Cooper Union: 1859 – 2013

Cooper Union was a free college. The trustees’ duty was to preserve the school. Mark Epstein defiantly announced on April 23rd that Cooper Union would begin charging tuition in 2014. No remorse. No apology. No admission of grievous, unthinkable and shameful failure. No shame at all actually. Just more contempt and condescension for alumni. To dig the dagger even deeper he once again laid the responsibility at the foot of the alumni. No, Mark Epstein.  This was your failure. You were entrusted to preserve the legacy of Cooper Union, free tuition and the school’s financial health. It is you who failed, not us. We certainly feel defeated and heartbroken. But worse, we feel betrayed—by you.

Scores of people TOOK from Cooper Union since its inception. Cooper Union’s mission was to GIVE education. We students and alumni are only guilty of taking what we was given. If we had known earlier that the school was insolvent surely we would have given back more than we did. Yet I think about other takers from Cooper Union. It seems that Cooper Union was pillaged by shadowy individuals. Powerful decision makers with their own agendas. The language of board and administration has eradicated any talk of a Free Education in their speeches and literature.

I studied at Cooper Union. It changed my life. It changed my mind. I confess that I may have even took for granted at times that there was a place where a few hundred artists, architects and engineers were selected out of thousands to study and do their very best, every single one them granted a full tuition scholarship. That place is no more.

We won’t give up on Peter Cooper’s dream. We lived it and were changed by it. Other’s should have that opportunity as well.

Let’s Save Music: Local

There is a familiar malaise amongst music makers. Most of us hold very little hope for a career in music. Maybe it was always too much to hope/dream for. Myself, I can’t help but write songs. It’s an artform I’m intrigued by and I keep working at it to get better and better. It seems a futile pursuit as even minor recognition would most likely not yield dividends. But I suppose my small goal is just a little a nugget of recognition. You work at a thing, you make it and you want to share it and then you want some acknowledgement from the community of its signficance. I watched an interesting NYPL talk with David Byrne and Chris Ruen. There seems to be agreement that something is wrong with the state of music today. Artists aren’t getting paid much despite massive music consumption.

I’ve only just had an idea. Perhaps to save music we must make it smaller. The ‘We’ collective is key. I’m in New York. There’s a lot of bands here. I’ve played/play in a few of them. I know a handful of people in numerous bands. No one is complaining about not being rich and famous. Everyone knows there’s too much music. We keep making it. We won’t stop. We now have at our disposal amazing streaming apps that put the entire history of recorded music at our finger tips. A new artist has all of that to contend with, never mind the crowded field of contemporaries.

The idea. Let’s we, the listeners, focus our listening attentions. I’m into discovery. I go through A LOT of music every month. (I tend to gravitate to music with interesting cover art). What if we were to think more about our smaller local community and focus our discovery listening solely on neighborhood music? What if the social norm was an expectation to be well informed of as much local music as possible? This could only be good for artists. I think the Boss sang something recently about ‘taking care of our own’. What if we did that. Instead of trying to keep up with the latest big label albums what if our local music conversations revolved around local bands. Our bands.

How do we do this? It’s not hard, but it does require only a slight bit of homework.

  1. Go to The Deli Magazine, find your region and start scrolling through and looking for artists you’ve never heard of. Of course you can listen to the snippets the Deli provides. But you should go one step further.

  2. Go into your Rdio or Spotify and add those bands latest releases to your listening queue. When you find artists you like make a note.

  3. Go to Oh My Rockness to see if they’re playing anytime soon.

  4. Also, follow those bands on Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook and all that stuff. Make sure to go see them. Local shows are less expensive and probably more convenient than big shows anyway.

Do this often. Many already do. I suppose I don’t do this enough but I do end up going to friends shows. But this just isn’t enough. We need to do more. I’m advocating social norm. It’s too easy to only see the big shows as the special events we give our time to. My generation and younger is at a pretty big disadvantage in that department. There are too many mammouth acts to contend with and they don’t appear to be going anywhere. Fifty years of the Rolling Stones anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

A lot of what I’ve just written seems obvious. But if it is so obvious then why aren’t you doing it? Do it. I think the more people who get down with their local music will be part of a change in listening culture. Why are we, the fans, always accused of stealing music? Because we don’t know the artists. They’re these mythical beings who must be doing fine. We’re also trusting the hype on faith that this is the best the world has to offer. Well I don’t know about that. I think we’re all going to be surprised if we go local with our listening. There’s the added benefit of having a strong connection to the music. When you’ve got a friend or acquaintance whose music you hear and you like it there’s definitely a more special connection to that music because you know them. I’m admittedly not versed in the torrenting world, but if you go local there’s a good chance you won’t be finding local music there anyway. You may even be moved to buy music from these local artists. I know I haven’t been one to champion music download purchases as a viable market. But there’s something different about it when you buy local. The feeling that maybe you’re not throwing your money into the pointless abyss.

Ever since the Napster days I’ve been thinking there must be a way to save music. A decade on there still seem to be no great answers. It all comes back to the fans. The fans are the problem or the solution. Us. As fans, do we care enough to be the solution? I’m going to keep writing about this. I don’t want to add to the malaise. I want to help point the way to a new and vibrant music economy.

More Thoughts on Music Streaming

On our long-running thread on Rdio we’ve been talking a lot about artist fairness. While that’s certainly a major issue, my original point was that digital streaming is so persuasive that it will inevitably dominate the market of music consumption. It hasn’t exactly been an overnight success, but as I see countless Facebook friends and relatives “fall” to Spotify, it pretty much goes without saying that streaming is on its way to becoming the definitive platform consumers prefer for music.

Friends and family often ask me what I think of Spotify just when they’re dipping their toe into the waters of streaming. I’m actually more like a Rdio evangelist. And for the record, it seems unfair that Spotify is the dominator and Rdio the niche. I’ve come to the conclusion that digital streaming technology is so persuasive and such a revelation that whatever platform a consumer encounters first will be the one they likely stick with. For me that was Rdio as I dived into this before Spotify was even available in the US. At this point there’s still plenty of market-share up for grabs. I think that’s why we’re seeing Rdio billboards in Times Square. But Spotify has a huge brand advantage as their name seems to have become ubiquitous with streaming.

I’ve also realized that most people don’t listen to music the way I do (obsessively, as foreground and always looking for something new and unexpected). Rdio makes discovery of new music very easy and social. Spotify appeals more to people who prefer an iTunes approach. As I never loved iTunes, defecting to Rdio was quite simple as it has it’s own UI paradigm. Although I can’t understand it, iTunes is/was the preferred music consumption UI and that is part of Spotify’s advantage. Whereas Rdio is a greater (dare I say braver) leap into the new world of music streaming, Spotify eases new-comers in by simply not being that radical.

Beyond my digression into brand loyalties, the larger point is that consumers LOVE music streaming. In spite of all the moaning about artists not seeing money from streaming, this is the platform the consumers have chosen (or will choose). When it does become totally widespread and consumers are all paid subscribers (just like they pay/paid for cable) there simply must be a way to pay out viable incomes to those artists who have warranted it. The fact that you can find most major artists an streaming platforms means that major labels see the potential. The equation works for them and it works for consumers. It’s only a matter of time before it works for artists.

Trouble seeing through The Cloud

A year and a half ago I wrote about my desire to self-host in Your Own Personal Cloud. Terry Madley got me wanting to write about this again when I saw his trackback when he reblogged my original post. I think we started on some interesting discussion. The Cloud is even more pervasive now. I admit, in many aspects of my digital life, I have been engulfed. Where to even begin?

A year and a half ago I wrote about my desire to self-host in Your Own Personal Cloud. Terry Madley got me wanting to write about this again when I saw his trackback when he reblogged my original post. I think we started on some interesting discussion. The Cloud is even more pervasive now. I admit, in many aspects of my digital life, I have been engulfed. Where to even begin?

Media

There are aspects of The Cloud where I gladly must wave a white flag of surrender. Mainly in the realm of media. It simply makes no sense at the moment to host video on one’s own web host. If this era of the web is all about User Experience, slow media consumption is simply unacceptable. I don’t do much video so this is one area where I simply don’t care. But I do lots of audio/music. I’ve been won over by SoundCloud. It does limit the amount of audio I can store unless I subscribe, but by keeping things lean I get to all the benefits/speed of The Cloud for free. This feeling of Cloud benevolence does not exactly extend to images. That’s a nice segway to a minor triumph over The Cloud.

Flickr Defection

Flickr. What comes to mind? A dying web brand? For me, it means my content being held hostage in The Cloud. Flickr WAS great. Unfortunately it appears to be in (slow) decline. This is a great lesson in what can happen when you outsource responsibility for your content. My wife has taken thousands of amazing pictures from our travels around the globe. Well, due to our being a bit transient, we nearly forgot to pay the premium Flickr bill one year. That was a close call. We would have lost all that data, tagging and hours of time poured into cataloging of our travel photos. The revelation for me was that if Flickr was going to be a crap social network, it really has very little reason to exist. Why not just self-host all these photos like we should have in the first place?

Without the phenomenal obfuscation layer of the Flickr interface, what are we trying to do here? Simply put our photos on the web in an easy way to view. WordPress is great at this. It’s even better with their Jetpack plugin which can do exactly what Flickr does: show what camera the photo was taken on, photo captions and most impressively serve up different photo sizes based on what device you’re viewing the photo on. Something new that Jetpack does is allow you to cache images on WordPress.com servers. I don’t know why they’re not charging for this but I’m thankful they’re not. This means you get great image load speed despite being on a regular host.

So that’s all great if I were starting from day one and had never posted any images to Flickr. Unfortunately we’re years into this with thousands of images locked up in Flickr. A very, very good soul, Bradt, has created a plugin for WordPress, Flickr to WP, that makes migrating from Flickr to WordPress delightfully easy. It’s scandalous that it only has 736 downloads. I would put this in my top 5 WordPress plugins of all time. So I tried it. And it worked like a dream. I got all the photos, captions, sets and photo camera slugs. Unbelievable. It remains to be seen what we’ll do next. Being designers, we need to put creative care into the site these photos now live on so it may be awhile before its ready to show.

Whatever happened to software?

I’m a designer. I use lots of software to do my work with. Suddenly there are a slew of essential apps that can only be utilized via The Cloud. A few are BrowserStack (for proofing websites on all browsers via real computers remotely) and InvisionApp (for sharing design prototypes with clients and collecting feedback). These are amazing uses of The Cloud. There’s more out there that is very tempting. Interestingly, Adobe Creative Cloud Suite are not true Cloud apps, however the pricing method is. This brings me to a gripe.

The more software goes Cloud the more our personal finances bleed out, little by little, every month. Every great Cloud app or service is a monthly fee. It’s a genius pricing model actually.  They have found a way to lock in customers indefinitely.

Here’s one of my replies to Terry Madley which sums up my feelings on this matter:

I’ve been meaning to write about something regarding Cloud backlash. In the earlier days of personal computers and the web the financial model was very much centered on ownership. Now everything cloud is subscription based. It’s actually a much better business model because businesses never lose touch with the consumer. But the downside for consumers is this compounding of cloud services…things we need…but like you said, things that are for the most part disconnected from each other. And to my original personal cloud point…there is lost accountability. The more cloud services you have the more diluted and less organized and less responsible for your own data you become—not to mention the bleeding of one’s personal finance in daily expenses (this particularly hits home for me…i can’t not subscribe to certain things for work…but they are adding up tremendously). At least if the Personal Cloud remains viable enough costs are magnificently contained. 1 hosting bill and WordPress = free. And thankfully most premium WordPress plugins are not sold as subscriptions. You buy it, you own it. Hopefully that remains although subscription seems more lucrative over the long haul.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a love/hate thing when it comes to Cloud Apps. I just can’t subscribe to them all. It’s the same reason I love Rdio and hate iTunes. I simply can’t buy all the songs I listen to. But on Rdio, at least I can listen to them! (Or maybe that’s a bad point because I’m paying good Cloud subscription money for the Rdio privilege—but undoubtably less than I would on iTunes for much less music consumption.) Perhaps, as the world of web apps gets more compounded, there needs to be some kind of aggregate which gives one access to lots of software instead of me bleeding out money every which way. I love BrowserStack but I only use it maybe once a month during that phase of a project. Is it really worth the $20/mo to me? Maybe it is for now. When IE in all its forms finally dies it’s final death or is sued out of existence in a class action lawsuit by legions of designers and developers who will never get their precious time back…whoops, I digress. But anyway, when all that happens I won’t need BrowserStack as much anymore. Yes, Adobe Creative Cloud could be one primitive incarnation of this cloud software pricing model. Even though it’s more money than I’m comfortable paying out a month, unlimited access to all Adobe Software for $50/mo was ultimately too irresistible. But you see how that happened? One simply ends up giving in to The Cloud—because it’s just easier.

Good Cloud bad Cloud

To conclude, I suppose it’s all about discernment. Some of this Cloud stuff is good, some of it is necessary, some of it nice and some of it sucks. A good use of The Cloud is distributed media (Netflix, Rdio, Spotify). I’m a huge advocate of streaming because the consumer actually does get more for their money and it reduces the cultural desire for pirated media. Necessary is of course my spiel on web apps. Nice is perhaps services like SoundCloud and YouTube. I don’t know if I made a great case that those are irreplaceable. But they do provide a better user experience to consumers of one’s content. And bad…obviously Flickr. But here’s the thing, Flickr was/is huge. Just like Myspace and Friendster at one time. We entrust precious things to these nebulous Cloud entities. But can you really trust that they’re still going to be there years from now? If you self-host, the organizational and control equation gets a lot simpler. The reality is you’re going to bleed money in this internet world. But perhaps a better investment is in a good personal host over the long haul.

How much my music earns for digital Streams

I’ve had the unpromoted album “Soul Food” by my old band Japan Seoul available for streaming for quite some time. There’s been some interesting discussion about how little artists make off of streaming. Damon Krukowski stated he’s taking in $0.004611. I, an artist without a label (or any fans for that matter), seem to be doing better streaming than the great Galaxy 500. Below are the latest digital streaming returns from Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody. It’s interesting that I’m getting nearly a penny per stream with Rhapsody, while Spotify is paying out the least. Rather unfairly, CD Baby counts sales to iTunes as digital distribution sales. Thus it’s hard to get a total accounting of how much I’ve made in total on these records purely streaming. I can say to date that with two records on CD Baby (Japan Seoul “Soul Food” and Music For Girls), one since ’07, I’ve made a total of $38.72. I do believe that a large chunk of that is from streaming because Soul Food had been on Spotify and Rhapsody for years before I was even familiar with those services. I certainly don’t mean to complain. I’m glad the stuff is out there. The truth is I never promoted these records when they were new. I’ve got an EP in the oven and I do plan on putting a much greater effort to get that one heard. Without further adieu here’s some recent streaming data from CD Baby.

More Spotify (to show mysterious price fluctuation for streams):