Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

High Job Satisfaction Week: Gist, Glue, Medialets, Pogoplug, Cohen, Eminem and more…

When work is going particularly well, my partner Jason Mendelson and I like to say, “today is a high job satisfaction day”. Well, this past week has been a high job satisfaction week. (Of course, in general I feel like an insanely lucky guy to have the job that I do, so my job satisfaction stays at a pretty high level most of the time.) But this past week was a particularly good one for Foundry Group.

First off, I’m very excited about the three new investments we’ve announced in the past week: Gist, Medialets and Pogoplug. Second, we are in the final hours of the Glue Conference here in Denver, put on by the indefatigable Eric Norlin (who also runs the equally excellent Defrag Conference), with the help of my partner Seth Levine who also put a ton of work into making this conference a great one. Highlights of the conference for me including having the opportunity to have dinner with Mitch Kapor last night, followed by listening to him give a great keynote this morning that nicely outlined the history of innovation/disruption in the technology work from the mainframe era to the present date.

I’m also happy to say that David Cohen, founder of TechStars, has announced the close of a $2.5m seed fund today. Having worked with David and TechStars over the past several years, I’m excited to welcome another fund addressing the very early stage into the mix, and I’m delighted to be a personal investor in the fund as well.

Finally, in other news, Topspin Media, is now supporting the release of Eminem’s new album, Relapse. This is a big deal for Topspin, since Mr. Marshall Mathers is definitely the biggest star the company has worked with to date. You can buy it here, or listen to it below. Enjoy!

May 13th, 2009     Categories: Gadgets, Music, Venture Capital    

Five Peace Band: Chick Corea & John McLaughlin

FivePeaceLast week I attended the annual NVCA conference, held this year in Boston. Boston obliged with some lovely springtime weather and, most importantly, Boston provided a once-in-my-lifetime musical event, in the form of the second-to-last show in the world tour of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin‘s Five Peace Band. My partner (and Soul Patch band-mate) Jason, who just joined the board of the NVCA (congrats!) noticed the tour, but we were both out of town when it came through Colorado. Luckily, he realized they were playing at the Berklee Performance Center on the final evening of the NVCA conference last week.

Thanks to the magic of StubHub (and our good fortune that we can both be relatively price-insensitive), we managed to score third-row center tickets to see an historic show. The last time Chick Corea and John McLaughlin played together was 40 years ago at the sessions for Miles Davis’ seminal jazz fusion albums Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. IASW is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. And Chick Corea’s song Spain contains one of my all-time favorite chord progressions, one that still inspires and vexes me whenever I try to solo over it.

I’ve had the good fortune to see Chick Corea play once (in Berlin in 1992 with his Elektric Band) and I’ve seen John McLaughlin several times, once in a 1996 London date with fellow guitar virtuosos Paco de Lucía and Al Dimeola and once in California with tabla master Zakir Hussein. Needless to say, since I was born too late to see Chick and John play together back in the day, I was thrilled to discover they were touring and that I’d have an opportunity to see them.

The show did not disappoint. The rest of the band included Brian Blade on drums, Christian McBride on bass and Kenny Garrett on sax. I’ve seen Christian McBride play several times at SFJazz Fest dates with Joshua Redman and others, but only on upright bass. He played at least half this show on a fretless electric five string and I can say without hyperbole that he is quite likely the best bass player I’ve ever heard. And together with Brian Blade, they were an unstoppable force as a rhythm section. And Garret’s saxophone playing is truly stellar and he’s capable of being both incendiary and restrained.

Every single player in the band is a bona fide virtuoso and it was quite easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. A week later, I’m still blown away by what I heard. As a glowing review in the LA Times aptly put it, the band was led by and supported by “genius level musicians”.

A highlight of the show for me was Garrett’s solo in a new Corea composition entitled “Hymn to the Muse”. Finally, at the end of the evening during the encore, the band performed “In A Silent Way / It’s About That Time” in a way that was both faithful to the original performance of 40 years ago yet also incorporated evidence that modern jazz fusion has continued to evolve since Miles, Chick and John helped unleash it upon the world.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to see this show, and it easily earned a spot in my top five shows of all time. Wow. As Zappa said, “music is the best”.

May 6th, 2009     Categories: Music    

From the Archives: Rattlesnake

As many of my readers know, I’ve got a small record label, in partnership with my band-mates from Soul Patch. The genesis of Toothless Monkey Music (the name is another story entirely) starts when I set up my first “real” recording studio in a sound-proofed, detached two-car garage at my former home in Portola Valley, CA. It is on an idyllic creek-side spot, and many of the albums on the label were recorded and mixed in that studio.

One day, back around 1999 or 2000, when the studio was not-quite-fully operation, some friends dropped by, and a phenomenal luthier from the Santa Cruz area named Fred Carlson was with them. Fred builds some amazing instruments, starting with guitars, but ending with sympitars, harp guitars and other one-of-a-kind works that defy categorization. Check out his site at Beyond the Trees.

Anyway, Fred sat down and performed a song, which I am assuming is called Rattlesnake, but I don’t know for sure. We had one microphone set up hanging above him that captured the performance. My band-mate Nick Peters dug it up from his archives, and I did a little bit of mastering to add some stereo imaging, some gain and to bring out the vocals a bit, since the original recording wasn’t as good as it could have been — the performance was great, but I was a very green audio engineer at the time. It is a fun, quirky song, and well worth a listen. Enjoy!

April 14th, 2009     Categories: Music    

I Need One of These

I’ve written in the past about our Human Computer Interaction (HCI) investment theme at Foundry Group and have mentioned our portfolio companies that fit into that theme: EmSense, Oblong and Smith & Tinker.

Well, pictured above is a delightful faux-advertisement I discovered via Thomas Dolby’s blog. I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas years ago (back in the Beatnik era) and then again around 2006 when he returned to the music world, and spent some time rehearsing for his tour at my friend Heidi Roizen’s place in Atherton. Thomas started blogging a while ago and I’ve been following it with great interest since. He’s moved back to the UK and has been working on a new album, which I can’t wait to hear. He is recording in a studio he built into an old retired boat that is sitting on his property that has a view of the sea, which seems to me a brilliant and delightfully wacky enterprise, and strikes me as a quintessentially English sort of thing to do.

Anyway, this ad was created by the folks at Status Graphite guitars, and it seemed to fit into my fascination with all things related to HCI, even if it is, sadly, not yet a real piece of gear. It is now on my fantasy product wish list.

March 31st, 2009     Categories: Gadgets, Humor, Music    

Paul’s Boutique is Twenty

Today, the Beastie Boys released the 20th anniversary remastered edition of one of their classic albums, Paul’s Boutique. And they released it direct-to-fan on their own website, using technology created by Foundry Group portfolio company Topspin Media.

Even better, in addition to making high quality mp3s available for download, the Beastie Boys are offering several different bundles of exclusive you-won’t-find-it-on-iTunes content and merchandise, including CDs and vinyl, posters, t-shirts, downloadable DVD-quality videos and lossless digital formats.

Topspin’s CEO Ian Rogers’ life has been intertwined with the Beastie Boys for decades, and he’s got a great story to share about how Paul’s Boutique literally changed the course of his life.

While I was in high school I was still busy listening to heavy metal (think Iron Maiden and Judas Priest), which became my gateway into Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and classic rock. So at the time, I wasn’t that hip to the Beastie Boys, other than knowing they were the crazy guys who sang “Fight for your Right to Party”.

Happily, my ears opened (way) up over the years, and I appreciate great music from a wide range of genres. I’m really digging re-familiarizing myself with Paul’s Boutique, as well as the Beastie Boys albums that really hooked me back in the day, The In Sound from Way Out and Hello Nasty. The track “Putting Shame in Your Game” on Hello Nasty contains one of my favorite lyrics of all time:

I am the king of boggle, there is none higher

I gets eleven points for the word ‘quagmire’

Perhaps this is because I’ve always been a word game nut and obsessively/automatically make anagrams of every word I see. Or because I once co-wrote a Boggle-solving program in LISP while in college. And now, in a case of life-comes-full-circle, I can get my word game fix playing Scramble on Foundry Group portfolio company Zynga’s Facebook app. Hmm, maybe the Beasties will challenge me to a game…

February 3rd, 2009     Categories: Music    

Topspin’s Seeking a VP Engineering

Foundry Group portfolio company Topspin Media is looking for a VP Engineering. If you’ve got great engineering management chops, a passion for music and an interest in building enterprise-grade web apps to enable music artists to run and build their business online, take a look at the job description posted today on Topspin’s blog. The best short-hand analogy for Topspin’s mission is this: Topspin aims to do for music marketing what ProTools did for music production. The company’s Chairman and co-founder is Peter Gotcher, who founded Digidesign, the creator of ProTools, so this isn’t just idle analogizing. Contact the company directly if you are a candidate that fits the description.

December 11th, 2008     Categories: Music    

Sooner or Later on Rhapsody, Bandcamp

In this case, later. Much later. I’m a big fan of using Rhapsody on my Sonos, so I’ve been frustrated that my band’s second album seemed to get lost on its way to Rhapsody. For some strange reason, when my band Soul Patch released the album earlier this year, we used CD Baby to handle physical and digital distribution, and the album quickly found its way to iTunes, Amazon and numerous other digital services, but Rhapsody was a serious laggard. Rhapsody told us they had a big backlog and were a bit behind, and promised we’d get up there in June, July, August and October. I had given up and had stopped asking the folks at Rhapsody what the deal was. Finally, sometime in the past week, the album found its way through the clogged tubes of the interweb and is now available for your streaming pleasure:

Sooner or Later by Soul Patch

Finally, as an investor in Topspin Media (and in the spirit of distributing Soul Patch’s music as widely as possible), I’ve trying out various different direct-to-fan musician’s publishing platforms, so I decided to put Sooner or Later up on Bandcamp, a very slick system indeed. Kudos to Ethan & Co. for a job well done, and to the fine folks over at True Ventures who invested in Bandcamp. Here’s a nice embed that Bandcamp provides:

November 30th, 2008     Categories: Music    

A Watershed of Sorts

So this story hit the news a few days ago, but I’ve been busy eating turkey, so I didn’t get around to posting it until now. Atlantic Records announced that sales of their music from digital downloads are now greater than those from sales of physical CDs. They are the first of the major labels to be able to make this claim, though this day has been a long time coming, and no doubt the other labels will reach this milestone in the relatively near future, whether they care to or not.

Atlantic clearly deserves praise for reaching this milestone first — most of their brethren’s digital sales as a percentage of overall sales trail Atlantic’s substantially, closer to the 20% range, indicating that Atlantic is further down the road in re-tooling their business for digital. Nonetheless, I think Atlantic is being a bit disingenuous in touting this as an accomplishment — I could claim that wise investment choices in my muni bond portfolio in the past year have led to it becoming a majority of my holdings, rather it was the meltdown in the equity market that caused my bond allocation to overtake my equity allocation. Cold comfort when the overall pie has shrunk disastrously.

While the continued strong growth of digital sales is promising, this isn’t wholly good news for the labels: while their digital revenue streams may be growing quickly, their CD revenues are declining even more sharply — the NY Times article I link to above quotes NBC Universal’s Ed Zucker apt characterization of the difficulty old media businesses are facing in their digital transition as “trading analog dollars for digital pennies”. (Note: As I was posting this, I noticed Fred Wilson recently wrote a post with this quote as a title, so clearly Zucker’s quip is a bit viral).

To survive, the major labels will need to significantly restructure over time to adapt to the (rapidly approaching) day when CD revenue becomes a small minority line of their businesses. As Ian Rogers, CEO of Foundry Group portfolio company Topspin Media eloquently put it, “the physics of the music industry have changed”. The tools of production and distribution have been democratized. The leaves talent and the ability to identify it and market it well (by building strong relationships directly between artists and their fans) in the digital world as key differentiators in the music business going forward. The labels, artists, artists’ management and new entities that will emerge who don’t fit in any of these categories who embrace this new reality are the ones who will prosper going forward.

November 30th, 2008     Categories: Music    

Ian Rogers’ Great Keynote

A couple weeks ago, Foundry Group portfolio company Topspin Media’s CEO Ian Rogers delivered the keynote speech at the Grammy Northwest Music Tech Summit. He just posted his presentation on Topspin’s blog — if you have any interest in the current (and future) state of the music business, it is well worth a read. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m honored to be a part of Topspin, and think Ian is one of the most cogent thinkers out there about the intersection of technology and the music business. His post made it on to Boing Boing today, so I’m sure his keynote is getting a ton of well-deserved attention. Good stuff.

November 18th, 2008     Categories: Music    

Blast from the Past: First iPod Introduction

Ahh, a trip down memory lane. About seven years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod. I’ve included a video of the event here. A couple things stand out to me after watching this video — first is the ongoing and relentless march of Moore’s Law. The original iPod, as amazing as it was when it was introduced, now looks rather clunky, while the current generation iPod Nano is a fraction of the size, has a color screen, runs video, has more storage and has evolved beyond the hard drive. The other thing that stands out is how low-key this product launch was, and how technical the marketing-speak was — they focused on battery life, capacity, and the competitive landscape: remember the Rio and the Zen? Even the lowly portable CD player made the competitive matrix in the presentation!

As Apple has reached ascendancy in the consumer electronics world, the product launches have become much glitzier and Steve Jobs has become a much more self-assured showman. Today they so dominate the market (with 160m units shipped to date) that in the most recent introduction of the new iPod product line, they only mention the competition in order to mock it (and let’s face it, competition doesn’t really exist, with all due respect to the Zune). For comparison, here’s the most recent iPod product launch video as well:

November 14th, 2008     Categories: Music