Keeping Things Simple

A friend sent me this short Kurt Vonnegut piece on keeping things simple in the information age:

Keeping things simple.

I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterwards I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, “Are you still doing typing?” Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, “OK, I’ll send you the pages.” Then I’m going down the steps, and my wife calls up, “Where are you going?” I say, “Well, I’m going to go buy an envelope.” And she says, “You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.” And I say, “Hush.” So I go down the steps here, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely pokerfaced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something.

My response:

Online communities saved me and if I’m honest have made me, given me every single opportunity that’s kept me out of a trailer park. I actually think this “wishing for simpler times” nostalgia is total bullshit. I like to imagine the people protesting the wheel: “We got along fine without this contraption before!” Vonnegut should know. He was born in Indianapolis. Living disconnected from people who are like you isn’t utopia, it sucks.

Online communities have the capability of inspiring people much more than the one-directional mass media of the past 50 years. The Interwebz replace mind-numbing lowest common denominator limited-spectrum mediums like television and radio, not human interaction. How many Web sites are devoted to getting outside in your local environment, giving people guides to explore the area around them? A hell of a lot more than were ever “published” in books or TV.

This sort of self-righteous nostalgia shows a total lack of understanding of what the Internet is, does, and is going to do to us culturally. It won’t all be positive, that’s for sure, but it’s not about keeping us from “doing something”.



This Week In Music #3: Dermot McCormack

This week on This Week In Music I interview MTV’s EVP of Digital Media, Dermot McCormack, visiting LA from NYC. MTV has made an incredible rise in monthly unique visitors as measured by Comscore in the past few years, growing from approximately 20M when Dermot arrived three years ago to more than 60M today making them the #1 most visited music property as measured by Comscore (#2 is Vevo, note “YouTube” as a whole is not in the “music” category according to Comscore despite its popularity as a place for music listening/watching) [CORRECTION (via VEVO): June Comscore counted 59.7M visitors to MTV last month while VEVO had 66.4M. After those two leaders next is line is AOL at 25.9M, ToneFuse at 24.1M (um, who?), and Yahoo! Music at 21.7M.] Dermot and his team have made this leap by aggregating a number of traffic sources, from to new properties like MTV Hive and Next Movie to big deals such as their deal to be Warner Music Group’s ad sales team.

A few highlights from this week’s show:

8:35: “We are seen as the head of the class when it comes to big media companies understanding new platforms. With over 81M Facebook fans we are the biggest media brand on Facebook, the second one is not even close. We decided the social media revolution was important, a new way to communicate with an audience. There’s an expectation with this generation to talk back. The media companies that are listening will do well.”

12:00: “When I took over at MTV I thought there was an opportunity for Music. To be a strong, robust advertising business in new platforms you need scale. How do we build scale? How do we get to 100M unique users in new platforms? Even if you have a wonderful hit like Jersey Shore, it still won’t take you to 100M users. So we need a different strategy. So how can we get to 100M? The answer was sitting right there in front of us. What do we have a lot of assets in? Music! We looked around at the landscape and the next MTV of new platforms hadn’t emerged yet. Many made a run at it, MySpace, AOL, MTV, etc. Here we are in 2009-2010 and no big player has emerged that is the center of the content universe. There is a place for a global brand that has a strong association with music and lots of assets, from talent relations to 500M television screens worldwide to iconic brands. We decided music was going to be the tip of a content strategy that would take us to that large footprint, and that’s what we’ve been pursuing.”

22:18: “Our company is built on content and content franchises. We’re not a technology company. We make Jackass, Jersey Shore, Spongebob, and The Daily Show. That’s our product. Content is changing. The pillars of what make up the music business are changing. Consumer behavior is changing, distribution is changing, and content creation is changing. We’re creating content right now for five percent of what it would have cost to create just six or seven years ago. That has meaningful impact. MTV Hive is on one level a music blog, but also it’s a lab for creating new content like 120 Seconds with Matt Pinfield. Should we build a technology company or should we be playing in how new content is created. I think we should be doing the latter.”

28:56: “I don’t think we’re in the business of building Twitter or Facebook the same way we’re not in the business of building telecommunications networks. We have a saying at MTV: ‘Facebook is the telephone, we’re the conversation’. Not many people talk about Facebook on Facebook. They talk about Paramore’s new video or Kanye West jumping on stage at the VMAs or breaking up with their girlfriend. Over time social networking companies may look like cable companies, infrastructure pipe providers that enable entertainment, information, or communication to happen. We view ourselves as a story telling company with content at the center.”

36:25: “If I had to call the next phase anything, I’d call it the era of massive communal consumption of media. Never in the history of human consumption of media have you been able to consume connected to conversation from all over the world.”

38:39: “We hope we become the place where you get the story behind the music. I know that’s using one of our brands but what’s the next version of Unplugged, Pop Up Video or Behind The Music? Who’s telling the story? Where’s the narrative? Where’s the context? If we do our jobs MTV is one trusted source in a world where everyone has a megaphone and people want to know who to trust and believe. We’re an authority, we provide context, and we curate.”

Also, Aquarium Drunkard’s Justin Gage dropped by to talk about one of his favorite albums of summer 2011, White Denim’s D. Check out the video for Streety Joy from White Denim’s D below, and buy on Amazon right here.

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White Denim – Street Joy from dms.FM on Vimeo.

Kicking off This Week In Music live video from ThisWeekIn on

I’m a long-time fan of Jason Calacanis“This Week In Startups” as well as Mark Suster‘s “This Week In Venture Capital”. Both are part of Jason’s venture “This Week In”, which offers a variety of programming via their Web site, YouTube, and Podcast. Simple idea: low-cost niche-based content, perfect for the commute, gym, etc. If you want the full-on “THIS IS THE FUTURE” primer, check out this review of Jason’s show and host mojo from Forbes’ blog.

Once upon a time I pitched producer Will Thompson a “This Week In Music”. My original vision was a little over-ambitious. If you know me you know I’m not a regular watcher of TV let alone ESPN (both understatements) but stuck in front of ESPN one night at the gym I just stared at the format of the talk show on the screen. High production value, dudes in suits, that guy over there used to BE a pro player, and most importantly they had OPINIONS. You didn’t hear Kurt Loder on MTV News telling you what he thought about the music. But then music is much more subjective than sports — there isn’t nearly as clear a winner/loser. Anyway, I pitched Will on a Sportscenter for the music business and he correctly told me my idea was both too expensive and not funny to anyone but me. And Jason had a different direction for This Week In Music, so they went ahead with a version of the show that had nothing to do with me or my idea.

For whatever reason, that show ceased a few months back. I honestly don’t know the circumstances, so I don’t have a comment on it. I didn’t watch it but a couple times and it didn’t seem up my alley so I didn’t invest much in it. Its end coincided roughly with me making an appearance on Jason’s show. I reached out to Will and said, “hey about that This Week In Music show…” Jason decided to give me a shot at it, temporarily at least. Then, in a stunning upset I beat out Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Hsieh (had to look up spelling on both last names) as “host of the year” in This Week In Startups’ TWiSTEE awards. Why? Because I campaigned, that’s why. One tweet from either of those dudes would have crushed me but I cared and they didn’t so TAKE THAT FAMOUS ENTREPRENEUR DUDES. #WINNING Honestly, it was unexpected but I also went to the studio for the live broadcast (the studio is 10 blocks from Topspin’s office) and joined the broadcast to say thank you. Also to my surprise Jason announced my new show at that moment. It was real!

But I’ve been busy and getting started was taking longer than planned. Finally I bit the bullet and asked Mike D if he’d be my first guest. He must like me because he said yes not even really knowing what I was talking about. Unfortunately we couldn’t square his availability with studio availability so we recorded the first one in my office with special guest Mark Kates. Andrew Mains helped me run down the music news and Amrit from Stereogum did an EXCELLENT bit on why you should by the SBTRKT record. Unfortunately the audio was a bit off and I didn’t do a very good job of getting a concise interview from Mike and Mark. It was a good practice but ultimately not as good as if we’d done it in the studio. That one will be in the “archives”. For the fans! A b-side. Mike and Mark, I hope you understand. Amrit and Andrew, please join me again. Thanks sincerely and the low-fi-ness was my fault.

We start with the in-studio shows live today, July 15th, at 5pm PT. I’ll have Topspin co-founder Shamal Ranasinghe, fresh off a flight from his current home in London, with me in the studio for the news then jump straight into an interview with Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard. We’ll finish up with a review of some new music and have you out the door in about 45 minutes.

So how do you watch? To watch live, tune in to tomorrow, Friday, July 15th, at 5pm PT. Soon after, you’ll find the archive on, and I’ll try to remember to post it here on FISTFULAYEN. Also, you can (probably, very soon, I hope) subscribe via Podcast in good ol’ iTunes. Take your pick: Video | Audio.

Feedback and any help spreading the word is always appreciated. Thanks!


Planet Money on Pop Music, Preschools, and Bitcoin


I’ve been an avid Planet Money listener since its inception as an off-shoot from This American Life, but the last few weeks hit the bullseye for me with three very different shows all square in my interests:

#1: A very convincing explanation of why the cheapest way to fix society is to give more kids preschool.

#2: An entertaining look at the cost of making a hit song.

#3: Bitcoin! OK, pretty late. But still…

Just wanted to cast my vote for this great show. If you’re not already podcasting it, do so here.


Publishing: Connecting Content with Audience

I encourage you to spend some time with Cory Doctorow’s thoughtful piece from The Guardian re: the changing role of publishing in hopes it will cause you to consider what publishing really was, and what it might become. Cory mentions “publishing” as it was defined for him more than ten years ago:

Once in a while, someone will say something that’s so self-evidently true, and so unexpected, that you’ll spend the rest of your life working through its implications. For me, one such truth is “A publisher makes a work public, it connects a work and an audience”, and the person who said it is my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor at Tor Books, the largest science fiction publisher in the world.

He discusses how, because of the reality of the atom-based pre-digital world, “publishing” used to including “manufacturing” and “distributing” by default. The fact a book existed on the shelf meant it had passed through gatekeepers who thought enough of it to edit, print, and ship it somewhere. But, as Cory points out, while those were necessary steps, they were just part of what it means to connect a work to an audience.

In today’s world manufacturing and “distribution” can both happen without making any connection at all to an audience. I can easily upload a video to YouTube or a song I just made in iPad Garage Band (<3) to Soundcloud, but have I published it under the definition above? I’d argue no, the act of making something available no longer says anything about its likelihood to find an audience. It’s not until someone picks up that video or song and places it in the stream of consumer attention is it “published”.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to the path things take as they move from unknown to known. There are more “publishers” than ever and no longer do a few gatekeepers decide what can find any audience. That channels and technology now allow for the viral spread of content and ideas is undeniable. It’s not hard to think of videos which have gone from an inexpensive hand-held device straight into your home simply because a friend thought it was funny. But while content with exceptionally broad appeal may find a quick viral spike, there’s a difficult road for something more sublimely enjoyable, a piece of music which takes a nudge from a friend and a couple of listens to appreciate the depth and begin enjoying (my favorite kind). For those we need trusted sources, and I believe those trusted sources become increasingly important and influential as our number of options increases. In this way it feels as if those formerly thought of as critics or filters might become the true “publishers”, the ones who connect content with audience.

Funny, I’m about to hit “Publish” on this blog post in WordPress. Perhaps they need to change that verb. It isn’t until Feedburner drops this in your inbox or Hootsuite sends my scheduled tweet or you re-Tweet or post to your Facebook wall that it is actually connecting with an audience and therefore published, right?