Amazon MP3 Open for Business

I.B. Bad Looks at the Week's Hits, Runs and Errors

LennyBeerBlog: Hip-Hopapotamus

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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

September 25, 2007 opened a beta version of its music-download store this morning under the name Amazon MP3, and going there for the first time will be a reassuring experience for anyone who has shopped on the parent site.

The store's home page features the familiar light blue graphics and drop-down functions, as well as the comforting "Hello," followed by the customer's name. Existing Amazon accounts work here as well, and the one-click purchase option is in effect. The combination of familiarity, convenience and accrued trust could give Amazon MP3 a leg up on other challengers to the iTunes Music Store.

That challenge won't be a serious one, of course, until Sony BMG and Warner Music come to the party. Up to now, both companies have refused to remove copy protection from their downloads, and Amazon MP3 only sells DRM-free tracks.

What's new are the lists, topped by New and Notable MP3 Albums (five in all, starting with Keyshia Cole and also including Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew, Common, Vanguard's Fats Domino tribute and Joni Mitchell's new Starbucks/Hear Music release).

Below are four lists of 25 songs/artists each: Today's Top MP3 Songs (#1 is Amy Winehouse's "Rehab"), Today's Top MP3 Artists (Kanye West is #1, but veteran indie band Apples in Stereo is listed second), Amazon Spotlight: Featured Songs (starting with Keyshia Cole's "Let It Go") and Amazon Spotlight: Featured Artists (#1 is Eminem, and four of his albums are shown at the bottom of the page).

Below that quartet is a group of five Featured MP3 Albums $7.99 or Less (the Stones' Sticky Fingers, the Decemberists' The Crane Wife, Norah Jones' Come Away With Me and Gorillaz' Demon Days, all $7.99).

In another smart strategic move, a headline right below the store logo shouts, "MP3 Music Downloads for Any Media Player!" Alongside it is a graphic showing a domino-like receding row of players, with the iPod Classic in front and the Zune behind it.

A la carte downloads cost 89-99 cents and the vast majority of albums sell for $5.99 to $9.99, though a few are priced under $4, with EPs even less. A four-track maxi-single of Lily Allen's "Smile," for example, sells for $1.87.

Amazon MP3 says its opening-day catalog encompasses 2 million songs. The extremely appealing look and feel of the store would certainly seem to put Sony BMG and WMG on the clock.

HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.

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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

September 24, 2007

GUY & JUNIOR EXPLAIN THEMSELVES: Within the last week, two of the Big Four's top executives have outlined their strategies for the struggling companies they head, and each tried to give the impression that he had a viable plan to turn things around. In his first detailed prospectus since purchasing EMI, Guy Hands exhibited a degree of naiveté as he promised to redirect the long-struggling company toward the strategies he believes will lead to eventual prosperity following seven years of futile attempts to merge with Warner Music during the reign of Eric Nicoli. While continuing to heap praise on Roger Faxon, Hands has been curiously mum about EMI North America head Roger Ames, whom the conventional wisdom has as the obvious choice for heading up EMI's recorded music operation. Concurrently, Edgar Bronfman Jr., obfuscating as only he can during his keynote address to The Deal's Convergence 2.0 Symposium, likened the current predicament of the industry to its dire state in 1980, a half-decade prior to its salvation via the compact disc, as a preface to his laundry list of proposed fixes to the current malaise. A day later, at a Goldman Sachs gathering, Bronfman pointedly hinted that he might finally come around to removing copy protection—which some saw as yet another of his attempts to pull Warner stock out of its doldrums. If that was the case, it didn't work. Bronfman's two addresses must have bombed on Wall Street, because the decline has accelerated as soon as he closed his mouth and is now in shouting distance of its all-time low of $9.79... What the Hands and Bronfman texts had in common was an emphasis on digital growth and forming contractual partnerships with artists—in short, the very same concepts that everyone has been throwing around for the last several years. Bronfman would seem to have no other recourse than to repeat the same mantra, finding himself just two weeks from the end of a disastrous fiscal year, one characterized by a ravaged staff and roster, a lack of hits (with few, if any, potential hits on the horizon) and the swooning stock. The full evidence of Warner's horrendous year will be somewhat camouflaged in the upcoming earnings report by the $110 million Napster settlement the company received from Bertelsmann in April.

"LET THEM EAT CAKE!" As WMG was informing employees that there would be no bonuses for them this year, the word spread through the company that Lyor Cohen had spent approximately $400k on prime seats for the Knicks' 2007-08 season home games. Not surprisingly, one staffer characterized Cohen's splurging on ducats while eliminating bonuses as "scandalous." This is merely the latest of countless arrogant and self-aggrandizing moves on Cohen's part—a pattern of behavior that has engendered ever-increasing resentment and ill will among the WMG rank and file. Employees there have lost all respect for Cohen and are asking each other how the powers that be could possibly justify renewing his deal, even at the greatly reduced guarantee he reportedly received.

SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, FOR NOW: The 1.6 million-plus combined units racked up by Kanye West and 50 Cent last week brought a bittersweet sense of nostalgia to industry veterans—sweet because it turns out that it's still possible for an album to debut well north of a half million, and bitter because this sort of sales explosion happens so rarely these days. What is inarguable is that Kanye is a remarkably savvy artist and businessman, portraying himself at once as the initiator of the next stage in hip-hop's evolution and the antidote to the baseness of hardcore rap. At the same time, 50 has shown that a significant segment of the marketplace is still drawn to gangsta rap's lurid storylines when they're delivered convincingly. Meanwhile, the mainstream music business has demonstrated that it can still play long ball with the right act and the right album at the right time. It's no accident that these two blockbusters came from the houses of L.A. Reid and Jimmy Iovine, two of the mainstream industry's most fearsome sluggers. Like his boss, Doug Morris, Reid has a knack for surrounding himself with other talented executives, and there's a certain aptness to his upping of longtime right-hand man Steve Bartels to IDJ President/COO during the week of Kanye's release. Reid has one more event record to release this year—the follow-up to Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi (5.8 million), as well as a recently recorded and just-revealed album from Jay-Z inspired by the upcoming Ridley Scott film American Gangster. Iovine's event record will be from Mary J. Blige (2.9 million)... Another Interscope act got a nice boost from Cupertino, as Feist's critically acclaimed and commercially active album tripled in sales, from 5k to 15.5k, thanks to wall-to-wall exposure on Apple's TV spots for the new iPod Nano, starting on the first Sunday of the NFL season... Names in the Rumor Mill: Tom Whalley, Scott Sperling, John Frankenheimer, Joe Galante, Benny Medina, Jeff Kwatinetz, Peter Grosslight, Gary Stiffelman and Craig Kallman.

HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.

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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

September 21, 2007

Can you say huuuuuuuuuge? Can you say huger than huge? Kanye West's magic week has everyone in the industry scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. I was barraged with calls asking me why this happened, how this happened, did this really happen and what it means for all of us. In this case, I think the answer is simple—it was a perfect storm for Mr. West.

First, he's a well-respected artist who is pulling fans from hip-hop, R&B and pop.

Second his album has hits—real old-fashioned hits.

Third, the album is great, so that the initial buyers (as well as those who heard it when it leaked early) spread the word and sales projections actually kept gaining during the week. It was no one-day wonder, as many albums are these days.

Fourth, not only was West highly visible on the VMAs, he topped it off with a post-show anti-MTV tirade that was picked up by every media outlet in the Western world, putting him in the eye of the news storm that surrounded the Britney Spears' performance on the show. West became the anti-Britney—the man who was wronged—as well as the anti-MTV and the media miracle for the week. You couldn't turn on the TV or go online without catching sight of him. That flood of multimedia exposure enabled the word to get out there that his album was available. The point is, breaking through the overwhelming white noise of the Information Age and focusing people's attention is a key element in any effective marketing campaign.

And fifth, the additional publicity he garnered from being dissed by the 50 Cent camp—along with Fiddy's media-trumpeted promise that if he failed to beat him, he'd never make another album—added more fuel to the media circus.

So what does this all mean for us?

1. Albums can still sell. (If he can do nearly 1m and Fitty almost another 700k in the same week, then there IS hope!)

2. Great music is always an essential ingredient.

3. Star quality is also necessary.

4. Hit singles never hurt. (Exposure of the right songs on the radio works, no matter what the radio bashers have to say.)

5. Publicity and exposure in all media is a key component. (Credit Messrs. Reid and Bartels and their team here for a job well done.)

6. Strive for greatness and add in all the other elements necessary to get people talking, and winners can still win!

What's your take on Kanye's feat? What does it mean, if anything, for the future of the business? What lessons does it leave us with? Give us your opinion at

What Kanye has proven and why is pretty succinctly described by Lenny in his first missive here. Great music, HIT songs, great artist, STAR appeal and terrific marketing plus sense and use of the media, not to mention a great job by the label.

What does it prove? We can still sell records, a boatload of records in this climate if all the components are there. I've held the belief that the true problem caused by the Internet is not piracy and downloading, but it enables the consumers to hear how truly bad a record is before the rush out to buy it.

The real problem is the quality bar became lower than an earthworm's ass and the entire premise of "star" has been relegated to a Carl Sagan PBS special.

Quality music plus star equals sales, always has and always will.Kanye embodies both plus a dash of old school controversy and you get the perfect storm.

Stars used to be someone you wished you were, someone you wanted to emulate, someone you wanted to have sex with (opposite gender applies here, though there are exceptions), someone who was both rebellion and danger, someone different from you.

Not some idiot who looks, walks, talks, smells and eats exactly as you do. As a kid, my walls were adorned floor to ceiling with my heroes photos cut right out of the pages of Circus and Rock Scene.

99% of artists today I wouldn't recognize if they fell over me in a crowded elevator.

Not a STAR to be found. Who the fuck wants to hang a photo of someone who looks exactly like themselves on a wall?

We want the entry into the land of Oz, when black and white turned to color. We want escapism and entertainment, not some wretched three-chord perversion delivered by the same dude who works at Pizza Hut.

Let's not even expound on the current state of creative genius which makes The Seeds sound like Chopin.

Hit songs and a star, not a brilliant deduction but one hell of an equation.

Jack Ponti
Merovingian Music, Ltd.
CazzyDog Management
Visigoth Entertainment Holdings, llc

Kanye is a true recording artist in every sense of the word.
He is not manufactured by a label or producer.
He knows his target audience and how to reach them.
He knows how to craft a great record.
He understands how to put on a great show.
Best of all, he has a record label that understands his vision and supports it. Hats off to Jay, L.A., Steve, Hip-Hop, Al Branch and the Def Jam team for executing. MTV, give Kanye a Moonman. If anyone deserves it, he does!

Max Gousse
Music World

The album and the sales prove that great music, overall sense of showmanship and marketing via word of mouth presents an intriguing situation. This album was more of event status and reshapes the whole hip-hop landscape. To me this was monumental for hip-hop to see a manufactured beef that was friendly and more of a marketing scheme (props to Universal, Def Jam and Interscope) to make this event happen. It also gives Kanye the pride of his city of Chicago, which has always let him down when it comes to sales in previous years. Bravo to Kanye, 50 and HIP-HOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jamal Hooks/Shabazz

Kanye West is a great artist AND a great marketer. He has an incredible sense of who he is musically and as a personality and what his appeal is to his audience. He pushes buttons with his music and his approach to press, promo and marketing in the digital age—he's one of the first artists to fully embrace digital by creating multiple videos and embracing the TMZ-type "instant news." You also left out an important element not lost on this rock/urban music fanhe's a better performer than 99.99% of his hip -op contemporaries and, citing his Live Earth performance (no hype guy and rapping while running from sideline to sideline at Giants Stadium), a large % of most other current artists. Kanye is the type of artist that makes you anticipate what his next move will be, whether it's a musical shift, an emotional tirade, a performance, etc... For me, Kanye is about as "rock & roll" as any artist gets.

Todd B. Rubenstein, Esq.
Sciorra, Leaness, Averill & Rubenstein

First I want to say that this is simply a classic hip-hop album that, as you stated, crosses the interest boundaries of R&B, hip-hop and pop. Kanye crafted a brilliant and solid piece of work that has really brought people out of their homes and offices and into the retail outlets. Not to mention those that stayed home and simply downloaded the release. I agree with your comment that great music, hit singles and the right marketing can help make an artist a top seller at retail. Sheer artistry, focus, creativity and innovation are key elements that are pushing this album into a stratosphere—something that we get very little of out of artists these days. Labels are pushing cookie-cutter performers with simple and underdeveloped lyrical content combined with beats from producers that have the power to drive salesit's just not good enough these days with the change in technology music is facing. Buyers are opting not to physically purchase entire albums containing two good songs when you can just download the two songs and save yourself 10-12 bucks. Kanye put 200% in this project, didn't overwhelm us with filler songsjust 13 good solid tracks that are already making me wonder, what will he come up with next?

Kenneth Buchanan

HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.

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By Kenny Kerner

Washington Mutual (WaMu) Bank is expanding its presence in the music market via WaMu Live—a program that gives its customers instant access to VIP lounges, e-mail alerts, designated parking areas, and more at venues in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. All WaMu customers have to do is flash their ATM, WaMu credit card, or Home Equity card.

RUMORS DEPARTMENT: There is a strong possibility that Led Zeppelin will reunite for 2008 with Jason Bonham (John Bonham's son) teaming up with original Zep members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. Plant has denied the rumors.

Other rumors center on a Yardbirds reunion featuring Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Chris Dreja, and Jim McCarty. Beck has denied these rumors. Wouldn't it be cool if both rumors were true and both acts were packaged together for the same show? Then we could watch Page and the Yardbirds open for Page and Led Zeppelin!

After five Indie albums, the last three released by Vagrant, Rock group Alkaline Trio has signed with Epic Records. The band's last album, Crimson, sold close to 200,000 copies.

Chris Daughtry, former American Idol contestant who did not win, show, or place, has one of the biggest selling CDs of the year with Daughtry on RCA. At the time of this writing, there were five American Idol artists on the Billboard Top 200 album charts!

Look for the Police reunion tour to be one of the biggest grossing tours of the year.

And if I may do some shameless self-promotion, I'm getting ready to publish my second book. This one is called Get Smart!: Essential Tips for Success in the Music Business and it should be available just in time for the December holidays. It's the gift that keeps on giving, so you may want to buy several copies. E-mail me at and I'll save a copy for you.

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