Archive for category Music

Using Netflix + Pandora To Reinvent The Silent Film

Full disclosure: I’ve always been a huge fan of the rock opera. Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, yes even Aqualung. Some may celebrate the rise of the individual download, but I miss the concept albums that were designed to entertain for more than 3 minutes. I’m also a big fan of cinema. Even beyond the entertainment factor, I love being able to look into the past and see the shadows that film has left behind.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy watching old films, the soundtracks during the silent era are almost unbearable. The Jazz and Ragtime ballads may have been popular in their day, but they usually cause me to fall asleep within 20 minutes of starting a silent film. Because of this, I’ve more or less ignored nearly 2 decades worth of cinematic history, so when I saw Reddit user Feverdream post the following suggestion, you can understand why it may have caught my interest.

“[1]Put on silent movie “Metropolis” on Netflix [2]turn down volume [3]Custom quickmix on Pandora in a separate tab [5 6 7 8 9 …]”

After trying out the instructions exactly, I’m proud to report that the results were amazing. In and of itself, Metropolis is a fantastic film. As a sci-fi fan, I’m really happy that I was able to see it. Even today, it’s probably still 30 years ahead of it’s time. When I combined it with music that was relevant to me, the film took on a life of it’s own. Just like when you sync Pink Floyd’s dark side of the moon with the Wizard of Oz, there were all kinds of intersections where the film and the music collided. It almost felt as if my custom Pandora mix had been made exclusively for that film.

What’s even better about the experience is that it’s not just limited to the film Metropolis. You can literally mash up any silent film on Netflix with a Pandora custom mix and it creates a very personalized experience. The dialogue, the acting and the plot all remain unchanged, but the addition of music that you actually enjoy creates a different sort of connection when watching the film. Throughout my experience, I noticed that my mind seemed to drift more. Instead of getting distracted by the explosions and witty one liners, I was actually thinking about the plot and trying to anticipate each step. It was as if the music was forcing the story to play out in my mind instead of on the screen.

Netflix only has about 25 silent films on their watch instantly service right now, but since you can sort by star rating, it’s pretty easy to find the ones that you’re most likely to enjoy. YouTube also has a pretty impressive collection of public domain silent films for those interested in playing at home.

Davis Turns 10

Discfree Business Plan

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost five years since I wrote my first blog post on Thomas Hawk’s digital connection. Since then, the internet has changed almost as much as it did in the previous five years, but I’m still having fun sharing my thoughts with others online. While I normally write about other people’s ventures (I’m just not that interesting) I did want to take a moment to share a piece of my life with you.

When the Hawk first started to recruit me to write articles for his site, I was a little bit reluctant. Part of it had to do with a lack of interest in creative writing on my part, but a large part of it had to do with my not wanting to take center stage in front of so many people. You wouldn’t know it if you met me in person, but deep down inside I tend to be shy and don’t particularly care for the spotlight.

To help overcome my stage fright, Thomas Hawk suggested that I publish under a pen name instead of mixing business with pleasure. Since I share my legal name with a celebrity, my chances of being heard above the fan posts were slim to none anyway. When picking a pen name, I wanted something that reflected a part of me, but had never been used on the internet before.

Ten years ago to the day, I was finishing up my final semester in college and was taking a course on entrepreneurism. I must of have saved the best for last because unlike some of my more stuffy classes, this one really connected with me. At the time, the internet bubble was still inflating and .com madness was everywhere, but even before we saw the wealth creation of the 90’s, I always knew that I wanted to start my own business.

One of the projects for my class was to create a business and to try and raise funding for it. After many late night brainstorming sessions, our team finally settled on the idea of an MP3 car radio. At the time, Napster was just taking off and while most people over the age of 30 hadn’t heard of an mp3 yet, I knew that it would be the format of choice to replace the CD. With limited hardware supporting MP3s, we felt that there was a large market opportunity for the first company to build an MP3 car radio.

Immediately, we set out to build a prototype and was lucky enough to attract top tier tech talent to our team. We also assembled an out of this world advisory board to help and started putting together a business plan. By the time we were done, we had a great idea, but lacked the experience to actually make it take off. At the time, I remember thinking if I had only been born ten years earlier, it would have been a lot easier to raise financing. We did enter our business plan into several competitions (and performed quite well I might add), but overcoming the challenges of educating investors on MP3 technology, ultimately proved too tough for a scrappy group of college seniors.

I remember one meeting where an investor who had never heard of the MP3, told us that we were foolish to try and take on the compact disc. He had asked us why we thought we could compete against Sony as a startup. When we pointed out Sony’s reluctance to embrace the technology because of their studio business, he just kind of rolled his eyes and told us that if the format was any good, it would only be a matter of time. As it turns out he was right in a way, but Sony ended up waiting too long and lost their walkman franchise to Apple’s iPod.

Since then, the MP3 has become the de facto standard of choice and while there are plenty of mp3 players and other devices, there still isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to the MP3 car radio market. Maybe we were ahead of our time or maybe we simply lacked the experience to create something this big, but whatever the reason, our business never got the funding and eventually became a fond memory.

Since this experience had such a profound affect on my life, when trying to come up with a pen name, I wanted to use something that referred to the original idea. Since the name of our business was Discfree, Davis Freeberg was born. Before hitting publish on my first post, Google said that there were 0 search entries for the term “Davis Freeberg.” Today, there are 105,000 references. While it’s probably too late for me to go back and be the first to create an MP3 car radio, the entrepreneurial spirit that was discovered during the project has carried over to this very day.

Eventually, I set up a business on my own and am living out my dream from ten years ago, even if the details are different than I imagined them at the time. As a way of thanking all of the great readers who’ve stopped by my site over the last five years, I wanted to share a copy of my original business plan with you. I’ve removed some of the details to protect the anonymity of my partners, but it should give you a good idea for what we were trying to build.

In retrospect, I think that our numbers were a bit aggressive (what startup isn’t?) and that we were asking for too little money given the equity that we were prepared to give an angel investor, but the idea was solid and had we moved forward with our team, I think we could have at least made a run with it. While Discfree won’t ever become the business that I had hoped it would be, I am pleased to see Davis continue the dream, even if it’s in a different form. Thanks for making the last five years a truly remarkable experience for me and I hope you enjoy the sneak peak at what Davis was blogging before he even knew what blogging was.

Rhapsody And The Art Of The Up-Sell

RealPhoto by Thomas Hawk

One of my very first jobs was working behind a concession counter for a big multi-plex cinema. It isn’t the sort of place where one would expect to learn a life skill, but early on I learned an important lesson in business, the art of the up-sell.

You see, movie theaters make very little from the box office receipts, so the concessions counter is the lifeblood of the industry. The setup is pretty much the same at every theater, but most people don’t tend to think about it. Because the actual cost of the popcorn and soda is so low, the theaters reap big profits from selling captive customers overpriced snacks and beverages.

One of the problems that theaters face, is that there are a ton of people who tend to order small sizes. It could be that they are trying to save money or that they don’t need oversized portions, but because the containers cost the theater more than the actual popcorn or soda, going from a small to a larger size, tends to be pure profit for the theater.

To help “encourage” movie goers to pay the max, theaters will price their small popcorns at ridiculously expensive levels and then have a minor jump in price from small to medium and medium to large. If you were to price the popcorn by ounce, a small would cost four times as much as a large, but because of the high cost at the small level, it makes it easier to convince consumers to pay a little bit extra for a lot more food.

When I sold concessions, the sales pitch would typically go “hey did you know you can get a large for only 50 cents extra?” That was all it took and at least 75% of the customers would go big.

In thinking about why my theater was so effective at up-selling, two things jump out at me. The first has to do with the way the pricing was set. Consumers got tremendously more value at the higher levels, then the lower ones. It might be tough convincing someone to spend $5 on a bucket of popcorn to begin with, but once they made that purchase, an extra 10% for 200% more, seems small. Secondly though, they had an actual human explain this value to the customer. Concession employees were expected to upsell or suggestive sell on every single transaction. It could be subtle, but management made sure that every employee was at least presenting more options to the customers.

What made me take this trip down memory lane is a recent experience with Real’s Rhapsody music service. Before the internet, napster, and digitization, I used to collect music with a passion. Records, Tapes, CDs, it didn’t matter. I would scour local garage sales and thrift stores looking for bargains, (not to mention all of the BMG and Columbia House memberships.)

When the internet first started to take off, my collecting habits intensified. I’d surf Ebay for favorite artists. I didn’t care about the singles or the greatest hits, I was after the rare B-sides that were released internationally. There is something amazing about listening to an artist’s entire discography in order, but back then, it took a lot of money to buy every single song that an artist produced.

Once MP3’s took off, I abandoned physical playback and spent many late nights digitizing my music. As time has gone on though, I’ve realized what a hassle it is trying to maintain a large digital library. Computers have a way of freaking out once you go over a certain limit, there are countless hard drive failures involving added expenses and I don’t even want to think about the amount of time I’ve spent dealing with buffer overrun errors while backing up my music. The bottom line is that if you’re trying to collect a couple hundred thousand Mp3’s, it’s not only cheaper to rent then it is to buy, it’s cheaper just to store it.

Because I had such a large music collection, I never gave Rhapsody a chance, but as one hard drive failure after another has taken large chunks out of my music library, I’ve found myself turning to the internet for specific artists or songs that I’m now missing.

Over the last year, I’ve signed up for Rhapsody three different times to listen to music that’s disappeared over time. Thanks to their free trial offers, I’ve been able to hear a lot of great music, but never kept my membership for longer than a month.

What surprised me so much about the experience was how much I enjoyed it. Not only can I get the latest top hits for a fraction of what I used to spend, but I also get access to the expensive b-sides that were never in wide circulation. The first time I logged onto the service, I was estactic after discovering an entire album’s worth of material from my favorite artist.

Given how much enjoyment I’ve gotten out of the service, one would think that it would be a no brainer for me to spend a modest amount of money for access to more music then you can even think about, but when it came down to becoming a paying member, Real Networks lost me on the up-sell.

You see, as a streaming internet music service, Rhapsody really is an amazing product, but its lack of a robust download solution, means that if you want to take your music on the go, customers have limited options. Since Real realizes that not every consumer wants downloadable functionality, they price their service in two tiers.

The first is the standard all you can eat streaming music of just about any song or artist you can think of (we’re talking stuff not even on Bit Torrent.) For $2 more though, you can download songs to “approved devices” and rock out using a portable device that doesn’t need to be connected to the net.

As an internet streaming service, I would have been happy to pay their monthly fee for all of the music that they provide, but by offering a download “upgrade”, it makes me keenly aware of a significant limitation to the service. As is, I can listen to Pandora via the internet now, so a streaming only service makes me second guess how much value Rhapsody really has. I wouldn’t even mind paying the $2 more per month just for streaming access, but don’t see enough value in the $2 upgrade to justify signing up for the downloading tier.

Part of this is because I’m not able to download a DRM free MP3. Even if you download your music, you still have to “refresh” your approved device once a month or your songs get disabled. You’re also limited in the number of devices you can play your Real files on.

As much as I prefer downloading over streaming, it simply isn’t worth an extra $24 per year for a weaksauce version of the real thing. Having to connect my cell phone to the net once a month is obnoxious and I’m not particularly fond of downloading music that I can’t play on all the electronic gadgets that I own.

If they eliminated the download tier, I’d probably be a customer right now, but by making me choose, they’ve persuaded me not to sign up for either package.

Not everyone purchased an up-sell when I sold concessions, but during my entire time behind the counter, I never had a single customer walk away without at least buying the small popcorn that they originally asked for. When it comes to Rhapsody though, the different pricing tiers have cost them at least one customer who would have paid, if he didn’t have to choose between streaming only or weaksauce downloading.

I don’t know if Real does consumer surveys, but I bet that I’m not the only one to agonize over this distinction. Instead of using the price difference to highlight their weaknesses, Real would be better off by either raising the price $2 on everyone and then including their downloading solutions with the service or eliminate the downloading tier entirely and focus on being an amazing and comprehensive streaming service only. By trying to straddle between streaming and downloading, they are only confusing customers and highlighting the limitations to their service.


Bank Bailout Blues

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

21st Century Digital Boy

50 Ways To Leave Your TV Provider

My 2 Dollars has a post up where he lists 35 different ways you can ditch cable and satellite, but still get free TV. Since his list has already grown to 41, it inspired me break out the old Karaoke machine and record a tribute to internet TV. I’m not ready to quit my day job for a professional Karaoke career, but hope you enjoy it anyway. My apologies ahead of time to both Mr. Simon and my readers. This song is dedicated to Comcast for all of their years of craptacular service.

50 Ways To Leave Your Television Provider

The problem has to do with your TiVo she said to me
Fiber’s not the answer if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your TV provider

She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
But I’ll repeat myself At the risk of being rude
There must be fifty ways to leave your TV provider
Fifty ways to leave your TV provider

Use wifi to hack, Jack
Set up a LAN, Stan
You don’t need to comprehend, friend
To set your TV free
Just hop on the web, Deb
don’t need to download much
Just drop in the streams, meme
and get your TV for free

Use Joost to Roost Bruce
make for Beeline Seign
for all your free TV needs
Don’t know what to watch, Gus
no reason to fuss much
Just watch DemocracyTV with Me

She said it grieves me so
To see you in such pain
I wish there was something I could do
To speed your downloads again
I said I appreciate that
But would you please explain
About the fifty ways

She said why don’t we both
Just sleep on it for a fortnight
And I believe that in the future
You’ll begin to see the HD light
And then she comped me for a free month
And I realized she was right
There must be fifty ways to leave your TV provider
Fifty ways to leave your TV provider

Don’t Follow Leaders Watch The Parkin’ Meters

The Recluse