Saul Williams and Larry Lessig on Sound Opinions

Sound Opinions Logo

After hearing a promo for it on This American Life’s podcast, I started listening to Sound Opinions, a syndicated radio program and podcast from Chicago Public Radio, self-described as “the world’s only rock n roll radio talk show”, hosted by Chicago newspaper music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. It’s awesome. They do a great job of mixing music news and pop music with in-depth interviews, live performances, and plain ol’ “good music”. If you love music, subscribe to this bad boy and enjoy.

Two of their recent shows struck a nerve: one featuring Saul Williams and another which re-ran an interview with Lawrence Lessig.

I’m a Saul Williams fan. Heather Morra first showed me the movie Slam (which Saul co-wrote and starred in) in the late 90s. Heavy shit:

Now that’s putting a masters degree in acting to good use.

So I wanted to like Amethyst Rock Star, but I just didn’t. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t get into it. Maybe I should go back and try again.

Then I saw Saul at SXSW three years ago supporting his self-titled EP. The show was incredible and the EP was even better. It was one of my favorite albums of the year and I reviewed it back then. I *still* think this is his best output to date, and Black Stacey is one of the best hip hop songs of all time, a heartfelt youthful confession that grows into a plea to modern rappers to tell the truth and speak from the heart. Seriously, this record RIPS. Don’t sleep. Get it, enjoy the depth of lyrics over Bad Brains samples. Incredible.

Play Saul Williams – Black Stacey
Buy MP3s on Amazon

So I was pretty stoked to hear he’d produced a new record with Trent Reznor and even tipped his hat to Bowie with the title: The Rise and Fall of Niggy Tardust. To be honest, speaking as a fan, the album was only ok. Definitely some stand-out cuts, but some of it just didn’t connect for me. Again, I need to spend some more time with it.

Regardless, I was glad to see all the hype around how he’d released it (I gave him $5 before even hearing it), Trent’s comments/measure of success juxtaposed against Saul’s, and even the Nike ad featuring a track from the self-titled record, “List of Demands” (which, according to Amazon, will be on the CD issue of the record, out soon). Fucking brilliant to see Saul finally getting traction.

Saul Williams on Sound Opinions

Which finally brings me to the Sound Opinions interview with Saul, which was great (Saul in the Sound Opinions studio pictured above, click on the image for more from Sound Opinions’ Flickr stream). I got excited listening to it, thinking about the many ways Saul is the artist of the future. The interview is really a must-listen, you’ll hear how a yet-to-be-established, forward-thinking artist thinks about free music, music as income, and gathering fans in the future.

Play Sound Opinions LogoSaul Williams on Sound Opinions

“Now we artists have found a way to make our work more accessible and people seem to be more inspired to pay in certain cases. In our case I’d say that’s been [true]. It doesn’t surprise me the amount of people that have downloaded it for free — it makes perfect sense to me. I imagine of those 265,000 people of them probably two of them have heard of me before. [laughter]” – Saul Williams, 2008

Then just this past week Sound Opinions re-broadcast an old interview with Professor Lawrence Lessig, lawyer and author of some of the greatest books on copyright, ever. It’s a great intro to Professor Lessig, if you think he’s the guy that likes P2P file-sharing please give a listen for an expanded view — he does a great job giving a primer on his views and how copyright law hasn’t kept up with the times.

I particularly like the way he points out that breaking down the barriers for the recording of cover songs created huge opportunity in the recorded music world, but the enforcement of barriers to sampling has seriously impaired creativity relative to what new technology allows, and there’s a strong argument the industry overall is paying for this in opportunity cost. What would the last sixty years of music-making have been like if you had to get *permission* to record a cover? What would the cost in opportunity have been? Unquestionably huge. I’d argue we did a similar disservice when we shut down the sampling world. We won’t get another Paul’s Boutique or AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (production-wise) as a result. The Girl Talk record is technically illegal. Professor Lessig does a great job explaining why this need not be the case, and quotes Jeff Tweedy as to why it is. At the end of the show Sound Opinions take it one step further and add Eggman from Paul’s Boutique to their desert island list.

Later in the program Professor Lessig minces no words about how he feels about the concentration of power in the recording industry:

“It might be true [the recording industry are] threatened by these new technologies but it’s not clear that abolishing the recording industry, at least in the way that we think of it today, is terrible for the artists. The existing industry is extremely concentrated, it’s an extremely narrow range of artists who actually get to make it in the world or actually get to support themselves through the sale of recordings and a different industry might actually benefit a wider range of artists. And that would be a good thing in my view. If they can’t provide value to artists then they have no reason to be here in the business. The job of a recording industry is not to protect themselves, it should be to help prosper artists in this business.” – Professor Lawrence Lessig, 2006

Perhaps heavier handed than I would be, but I certainly agree that the coming industry will benefit a wider range of artists. That’s core to the Topspin vision.

Play Sound Opinions LogoLawrence Lessig on Sound Opinions

Thanks for reading/watching/listening. Let me know what you think of SoundOpinions.

Just to share, here’s my Podroll:

  • Ken Radio – I listen to Ken and Andy every single day and have since 1998. They can make me crazy some days but they are the most consistent audio tech news source online. You can count on them to do annoying things like pat themselves on the back repeatedly but you can also count on Ken to be there reading you ten headlines a day, every day. KenRadio listening secret: fast forward to 10 minutes in, that’s where the news *actually* starts. Then you can get 20 minutes of headlines while you work out, bike to work, whatever.
  • This American Life – The best program in the history of radio, period. I’ve been listening religiously for years and I can’t believe how consistently amazing this show is, just by letting American humans tell their unique stories. The latest season of the TV show on Showtime has been great, too, much better than the first season.
  • Sound Opinions – See above.
  • Ted Talks – I used to frown on the TED conference’s elitism. Then I listened to all these TED talks and realized elitism has its advantages. Welcome to Genius City. I’m slightly smarter just for listening.
  • 60 Minutes – It’s, um, 60 minutes. Now I don’t have to listen on AM radio anymore. The best part of 60 Minutes these days is getting to watch (hear) Andy Rooney turn deeper into a caricature of himself week after week. Andy Rooney’s closing 60 Minutes bit has become an SNL or Onion skit making fun of Andy Rooney (”I don’t like the movies. Who eats this popcorn, anyway?!”). It’s not to be missed.
  • Rhinocast – Not as frequent as it used to be but definitely some good stuff. I personally love hearing Lefsetz talk about the first time he heard Yes driving to Aspen with his dentist. I jest but listening to these did give me a new appreciation for Bob — his love for music is palpable.
  • MacBreak Weekly – The TWiT guys are waaaaaay too long-winded. Maybe it would be tolerable if you were driving a semi-truck through Oklahoma and there was nothing else on the radio, but I don’t really have time in my life to listen to these dudes straight-up ramble for an hour straight. Still, I admit to checking in with MacBreak weekly every now and then, particularly around times like a couple weeks back when everyone was trying to predict what the iPhone announcement was going to be.
  • Element Skateboards – There are actually a bunch of decent skate video podcasts. This is the one I’ve been watching the most recently.

What am I missing?


Topspin != Stealth (anymoar)

Billboard Cover June 28th, 2008

When Billboard runs a cover like that, it’s hard to keep the company Trapped in the Closet like R. Kelly. The proper coming out blog post is located on Topspin’s new site. Order your own issue of Billboard here. A couple more pictures from the shoot here, and a couple snaps from the unused bowl photo shoot here.

I hope to see you all at our party in Venice, CA tonight. If you didn’t get an invite it’s not that I don’t like you, it’s that I’m busy and couldn’t think of everyone. Mail or text me and I’ll get you on the list.

Thanks for the interest and support. As Ozzy Osbourne says (repeatedly) in those awesome circa Randy Rhodes live videos, I love you all.


Congrats, Zoe


I’ve gotten sappy about my daughter Zoe plenty of times on this blog. But not today. Today I’m just proud.

Zoe was homeschooled grades 5-7. In 8th grade she went back to public school and took home every award.


She chose Santa Monica High for high school (private school Marlboro was the other option). She took the hardest classes, taking BC Calculus in her junior year and assisting the class her senior year. She took 5 AP classes unnecessarily in her senior year, just because she didn’t want to be bored (I talked her out of a 6th, AP Spanish). She got an A in every class, every year, apart from a solitary B+ in her (no-credit) Academic Decathlon class (which I for sure would have failed). She aced her AP tests, scoring a 5 on not-only in Calculus but in English as well.

Zoe was accepted to her first choice of colleges, MIT, early admission in the fall. She accepted and starts in August.


And last night on the way to “Grad Night” she and her friend Laura were naming every sample on the new Girl Talk record. The image at the top of the page is the page I made and paid for placement in her senior yearbook. I think it was probably the only senior ad that contained a 90s hip hop reference. And Zoe was probably the only kid who got it.


That’s my girl. I’m so proud of you. You’re truly the best. Congrats. Enjoy it. It’s a real accomplishment.


Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot

Just back from checking out Adam Yauch’s new movie, Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, which follows eight high school basketball players into the “Elite 24″ all-star game in Harlem’s Rucker Park. Now anyone that knows me knows I’m not a fan of either movies or basketball, but I’m here to admit this is a damn fine movie and encourage you to see it next week when it opens up. These kids are amazing; it’s easy to get swept up in their story.

Not entirely coincidentally, four of the eight are going to be draft picks the day before the movie comes out.

Check it out and let me know what you think.


Dave Allen on Social Marketing


Dave Allen, former member of Gang Of Four and current Director Insights and Digital Media at Nemo Design contributed a great stream of consciousness essay on social media, blogs, and advertising to Nemo’s corp blog, Social Cache. Its only crime is that it combines many ideas into one post. Namely:

1) Social networking is not about technology, it’s about people and their gravitational pull toward one another.

2) Transactional business of commodity goods driven by buckshot marketing is going to get hard and harder (due to attention scarcity) and building trust-based connections with your customers is going to become more and more important.

3) #2 is going to be easier for new companies than incumbents.

4) “Viral” != “Value”. I’d argue viral is a side-effect of “Quality” (or as Jonathan Strauss would say, “Tier 1 to me”.

5) Corporate blogs are tricky but important (ours launches on Friday, at long last).

Still, I find myself agreeing with the bulk of his observations.


Lucinda vs. Chester French @ The Kozpad


Julie, Lucinda (20 mos), and I headed over to Matt Kozlov’s place (the Kozpad) to see Chester French do an almost acoustic set on the roof. Lucinda hammed it up, including requesting a pound (fist-to-fist) from D.A. (lead vocals) during the last track. Classic.

Chester French’s new record comes out soon on Pharrell Williams‘ imprint. Sample on their MySpace page. I have to say, they sounded damn good on the roof today despite D.A. apologizing multiple times for blowing his voice out at The Viper Room on Thursday. He warmed it up during the first song and they were great. The stripped down setting showed that Max is a *really* great guitar player, the songs stand on their own, and D.A.’s voice is great.

Congrats to Matt on the new gig (I hope that’s public ;) ). Matt’s leaving Yahoo! to take a big, important job at a major record label. I have no idea who introduced him to Rick Rubin. None at all. They need folks like you, man — incredibly smart, obsessive music fans with intuitive business acumen? Come on. Slam dunk. Glad it worked out.

Oh and Julie and I want to send this song out to you. We had the best time at your party. The wife and I, thank you very much.


Warner Music Pulls Out of

I admit, it’s a huge breath of fresh air to be free of the “I license catalogs of music” business. Look at the position has found themselves in:

I won’t say much on the topic but suffice it to say this is pretty much how I was expecting this to go and why I ultimately steered Yahoo! Music away from direct licensing of ad-supported streams and into the Rhapsody deal. used to have a nice, utilitarian, meta-business. Given my Nullsoft and Mediacode background, those are the kinds of businesses I liked; providing utility to people who love music, not needing a license from anyone to get it done. That’s why I wanted to buy FoxyTunes. Great user-focused utility, no nonsense.

While Topspin is different, it’s good to be back in the sweet spot, servicing the parts of the value chain that actually want to be serviced: the artists and the fans.