Busy building things….
Advertising Indie: How Earbits Helps Bands Find Fans
It’s easy for bands to distribute their music, but hard to market it. They can pay to get their songs in the right places - iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify - but it’s unclear how to get them heard by the right people. Earbits, a Los Angeles-based startup, aspires to turn their radio service into an ad platform where bands can buy airtime and gain exposure for their songs and upcoming live performances.
While the web-music sector is crowded with established services like Pandora and Spotify, Earbits stands out because it focuses solely on emerging artists and provides fans with a compelling way to discover them. The service offers genre stations, which are common, but it has many features which aren’t.
For instance, if you log into Earbits using Facebook, the service pulls your friends into a toolbar and sorts them by who’d most enjoy hearing the song currently being played. If you click on one of your friends, a window opens up, which allows you to post the song to their Facebook wall.
Most interesting, though, are the ways in which Earbits nudges their users to engage more deeply with bands. While you listen to song, you can scroll beneath the fold on the website and find information about the artist, including a bio, discography and tour dates. If you give a song a “thumbs ups”—the way you tailor a station to your likes and dislikes—the service prompts you to tweet the track or post it on your wall. If you’re listening to music on the mobile app and the band is playing a show nearby, it will alert you—and with a one click, you can share the info with a friend.
“We think of Earbits as an artist-centric radio platform,” says CEO Joey Flores. “We’re always looking for ways to connect a band with fans instead of just playing music for someone in the background.” He continues, “People are doing more on our website than just turning it on and tuning out.”
And there’s a good reason for this. On Earbits the songs themselves are commercials, which makes bands the customers, and of course, you—the listener—the product. Rather than encouraging users to click on ads and interact with brands, Flores hopes they’ll discover bands, become fans and buy their albums and concert tickets.
He desires this outcome for two reasons: For Earbits to make money (and keep doing so), it must create enough value for a cash-strapped band to justify the expense—and provide a return large enough that it demands reinvestment. If a band buys airtime to promote a show and converts a handful of listeners into concertgoers, they’ll likely recoup their costs and use Earbits again. Flores also wants this to happen because he—a lifetime music fanatic—believes that a world with more active fans (i.e. music buyers and concertgoers) could only be a better one.
“Don’t just turn on the music and not wonder who it is,” Flores laments.
But wanting something to happen doesn’t mean you can make it happen. The truth is that a majority of consumers aren’t music fanatics and have no interest in doing a majority of these things.
And, as Earbits has learned, even fanatics have limits. Flores and his team have this problem where when they sit around and brainstorm on ideas, the ones that they find interesting oftentimes “don’t get any traction” and ones that they “think are totally stupid” end up becoming really popular.
Earbits has some of the most interesting sharing tools of any music service on their site. They spent lots of time building them only to find out that “like only 3% of people” will ever use the tools.
“Most people scroll right past [the Facebook toolbar],” Flores says, “they don’t even see it.”
This is illustrative. The very innovative feature that music and technology publications will praise Earbits for developing and having on their site ended up being the one fans didn’t care to use.
Many music startups develop features in their products that they “think” fans want without actually testing them or embracing the hard truth that most fans may not want any of these things.
“We used to add a feature[to Earbits] and assume that it created more value [for users],” says Flores, referring the time period before his team read the influential book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Rather than making assumptions about the features users want and the value they create, they now utilize the “real metrics” that Ries advocates for—such as active users and user engagement—to determine if a feature is creating more value for their users and whether they should keep it.
Weeks ago, Earbits added a search bar so that users could start a station by typing in an artist that they like—akin to what Pandora and rival services offer—and Flores says user engagement “went down with this feature.”
Before reading The Lean Startup and implementing its teachings, his company wouldn’t have even been tracking that metric. “We would’ve just assumed that adding a search bar would’ve been a good thing,” he says. “Actually, for some reason, it has a negative impact.”
Describing what operating a startup for over a year without any real, important metrics and then embracing them wholeheartedly is like, Flores says the process has “been really eye-opening.”
This sort of awakening is necessary for startups. Music elicits passion in people and some of them grow inspired to create products. These people are often fanatics who see problems to solve in their own lives and feel compelled to create solutions for everyone else. But fanatics aren’t everyone else; their wants and needs are different. A chasm exists between them and casual fans, and they don’t see it.
Fanatics make assumptions about what users want and develop a product, only to learn that most people don’t have these problems and see no value in adopting their solution. As Ries argues in his book, a startup like this achieves failure by “successfully executing a plan that leads to nowhere.”
This is the startup dilemma: A fanatic founder will often perceive a problem as being more universal than it actually is and mistakes his own experience as evidence that a solution should exist. But most people have never had such experiences and can’t relate to the products they create.
A quick survey of the sector reveals that no one is doing quite what Earbits does. Services like Jango and Grooveshark let bands buy airtime and gain exposure, but they don’t nudge fans to attend their shows or share their songs. Pandora debuted a free concert series last year wherein they invited fans to attend a live performance by the rock band Dawes, based on where they live and the likelihood that they’d enjoy listening to their music. But they don’t promote shows within their platform—let alone, allow artists to buy airtime.
Deli Radio, a newly launched music startup, enables fans to create radio stations that play music by bands that’ll be playing shows nearby—the downside being that, since the service is free, bands can’t geo-target fans.
Generally speaking, music services take a hands-off approach to promoting bands. “They’re not making an effort to turn people into real consumers of those band’s products,” says Flores. “You’re always trying to send them to McDonald’s.” Like broadcast radio before it, Pandora’s customers are brands and it sells them a product—exposure to their audience. The music is the bait, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Many business models work like this.
Could Pandora make a better effort to help bands find fans? Of course. But here’s the thing: It’s not clear that casual listeners have a desire for this to happen. For them, a radio service that plays unfamiliar music and regularly alerts them about shows may be bad experience. That’s the reality. Flores is fighting a noble cause—and it’s one worth fighting for. But he’s targeting fanatics with Earbits and even they’re pushing back against his efforts.
“At the end of the day, if you want to build a company that’s good at promoting artists, you build a company that makes money from promoting artists,” says Flores, which is a fair assessment.
But first Earbits must find fans that want bands promoted to them and it’s a tough crowd.
By Kyle Bylin, Content Manager
Culture is a Product
A year ago I walked out of the Warner Bros. Records building, put a box in my car and drove home. I left with a collection of memories, but also a sense of unfinished business that I intended to keep in mind when I started my next venture.
When it started becoming apparent what my next venture would be, I sat down and started writing.
I proposed this question to myself:
Given a green pasture, how would I architect a company or department?
All of this thinking ended up in one place: Culture.
What is culture anyhow?
A lot of companies throw around the word culture. Zappos has its 10 core values. At one point, Google’s 20% time and “Don’t Be Evil” defined it. Apple has a well-known culture of secrecy. Github uses its culture as a way to shape their product messaging, its community and best practices for its use.
Over the summer I spent a lot of time looking at how culture was defined by various companies. My brother-in-law works for Zappos, so I got some good exposure to that. I have friends at a lot of other startups and big companies, so I collected info from them as well.
Culture is a Product
One of the key things I learned after leaving WMG and examining my tenure there was that we focused more on projects than products. Products help you frame a holistic view of what you are building, from plans to deployment. Projects are only judged by the duration of time you spend on them, and forgotten quickly.
To that end, at Live Nation Labs, I wanted to be a product-oriented company, treating the products we build as their own independent companies, and staffing them as such. Included in this was the application of “The Lean Startup" build->measure->learn->(repeat) methodology.
When I started writing our department documentation, it occurred to me that if the culture of the department was treated as one of our products, it put “how the department works” on the same level as “what the department works on.”
I’ve seen culture referred to as the immune system for your company. I believe that strongly, but I also think it is the most important product you create.
Here are my rules for the “Culture Product”:
The Culture Product has all the same needs as a Web or Mobile product.
When you make a web application and adhere to lean-startup/agile methodologies, you start with a loose set of requirements, usually framed as user stories. From there you move toward prioritizing stories, developing them and shipping.
The Culture Product has the same needs. For Live Nation Labs, I even went as far as to start using Sprint.ly to shape them.
As a <noun> I need to <verb> so I can <noun>.
So for instance: As a developer, I need to have a continuous integration system so I always know if my code is valid in my branch.
Or more colloquial: As a team member, I need free soda in the refrigerator so I don’t have to go to the liquor store on Hollywood Blvd. when I need caffeine.
From here, you can “build” these features into the product. For us, the soda concern was solved by a Vons.com delivery every few weeks, and the continuous integration system was a combination of Jenkins, Janky, Hubot and Github.
These stories should be iterative. If you frame cultural issues as stories, it helps shape them as actionable concerns rather than complaints or “issues.” And making them stories makes them not merely a problem for one team member, but things everyone can solve.
Shipping a Culture Product feature is not like pushing to Heroku, but still involves implementation of a process along with documentation. Usually, when we “ship” a Culture Product feature, it is through Evernote, and then into our internal Playbook.
The Playbook is a wiki/blog that is used by our team to document cultural practices and recipes for how to perform certain things (such as how to use our chat room or the Sonos system).
Once a feature is shipped into the culture, you can and should proceed with validating the story through “learnings.” Sometimes this is quantitative learning through metrics, and sometimes it’s a qualitative “feeling” if things are working out well.
Nothing is set in stone. Our Culture Product is an iterative thing, as is the Playbook that documents it. We talk regularly to define and refine our culture.
The process of editing and changing the Culture Product also has the added benefit of exposing all parts of our organization to all aspects of its infrastructure.
The Playbook is in Github and the product management system is the same we use for our normal web and mobile products. The Culture Product’s implementation serves a dual purpose for us: defining our organization and educating in a cross-domain fashion while doing so.
Culture must be fed
When you define culture as a product, it becomes easier to define its boundaries, and then constrain and nurture it to maintain them. This means, like any product, your Culture Product should operate within the constraints and allowances of a defined budget.
Too often, the things that constitute “culture” are seen as additive or “perks.” I hate defining things as “perks” because it relegates them to things that should be seen as optional if and when times get tough. Similarly, in recruitment, “perks” mean “these are not core, but are additive in order to be attractive.” I’ve found perks are always the first things to go as cultural efforts in a company’s decline. And more damaging still, perks aren’t an element of culture. They are frosting on a thin cake.
Zappos has a lot of perks, but if you strip them out the culture still stands. I suspect that if Facebook cut the perks in Menlo Park, the offices wouldn’t be vacated any faster in the late evening—but the pizza delivery drivers in the Valley would have a new frequent destination.
If your culture is a product, it needs to be fed with money, time and enthusiasm. It can’t be an afterthought or the recipient of “maybe if” budgeting. Like any product, innovating only through a balance sheet, meeting schedule and checkbook can kill it.
The Culture Product should be seen as a qualitative risk: a product whose very existence validates all others.
Culture Should Be Exportable
One of our mandates at Live Nation Labs is to export our culture to the larger company. By treating our culture as a product, one of the things we do ends up being “packaging” it for exporting. This includes all things from our social media presence, external blog, and internal documentation, and all the way down to the tools and software that enable us to work day to day.
Culture is an ephemeral thing, but part of treating it as a product is to force ourselves to make it reified, that is to say: concrete in some fashion. Forcing reification enforces a discipline of colliding reality with fantasy, and helps temper some less essential cultural aspects (i.e. foosball tables) in favor of more prosaic and pragmatic initiatives.
Culture is your Platform
Ultimately, the Culture Product is the platform on which you build all your company’s other products. Much in the same way the Facebook Platform or Amazon Web Services form the foundation of those respective companies product roadmaps, so too should your Culture Product form the foundation on which you build everything.
Culture is not just the immune system for your company—it is the basis of how you build, function and evolve as a producer of products. It should be omnipresent on your roadmap, given attention and never thought of as an option or afterthought when resources get constrained.
The Culture Product is simply the most important product you’ll ever manage.
Post by Ethan Kaplan, Product
Busy building things.
I Just Want To Tell You Five Things…
From: Joe Fleischer <email@example.com>
Date: Tues, 31 Jan 2012 18:23:06 -0800
To: Team Champagne
Subject: FW: I just want to tell you five things
From: Eric Garland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tues, 31 Jan 2012 18:21:18 -0800
To: Joe Fleischer
Subject: I just want to tell you five things
1. You should try to be born an anesthesiologist.
2. It’s the people, stupid (not the stupid people).
3. It’s the stories you tell.
4. Be good. Be persistent. But, mostly, be fortunate.
5. Be not afraid.
We started a company. We grew a company. A Fortune 500 company offered to invest in our company and then they acquired our company. And now they’re supporting us in making it bigger and better.
We have chairs. We’re filling those chairs with outstanding people. And I’m almost all talked out about every last exciting little bit of it. I just want to tell you (and my young daughters) five things I’ve learned along the way:
1. You should try to be born an anesthesiologist.
Or a software developer. Or a banker. If you can.
I don’t mean try to be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever. That’s a terribly misguided thing to do, to try to tell someone what to be. What I mean is: try to be born that way. Because doing something you love (all day, every day) may be important. And if you could choose to love banking or coding or doctoring — well, that’s a nice life! Ask anyone.
Of course, you probably have no say in this.
Yeeeeees, I know, I know. You have a choice, you can choose to do this or that. I know piles of litigators and physicians and CFOs who weren’t born to do it, don’t like doing it, and are very “successful,” blah blah blah, at it nonetheless. What I mean is just this: envy those lawyers whose souls burn for their litigation work! Envy those CPAs who dream in spreadsheets!
Because I was born an entrepreneur. And some of my favorite people in the world were born artists and musicians.
And entrepreneurs and artists and musicians share an affliction. My friend Jill Sobule was the first person to point this out to me. I’m paraphrasing, so just know that she said something like the following, only clever-er:
“You think I’d do this if I had a choice? I do this because I have to! I should do something sensible, or something that makes a lot of money.”
When Jill Sobule says she “has to,” she means love is a drug. And that we can’t take the blue pill (even if it’s good for us). Our hearts beat for the red pill!
I’m saying this to you, kids: it’s easier to do “something sensible” with your life. But only if you are lucky enough to love doing something sensible. Seeking real emotional fulfillment from your work and finding it only in entrepreneurial pursuits… is harder. Objectively hard, even. But if you are a red pill addict, mourn the addiction and then give in to it. You’re going to spend your life (usually in California) with all the other addicts. Nothing else will do.
And speaking of life among the addicts…
2. It’s the people, stupid (not the stupid people).
Many red pill people are addicted, afflicted and flat-out defective: narcissistic, childish, explosive, tyrannical, extremely high maintenance. Stunted. There’s no business like show business! But the worst of these people is still gloriously defective. The worst is a P.T. Barnum. Or even a Harry Cohn. He’s a hustler, sometimes monstrous. But so colorful, and his red is a screaming fire engine red — it looks great on him. Oh, and you have to have a sense of humor about the characters, because without the laughs, it’s mostly tears. Seriously. Lots of people who did not get held by their mothers. As my co-founder Joe says, “Oy.”
Stupid people? I don’t know very many, truthfully. I know too many terrified people, though, thinking short term (out of panic). Chasing tactics, not developing strategies. And caged animals do lash out. They called us names. Sometimes it was funny. We were always the dumbest guys in the room. Until we weren’t.
It’s the extraordinary people. So, when choosing your team: I like to think that I arrived independently at a recruiting strategy usually attributed to Guy Kawasaki (and, by implication, Steve Jobs).
Solid A players hire A+ players; B players hire C players, Cs hire Ds…
In other words, find people who are better than you are. This is easy for me. I’m a non-technical founder of very technical businesses. There’s a big target on my back, as there should be.
Everyone says, “I have a great team.” I’ll say this: I consider it a rare and wonderful thing, to get to go to work with the people I respect and admire most. Adam and Joe: I am excited to continue to earn the opportunity to show up and learn from you every day. You are my brothers and if I were ever made to lie in a trench with bullets whizzing by overhead, I would hope the guys to my left and right were made like you.
An amazing core team got us to this fine place: Tom, Zack, Adam A., JD, Ken, Fred, Seth, Travis, Aaron, Taric, Rich, Jack, John, Shalewa, Brandon, Thomas, Joy, Paul and Farzad. They are joined now by new dream teammates: Ethan, Jenny, Jake, Jennifer, Jacob, Kyle, Bennett, Andy…and counting.
Oh, and another people thing: you should try to marry well. I’ve walked away from perfectly good careers in favor of uncertain plans and all Amanda ever said was, “Babe, you have to do it.” Whatever “it” was. I highly recommend falling in love with your favorite person. And I know my kids get a lot out of watching me puzzling through life, admiring their mother’s many beautiful qualities and trying to emulate them every day. Aw.
I’m leaving out dozens of other great people who should be acknowledged here. (Look how long it is already!) But I’ve kept very good notes for the book and, no, I won’t change your name or leave you out (sorry).
3. It’s the stories you tell.
My friend James Glassman was right. Starting in high school, he reminded me constantly. Really, he made a sort of a catch phrase out of it. He’d marvel at some past exploit, shaking his head with just half a smile. It’s the stories you tell. Or he’d offer it more forcefully, encouraging us, at the prospect of a new exploit:
It’s the stories you tell!
A life well told is as close an approximation of a life well lived as I’ve found. Do you savor the memories of chances you almost took but didn’t, adventures you packed your bags for but then never left the driveway?
Most of the things that have happened in my life in music I can’t even type about here. Viewed at a distance, it all feels to me like one big blur of Cameron Crowe moments. A love letter to music and tech.
The earliest flicker is R.E.M.’s “Document” tour. Texas. We were fanatics and right down front. But we were also young adolescents and making a lot of noise. Pete Buck actually leaned out over his monitor to plead with us from the edge of the stage: “Guys, be cool… or Michael’s gonna get real pissed!”
Then Squeeze invited my high school band to Tipitina’s on a school night and I talked my mom into letting me drive the family wagon from Texas to New Orleans for the gig.
At a festival, we played side stage at a huge amphitheater, We were in the first support slot. Duran Duran was headlining on the main stage and it was my best friend’s sister’s wedding that night and then Simon Le Bon crashed the reception and…
My favorite comedian ever, for all time, George Carlin asked me and a friend to his green room. And we went. It was one of my first nights out with the girl who would become my wife.
The BigChampagne story all started with Napster and Glen Phillips and the estate of Peter Tosh. Phone calls from Jamaica. Aimee Mann and Michael Hausman. Glenn Tilbrook. Tim O’Brien and Stroke 9. Ken and Fred and Seth. But then it made the leap almost immediately to Robin at Capitol. McCartney! Guerinot, No Doubt and Offspring. Jimmy and Berman and Courtney and Axl and Bono and Rodney Jerkins. Eminem. Guy and Madonna. We worked all hours in my little apartment in the Fairfax. Then we rented those old screenwriting offices on Little Santa Monica Blvd.
Things sped up even more. It all happened too fast.
And then, one day…
“Uh, MC Hammer is in the conference room. He didn’t make an appointment or anything, he just showed up.”
“Yeah. MC Hammer.”
The real MC Hammer?
What does he want?
“To see you.” Uncomfortable pause. “He asked me for a Diet Coke.”
A colorful ribbon of planes, trains and hotel rooms tied it all together. New York and LA. London and Berlin and Beijing and Copenhagen and Kristiansand and Vancouver Island and Cannes and Vienna and Edinburgh and Brighton and Toronto and and and Austin, always Austin.
SXSW. My three-year-old daughter fell hard for the songs of Willie Nelson and announced she would marry him. Willie wrote Lucy a sweet love note back.
I met folk hero Billy Bragg at a bar on Sixth Street. Five minutes later I met his manager Pete Jenner and he remains my dear friend today. Pinch me. Will Page and Juana were married in Valencia and I wore my kilt as I was instructed. We toasted to his beautiful bride, and mine, and to the night we’d stood in Victoria Park, London, at the side of the stage as Radiohead washed over us, around us, through us.
God, it really does start and end with the bands, those magnificently talented bastards! REM in Georgetown, the car ride with Bertis and hearing the record the world wouldn’t hear until the following year. Will Owsley’s memorial, Nashville. Nickel Creek at Largo. Jane’s at El Cid. A few hundred other stages.
That’s just a few seconds of it. Life. It’s the stories you tell.
4. Be good. Be persistent. But, mostly, be fortunate.
When something very good happens to you in your life or business, everyone wants to tell you all about how you made it happen and how you deserve it. This is a nice thing. Your real friends value you and celebrate your success.
But you know the truth is that you don’t deserve any of it. You have worked hard, you’ve been smart, you have been determined and good. But you definitely haven’t earned any of it any more than your equally smart (or smarter!), dedicated and good friends deserved that mouthful of knuckle sandwich. The string of failed companies. The divorce. The (don’t say it) failing health.
An important figure in my life (call him Mr. Hoodler), a family friend in the Bay Area who is like a favorite uncle, sat with me at a congratulatory dinner. He was quiet, listening to all the easy praise around the table. You deserve it. Good guys do win. You worked so hard. You stayed the course.
“And,” Mr. Hoodler said, finally, “it’s good to be lucky. Isn’t it?”
The first person to give voice to exactly what I’ve been feeling all along. Who deserves what we have? No. One. But that won’t stop me from receiving it humbly and gladly. Thank you, sir. May I have another?
Call it luck or fortune, call it God or call it something else. But don’t overlook the essential role of the happy accidents. We spend so much energy trying to control every aspect of our businesses. We micromanage, we obsess. And yet, we control so little. Talent and determination (and ten thousand hours) are necessary but not sufficient to success. The pixies still have to sprinkle their dust here and there.
And, actually, I agree with Seth Godin about ten thousand hours: the talent and determination are very often necessary to success — but not always.
Mr. Hoodler got it right, and so did those other Bay Area poets, when they sang:
Sometimes the light’s all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a looooooong, strange trip it’s been
5. Be not afraid.
Whoo boy, those are three scary words.
I think maybe that’s because fear, or what my partner Joe Fleischer calls “managing the downside,” is practically required, sometimes. But not that often.
I know this: I’m at my very best when I am completely unafraid. I bet that’s true of you, too. Serious studies show that positivity leads to increased creativity, better insights and greater success.
Conversely, fear cripples. It’s, um, neuroscience. If you read enough about the effects of fear (and unhappiness, generally) on mind and body, you could be forgiven for thinking that you can’t succeed without happiness.
But that’s not true either. There are plenty of objectively “successful” people who were extremely unhappy all day, every single day that they were creating their success. You can be successful and unhappy. But why would you want to?
The stuff I started to say earlier about stupid people — none of those people was really stupid. But they were all terrified and it can be hard to tell the difference. So, you want to be the smartest guy in the room? Start by thinking fearlessly.
“I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. The only time you lie is when you are afraid.”
— John Gotti
And speaking of John Gotti, I met with Michael Eisner (kiiiiiiiding) when he’d left Disney and was starting Vuguru.
He asked me: How many companies have you started?
Just this one, so far, I said.
He snorted. What are you afraid of?
It was not the question I was expecting. And it was rhetorical. Do more. Fail more, he said.
I will, I assured him.
Faster, he shot back. Really, what are you afraid of?
Of anything on this sprawling list of (ha) just five things I think I’ve learned, this may be the hardest one. But I do try to think fearlessly and to tell the truth.
And I do think that’s why I wrote this down.
That and because maybe you read this far.
· If you were not born to do something more sensible,
· If you believe in the power of extraordinary teams of people and the stories they live and tell,
· If you are an A+ player — talented and determined and unafraid, even in the face of real adversity, and especially
· If you are a mobile/web engineer or designer…
If your life is a love letter to music and tech, I’m hoping you might join us. Be successful and be happy.
Look out world.  Hammertime. Let’s go.
 Don’t believe me. Hunter Walk says so.
 And when I say some of these professionals weren’t “born” to do this or that, I’m not trying to start a nurture/nature debate here. As a parent of monozygotic twins, I have plenty of empirical and anecdotal evidence that we are all products of a still-mysterious blend of both genetic predispositions and life experiences.
 Seth Godin predicts that there are no more “blue pill” careers coming, for anyone. So maybe we’re just ahead of the game.
 There are some. I’ll name names in the book.
 Alums: Tom W. and Luca.
 Relax. It’s not a slam book. I love you. Mostly.
 These stories are pretty safe. If you want to hear some better ones, you’ll have to buy drinks.
 For you fine print readers, here’s a little more of what I remember:
Shawn and his lawyer Milt calling to say that they couldn’t publicly support our work but that on the shhh they loved it and that we should keep going. Napster was promptly shut down.
Digital Brandcasting and Will and Jada and Peter Arnell. Alanis. Michael Jackson and HollywoodTicket.com and Rundell and Coursey and MJ’s $20M. Lars. Jay Boberg and Ed K and Gary Kurfirst (may he rest in peace).
Time on Sand Hill Road. Time with Marc and Ben and Ron Conway and…
Rewriting the rules. Testing leaked MP3s for No Doubt and Weezer. Hearing the first Alicia Keys record and seeing the “Fallin’” video in the J Records offices. Hearing that other young girl who made the tapes with her dad and opened for Hanson: Michelle Branch. Gregg Alexander. Carlos Santana.
Some new band from England had a song called “Yellow” and ABC was using it to promote their fall TV shows – could we track the impact online?
Everybody started suing everybody. I testified in the CA senate. Levar Burton spoke after I did and he welled up when he begged the senators to protect his work from “mash-ups.” Did I make the Reading Rainbow cry? David Draiman said he hated that the RIAA was suing kids and biting the hand that feeds them. He got most excited talking about his previous life in business: health care administration. Jeff Tweedy defended MP3 swapping on Nightline. I stuck to the numbers.
Niklas and Janus from Kazaa (later Skype, then Joost), sneaking around. They were fugitives from justice then, creeping into the country on private planes and taking secret meetings in LA. More meetings! Travis from Scour Exchange (later Red Swoosh, now Uber). Michael from AudioGalaxy. Ian Clarke invented Freenet. When he came to my office, his big toe was sticking out through a hole in his shoe. Morpheus. Bearshare. Limewire. Soulseek. Sued. Sued. Suedsuedsuedsuedsuedsued.
Ah, the piracy wars. Hilary then Cary then Mitch. I debated the legendary Jack Valenti (RIP) at the Cato Institute in DC. I lost. Bob LEFSETZ IN ALL CAPS!!!!! Everyone was so excited, for better or worse, but the songs just kept pouring out in a bittorrent. By the billions. Zuckerberg and Sean Parker went to Tom Whalley’s house to show him Wirehog. It looked a little like Napster, file sharing but “integrated with thefacebook.” The meeting with the record label president did not go that well.
The days were coming so fast, running into each other. I told Amanda I felt like I needed a flip top head to pour in all the learnings.
We just kept sprinting. When the bumper fell off of Silent Bob’s Dodge Neon, we tied it back on with bungee cord, called it “bootstrapped,” and kept on driving.
WIRED called. A cover story? The writer left Brooklyn and camped out in our first work/live loft in the ATL for days. He just kept staring at the tables of kids in headphones, coding. The magazine waited patiently for something to happen. Nothing did. Das blinkin’ lights in the server rack just kept blinkin’.
Life’s funny. You can see the dots connect in hindsight: that writer on assignment for WIRED is now Jeff, my dear friend. And together with Alysia and the kids, he is part of my life (and not my work) story.
Michael Ovitz wanted to have lunch. If we bought EMI, what would you do with it? Chris DeWolfe wanted to have lunch. If you were running music at MySpace, what would you do with it?
Roger Ames stood in the office, yelling at me, in his socks. I thought of Ian Clarke.
Alex Zubillaga paced Tom Whalley’s office like a tiger, roaring at me. You’re underestimating ringback tones! So American! So much shouting.
I turned 30 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel with Evan and Gregg. They’d just started something called Jib Jab. The dinner that night was in honor of Ken and Fred. I was very star struck by all the celebs. Then Robin asked two dates to the Grammys: Sean Parker and me. Parker couldn’t get into Pete Wentz’s after-party and I knew the manager, so he thought I was somebody for a minute.
At another party, I was introduced to Paris Hilton. When she laughed at my unfunny jokes and put my number in her phone, a writer for the Times of London wrote it up like a gossip column and called me the internet’s “It Boy.” In print.
Of course the heiress was actually asking for my wife’s number. Amanda had been a teacher at the Buckley School where Paris and Nicole met. It was all fine in the end. The Brit from the Times married my friend Lucie and now he’s just, well, Chris. And Paris is a place in France…
KLSX in Los Angeles used to let the old guys hold forth on the radio on Sunday nights. I co-hosted and took calls with with Lefsetz and Nose and Andy Gould and Rob Zombie and and and…we laughed at our own unfunny jokes.
Quincy Jones showed up at dinner with TED founder Richard Saul Wurman. Just like Robin, he brought two dates: Naomi Campbell and Salma Hayek. I sat at their table. And I’ll only say this: it’s good to be Q.
You remember a lot, of course. We all do. The stories you tell. But sometimes you are even more present, your senses heightened, every sight and sound written indelibly to memory. Thank God. I headed up to San Jose for a VC dinner. After the cocktail hour, Steve Jobs stood up to tell us how important we were, the young hopefuls, and to paint us a picture of what we could do together. My table assignment put me with Shawn Fanning and Tim Westergren. I can still see Steve squinting into the low sun. “I want to tell you something,” he began. Food was on the table, but every fork was down.
 Our passes to that show were the band’s thank you gift to us. We’d just completed a career-making (for us, not Radiohead) piece of research for them.
 Ticketmaster’s CEO Nathan Hubbard keeps a stuffed donkey on his desk. He says it’s to remind him that he is just another jackass. I don’t need a plush toy. I can always just call my brother.
 If you did read this far, and you are the first person to email email@example.com, we’ll hook you up with some great FREE tickets to a great show. In fact, I’m so sure you didn’t read this far that anyone who reads this and emails us tweets @bigchampagne will get a very fashionable FREE BigChampagne t-shirt (while supplies last).
 Ok, Ethan made me put that part in.
 (But not in a bad way. We only want to surprise and entertain you.)
Welcoming Jacob Evans
Since we have been heads down hacking, we are just now getting to introducing the team.
Many years ago, I got a call from the head of Nonesuch records, asking that I let the son of his childhood friend intern with me. I said “sure,” since Bob Hurwitz is and was and will remain one of my favorite people in this business.
I had no clue that this intern (who was all of 19) could do anything but play Guitar Hero to unlock achievements for us. For the first week, that is what he did. At some point he came into my office and said, “uh, you do know I can program?”
Every summer up until his graduation Jacob interned for us at WBR, and he was hired full time right as I left. He is now our first engineer and graces our humble offices on Hollywood Blvd with the unique combination of a Volvo, aviator sun glasses, hipster t-shirts, a briefcase and a Windows Mobile phone every day.
Live Nation Labs is a small division of a big company. We build connections between passionate fans and live experiences. We make great products. And mischief. #disruptfromwithin
We are: music meets technology. We operate like a lean startup. We don’t have a lot of adult supervision.
We study Eric Ries and pirate metrics, for fun. We’re veteran dot commers and experienced entrepreneurs.
Our approach to development is: Build. Measure. Learn. (Rinse. Repeat.)
We are geeks.
We wear glasses and take asthma medication. We believe in: excellence and fearlessness. And tube amplification.