Saturday, November 30, 2013

Garth Brooks, TV Concerts, and the New Music Industry

Last night, I watched the CBS Garth Brooks concert special, where Garth performed live on television from Las Vegas's Wynn Hotel & Casino.  It was one of the more entertaining shows I have seen on television in a long while.  Perhaps, it is the country boy in me who enjoyed it so much.

The economist in me enjoyed more than just the music.

First, it was interesting how Brooks did a live show to (presumably) paying customers at the Wynn, simultaneously with doing a made-for-TV concert, complete with commercial breaks.  The live audience witnessed a more complete show with some full songs that completed during commercial breaks.  It was worth watching at home, and I'm sure the ratings were pretty good for a Friday night.  It made me wonder why more artists don't do big made-for-TV concerts like this (maybe they do, and I miss them -- that's possible).

Second, it was even more interesting to me that the made-for-TV concert was an advertisement unto itself.  For Black Friday, Brooks was releasing an 8-disc box set of his own music and cover songs of popular other songs that influences his music.  The made-for-TV event was designed to announce to the world that he was doing this.  In addition, the show got us to wonder if Garth was kicking off a new run of shows in Vegas.  He's not, but if he was, it would be a great way to kick off a new live series of shows.

Finally, Garth Brooks appears to be back in the pre-iTunes pre-YouTube world.  He has a longstanding dispute with iTunes where he won't make any songs of his available for download, and that dispute continues with this new release, according to the Star Tribune:
It's priced at just $24.96, and can only be bought at Wal-Mart, its sister retailer Sam's Club and walmart.com. Brooks says his feelings about iTunes haven't changed, so he won't make the set available as a download or stream. 
"So, until they change or I change," Brooks said, "or some other company comes and gives them some competition, then I don't think you're ever going to see us on iTunes."
This aversion to the new technology of the music industry puzzles me because it strikes me as quite popular (and potentially quite profitable for a big name like Garth Brooks).  I spent the morning scouring YouTube for a Garth Brooks channel, and I didn't see one.  Rather, I saw a bunch of pirated songs with Garth pictures, or poorly-done covers of his music.  For the new generation of folks who engage with music through YouTube and iTunes, why would he want these knockoffs to be the first hit?  I'm sure he doesn't want this, but he's not actively fighting it (and I think that's a mistake).

Even worse, not producing a well-done official YouTube channel leaves tons of money on the table.  The revenue stream from new CD sales of Garth Brooks music just has to pale in comparison to the advertising revenue stream from an official Garth channel.  Plus, YouTube is a whole new audience, so cannibalization of the CD market should be a minor concern.

It is hard to question a marketing decision of the greatest-selling solo performer of all time, but the choice to shun iTunes and (especially) YouTube just seems wrong to me.  It is all the more puzzling when you see what a cool idea the made-for-TV production + release of the new bundle of music is.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Allies, Careers, and Organizations

Robin Hanson has an interesting set of ideas on allies, careers, and organizations.
We often hear other advice, like: seek associates you are comfortable with, or who have things in common with you, or who can give you good advice. Or that you should focus on showing your value to your org as a whole. But these seem to me to be the usual fig leaf excuses. That is, these are things one can admit doing openly without violating the standard forager norms against overt coalition politics. 
What smart folks probably really mean when they suggest that you get a mentor, is that you get a powerful ally. And while allies in high places can be especially valuable to you, to make it a win-win relation you are going to have to offer them a lot of value in return. You will even have to figure out how you can help them, and help them first; they don’t have the time, and don’t trust you yet. And when you succeed in finding such a powerful ally, you will submit and they will dominate. That doesn’t sound nearly as nice to say, however.

Hanson is responding to a thought-provoking and boldly-stated answer to the question, How do you start those relationships with potential sponsors you don't know well already? by Sylvia Ann Hewlett in discussing her book (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nuance and Truth

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on what aides knew and debated about Obama's repeated, "If you like your coverage, you can keep it" promises.  Two quotes stuck out to me [gated]:
"You try to talk about health care in broad, intelligible points that cut through, and you inevitably lose some accuracy when you do that," the former [anonymous] official said. 
"Simplification and ease of explanation were a premium, and that was true throughout the process," he [Jon Favreau] said.
In other words, the demand for a simple message was what led to the falsehood.

To me, this is distressing and fascinating at the same time.  On one hand, I would love it if politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) gave the American people more credit.  Simplicity at the expense of truth is something that both parties practice.  This is what leads to diametrically opposed fact checks during political campaigns, and it might just contribute to the increased polarization that we see in our political landscape.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the difficulty in communicating the essence of an argument to a group of people who just want things to be simple.  This is the art of teaching a complicated concept.  You simplify and simplify and simplify until what you teach is just barely true.  Then, once something is just barely true, you can reintroduce the nuances of the subject.  Unfortunately, the reintroduction of nuance doesn't always happen in time or effectively, and part of the message gets lost.

The analogy to teaching is no excuse.  Communicating a nuanced policy position is not the same as teaching a tough concept, especially when nuances have real economic consequences.