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Music streaming: Warner Music Group sees what customers want and says they can’t have it

Record labels continue to flounder in the face of basic economics and 10 years of failed strategies. As part of their latest flip off to customers, Warner Music Group announced they will stop free streaming of music. While they haven’t clarified whether this means removing all current streaming deals, the idea is likely meant to remove a large portion of music from popular streaming sites like Spotify and Last.FM.

Warner Music claims there isn’t enough money being made from streaming, but once again, Warner Music is ignoring basic economics here and worse, ignoring a large market of customers who they can make money on selling true scarce goods.

First, if customers can’t find your music, then they’ll find someone else who’s willing to stream, share, and use all the marketing tools at their disposal. And for those who want Warner music, well, there are more than enough unauthorized sources that offer no direct revenue back to the labels. So Warner Music’s artists get less exposure and file-sharing still runs rampant. How is this suppose to increase revenue?

Warner Music could use streaming as a marketing tool to increase the value of scarce goods (not music files) like concert tickets, merchandise, or the many other new music business models we’ve seen.  And if they were really smart, they’d stop strangling music streaming services with onerous service charges that make it impossible to innovate and run a business.

Netflix’s geographic data put on interactive map

Netflix sits on a mountain of movie interests and rental habits, and slowly geeks are getting to enjoy the fruits of this data mining. The New York Times (yes, print media has done something awesomely interactive) has compiled  a map of the most popular movie rentals by zip code (near a major city). Roger Ebert wants to know how much we can guess about a zip code’s demographics by its movie preferences. I want to know why Curious Case of Benjamin Button is so popular everywhere.

Blu-Ray discs beginning to show the value of scarce goods

Doomsayers are already writing the obituaries of Blu-Ray as expensive players and discs prevent widespread adoption of the new high-def format.  But through BD-Live and the massive size of the discs, Blu-Ray can offer unique experiences that make the discs worth paying for.

Hurting Blu-Ray are the proliferation of upscaling DVD players and high-definition download services, all of which are cheaper and good-enough alternatives.  Further, online piracy with free movies of DVD quality are always compelling.  So how does Blu-Ray carve a market niche?  The movie file itself is an infinite good, able to reproduced an infinite amount of times with negligible costs.  Blu-Ray quality movies, taking up 25-50 GBs of memory, are more taxing than a 1 GB movie even on my 1 terabyte hard drive.

Registered purchases of the Hellboy II Blu-Ray disc had the chance to join a live chat with director Guillermo Del Toro. Though I didn’t participate, the exiting potential to talk to directors and movie staff is a valuable scarce good (access to these celebrities).  Future discs might take this even farther with live commentary and discussions of the movie (it’s the magic of picture-in-picture).

The Dark Knight Blu-Ray included further technological innovations, changing the aspect ratio on the fly to better reflect the IMAX format the movie was filmed in. At this point, no pirated movie format can offer this feature, and while it’s limited in its appeal, it’s a start of turning Blu-Ray in a unique experience above just “it looks really good.”

These are the kind of features that can convince some to buy plastic discs (rather than, say, sue them into doing it).  These features reward fans for their loyalty and for spending their money.  Blu-Ray’s interactive potential is still in its infancy – most early discs don’t have any online functionality – and some companies might be waiting for more people to buy players before investing.  But that’s short-sighted thinking.  DVDs still look pretty good even on high-def TVs.  It’s unlikely Blu-Ray will ever be a complete replacement for DVR, sharing the limelight with download services.  Only by embracing the format for its strengths and exploiting those can you convince the market to embrace the format themselves.  Unique, scarce features are the way to convince people to give you their money.

Copyright to blame for bad movies?

William Stepp from Against Monopoly has an interesting take on the Wall Street Journal article I just wrote about.  Responding to movie companies flooding the market with too many movies, Stepp cites economist Arnold Plant 1934 article on “The Economic Aspects of Copyright in Books.”  He explains that because of the monopolies granted by copyrights, publishers make excessive amounts of money off a few blockbusters, which they use to fund a long string of duds no one wants to read.

Julio Cole tackles this issue in “Controversy: Would the Absence of Copyright Laws Significantly Affect the Quality and Quantity of Literary Output?” In the paper, Cole recognizes the lottery aspect of publisher, but criticizes copyrights for increasing the payout of larger titles, distorting the marketplace.

Too many movies, too few weekends

Movie companies seem to think if they make it, we will come. Unfortunately, they’re making too many movies with too few ways to see them.  The Wall Street Journal writes how movie companies are flooding theaters with more new releases than audiences can handle. Almost every weekend this summer from April through July features a major blockbuster, leaving many with disappointing and embarrassing box office returns.

The Wall Street Journal ignores, however, the potential movie companies are squandering.  There are more avenues to release content and make money than ever before, but movie companies are focused on obsolete business models built around weekend box offices and distance DVD releases.  Not every movie has to be released in movie theaters. There’s online downloads, streaming services, direct-to-DVD, etc. giving any movie maker a huge audience to market to.

Digital distribution allows for more content to reach more people. You’re not taking up limited number of theaters or shelf space in a DVD store, so more content can be offered.  Unfortunately, Hollywood remains focused on a box office mentality, meaning it would rather lose money a $60 million George Clooney film rather than use technology to make more money.

Nuking the Fridge is the Jumping the Shark for movies

indiana_jones_crystal_skulls Something good might come out of the awful, new Indiana Jones movie. A growing online campaign is building around the infamous moment when Indy survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator, getting blasting miles and surviving without a scratch. This hilariously bad moment will be immortalized as Nuking the Fridge, the movie version of Jumping the Shark.

Jumping the shark originated back in a 1977 Happy Days episode where Fonzie literally jumps a shark.  The infamous moment came to define when a series overstays its welcome, doing something silly to renew interest like killing off a character or being to should-be lovers actually together.

Nuking the Fridge will hopefully now be used to embarrassingly lampoon movie franchises that overstay their welcome.

Prodigeek Interview with the creators of the Star Wars Musical part 2

Edward Smith and Hunter Russell Nolen continue telling Prodigeek about their hilarious Star Wars Musical.  You can read part 1 here.

Prodigeek: How was the initial reaction on the web?

Hunter: We slowly started getting an email here and there. We had these fake write ups about us. We didn’t want to say who we were because we thought George Lucas would get mad or something. For a long time we were just anonymous. But the first time I got an email from Sweden, I was like hey that’s cool, people all over the world like this.

Tim: How often do you get emails?

Hunter: They seem to come in waves. Like I’ll get nothing for months and then I’ll get 3 and an interesting phenomenon in the last year is we’ve gotten some hate mail saying “You all are fags, this is stupid”. And that just started. [laughing]. There’s only been a few of those the whole time. Unfortunately those stand out. It’s like you took the time to write this.

Tim: Another interesting thing is on YouTube, someone took our making of video and put that up. So there’s a video about us that I didn’t put up. That’s weird, who put that up and why.

Prodigeek: When did you make your Making of Video?

Tim: [The One Season More song] was the big part of the video and also the website. After I did that animation I wanted to completely revamp the website and make this really cool. So that was 2005 we made the making of video, the animation [of One Season More], revamped the website.

Prodigeek: What brought about creating the animated version of One Season More?

Tim: We wanted to do a computer video. We wanted to do an easy song with maybe one person. One Season More is a good song to use because there’s one person, but the song wasn’t good enough so we re-wrote the song and made it hopefully better.

I’m into a lot of artistic things and 3D animation is something I dabble in. I hadn’t done a big animation project so I wanted to pick something to do. I thought let’s pick one of the Star Wars Musical songs. Hunter said what song. Let’s rewrite one of them and make it really good, lots more height, quality.

Prodigeek: And it one fan film award?

Tim: Yeah, the Atom Films Star Wars Fan Film Award. Won the best song award.

Hunter: Which as far as I know that’s the only time they’ve awarded a best song.

Tim: We didn’t get the big George Lucas Select Award. Just knowing he saw it is kind of cool.

Prodigeek: Ever heard been in contact with George Lucas?

Tim: For a short period after that we tried to get into touch with Lucas Films and get some information like if could we really get this musical performed. But we just didn’t follow through with it. And they didn’t really get back to us too much. So it just kind of fizzled out.

Hunter: The main reason for that is some schools emailed that want to put it on. It seems popular with schools to do something with this material. I wanted to get some clearance from Lucas Films so these schools can do this. But they just wouldn’t respond. But these schools have still done it, and I hope that since its used for educational purposes they will always allow that to happen.

Tim: It’s been performed by a couple different high schools. Some person wrote us recently and this was weird. They wanted to use the music but not the lyrics. They just wanted to just go off and do their own musical.

Hunter: He was from, I think, the Netherlands. He said I want to use your music, but my lyrics and my story, it’s not Star Wars. Well there’s Star Wars themes woven throughout, but sure, whatever you want.

Prodigeek: Have you seen any of the school productions?

Hunter: Somebody sent us a video of one that they did.

Tim: I found another one on YouTube. These people never contacted me. I don’t know who these people are. I just see another performance of it on YouTube. I’ve seen a couple things like one person doing what we did using the Star Wars figures with our songs to it.

Hunter: The other day I was bored at work and I’m on YouTube and I find somehow this old thing of the Star Wars Christmas Special that came on in the 70s and I found this thing that Princess Leia sings. So of course I have to click on that. And sure enough she sings in that. I never knew that. I saw that when it was on TV when I was little but I don’t remember it. Sure enough she freakin’ sings and it’s really Carrie Fisher and she really sings. I sent Tim that link and we talked about it that night and he’s like, I wonder if in the back of my mind that’s where the whole idea for this came from subconsciously. But yeah everybody check that, it’s amazing that she actually sings in it.

Prodigeek: Any more animations planned?

Tim: Not at the moment. I have ideas but it’s so much work. I’d like to do them but yeah.

Hunter: [Tim] worked pretty much full time on that by himself for 18 months for One Season More so I can certainly understand.

Tim: It’s really nice once you have the finished project but to get there is just a tremendous amount of work. I’m no expert at all at animation or any facet of it so I’m learning it as I’m doing it and that’s what you’re seeing.

Hunter: Tim would calmly just go ugh, this plug-in, I don’t know why it’s doing what it’s doing. It comes with no documentation. I can’t look up why its doing it. So if you watch the One Season More video, watch Luke’s tunic. It’s like waving like its an ocean floor. Why’s it doing that. Tim could never figure out why it was doing that and get it to stop.

Tim: When I started making the video there was no deadline or time crunch in which to get it done. Just for fun. And then we heard about the fan films and we were like, let’s try to get it in that. And then suddenly it was like man now we have no time to finish this thing. The one that won the award is not a complete version of the video which we now have on our website. It was just half the length.

Prodigeek: Have you made any other musical works?

Hunter: Funny you should ask.

Tim: When we finished [Star Wars in] 1999, the next year we wrote another musical called Beyond the Gates which is obviously nothing to do with Star Wars or nothing to do with any other movie spoofs. It was just a new original musical that we wrote for a theater festival in Dallas, Teasx.

Hunter: This theatrical producer I knew, I’d given him the CD and he’s like, I love Star Wars the Musical. I’m in this theater festival and I don’t have a show. Do you guys want to write a musical, and we’re like sure. So that just led to that.

Prodigeek: What was it about?

Hunter: We talked years ago before Star Wars about doing an Oedipus Rex musical because Tim had directed Oedipus Rex in high school and we were like that would make a good musical. So we wanted to do a musical of that. We changed it, based it very loosely on the Oedipus Rex story and set it in this weird sci-fi kind of environment.

Prodigeek: How was the performance?

Tim: It was another issue of having a time crunch where we only had six months. It was only an hour long slot for a show, but the show we came up with is really should be 2 hours so we had to condense it, really compress it and make it run fast. So we only had 6 months to write it and put it up. That was in 2000.

Hunter: Which is insane. A lot of aspects of it we weren’t happy with. We got some very nice write ups in the paper. We had one review that I would call honest. The rest were just too, you know, too praising.

Prodigeek: What do for work?

Tim: I create sound libraries which are that programs people can that write music and do music on computers can use.

Hunter: Yeah he’s had some reviews of his stuff in Electronic Music Magazine and some other places. And I work in the IT industry for my day job. I think of myself as an independent filmmaker and I wish I was doing a whole lot more with that than I am lately.

Prodigeek: Have you seen any of the productions?

Tim: The one I saw was only like a 30 minute version. The thing is close to an hour. [The school] did a 30 minute, they just did excerpts.

Hunter: What they did was pretty good. The drama teacher that contacted me he said I’m going to have to add some sort of narrator to string these numbers together, do you have any pointers. I was like no, we know that’s a problem. He did it really well. His concept was a group of kids in the garage playing Star Wars. This one guy, I think the Obi-Wan character, he’ll just narrate, “now our team is in the Death Star and they bla bla bla. And they just launch into the song. People are always emailing us asking us for a script or for sheet music or for the orchestra parts. There never was any. No one who ever sang on it looked at any music for it.

Tim: Most of the people weren’t musicals who had no voice training so we just, I recorded it myself. I sang all the parts and gave that to everyone else to learn off of. So the parts that are harmonies you know like well this is your part, then I had recorded it previously myself and had given everyone their own part so they could learn it.

Hunter: One thing I’ve always wanted to do is replace all the songs up there with the version Tim did. Tim singing every part, especially him singing the Princess Leia part. It’s just hilarious.

Your can read part 1 of the Star Wars Musical interview here.

Prodigeek Interview with the creators of the Star Wars Musical part 1

Inspired like most by their action figures, Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Russell Nolen turned the quintessential space opera into literally a musical extravaganza.  The two wrote and recorded the Star Wars Musical during the mid-90s (MP3s available), winning an Atom Films Fan Award for their animated adaptation of Luke’s “One Season More”. Come back for part 2 of the interview.

Prodigeek: What inspired you to write Star Wars Musical?

Tim: We’re big fans of the movie and we that was a big part of growing up for us. For me, I was a big fan of movie soundtracks. Later in high school I got into theatrical musicals so that kind of combination of things was kind of my background. As far as doing Star Wars, it really just started as a joke cause it sounded like a really ridiculous idea. And so we were just kind of joking around with each other and you know thought of some of the song ideas and just how silly they were. So that was kind of in the back of our minds for a while. Then eventually a few years after that we actually started creating it.

Hunter: We were joking around one night. We were playing with stupid little old star wars figures one night and we acted like they were singing cause we were nerdy enough to do that. We came up with these dumb little songs. Some of those songs ended up in the actual musical years later. A lot of new ones of course.

Prodigeek: Was the playing with the figures you did regularly

Tim: [Laughing] Not at that time. I think it was something where we pulled them out and were like oh remember these and just started goofing around.

Prodigeek: How long know each other

Tim: Since high school, over 20 years.

Hunter: Since Junior High when I was in 9th grade band and Tim would always come in late to rehearsal because his mom would just not get him there in time. I was like that jerk he’s always late. That’s when I first saw Tim.

Tim: I wasn’t friends with him until high school a couple of years later. But yeah, over 20 years.

Prodigeek: How did you start working together?

Hunter: We’ve done stupid little movies since high school. Nowadays kids have these digital camcorders and like everybody makes movies. That wasn’t the case in 1986 and 1987 when we were doing this we were making these stupid movies. I think of myself more as an independent filmmaker now. Tim has actually composed music for some movies.

Prodigeek: When did you start working on Star Wars Musical?

Tim: I think we got the idea like in 1990 but I didn’t actually start writing it until ’95. We wrote it and recorded it in a 2 years.

Hunter: I’m a classical musical and I was able to get a lot of my friends to play on it for free. We would take Tim’s digital recorder to these people’s houses and record this poor trombone player doing 3 trombone parts. That’s insane. You don’t record a piece that way. We just sewed together a fake digital orchestra and half the orchestra is real instruments and other parts are synthesized.

Prodigeek: Both of you have musical background?

Tim: Yeah Hunter’s much more trained than I am. I’m kind of self taught more.

Hunter: We were both in high school band. I went on to get a degree in music. Tim just did his own thing. But who cares if you have a degree or not. It’s all about having fun with it.

Prodigeek: You did a lot of the singing?

Tim: We pulled in pretty much everyone we know. We sang multiple parts. We have no voice training at all. We pulled in everyone we knew who could stay on pitch to perform.

Prodigeek: How did the project evolve in to such a production?

Tim: We have a history of doing these fun little projects. What starts out as one little thing can easily grow into a bigger thing. We created it in kind of a layered way. You write it and then it’s like, okay we wrote some funny songs. Then let’s record it. We recorded a lot cause we wanted to get really good performances. And then let’s get real people to play instruments on it. So it just kept growing over the years.

Hunter: It was all going to be Tim’s synthesized orchestra. Tim had a good keyboard that could reproduce synthesized sounds. Then I’m like, well I play clarinet, I’ll play clarinet on it. I’ll bring in a coupe of more people. And that kind of exploded into, now it sounds like halfway a real orchestra, this thing’s getting out of hand. We just went with it.

Tim: We also recorded all the singing. No one actually sang together. Everything was pieced together. We would go where we needed to go and record, even if they only sang one line. We’d go there, record their one line, take off, go somewhere else, and pieced it together that way.

Hunter: [Chuck Mabrey who played] Han Solo, he sings in this country folk band. He doesn’t get this musical style. We’re trying to make some musical, hyper dramatic kind of feeling. The whole thing’s a joke. Star Wars the Musical would be horrible if you ever saw it acted out. Getting this guy to do this musical thing was just impossible so for him we had to do it literally one line at a time. I remember directing him. I go okay, you’re really cold. You’re in the Arctic and you’re just really cold. And that was the only way we could get that real hyper dramatic feel we wanted. He was trying to do it too good. We’re like no no make it more campy fun.

Prodigeek: Any songs end up on the cutting room floor?

Tim: No. There were a couple of false starts that became other songs. I started to write a song for the scene when Luke first sees Princess Leia through the R2-D2 hologram thing. I started to write that scene and that song but eventually I moved that into the Obi-Wan song.

Prodigeek: How did you pick which scenes to adapt?

Hunter: The original joke was only the moments in the movie that should not be a song will be a song. We departed from that pretty quickly. Like “Do you speak Bocce” that shouldn’t be a song. Why should Uncle Owen even be in it. We just think that’s funny. But we left that pretty quickly.

Tim: As we started to lay it out, I was like we’ve got a lot of holes, like what about the whole second half of the movie. What do you do with that. Those songs more strictly follow the story. The characters don’t deviate much from what they really are. The ones we originally came up with are more silly like C-3PO is a tough guy and totally the opposite of what he is in the movie.

Prodigeek: What are your musical influences?

Tim: [Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables] were the main ones. In that period those were my main influences so. Even the whole idea of making an album was like if you were to buy the Les Misérables CD back then it’s not the whole show. There’s only most of the songs. So we purposely left out parts of the story to make it appear more like a real Broadway album. Like oh they didn’t have all the songs, it skips around a bit. So it’s a real goof on musical album.

The CD was going to be a big deal. Everybody back then didn’t make CDs left and right. It was a big deal if you could make CDs on your computer. So like we’ll make a label and we’ll say original cast recording. All these little fake touches. We had a little booklet of lyrics that went along with fake pictures we made. It’s pretty nerdy because it’s like who’s this for. This isn’t for anybody.

Hunter: Not even everybody got it. Like 6 people got it out of everybody that was part of it. There was a duel version that have the karaoke tracks. Then one day I go we should put this on the internet. If there’s at all a forum where people are inherently geeky and will appreciate this, it’s the internet. So I was like dude, we have to get this on the internet. Our first site was so bad.

Be sure to return tomorrow for more Star Wars Musical interviewing.

7 best geek musicals

Superheroes, demons, and plants are not your standard musical subject matter, but for the unique genre of Geek Musicals, they are the C# to our A major chord.  Musicals dwell in a world of fantasy and disbelief that geeks are well versed in making the genres oddly compatible yet rarely recognized.  Here I highlight the 7 best geek musicals, judged on their subject matter, entertainment value, and quality of songs.  Only musicals with released performances, either on stage or film, were considered.  Each musical includes a musical video, so prepare to hum, laugh, and cry through the list of the Best Geek Musicals here at Geek Musical Week on Prodigeek.

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Viacom hates viral videos, even its own

To promote the film Tropic Thunder, Viacom created a funny video with stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. for the obvious purpose of creating some viral buzz. Because the video was genuinely entertaining, it became popular on several video sites, including YouTube. But Viacom has a pesky $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube. So Viacom sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, but left the video up on other sites, like FunnyorDie.com.

I’m no lawyer (but I play one on my blog), but Viacom may have to keep its videos off YouTube for the risk that they prove to be a good thing, not a liability like the company claims. That would explain why Viacom is letting other sites keep the video – YouTube, for the purposes of its lawsuit, is to blame for any falling revenue or profits because of its disrespect of copyrights. If it’s discovered that disrespect of copyrights helps promote other parts of Viacom’s business, Viacom’s case would be weakened.

Techdirt theorizes Viacom never wanted this lawsuit to happen – it just wanted leverage in business negotiations with Google. Unfortunately for Viacom, Google wants to fight this case to make sure precedent is set to protect itself and other websites from these silly lawsuits.

Video embedded after the jump.

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