Chasing waterfalls? TLC hits Kickstarter to finance its final album

20 years after the release of CrazySexyCool, TLC is back for one last album: The two remaining members of the iconic RnB band took to Kickstarter Monday to raise funds for the production of a new and final studio album.

TLC is looking to raise at least $150,000, and promises to give fans who pledge $5 or more a chance to vote on one of the songs included on the album. From their Kickstarter page:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Every penny we raise during this campaign will go towards making this final album together with you! The initial goal of $150,000 will go towards a writing session in the studio with a producer and engineer. The money beyond that will go to booking music producers, writing sessions, mixing sessions, recording sessions, and SO much more. We want to work with the best in the business, so the more we raise means access to the best.”[/blockquote]

TLC isn’t the first band that is taking to Kickstarter to raise funds, but the RnB trio was notable for being a very public manifestation of questionable music industry practices. The band’s label generated more than $100 million in sales with the bands two first albums, but TLC had to file for bankruptcy in 1995.

Those experiences may have been one more reason for TLC to take their case directly to fans this week. Here’s how the band put it on Kickstarter:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”While major labels offer artists multimillion dollar recording and marketing budgets, they don’t often give artists complete control of their own music. It is essential that we create our final album completely on our own terms, without any restrictions, with you.”[/blockquote]

Technology doesn’t change everything

With everyone caught on as to how profoundly technology is changing so much in our lives, it is easy to mis- and over-attribute its influence on market dynamics, to see it helping where it hurts, and to forget the timeless market dynamics that still pertain. Analyses this week of its use in healthcare, entertainment and society demonstrate how confusing attribution and understanding can be.

The healthcare example

Gigaom’s Derrick Harris has a fantastic article this week on some of the innovation possible with Apache Spark, including the use of the technology to save lives with rapid DNA sequencing through in-memory processing. It is one of number of examples where applying newly-feasibly levels of IT in medicine enables breakthrough treatment for patients. Beyond this example of big data isolating bacteria, a look at the ASME’s top five medical innovations of 2013 illustrates how the typical advantages of new technology in scanning, smaller size, sensors, and robotics have enabled new approaches to melanoma, migraines, diabetes and checkups, respectively.

The Affordable Care Act, from its dysfunctional exchanges to its promulgation of endless, federal regulations and planned, panoptic enforcement of centrally enforced best and most cost-effective treatment practices, is, in this analyst’s opinion, an example of IT innovation that doesn’t work—likely on the bases of cost, outcome, or individual patient or provider experience.

In between these medical and bureaucratic extremes are many applications, such as mobile health monitoring, exercise, and diet apps that have the capacity both to empower individuals to positive medical result—and to subject them to oppressive levels of health system and governmental monitoring. These ‘healthcare management’ applications may look promising, but in bureaucratic hands they can also be exploited to counterproductive ends.

An example in the entertainment industry

The Daily Beast has a commentary suggesting ‘The five lessons the faltering music industry could learn from TV’. Quibbles could be made with the piece, as they are in the comments, with the apt and universal applicability of all the points made in support of the central thesis, but the underlying argument is provocative. Perhaps the music industry isn’t stuck in the vise of an inevitable destruction of monetized value, given the Internet’s ability to deliver content free or nearly so. Perhaps instead the response of the television industry to create higher quality shows for which people are willing to pay subscriptions, as well as the development of ever-better TV technology, does provide a model for the music business.

Then again, cable TV has had the benefit of the forced bundling of channels and other regulatory advantages. People may also become set in their musical preferences with peak consumption when young, but still be hearty consumers of stories throughout their lives; and they consume music differently than they do visual media. Perhaps more significantly, the peril of underestimating the audience has long been a lesson learned and relearned in entertainment and the arts. William Golding famous warned against it in writing for film. Plato addressed it in Aristotle’s Poetics. Theater greats such Hammerstein, Rodgers, Hart, and Kern labored for decades to take musical theater beyond targeting the lowest common denominator, and it never flourished so much before or since. The lesson there is that the true common denominators in art are not that low. (One could argue such an effort and reminder is needed in musical theater and other arts again.)

While commercial television arguably has never had so much sophisticated programming, it likely has never had so much low-brow programming either. It simply has a lot of programming. But, the principles of niche and segmented marketing of course still pertain. As to the quality of delivery technology, music has had its swings of the pendulum, with transistor radios transforming the ‘60s, new hi-fi systems dominating the ‘70s, back to low-cost mobility with Walkmans and MP3s, etc. As TV moves to more Internet and mobile delivery, it too will likely experience drops in delivery quality.

Still, the Daily Beast article has merit, and there are likely lessons in television that could be transferred to a troubled music industry.

Broadening healthcare to government

Michael Barone this week makes an argument with the healthcare example that government by its nature was better at aping the business organizations of the industrial era than it is now those of the digital age. I’d quibble here and suggest that the largest industrial and late-industrial age bureaucracies (e.g., the Soviet Union) tended to collapse of their own weight as well. Even when industrial-age governments were efficient (e.g., Mussolini’s trains ran on time), they were oppressive and counter to the larger productive force of individually-inspired motivation and actions. People instinctively recognize the same dynamic when NSA spying or overregulation of technology and the Internet threaten the potential of the digital age as well. Technology no doubt can make overreach more invasive and worse.

For the enterprise

A couple of takeaways from these examples could include the following:

  • Significant new value can be found in the likes of raw data power, miniaturization, sensors, peer networking, mobility and robotics that new technology is making possible; but the dystopian misapplication of that same technology is often just a step away—and not even recognized as the enabling elements are put into place. There is probably more legitimate value to be gained from technology applied to the ‘medical’ (customer value) as opposed to ‘healthcare’ (bureaucratic) end of any industry sector.
  • More is attributed to unique dynamics of new technology than is really so. Music industry executives are likely to see their troubles as the inevitable result of new technology, but relative success stories such as the TV sector currently are probably correctly attributed to both the effective use of new technology—and adherence to timeless, traditional marketing, business and, unfortunately, rent-seeking principles.
  • Social ills and solutions are no newer or older than the common human inclinations. They thus likely predated and will outlive any new technology in use or on the horizon. The scale and speed with which good can be turned to bad is likely amplified with pervasive, networked IT, however, which does call for new levels of caution. But new technology doesn’t change everything—including human nature.

(Gigaom Research consumer curator Paul Sweeting has more relevant coverage on television and Gigaom Research analyst Mark Mulligan has more music industry coverage here,  as well as the music industry audience targeting and product format debate here.)

Amazon’s sub-Prime music streaming service

From Amazon’s point of view the licensing fees it pays rights owners are merely part of the subscriber acquisition costs for Prime’s two-day shipping plan — a number Amazon needs to keep as low as possible.

Paying to play: The fight over online music

That shift in listening from recordings to streaming services marks an acceleration and amplification of the broader shift in the music business from a an economy based on the sale of goods to one based on access to performances. And it is fueling the fight now erupting on Capitol Hill over the royalty rates assigned to different types of performances.

Oops: Spotify started in Germany without key license

Spotify apparently didn’t want to wait any longer for its launch in Germany, which came two weeks before the service is having its final negotiations with rights holders group GEMA. The final deal with GEMA could determine how much music Germans will get for free.

Spotify reportedly launching in Germany by mid-March

Spotify is launching in Germany within the next two weeks, according to German media reports. The streaming service already has an office in Berlin. It also recently hired a PR rep for the country, which in the past has been a difficult market for music services.

KeepRecipes creates an iTunes for cookbooks

KeepRecipes is launching an “iTunes for recipes” on Friday, in hopes of building an online marketplace for buying and selling culinary ideas. It’s starting small, but KeepRecipes hopes to show cookbook publishers they can make money online and consumers that some recipes are worth paying for.