Category Archives: Music

Are You Gaslighting Your Customers?

I did something dumb but in the process of rectifying my error, I also learned that some companies are still doing something equally dumb, which is treating their customers as adversaries. Let me explain.

I bought tickets to a concert. As a part of the purchase, I was given the option to download the band’s latest album. As an aside, I’m finding this offer with quite a few of the bands I go to see, and it reinforces the notion in my mind that recorded music is a tiny part of the music business equation these days. The real money is in touring, and giving away an album helps increase the value of a ticket. Who knows – maybe it even gets some folks who might not otherwise go to a show to get out for an evening. What is the incremental cost of a digital download? Next to nothing, but the value is high to a fan.

It was with that digital download that I had my issue. I received an email from Ticketmaster, through whom I had bought the tickets, telling me to click on a link to start the download. It began without issue, but my computer locked up about halfway through the process. I rebooted and tried to restart the download to no avail. The link is single use and I had already clicked on it. The page said that if I’d had a problem to reach out via online help.

I connected to online chat. after a 17 minute wait (during which time they did show me what number I was in the queue), on came “Luis”, my customer service rep. I explained the situation and he went to verify my order, which he was able to do.

I do not show that this artist is part of our Album offer, did you get that email from Ticketmaster?

I cut and pasted the email copy. He asked for the domain that sent it, which I gave him. Here is where the real problem begins.

We have verified the email you have received and unfortunately it is not the same as ours.

Uh yeah, Luis, it is. You’re Ticketmaster and it came from a Ticketmaster domain. But it gets worse.

I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately Ticketmaster does not offer the album.

OK, now I’m angry. I feel as if I’m being gaslighted. They sent me an email about the download and it was in the confirmation email for my order, they gave me a link, the download got halfway through, the artist’s website says they’re giving away a download with each ticket order, and yet the person they have “helping” me is telling me that none of that came from them and there is no offer to begin with.

Here is the end of the discussion which followed my asking him exactly those questions. The time code, by the way, is the duration of the conversation, so we’re over a half hour of my time to clear this up:

00:32:12 Luis: Someone else may have gotten hold of your email address, and sent you the made up information.

00:33:31 KeithR : So let’s see – they know I bought tickets last night and they built links into Ticketmaster for a unique download code which now won’t redeem a second time?

00:33:36 KeithR : Is that your theory?

00:34:51 Luis : I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately the email that was sent to you is not the same domain that is sent by Ticketmaster, unfortunately, since this artist is not part of the album offer shown on our end nor the artist page, we would not be able to further assist you.

Implied next sentence, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go away. I use Ticketmaster/Live Nation a lot. I think even they would admit that they are not a beloved entity, mostly because of the multiple and high service fees (most of which are NOT imposed by them!). Any company needs to sit on the same side of the table as its customers, helping them to resolve the problem and not sitting in the adversarial position Luis staked out for himself. By the way, I called Ticketmaster and within minutes had a customer service agent who did just that, aligning herself with my needs and sending an email to a supervisor to get my problem resolved.

I suspect I just got a badly trained or unmotivated agent the first time. I’d be curious if they’re Ticketmaster employees or an outside firm that’s paid on some basis (time on phone/chat, number of calls fielded) rather than on that aligns with customers (cases successfully resolved for the customer). Customers may not have a choice when it comes to buying tickets but they probably do when they’re interacting with your business. How are you treating them?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Music

Tribute Bands And Your Business

Over the weekend I saw the Dark Star Orchestra. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re one of the leading tribute bands out there and they play the music of The Grateful Dead. I’ve seen them several times and oddly enough each time I do it reminds me of a few business thoughts.

I played in several bands as I was growing up. We always felt we were a cover band. We were playing someone else’s songs but doing so in our own way. Most tribute bands go beyond that and attempt to recreate the sounds and often the appearance of the original artists. If you’re any sort of fan of The Dead you know that their performances were very hit or miss. The DSO is way more consistent and they sound just like The Dead on a great night each and every time. So what does this have to do with business?

I think imitation is more than just the sincerest form of flattery. I think in many ways it’s better than innovation despite the fact that we often hear of the “first mover advantage.” Innovation is great, but by not being first the flaws in the original product or service become way more clear. The fact that you’re building later lets you correct for those flaws and get beyond the original. That usually is something you can do much more cost-effectively too.

What do I mean? The iPod was not the first music player, just the most successful. Anyone who looks at Instagram knows both that they weren’t the first of their kind and that most of their “new” features these days come right from Snapchat. You could video chat someone long before Skype came around and Amazon was not the first retailer on the web. Each of those companies, and other such as Spotify and eBay, were not first movers. They were imitators – tribute bands if you will, who took the best of the pioneers and made it better.

Is it easier to get funding for a copycat? Probably – the business model has been proven and, therefore, investor risk is reduced. Japan, and now China, built economies on imitating successful products and making them better and/or cheaper. A tribute band has a pre-built fan base. If you’re a Beatles fan or an Oasis fan or a fan of The Band, you have no chance to see the original but you can spend a night with their music. If you’re a business, you don’t have to be the original if you can make the original better and capitalize on their fan base. The DSO do it brilliantly. Can you?

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Filed under Consulting, Music, Thinking Aloud

Can You Pass The Dylan Test?

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but with Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (yay!), I couldn’t let the day pass without putting up this post again. Whether you love Dylan’s music or hate it (although many people love the music and hate his voice), you can’t deny Dylan’s importance in music history. Here is why and what he just might mean to your business.

Yesterday marked an anniversary that I could not let pass without comment.  On March 19, 1962, 50 years ago yesterday, Bob Dylan released his first album, or LP (to signify a long-playing record rather than a single) as they were called at the time.

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This piece from Rolling Stone does a nice job of summing up the album and how it got made.  I’m a long-time fan of the man and his music and while I can’t say I love everything he’s ever done, it’s all really interesting and in many cases, his music went beyond popular culture to become transformative (start with “Blowin’ In The Wind“) for an entire generation and country.  I’ve heard so many people dismiss his music and yet when I give them the Dylan Test, they can’t deny his impact.  What, you ask, is the Dylan Test?  Something I think we should apply to way more stuff than Bob’s music – any business could benefit.  Let me explain.

The Dylan test is simple:  I know my grandchildren will hear the music of Bob Dylan.  They may not like it, they might not ever buy it, but they’ll hear it and they’ll know who the guy was that recorded it.  Not because I’m going to ram it down their throats:  I’d make the same statement about my great-grandchildren.  It’s because Dylan’s music is that important, just like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Springsteen and The Beatles.  And that’s the test.  Can you make that same statement about whatever music you believe to be “great?”  That ought to be our business objective.  To pass the Dylan Test.

I wrote in this piece a while back that we ought to be creating things that are built to last.  While the tools are temporary – Dylan’s first disc was pressed in vinyl – the content and the core of the business endures, or we should hope it will.  So ask yourself the Dylan Test question as you’re contemplating investing your time, effort, and money on a project.  While very few things pass, it’s not a bad standard to keep in mind.

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Winners Rethink

At one time in my life, I had aspirations to do music as a career. Even though I no longer have either the band or the hair required to be a rock star I still listen to music and follow industry developments. Because of that, an article on the music industry caught my eye this morning. It comes from MediaPost and its headline reads “Streaming Music Enjoys Revenue Uptick to $3B.” It goes on to report that:

Revenues from streaming services continued to grow strongly both in dollars and share of total revenues. During the first half of the year, streaming music revenues totaled $1.6 billion — up 57% year-over-year. This accounted for 47% of industry revenues, which compares positively with 32% in the first half of 2015.

Impressive growth and reflection on how the business has changed. Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and others have changed how people consume this product. What hasn’t changed, however, is how the music business works. In fact, a business model that was written into some laws a century ago still governs how the business operates for the most part. As a result, as Fortune reported a couple of months ago:

Based on almost every metric that matters, Spotify is the most successful streaming music service in the world, with almost 90 million subscribers and close to $2 billion in annual revenues. Yet its recently-released financial results show that despite its massive success, it is still incapable of making a profit—and because of the way the music business works, it may never make one.

You won’t have to search very hard to find many articles detailing how little money artists make from digital music either. So where are these record (pun intended) revenues going? You can probably guess. The people at the record companies wrote the business model, and there are still payments to those companies for things such as “breakage”, physical discs (fragile vinyl when the clause was written into standard agreements) that didn’t make the trip to retail intact. Recently, “New Technology Clauses” were added which charges the artist to ready an album for digital distribution and which are completely unnecessary.

The point today isn’t to rage against the record machine. It’s to point out that this industry and almost every other business has been totally disrupted over the last 20 years. Middlemen serve very little purpose other than to act as legally-protected gatekeepers. Rather than rethinking the business model with an eye toward how to provide value to the customers (the artists and consumers) they serve, the record companies dig in further. They haven’t quite figured out that if they starve the artists and bankrupt the new distribution systems, they too will die.

So ask yourself if the business model in which you operate has been rethought in the last few years. You can watch it happening (finally) in the TV business and countless others if you need inspiration. Winners are rethinking everything. Losers dig in. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Music

Being Your Fool

Unless you’ve been off the planet for the last few days, you’re aware that Prince passed away last week. While the word “genius” is overused, it applies in his case. I hope you’ve seen some of the examples of his art – they’ve been everywhere as the tributes pour in. It’s one of those tributes I’d like to discuss today because it is instructive when it comes to business.

English: Prince playing at Coachella 2008.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before we get to that example, let me remind you that one aspect of Prince’s genius was his foresight in seeing how the internet and digital technology would disrupt the music business. This is an excellent overview of his relationship with the Internet from the Washington Post. While Price was an early adapter, appreciating how music could now be sold directly to fans without a record label, he also recognized how that very process could wipe out a revenue stream for musicians. As he put it: “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”

Prince recorded an unreleased song called “There’s Something I Like About Being Your Fool,” and that gets us to our business point today.  One of the “tributes” to Prince came from AMC Theaters.  They announced that they would play Prince’s film “Purple Rain” in their theaters this weekend to honor him.  In my mind, this is the furthest thing from a tribute: it’s greed.  There is no mention of AMC letting patrons see Prince’s work for free.  They are charging full price.  There is no mention that all of the admission proceeds will be donated to any of the numerous charities Prince quietly supported throughout his career. I might be totally off base here and AMC might be doing something honorable, but even if I am, the business point still applies.

As businesses, our motives can’t be questioned.  It gets to the issue of trust, and trust is a critical currency these days.  If we’re not believable, whether it’s with respect to our products, our customer service, or our alignment with our customers, we’re in deep trouble.  Maybe AMC is letting people in for free or donating the proceeds but they’re being awfully loud about the film and quiet about the rest. Unlike the Prince lyric, people don’t like being your fool.  Sure, show the movie, but don’t call it a way to honor anyone when you’re lining your pockets using a tragedy.  I’m not that kind of fool.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Music, Reality checks

The Long Run

I see that the Rolling Stones have plans to release a new studio album this year. They last released new material 11 years ago. Then again, since they’ve been making records for almost 55 years, it’s not as if there isn’t a lot of their music to which you can listen while you wait. I saw the Stones last year. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play, and I’ve seen them regularly since the 1970’s. They’re the epitome of what every business should be doing: focusing on today but doing so in the context of the long run.

English: Keith Richards, live in Hannover

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’m familiar with the famous Keynes quote that “in the long run, we are all dead.”  Some people – economists and others – take it to mean that we should enjoy today and not worry too much about the future.  In fact, he was arguing exactly the opposite (which is often what happens when quotes are taken out of context – another screed for another time).  Clearly, one can look at Keith Richards‘ lifestyle and not see a great deal of concern about the long run.  Don’t let the lifestyle confuse you.  Keith and the other Stones began as a band the took older music – blues, mostly – and placed it into a new context, thereby carrying it forward (some might say stealing!).  Their musical styles have always adjusted to the tastes of the time – they did disco (“Miss You“), they did country (“Wild Horses“, “Sweet Virginia“), they did many other types of music.  All of it was designed to stay relevant and to keep the band – and the business – healthy for the long term.  Think about how many bands had incredibly short life spans.  Sometimes it was due to internal disagreement, but usually it was that the band wasn’t thinking long-term, refusing to change (and no band leaders fought more than Mick and Keith!).

So how about your business?  I see quite a few founders who are thinking about ramping up and making a quick exit.  The “long run” is next year.  I’d rather be there for the long run like The Stones.  You?

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Heroes

I woke up this morning to the news that David Bowie has died. I know we’re about business here and we’ll get to it, but Bowie was an artist I loved and I’d be remiss if I didn’t use his passing as a starting point today.

I first saw him on Valentine’s Day, 1973. From the opening notes of the introduction (Beethoven’s Ode To Joy) until he collapsed on stage after an hour and a half of intense rock, it was unlike any show I had seen to that point. What was striking, besides the music, was Bowie himself: flaming red hair and so androgynous. Spiders From Mars was an apt description, and Ziggy Stardust was mind-altering in terms of how I thought about rock stars. I think I spent a fair portion of my senior year in high school on the lawn outside of the music room listening to “Alladin Sane” with friends.

Over the next few years, I bought every Bowie album, each one different, often with completely different musicians. I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughan on a Bowie album (1983’s Let’s Dance) but Bowie was always a musician with whom other musicians wanted to collaborate – the list is way too long for this space. Let’s just stipulate that anyone who can sing with artists ranging from Bing Crosby to John Lennon to Queen is the personification of versatile.

Another interesting thing about Bowie was how he became different characters over the course of his career. Ziggy Stardust became a soul singer who became the Thin White Duke. Rock became soul which became dance which became electronic which morphed back into rock. He also did many things well – actor, songwriter, performer.

Yes, there is a business point. Bowie’s career was, as Wikipedia says, one of reinvention, musical innovation and visual presentation. Those are three keys that should be a focus for any brand: innovation, reinvention, and presentation. You never quite knew what you’d be getting with the release of a new Bowie record but you always knew it would be good, if not great. We should always be seeking to push ourselves while keeping the core tenets of our brands true.  People need to be able to count on and trust a brand, and Bowie showed us that brands need not stop innovating, growing, and surprising to retain that trust.  That innovation and surprise continued right up until the end with the release of his final album. Universally acclaimed, it is very different musically. Maybe because he knew it was to be “a parting gift” to his fans.

“Heroes” is probably my favorite Bowie song.  It came out my senior year in college (a school that Bowie’s wife Angela got kicked out of, by the way), and I’ve found it to be inspiring ever since. Great products can do that.  Have a listen and take a moment to miss what Bowie, one of my musical heroes, has taught us.

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud