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Category: Music (page 1 of 2)

In Movies: Scriptnotes talks Superhero Movies

Superheros are mainstream now, so like many of you, I have witnessed this pretty amazing blending of visual storytelling, innovation in the effects area, and allround blockbuster-money-exploding movie releases. The Scriptnotes podcast, in light of the recent “forecast” for when what 30 superhero movies will be released until 2020 (MarvelDC), is pretty insightful in explaining what “pillars” made all of this possible.

They begin with Brian Singer’s X-men, released in 2000, which was perhaps the first non-cheesy looking mainstream (!) comic book movie. He brought these characters on screen, focussing less on costumes and more on characters we care about.

Secondly, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, released in 2005, which again brought a realistic, but hard-to-replicate gritty tone to the superhero scene. To me, this Batman is like the Indiana Jones of adventure films—an impossible character (in a good way) in a well-written adventure. If X-men was characters, I think writing is the key contribution here.

Third, Joss Whedon’ and Kevin Feige’s the Avengers, which really brought together the universe of these characters, much more so than X-men did. Craig Mazin says on Feige:

He’s like, you know, you have to go all the way back to like, I don’t know, Thalberg, and guys like that to find these really powerful, very smart guys that actually made like a good creator-like impact on the movie business. He may be our generation’s, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it, Zanuck or Thalberg. One of those guys.

… which I thought was really powerful stuff!

It’s hard to argue with John August and Craig Mazin, these two “pillars” of movie podcasting and scriptwriting, so I won’t. Like Lost or Battlestar Gallactica lead audiences into watching science fiction, something amazing has happened for comics as well. It’s nice to hear an analysis of what these contributing factors were and perhaps a discussion point for another time.

In Music: Records fight the digital age with Sleevefaces

I found this on Facebook: a collection of Sleevefaces, 1970s answer to the Selfie. I’m happy to say that it’s not the only use I found for records. If you’re willing to live with changing side every four songs, it makes for an excellent audiovisual accompaniment to any candlelight dinner.


In Music: The last track of ‘Six Feet Under’

The last track of the show was a beautiful piece of ambiance while the final scenes of the show were shown. So sad! I wrote before how I wondered whether this show, which is about death, desensitised you from the death-experience. I think that it does the opposite, that you become more sensitive to it, but that ignoring it is worse—you have this constant shadow hanging over you, especially when you get older. I didn’t realise that Alan Ball, who also wrote and directed ‘American Beauty,’ had done the same for this show. A marvellous piece of art and I feel privileged to have been allowed to see it (as I feel with many of HBO’s shows).

Enjoy the track!

In 2008: a year of media

My media memory only goes back so far, but the great thing about the human brain is that it’s self-selecting, automatically dismissing that which isn’t noteworthy.

Memorable this year were a few things in tv-shows, films, and music.

The year in TV-Shows:
My highlight this year is definitely finishing “The Wire“, which I managed to do over the period of several months. A genius piece of writing and it made me a big fan of HBO, which, as I recently found out, stands for Home Box Office. A great name!

Another gem that stood out was “Damages,” with Glenn Close, which never let up in the tension. I’ve only seen the first season and can’t wait for the rest.

Comedy-wise, I’ve been left pretty disappointed since Seinfeld and the early Friends, but I can warmly recommend “How not to live your life.” It only aired a few episodes this year, but it was laugh-out-loud funny British comedy.

The year in Films
Last Christmas, I actually made it my resolution to focus on the classics in 2008 and beyond, and can’t really recall any brilliant films coming out (of course, I’m wrong, but my brain only holds that much space).

Classics that stood out were:

  • The Public Enemy, which I liked because it’s the oldest thing I’ve ever seen and I’m fascinated at the idea of looking through a window into life when my grandparents lived.
  • Rebecca, which was also tension non-stop.
  • A few Jean Arthur movies, whom I’ve developed a mini-crush on.
  • Lawrence of Arabia, which just seems like the optimal adventure movie to me.
  • And Casablanca, which is just a classy flick.

I’m trying to strain my brain for some more recent films, perhaps you can suggest some. Did Juno come out this year (no), in which case, that’s worth a watch, as well as Mongol (the life of Genghis Kahn).

The year in Music
Similarly, I think it is hard to form a valid opinion as to an album is great, when it has only recently been released. Thinking back at 2008, only two albums stood out:

Everything else, I still have to think about.

In music: Spoon & The Black Keys

Two albums I liked today:

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Favourite track so far: The Ghost of You Lingers

The Black Keys – Attack and Release

Favourite track so far: Lies

In music: Ziggy Marley’s "Beach in Hawaii"

Somebody in my street blasted this song this morning and woke me up. I’m sure that makes me biased, but I liked it. That said, Ziggy M. has the artistic bandwidth of my left foot: always the same rhythm and always the same theme: love.

In Music: tracks U can dance 2 like Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’

In Music: best Beck songs

Interlude: Copyright or the *Right to Eat*

copyright right to eat.jpgRead it on Tech IT Easy!

Musical interlude: Róisín Murphy parties like it’s ’99

This is as much a celebration of technologies like MixWit, which make publishing playlists (legally) possible, as it is a spotlight on one of my favourite musical discoveries last year.

Róisín (Pronounced “Roshiin”) Murphy, former lead-singer in the British band Moloko, with a voice that reminds me a lot of Annie Lennox. I have to confess that, except for some remixes, I wasn’t a big fan of either of these artists back in the day.

Still, Ms. Murphy is a breath of fresh air in what often seems like a stale and regurgitated pop-scene (I exaggerate). And… I simply can’t get the first song on this playlist, “Dear Miami“, out of my head!

Not for you, if you don’t like electronica or pop.


Musical Interlude: Grant Green’s blues

Funny how moods influence musical preference. Last week on my run, I would’ve told you that Junior Jack is the sh*t; a few weeks ago, on a lonely walk through a misty and deserted street, it would’ve have been Lisa Gerard’s haunting voice. But last night, as my eyes were feeling heavy with sleep, it was Grant Green that touched me most.

I first stumbled on Mr. Green’s music after trying to prove to my brother that many rap-songs are sampled from other (better) songs. Turns out Grant Green performed a song, named “Better Tomorrow,” that was later sampled in Dr. Dre’s hit-song “Still DRE.” Even though it’s not my favourite track of Green’s, it’s one of the few I could find on YouTube. So here you go, a very recognisable melody after 1:20 mins.

P.S. The Grant Green album I like the most, is called “Ballads.”

Thanks to the power of Mixwit, you can listen to a whole playlist of Grant Green songs, sourced from all over the web. Enjoy!

Outlook for the physical retail of media = bleak

skitched-20080229-165004.jpgOne of the things I do on this blog is deciding on the potential of industry-segments, ranging from farming to coffee-shops, and from grocery to other types of retail. On Tech IT Easy I’ve previously expressed my scepticism at media (in which I include text, art, audio, video, and gaming), especially in terms of business-models, which I think that segment lacks.

Equally so, I see fairly little space for it in the physical retail segment, simply because it is so much more convenient to purchase and consume it via digital means. The PC (and other tech-gadgets) have essentially become the hub for all things media, and creating barriers to that experience just leads consumers to pursue more convenient ways of experiencing that media. That search for convenience is something that I’ve also approached in a previous post on this blog.

Let’s look at some media-types and how they are being sold online.

For Video – there’s iTunes, consoles, and set-top boxes that are controlled by media-producers. In any case, the power-differentials between producers and intermediaries is very unbalanced and it isn’t a nice segment to enter as a retailer. Also, let’s not forget the free alternatives: YouTube et. al and piracy.

For Audio – again iTunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon MP3 Store, but also smaller digital store for independent artists, like CD-Baby (which operates through iTunes also). Let us again not forget piracy and the fact that much of music is being produced through digital means and it makes sense to organise distribution that way also.

For text – there’s again online outlets like Amazon for eBooks (Kindle) and Zinio for magazines. And let’s not forget that 99% of text-based media is viewable for free online. Still, admittedly, electronic devices for consumption are not yet able to compete with paper-based methods, at least where price is concerned. Also Audible should not be forgotten as a source for audio-books, recently bought up by Amazon and partially distributed through iTunes again.

For Gaming – I’m not too familiar with the online market for this one. Even so, there’s Steam, a digital distribution system by Valve, a platform which they recently opened up for use by other game-publishers. There’s also plenty of smaller games being distributed through Xbox-live, the future Playstation Home, and of course the internet.

Finally, Art – here the situation is more complex, while on the other hand being relatively simple. It is complex for artists like my mother, who paints, and conducts business on a personal level by interacting with her customers. On the other hand, there’s photography and digital art, arguably the evolution of traditional art, which is easy (for some) to produce digitally and distribute online. I suppose every industry has that friction between the traditional way of doing things and “the new way.”

All in all, I don’t see media as a big cash-cow for physical retail. I like to think that, because production and distribution becomes cheaper, that its cost will eventually fall to a very low price, allowing for it to be included as an added-value component in the service-proposition of physical retail-outlets (to which I also include restaurants, etc.). I also like to think that creating environments that make the consumption of media a comfortable process (e.g. cinemas) also has some potential.

But my outlook for selling media as a product, something that could easily be sold digitally, remains bleak. Please let me know if there are arguments against my point of view, as I’m here to learn.

My relationship with story-telling – a short autobiography part I

I’m in a philosophical mood today, after having spend an hour this morning sorting through the rough drafts for this blog (estimated at around 150), which I categorised as “idea,” “rough notes,” “feature complete,” and “send it already.” There were so many of them that I found myself a little overwhelmed to address a single one, a little afraid to miss seeing the forest through the trees, and instead decided to write about a core-principle in my life: story-telling.

I’m very attracted to the concept of telling stories. It’s perhaps a little difficult to explain, but certainly related to the reason why I write so much, and also integral to what I want to do with my life.

When I grew up, I was reading all the time. From the back of cereal boxes, to encyclopaedias, to even the bible (which I thought was a great fantasy book). As a kid, I also remember building up cities in my room and garden, made out of toy-parts and characters, and constructing visual stories around what was happening.

I did not watch TV until I was 10, but, around that time, I fell in love with fantasy and sci-fi stories, both in book-form and on TV. I liked the way the story was constructed, and loved to imagine myself being there. I remember having magnificent visions of what I imagined the future of society, cities, and the home to look like.

Around 17, I decided to hold my first teen-party (the last one before that was probably around the ages 8-9). At that time, I was playing around in a band and very much into music-culture. I remember coming up with the party idea, which was essentially a visualisation of a club. It was lucky timing. We were just about to move and I had a huge house to my disposal.

The way I visualised it was to have rock-bands playing live in the living-room, a techno-room with a (borrowed, I think) strobe-light in the basement, and some other theme-related room elsewhere. Important were of course drinks and drugs, as, hey, I was 17. And equally important was the concept of complete freedom, which I think was communicated quite clearly.

A large inspiration was this video by the Prodigy – No Good (start the dance):

The end-result was great: around 50 people showed up, 2-3 bands were playing, and people did some crazy stuff, without getting me in trouble. In the end, I was still the one responsible, and took that seriously, but essentially everyone could do what they wanted. I repeated a similar party a few months later, which revolved around the same principles, with some restrictions, though around twice the amount of people.

That’s where I’ll end this. Lot’s of stuff happened since then and will continue to happen, and I hope to write a second part in maybe 5-10 years from now (maybe sooner) about all the adventures I’ll hopefully have, and evolutionary leaps I’ll hopefully make.

Core to everything, I think, is vision and freedom. When you create a story, you have a vision of the components and the way they fit together into a dynamic process. At the same time, a story-teller must realise that his/her story is just the start for the listener/viewer/experiencer. It’s a synergetic interaction between creator and beholder and the end-result can be both unpredictable and quite beautiful sometimes, a risk that, to me, is entirely worth it.

P.S. Happy Valentines day!

Materialistic interlude – Things I would like for 2OO8


  • Cordless earplugs that are also headphones – imagine going to bed and blocking out your partner’s snoring, and waking up to the sweet sounds of […insert your sweet sound here…].
  • Fluorescent permanent marker – to convert my non-pro Apple laptop-keyboard, into one that lights up in the dark.
  • A binder/folder that allows me to bind printed web-articles into an easy to read non-webzine.
  • A mobile (!) pad that allows me to draw on paper, which stores these drawings electronically, and allows me to later transfer them to my computer – saw this somewhere for €80, always regret not buying it.
  • Some kickin’ clothes.
  • For my Laptop and iPod to last me through their 3rd year.
  • Anything on my wish-list.

For 2OO9

  • An Apple laptop that is as light and as thin as possible – So no disk-drive as that can be external. 3-4 USB-ports to compensate would be nice.
  • The next OS (10.6 or 11.0) from Apple.
  • An iPod with a nice screen and no phone – for music, video, books on the road.
  • A small car (unless I live in a big city, then a good rent-a-car service).
  • Orexin A.
  • More public wifi / or a pan-European service.
  • A Wii / DS and time to play it.
  • Some kickin’ clothes.

Media-interlude: digging Candy Dulfer’s Sax

I’m preparing a few posts for this week, but had the chance to watch a documentary about Dutch artist, Candy Dulfer this evening. She made a very favourable impression on me. Her most famous song, “Lily was here,” was a spontaneous collaboration with Dave Stewart, recorded some 18 years ago. Stewart, whom she describes as her mentor, in turn describes her style as “very fluid,” and her knowledge of riffs “encyclopaedic,” which makes her an excellent collaborator with other artists.

Love the song, love the person. Enjoy!

Interlude: Coffee can be a dangerous drug

Watching this as I drink my Pepsi Max. Thanks Fred Brunel!

Media-interlude: Songs named after cities – Amsterdam

I’m taking a little breather (what again?), to prepare some longer posts, a media-related one for Tech IT Easy, and some more tech- and logistic-related ones which I plan to mirror-post on both this blog and TIE. Hopefully, I’ll be done with that soon.

In the mean time, I was thinking that there are actually quite a lot of songs inspired by and named after cities. The first one that comes to mind is Jacques Brel’s “Le Port d’Amsterdam” (see video at the end of this post), also more commonly known as just “Amsterdam.” I don’t have the time to create a world-map of songs, though quite a few come to mind, which I may write about at a later date. And I’m also thinking about themes for food-venues, and where they come from.

There is a famous café in Brussels, called “A la Mort Subite,” which Jacques Brel used to frequent and which has pictures of him hanging on the wall. I think it represents, for those that care, a great tourist-attraction and a piece of history. It’s hard to control that, and I’m sure the café would have ended up differently, if it wasn’t for Brel.

a la mort subite.JPG

My dad told me a story about a café started in Bonn, Germany, which became a centre for political journalists in the 80s. As the interim capital of West-Germany, Bonn was important back then and it was only natural that such a place needed to exist. The café is dead now, of course, after the government moved to Berlin. Similarly, there is an artist-hangout in Dublin, one of the few authentic pubs left, and probably there since James Joyce, for all I know.

How this all happens, seems out of the control of the owners. Maybe just the right time/place, or the price being right for starving artists/journalists, who knows. Maybe there were other factors that can be “engineered.” In any case, food for thought.

Enjoy the video. Le Port d’Amsterdam is incidentally also a Dutch pub in Paris.

Is coffee a bad business to be in?

queue.jpgIt’s a fair question. Look at the picture on the right. This should be a familiar view in just about any city: a long queue for a tall latte. The picture suggests several things. One, that coffee seems to be a popular product; two, that there is space for more coffee-shops; or three, that this particular coffee-shop should perhaps improve its service.

The truth is that this trend is scary for many an existing coffee-shop owner. Because the café, in Europe, has been around for quite some time, centuries for all I know. Yet if you walk just down the street from where I took that picture at a Rotterdam coffee-shop, you’ll see a line of traditional cafes, spacious and atmospheric, yet entirely empty. The fact that people would line up at this particular coffee-shop—the only Starbucks-like venue in Rotterdam—suggests that they don’t care about space, about atmosphere. All they are about is convenience (if you call waiting for 5 mins. a convenience); coffee-to-go; and exotically-named and expensive coffee. What is happening here is not so much the comoditisation of coffee itself, rather the comoditisation (read: non-importance) of the coffee-selling venue.

I’m not sure if people would care whether they bought a coffee at McDonalds or the Metropole-cafe in Brussels anymore, to be honest. If the selling point is how quickly you can get the coffee and get out, what does it matter if the venue is a palace, ready to serve its customers on its hands and knees?

There are plenty of stories about “how Starbucks drove me out of business” (here’s a borderline case), strangely outweighed by stories about “how Starbucks saved my life” (here’s one). And with McDonalds increasingly getting ready to become a competitor to Starbucks, and other venues, like Leonidas, a Belgian chocolatier, transforming their previous chocolate-laced focus into a coffee-one, I don’t think it’s unnatural to be afraid. If a coffee-venue is a commodity, then how hard is it to change your existing venue? Insert some coffee-pumping machines, put a to-go sign on your door, and you’re set.

So what should an entrepreneur do? Leave or fight? Yesterday’s odd post about Beef, of all things, did suggest another way of looking at business: on a system-level. What was essential to the Chinese beef industry, to meet demand? Proximity to the market, amongst other factors. And what is essential to the coffee-industry? Probably not more coffee-venues, but maybe something else.

When you look at the way the coffee-industry is structured, and probably most industries, it’s like a funnel: there are a number of coffee-producers (not sure how many), and a definitely greater number of coffee-venues. The latter is battling for the attention of customers. They do so by engaging in new business development opportunities, both internally (e.g. music), and externally (e.g. coffee in cans). They need to open more and more locations to maintain their air of convenience, just look at the picture above. They need to brand themselves as the number one place to go, versus all the 100s of other new and traditional venues. They need properly trained staff. They need good coffee, and other quick food-products, etc.

This would suggest following openings*:

  • marketing consultants
  • new business developers
  • new business providers
  • real-estate agents
  • customer service consultants
  • coffee-buyers
  • temp-agencies
  • quick food producers, e.g. a bakers
  • and I don’t know what else.

(* disclaimer: none of the above can be taken as sensible business advice, without conducting your own study)

The point is that, while a certain, most obvious, business opportunity is shrinking, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for more business. As a (creative) entrepreneur, you just have to look outside the coffee-cup (read: box) and see if customers and coffee-venues would not be in need of other services. And perhaps I am wrong, and because it is so easy to implement a “to-go” formula, it is actually easy to start some kind of food-related venue and add the coffee on top.

Anyway, all this coffee-talk is making me thirsty for one myself.

A few days in limbo

Taking a few days off blogging. For some, easily explained reason, I’m completely burned out and unable to phrase intelligent arguments about why food and/or retail is great… or anything else for that matter.

I leave you with this video from “Lost in Translation,” because that’s how I feel. But don’t worry, I’ll be back and on fire before you know it.

The song is “Moby – Porcelain.”

The search for convenience – is the iPod the new CD?

Nothing illustrates people’s preference for convenience more than the evolution of money. Go from bartering goods (think rotting tomatoes), to (heavy) gold, to (less heavy) gold-pieces, to certificates of value, to paper-money, to credit-cards, to … mobile phones(?) and I hope the point is clear. When it comes to money, people would rather not deal with it at all; they just want to be able to buy stuff.

The same applies to music-media and the need for quality vs. convenience. Take a live concert: the best possible quality of music, not only can you hear it in the best surround-sound possible, you can also see the band, and feel the emotions going through the crowd. It’s exhilarating, at least I think so. Anything reproduced really only gives you half the quality. 

The tape became a success, even though they were accompanied by a lot of hissing, because it was so easy to integrate it into social life, like music should be. You could exchange it with friends, carry them in your pocket, even listen to it in your car. The CD really had the same qualities, with the added benefit of no hiss. And along came MP3s, worse quality than CDs again, with their compression and small sizes. Yet it became an instant success because we could exchange it globally, and it had no DRM for liberal home-use. You could burn it on cheap cds and play in your car.. yay!

convenient music.JPG

iPods are infinitely more expensive, and even though I got my 20 gigs worth for only €50 (student-deal), I don’t think I would hesitate to buy a €300 model when mine breaks. The simple answer is convenience again. It is expensive, yes, but it’s so nice to carry a device around that allows you to play songs in any order, create flexible playlists, as well as play podcasts and, for some (not me), play video and browse websites, even call / photograph people. How cool / convenient is that?

John Gruber wrote another good post about Amazon’s new MP3 store and the fact that it works so well with iTunes and hence iPods:

People buy iPods because they love them. If your music doesn’t play on iPods, it isn’t going to sell. And so if (a) you refuse to sell music downloads without DRM; and (b) no other DRM system other than Apple’s is compatible with iPods; then we’re left with a situation where the only successful store is going to be iTunes. What Universal and EMI now seem to have learned, at long last, is that (b) is completely under Apple’s control; only (a) — the labels’ own willingness to allow their music to be sold without DRM — is under their control.

The point being is that people don’t care about DRM, it will not affect the way they decide things. They did not buy at the iTunes store because they were locked into the iPod. They bought at the iTunes store because it worked so well with the iPod.

That said, the way Apple treats the rest of the world is disgraceful and I have yet to buy more than 1 song in iTunes. It pissed me of because I couldn’t use it anywhere else, because US-customers get a more complete offering, including video, because I already feel like a criminal before I even stole anything… But hey, I agree with the core-idea of iTunes, not necessarily the legalese surrounding international business.

Allow me to digress for the rest of the post.

The dilemma of hardware-companies
w580i.pngRecently, I bought my brother a Sony Ericsson W580i phone. It has a lot of media-capabilities and is actually kind of cool. I like the way that Sony is trying to turn this little device into the new walkman. But there’s two things I hate about it. One is that I need to use a special plug* with any headphones I want to use (they don’t show you that in the picture). OK, it sucks, but I can deal with it. And two, the software that comes with the phone stinks!

It might be the computer (note that iTunes works well on that one), but as soon as the software started I was both confused and frustrated. Moving music is a three-step process; I had to dig to understand how to import my music; and the whole process is kind of slow… even lags down my brother’s PC (might be his crappy PC :). But you could summarise the whole thing down to being pretty unsatisfactory. Alternatively you can use the phone as a hard drive and drag files to it using explorer, but it then doesn’t import metadata, like eh what the artist is called and the album.

In both cases, Apple and Sony, you are restricted to using the software. But the iTunes experience is actually kind of nice (except if you want to export things — if it wants to become DRM-free it should also allow me to move music out of my iPod). You can create brilliant playlists, etc. iTunes is in fact the interface that no media-player manufacturer has as yet managed to create, both on the player or on the computer. And what you see with Creative, Sony, etc. is that they are clearly not software-companies, focussing all their energy on the player instead of the software on the computer. But I digress.

The point is that, even though the W580i is infinitely cheaper, it is not Walkman 2 or 3, because there is actually no improvement in the experience. In the technology, yes, in the experience it’s a couple of steps backwards. The reason is very much Sony-specific; it has the weirdest business-structure where it splits all its divisions into a competitive matrix, where each has to fight for its yearly budget (if that sounds familiar, it’s because public institutions like schools operate in the same idiotic way.) And because of this divided structure, there is no co-operation, no synergy. The hardware-people create brilliant hardware, like they’ve always done. The software-people, because they suck, create inferior software, and continue to under-perform under Sony’s “interesting” mechanism of only rewarding the strong.

Businesses who want to compete for the next medium in music need to understand that customers make decisions based on a very simple principle: “How is my life better because of using your product?” You need to look beyond the lab, into people’s homes to see if your hardware-solution might benefit from better software, or vice versa. Or else, you can’t even hope to succeed against Apple.

The good thing about the rise of online media-stores, is that if you can create software that works well with them (e.g. Amazon imports music in to iTunes), as well as well with your player, you are already half way there.

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