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Incubus a “bit” behind the times with new video game

July 18, 2011

 

Let me just preface this by saying: I am a fan of Incubus. I used to be quite enamored of them in my youth (I mean, who could resist Brandon Boyd’s magnificent abs circa their video for “Drive,”) and can still find the vaguest glimmer of feeling when I hear the familiar teenage-era riffs of  “Stellar” or “I Wish You were Here.”

Social media is all the rage these days, and the music industry is just starting to feel its effects. With popular and successful hype campaigns on the medium from other 90s-era superstars such as Bjork and The Beastie Boys, it seems that now is the time to test out the waters on innovative selling tactics – especially for an artist with a distinctive fanbase.

Incubus has jumped on that train with full momentum– launching some interactive elements to their album release that are parts new and parts done before, yet still effective, including: an interactive live stream, a partnership with video-sharing app Viddy, a Formspring Q&A, and an 8-bit anti-piracy video game called “Incubattle.”

The game is somewhat of an ironic joke as a comeback to the premature “leak” of their album, a common occurrence on the all-powerful inter-web these days; yet, similar to Lindsay Lohan’s self-mocking “Funny or Die” video, the joke comes across as forced and the slightest bit personal.

I feel as though the members of Incubus, and let’s face it, the record label that most likely proposed this idea, could have thought this through a little more. A well-defined social media strategy for the game could have spelled out that this wasn’t exactly a great idea, and my reasoning is below:

1.) Target audience: The main problem with the game is that it’s unclear as to who exactly would play it with the intended message. The game clearly targets part of the band’s fan base, IE 20-something males, yet the “crime” of downloading which is villainized in the game has probably been committed by most of that crowd at least once in their lives, having grown up with Napster and the rise of the Internet.

2.) Purpose: The game’s purpose is both to hype the album while shaming those that have downloaded it from the leak. One positive, and one negative. I guess if you didn’t download the leak you can feel self-righteous and positive about the album while playing, but if you have downloaded it—or any other albums previously—you’ll feel bad and should. Or that’s how the game would like it to be. (Feel free to replace “the game” with “the music industry” there.)

Despite the fact that the music industry’s response to downloading thus far has been legal action that alienates fans rather than bringing them in with good content and good quality programs, it’s just ridiculous and idiotic to assume that every person that downloads music online is a baseless criminal.

3.) Competition: With other artists embracing the social wave and making headlines with their business model bending tactics, the potential for becoming newsworthy with album hype is huge. With the “name of the game” online being net neutrality, Incubus puts a big red flag where a white one should be.

The Gorillaz, for instance, invited interaction from their fans on their album by releasing it via social media for fans to remix. While this move may have invited critical and somewhat legal responses, it sent a message to fans that their feedback and creative input on the album is appreciated.

4.) Message: This reminds me of a similar step against piracy by Lars Ulrich, the lead singer of Metallica, who went up against Napster in 2000, which as many Metallica fans will tell you did not go well. Furthermore, the message is reminiscent of the entire DARE campaign (which proved to be so successful)—a cheesy and outdated crime-fighting message hidden beneath the guise of a pastime that would seemingly attract their core customer base. Thus, it falls short of actually making any new statements as to why the action (downloading or otherwise) happens, or a proposal for change. Kind of like the entire plot of Avatar.

5.) Tactics: The base play of the game is a retro look at 8-bit games of the past, which in itself is not a bad thing at all. Yet besides the game’s outdated and pointless message, it doesn’t seem to provide that much incentive to buy the album. With tracks from the album as “scores” during the game and characters resembling the members of Incubus, the player couldn’t really connect with the album unless they already bought it (or downloaded it) before playing. Not really an incentive for the rest of us, though.

Rob Sheridan put it nicely via Google+:

“Seriously? How about fighting the record label dorks or manufacturing companies who let the album leak in the first place? Maybe the boss battle should be with the label exec who can’t come up with a modern release plan that avoids leaks entirely?”

While Incubus’ new album shows that the lithe youth-rock heroes of the past at least still have their own “drive” for the music business, their efforts at buzz for the album, whether through their incentive or their label’s,  comes across as merely a disingenuous ploy for sales.

Mobile technology: Getting too personal?

June 5, 2011

Lately I’ve been noticing some random every day gadgets that incorporate mobile technology in a cool way, such as the Android i’mWatch featured above which allows a user to access all of the functions and data from their mobile phone all while knowing exactly what time it is.

“Cool” technology that is seemingly needless always brings to light increasing trends, especially in this case to the expansion of mobile. From Smart phone watches to mobile robots and extremely personalized Apps, mobile technology is becoming all-inclusive to every function of a person’s life. While this is an exciting and historic milestone in the digital age, the new wave of “personalization” for mobile may have several drawbacks for a new generation.

Studies are released daily that detail humanity’s further descent into addiction with mobile technology. According to a study by Commercial Appeal , half of Smart phone owners say they can’t sleep if their phone wasn’t close at hand. This slightly disturbing fact that even sleep is second for many people to mobile’s power is a testament to its now global growth and the potential for mobile as a stand-alone technology in future generations.

With new technologies released daily that feed into mobile’s functionality and personalization, mobile technology is becoming not only “smart” but a power all its own.  For example, Nokia’s new “Mobile Bots,” is a “self-aware mobile robot” for the Nokia N97 Smart phone. The phone has four functions to become more knowledgeable and compatible with the use of its owner- such as the “Profile Bot,” which gathers information from the users’ mobile profile to self-monitor, such as by turning on silent when the user is in a meeting. Other bots include the “Alarm Bot,” which operates with the users’ sleeping schedule, “Shortcut Bot,” which makes available the applications that are used the most,  and “Battery Bot,” which reminds the user to charge the phone when it is low.

Is this a creepy new function for Smart phones? Slightly. However, its use is far-reaching. How many of us always wished that our gadgets could know our next move and simply do it for us? (IE Smart House.) But in light of the old science fiction trope where digital devices lash back against their owners, it is slightly unnerving to think about the power they have and are gaining in our society.

The rising trend of Apps created for increasingly personal functions is another eye-opening glimpse to an all-inclusive mobile-powered future. Currently, there are approx. 402,000 Apps in the Iphone store alone, all of which aim to target functionality to a wide base of consumers. For example, a new Iphone app called “One”  targets all voters, keeping a user up-to-date on politics and allows them to engage directly with their senator.

Other mobile innovations are much more instantaneous- including mobile wallets, like the upcoming Google Wallet, which allow users to access and use their credit cards without even bringing  a tangible wallet with them when they leave.

Of course this is a great step forward for the age of “instant.” In a marketing aspect, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Users know everything about a product with a touch of a button and can bring it with them everywhere they go.

For individuals and society as a whole, mobile is paving a simpler and instantaneous path to a wealth of information at their fingertips.

However, to protect ourselves from becoming robotic drones and “slaves” to mobile, we should unplug every once in a while and allow ourselves to get back to the basics of life and the individuals behind the mobile device.

Technology and the music industry: The ultimate Frenemies?

May 10, 2011

The photo above is sampled from Buzzfeed’s post on  “40 Sad Portraits of Closed Record Stores”. Unfortunately, record stores are needing to throw in the towel increasingly due to being “behind the times.” Any industry, whether it is film or janitorial work, needs to reinvent itself in order to stay afloat in a modern economy with revolutionary changes brought about by the digital age.

In revamping the music industry, music executives in charge of “bundling” music as a commodity must endorse technological mediums and trends as the wave of the future, and simply throw out traditional ideals which no longer apply.

In the music industry, huge mainstream pop artists are selling very little in comparison to the “good old days” when record sales would go through the roof and leave the next big thing with a mansion and five cars to show on MTV’s Cribs. Meanwhile, less “mainstream” artists that are embracing new forms of technology and media in releasing their music are garnering rising publicity due to these “offbeat” strategies- such as the Beastie Boys,who leaked their newest single using a variety of social media, and the Gorillaz, who encouraged fans to remix their music instead of holding them to copyrighted standards.

Other artists, such as Metric, The Dresden Dolls, Radiohead and OK Go have ditched their labels and seem to “get it” that content is everything in the new digital landscape. Innovation, particularly through technology, only serves to bring out the quality of content to a wider variety of music fans.

As Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls stated in a music conference on this very subject last week, “Make something that people will really want and then you are actually empowered. It used to be that even if your material was great, that didn’t empower you. Now your material does literally empower you to bring money, fans and success.”

Ditching a label as a music artist can not only be attested to being a hipster anymore. It simply makes more sense if labels continue to alienate technology as aiding the “download culture” instead of recognizing changing user behaviors as a call to implement these new technologies, thus benefiting their consumers and business.

On the other side of the coin, new technologies for music are emerging with each new day without the “consent” of the music industry, which seems to be a wasted opportunity. The emergence of Google Music for smart phones will make it easier to find music and stream it from the service to any device, yet is completely independent of the music industry. Other services such as the Amazon Cloud and Grooveshark have gone under fire by the music industry for simply giving music fans the option of uploading music and listening to it from any location. As location-based services have taught us, this puts the product on consumers’ minds more than before- which is extremely valuable. 

So how can the music industry profit from endorsing new technology and emerging business models?

Quite simply by becoming the “go to” for these new trends, and making it better than competitors. Instead of witnessing artists and streaming services giving music away without having any part in it, they should offer users free downloads and whole albums through their stores, websites and concerts. Embrace the model of “free.” In so doing, become the highest referred link on Google when a user types in “Muse free download.” Offer subscriptions and publicity to streaming services such as Rhapsody, Pandora, Grooveshark and more at their locations, and even start a streaming service themselves that bundles the entire “experience” to the users’ advantage. There are infinite possibilities, and it is all about innovative techniques high in demand by consumers.

The role of technology is crucial here because it is changing the consumers’ role in music and the “bundling” of music as a commodity. As stated in this brilliant post from Techdirt, “In the case of music, what’s happened is that the unbundling is of the album, which certainly many music fans enjoyed, but which was often seen as inconvenient for the fans who just liked a few songs. What the new bundles are about is not about bundling music per se, but bundling the full music experience, which is what the industry should have been selling all along.” 

Network in progress: Building a social media brand using a well-defined strategy

May 4, 2011
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In venturing into social media, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the massive amounts of users, data and visuals that are seemingly impossible to organize or keep track of when joining a social media website such as Twitter, Facebook or Youtube.

For example, my foray into social media has taught me a few things: imagining the “what if” scenarios of what could happen while “jumping right in” to social media without a clear vision can hinder your progress. I’m a senior in college, and  I find that imagining the scenarios of career options and networking in a cut-throat economy, even online, is something that could keep me up at night- not simply because I tend to stress out about tiny things.

It’s easier to imagine in small, doable increments on the principle that I know myself, or at least an idea of myself, with a greater cause of building a helpful brand and network online which will then guide my path to success.

To avoid the hindrances of “falling down the rabbit hole” so to speak when plunging into social media, a well-defined strategy can help organize a brand to become more accessible to a future audience of followers.

This strategy should include a few things:

1.) A passion for the subject matter at hand. When linking to an article through Twitter or Facebook, I ask myself: “Why am I linking to this article? Do I enjoy this subject, or is it something I feel that I have to do in order to be noticed?” The clarity of the answer (or unclarity to be defined) will lead to a more concise vision of your brand and your audience.

2.) Knowledge of the types of audiences that your social media platform could reach. As I stated before, knowing myself or at least an idea of my personal and career goals has helped to identify my interests and what I’d like my social brand to reflect. Through identifying my social media brand with my interests in public relations, I have found that it is easier to imagine the audiences that I can reach with the content that I create through social media.

3.) Goals in establishing a social media brand. Before leaping into social media, it is also beneficial to visualize your personal goals or the goals of your client or organization that a social media brand can help. For example, my professional brand would reflect my skillsets and interests in public relations while also communicating with other like-minded individuals from whose example I can learn.

In crafting a strategy from these three concepts, some deep personal reflection might be in order. However, never fear that the original strategy might change along the way- simply adapt from it with your goals in mind to invite the growth of your brand.

Now structure your social media strategy with your goals, passions and audience in mind. This strategy should be measurable at a certain time frame, however this time frame will only reflect the success of the tactics you have tried and any changes that should be made based on the knowledge gained in the process.

To give you an idea of a comprehensive social media strategy (from someone who is currently pursuing this idea in my social media class), here is a summarized overview of my strategy in building my  brand in public relations:


Jobs and Gates: Forefathers in the “Mac vs. PC” debate

April 25, 2011

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Earlier this week I saw a post with an infographic of Mac vs. PC which you can find here. It is a summation of the particular demographics which sum up each type of “self-identified user” and the results are rather interesting. A few of my favorites are below:

  1. Mac people are 50% more likely than PC people to say they frequently throw parties.
  2. PC people  are 21% more likely to prefer fitting in with others.
  3. Mac people are 12% more likely to say they have a stronger verbal (vs. math) attitude.
  4. 71% of PC people identify their style as casual and trending toward jeans, while 18% and 14% of Mac people describe their style as designer/chic/upscale and unique/retro, respectively.
  5. PC people are 36% more likely than Mac people to be late adopters, while 43% of Mac people consider themselves early adopters.
  6. Mac people are 95% more likely to prefer indie films, while PC people are 74% more likely than Mac people to prefer Hollywood films.
  7. Mac people are 80% more likely than PC people to be vegetarians.

And on and on. The study isn’t conclusive to the end-all be-all brain styles of Mac vs. PC users, but it’s an interesting and slightly humorous reflection on the companies that represent these genres, the forefront competitors being Apple and Microsoft. The companies’ different personalities level the playing field among “who’s who” in the computing world.

This personality difference originates with the founders of the two companies, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who themselves seem to embody the demographics shown in the study above. Jobs, historically described as a hippie marketing genius, focuses highly on design and early adoptions of technology that no one has thought to place in the market. Gates, the geeky tech genius, takes a more well-thought approach with a lot of bite, such as his early strategies of patenting his software instead of giving it away for free, a move that built the Microsoft empire as a huge competitor in the computing industry.

Thus the personality differences play out from there. Both are outstanding in their marketing strategies and hold similarities in that way, yet they have cemented themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum with their highly unique visions in computing. Gates lacks Jobs’ style and panache in the unveiling and in the products themselves, yet he has adopted his own personality in bringing forth top products and software which have stood the test of time. Thus he has cemented himself as an icon of a generation, consecutively topping Forbes’ and Times’ lists of the wealthiest and most influential people  for years in a row.

On the other hand, while PC/Microsoft has risen to domination in the market that it virtually constructed in the late 1970′s, Apple has revolutionized the industry on the principles of design, concept and marketing since its rehire of Jobs as CEO in the late 1990′s. While transforming users’ engagement with computers and technology into something exciting and cool, it has also placed the future into the consumers’ hands with products such as the iPod, iTunes, MacBook, iPhone and more. The iPod historically transformed the music industry with its association with iTunes, a much simpler form of buying music than buying a tangible record at the store. The iPhone has since transformed future of phones with its “phone computing” technology, and it simply goes up from there. As Guy Kawasaki, an early programmer at Apple, said, “Jobs doesn’t listen to the customers to see what they want because they have no idea what they want. He just goes with his vision and makes it.”

For those wondering which category I fall in, I’m a Mac user. However, I represent no bias toward either company, as I feel that they have no bias toward each other. As in interviews where Jobs and Gates express their mutual respect and admiration of the other, so I think should PC and Mac users come together as different personalities in this decade-old debate. Yet in the technology world, only one can stand at the top tier- and it remains to be seen who will “win out” in the end.

10 Awesome Earth Day Songs

April 22, 2011

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In the event of beautiful Earth Day being upon us, I’ve  come to realize that some of my favorite songs are reflections of nature’s both beautiful and often savage features.

As a tribute to the Earth and the emotions it can evoke at times, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite songs about nature in celebration of Earth Day, which are below.

.1.)

“Mother Nature’s Son” by the Beatles- Forever a favorite, the combined prowess of John, Paul, George and Ringo make this song an Earth celebration in its serene instrumentation and it remains a standout as one of The Beatles’ more mellow and beautiful songs. It was featured on the legendary “White album” in 1968 and was crafted as an ode to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi while The Beatles were in India, according to Wikipedia. It includes gorgeous lyrics such as, “Sit beside a mountain stream–see her waters rise, listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies.”

2.)

“Earth Died Screaming” by Tom Waits- Tom Waits is an acquired taste and not usually my cup of tea for recreational purposes, but he’s definitely a genius in his unique way of making music. This song was featured on the album “Beautiful Mallaidies: The Island Years”  and shows the Earth’s darker side of “kill or be killed.” This is shown in his unique lyrics, “With crows as big as airplanes, the lion has three heads- and someone will eat the skin that he sheds. And the Earth died screaming while I lay dreaming of you.” Haunting but magnificent.

3.)

“Cloudy” by Simon and Garfunkel- This song showcases the wonderful combination of Simon and Garfunkel’s effortlessly gentle music and Paul Simon’s amazing lyricism which give the song a much deeper philosophical meaning,  while also being smile inducing on even the murkiest of days. The standout lyrics of the song are: “These clouds stick to the sky like floating questions, why? And they linger there to die. They don’t know where they are going, and, my friend, neither do I.” Listen to the song and your mood will be lifted again! (Apologies for the depressive note there.)
4.) 

“Sprawl II: Mountains beyond Mountains” by Arcade Fire- Featured on Arcade Fire’s 2011 Grammy-winning record “The Suburbs”, this song is pretty inspiring in escaping the confines of city life and live life to the fullest. It’s one of their more electronic experimentations in their music, which is super dance-inspiring in any given situation and really just a great blend of music to blast on the prettiest of Earth days.

5.)  “New Pollution” by Beck- Featured on Beck’s album “Odelay” in the mid-90′s, “New Pollution” talks about a girl who embodies consumerist culture which often contributes to much of the Earth’s pollution. It’s a really catchy and jammable song, as most of Beck’s tunes are, but has a great meaning (see below.)

6.)

“(Nothing but) flowers” by Talking Heads- This song is awesome as is most of the Talking Heads’ work. It features rocking instrumentation and the unique voice of David Byrne with a meaning of returning civilization back to nature. Standout lyrics include,  “There was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered with flowers- you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

7.) 

“Blue Ridge Mountains” by Fleet Foxes- This song is really great for driving in the countryside and seeing a peak of mountains in the distance- which I guess I can sort of not really compare to the hills of central Texas. It’s very peaceful and aesthetically reflective of the Earth’s beauty, making it that it’s kind of easy to forget that you’re not on a camping trip in Tennessee while you’re listening to it.


8.)

“Plateau” by Meat Puppets- The Meat Puppets have a lot of earth-inspired jam songs as a country rock band, yet this particular song is haunting and beautiful in its underlying meaning. Notoriously covered by Nirvana on their “MTV Unplugged” album, the song reflects upon the giant microcosm of the planet and the great unknown in the purpose of life. Standout lyrics include, “Others decided that it was no where except for where they stood, but those were all just guesses- wouldn’t help you if it could.”

9.)

“I don’t believe in the sun” by Magnetic Fields- This song talks about the solar systems’ discouraging elements in a metaphor for the deflated feeling of being in love. While not particularly being about the Earth per se, it shows how the emotions we have can distort our natural surroundings such as our feelings toward sunlight. Standout lyrics include, “How can it shine down on everyone and never shine on me? How can there be such cruelty?”

10.)

“Blue skies” by Allman Brothers Band- This song is aesthetically pleasing and wonderfully upbeat while showing the musical mastery unique to the Allman Brothers Band. It’s reflective of the pure happiness on a lovely sunny day and holds all of the hippie 70′s charm that makes it a great ending for this list.

So that’s my list. Happy Earth Day everyone!

What are your favorite nature/Earth songs?

Blogs and “the download culture”

April 18, 2011

I was having a conversation with a friend a couple of years ago in which I asked him where he got his music, to which he replied, “Mostly blogs.” At the time, this seemed ridiculous to me. I took it at face value, thinking they must not have that varied of a taste in music or care about the quality of what they were taking in.

A few years later, I’ve warmed to the concept of exploring music through blogs and have virtually “gone to the dark side.” With so many fans of music in the blogosphere, there is infinite opportunities for discovering different tastes and perspectives on music. There are also infinite opportunities to share music, which with a simple click of a mouse, can be downloaded instantly.

Websites such as Hypem, a music discovering and sharing site, collect blog links and place them in a music player form  where fans can establish a playlist of the shared content and connect with other fans in their community. Music fans can also navigate to the original blog page through the links, which more often than not includes a linked file of the song that they can download.

Thus the question that is a hot topic in the music industry and in my own views of trends on-line is to what extent the “download culture” has developed, and what types of profit this is taking away from major labels. Historical lawsuits against Napster, Limewire and more music sharing services have decreased the value in that type of downloading, leading a virtually open path for other mediums to take over.

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The advantage and personable aspects of blog music sharing has helped this medium to develop as it has. Downloading from some shady program littered with viruses pales in comparison to the option of downloading from a peer who has much to say about the content they are sharing with the public domain. For me, it creates much more value to the music and expands the “download culture” to the point that anyone can expand their music tastes at any time.

In my views of online trends, “peer to peer”sharing (P2P) in music is infinitely expanded in blogging, as it is usable output in the intellectual public realm. Whether most bloggers, and musicians for that matter,  see this as a driving force behind their music sharing is quite another thing. According to “The Music” singer Robert Harvey on the “download culture” via NME:

“Songs have just become an accessory now, they’re not something to believe in anymore and they can’t change lives like they used to.”

Whether bloggers or musicians mean to enhance the download culture with sharing, the main concept of music and also blogging is that it is free and open sharing as well as taking information. Similar to the Open Mic venue, in which all contributing have their own liberal take on the “open-ness” of the event, the public realm and state of music has shifted to the point to where a lot of information is not necessarily a threat. The few gems of value in the public domain are what keeps it going and gives it meaning.

Thus I will continue throwing my tidbits of intellectual sharing into the public realm and see what happens, as that to me is what the Internet has allowed us. As the immortal Bradley Nowell of Sublime sings, “Can’t Fight against the Youth”-we must look to new generations to propel the future of music with new forms of output such as blogs.

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