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Mayans Shmayans. 2012—It’s Simply Time to Move with the Cheese! Q&A with David Siemer on M&A, Venture Cap Trends & the LA Tech Scene in 2012.

Mayans Shmayans. 2012—It’s Simply Time to Move with the Cheese! Q&A with David Siemer on M&A, Venture Cap Trends & the LA Tech Scene in 2012.

by Kathleen Blackwell

Welcome, 2012. I, for one, am happy 2012 is underway and look forward to a year of opportunity and change, even amidst global uncertainty. On my holiday reading list was a pay-it-forward book passed to me by a friend: Who Moved My Cheese, a New York Times business bestseller since it’s release. The book describes change in one’s career and life and the four typical reactions to change by two mice—Sniff and Scurry—and two “littlepeople”—Hem and Haw—during their hunt for cheese. Cheese is a metaphor for what we want to have in life, such as a job, a relationship, money or a big house. Cheese can even be an activity, like jogging or golf—or starting a business, or investing in one with traction.

2011 brought widespread disruption across the globe on all levels, from the Occupy movement in the U.S., to the tsunami devastation in Japan, to the Grecian fallout, and the ending of the U.S. invasion in Iraq—this list barely touches the surface and left many people wondering what 2012 would bring against the backdrop of events that will undoubtedly lead us into a new future—yes, change. When the only constant is change, how you manage change can make all the difference in the world. How do you handle change? How do you lead your business into a new year and navigate the high seas amidst uncertainty? Do you “sniff and scurry” or do you “hem and haw”?

David Siemer – Siemer & Associates LLC / Siemer Ventures

Let’s check in with David Siemer, Managing Director of Siemer & Associates LLC, a global boutique merchant bank, and Managing Partner of Siemer Ventures, its early-stage investment arm and an active investment fund in Southern California, to see how he handles change with some Q&A on the global M&A market, 2012 venture capital trends, the LA tech startup scene, plus Siemer’s golden nugget advice for success as an entrepreneur.

Prior to the mad-dash holiday rush, I had an opportunity to interview David Siemer, and while it’s common knowledge the Mayans predicted the end of the world as we know it in 2012, Siemer and company have another perspective. Siemer sees ample opportunity in the right places, in the right sectors, and at the right time. Pursued with excitement and armed with data—moving with the cheese is Siemer’s golden ticket to success in 2012. While Europe is in a funk, Southeast Asia is wide open, brimming with momentum for investments and growth, and the LA tech scene is stamping its mark. Change is your ally—welcome to the future. Now let’s get cozy with Dave Siemer:

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Strange Bedfellows: Can Gaga, Madonna, and Katy Perry Coexist? UMG to Buy EMI’s Record Labels—When 4 Really Become 3

Strange Bedfellows: Can Gaga, Madonna, and Katy Perry Coexist? UMG to Buy EMI’s Record Labels—When 4 Really Become 3

Back in May 2011, I wrote about Citigroup-owned EMI facing a possible buyout from Len Blavatnik’s recently-purchased Warner Music Group [WMG] and some implications of what would happen when 4 major recording companies get narrowed down to 3.

But when the sale of EMI’s recorded music product was announced while Americans were honoring the people who have served their country’s military, the big winner turned out to be someone bigger than WMG. It was Universal Music Group [UMG], once co-owned with the Universal Studios motion picture business but spun off into its own company back in 2006 by its current owner, France’s Vivendi, which, until 2000, also owned water and waste systems in addition to entertainment.

UMG put up almost $2 billion for EMI’s catalog of recordings, just a few weeks after WMG, which had put up a $1.6 billion bid that many thought would have been enough to win, but pulled out over unresolved pension liability issues for EMI’s office employees.

IMPALA, the European organization of independent record labels, is pushing the European Commission to not only block Vivendi/UMG’s purchase of EMI, but also prohibit UMG from distributing recorded music released by the new record label owned by concert promoter LiveNation, which includes a forthcoming album by the legendaryMadonna.

Katy Perry, Madonna, Lady Gaga

IMPALA might be right to be concerned, because the EMI/UMG merger, plus the latter’s partnership with LiveNation, could make for strange bedfellows. For instance, can Gaga, Madonna and Katy coexist? Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are perhaps two of the most popular singers over just the last 2 to 3 years, each with catchy chart-topping hits and successful, yet sensationally-staged, concert tours. And then, there’s Madonna…what’s been said about this Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and mother of self-reinvention that hasn’t already been said over the last three decades?

Gaga, as mentioned previously, has that “360 deal” going with UMG and its Interscope label, while Katy Perry is signed to EMI’s Capitol on what could be a standard contract, and Madonna’s $120 million deal with LiveNation, signed way back in 2007 while she was still under contract to Warner Music Group, but now in full effect and given even more weight by LiveNation’s new partnership with UMG, also falls into that 360 realm.

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Startup Spotlight: IgnitionDeck Looks to Ignite Crowdfunding by Empowering Creators with a DIY Twist—Funding On Your Terms (#WordPress)

Startup Spotlight: IgnitionDeck Looks to Ignite Crowdfunding by Empowering Creators with a DIY Twist—Funding On Your Terms (#WordPress)

Hallelujah—it’s here! Finally, an intelligent twist within the crowdfunding platform that speaks to creators (musicians, filmmakers, software developers, artists, etc.), and aims to put the “$-kaching” back into the hands of developers, versus middlemen. IgnitionDeck is a newly launched WordPress plugin allowing artists to self-fund their projects without asking for permission, or giving away more money than they have to when using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or IndieGogo.

Last week I ran across a post on Facebook talking about IgnitionDeck and instantly became smitten with the “take charge, empowering concept,” so I reached out for a quick “Startup Spotlight Q&A” with the IgnitionDeck Founders—Nathan Hangen and Shawn Christenson. Super smart guys, awesome concept twist—enjoy the Q&A!

1. What is the IgnitionDeck app? Who is the intended, or target audience?

Here. We. Go. IgnitionDeck is a DIY crowdfunding platform for WordPress that installs as a plugin and allows creators to raise money without the restrictions of other platforms. The problem we see with Kickstarter and similar platforms is that if your campaign fails to raise, you end up with zero investment despite the fact that you’ve worked your tail off trying to drive traffic to the Kickstarter site. We’re building IgnitionDeck for those people, and anyone else that wants to crowdfund on their own terms, rather than the terms of the middle man. It’s perfect for musicians, filmmakers, software developers, artists, and anyone else that has something cool to sell.

2. How is IgnitionDeck different from Kickstarter, or other crowdfunding platforms, like IndieGogo?

For starters, it’s the only product of its kind that empowers the creator, rather than the middle man. With ID, the creator is in complete control—they get to drive traffic to their site instead of another platform, get to keep the SEO benefit of linking/sharing, and get to keep all of the money (outside of Paypal’s fees). Another big benefit is that it works outside of the U.S., so anywhere you can use Paypal, you can use IgnitionDeck.

3. Are you the sole Founder/Creator of IgnitionDeck?  If not, who are the other team members?  Backgrounds?

The team is made of two co-founders, Nathan Hangen & Shawn Christenson, who live in Florida and Alberta, respectively. We both do a little bit of everything, but Shawn, being the better designer by far, does much of the product design, while Nathan focuses heavily on development and product management.

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Siemer Silicon Beach Summit Aims to Brand Southern California as the Epicenter for Technology Investing — Banking on the Power of Hollywood

Siemer Silicon Beach Summit Aims to Brand Southern California as the Epicenter for Technology Investing — Banking on the Power of Hollywood

HOLLYISCO is excited to be covering The Siemer Silicon Beach Summit—a premier event formulated to meet today’s hottest trends in entertainment technology. In this article:

  • Siemer Silicon Beach Summit (Keynote by Arianna Huffington)
  • The Rise of “Silicon Beach” (The Next Wave)
  • The Emerging Celebrity-Tech Crossover (Celebrity Branding)
  • The Boom of Digital Multi-Media Companies in L.A. (Global Interest in Hollywood)

Siemer & Associates, LLC—a global, boutique, merchant bank serving digital media, software, and technology companies will host a specialized invite-only conference at the famous ‘Shutters on the Beach Hotel’ in Santa Monica next week, aptly named Siemer Silicon Beach Summit—bringing together an elite group of leading players in digital media and emerging entertainment technology companies from around the world. Co-hosted by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP—a leading national law firm representing a sophisticated client base from Fortune 500 to a diverse range of emerging companies—the Siemer Silicon Beach Summit will draw 300+ CEOs, VC’s, and global media executives with a focused intent on increasing the recognition of Southern California as the premier epicenter for technology investing—banking on the power of Hollywood. Online media pioneer Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, who launched HuffPo right here in Los Angeles—aka “Silicon Beach”—will present the opening keynote.

The Siemer Silicon Beach Summit is seen as a way to foster relationships and connections throughout the burgeoning international tech community—especially those companies centered on entertainment technology that comprise a large part of the “entech” startup scene currently thriving in Southern California.

“The Siemer Summit presents tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to shape the future of digital media. Connections and networks define the new media landscape, and this Summit will build both,” said Hale Boggs, a partner at Manatt who, with firm partner Jonathan Bloch, created the Summit with Siemer & Associates.

The Siemer Summit is on the cutting edge and poised to become the premier “must-attend” conference on the West Coast—“SoCal is leading the world in digital content creation, content monetization, game development, and celebrity-focused media and commerce, fueled by the expanding focus on major film, television, and music studios who are increasingly becoming purveyors of streaming video, music, and digital content,” says Seimer & Associates, LLC.

The Siemer Summit will provide 50 industry-leading companies an opportunity to showcase their visions. A sampling of presenters in attendance include:

BuzzMedia: the web’s fastest growing entertainment publisher reaching more than 50MM monthly pop culture, music, and celebrity enthusiasts worldwide. BUZZMEDIA’S more than 40-category leading brands include Buzznet, Celebuzz, Absolute Pink, and GoFugYourself to name a few, plus the official sites for celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Whitney Port, Kimora Lee Simmons, and others.

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Music Education Startup Chromatik Is on a Three Month Funding Tour—a Slam Dunk for Any Early Stage Investor

Music Education Startup Chromatik Is on a Three Month Funding Tour—a Slam Dunk for Any Early Stage Investor

We are experiencing a bit of “June gloom” in Southern California, but that doesn’t mean we are without our requisite ray of sunshine. Last Friday here in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to visit with Chromatik Founder, Matt Sandler, who is heading-up one of the brightest startups based in Southern California—Chromatik Music—a ray of sunshine indeed. As a matter of fact, Chromatik might just be one of my favorite startups eva’ because Chromatik combines my love for music, education, tech, and yes—a ton of progressive innovation << and all that entails. Least not, one of the most important factors for any startup, the combined RAQ (relationship acquisition intelligence) of the Chromatik team alone makes this startup gleam—they’ve covered their court with cross-platform strategies and any investor interested in courtside seats should get ‘em while they’re hot.

What is Chromatik? In essence, Chromatik is doing for music what the Rosetta Stone did for languages—Chromatik (a word-play on a musical term, as in a chromatic scale) is redefining how students learn music by offering an adaptive learning platform that brings the world’s best music techniques, teachers, and resources to students’ fingertips via mobile and desktop applications. Founder Matt Sandler says,

“Our overarching goal is to blend the best practices of music education with what is possible in technology today. Tons and tons of people are learning music throughout the world, but music education hasn’t changed since Bach and Beethoven. Yes, we’re seeing the ‘gamification’ of music—Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Miso Music—and those are great stepping stones, but the fact remains we don’t have anything that actually helps you learn an instrument and approach music in a pedagogically-appropriate way.”

And in a world where schools are adopting new technology left and right (Kindles, iPad’s), whether state-funded, parent-funded or self-funded, and in a world where kids live, breath, and eat “gadgets and tech”—the melding of Sandler’s concept (education + music + tech) sits beautifully in a steady-state pocket of harmonic overtone perfection coiffing through band hall just moments after a Mozart Quintet releases its last note, um…let’s say the Mozart K452 Quintet in E-flat Major. Yes, that’s it. Sweet!

Founder Matt Sandler

Twenty-three-year-old Matt Sandler is energetic and perfectly-cast in the role of Founder. Sandler, an East Coast transplant whose father was a Salesman and whose family has roots grounded in music, attended UCLA, has his degree in Saxophone Performance (<< cool!), and has taught woodwinds in Los Angeles Unified and Huntington Beach Unified School Districts. Sandler has also worked A&R at Capital Records in Hollywood (<< the gig I always wanted!), helped program music at the “world famous” KROQ (106.7) here in Los Angeles, (plus attended a couple of “them KROQ Weenie Roasts”); and in the startup world, Sandler curates the Los Angeles Startup Digest and was on the early team of the social media marketing startup CitizenNet.

For a twenty-three-year-old relatively new transplant, I’d say Sandler has transitioned exceptionally well to the Los Angeles lifestyle (currently residing in Santa Monica). When we met he was adorning the “native Angelino uniform,” aka Hollywood Casual, which consists of a great pair of blue jeans and an even greater pair of flip-flops (that all non-natives adopt the minute their ship sets sail, their anchor strikes pay-dirt, and their heart docks somewhere between the worlds 18th largest Port in Long Beach, the 18th hole on Trumps National Golf Course in Palos Verdes, and the 18 bikini-clad ‘girls gone wild’ in Malibu).

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What’s the Problem With the Economy? ‘The Truth’ In Less Than Two Minutes Fifteen Seconds.

What’s the Problem With the Economy? ‘The Truth’ In Less Than Two Minutes Fifteen Seconds.

Whenever a complex issue like the economy can be summed up in a matter of seconds, or in this case a matter of minutes, regardless of viewpoint—it’s worth a  post.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich delivers “the big picture in less than two minutes fifteen seconds.”

  • Economy doubles since 1980, but wages flat

1. Since 1980, the American economy has doubled in size. But adjusting for inflation, most people’s wages have barely increased.

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Lady Gaga and the Bigger 360 Monster; Plus Backplane and Beyond

Lady Gaga and the Bigger 360 Monster; Plus Backplane and Beyond

Statistically speaking, there is no denying that Lady Gaga is the most powerful celebrity in the world. In making that declaration, Forbes magazine noted that Gaga took in $90 million in 2010. There’s also no denying how extremely popular Gaga is on Facebook and Twitter, to say nothing of what she wears, nor the stands she takes on many of the hot-button issues of the day. And while Lady Gaga is the creative master-mind behind Lady Gaga Inc., she shares the business stage with Troy Carter, her Manager and the quintessential digital strategist behind her well-oiled machine—a duo like none other who claim to practice the 95/5 rule.  [95% of the time Carter does not comment on the creative side and 95% of the time Gaga does not comment on the business side—a “real trust relationship”.]

Nor can you deny how the Mother Monster herself can also do those little things for some of her Little Monsters, like feeding pizza and doughnuts to a couple dozen fans waiting in line for a couple of days outside the NBC Television studios in New York City for tickets to “Saturday Night Live”, where Gaga was not only the musical act on that show’s 2011 season finale, but also joined in some sketches with guest star Justin Timberlake.

But have you ever wondered that someone’s been making money off her power? When major-label leader Universal Music Group [UMG], through its Interscope brand, signed Lady Gaga way back in 2007, they gave her one of those “360 deals”, in which the label takes a cut of any money Gaga takes in, whether it be through album sales, concert tickets, endorsements, website, anything. And the label still owns the master recordings and music videos, among a few other things.

Troy Carter

So far, according to The Wrap’s Johnnie L. Roberts, who cited executives familiar with the numbers, UMG’s share of Gaga’s success these last 4 years has reportedly totaled $200 million, and perhaps with the blitz that centered around her latest album, “Born This Way”, as well as the new Gaga, Google-Chrome commercial, it wouldn’t be surprising if the label’s share cracks the quarter-billion dollar mark.  Of course, we wonder if her label also has a “360” claim in the development of the yet-to-be-unveiled, integrated social platform for celebrities called Backplane, which is led by Troy Carter and a team of seven, including technology investor and entrepreneur Matthew Michelsen [with Lady Gaga acting as an informal consultant with a 20% shareholder stake] and described by Carter as “a platform meant to power online communities around specific interests, like musicians and sports teams, and to integrate feeds from Facebook, Twitter and other sites,” in a recent interview by The New York Times.  Oh who are we kidding, we’d hedge a bet the label has some claim on Gaga’s shares of Backplane—unless there was a legal wrap-around loophole found on behalf of Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Joanne Germanotta.

As powerful as the Mother Monster is, I’m thinking, were it not for that 360 deal she has with the Bigger Monster that is the major record label, she would have gotten millions of dollars more than she’s getting now.

Bob Donnelly, of the law firm Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, wrote about why artists should “do a 180″ on a 360 deal. In addition to extending on the analogy that signing a major-label recording contract is like “taking out a mortgage on a house, repaying the mortgage in full, but the bank winds up owning your house,” Bob says that long-term recording contracts of 8 years’ duration are that way because the labels want that “reasonable return on their investment.” Terms that, as Bob elaborates, motion picture companies and book publishers don’t require.

The record label’s cut from a 360 deal are based on gross revenues, but Bob wonders why that is when the artists and their managers don’t get paid on gross. And if an artist, hypothetically, has to give 20% of tour income to the label, after paying all the production costs and commissions to manager, booking agent, lawyer and business manager, Bob figures that artist is left with half of every net touring dollar, while the label pockets the other half.

Mr. Donnelly also makes some arguments in favor of the 360 deal, if the label used it as collateral against what they spend on the artist, and then revert the 360 rights back to that artist once the debt is paid back, it would make more sense. However, as Bob also writes, many 360 deals extend the label’s rights beyond recoupment, probably to the extent that the label would still take a cut of the artist’s earnings even if the label chooses not to release any more recordings.

What’s to say if Lady Gaga would have gone with one of two alternatives that Bob recommends—either a “Net Profits Deal” [label and artist split profits after manufacturing, distribution and marketing are deducted] or a “Self-Release Deal” [finance your own recording and own the masters, which would be a more truly independent deal]? And what’s to say if, a few years from now, Gaga will come out and say that she lost millions on that 360 deal she signed in 2007 and wants to do that 180?

And if she does, perhaps the time will come when those millions of Little Monsters get asked to “crowd-fund” a future album for their Mother Monster. Or perhaps, going a step further than crowd-funding, what if the Little Monsters could get an actualized monetary return on their investment; which is exactly the vision of start-up company ROCK STOCK, which aims to educate fans on investing and money by providing an opportunity for a fan to invest in their favorite artist, thus providing a new revenue stream and a new economy for artists, industry, brands, and fans by measuring parts and monetizing the sum of an artists career—where artists are stock purchasable by fans. In essence, Rock Stock is Kickstarter with equity.

Well…until that happens, Gaga has to put up with the Bigger Monster that is the 360 deal.

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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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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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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Digital Music: Clear Skies for Cloud Streaming?

Digital Music: Clear Skies for Cloud Streaming?

Near the end of October 2010, the British version of Wired reported that Spotify, with its cloud-based streaming service in which no downloading is necessary, was the top revenue source for music in its home country of Sweden, outdoing even iTunes there. Despite that, Spotify has been having trouble getting started in the U.S., and one of its executives thinks it’s largely because of iTunes’ dominance.

When Spotify business development head Faisal Galaria was asked by Strategy Eye in January 2011 whether the labels were eager to break the hold iTunes has had, he said that if 80% of a label’s digital revenue came from one place, the executives could risk losing their bonuses if they opened up the competition.

Amazon, meanwhile, has beaten Spotify, as well as Apple and Google, to the punch with its own cloud-based streaming music service. However, Amazon claimed at first that their Cloud Player didn’t require licensing from the labels because “the music belongs to the user,” but has since decided to go into licensing talks with those labels. On top of that, Amazon suffered a sort of cloudburst when its service crashed on Apr 21, taking down a host of other websites with it for a couple of days or so, which proves how uneasy a solution cloud computing can be.

Meantime, Apple, the digital music leader, is, as of this writing, negotiating with the big four major label groups—Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI—to license content to Apple’s new cloud-based streaming music service. Reports are that Apple has signed with Warner Music Group, is close to getting Sony and EMI, but isn’t quite ready to lock up marketing leading Universal Music Group.

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Ahh Vegas…Gambling, Drinking, Showgirls. And Wait…A Technology Hub, Too?

Ahh Vegas…Gambling, Drinking, Showgirls. And Wait…A Technology Hub, Too?

Not long ago Las Vegas wasn’t part of the technology innovation. In fact, the basic premise of Vegas has kept it simple in a way—gambling, drinking, and showgirls. The nightlife is unrivaled and the entertainment is unforgettable. “Vegas means comedy, tragedy, happiness, and sadness all at the same time.” —Artie Lange. Artie has it right! Vegas is everything to everyone. But would you ever say Vegas was a technology hub?

Not until recently did I find myself in awe of some of the technology advancements going on in Sin City. I stay at the same room on the strip, great views and superb staff at the Paris/Bally’s, but then I hit the smokey casino floor, the waitresses clad in skimpy dresses, music was loud, and the craps table had a gang around it screaming and clapping. The sounds of slots and people from around the world engaging in all their vices. I found myself at a Pai Gow table. I play poker. I enjoy poker. The cards, the drinks, the felt tables where cards float across as if on a cushion of air, and that is when I noticed. There in the middle of this table, I couldn’t believe it, a small touch-screen LCD panel the dealer keeps tapping. As I watch for the next few hands—it hits me—that screen is a display of all the hands around the table. Wait, wait wait. I have been going to Vegas for years, but I have never seen anything like this. How did it know? If players had problems setting their Pai Gow hand the dealer would simple push the according seat number on the LCD and it would say how to play with best odds and correctly.

So I inquired with the Pit Boss and he explained to me that automatic shufflers not only shuffle, but continuously monitor the cards in the deck. It knows when cards are missing, what card is missing and which players have which cards. It knows everything on that table!

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Game On, GameStop!

Game On, GameStop!

Last week, hot news off the press was abuzz with acquisitions. Mostly business growing and expanding. The regular boring drab that keeps us business people questioning strategic decisions. But something caught my eye. GameStop buys Impluse and Spawn Labs. Normally I wouldn’t give much thought to mergers and acquisitions of a retailer, but I thought this one might be worth further investigation. You see, when I was young I loved going to video game arcades and record stores. I watched as Tower Records dominated the industry and it was always a treat when I could walk into the one on Sunset Blvd. I went to Egghead Software and eventually GameStop. But as with all things digital, Brick and Mortar stores are no longer needed. It has been no surprise that the GameStop stores are seeing a decline. But the move last week, just may keep them in business.

Impulse and Spawn Labs have made names for themselves by supplying games to consumers digitally. Spawn Labs, although still testing the technology, says it will be able to deliver games on demand to any computer with an internet connection. Impulse, as subsidiary of Stardock Systems, has been creating systems that have been delivering games digitally for over 10 years. This kind of experience is exactly what GameStop needs to stay in the distribution game.

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The Shadiness of Unpaid Digital Royalties

The Shadiness of Unpaid Digital Royalties

It has already been widely known that record labels can be a rather shady bunch thanks to such creative accounting devices as recoupable expenses, as well as unpaid or underpaid royalties, the latter an issue that has been a subject of many court cases over the years. The latest twist on unpaid royalties concerns a recent court case that indirectly involved the rapper who sometimes calls himself Slim Shady.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States turned down an appeal of a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, that Mark & Jeff Bass, the Detroit-based brothers who produced rapper Eminem’s early recordings from the mid-to-late 1990’s, were entitled to more revenues from digital download and ringtone sales than was previously negotiated.

The ruling treated digital downloads as material that is “licensed” to distributors like iTunes rather than as a physical product like a compact disc, and thus meant that the Basses should have received half, or 50%, of the revenues from it being licensed as a digital download, instead of the negotiated 12 to 20% it got because the record label—in this case, market leader Universal Music Group—decided to give digital royalties the same percentage rate as compact discs.

Granted, Eminem himself was not necessarily a party to the lawsuit, but a representative for its lead plaintiff said that Eminem’s net worth could grow, probably by another $30 million, if not more, as a result of that suit.

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Zynga on Wall Street with Sheep—Yes, Sheep.

Zynga on Wall Street with Sheep—Yes, Sheep.

CityVille, FarmVille, and Mafia Wars are part of Zynga’s portfolio. Zynga is considered one of the fastest growing startups with no end in sight. To be realistic Zynga is doing great, but at a big cost. Games like FarmVille do very well in the first 6 months. After that, the numbers fall drastically, in fact so much so that CityVille peaked in one month, then showed decline by the three month mark. But that doesn’t deter a company like Zynga. They reinvent the games, at the latest outing by the company, does just that.

Zynga showed up on Wall Street with a few sheep. Yes, sheep. The company was promoting FarmVille English Countryside, the expansion to its popular FarmVille. With Zynga being valued at around $10 Billion, it’s easy to see how they can march sheep around the Big Apple.

Zynga continues to add gaming talent to its ranks, it evolved with the gameplay from FarmVille, its first breakout hit, into CityVille, an even more successful game in terms of user ramp and monthly active users. CityVille reached 100 million users in just 43 days. However, CityVille has peaked after its initial growth, and lost almost 5 million monthly active users in February alone, just three months after launch. CityVille is still increasing daily active users, but the writing is on the wall: CityVille will follow FarmVille’s decline, only faster. Now the next iteration of FarmVille, is destined for the same cycle. Rapid growth and even faster decline.

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Entrepreneurial Guru Jason Cohen—Capital Thought, Capital Factory, WP Engine, and Life—Talks About Startups, Mentoring, Investing, and What Makes a Great Idea Work!

Entrepreneurial Guru Jason Cohen—Capital Thought, Capital Factory, WP Engine, and Life—Talks About Startups, Mentoring, Investing, and What Makes a Great Idea Work!

Jason Cohen is ‘one of those guys’ anybody would aspire to be—genuine, motivated, brilliant—and indeed, in a class of his own. ‘Entrepreneurial Guru’ of Capital Thought (Lean Customer and Product Development for Startups), Capital Factory (Early Stage Accelerator Program for Tech Startups), and WP Engine (Finely Tuned WordPress Hosting Service), Cohen shares his thoughts with HOLLYISCO on a series of questions surrounding his business, business models, startups, tech, the future (hint: mobile and ‘gamification’), seeing internet darling Amanda Palmer in New Zealand, and yes, Cohen references liking one of my classical favorites, Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, along with Depeche Mode.

Jason Cohen is Managing Director of Capital Thought. Co-Founder, WP Engine. Director, Capital Factory.

So, if you’re in the business of life, and the game of understanding some inalienable truths—tech, business, startups, or what-not—Cohen’s interview answers are a must read. As well, for any startups considering this summer’s Capital Factory Accelerator Program—deadline to apply is March, 27. Cohen says, “So hurry up!”

« Introducing Jason Cohen »


How many business ventures are you personally involved in? Capital Thought, Capital Factory, WP Engine, and anything else that you can share?

That’s enough right? (Wink!)

Capital Thought is the structure by which Joshua Baer and I launch new startups and help others through consulting. In particular, we launched WP Engine last summer and it’s doing great!

Capital Factory is an incubator in Austin, TX (with applications for this summer due March 27, so hurry up!). I’m a mentor and investor.

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Seedups US Launch Party Tonight SXSW! (Create, Fund, Grow)

Seedups US Launch Party Tonight SXSW! (Create, Fund, Grow)

Got a tech start-up? Need funding? Seedups is a crowd-funding platform matching entrepreneurs with investors, and their US Launch Party is tonight during SXSW at Latitude 30 at 8 PM.

Marketing information for Seedups says that Seedups for entrepreneurs uses the crowdfunding platform and gives new start-ups a secure platform upon which to pitch for seed and early stage funding of up to $250,000 from a ready-made pool of high net worth, accredited and sophisticated investors. If you have a new technology venture, a plan, and the team to exploit your market opportunity, get funded faster with Seedups.

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