Blog: Ron Suarez

Dr. Ron Suarez is our guest blogger this week. Ron is a serial entrepreneur and Arbor City Councilmember who recently founded Promovuz, offering digital music promotion, statistics and sales. He is also a Media Futurist at and the president of Object Insight, Inc., a software engineering firm. Ron uses his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science for his work with User Experience and Object Oriented Design.

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Creating your own podcast

First, you shouldn't begin trying to create a podcast until you've learned to subscribe to one and listened to many. While there are many ways you can subscribe to a podcast, about 90% of all subscribers use iTunes. So, download iTunes if you don't have it already. It a little confusing the first time you try using iTunes to find a podcast, because even though podcasts are generally free you have to click on the "iTunes Store." Once inside, you then click "podcasts" and you'll see lists of top podcasts. However, since the essence of podcasting is niche marketing, try exploring by typing a keyword into the search box and seeing which podcasts come up.

A really easy way to start creating a podcast is to use Gcast. All you need is Internet access to sign up and after that all you need is a telephone. After setting up your Gcast account, you just phone in and speak. This means you can do a podcast from anywhere your phone picks up a signal. I've experimented with using this to record people out at events and have the audio up on the web site in a minute. This is so easy, it makes considering creating your own podcast for a few family members or friends very reasonable.

If you want to record a conversation you can call a land phone using Skype. Before making the call, navigate to "Do More" in the "Tools" menu. Then select the "call recorder" for installation. For editing and recording the free Open Source tool Audacity is a first choice of many podcasters. Now that you've got an MP3 you need to wrap that with the necessary code to make it into a podcast. You don't need to worry about this code if you chose the Gcast route above or countless similar tools (use the advanced Google search to find sites similar to Gcast). But, if you are going to take the next step, then feedburner (recently acquired by Google) is a good place to get your recording turned into a real podcast. You get statistics and all sorts of add on capabilities.

If you want to do a really professional podcast, then you'll want to have the media from each podcast episode embedded into a blog post, which offers the ability to easily associate a text post that describes your show both for your human audience and for search engines. In that case the premier solution is the Wordpress platform along with the podpress plugin.

The most important thing is to just get started. Once you're hooked you find the time to learn the more advanced methods or decide to work with someone who has already done it. You can get to know local podcasters through user groups such as the Detroit Podcasters Network.

So You're Thinking About Doing a Podcast

Maybe you're a musician and you have your own content. That's great, but you still have to secure publishing rights if you performed, but did not write the song. If you not a musician, but you want to create a podcast with music, then you need to be sure your content is podsafe. I have links to a bunch of sites that offer and define podsafe music in my Del.icio.us account. Delicious is social software for sharing bookmarks.

What should you put into a Podcast?

Include interviews, so it not just a monologue and let people find out about the artist. Some people may be concerned about giving away their music in a podcast and loosing sales. This should not really be a concern. First, don't put all of your tracks into podcasts. And, since I'm recommending interviews, consider samples, rather than entire tracks. If the interview is truly interesting, then you would not want entire tracks anyway. Each podcast episode is one MP3, so people who want to steal music from a podcast would have to edit it before being able to listen to or share the song by itself to avoid a purchase.

Include enough for a fan to get the feel of the music and focus on delivering the message you want. This, of course takes time and effort, but as music artists, this is what you already do when recording your music. Just make sure to find someone who is good at talking. Be sure to talk about your history and let your personality show through.

Many podcasters use a music only format and if you don't have time for interviews this is something to consider. By mapping podcast episodes to blog postings, you can provide the additional info listeners would like to have in the text of the post.

Podcasting Best Practices

  • Use what you already know about your fans to influence your podcast productions.
  • Commit to a doable schedule (e.g. weekly, monthly) and keep to it. Don't release a bunch of episodes all together and then stop for a couple of months.
  • Provide easy ways for fans to give you feedback about your podcasts and communicate back to them directly.
  • When you perform, let people know you have a podcast. Put links to your podcast on your primary web site and in any print material you distribute.
  • Audio podcasts that work well currently are about 20 minutes in length. Successful video podcasts are only a few minutes long. If people want more, they'll tune into a couple at a time.
  • While you don't need MTV quality, think about what your audience will expect.
  • Deliver information to your fans about your history, where you're heading and make sure your personality shows through. 
  • Write good descriptions for each episode and ideally have these appear in a blog post that is associated with the audio or video content.
  • Follow web standards, so your content will be found and also syndicated more easily.
  • Have a web site dedicated to your podcast, but list your podcast in all the popular directories. Ping these directories to ensure your podcasts get updated.
  • Get experienced people to help you who understand both marketing and the technology necessary to support your marketing efforts.
Of course, many podcasts are not about music and do not include any music. Most of the advice here still applies. Even if the topic of your podcast has nothing to do with music, you can reinforce your brand by having a music clip that goes along with you "station or show ID." Try listening at the Michigan Technology News Podcast web site. Each episode starts with a teaser about the story, then the main content is surrounded by opening and closing billboards that identify the show and sponsors along with music in the background. I didn't have to worry about copyrights for the music, because I generated it on my Korg, EMX-1 electronic music production station, which comes with hundreds of patterns you can remix into endless permutations.

In the next installment, I'll be talking about where you can go to get the tools you'll need to create a podcast.

A podcast is not just putting audio or video on a web page

Recently I've seen both business and political leaders here in Michigan put an audio or video file onto a web page and claim they have a podcast.

Unfortunately, this further confuses the general public as to what makes something a podcast. Claiming a media file on a web page is a podcast would be like writing a single article, making copies you put on your front porch, telling people they could stop by to pick it up, and then saying you are publishing a newspaper.

A podcast is episodic, like a television series with many shows delivered at regular intervals, e.g. once a week. In addition, like a magazine or a newspaper, you subscribe (usually free). With a magazine subscription, you don't have to go back to the newsstand every week or month, looking to see if a new issue is available and then decide to purchase it. The magazine just keeps showing up at your door with no additional effort on your part.

Podcasting is a tool of great value for doing business in The Long Tail. Unlike radio, there is no limit to the size or number of programs in podcasting. The key of course is how to reach your audience and not get lost in the thousands of podcasts that are getting launched on a regular basis. This is where branding, search engine optimization and knowing how to connect with your audience comes into play.

Pull vs. Push

This distinction between a podcast and simply putting media on a web page, is significant in terms of Pull vs. Push marketing. For example, in the old business model for music, radio stations could push songs and create hits, simply by playing a song over and over again. But, now people are able to select what they want and listen to it when they want it by subscribing to podcasts. Newspapers, TV and radio are push media. A podcast is pull media, because users select what they want and subscribe to it.

The act of subscribing is significant because users who choose to subscribe are implicitly gving you permission to keep providing them with new episodes, which then arrive automatically, without additional effort on the part of the subscriber. There is great power in this, as these people are likely to be real fans and building a community around these fans is more likely to increase concert attendance and even lead to things like merchandise sales. Getting to know your fans better by providing them ways to interact means you would be less likely to offer them something they do no want, and it makes it easier to keep things real. Thus, what might be advertising in a push medium, can really be considered a service people want in a pull medium.

Syndication

Done properly a Podcast can be like a syndicated newspaper column that appears in different newspapers all over the world. A Podcast is a media file (audio or video) inside an enclosure. RSS stands for really simple syndication.

The most popular way people currently get a Podcast is by using iTunes to subscribe to an RSS feed, but RSS is a standard and the future (or even the present for some) may hold all sorts of interesting alternatives to iTunes. In addition, iTunes itself will continue to evolve.

The Politics of Change and Upheaval in the Music Industry

Is politics a dirty word in business? Should someone writing a business plan stay away from controversy? Yesterday, here in Metromode, I blogged about the a GLEQ business plan competition where my company promoVUZ took second place. Feedback from one of the judges warned me to not refer to the exploitation of artists by the big labels. Another comment said I should get off my soapbox. In meeting with my team, we realized that what we did wrong in the plan was not the inclusion of music business politics, but our failure in clearly identifying why the politics are so important.

Good sales people will advise you to clearly define your target customer and identify their pain point. Our customer is the emerging artist who feels exploited by enterprises like the big record labels and also wants more control over their art form than a big label will offer. Given that one-tenth of one percent of artists who try to get on a big label end up being successful and that an artist might sell 500,00 CD's but still not make any royalties, we share the politics of the artist who feels exploited.

However, the way we covered this for the investor should have had less focus on our conclusions and more evidence that this is what the emerging artists think. An investor doesn't really care if artists are being exploited, but they should care that millions of artists will spend money to avoid this pain.

The value of the big label in the past was the money they spent on marketing for an artist. There is a tremendous shift going on in the way an artists can now market themselves. In subsequent posts, I'll go into disruptive technologies like podcasting. Here, I'd like to describe a bit about the changing nature of the relationship between the artist and the fans.

Two summers ago I attended a party at the home of Sam Valenti, who runs Ghostly International, an independent music label based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I went up to Sam and told him how great is was that they had a fan group on Last.fm. Sam looked at me with a puzzled expression. Apparently, neither Sam nor anyone at the label had even heard of Last.fm at that time. For those of you who still don't know, Last.fm tracks listener behavior and helps you to discover music you've never heard, by helping you browse through the playlists of others, whose musical taste overlaps with yours.

Like other social networking sites, they also have the concepts of "friends" and "groups." So, a number of "friends," mostly in Europe has apparently formed a Ghostly "group." In the old business model a big record label would have spent a lot money creating fake fans so that they could eventually recruit real fans into a club. In the new music industry, fan groups seem to now form on their own with the artists and labels finding out after the fact. Note that the Ghostly label includes tech savvy staff and not many people knew about Last.fm two years ago. Last.fm is part of a general movement away from "taste makers" to folksonomy based music discovery and this phenomenon extends beyond just the music industry.

And, as is the case with research and development across many industries, small business innovates and then large companies buy them to gain the benefits. Last.fm was recently acquired by CBS for $280 Million. Read the press release.

A Purely Digital Play Business in the Land of Manufacturing

Can a purely digital play succeed in Michigan? Will the various players from investors to needed staff who "get it" be available to us in Michigan? Can we avoid having to move to the east or west coast? These are the questions I continue to ask myself.

The Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest (GLEQ) business plan competition came to a conclusion on June 12, 2007. My new company promoVUZ took second place in the emerging company category along with a $5,000 cash prize. We provide digital promotion, stats and sales tools for emerging artists in the independent music market.

Even if we had not won any cash the overall experience was well worth the hard work that our team put into writing the plan, because we actually came up with a totally new revenue model. The final part of the competiton included delivering a 3 minute elevator pitch, which in our case is what moved us up into 2nd place. The written plan was seriously questioned by a couple of the judges. People had told me that I should avoid trying to describe certain concepts like doing business in the long tail. However, one judge, who understood our plan used those very words in his feedback, even though we did not include them in our plan.

The fact that the majority of Amazon book sales are from books that are not in the top 200,000 is evidence of the business opportunities in longtailed distributions.

Perhaps the most significant misunderstanding was about why a giant like iTunes or Amazon wouldn't eat us alive. While acquisition by Amazon could certainly be an exit strategy for us, we are positioned quite a distance away from them in terms of the customers we are targeting.

We started off two years ago doing work for Toolshed, a company that does promotion for 30 independent labels. The bands in this market may seem like members of the long tail compared to "hit makers" who get played on broadcast radio. However, we are moving much further down the tail and we are targeting emerging artists. From their perspective, "long tail" artists with a significant loyal fan base seem like "hitmakers," even though they may not be getting radio play. While the average Joe has not heard about many of these "long tail" bands, each one of them has countless emerging artists who want to be like them.

Thus, even inside the long tail, there are minor "hitmakers" at the heads of mini-long tails within the tail. And, I am sure that this "tails with the long tail" phenomenon is not unique to the music industry where I am building my business. We are marking out new territory that the likely competition would not consider - at least not in the near future.

According to authors of  the book Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, "Companies have long . . .  battled over market share . . . in overcrowded industries, competing head-on results in nothing but a bloody "red ocean" of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool. (they argue that) . . . tomorrow's leading companies will succeed not by battling competitors, but by creating "blue oceans" of uncontested market space ripe for growth."

Now, of course, how does one describe those totally new markets in the Blue Ocean to a business plan judge. Hmmm?

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