Whazzzzzzzzup!

If I told you that I’ve been crazy busy, I’m not lying. I have been CRAZY BUSY with a captial “B.” Between going upstate to visit my sweet and wonderful, Missy G., finishing my final papers and final exams at school, the dreaded MTA transit strike taking its toll on all of us, and working at my new job as Product Manager at Entertainment Media Works, (StarStyle.com), the last few weeks have been non-stop. So much so, in fact, that I haven’t been able to get a new mix-show up on the radio station since the end of November. Don’t fret though, I’m working on it.

Everyday, someone new adds themself to either the email notification system, registers for the site, or adds the channel to their Live365 favorites. One by one, Netmix is on the way back. With a little love here and a little nudge there, it’s a day by day process that may take a while, but in the end, it’s all well worth it. I have the freedom to create, perform and write, not only for the sake of this web site, but also to know that other people take from what I’ve built, which fuels their desire to go out and create their own little world online.

As web hosting and other production costs fall, the power of personal publishing is in the hands of the public, whittling away “big media’s” control of what we hear and see. Sites like MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube among others are bringing the power to the people. Tie all your sites together and you’ve got yourself your own littler personal publishing empire. It’s quite amazing that all this is taking place. It’s kind of like a little revolution in itself.

So, whazzzzup? Well, let’s see here…Christmas is coming and on that note, I’m headed to Boston this weekend to visit the family and check out what’s happening up there. I might bring my camera with me to take some pics of the club scene, but it all depends on who’s doing what when on Saturday night.

Work-wise, I’ve been strategizing and putting together a plan for the new music video section on StarStyle.com. Today, I met with a few incredibly talented Flash developers to sort out the next steps of the project. Building out this section is something I’m incredibly excited about! I’ve been talking with record lablels, a talented music video blogger, web designers, flash developers, music video production teams, music video maketing reps and the great staff here at StarStyle.com who are all talented in their own right, moving things along nicely on the TV and Film side.

This is a very exciting place to be right now. Our Board of Directors are filled with the who’s who of the television and entertainment media. Our staff have varied backgrounds and fill each of their roles nicely. It’s great to be back in a small media organization, where everyone pulls their weight and the level of creativity and passion for the product is through the roof.

It’s a far cry from what I’m used to at the AP and Lehman Brothers; stale, stodgy companies who are so impersonal and competitive at all levels for no reason whatsoever than to pad their own egos. Making egregious mistakes with technology, because they just want it to work out of the box without performing any prior discovery process and understanding the limitations or benefits of applications. The mentality is; we have it, so we’re going to force this square peg into a round hole, because we don’t really want to take the time to understand it and ask the big questions.

For example, when a fellow colleague at a company I recently worked for decided that even though the Anystream server used last year during a major web cast failed in its mission to deliver a consistent stream out of the building, he did not want to bring in anyone from the outside to learn what we were doing wroing in our set-up process. Of course, the next time we used the Anystream server, we encountered the same problem as last year, even though he swore up and down that he thought he resolved the problem. As I watched him die a thousands deaths in front of the server, as he kept rebooting it over and over again, I just shook my head in disbelief. Arrogance and ignorance instead of simply asking someone for help caused a major web cast failure…and at the end of the day, no one did anything about it. They called it, “a learning experience,” but what did they learn? Absolutely nothing.

At the end of the day, boy am I glad to be where I’m at now. This gig brings brings me back to a time when new media was fun, the work was challenging, the talent in abundance and the effort to build something not only for profit, but a product that gives people a new tool to find what they are looking for and that there is an opportunity to really spell out why instead of a just build it mentality. Information changes so fast, that you must spend the time on a product and go over as much of the fine detail as possible, in order to build something lasting for long term success.

One of the biggest challenges I’m facing as a Product Manager is thinking about how the site lives in its current iteration, then planning out a future look, feel and funcitionality for the music section without chaning things drastically. Just enough to push the design forward, but not too much that it take us in a whole different direction. Plus, it’s gotta appeal to a cross-section of people. We’re gonna have a young male and female demo checking out the pop stuff and hip hop videos, and an older demo checking for the singer songwriters and popular rock bands. Then we also have to serve everyone in between.

It’s an incredible opportunity to construct someting new on the web; architect a new model for showing music and fashion content under one roof. Pushing design and user interaction forward, while taking into consideration the need to lead gently without pushing anyone “over the edge,” so to speak, too far too fast.

It’s also a great opportunity to directly apply the knowledge gained from my studies in New York University’s Digital Media and Communications program. Having taken classes at NYU over the past two-years, I truly comprehend the value of a formal education, especially in Digital Media Management. Going to school while building large web projects is challenging, but rewarding at the same time. It’s very cathartic and freeing to take what you’ve learned in class and apply that to real world projects. I urge anyone who’s thinking about going to school to improve their position to do so. It’s a big commitment, but you get so much out of it. If you don’t know how to go about it, contact me directly and I’ll be glad to give you some pointers. Remember, you don’t have to go to the day school at NYU to get an education. Their night programs are just as good, and I’m sure the same applies to other colleges and universities as well.

For example, last month when I was invited to speak to the Music Business Club at Rockland Community College, I was very impressed by what these kids have done with so little. They don’t have the power of a major university in the middle of New York City behind them, but they set out to create a music video, are putting a fund-raising CD together, and their club President, Pistol Pete is working hard to program their meetings and get influential people to speak and help his fellow students achieve their goals and dreams. Rockland is a SUNY (state funded) school. They don’t have the big budgets of school’s like NYU, but at the end of the day, as Pete has proven, it’s not the money you need…it’s the passion and the ideas that will help you succeed. If you want it, that is.

The media business is one of the most cut-throat businesses on the planet, and what it needs are for people in the positions of power to give back and help it grow and thrive. I do my part, I hope you’re doing yours.

This semester I took two incredible classes. The first, Broadband Networks, taught me all about how content gets delivered from one end of the web to the other. We discussed Verizon’s new FIOS (fiber optic service), which reaches speeds of up to 30 MB per second; cable’s hybrid-coaxial based system; and terms like ATM, otherwise known as Asynchronous Transfer Mode, which is the way packets of data are broken up and delivered on a SONET ring to the node (the green box on that telephone pole in your neighborhood) and then how it’s then converted over the “last mile” to the “premise” (from the telephone pole to your house).

The second, Political Economy of Digital Media, took a broad look at how media companies are funded, the risks they take, the constraints they face and a whole host of other factors that help me to understand the media business more than I ever have. For our final paper, my classmates and I produced an analysis of the current state of the Radio Broadcasting industry. We took into consideration terrestrial, satellite, wireless, cable and Internet radio. It was only 30 pages, lol, but we got through it! Big ups to Rich, Daniel and Gary for working so hard on the project.

That being said, if you’re running an online venture, for example a DJ site, online dance music community or club portal, it’s advantageous to go back to the drawing board and get some schooling in proper project management techniques or the fundamentals of interactive multimedia. As we design for the web, sometimes we’re so close to the projects we can’t see the forest from the trees. We rush to build projects, underthinking their usability and hiring young people who are talented, but know nothing about information archietecture or user interfacre design. These concepts are extremely important to a Product Manager, Project Manager or the CEO. They help to define what the user is going to encounter when they interact with the web site, which is extremely important as one bad experience turns a user away forever.

If your site hasn’t paid attention to user interface design and information architecture, which contributes to a high churn rate (people who visit the site once and never come back) you have to know there’s something wrong. And, you only have one budget, not five. So getting it right the first time is infinitely more important than adding extra features that you think are cool, but eat into the overall cost. We call that “feature creep.” Not sticking to the original concept and letting the project run amock! Very dangerous.

Simple is better, faster, cleaner, more manageable. In today’s fast moving web world, using full flash applications as the core element of a web page can causes difficulties in finding the pages in a search, and however cool, they’re time consuming to update and maintain. To put a web presence online that at least has the foresight to deal with these challenges is to strive for high usability.

I hate to criticize my favorite online record store in the whole world, BeatPort.com, but I’m going to have to. Using Flash in a modular design, they’ve painted themselves into a corner in terms of growth into other areas where they can host advertising and content related to dance music, but not necessarily sell anything. The site is a great, great record store, but that’s all it can be at this point. Maybe that’s the goal, who knows? I don’t run Beatport. They’re making money, but once you max out your client base on mp3 sales, where is the next rev boost going to come from? Now, you’re kind of stuck in what you can expand into. Sure it’s cool, but what’s next? I have some ideas…but that’s just for me to know…lol.

What else is new? Well, in my research to discover what we need to do at StarStyle.com to host music videos online, I found out that Universal Music Group is bumping their music video on-demand per play fee for web sites who perform the works to .008 cents per play. Universal wants 8 cents every time you play one of their videos! The whole interactive/web music industry thinks that’s outrageous, because if you show 1,000 videos, that’s an $80 cpm. What must a small web site do that is putting out a $20 cpm rate card, or even less, to make money? If you’re talking about 50% ad rate splits with ad networks, then you’re only making $10 but paying Universal the other $70. What sense does that make.

You have to have a $160 cpm to afford to show music videos! So, small web publishers can’t afford to play any Universal music videos. And what does that do for Universal? Well, it definitely limits the outlets that will play their artists. Universal says they need the money, but if there are less outlets to play the videos online, then they are only generating income off the highest producers, and no one else. At the end of the day, I’d rather have more outlets play my videos at a cheaper rate than just a given few at a higher rate. The more small web publishers have access to Universal content, the company entrenches itself on the web. Biting the hand that feeds you is never the best idea.

Now, you have web sites like MySpace.com allowing users to post HTML links to music videos served from other web sites. Technically, that’s illegal and goes against the law set forth in the Digtial Millenium Copyright Act. There’s no compliance with the rules and the industry doesn’t lift a finger, while it reaches out to sue young people for file sharing. Isn’t this fact a bit hypocritical? If the RIAA wants to be taken seriously, when it says that it’s policing illegal file-sharing and that the lawsuits are beginning to work (the say file sharing is down a few tenths of a percent this year) they still have a responsibilitiy to make sure Internet broadcasters are monitored as well.

That’s my two cents (maybe more like a long-winded 10 cents) for today. I’ll be back over the weekend with a review of Dangerous Muse, a band I saw last Monday at the Cordless Records Launch Party at Crash Mansion down on the Bowery. Sima and I checked it out and it was definitely one of the hottest label openings of the year. I even met Jac Holzman, the man who signed The Doors! You go Jac!!!! He was kind enough to respond to my email as well. I really appreciated that. If you’re out there…thanks man! Props for being a superstar.

Happy Holidays!

Tony Z.

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