Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead


I'm not the biggest deadhead around --I've probably seen fewer dead shows than presidents Clinton or Obama --but I've always admired the way the Grateful Dead cultivated their fan base.  While they really only had one hit record over a career of more than 30 years, they had a cult-like following thanks to their constant touring and a novel approach to live concert recordings.

The Atlantic has recently published an article called "Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead" which covers some of the main points of how the dead grew their audience.  In a model that was prescient to open source software and internet startups, they did so by giving away their core product.  The dead were one of the first bands to not only allow, but to encourage fans to tape concerts and give away recordings:

Much of the talk about “Internet business models” presupposes that they are blindingly new and different. But the connection between the Internet and the Dead’s business model was made 15 years ago by the band’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow, who became an Internet guru. Writing in Wired in 1994, Barlow posited that in the information economy, “the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away.” As Barlow explained to me: “What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then—the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.” The Dead thrived for decades, in good times and bad. In a recession, Barnes says, strategic improvisation is more important then ever. “If you’re going to survive this economic downturn, you better be able to turn on a dime,” he says. “The Dead were exemplars.” 

I'll do a write up of one of my favorite dead albums, Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses), in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, check out the videos from The Dead's  Shoreline concert last year.  

Will FTC Disclosure Rules Cut Down on Bogus Review Sites?

Apple Bans Developer for Bogus Reviews on iTunes

Normally I just write about music and guitars on this site, but Doug Marks, the guy behind the  Metal Method DVD Course, let me know about a pretty serious issue: the proliferation of  bogus review sites and misleading Google ads.  For most people, guitar lessons are a hobby, but for Doug it's how he makes a living.  So he has a vested interest in getting this problem fixed.

I blogged about it on InfoWorld:

 These sites purport to provide objective evaluation of consumer products, but they are simply paid advertisements.  The sites are typically either selling the products or receiving a kick-back or commission for referrals.  If you dig into these sites its not uncommon to see half a dozen similar sites with the same format and content, but slightly varied graphics.  I have no idea whether these sites make much money, but the fact that there are so many, is a strong indicator.  Even Google is benefiting from the ad words these sites are running.

Doug has exposed some of the dubious practices among his competitors and has raised the issue to Google. But so far, no response.  And its not just scams about guitar and piano lessons.  There are fake review sites on language instruction, vitamin supplements, exercise equipment and even software packages.  I don't know if the competing guitar instruction sites are good or not, but it makes me suspicious when someone goes to the trouble of creating these kind of misleading ads.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons the FTC's is requiring bloggers to disclose their financial relationships effective December 1.  And hopefully it will get tougher for these scam sites to operate.  

Apple Removes Developer from iTunes

Interesting note that today, Apple uncovered a developer who was posting bogus reviews for their applications on iTunes.  Apple wasted no time in removing all of the developers applications and their reviews for violating Apple's iTunes policies.  Looks like at Apple takes this a lot more seriously than Google does. 

Have you seen these bogus guitar lesson review sites?   If you've used any of these other products, let me know what you think of them.  In fairness, I should also say that I'm an affiliate with Metal Method.


  • Metal Method: Main site, Complete Basic Course,Speed Kills, Forum
  • GuitarVibe: Guitar Lesson Scams, Guitar Mastery, More Time for Guitar

  • Times Says Guitar Games Lead to Hard Stuff


    A while back, The London Times released the results of a study indicating that kids who play music video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band may take up the hard stuff --namely real musical instruments.

    "We have long known that young people are encouraged to take an interest in music if it is presented to them in a compelling way," said Andrew Missingham, the music industry expert who wrote the report. "This research for the first time shows conclusively that young people are being inspired to make their own music by games that first piqued their interest."

    The results aren't any surprise to anyone who has observed kids playing these games.  I've seen my nephew go from Guitar Hero to Rock Band and now he's playing a full-size Strat.  While he was always interested rock music, it wasn't until he started playing the games that he developed an interest in playing music.  While these games are no substitute for real musical instruments, they do help develop basic hand-eye coordination and rhythm --both in kids and in adults. 

    So go ahead, break out the Rock Band game with the kids.  Not only is it fun, but it might just develop their interest in playing music.  Lets see where this leads to in a few years.  We might just see a classic rock revival.

    Guitar Innovator Les Paul Dead at 94 -- Millions Shred In Mourning


    Les Paul, considered by many to be the inventor of the modern solid-body electric guitar, died today at the age of 94.  While Les Paul is well known for his namesake Gibson family of guitars, he was an innovator throughout his career as a jazz musician, prolific songwriter and as an inventor, developing the first tape delay system in the 1940s and then the first multi-track recording system in the early 1950s.

    Paul even won a Grammy award in 2005 at the age of 90 for his CD "Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played" that featured the likes of Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton, Steve Miller and Billy Gibbons.  In recent years Paul played twice weekly at the Iridium Jazz Club with a non-stop calvacade of rock legends including Paul McCartney, Slash, Dickie Betts, Zakk Wylde, Brian May, Joe Satriani and others.  

    To anyone who played electric guitar, Les Paul was a legend and his contribution to music was enormous. Paul was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  It's not surprising that legions of musicians came to see him play.  And the fact that Paul could still hold his own on stage up to his final months, well, that just proves the point.  

    Let a million guitarists shred today in tribute to one of the greats. 

    Steve Vai at National Guitar Workshop


    Guitar god Steve Vai, who seems to regularly make the cover of Guitar World a couple of times a year, will be appearing later this summer at the National Guitar Workshop (NGW) in Purchase, NY to lead a couple of workshops on prog rock guitar, bass and drums July 19-24.  This is a rare opportunity to learn from one of the innovators of modern rock.  NGW has truly outdone themselves pulling in top notch artists this year.

    You can also check out Vai's classic album "Flex-Able" now hitting it's 25th anniversary.    

    The National Guitar Workshop summer program starts June 27 in McLean Virginia with additional sessions in Los Angeles California, Chicago Illinois, Austin Texas and at the main campus in Purchase New York, where Steve Vai will be appearing July 19-24 along with James Hogan and other instructors.

    Tickmaster Subpoenaed in Scalping Probe


    Ticketmaster and its online reselling company TicketsNow have been subpoenaed by the US Department of Justice as well as the Canadian Competition Bureau.  The probe is part of a larger concern in a proposed merger between Ticketmaster which handles artist management and ticket sales and Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the US. 

    Wall Street Journal reporter Ethan Smith broke a story in March showing how Ticketmaster works with artists, such as Neal Diamond, to set aside front row tickets to be sold at scalper prices with the extra profits split between Ticketmaster and the artist.   According to the article:

    Ticketmaster facilitates the secondary ticket market and profits from it. According to several managers of top artists and Ticketmaster executives, the company routinely offers to list hundreds of the best tickets per concert on one of its two resale Web sites -- and divides the extra revenue, which can amount to more than $2 million on a major tour, with artists and promoters.

    Tickets for a March 27 Britney Spears concert at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh were priced earlier this week at $39.50 to $125 apiece on But some of those same classes of seats were being offered at the same time through the "TicketExchange Marketplace" for as much as $1,188.60. The link to the Marketplace page was marked, "Browse premium seats plus tickets posted by fans."

    Critics have long accused Ticketmaster of monopolistic practices and high fees, a situation that will only worsen if it merges with Live Nation.  Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff claims "the business model is broken."  But the question remains: how does a merger fix it?

    Beatles Rock Band - Too Little too Late?


    While the folks over at MTV have recently announced the launch date of their newest Rock Band edition featuring The Beatles, some folks are already griping that this may be too little too late. Rumors about the game surfaced last October and it looks like the game won't be available until September 9, 2009.  While that's a long time from now, it's still in advance of the holiday buying season.  

    Personally, I'm not sure that The Beatles music will really be a good fit for this type of interactive medium.  The Beatles were a huge impact on modern pop rock music, but I'm not sure how much appeal the beatles have to the traditional 12-25 year old gaming set.  Even Seargent Peppers is long past the "20 years ago today" date. 

    Still there are enough longtime Beatle fans that may want to pick it up to introduce the music to their, ah, grandkids.  Lets see what the setlist includes.  Personally, I'd be happy to with songs like: Revolution, Paperback Writer, Back in the USSR and anything from Abbey Road.

    But if rhythm video games like Guitar Hero and Rockband are going to stay relevent they're going to need to get a bit more hip to music.  Packages featuring Aerosmith, AC/DC and Metallica are a good start, but where's the Who at King Dome, Kiss at the Colliseum?  Where is the U2 of our generation? 

    FretBase Community for Guitar Players


    FretBase is a new site that is rapidly becoming a nice resource for guitar players.  The idea is to make it a destination with information about guitars, guitar players and songs.  Many people are contributing information to the site and there's also an excellent blog by the founders Brian and Dave that includes many reviews and news articles.

    Here's a few that I found interesting:

    This could become a great resource and is worth checking out and contributing to.  All they need now is a cool logo! 

    A Gem of a Site for Ibanez


    For fans of Ibanez / JEM guitars, JemSite is nice little site with everything you need to know about these unique guitars favored by Steve Vai and others.  As Steve Vai noted in an interview from Guitar Player magazine quoted in the article "Origins of the JEM"

    "The JEM guitars - I don't know what I did without them all these years [laughs]. The guitars that I use are exactly like the ones right off the shelf. That was the concept behind doing the deal with Ibanez. I wanted a guitar that was suited to me, that had all my little ideas and idiosyncrasies, such as having 24-frets and having it dug out so the Floyd Rose is recessed into the body. I wanted to be able to pull up on the bar, and not have it go out of tune when you rest your wrist on the tremolo. I wanted to have the volume pots in a certain place and be able to reach high up with the cutaway." (GP - 5/88)

    There are articles, forums and a well-written community blog.  Even if you're not a hardcore Ibanez player, there are articles that will be of general interest.  Here are a few items I found interesting:

    If you're interested in Ibanez/JEM guitars, be sure to check it out.

    Free Dr Pepper for Guns n' Roses Fans Sunday


    After 17 years of missed deadlines and more than 13 million dollars, Axl Rose is finally releasing the new Guns N' Roses CD "Chinese Democracy" Sunday November 23.   And to help celebrate this occasion, Dr Pepper has promised everyone in the US a free soda.  Everyone except Slash and Buckethead, that is.  And also Brian May, since his solos were re-recorded.  And also anyone who doesn't log in to the site on Sunday to get the coupon.  

    Way back in March when Dr Pepper announced they would give a free soda to everyone if the CD shipped in 2008 it probably seemed pretty unlikely.  After all, Chinese Democracy production and re-recording could have gone on another 17 years.  (The New York Times has a great timeline diagram.)  But maybe this was just the incentive Axl needed in order to get things finished.  The album will be available exclusively at Best Buy for $11.99, which is a pretty good deal.

    The New York Times calls "Chinese Democracy" a "the Titanic of rock albums" saying it's "a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production."  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  The few tracks I've heard are pretty decent and the title track is better than anything fromVelvet Revolver.  Heck, they didn't give any free sodas!   What do you think?  Worth the wait?  Or worthless?  Let me know in the comments...

    Hey, Bo Diddley, RIP


    Bo Diddley, the only guitar player to have have a beat named after him, passed away at the ripe old age of 79.  Bo Diddley pionneered the driving hambone rhythm that defined classic rock and roll in songs such as "Mona," "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?"   The Bo Diddley beat, as it became known, was an influence on rock artists as diverse as Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Grateful Dead, U2, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, and The Clash, with whom Diddley toured in 1979.  And lets face it, even if you can't play 3 chords, you can play the Bo Diddley beat and still sound good.

    Diddley was famous for his self-referential songs, humorous lyrics and his trademark Gretsch box-shaped guitars.  He recorded more than 30 albums of material from 1958 to 2002 and continued touring through May of 2007 when he suffered a stroke.  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and later into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.  Diddley was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as #20 in the list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. 

    Diddley was recognized along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard as a key innovator in developing early rock and roll, though he was sometimes embittered by his lack of financial success.  He won a lawsuit against his manager in 1994 for $400,000 in back payments and later sued Nike for unauthorized use of his likeness in a their "You Don't Know Diddley" campaign that ran from 1989-1991.  I don't know whether Diddley made any money from Nike, but he deserved better than he got.

    So tell me, who do you love?  Bo Diddley.

    Sound Opinions Podcast


    I've recently discovered the best radio show on rock music: Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions.  In fact, it's the only talk radio show devoted to rock and roll.  The show ran for seven years on Chicago's WXRT and is now in it's fifth year on public radio.  The show is broadcast weekly with hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Chicago area rock writers and self-confessed music geeks. 

    Each week they cover topics ranging from music industry news, recent album reviews, live interviews and in-studio gigs.  Guests have included the likes of Arcade Fire, the New Pornographers, Wilco, Andy Summers, Spoon, Buddy Guy, Radiohead and more.   It's engaging, fun, expansive and absolutely rocks!  Not only do you get to hear about what's new in the music scene, you get to hear the music itself.  I've discovered countless new bands by listening to the show including the Redwalls, Tecuba Cafe, The Decembrists and more.  This show is now a mainstay of my morning commute.  I don't even remember the last time I put on local radio. 

    If you can't find the show in your local radio wasteland, don't worry you can get the Podcast from their site and from iTunes.