Category Archives: Blog

mw2015

MediaWorks: The Next Generation

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And so it begins. MediaWorks 2015 is in full effect. This past Monday we met the teams for the first time, and dare I say it? we’ve got a badass cohort.

Without further ado, the MediaWorks class of 2015:

  • Baracksdubs puts words in people’s mouths, entertaining millions through musical mashups of President Obama’s speeches.

    Children’s Media Studio creates interactive, educational media content for children from pre-readers through early education.  Their first product, Sing and Spell, helps pre-readers learn letter sounds through animated content.

  • Emcapture is a Virtual Reality Magazine for Knoxville, TN that will serve the community and bring people places they have never been. It will also provide advertisers a platform on new digital media to reach new customers.
  • Evolvr creates an immersive, 360-degree real estate tour experience that allows users to visit multiple potential properties in various locations.
  • Instartly is a 21st century media company that uses tight processes and best-in-class back-end automation to blow away what micro business owners expect to get from website design, hosting and digital communications: all for only $69 per month.
  • Menu Magic™, “The Only Menu You’ll Ever Need™,” is a platform containing all menus for every dining establishment around the world, and further, organized that information in a simple, user friendly way in order to improve the dining experience for our users.
  • Pictograph allows users to easily discover, retrieve, store, and organize customized information related to finance, business, or marketing.
  • RESQUE is smart social media automation for real estate agents.
  • SolidPick is a web-based application that provides sports fans a platform to pick game winners and filters standings by sport, conference, division, team and state in order to highlight and put a face to the best at picking games.
  • WDVX is a listener-supported radio station, whose idea is to create a social media tool that will enable listeners to collaborate with other WDVX fans and create their own weekly WDVX radio show.

MediaWorks Demo Day Photo Book

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Wow what a day! Knoxville Entrepreneur Center‘s MediaWorks Demo Day was a massive success, and we are so proud to have been a part of that. Here are a few great photos from the night.

Preston Garland of WiseFeed backstage at #MediaWorks Demo Day. #focus #determination

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

Michael Crain of Vuture, a B2B solution to send video at a future date #mediaworks #vuture #killingit

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

JR Charles of ParOneTV, a digital signage and advertising platform for golf pro shops #mediaworks #golf

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

Frank Podlaha of Street Jelly, a streaming platform for musicians #mediaworks #music #startups #knoxville

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

Patrick and Ryan Kelly of FanFolio, a fantasy sports stick exchange #mediaworks #sports #whoneedsthesec

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

Wrapping up #MediaWorks Demo Day with Airborne Digital. #drones #realestate

A photo posted by Back Porch Group (@backporchgroup) on

Napster

15 Years after Napster

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This week marks 15 years since Napster invaded the previously secure executive suites of the record labels and music publishers.

Napster (and what followed) disrupted a lot of things. Distribution, the album model, forced allegiance, radio, artist development and therefore should have ushered in a new era of fan-engaged, educated, best-music-wins types of scenarios. Although there has been some progress, not much has changed.

The only thing that is noticeably different is the elimination of the profit margin that physical product created. When you look at the top selling artists they are the same as they ever were, albeit with different names. If you look at the record company processes, they are the same, but a bit less opulent. In many ways the music business reminds me of the auto business: they can only do things one way. As far as they’re concerned, there are no options, no pivots, no new models.

On the other hand, the music creator community has screamed for a world of DIY, more direct to fan engagement and a bigger cut of the revenue, but have done absolutely nothing to deserve it. As a whole, the artistic community has been sitting on the sidelines waiting for Universal to give them a record deal and lots and lots of money. Yes, they all have a Facebook page and a clunky website, but not much more. They’re artists after all, and artists suck at business. In this world where you can take back control of your art and your life, artists have proven themselves (exceptions noted) to be fairly helpless.

As I think about a music world “post-Napster”, I think we need only look at the historical successes in entertainment. They were collaborative, they were messy and they were magic.

We can’t organize it, streamline it or tidy it up.

Music is a sordid affair that happens drunk in Vegas, not a lunch date from match.com.

Digital music is how we listen, nothing more. The decline in music is directly attributable to what we listen to.

We don’t miss the profit margin from physical goods, we miss rock stars.

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On Rented Media (or My So-Called Streaming Life)

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I haven’t given up on ownership, but it’s not for lack of trying. You see, I have little interest in having bits of media strewn about my life, especially in physical form, but also in digital form. Here’s a rough summary:

Music

As I’ve said time and time again, I’m a streaming convert for life (or for however long streaming is still a thing). I moved to Rdio several years ago, and I don’t see myself ever purchasing another CD or digital download, except in those rare instances where I have no other choice.

Moreover, I’ve stopped pirating music. It bears repeating: streaming killed piracy, not the RIAA.

As for vinyl, I’m ashamed to say I’ve only purchased a small handful in the last year. Chalk it up to high prices, or a dearth of disposable income, but I just don’t find myself at the record store very often anymore.

Movies

I have a Roku in the living room, and an iPad in the bedroom. And that’s all I really need. I subscribe to Amazon Prime and Netflix. I use a shared HBO Go account. And I rent (not buy!) movies on occasion from a variety of different streaming services. Sometimes I’ll even trek to the Redbox (really a bargain, so long as they actually have what you’re looking for).

I go to theaters still, about once or twice a month. I see this to being akin to going to concerts. It ain’t cheap, but you go for the experience.

Television

I cut my cable two years ago, and haven’t looked back. I have an HD antenna for local programming, but I spend almost all my time watching streamed content. Between all the free content on Roku and my various subscriptions mentioned earlier, there’s no shortage of content at all. Seriously, there’s a limit to how much television a person can watch, and I’d defy you to hit that limit with access to streaming services.

Books

I’ve recently rediscovered the public library (Nashville’s is surprisingly awesome). I borrow books I need, both physically and digitally. And they have a wealth of other digital content freely available, from magazines to audiobooks to movies and music.

If the library doesn’t have it, I’ll check Amazon Prime’s borrowing library. I also tried Oyster, loved it, but didn’t find myself reading enough to justify the spend.

If all else fails, I’ll purchase a used copy or a Kindle copy, in that order. But I can’t even remember the last time I did.

Comics

Alas, I don’t have the time or energy for a diatribe about Comixology and the recent Amazon acquisition, but fortunately many others have written volumes about it. I, for one, fall squarely into the camp of “I don’t care, I just want Spotify for comic books.”

See comic books are perhaps the one medium where a good subscription service doesn’t exist. There are two that I know of – Marvel Unlimited, which is Marvel-only, and therefore of little use to me; and Thrillbent, which is awesome, but still missing all of the big publishers I read regularly (come on DC! get in the game!).

The main debate in the comics world seems to be about download codes, and I’d like to add my two cents to that argument by saying that 2004 called and they want their MP3s back.

Everything else

If I played games I’d probably use Steam, or rent from a Redbox. But I don’t.

So what?

I rent my home. I lease a car. And I subscribe to media. And I like it.

But here’s the thing: every time I can’t rent, my natural inclination is not to buy it. If a movie isn’t on Netflix, I don’t run to Walmart and buy the Blu-ray, nor do I jump on iTunes and buy a digital copy. If I can rent it on Amazon, I will, but if I can’t do any of the above I find a less savory method of procurement. That’s just the way it is.

Zero Day: MediaWorks in Full Effect

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Nothing to see here, just a bunch of photos of the AWESOME 2014 MediaWorks cohort. We were in Knoxville Thursday for day zero, our first meetings with the teams, and we couldn’t be more pleased. Also we ate at Pete’s, which was sweet.

BEYONCE-FLASHLIGHT-BACKSTAGE

The Flashlight, Part 1

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Maybe I’m the only one who sees it, but I think the Flashlight is the ultimate X-factor in the music business.

Anyone who has tried to build software tools or other products for the independent artist has surely, whether they know it or not, dealt with what I call the Flashlight.

The Flashlight refers to the dream of stardom, the intoxication of being a rock star, the recognition of the public and most specifically being such a big deal that you have a roadie with a flashlight guide you up the dark stairs to bright lights of the stage.

Business people don’t understand the Flashlight. When they present a perfectly good idea to an artist they are always surprised by the artist’s reluctance to take advantage of a product or service that would clearly advance their career. Or when the artist says “that’s awesome, let’s do it”, then leave the meeting never to be heard from again.

This is because being a success in music isn’t about the money, it’s about adoration and worship. Kids who are good at baseball dream about hitting a home run in the ninth inning of the World Series, not playing for a minor league team in a small midwestern town. Musicians who receive their first guitar when they’re ten dream about playing in stadiums and having the Rolling Stones open for them.

Perhaps the only difference is the age factor. By the time most of us reach our twenties, we are fairly sure we won’t be drafted by the Yankees, but artists hold onto the dream of being led around by their handlers for a lifetime. They always feel like they’re one “big break” away from being discovered by the uninformed masses who, if they only heard the new record, would immediately thrust them into superstardom.

The Flashlight it that special treatment reserved for the rock star. Rich people don’t get the flashlight, baseball players don’t get the flashlight, movie stars don’t get the flashlight. The Flashlight is the right of passage from opening act to headliner. The Flashlight means you have made it. The Flashlight is the dream.

When you get frustrated by artists who seemingly won’t help themselves, against all logic, don’t blame them, blame The Flashlight.

We’d love to hear your Flashlight experiences. Please comment or email us with your stories. We could write a book!

Man v Snake

For the Future of the Music Industry, Fear is Not the Answer

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The music industry is full of fear. Fear of customers as thieves, fear of technology run amok, fear of loss of control. But for the music industry to do more than just survive, fear cannot be the answer.

The answer lies in listening to customers and letting them inform what and how they want to buy. The answer lies in experimentation and a willingness to fail. And key to it all is to stop grasping desperately for control and to stop acting out of fear.

All too rarely do I read an article in an industry publication that leads with curiosity and possibility when covering new technology. From every streaming service, to novel new music players, to self-driving cars, it would seem the sky is always falling.

Fear also comes in great supply from rock and roll royalty. While their arguments are worth careful consideration, artists like David Byrne and Thom Yorke have, in many ways, become the industry’s version of town criers gathering villagers with torches, set on destroying Frankenstein’s monster.

To me, the irony is this: just as artists embrace fear daily as they make their art, why shouldn’t the industry be expected to do the same with their business models and operations?

So, what’s the good news? Examples of companies and artists pushing past fear and taking risks are out there, if you know where to look. Neil Young’s Pono is a great example of both. Unsatisfied with the state of digital music quality, he crowd-funded a new music player that is now the third highest-funded campaign in Kickstarter’s history. There are plenty of skeptics, us among them, but Neil is to be saluted for trying something new.

Closer to the ground, we’re fortunate to work with deeply established music businesses like Zavitson Music Group, who are turning music publishing on its head with MusicPubWorks, and Lyric Financial, who are bringing progressive financial practices and technology from outside the music business to labels and artists alike.

These and other companies like them in Nashville and beyond are taking big risks and bucking the status quo. In doing so, they’re setting examples the rest of the industry would do well to study.

Perelman,_Grigori_(1966)

For The Love Of The Game

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In 1904, the French mathematician Henri Poincaré declared his eponymous conjecture: Every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.

This famous problem remained one of mathematics’ great mysteries for nearly 100 years. In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute included the Poincaré Conjecture in its Millennium Prize Problems, a set of 10 unsolved math problems with a $1,000,000 prize attached to each of them.

Three years later, the problem was solved by a Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman. To this day, it remains the only Millenium Prize Problem that has been solved.

When he was finally awarded the Millennium Prize in 2010, Perelman refused. What’s more, Perelman was awarded the Fields Medal for the same work, the equivalent of winning a Nobel Prize. To this he responded:

I’m not interested in money or fame. I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I’m not a hero of mathematics. I’m not even that successful; that is why I don’t want to have everybody looking at me.

Say what you will about reclusive geeks, Perelman is nothing if not passionate about his art.

Musicians don’t turn down GRAMMYs. Director’s don’t turn down Oscars. Writers don’t turn down Pulitzers. Sure, all of these things have happened, usually as a matter of protest, but it take balls of steel to turn down a friggin’ Fields Medal because you just want everyone to piss off and let you keep doing your work.

I believe this is something missing from music.

I often ask an artist, “Is there anything I can do right now to make you stop playing music forever? If I handed you a billion dollars, would you put your guitar down and never pick it up again?”

If the answer to the above question is yes, then you should just stop now.

Artists shouldn’t play music because it’s their job. They shouldn’t play for the money or the fame or the women. They shouldn’t play because it makes them happy, or makes them feel important. And they sure as hell shouldn’t play because someone else told them they should.

Artists should play because they have to play, because they can’t not play.

Perelman doesn’t do math for the fame, the prizes, the awards, and he doesn’t even do it because he loves it. He does it because math. Because it’s the only thing.

Nashville’s Poison Pool

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Dead fish

One of the dark secrets in media tech investment is what I call the Poison Pool. For the last ten years, a number of music tech start ups have found angel investments and some Series A rounds from the wealthy investors in Middle Tennessee.

This all seems well and good, except for one sad fact: the investments were made for the wrong reasons and without proper guidance.

Picture this: you are a multimillionaire who made his money in healthcare. You have large sums of it that you may use to buy a boat, go to Italy for the summer or buy your college kid a Mercedes. This is money you can afford to lose, money you are going to spend anyway and you don’t really give a rat’s ass what happens to it (or so you say).

Then a friend of a friend gives you a call and says they’ve found a good investment in music tech. They tell you all about how great it is, and let you know that your investment may allow you to hobnob with those cool people on Music Row. You think Awe what the hell?

So you get the prospectus, and surprisingly it makes tons of sense to you. People love music, music is going through a business transformation and this guy (who used to be a big record producer) seems like he knows his stuff. So after a few courtesy meetings and some back and forth about the valuation, you go for it.

For the first few months things are humming along. You do, in fact, meet some cool people at the cocktail parties arranged by the founders. Then there’s an office with people buzzing about doing music-business-looking things. There are white boards covered with tech terms and wireframes, and even a mobile developer. Everything is going perfectly. You may have just stumbled into a good one.

Then come the press releases and the launch event. Music guys are awesome at launch events. Their friend gets a country star to sing at the event whose friends (also famous music people) all show up to show their support and admiration. There’s an article in Billboard that mentions you as an early investor. The social buzz is through the roof, and in the first few months thousands of people sign up for the new (free) app.

Then it happens: nothing. Yep, absolutely nothing. What the hell went wrong? It’s been 18 months, and you threw in another 50K to support V2. All was still going so well. And now two years in… silence. The CEO decided to start charging for the app. You went from several thousand excited bands downloading your app to a few dozen paying customers. Yep, you’ve been duped.

All this familiar rhetoric is common knowledge among those of us who have been around for a while. And we wonder, sometimes aloud, why didn’t he just call me and ask? I would have told him it wouldn’t work. But that’s where the breakdown occurs. The lure of meeting stars and being in Showbiz claims another victim. This is fair game, but the outgrowth is poison.

The money guys get skittish. They talk amongst themselves and tell the story (with certain ego-protecting caveats), and their friends all hang out at the Palm and swear to never get sucked into that showbiz crap ever again.

This poisons the pool.

It’s common conversation in VC firms and angel groups that, no matter how logical it sounds, stay out of entertainment. Those people are crazy and crooked.

There is a solution to this bias, but it comes at a price. We as entertainment entrepreneurs have to seek out a business model that is lean, effective and honest. The best way to do this is to ask for the advice of someone in the music business (preferably several): “will this work?” You may find that some of us are honest, direct, and focused (add cynical, and use this to your advantage).

Over decades, I have found that any idea that claims to have it figured out is patently bogus. Because we have to accept that music is special. It’s special to the people who make it, and it’s special to the people who enjoy it. It’s also completely unpredictable. Stay out of the taste game. Stay out of the politically impossible distribution segment. Stay out of royalty based products. Invest in products that will work whether you like rap or country. Invest in products that build a better mousetrap – a mousetrap that already works, just a better one.

There’s no going back and un-poisoning the pool, but we can guide investors back into the field by honestly vetting ideas and leading with a few solid exits.