Friday, November 28, 2008

Music Gets Free-er. A good thing?

I had an interesting discussion with Lee Gomes a while ago, about the concept of the "Long Tail". Lee was taking the position that the Long Tail works as a concept, but as a business model it is no way to actually make money. He felt that by having an infinite amount of choices in music, it would cheapen all the music, and lead towards everyone making less money. I argued against that idea, and felt that there was room for everyone, and the "cream will rise to the top" in every area of the Long Tail.

Well, I am not sure who is right, but it is pretty clear that for 2009 the vote is coming in loud and clear that people want their music for free and unfettered.

Even Apple iTunes is gradually moving towards getting rid of the DRM (digital rights management) on songs you download from them. Amazon, CDBABY and other major sites are already offering downloads of songs now that, once you buy them, you can copy them to your hearts content.

But why bother buying the music, when you can listen by "streaming" it for free on your computer? MYSPACE now has a jukebox feature where you can create playlists of songs from thousands of artists ranging from little old me to people like Eric Clapton, Guns n Roses, you name it.,,, all these sites give you unlimited access to music free. They are all working on the business model that they can pay a fraction of a penny per streamed song since they run ads on their websites, and they use the ad revenue to pay for the incredibly cheap music.

All well and good. but I wonder, where will it end? If everyone can create the music, and the basic business model is to give it away, what will happen to the quality of music? Perhaps there is less cream to rise than I thought...
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Saturday, September 6, 2008


As a Call To Action in the hopes of encouraging jazz lovers and perhaps future Jazz lovers (and future voters, too!) to come out in force for this November’s Presidential election, Jazz Pianist George Kahn is doing his part by getting music lovers to “Jazz The Vote”.

George has a cover of John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change” on his latest CD release “Cover Up!” and is asking fans to please go to Itunes and download his instrumental version of the song.

“ We are at a unique point in history “ George says. “I have been pretty jaded about politics in general, but for the first time in recent memory, it feels like we have real choices coming up in November’s election. Whether you vote Democratic, Republican or otherwise, it is more important than ever to exercise your right to vote.”

In support of this concept, for each download of “Waiting On The World To Change” (George’s Jazz version only), from now until election day, November 4, 2008, George will donate $1.00 to the political party of the downloader’s choice. All a listener needs to
do is to send George an email to his label, Playing Records: ,after they have downloaded the song, and tell him who should receive the $1.00 donation…Democrat, Republican or Independent parties only (no individuals).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More Unfettered Music, and Defense of "The Long Tail"

This has been a big week for news, if you can get past the depressing stuff they are printing on the front page.
First of all, Rhapsody announced its entrance into the downloadable music market with songs that have no copyright protection - once you buy them, you own them, and you can copy them to your other machines or players to your heart's content. This is good news, and follows my prediction that within the next 18 months the RIAA and the major labels will throw in the towel on the "DRM" stratgey of penalizing people that pay for a download vs. paying to buy a physical CD.
If interested, Rhapsody is giving away a free album to the first 100,000 people to sign up, but that offer ends on July 4, so better hurry up.
It also supports my belief that in the end people prefer OWNING the music they like, Vs. having to pay a monthly fee forever for the pleasure of listening to the music of their choice. But that is just my opinion.

Secondly, yesterday one of my favorite columnists, Lee Gomes, wrote an article about a new study from Harvard saying that the "Long Tail" concept first put forward by Chris Anderson in 2006 is not true. "The Long Tail" argued that the Internet, with its expansive shelf space, would mean a smaller role for mega-git products and a bigger one for the "long tail" of smaller niche products. The new article by Anita Elberse suggests that the Web is only cementing the prominence of a small number of cultural favorites.

I read the book, and came away with a very different impression. It may be true that Chris Anderson's idea that society is "shifting away" from the "hits" mentality that has driven our consumer society is not true on a macroscopic level.

If one throws enough money at marketing a "Hancock", it will have a huge opening, no matter how bad the product may be.

What struck me, and I believe to be true, is that within the "long tail" there are many many "niches", and if you look at each niche individually, they will each have their own "head", followed by a long tail.

What the internet has allowed to happen, due to the rapid inexpensive transmission of information and the low or no cost of "stocking" an item that is really just ones and zeros, is it has allowed these numerous niches to grow and even thrive as more people are able to find them.

The jazz music industry amounts to under 3% of all music sales in any given year. As the "major" labels have given up on this niche market as one that is unprofitable on their scale, it has opened up the playing field to niche marketers like myself that can target market this "micro economy", and be effective.

If you look at the JazzWeek Jazz Radio Album Chart for this week, you will see that over 50% of the artists are on small or self-released labels. My new album, COVER UP! is my 6th self-produced album over the last 10 years, and has just entered the charts at #43.

Believe me, this would not have happened 10 years ago.

So the "winner-take-all" dynamic has shifted. There is room enough now for everyone's creativity, and the cream will rise. I look forward to being in the "head" of my niche, and having a successful carreer, accordingly.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wal-Mart Sings, Music Industry Dances

The tail continues to wag the dog in the music industry. This week Wal-Mart announced an exclusive deal to sell the new AC/DC album. But more importantly, the company also announced a plan that could be the next step in the demise of the Physical CD. CD sales have fallen 16.5% this year according to Neilsen Soundscan. This follows a consistent pattern of double-digit losses for the last five years. WAL-MART ACCOUNTS FOR ABOUT 30% OF ALL CDS SOLD IN THE US(!) That alone is a scary statistic.
Now Wal-Mart says that they are considering extensive cuts to the catalog of music they carry in their stores. All these old CDs are taking up valuable floor space that could be used to sell toilet paper.
Maybe I have to be like Tim McGraw, and set up a partnership with Frito-Lay to get my CD sold at Wal-Mart. His last CD was packaged with a custom flavored snack called "Tim McGraw's Spicy JalapeƱo Fritos" in a combo pack that sold for $12.00. Hmm... maybe I can hook up with Pepsi Cherry Jazz soda - a free CD with every 12 pack! I dunno.
Meanwhile Handleman Co., one of the largest rack jobbers in the business (they service the catalog at Wal-Mart stores) is selling the business - the CEO Al Koch says, "In the short term, it's not possible to downsize as fast as revenue is declining."
I hear the sound of the physical CD going the way of the long playing record...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Out Of Time 10th year anniversary

It is hard to believe that it was 10 years ago, in 1998, that I recorded OUT OF TIME – my first jazz release.

To see the rest of this post, and to read about Billy Higgins, the drummer on the session, please go to the OUT OF TIME web page
Sadly, Billy passed away in 2001, 3 years after this recording was made.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


(The new album cover - I hope you like it!)
One of the biggest stories of 2008 in the music business has been carefully buried or under-reported by the media: DRM, or digital rights management is gradually going the way of the compact disc.

It is clear that the people have spoken, and they like getting their music downloaded directly to their computer. They spoke REALLY LOUD in April when APPLE became the #1 music retailer in the US, beating out Best Buy for the first time (Apple was #2 in December 2007, and had been behind Best Buy, Wal-Mart and as recently as last June.) Paid downloads accounted for almost 30% of all music sold in January (for my catalog it accounts for at least 75% of sales every month).

Many people think that the main thing stopping digital sales from REALLY taking off is DRM - the various systems that have been set up to stop people from copying and/or sharing music they buy on the internet. This is the big draw-back with iTunes - you buy the download, but they limit how many copies you can make, and how many computers you can put the song on. Personally, I have no problem with this - the limits are plenty for my personal use, and as an artist I like the idea that one person is not allowed to buy my album and then just electronically give it to millions of folks. But the reality is, if someone wants to do that, they can - just by buying my CD, ripping it and away it goes, onto Limewire, or wherever. So why penalizes the people that prefer to pay and download the songs in the first place?

The walls have started falling fast this year: In January AMAZON announced that songs from all four major labels could be downloaded through Amazon MP3, their digital download store. They are the first retailer to reach agreements with all four of the major labels, so now you can download Justin, Beyonce, Mariah, Madonna and mental patient Britney if you choose to.

Now CBS, one of the last old-guard companies, had entered the fray with an update to a company started back in 2003: Last.FM
This year CBS announced that will offer on-demand streaming of millions of tracks from all four major labels and a HUGE host of indies. There is no fee for the service - it is an "ad-supported" business model, with subscription upgrades if you desire. This service competes directly with Rhapsody and other streaming music services. The celestial jukebox has arrived, and it is sitting in your computer right now.
How huge is the "host of indies"? Well, as a test, I went on today, typed in "George Kahn" in the search engine, pressed enter, and within 15 seconds I was listening to "Midnight Brew". No password to enter, no registration, no software to download to my computer.

I did not tell to list my music in their service - obviously someone else did (CDBABY perhaps). And I certainly hope that people will click through to buy a song or a CD after listening. In the meanwhile, you will have to excuse me - I am going to type "Grateful Dead" into and enjoy my afternoon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

IAJE Declares Bankruptcy

A sad day for jazz, indeed. Here is a copy of the official press release that came out on April 14th.
Too bad someone like Herb Alpert gave all his money to UCLA, and didn't save some to keep the IAJE aloat. We will miss their annual Jazzfest - it was the best in the world!

Dear IAJE Family,

It is with a great sense of loss that I inform you that despite drastic efforts to cut expenses and raise emergency funds, the IAJE Board has voted to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Federal Bankruptcy Law. I want to thank profusely those who responded with their generous donations and offers of assistance following my last communication. While over 250 individuals contributed just over $12,000, this, along with the many other efforts and contributions of IAJE staff, Board members, and association partners, was simply not enough to address the accumulated debt of the organization or its urgent need for cash relief.

In the next few days, a Kansas bankruptcy court will appoint a trustee to oversee all ongoing aspects of the association. This includes the ability to examine IAJE's financial records and mount an independent inquiry into the causes of it's financial downfall as well as disposing of the remaining assets of the association with proceeds distributed to creditors in accordance with Kansas and Federal law. The board will no longer be involved in operation of the organization and will at some point resign. IAJE as it presently stands will no longer exist...

Since the first communication to the membership outlining this crisis, there has been considerable public speculation as to its causes. As noted in that communication, years of dependence upon the conference as a primary (but unreliable) revenue stream and the launch of a well-intentioned capital campaign (the Campaign for Jazz), which generated a meager response but required considerable expenditures in advance of contributions, drove the association into insolvency. Sadly, the attendance at the conference in Toronto (the lowest in 10 years) exacerbated an already critical situation, depriving the association of the cash-flow needed to continue daily operations as well as the time needed to seek alternative resources.

While ultimately not able to skirt the financial land mines placed in its path, I want to assure you the IAJE Board has acted responsibly, ethically, and with a sense of urgency ever since it was blindsided last fall with the discovery of the extent of the accumulated association debt. Since that time, the board slashed spending, set specific performance targets for the Executive Director, sought outside consultations, and enlisted the services of several past-presidents and strategic association partners in attempts to raise funds - sadly, with minimal success.

It goes without saying, the board you elected is comprised of very accomplished, intelligent, and dedicated educators and professionals who have given generously of their time in service to this association and care about it passionately. Likewise, our entire professional staff, led by Associate Executive Director, Vivian Orndorff, and Executive Producer, Steve Baker, has worked heroically in the face of declining resources to meet the needs of the association and its members. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank both the board and staff for their service. I have been privileged and honored to serve with them. While there may be those who question specific decisions or strategies in efforts to meet this crisis, the dedication and integrity of these individuals should never be in doubt.

As we move forward, one of the most pressing questions is how the operations of individual chapters and affiliated associations will be affected by this filing. Since our chapters are either separate corporate entitles or voluntary associations with their own boards, constitutions and bylaws; IAJE views them as completely independent entities. Ultimately, however, the trustee and the court will make this determination and it is anticipated that the trustee may request certain information from the chapters in this regard.

Sadly, the 2009 IAJE International Conference in Seattle has been cancelled. However, there has been some discussion of mounting a regional conference in its place. At the moment, Lou Fischer, U.S. Board Representative is fielding inquiries:

For the time being, the IAJE website will remain up. However, the international offices of IAJE will close their doors at the end of the day on Friday, April 18th. Should there be additional questions you may submit them to and every attempt will be made to respond to these as staffing allows.

Today, we, the members of IAJE and the global jazz community, face an extremely important task. For, as we all recognize, the opportunities, impact, and work of this association are too vital to simply disappear. Whether you were first drawn to IAJE for its conference, its magazine or research publications, its student scholarship programs such as Sisters in Jazz or the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz All-Stars, its Teacher Training Institutes, the resources provided through its website or Resource Team, or any one of a number of other offerings; it is clear the mission of IAJE still resonates and its advocacy is needed today more than ever. We must, therefore, look at this as an opportunity to refocus the mission, scope, programs, and vision of IAJE (or whatever succeeds it) to better meet the needs of our members and the jazz community not only today but looking toward the future.

I am, in no way, suggesting the membership turn a blind eye towards the need for an independent inquiry into causes and ultimately assigning responsibility for this situation. I ask you recognize the court appointed trustee, who will have access to all necessary documents and facts, is charged with that task. Our efforts and our passion, should be to collectively rally the community to recognize the importance IAJE has had and continues to have in the life and development of jazz and jazz education - seeking new strategic partnerships, new government structures, and a revitalized mission that embraces current needs.

Already there are efforts to do just that. I know that Mary Jo Papich, who would have begun serving her term as President of IAJE beginning this July, is dedicated to recreating such an association. As many know, Mary Jo has been a tireless advocate for IAJE, serving it long and well. You will, undoubtedly, be hearing from her in the near future. When she does contact you, I urge you to join me in offering her every support and assistance. Of course, others may also seek to fill this void by promoting alternative visions for empowering, serving, and gathering the jazz community. While I generally believe such diversity is quite healthy, I would strongly encourage all such efforts and leaders to attempt to collaborate and seek ways to unite us in spirit and strength.

Finally, I would encourage you to recognize and remember IAJE for all the tremendous good it has done in the past 40 years. Many individuals have contributed along the way, often at considerable personal sacrifice of their time and resources, to establish and advance the work of this association. Much has been achieved that can never be taken away! Therefore, the vision, effort, and shared passion that have fueled the growth of IAJE and its programs should not be forgotten or considered in vain. Rather, the spirit that is IAJE must be rekindled into a new vision for the future.


The IAJE Board - Chuck Owen, President

Saturday, March 1, 2008


There is a fair amount of confusion about the term "West Coast Jazz". Some people would argue that West Coast Jazz is jazz recorded on the West Coast of California, from Los Angeles up to the San Francisco area. After all, some of Charlie Parker's most important recordings for Dial Records were made in LA, before and after he spent time "Relaxing at Camarillo". Wardell Grey, Teddy Edwards and Dexter Gordon all burned up the Central Avenue scene, playing bebop as bad as anyone on 52nd Street.

Some would say the West Coast Jazz is not based on location, but more a certain sound. Many people go so far to call it a creation of the West Coast record companies in an attempt to "brand" and cash in on a style that, for a moment, caught the ear of the nation via Dave Brubeck's quartet with Paul Desmond, and the creative "little big band" sound of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars.

I would posit that "West Coast Jazz" was (and is) really an attitude, a feeling, a "vibe" that could only originate in a place filed with palm trees, big, open horizons, ocean breezes and urbanity. It was an answer to the left turn that took place when the Big Bands died out and jazz starting chasing the Bird down the bebop trail. And it took the mix of the City and the Wild West to make it come together.

It is entwined with Cool Jazz - Gil Evans should be considered an honorary member of the West Coast Jazz contingent - after all, he lived in California from the age of 10, saw his first jazz concert in San Francisco when he was 15 (the Duke Ellington Orchestra), and Gil didn't really move to New York until he was almost 30 years old!

Fostered by the likes of Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader, Shorty Rogers, Andre Previn,, Curtis Counce and others, the core of West Coast Jazz consists of:
- a less frenetic, calmer style (some might say more "soulful")
- interesting and more intricate arrangements, sometimes with a "classical" bent to the compositions
- a sophistication that is more "martini" than "whiskey"
- a willingness to try new sound combinations and orchestrations

Not that the west coast players couldn't BURN on any bebop tune (look at Art Pepper). Many of the live recordings from the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach gave light to the lie that West Coast Jazz players were all "laid back". In LA, where many of the jazz cats found their true financial calling by doing recordings for the movie and TV industry (such as Bud Shank, Jack Sheldon, and Shelly Manne) it kind of makes sense that West Coast Jazz would become more eclectic in form and instrumentation.

But the BEST of West Coast Jazz - the part that lifts my sails and makes me glad to carry on its tradition - is that part that speaks to the creative and adventurous in each of our souls. My goal is to create music that is classic, contemporary, hip and cool, all at once.

I think this new album will fill the bill. I hope you do, too, when you hear it.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

2008: The Death of Digital Rights Management

Welcome to 2008! I thought I would celebrate my birthday (Jan. 7th) with a BLOG for the new year, a couple or resolutions and predictions.

Here are some statistics from the NY Times.
The bad news is that music sales of albums fell 15% from 2006, continuing the pattern of double-digit decreases from the last few years.
The good news is that RAP music sales fell 30%! Amazing - people will soon once again have to SING for it to be called music!

The good news is that DIGITAL sales increased by 45%!
The bad news is that this increase only brought the TOTAL decrease in sales down to 9.5% (The decline in album sales drops to 9.5 percent when sales of digital singles are counted as 10-track equivalent albums, per the NY Times article).

In the niche market of jazz, album sales were off 10.6%. That drop pretty much parallels the industry, so Jazz still only reflects about 3% of the total sales in the USA. The Ghetto has not gotten any bigger, it just continues to shrink with the industry as a whole.

Three of the top 6 albums for 2007 were Josh Groban, High School Musical 2 and Hannah Montana - showing that the music industry has already given up on what was it's core age group (16 - 30 year olds). Instead the focus is on music for 'tweeners too young to know how to download, or on parents too lazy to learn how. The #3 album in sales for the year was The Eagles, who totally bypassed the record industry, releasing the album themselves with an exclusive agreement to Wal-Mart. That turned into 2.6 million album sales, so I guess the $10,000,000 advance the Eagles got was a good bet by Wal-Mart, and a brilliant marketing move by the Eagles.

So, a couple of predictions for 2008 - 2010:
- The few remaining stand-alone music stores (Virgin, FYE, etc.) will close in the next 24 months. The few left standing will mainly sell fashion and "lifestyle" products, or become like Amoeba records, catering to used CDs and collectors.
- As attention spans grow shorter over the next 5 years, the concept of an "album" will gradually vanish, except for compilations, greatest hits packages and TV or movie soundtracks. These will succeed by pricing themselves low enough for people to see the value of the purchase, vs. 99 cent single-downloads.
- By 2010 all the major labels will throw in the towel re: DRM (digital rights management). Ease of purchasing music online and competitve pricing (i.e., cheaper, but not totally "free") will offset the losing battle to stop people from copying digital music.
- By 2010 the major entertainment companies will view music as an "ancillary product" that is there to promote a movie or a line of clothing. Even major artists will start to view albums as little more than advertisements for more-lucrative goods like concert tickets and T-shirts.
- Barring a couple of break-out artists, Jazz music will continue to be a niche market, but album sales will increase, as it becomes one of the few music forms that still holds up in an album format.

AS for New Year's resolutions, I resolve to continue to share my music with the world, as that really is my primary purpose.
I resolve to release my Best Jazz Album Ever in 2008.
I resolve to continue to use the internet - "the great leveler" - in creative ways to bring more attention to jazz and improvisational music.