plug-in conference 1999: strauss zelnick & spotify

plug in conference

One of the first digital music conferences (webnoize getting THE first kudos) was Plug-In. It was held in NYC. In 1999 we were in the basement of the Marriott Marquis. There weren’t that many people. maybe 500? maybe? I had to convince my boss that it was useful for me to go. I was still a part time product manager and that “website stuff” was still not my full time gig although it was only a month later that I became the VP of New Media for Universal Records. I was recently told that I am credited with being the first in music to use that title. I was shocked. But hey – ok. I’ll take it.

So at Plug-In — Strauss Zelnick was the keynote. Universal had a close relationship with BMG due to Get Music but I had not had alot of interaction with that team. So Strauss spoke and delivered an edict about the future. About direct marketing and one to one advertising. About each person being able to choose exactly what they want to hear online and on demand. He actually tells of the end of the album and the rise of singles. And that selling CDs will diminish…. (Now at this point I am also running around with a top teen band 98 Degrees and we are actually trying to deliver a single to radio digitally for the first time — to prevent any one station from playing it earlier than any other station. HA! Those were the days – a “leak” was more like a drip compared to the rushing tidal wave it would later become.)

So as I am sitting there – I think – hmmm. How would my job change if the end goal wasn’t to sell a CD? That is the marker of success. CD sales. Sure airplay was important but it was really just to sell CDs. Soundscan always more important than BDS. But what if….what if Strauss is right and my job ends up having to persuade people to “click on an individual song” more often than another song? Hmmm. How would that work? That essentially turns each person into a programmer. (Does this mean I have to become a radio promotion person? Please god NO!) So what do I do? How does that work?

“Sharing” was not yet the word that it is now. It had just entered the marketing vernacular. It was just starting to become a dirty word as it really meant “piracy”. But i knew then that somehow it was about the one to one relationship, and all the work we were doing collecting emails and building databases.

When did I really and truly come up with the answer to what would I do in regards to what what Strauss was talking about? Last month when Spotify integrated with Facebook. Strauss – you were right.  If you work for a recorded music company or a publisher and you are in marketing – your job is to make someone click on your song more than anyone else’s. In this month’s Rolling Stone there is a great article about payments from streaming services by Steve Knopper “The New Economics of the  Music Industry” . He says that 60 streams of a song generate 38 cents to the artist & label (9.1 to publisher). 60 streams.

That’s damn hard. 60 streams.  I mean – once someone bought a CD who cared how many times they listened to it? Who cared if it ended up cracked on the floor of the car?  But now – now it’s about engaging people. Engaging fans. You can’t just sell to them once. Click Click Click. Its about programmers and trusting someone else – at least for most of us. We need curators. People depend on me to curate food and travel for them. Here is my admission: I depend on others to curate my music.

Yep. I am soooo lazy when it comes to making playlists – there – it’s out in the open. I always was surrounded by the best radio programmers, DJs, music supervisors, boyfriends that owned 5000 pieces of vinyl – I never had to!  I have let my itunes trn into a mess of duplicates, singles, just an abomination. Me – who worked in a record store and spent hours delineating the difference between ambient and trance. This is my secret problem and guess what SPOTIFY IS THE SOLUTION! I can’t stop using it. I wish more of my music gurus would get their butts on their and make playlists (yes I mean you Bob DOuglas).

Dear Blue Note – thank Brian Larson for putting the 100 Best of Blue Note together. I’ve clicked way more than 60 times. Dear Sly Stone – thank Jon Vanhala for including 5 of your songs in his “you got to funkify playlist”. Dear War on Drugs: Thank Josh Nicotra for sending me the link inside SPOTIFY to your older records before we went to your show last Saturday. Dear Ryan Adams – yes that was me that had Ashes on repeat for an entire 2 days when it FINALLY got loaded into SPOTIFY after the release date. That’s gotta be about 60 times right? That’s……60 x .38 x 10 = 228.00 is that right? if i had ryan adams streaming for 48 hours straight and the record isn’t quite an album…right? $228.00? Someone confirm with me please. I’m reallllly bad at math. Really bad. Even WITH a calculator.

My mind is a whirl with all sorts of ways to get people to make lists in Spotify and get them spread around. Click. Click. Click. Ching. Ching. Ching.  It might not be as much as a CD made – but I gotta tell you – I leave the SPOTIFY open all day and even leave it on for the dogs. I must be supporting someone’s livelihood from music even just a little bit right?


Click. Click. Click.

“We just got signed by McDonald’s”

I’ve been talking about this for a long long time. There have been movements over the years toward this; Bacardi and Groove Armada was one that was very deep in that their record was released by Bacardi, much different than writing a song for bacardi. We’ve seen that with Lenny Kravitz and Absolut; and many of the others in this article. The big agencies all have music departments and yes they produce music for commercials, original recordings, licensing – but if brands and agencies really want to get into this business it will take much more than just a 20mm TV campaign for an artist to succeed.  Are these new entities ready to brand the artist in addition to the brand? Ready to put them on the road, go into the studio for more than a 30 second TV spot? Create publicity for the artist? Book them on Kimmel?Take meetings with Clear Channel? Have a product manager to hire a confab of independents to perform these services?

No matter what your “label” looks like or what it’s name is…your marketing partner when you are an artist needs to perform many other services other than getting a song out there. It will be interesting to see if this idea takes hold – for the most part every artist has a staff behind them that not everyone recognizes continues working on the project after release; unlike at  an agency where a spot is aired and it’s onto the next – yes Media Buying continues onward; maybe some experiential campaigns to support the program – but it is very different than committing to someone’s career.

McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola Troll for Up-and-Coming Artists

Marketers Change Music Model of Going After Established Talent, Saving Money, Giving Halo of Discovery to Brands

NEW YORK ( — Seven years ago, McDonald’s tapped Justin Timberlake in a multimillion-dollar deal to launch “I’m Lovin’ it.” Now the marketer and a bevy of other brands such as Coca-Cola are bypassing the big stars — and in some cases the record labels — to become incubators for tomorrow’s superstars.

The fast-food chain is the launch sponsor for Artists & Brands, a music-media agency that aligns up-and-coming artists with campaigns that suit their style, a far cry from the marketer’s earlier practices of shelling out big bucks for jingles on spec. In the new model, artists get exposure, while marketers save on fees and get cool points for introducing people to new music.

IB Fokuz, who was discovered by Artists & Brands, has appeared in McDonald's commercials.
IB Fokuz, who was discovered by Artists & Brands, has appeared in McDonald’s commercials.


“In the prehistoric days, like when I started in advertising, you used to say ‘I wish I could have’ — name a big-time band — and then you’d negotiate a lot of money to get them,” said Marlena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer, McDonalds’s USA. “But so much has changed with the music industry, technology and the internet, you certainly still can go and get Sting if you’re so inclined — and have a blank check.”

“If you can find new talent instead of renting existing talent, there will be an association with the product, and that’s what I think McDonald’s is trying to get at,” said Ira Antelis, co-CEO of Artists & Brands. He cited “Grey’s Anatomy” and the band the Fray as an example of a lasting association, as well as Old Navy, which featured Ingrid Michaelson’s song “The Way I Am” in a sweater commercial.

At Artists & Brands, Mr. Antelis is partnering with Rodney Jerkins, a legendary music producer, and Daryl Jones, a top music attorney.

McDonald’s isn’t alone. Frank Cooper, chief consumer-engagement officer at PepsiCo Americas Beverages, pointed to Green Label Sound, a platform for independent artists that quietly promotes Mtn Dew, as an example of how brands will shape the music industry.

“You’ll see through Green Label Sound the rethinking of ownership of music, a rethinking of how to monetize it, how to build the brand of an artist,” he said. “And I think you’ll see where it’s coming from artists, managers, record labels and alternative methods of funding — and brands will play an incredibly critical part in that.”

Music Dealers
Eric Sheinkop, president of Chicago-based Music Dealers, a business-to-business music-licensing noted a sharp increase in demand in the last two years, as his staff has grown to 30 people from three. Music Dealers opened a New York office last month, and has a London location opening in September.

Music Dealers works with clients such as Maxwell House, Corona and GMC to find the perfect song for campaigns. The company works from a database with thousands of songs by independent artists that have been prescreened and approved, often turning requests around in a day. Artists working on spec once took weeks or even months.

Mr. Sheinkop, who quit the music management business two years ago to focus on licensing, said one benefit of working with up-and-comers is that “artists are going to be so proud to be attached that they’ll push it for you,” he said.

But don’t count the labels out yet. Coca-Cola made a big splash with little-known artist K’naan last month. K’naan’s song “Wavin’ Flag,” with the lyrics rewritten for marketability, is the centerpiece of its global World Cup campaign. Released last month, it’s already No. 1 in China, Mexico and Germany. Coke signed K’naan to make appearances on some stops of its World Cup tour, leading up to the tournament. He’ll also be making appearances in South Africa.

But K’naan was already signed to Universal when Coke linked up with him. Joe Belliotti, director-global entertainment marketing at the Coca-Cola Co. stressed that the label has been a big asset in organizing every facet of the campaign and tour. “The music industry is going through an evolution, but there’s still really a necessity for record companies,” Mr. Belliotti said. “It might look like their role is changing,” he said, but “it’s got to be a collaborative process, really leveraging the power of each.”

Coke owns a portion of the “Wavin’ Flag” royalties, and all proceeds will be donated to provide water for schools in Africa.

Some marketers see potential to monetize these endeavors. While underscoring that it’s not Pepsi’s primary mission, Mr. Cooper said: “There’s absolutely an opportunity for us to generate revenue around some of the content and experiences we’re creating in entertainment.”

Why I Love Jonathan Lethem

jonathan lethem

A few years back I went to see Lawrence Lessig and Jeff Tweedy debate the idea of remixes/mashes/samples and it was moderated by Wired Magazine’s Steven Johnson.  It may be one of my penultimate moments as a digital media, wilco fanatic, and nerd all at once.  Wilco had just gotten sued for the sample inside “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”….It was one of the best discussions on creativity, influence and inspiration I’ve ever attended.  Worth at least what one might learn in an entire semester in an art class at college. Truly. If someone had told me when I was 16 I’d be sitting inside the New York Public Library listeneing to a lawyer and one of my favorite songwriters talk about sampling…well…you know…yeah right.

And THIS is why I love Jonathan Lethem. I’ve been a Lethem fan since Fortress of Solitude. I feel connt\ected to his path in that we have lived in the same cities and pats of the country and he writes about neighborhoods I’ve lived in – and my true conversion as a complete and utter junkie came when I read The Disappointment Artist. It’s rare that you read a memoir and then want to go back and read every book that the author wrote…but I did. To learn that Lethem ran the Philip K Dick fan club? His obsession with Star Wars? Music…it all made sense why I had been following him.

He recently took up head of the department post at Pomona college….i hadn’t visited his blog in a while. Am in the finishing chapters of Chronic City. And then…then I saw the below. And once more I thought. Damn I love Jonathan Lethem. This is a writer who is SO modern in his process, in his voice and here we see in his attitude. I love the collaborative process, love that he is “throwin it out there to those that want to participate” – it’s just so refreshing to see someone BEING intellectual with their PROPERTY rather than trying to hoarde it.

You get what you Give. And Lethem’s Giving ALOT.  Read this man’s books.  They are fantastic. I swear.

Image by Tony Fitzpatrick


A couple of years ago, after writing a piece for Harper’s called “The Ecstasy of Influence”, I decided to start giving away some of my stories to filmmakers or dramatists to adapt. (I also write some song lyrics and invited musicians to help themselves to those.) You can see some of the results here. The project continues, and anyone should feel free to leap in. The stories are available non-exclusively — meaning other people may be working from the same material — and the cost is a dollar apiece.

There’s a simple written agreement to sign, imposing a couple of minor restrictions. That’s it — once you’ve paid your dollar and signed the agreement, you’re free to adapt or mutate the story as you please, for whatever purpose, whimsical, commercial or otherwise.

Frequently Asked Questions

What gives?

I like art that comes from other art, and I like seeing my stories adapted into other forms. My writing has always been strongly sourced in other voices, and I’m a fan of adaptations, apropriations, collage, and sampling.

I recently explored some of these ideas in an essay for Harper’s Magazine. As I researched that essay I came more and more to believe that artists should ideally find ways to make material free and available for reuse. This project is a (first) attempt to make my own art practice reflect that belief.

My thinking along these lines has been strongly influenced by Open Source theory and the Free Culture movement, and by Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift.

Some of the Project’s stories are available here on-line, others can be found in my books. In either case, I’m assuming they’ll have more readers as a result of this project, and I like that, too.

Are all your stories available?

No, just the stories listed here. The rest I’m keeping, for the time being, for more controlled and exclusive uses.

Which rights are you giving away, and which are you keeping?

I should emphasize that these texts themselves may not be copied in any medium, or reproduced in anthologies or websites (except of course for fair-use excerpts). My publishers are the only ones I’ve allowed to do that, and the health of my partnership with them frees me to continue writing new novels and stories, so don’t monkey with it, thanks.

What I’m offering is the right to adapt these stories into stage plays and films.

What are the ‘few restrictions’?

The first is that I’d ask that films be held to the length of half an hour or less, keeping them firmly in the category of ‘short’. Similarly, I’d ask that playwrights keep to a ‘one-act’, or forty-five minute, limit.

For the most part, I’ve offered material that seems proportionate to shorter work. Though if someone wants to propose an exception, I’ll consider it.

Neither playwrights nor screenwriters should publish any adaptations of these stories in book form. Anything like that would put me in breach of my agreement with my publisher. The goal is to let short films and plays happen, not to create rival texts.

And of course, I’d ask always to receive credit as the writer of the source material.

Are there other artists doing things like this who were sources of inspiration to you?

Yes, lots. A couple of examples: playright Charles Mee’s (re)making project. David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts download/remix/share site. The web is also full of great examples of appropriated and reused cultural materials of all kinds, some of it created with permission, some not.

Though there’s nothing “digital” about The Promiscuous Materials Project (apart from the fact that you’re probably learning about it on the internet), it’s probably safe to say that it tends to be digital music and web-based-art (and aesthetic theory) which is pointing the way in this area, while those (like me) working in more traditional forms come around more slowly.

Why not call them ‘Open Source Stories’, or put them under a Creative Commons license?

I like the comparison to Open Source projects. But that description has mostly covered software, and the terms of most Open Source agreements are slightly different than mine. It could be misleading to use that name.

As for Creative Commons, I’m a fan. I’m strongly influenced, in this effort, by Lawrence Lessig’s writings. But my own plan had some specific contours which didn’t fit any of the Creative Commons licenses. So I invented my own type of agreement with other artists.

What if someone makes money from adapting one of your stories?

Great. Most short films and small theater pieces don’t make money. By offering these stories cost-free, I’m alleviating just the first of the financial hurdles an adapter is likely to face. If someone working from one of these stories does find distribution or other support that brings financial reward, I’m delighted, as I would be for any artist. For me, while I’m happy to make money from partnerships elsewhere, The Promiscuous Stories aren’t about that.

Are these just stories you figured nobody wanted? Why presume anyone cares to adapt them?

Of the sixty or seventy stories I’ve written, only a handful have ever been optioned by filmmakers (and at this point, just two have been filmed). None has ever been adapted for the stage. Many inquiries have come over the years, but often from younger artists easily discouraged by the cost of hiring a lawyer to negotiate exclusive rights, even when those rights are being made available inexpensively. I want to make material easily available to precisely such folks.

Some of The Promiscuous Stories have never received any inquiries, others have gotten several. One of them, “The Spray” has been the most-requested story I’ve published. In fact, it was the urge to allow more than one filmmaker to make a version of “The Spray” that partly inspired this project.

Anyway, I’m not pushing the material on anyone, only making it available.

It’s worth adding that I don’t believe there’s anything unusual about an artist giving away some permissions, more or less as I’m doing. Many writers occasionally agree to allow some underfunded filmmaker or theater director to adapt their work on the basis of a minimal option (often a dollar). Even if the contract promises a larger purchase price down the line, this future payment is usually a remote prospect. For me, the urge simply to free another artist to make an adaptation has often been much stronger than any concern over getting paid.

Will you add or subtract from The Promiscuous Stories?

If this goes well, I’ll probably add stories eventually. Since this is an experiment, I might also withdraw the whole thing if it leads to confusion or abuse. Or, if a problem emerges, I may adjust the terms somewhat. What I won’t do, as a matter of principle, is reverse myself and sell this material for exclusive use.

Are you interested in seeing the results? Do you want to collaborate with other artists on these projects?

I’m eager to see the results – who wouldn’t be? (Though if this project takes on any scope I may find myself hard-pressed to respond in detail.) But I’m not seeking to collaborate with other artists on these projects, no. My preference is to relinquish creative control of the material, in favor of seeing what someone else might do with it.

Isn’t it strange to have multiple films derived from the same source floating around simultaneously? What if they were exhibited side-by-side, say, at the same festival?

Yes, strange – but, for me, strange in a good way. And perhaps not much stranger than having multiple ‘cover’ versions of the same song recorded by different artists. I think it could be wonderful to see several adaptations from the same material exhibited together.

In fact, a few independent film producers and DVD distributors have expressed some interest in gathering the results, when and if they’re substantial enough to make such a gathering interesting.

You wouldn’t ever do such a thing with one of your novels, would you?

One of the instigating factors for this project was my being approached simultaneously by a film director and a theater director for the adaptation rights to The Fortress of Solitude. I wanted to say yes to both.

Ordinarily, this is seen as impossible: when a writer sells or options a book to a filmmaker or film studio, the theatrical rights are bundled in the package (along, with things like television rights, sequel motion picture rights, and theme park rights).

I decided to ignore precedent and find a way to allow both projects to move forward simultaneously. As of now, both are. (It may be that either the filmmaker or the theatrical director will find themselves hamstrung by some unimaginative investor’s requirement that all rights be controlled. I hope not. We’ll see.)

Most feature-length films are massive collaborative undertakings, requiring long preparation and loads of money. It probably wouldn’t be practical to deny a filmmaker exclusive feature-film rights: the risk of someone else adapting the same material would likely destroy any hope of gathering the collaborators and investors needed to begin a feature. For that reason I doubt I’ll be offering a Promiscuous Novel anytime soon. But I do have something different in mind for my next novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet. Watch this space.

What about the Promiscuous Songs page? What’s that about?

Why don’t you go there and have a look?

Did anyone really ask these ‘frequently asked questions’, or did you just make them up yourself?



If you’ve selected a story and you’d like to make an agreement, please contact:

Go Buy “Entroducing” in any format you choose. Just buy it.

This man deserves a lift in sales, an award, a hug and some thanks from his fellow artists. “Entroducing” is one of the most important records of the genre. And the man who usually stands silent while making music is making ALOT of noise AND sense in his recent post….and that’s a good thing.

From DJ Shadow’s website…..

” Specifically, when it comes to the wallet, everyone’s suffering…of that there can be no doubt. And what of the financial prospects for musicians and recording artists in the years to come? Shaky, at best. Unless you’re one of the grotesque ‘Idol’-type pop disasters in the top 5, you’re looking at getting a day job or finding other sources of income. Conventional wisdom amongst my peers has been remarkably short-sided over the last decade: “Yeah, CD sales are down, but all the money is in licensing.” Not anymore. “Yeah, licensing money is down, but the video game industry is killing it.” Less so these days, according to recent data. “Well, the real money is in touring.” Really? When was the last time you saw a ‘new,’ post-record company artist headline a major music festival? At this rate, we’ll be stuck with Coldplay for decades (no offense intended)… the whole post here….

Did You Know?

a team put together this AMAZING video of facts, figures and tidbits that I cannot stop thinking about – and showing to everyone I know.  It really is phenomenal and everytime I watch it – It just makes me stop and think, what could I be doing differently, better, less of, more of – what should WE all be doing differently, less of, more of…there are so many dots to be connected inside this 5 minute piece…


i want to be an old woman

michelle shocked wrote one of my favorite songs – well a favorite when i was in my early 20s called “when i grow up” – on it she croons “when i grow up I want to be an old woman” – and this always struck me as – hopeful.  (except for 120 babies line)

i just spent my saturday morning coffee trolling about a new blog and its various links that focuses on “elder fashion”.  it’s called advanced style by ari cohen. i loved it.  as i read about his inspiration and persused a couple of links i was quite surprised by how happy it made me to hear and see people embracing their age.

a few other things i read this week that have brought this idea together…harvard is starting a “third age” program to educate people who want to create a social change as their post career project, a woman in britain is giving birth to the first baby screened to be breast cancer free before birth, a friend saw tina turner perform recently for 3 hours – she is 70. 70! the other topic has been all the brooha onver malcolm gladwell’s outliers and the idea of “late bloomers” versus prodigy etc…one critic said he essentially removes the hope that you should always have – that if you read the book and you haven’t done it by 30 you may as well pack it in…i liked that people were defending wisdom; experience and late blooming against mr gladwell’s opinion.

i started to think that we may be heading into a moment when being “old” is cool and perhaps a even the word could lose some of its negativity…that would be nice. perhaps its because i’ve spent years chasing down the latest and greatest that the youth market will respond to; perhaps its because i often find myself in a roomful of 20 somethings listening to a new band; but there has just been a stigma to growing old – and i never felt it. I was always singing michelle shocked in my head and everyone else seemed to be trying to hold on to their 20s for dear life; even in their 50s.

i think that the song’s time may be here. and not in the bad way that those “Just For Men” hide your gray commercials do it. I’m embarrassed for that guy – with his girlfriend of 50 in a sequin mini skirt, and their keg cups on the beach – should they be drinking fine wine out there in malibu? shouldn’t she have on a nice white linen dress?  what happened to grace and dignity?  i started to think about this a while back when i read robert bly’s “sibling society” – where he basically reamed the boomers for not being “parental”. (i never had a curfew…ever)

the new york times article that led me to the blog mentioned that there was a rash of over 50 models in the spring fashion shows in Paris. this is fantastic. remember when it used to only be the woman in the banana republic ads? she was literally the only gray haired woman in the fashion mags – and she is beautiful. but it would seem that there are so many more – thank god! no wonder my grandparents seemed older than their years – they had no role models or advertising giving them the aspiration to be something else other than “old”.

sigrid rothe – banana republic fame (photo by nina subin)

there is absolutely nothing about  the”anti-aging” movement that i find “anti-old”; if anything there is something graceful and healthy about “anti-aging” – it is very different than “forever young”. it is why i want cate blanchetts skin secrets.

i just hope we haven’t ruined this great path we were on….it was starting to feel nice to have something to look forward to; someone to grow up to be – a peace corps worker, a volunteer in africa, a teacher, and environmental leader – anything other than sitting in the corner….while all the youngins have fun.

every census article will tell you that this is the demographic that is growing and will take over soon; yet here in the US we are still the “youngest” country; (although much of that is due to immigration and low rates of infant mortality).  i was looking forward to there being a “cool” elderly population and I hope that still continues; that the economy hasn’t wiped out too much of their ability to bring us into a dignified age (or that bernie madoff hasn’t)  it was almost going to be a return to the early part of the century; travel, chairity; leisure, arts – the ability to focus on the culture and not just the work.  our entire country would have benefitted from this highly educated and wealthy older demographic’s ability to be out in the world with energy love and respect.

it might not just be the money we lost; but some late in life heroes….some late bloomers.