CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Instead of holding a press conference, why don’t you tell me why your product’s good?

By | Published on Friday 2 December 2011

Andy Malt

I have spent more time than I would like watching press conferences of late. Any time spent watching a press conference is rather more than I’d like really, but recently several hours of my life have gone by while tech firms take an hour each to announce the latest way in which they’re somehow going to save the music industry.

And there’s the real problem. In the post-Jobs world, tech firms seem to have got it into their heads that every minor change to their business requires an expensive, live-streamed announcement, and a prior announcement to announce how truly groundbreaking the thing they’re going to announce is going to be.

Trouble is, not only are none of these ‘things’ particularly groundbreaking, but the people presenting them are generally not good enough public speakers to bring back their audience from the stinging disappointment of discovering that they’re just launching, well, a thing.

Take this week’s Spotify announcement. Spotify’s new app platform is actually quite exciting. You don’t need to play around with the few apps that are available in its beta period for very long to see that the potential is great. For one thing, after the seven years I’ve been using, its Spotify app is the first thing to convince me that its recommendations are of any use at all.

But watching Daniel Ek standing on a stage in New York via a Ustream feed that stalled every few seconds failed to impart any of what was exciting about this new development. All I could do was sit there and wonder where the “new direction” the announcement of the announcement had promised me was. Spotify’s direction hasn’t changed at all. It’s still a music streaming service that allows you to play music on demand. Just with some extra editorial content and recommendations thrown in.

So why build it up so much? OK, I can see the attraction of having a physical press conference and then pre-empting it with hype. You build up excitement (or at least intrigue), and then put on a big enough of a show so that every journalist feels they have to write about it, no matter how disappointed they may be with what was actually announced. And I get that it’s good to show journalists and consumers a demo of your new product.

But actually, I didn’t get a sense of what Spotify had added to its service until I started using it. In fact, the first draft of my report on the announcement – based just on Ek’s presentation – was almost wholly negative in tone. It wasn’t until a press email arrived later with a link through which meant I could try out the new apps myself, that I got anywhere near excited. Enough to revise my write up, in fact. So, why not just send out the press shot without the big event? In fact the staging of the press conference suggested a lack of confidence in the new product (“it needs hyping, it doesn’t stand up on its own”) or worries about the intelligence of music and tech journalists and Spotify users (“they’ll never figure this out unless Daniel does a demo”). Actually, the apps are totally intiutive, and totally sell themselves.

Anyway, I’ll not go on about this for too long – I already spoke about it enough on this week’s podcast (online here later today) – but as we’re heading towards the end of the year, let me make a plea for 2012: If you’re thinking about holding a press conference for some new music-focused technology, stop and ask yourself if, rather than spending all your investors’ cash on a glitzy press event, an email might not do the job as well or better? Because I will still feel duty bound to watch any press conference you put on, but, as you might of sensed, I’m a bit bored of them. Why not spend that money placating all the indie labels and artists who are going around saying you’re all evil?

Remarkably, some things managed to make it into the news this week without being announced via a press conference.

The continuing saga of Universal’s attempt to sue Grooveshark out of business took a new turn this week, after details of internal emails sent by Grooveshark Chairman Sina Simantob, included in Universal’s latest lawsuit against the streaming platform, showed that it has apparently been company policy for some time to build scale by filling the streaming website with unlicensed music. It’s not the smoking gun that proves Universal’s claim that Grooveshark executives and staff (rather than users) are responsible for illegally uploading tens of thousands of songs to the service’s catalogue, but it won’t win them many friends in the label or artist communities either.

Also this week, as Grooveshark battles on, another former controversial music service, turned legal damp squib, Napster, was closed down in the US market, as its users were merged with those of its new owner Rhapsody. Many remarked that that switch meant that the brand so often blamed for the decline of music industry revenues was now all but dead after twelve years in existence, though that would suggest that the Napster of now has any real relationship with the Napster of then beyond its name. Which is doesn’t.

Also this week, a musician finally appeared to give evidence to Lord Leveson’s inquiry into the operations of the British press. Charlotte Church, who has been a regular feature in the tabloids since childhood gave a long statement detailing exactly how she felt when she and her family had been maltreated by the papers.

Elsewhere in the pop courts, the doctor convicted of killing Michael Jackson, Conrad Murray, was sentenced on Tuesday. The lengthy hearing resulted in Murray being locked away for four years (the maximum sentence allowed) and ordered to pay restitution to Jackson’s family, with the exact amount payable to be decided at a later date. The judge also had stern words for Murray about his decision to twice refuse to give testimony in court, but instead tell his story via a TV documentary.

For our interview this week, the last of the year, I spoke to Memphis Industries co-founder Ollie Jacob ahead of the indie label’s thirteenth birthday gig at Koko in London. Eddy Temple-Morris, meanwhile, used his column to look back at some of his favourite music of 2011. Although not as much as he would like, as he’d just suffered a major hard drive failure.

Elsewhere, we unveiled our first of ten CMU Artists Of The Year, kicking off with the brilliant Three Trapped Tigers, and resident club tipper Vigsy selected the first of three tips for New Year’s Eve parties, with the amazing sounding Brazilian double new year celebration at Guanabara in London.

We also approved of Austra’s cover of ‘Crying’ by Roy Orbison, Japanese hybrid punk duo 0.8syooogeki, and a collection of songs written to order by Jack Cooper of Mazes.

Elsewhere on the music front, Fugazi launched their long awaited online gig archive, with 130 shows available to download – a number that will eventually rise to over 800 performances. And we also brought you a new EP from Odd Future’s Mike G, a remix from alt-pop duo AlunaGeorge, a brand new track by indie pop sextet Team Me, brilliant videos from Halls, Bleeding Heart Narrative, and St Spirit, and a Lana Del Rey cover as part of David Lyre‘s Advent giveaway.

And don’t forget that previously mentioned CMU podcast, which this week features discussion of Spotify’s appy announcement, Grooveshark’s legal battle with Universal, Charlotte Church speaking to the Leveson Inquiry, Dizzee Rascal’s new deal with Universal/Island, Conrad Murray’s sentencing, and Korn’s claims to have invented dubstep. And once again, I am forced to drink some horrible fizzy beverage as we do it.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU