Apple Seeds

I sometimes wonder if I’m living inside of Steve Job’s head, a little like in “Being John Malkovich.”

Sometimes I wonder to myself, out loud, “I wonder what Steve is doing right now?” And my life doesn’t enter a split screen and I don’t see Steve in the shower, or shooting hoops, or eating some carrots or something. Nothing happens like that. But that would be pretty cool. It would be pretty crazy and imaginative. A lot like Steve Jobs.

In case you didn’t know, “the iPhone and iPad combined now make up 68% of Apple’s entire revenue, compared to just 18% for what were (until the last couple of years) considered the main form of computers: desktops and “portables.” What’s more, music is now a relatively small part of Apple’s revenue – the iPod contributes just 4.6% and iTunes sales about 5.5%.

When I read that in a readwriteweb article found here, rather than marveling at the statistics about their mobile business, I thought to myself, iTunes sales are only around 5.5%? That’s important.

So what is happening to the music industry? How are people buying music if it’s not though iTunes?

Soon to be Turntable.fm maybe? Here’s an interesting article with some info that you probably didn’t read in techcrunch: Billboard music reports that Turntable is signing deals with massive label companies for rights to their music.

Does the future of music distribution look more like Turntable.fm than iTunes? Do you know how turntable.fm came to be? A last minute pivot from the Stickybits creators with the last money they had from their investors. This is a massive article about pivots that tells Turntable’s story: PIVOT!

No one knows what the future of music will be. But some people don’t really care what others say. They just go for it. As Chris Dixon is quoted as saying in the article,

“Steve Jobs is an example, he doesn’t listen to the market at all, just decides what its gonna be!”

The article ends with a powerful question for all entrepreneurs:

“But what if, like Jobs or Zuckerberg, the rest of the world just doesn’t understand, and the only way to make it big, really big, is to just ignore what the market is telling you, and follow your gut instead. The central paradox of the pivot is this: how do you know if you’re a visionary?”

So let’s talk about Steve Jobs.

Based on the mini-bio covered in the recent book, I Am John Galt: Today’s Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It,

“He dropped out of school to follow his professional passion like Rand’s hero Howard Roark. Even after he became rich and famous, over and over again Jobs risked his fortune on new and untried technologies-just because he thought they were so damn cool. Now his company is one of the most valuable on the planet. Yet he’s widely regarded as a pirate who steals the ideas of others, and an autocratic son of a bitch entirely incapable of working with people. If you agree that he’s a hero, maybe one of the reasons is that you’re reading this on an iPad – one of Job’s many magical innovations that have transformed our culture. If you think he’s a villain, go out and get an iPad – it might change your mind.”

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said this about Steve in an Esquire article from October 2008,

“He was never driven by a vision of a better world; he was driven by a vision of himself as a person whose decisions guide the world. He wanted to build a device that moved the world forward, that would take people further. He wanted to build a reality that wasn’t there.”

December 2003 in this Rolling Stone article, Steve Jobs said:

“People don’t want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45s, then they bought LPs, they bought cassettes, they bought 8-tracks, then they bought CDs. They’re going to want to buy downloads. The subscription model of buying music is bankrupt. I think you can could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model, and it might not be successful.”

We agree, Steve. So then what is iCloud all about? What comes after the cd?

Just like how you called Bill Hewlett when you had a question about some computer you were working on back in the day, let’s look back on this email I sent you on March 1st, 2010:

Michael Morgan to sjobs
show details 3/1/10

Hello Mr. Jobs,
My name is Michael Morgan and I am a 23 year old student at USC. I am just about finished with a semi-autobiographical novel I have been working on for the last year and a half about my life as a young actor growing up in LA. I only want to publish the book digitally. I have thought about the power of eBook readers to convey stories to readers in totally new ways and I wanted to throw some ideas out to you on how I would love for my book to come to life on the iPAD:

Book Soundtracks. At different points in the text the reader would trigger an mp3 to play that would accompany the text. This could be done as an instrumental or even an actual song where the lyrics would be text in front of the reader.

Audio Stories: I would like to have a full cast record the audiobook and have the audiobook playing for readers while they are reading the text. This may also include elements of 1950 radio stories like crunching snow, etc.

Digital Shorts: Parts of the book are written in screenplay format (a la James Joyce’s “Ulysses”), and I would love to have different directors adapt digital shorts from the text and have them viewed when the reader comes to that point in the book.

Chapter Tracks: The book would be sold chapter by chapter on the iTunes equivalent for books in a similar fashion to how authors in the 19th century published their books through installments in magazines. Audio book tracks will be sold bundled with the chapters. When the book is completed then the book, soundtrack, and digital shorts can be sold all bundled together in collector sets via the iTunes equivalent.

Advertising: While writing the book I found myself subconsciously including brand names in the writing. This offers opportunities for links to be included in the book to the websites of the products or even brand advertising through photos that could pop up with scenes from the novel including the brands.

English Language Learning: Book reading now becomes an English Language learning experience. In future books, when writing in other languages, you can help your reader learn that language!

I am very eager for the release of the iPad as I finish my book and begin recording the audio book tracks and find musicians to be a part of the creative experience. Your technology has enabled me to become a book producer rather than a book author.

What do you think of the ideas? Have you already thought of them? In what ways will content creators have the ability to do the kinds of things that I am envisioning?

Thank you for your dedication and tremendous impact on this beautiful world.

Sincerely Yours,
Michael Morgan

It’s funny to feel a little like a visionary. But visions aren’t nothing without action.

Let’s keep going.

The 21st Century Album

With Apple’s announcement of iCloud last month, recorded music seems poised to enter a new phase of its Ovidian metamorphosis from physical object to digital file. iCloud, and similar services announced by Amazon and Google, will enable any purchased song to become available on all of a user’s devices through a call to a remote server. In effect, what these services will provide is a further dematerialization of music, another step away from the physicality of the album, with its attendant liner notes, lyric sheets, and cover art.

Curiously, however, at the exact moment when music appears ready to disappear into the ether, Björk is preparing a multimedia experience around her next album, Biophilia. Each song on the album will be accompanied by a smartphone app containing conventional and invented music notation, games, and explorations of natural phenomena. Björk has explained these apps as a new way to mediate between objects and sound: “It seems like every couple of decades this takes a somersault, and I enjoy the fresh point of view, like the honeymoon of the new format where you can really have an effect on the overall direction… I would like to feel the apps are equal to the song in the same way I have always aimed for the music video to be equal to the song: the 1+1 is 3 thing.” Björk is not alone in thinking that Biophilia is pushing toward a new form of artistic expression; some critics have even compared the process surrounding the album to the birth of opera.

Whether or not the “app album” takes off as a format, Biophilia does point toward a potential route for musicians interested in maintaining the album as a focused artistic statement rather than a collection of sound files. The ubiquity of new media, including apps, means that songs can be readily paired with other art forms and experienced as a kind of 21st century Gesamtkunstwerk, complete with YouTube videos, Flickr streams, and blog posts. All that is needed is a media format to encompass these disparate elements.

In the case of Biophilia, Björk has hinted at a “mother app” that will act as a central galaxy in which the other apps appear as constellations. While perfectly illustrative of Björk’s vision for the album, such a model is not scalable, not least because it relies on a small subset of devices for consumption (the iPad and the iPhone).

.ePub, on the other hand (at last the reason for the digression becomes clear!), is uniquely equipped to handle this mix of new media. The file type allows for HTML5 embeds of audio, video, links, editable text areas, and, yes, even games. Anything viewable in a web browser can theoretically be incorporated into an .ePub document. As such, .ePub is the perfect example of an agnostic file format: it is essentially mutable, able to be molded into the artist’s vision. Furthermore, because .ePub is the standard eBook format, an .ePub document has the potential to reach far more people than a device-specific app. Anyone with an eReader will be able to experience an .ePub album as a unified whole. And that is a beautiful thing in an age where recorded music threatens to evaporate into the cloud.

Bjork performing Biophilia at the Manchester International Festival in England.