Digital Music News is sort of like Jesus. You can cast stones upon us, but we’ll still love you.
But now, there are twice as many people throwing rocks. That’s because Digital Music News is TWICE as large as it was just one year ago. Our Google Analytics reports aren’t lying: we had TWICE as many people visit us this year compared to last. In December alone, typically a slow month, we had over a million visitors (and it’s not even done).
All of which means that Digital Music News has TWICE the influence, and TWICE the importance over something that I thought had already saturated this business. And in just one year.
How did this happen?
I. Digital Music News is now a community first, publication second.
I used to think the goal was to create the most important, most relevant, and most read publication in the music industry. But then I realized, after reading the 200th comment on the 200th story one night (and drinking heavily), that this was less about us and more about creating the most relevant community around the music industry. One that wasn’t encumbered by rules, didn’t have to kiss anyone’s ass, and laid the real debates bare.
We were sort of there, but up until a few years ago, this was still the ‘Paul Resnikoff Show’; other perspectives and areas of expertise were not getting aired except in comments (but not always). Frankly, Digital Music News needed fresh voices, different ringleaders, and a more decentralized (and inconsistent) editorial voice. Which is why…
II. There’s now a lot less Resnikoff.
Enter Ari Herstand and Nina Ulloa, who I believe are among the most – if not THE most – talented writers in the music industry right now. Both of them have broadened Digital Music News enormously, across artist- and tech-focused terrains. They have strong perspectives, deep knowledge, and enormous passion. And most of all, they’re not afraid of putting their opinions out there, and weathering all the hate (and love) that comes with that. They are fearless, amazing writers with superstar voices, and I hope I can feed those voices even more in 2015.
And the best part is that they greatly diversify the topics, opinions, experiences, and resulting discussions. Which is also why…
III. We’ve invited more guests to come by.
Last year, we started inviting industry experts — people working in the trenches — to contribute. Now, we’re receiving more requests from executives, artists, attorneys, investors, and technologists than ever before. It may also be double, which is why I’m having trouble managing it all (for now).
But the payoff is already being felt: these people know more about their fields than we ever can, because that’s what they’re doing and experiencing every day. They also have totally different perspectives that will clash with DMN, which is exactly the point. I’m already realizing that we’re sort of hiring a fourth writer: YOU.
IV. I started sleeping more.
I always thought that high achievers didn’t sleep, and I think I was more-or-less right. Except that it wasn’t working for me. I used to get about 4-5 hours a night at most, which for me was too little and was compromising my ability to focus, think critically, and just be motivated and pumped up about stuff. It was also making me less interesting, less interested, and just burning me out.
So this year, I shifted, and started demanding 7 hours from myself a night. I know, heresy to the God of Workaholism, right? I made sleep a goal, like finishing an article or project or getting exercise. And I found out that less hours meant more, because I was more awake for them. I don’t think it’s an accident that I got a lot more done this year.
And the last reason…
V. Digital Music News beat Grooveshark in court.
If you’ve ever been locked in contentious litigation, you know that it basically saps resources: time, energy, money, morale, and the ability to manage business and personal relationships effectively. And being right can be a costly luxury, even costing you the very company you’re trying to defend. Even so, Digital Music News decided in 2012 to fight against Grooveshark and its demand that we reveal the identity of an anonymous commenter (or commenters, we’re not sure). I personally vowed to stand up to this bullying affront to journalistic freedom and privacy, but Grooveshark was spending lots of money on top lawyers — on both coasts — to shut me up (or down) and force me to comply.
Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen Litigation Group rallied to our side, and agreed to pay a massive chunk of the legal costs (and all of his billable hours), but this was still a draining exercise. As Grooveshark and its parent, Escape Media Group, successfully beat us in Superior Court and froze a massive portion of our server cluster while we appealed, I wondered if it was really worth it. I was paying my ops guy to comply with court demands, draft technical affidavits, and frantically shuttle traffic around the areas of our cluster that we could actually touch. Paul was calling me sometimes daily, and I needed to get things over to him fast, which meant dropping everything.
I read horror stories of companies that DIED trying to operate while portions of their server cluster were frozen, realizing that we were in a similar quandary.
Paul fought ferociously, and I’ve learned more from him than anyone in the past few years. This guy’s got grit, he’s no-nonsense and fights for what’s right and what he believes. That’s pretty awesome, and inspiration enough for me. And apparently, the law: in May of this year, a panel of California Court of Appeals judges ruled decisively in our favor, slamming the case shut.
It was a lopsided defeat for Grooveshark and its lead counsel, John Rosenberg or Rosenberg & Giger. After some lingering threats, Rosenberg decided not to appeal to the California Supreme Court, and Grooveshark quickly faced a far more draconian decision in its broader case against Universal Music Group (and other labels).
I’ll say this: I would have been at this point with Digital Music News at least one year earlier if it hadn’t been for that case. But I’m glad we fought for what’s right. It was important to me, to Paul Alan Levy, and to the broader journalistic community. It’s one of our greatest and most rewarding accomplishments.
And now that it’s over, I can focus on other things, like:
Over the past few months, we’ve been expanding our server cluster and backend in preparation for our long-awaited forums launch. We’re in alpha right now, and frankly focused on the drier technical aspects, but we’ll soon be launching something that I hope greatly expands the community around Digital Music News. I want every topic, every concern, every hidden royalty statement thrown into this town square, with debates that go beyond those started by myself, Ari, Nina, or one of our guest writers.
We’ll moderate what needs to be moderated. The rest will be unfettered. And if you try to chase down who said what, know that (a) we’re not even recording that information anymore, and (b) there’s a place where you can stuff that request (see V).
I brought on Ari Herstand because of his superstar writing ability, his passionate and engaged voice, and his on-the-ground experience as a real musician making it. But this guy was even more amazing than I thought: quickly after joining DMN, Ari ripped apart the stodgy advertising program that I’d created, and replaced it with a results-driven, competitive, and more relevant Cost-Per-Click (CPC) approach.
Now, we’ve got a proof-of-concept, with several companies participating with real campaigns. The way it works is simple: all of the advertising links are relevant blog posts from the sponsoring company, and are integrated into our stories. The company sets a budget, and only pays for actual clicks. When you hit your budget, you can retire the campaign or renew it, depending on what you can afford.
The best part about this is that real companies in this space are getting real results, which is why we’re expanding it big time in 2015. We’re batting around bringing on a sales person, and other ways to make this a success (hit us up!)
VIII. India & Beyond.
DMN is well read, but every time I get on a plane and venture outside the US, I hear the same thing: why don’t you talk more about what’s going on HERE? It’s hard to sit amongst a group of Brits, or Germans, or Indians, or Colombians, and explain that, well, we just don’t know as much about your markets as we do about the US. But the point is well taken: we’re getting tons of overseas traffic, even from countries that we don’t cover that much.
So I did the analysis, and realized that two markets are prime for expansion: India and Latin America. For example, 5% of our traffic already comes from India, even though we rarely write about that market. With that in mind, I’m hoping to introduce the world to our Indian writer in a few months. LatAm will probably take a little more time because of language translations and other concerns. But these two markets alone will probably double the size of Digital Music News – AGAIN.
At the beginning of this year, I promised to expand DMN’s boutique consulting practice. Part of the reason is that it allowed us to get into the weeds of actual companies, with actual challenges, instead of writing an article for two hours. This is deeper knowledge than what you get at the editorial desk, and feeds the publication in ways you can’t imagine.
But it’s also nice to just work with different people in high-growth, high-trust professional relationships. My clients are confidential, but I’m now surrounded on a daily basis by some brilliant, forward-thinking people, not just on the C-level but throughout the ranks. They trust my expertise and I theirs, and the result is that some really amazing things are being accomplished.
No, I’m not Ted Cohen, we have just three clients now. But I’m discussing an expansion and figuring out how that might work, and hoping to rally Ari and Nina into those efforts. I think it will enrich the publication enormously, not to mention the companies that we serve.
And who are these companies? Ha, well I’ll tell you after their liquidation events!
X. Sister Publications.
This is more of a goal for 2016, but we’re already in the process of starting two sister publications: Channel Daily, which will be focused on TV technology, and Telephony Times, which will be focused on mobile markets (and yeah, we have both urls). I say 2016 because I know the dangers of spreading things too thin. And that danger is, of course, finishing nothing. But make no mistake, the wins we’re making at DMN will be translated into other industries, where similar atmospheric events are taking hold. I give you scale, my people!
Anyway, the real point of this article is to let everyone know what we’ve accomplished, where we’re headed, and to say thanks for being a part of this. It’s been a really rewarding year, so now I’m going to enjoy this time with my family and close friends, and disconnect for a bit on vacation. Normally, I’d advise you to release all of your bad news now, except that Nina will probably be covering it while I’m away. 😉
Image by José Manuel Ríos Valiente, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)