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When ‘Idol’-atry is Costly, Do It Yourself….Hardcore

When ‘Idol’-atry is Costly, Do It Yourself….Hardcore

With “American Idol” still a TV hit despite Simon Cowell departing from it to produce and judge a forthcoming US version of an “Idol”-like copycat show he created and made a hit in his native Britain—“The X Factor”—and with “Idol”, despite its penchant for musical unoriginality, still managing to get more viewers than most sporting events, save for football, being a contestant on that show doesn’t come without a cost.

Bankrate.com asked “What will it cost you to make a lunge for that golden ticket? And what can you receive in return?”  They let Richard Rushfield, writer of the book American Idol: The Untold Story, figure it all out for them.

While the article didn’t arrive at an exact dollar figure, Richard does say that anyone who auditions has to go through at least three rounds of such, each of which they have to go to at their own expense, before they find out whether they make the next round in Hollywood.

Once the 12 finalists are determined, they get their own room and board, which Richard describes as “nothing fancy, but it’s not squalor.”  As for the contestants’ families, who are often seen in the stands during the live “Idol” telecasts, Richard says that they pay their own way, which “causes the most trouble for Idols and their families.”

The contestants are given spending money per week on clothes, along with a wardrobe consultant, but even $450 a week isn’t enough when shopping at an expensive store, so they have to go out-of-pocket.  And if a contestant has a job or is attending school, that can be a big sacrifice.

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Music and Money: Exceptions and Empties and ‘The Internet’s Half-Million Dollar Man’

Music and Money: Exceptions and Empties and ‘The Internet’s Half-Million Dollar Man’

An NPR blog calls Jonathan Coulton “The Internet’s Half-Million Dollar Man”, and for good reason. Jonathan, a Yale-graduated software designer whose music is described as “nerd-folk”, and whose song “Code Monkey” got some run from the Slashdot discussion board back in 2006, took in over $500,000 in 2010, mostly by him selling his unique songs directly from his website.

Granted, half a million bucks isn’t that much money, but consider this statistic: For every $1000 in music sold, the average musician makes $23.40. If Jonathan Coulton were on a major label, instead of getting the half million dollars from sales of his recordings, he would be getting only $11,700, assuming he were part of a 4-member band, which is what this average was, to that extent, based on. And if you counted just him, multiply that by 4, and it would be $46,800. Whatever the amount, chances are it would get eaten up by recoupable expenses.

By doing it himself, and keeping overhead costs low,  Jonathan was able to keep most of that half million he took in. All in all, not bad for a guy who challenged himself in 2005 and ’06 with “Thing a Week”, in which Jonathan recorded a song every week for a 52-week stretch.

Despite the thinking of some that Jonathan is an “exception” to the old ways of breaking a musical act, if he can develop his own market for his own musical material, then anyone can.

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Class…Get Your iPads Out…Pencils May Not Be Necessary

Class…Get Your iPads Out…Pencils May Not Be Necessary

It’s not enough that Kindles are being introduced in schools to replace printed textbooks. Now there are some schools that are, on are planning on, going deeper than Kindles, with iPads in the classroom.

In South St. Paul, Minnesota, over $600,000 will be spent during the next 3 years to purchase iPads for 600 of the city’s 3200 students, plus 280 more for staff and school district board members. South St. Paul superintendent Dave Webb told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that his town is one that “cares about students and wants the best technology available for them.”

By joining other school districts from several states in purchasing these iPads, South St. Paul is spending $538 for each one. Not bad, considering that’s about how much an iPad2 might cost.

In the Charleston, SC area, students at two elementary schools will be getting iPads after a test run involving several classrooms at one of the schools was considered a success. Teacher Amy Winsted of Drayton Hall Elementary told WCSC-TV 5 in Charleston that iPad usage has “made a huge difference in learning. The kids’ test grades have gotten much better.”

Plans are for iPads, like Kindles, to be used in place of printed texts, with the eventual goal of making sure every student in the Charleston County School District gets an iPad.

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When 4 Become 3: Warner Music Group + EMI Potential Merger and What That Means For Competition

When 4 Become 3: Warner Music Group + EMI Potential Merger and What That Means For Competition

During the first week of May 2011, a Russian-born, New York-based oil and industrial billionaire named Len Blavatnik, who is founder and owner of a firm called Access Industries, put up $3.3 billion to buy the world’s 3rd-largest major-label recorded music firm, Warner Music Group [WMG], from a group of owners that included WMG’s chief executive, Edgar Bronfman, Jr.

No sooner did Blavatnik buy WMG, which is expected to close in September 2011, than the media are reporting that he might also put up enough money to buy 4th-ranked EMI from Citigroup, the banking and financial services company which has owned EMI since repossessing it from Guy Hands’ insolvent Terra Firma equity business back in February 2011. Edgar Bronfman had also broached the idea of a Warner-EMI merger in the past, so one would think Blavatnik may be the guy with the money to consummate such a merger.

If Blavatnik does decide to buy EMI, it could save Citigroup the trouble of staging an auction for the record label’s assets, which is said to include a bigger recorded music catalog than WMG, as well as extensive publishing rights. Both of those, many think, are more valuable than the current product is. So extensive are EMI’s publishing holdings that they recently decided to no longer do business with ASCAP in licensing digital performance rights.

Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires for 2011 puts Len Blavatnik in 80th place with over $10 billion of wealth, so perhaps he can afford to buy EMI, but what would that mean if it were to happen? To put it simply, it’ll mean WMG and EMI will be combined, and that, in turn, means the “Big Four” recorded music label groups will become a “Big Three.”

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Golden Gut Guru Gets Gabcast Going

Golden Gut Guru Gets Gabcast Going

Back in April 2011, I asked whether YouTube was late to the party with their introduction of live video streaming, similar to what uStream, Stickam and others have offered. But no sooner did YouTube join that fray than another outfit decided to join in. True, in this Internet world, there can be room for more, and part of what distinguishes this newcomer from the others is that they are backed by people who have largely worked in ordinary TV, one of whom could be thought of as a “golden gut guru.”

Gabcast.tv, based in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, went into alpha testing [one step below beta, of course] on May 9, 2011. Now on the surface, they might be no different than the other companies I just named, but according to its Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Paul Wagner, Gabcast “want[s] to bring the creation process and the engagement process closer together,” as its pitch is all about helping any of its users “become a reality star on the next generation of TV.”

Mr. Wagner’s credits include everything from writing TV shows in Boston to his involvement with Will Ferrell’s ‘Funny or Die’ comedy website, while Gabcast’s other Co-Founder, Fred Silverman, was famous from his days in the 1960’s, ’70s and early ’80s as either a programming executive or overall head of each of the so-called “original 3″ TV networks—first, CBS; then, ABC; and finally, NBC. He has worked as an independent TV producer in recent years.

Serving as advisers to Gabcast are two other legacy media veterans: Michael Eisner, who once programmed ABC television in the early 1970’s, only to end up running the company that bought ABC—Walt Disney Company—in the mid-1990’s; and Lloyd Braun, who was a TV programming executive at ABC in the early 2000’s.

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Cheaper By the Groupon

Cheaper By the Groupon

If you’ve seen Groupon, you’ve noticed that their online offers, usually for restaurants and businesses, are generally given at a discount of between 50 and 90 percent. It’s those kinds of offers that have made Groupon one of the Internet’s newest and hottest things going, as well as has inspired competitors ranging from LivingSocial and Bloomspot to even discount offer ventures from Legacy Media, such as the Tampa Tribune’s “TribRewards.”

So what’s Groupon got up their sleeves next? How about offering discounts for concert tickets? Live Nation, by far the leading promoter of major rock concerts and other events, as well as owner of 117 venues worldwide, including the House of Blues chain; plus a fledgling record label; the artist-management firm Front Line Management; and the ticket-selling enterprise Ticketmaster, has been in a slump lately, with seats to many of their concerts left unsold due to high prices. Those unsold seats have been a big factor in Live Nation continuing to lose money.

With the usually-big summer concert season approaching, Live Nation has joined forces with Groupon to offer concert tickets at half off face value, on a limited-time-only basis.  The venture, called Groupon Live, is expected to launch just in time for that summer season, and will, according to Live Nation executive Michael Rapino, “help artists and others to reach ever larger audiences” while “driv[ing] value for fans” and provide venues “with another option for driving ticket sales across a wide range of events.”

So that $50 concert ticket could end up being worth a decent $25, maybe less. But I’m not sure I would expect those discounts to be available for every ticket or every event. Nor would I expect every act whose tour is promoted through Live Nation to agree to such discounts. But even so, it’s what many, myself included, think is a step in the right direction as far as concert ticket prices go.

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SF MusicTech Summit—Music. People. Tech.

SF MusicTech Summit—Music. People. Tech.

On Monday, May 9, visionaries and high-tech players from all parts of the music technology spectrum will meet in San Francisco for the SF MusicTech Summit to “talk shop” on the evolving music industry ecosystem—converging culture and commerce and bringing together the best and brightest developers, entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, journalists, musicians, and organizations in a proactive dealmaking environment.

The range of guest speakers, panelists, and attendees include founders and representatives from leading music-tech companies like Slacker, SoundExchange, Pandora, Topspin Media, Live Nation, and MOG, to tech and business press like TechCrunch, Bloomberg / Businessweek Magazine, and Billboard Magazine, to musicians like Lead Singer of Incubus, Brandon Boyd, and Incubus Guitarist, Mike Einziger, to VC groups like Walden Venture Capital, and organizations like GoGirls Music —”Cuz Chicks Rock!” says their Fearless Leader and Founder of Social Networks for Business, Madaln Sklar.

One of my favorite, new music-tech businesses in attendance is StageIt—a platform that brings together artists and fans, akin to a modern-day fireside chat. StageIt was founded by Evan Lowenstein of Evan and Jaron—the Pop/Rock, Top 40 hit-making duo who topped the charts in 2000 while signed with Columbia Records with their self-titled album Evan and Jaron—the StageIt concept is ripe and ready to blow-open living room doors across the globe by providing a platform for artists to “interact with your fans LIVE at anytime and from anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you have millions of fans or just a few, you now have an online stage where you can showcase your talents to the world and make money!”

“StageIt isn’t about broadcasting concerts online. It’s about sharing the amazing moments that happen in between. Did a friend drop by to jam? StageIt. Got a new tune you’re working on? StageIt. Getting ready to go on stage? StageIt. The front row seat is the most expensive in the house, but the place everyone wants to be is backstage. We made it so easy for you to finally give your fans a row seat to your ‘backstage’ experiences.”

How cool is that? What’s even cooler? Alongside an artist’s live performance onscreen is a tip jar, merchandise store, and chat window—clever, classy, brilliant, and 100% on par with the future.

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Cap the Net…Spoil the Competition? Super Wi-Fi, Broadband Co-Op’s, and Mesh Networks? And Could Google Become the New Word for ‘Internet Service Provider’?

Cap the Net…Spoil the Competition? Super Wi-Fi, Broadband Co-Op’s, and Mesh Networks? And Could Google Become the New Word for ‘Internet Service Provider’?

So AT&T is about to join Comcast and a few others by imposing limits on how much wired broadband subscribers can download per month. While 150-250 gigabytes a month isn’t as extreme as smaller caps in other parts of the world, never mind the caps imposed on many wireless broadband subscribers, it renders the idea of unlimited broadband service all but irrelevant here in the U.S. And that’s on top of the fact that U.S. broadband customers pay more for slower broadband than most other industrialized nations.

These same companies also provide cable TV service that isn’t subject to the imposition of limits on how much a subscriber can watch.

When another cable concern, Time Warner, which hasn’t imposed any downloading limits as of yet, is said to have made, from its revenues, 30 times what it spent on providing broadband service to its customers, then on the surface it could be suggested that the caps that service providers are imposing on Internet downloads is a money grab.

True, AT&T suggested that only 2% of its subscribers will be affected by the caps, and the average consumer downloads 18 gigabytes a month. But when everything from cloud computing and storage to Netflix is either already happening or in the process of happening online, that means more gigabytes to download, and more people at risk of breaking the cap and having to pay more, if not get their service cut off.

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