom remodel. I found what I needed at Amazon, and they’re sitting in the bedroom today.

So YouTube/Google served me an ad today for tall nightstands, which is targeted specifically to that search. It’s very sophisticated, except for one thing: I don’t need them anymore.

So nice try, Googs, ol’ buddy, but close doesn’t count. Of course, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they get this one right, too. It is, after all, a simple matter of connecting shopping behavior with actual purposes.

The ad I was served this morning via YouTube.

My personal viewing space

YouTubeI find that after I get caught up with my reading, I’m increasingly spending Sunday mornings with YouTube, just aimlessly drifting but finding myself genuinely satisfied. The place is amazing, and if you’ve never done so, just start a search and let the site guide you on a serendipitous path of discovery.

In so doing, I’ve discovered something about “lean back” TV versus “lean forward” TV: the former can be done with a group, but the latter is most certainly a singular experience. This is why I wonder about mixing the two and whether that will ever be the success that some hope it will.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong believer in unbundled TV, but I do think it’s much more something you do by yourself, because we all have different tastes. My Sunday morning journey through unbundled video is likely not to be the same as yours. It’s more than, “Honey, what do you want to watch;” it’s more like, “I want to watch this clip or that one. Go find your own.” If I want to share, I can use Twitter, or I can send a link to my wife across the room. The point is that the new serendipity can’t be planned by some programmer; it has to come from one’s own curiosity. The best that media can do is make everything available and put it in a place where it can be discovered.

Up to a point, Hulu’s the same way, but the variety’s simply not there. Plus, there’s that pay thing. This morning, John Hagel turned me on to Bridget Bardot, the French actress who awakened those adult thoughts in this adolescent boy. I then searched for James Brown’s Superbad, because I’d been hearing the thing during the NBA Finals. Then to the Blues Brothers. Finally, thanks to Eric Deggans, the drum solos from Letterman last week. I’m not sure that any of that could have been shared in the same room with my family. They would’ve just looked at me funny.

In this environment, the marketers of the world need something different to reach me, for unbundled clips aren’t conducive to 15-second TV ads. We’ve simply got to find something that moves the serendipitous adventure along, because if I see Geico, I’m bailing – immediately.

Although I did watch a bunch of Dos Equuis ads (that I chose for myself). YouTube’s like that.


Columbus media group trips over itself

The Dispatch Broadcast Group, a division of Dispatch Printing, which operates, among other things, the Columbus Dispatch, apparently had their attorneys tell YouTube to pull the video of Ted Williams, the homeless announcer. This happened this afternoon, after 12 million people had viewed the video (when I first saw it Tuesday, I was viewer #32,681). This is among the dumbest moves I’ve ever heard of by a legacy media company. Oh, they have the right to do it, but it’s just so foolish, because it assumes that people will come to their site to watch the video. They won’t. Not under any circumstances. Besides, if they did, they would be out of town viewers, nothing local advertisers would care about. Moreover, even if they did, the bandwidth would choke them.

what you see when you click on the link

The audience of YouTube is varied and loyal. Much better to have a YouTube channel and put your videos there – yes, for free (that’ll change) – than to play this idiotic game with people. It breaks every link that’s been passed around and pisses everybody off. Nice.

The Web isn’t 2-way; it’s 3-way

I keep reading in articles (about news disrupted) that the Web is a 2-way connection, which makes it different than the one-way connection of mass media. While technically correct, the thought is imprecise, for the Web is especially disruptive, because it’s a three-way connection. That’s what Jay Rosen refers to in his brilliant “Audience Atomization Overcome.” In addition to talking back to the press (2-way), we can also talk to each other, and this “horizontal” connectivity is what’s really changing things.

The idea that news organizations can interact with their audiences is pretty cool. We can work together on stories. We can comment on Facebook or respond to Twitter. We can send in pictures or video. It’s a wonderful new form of community, but it isn’t particularly disruptive. What is disruptive is the ability to talk to each other about what we’ve just experienced, whether that’s from a news organization or the local grocer. This real-time connectivity — what I call “hyperconnectivity” — is what’s changing the world.

Wikileaks is a great example. It’s not so much that we’re getting the leaked documents showing how our government routinely lies to us (a government of the people?), but that hyperconnectivity provides the means for us to do something about it.

If the local paper says something we question, we can immediately turn to each other in addition to notifying the paper of our disapproval. That’s the three-way connection. It’s why every institution of the West will have to account for itself one day. It’s one thing to holler back at a merchant who behaved mischievously, but it’s entirely different to use your social and other connections to tell everybody about it. They will then share your story with others and contribute their own experiences, whether it’s through some organized method, like Yelp, or simply via Facebook. It’s the stuff of revolutions. The world of “reputation management” has arisen as a response, but only approaching business with a 21st Century, hyperconnected mind will help. The license to get away with anything in the name of profit has been revoked.

You don’t like how your medical care is going? Don’t just complain to the doctor; ask for advice from friends. They have friends who have friends, and one day, technology will search all of that data and provide a service with answers. The doctor is still the doctor, but you’re now armed with knowledge and information. The needs of the patient, remember, are different than the needs of the doctor.

A one-way or two-way connection is vertical, up to down or down to up. The third connection is horizontal, between the people formerly known as the audience (to quote that wonderful phrase from Jay).

Horizontal connectivity, as I’ve written many times, is the great disruptor of modernism, because it guts any hierarchy built on protected knowledge. Wikileaks wouldn’t be nearly so disruptive, if we didn’t have the power to pass the stories around. We also have the power now to promote or take down whoever we like, as in the amazing case of Ted Williams, the Columbus, Ohio homeless man “discovered” by a Columbus TV station, a following YouTube video went viral. I heard about this from Mathew Ingram at GigaOm about mid-afternoon Tuesday. When I saw the video, I was viewer number 32,681. As of this afternoon, just two days later, 12 million people had seen the video, which has since been removed by the Columbus Dispatch on copyright grounds.

Horizontal connectivity will prevent wars in the future, and it’s what makes the totalitarian threat of Big Brother impossible. The connection there was decidedly 2-way.