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Yesterday, Conduit Labs announced they were shutting down their experimental music game and community known as Loudcrowd. For two years, Loudcrowd was an electronic hipster haven for fans of outfits like Chromeo, Justice and Van She. Even as they expanded their track offerings to bands like Foals and Yacht, Conduit Labs saw massive growth with their Facebook offerings Music Pets and Super Dance and ultimately decided to abandon the former.

Originally when considering writing this post, I wanted to focus on the functional reasons why Loudcrowd didn’t pan out. When I wrote about the game last May, I pointed to the limited social networking abilities and the niche demographic of electronic fans. Former Director of Marketing Josh Grossman actually stopped by my blog to comment and express that the company shared some of those same feelings.

But now, sitting down to write it, the closing of Loudcrowd is just a sign of the times. There was nothing inherently wrong with the game itself other than it wasn’t hosted on a popular social networking platform. Casual gaming has hit the market full stride and Facebook remains king. According to a recent Mashable survey, 83% of respondents claimed to have played games there. It seems that casual games can’t survive without a powerful portal to back it up.

Not only that, but I think it gives testament to another interesting finding from the Mashable survey (among others). Most online gamers prefer to play with people they know, and not strangers. While Loudcrowd was a place to meet and talk to other fans of the genre, most would rather play a quick round with their BFF on Facebook.

The good news is that Loudcrowd isn’t *really* dead. Conduit Labs’ Facebook game Super Dance runs off the same engine and artistic style. Thanks to a recent distribution deal with UMG, both Super Dance and Music Pets offer a wide range of music that can appeal to all fans. While a lot of Facebook game developers rely on cheap tricks for retention and engagement, Conduit Labs provides a unique product and I wish them continued success.

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Surely you’ve heard about it by now, the interview that has the entire internet LOLing, or at least scratching their heads. The Artist Now Known as Prince Again recently declared the death of the internet to the UK’s Daily Mirror by stating, “The internet’s completely over.”

Let me pause and give you a chance to catch your breath. Surely, surely this has to be some kind of marketing stunt. After all, the ‘dead’ internet lit up like a tree on Christmas the second his comments were published… on the internet. Prince even admits in the interview that “I really believe in new ways to distribute my music,” even if “new” means releasing it on a dwindling medium (CDs) through an aging distribution channel (newspapers).

It’s not his fault. Prince is known for being one of the most eccentric musicians of our time. He’s spent the better part of his life as a sex symbol, isolated from society by layers and layers of managers, producers and other members of his entourage. His convoluted worldview is apparent with asinine statements in the interview like “The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

Okay… let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • On the same day the Prince interview was published online, Variety reported that physical album sales dropped 17.7% and digital album sales rose 13.7% during the first 6 months of 2010.
  • Despite recently increased prices for individual tracks, sales on iTunes continue to grow daily and recently hit 10 billion songs sold in February.
  • Through websites like Pandora and Last.fm, internet radio has grown steadily since 2004 with over 42 million listeners in 2009. The rise of mobile phone sales has lead SNL Kagan to predict a 20% increase in internet radio revenue in 2010.
  • Universal Media Group threw up a hail mary in 2009 when they slashed all CD prices to $6-$10 a piece in an attempt to slow the medium’s demise.
  • Newspapers have lost 16.9% circulation between 2007-2009 and lost 43% in advertising revenue during the same period.

If you’d like more numbers that demonstrate how monstrously moronic Prince’s comments sound, check out Fast Company’s article comparing him to Lady Gaga – arguably the queen of internet music.

In the midst of the social media revolution, Prince declaring the end of the internet is about as ludicrous as Decca Records stating in 1962 that “guitar music is on the way out,” after rejecting a recording contract with the Beatles. I’m not sure what evil internet numbers Prince was referring to (binary code?), but the only thing they can’t be good for are his future album sales and the legacy of his brilliant music to future generations. Hopefully he can pull his head out of the sand long enough to avoid drowning in purple rain.

Ever had those times where you’re sitting around with friends, talking to new people, and you realize that you and your conversation partner went to the same concert a while ago? Boom – instant connection. There is something about live music that has a magical quality to it. Sometimes the music doesn’t even have to be that good (on stereo at least), but the memory of the show will last forever. A website that’s been around since 2007 is beefing up their services to make the live show a way for people to connect. Songkick is taking social networking and music recommendation to a new level, letting users connect with past events and find others interested in the same things.

"What a coincidence! I was acid tripping at the Dead show too!"

"What a coincidence! I was acid tripping at the Dead show too!"

A friend forwarded me an article from Tech Crunch and I immediately started salivating over the idea. Songkick is essentially the IMDB of live shows, catalouging over 1 million shows thus far and continuing to grow their database. For each show, users can add photos, videos and comments on the show. You can also click “I was there” to add the show to your user profile. You can find other users who have gone to some of the same shows you have, as well as “follow” other concert goers whose taste you respect.

What if you can’t find the show you were looking for? Songkick lets users add it to the site, letting the community take an active part in buildingin it’s database. So, even though it came from the mouth of founder Ian Hogarth, calling Songkick the IMDB of live shows is a little unfair because the depth of the site is so much broader than that. For audiophiles, connecting over music tastes is important, and Songkick lets you seek out and connect with other people who share your style. In the end, it saves you the trouble of dragging your lame ass roomate to an indie show he’s never heard of because everyone else you know is saving their money for the next time Nickleback is in town (reference based on a true story).

Earthmine, a 3-dimensional mapping company, recently unveiled a new virtual graffiti application called Wild Style City. It’s modeled in the same fashion as Google’s street view, allowing artists to roam the streets of San Francisco and throw up a tag wherever they see fit.

“Wild Style City is an exploration into what people create when given the ability to freely express themselves and their ideas in specific places,” said Anthony Fassero, co-founder and co-CEO of earthmine. “Viewers can enjoy the images, add to them, erase them or even start over. It’s as close as you can get to the graffiti experience without the obvious real world consequences. But just like in the real world, no piece of graffiti is permanent and can be removed or replaced by the community.”

I spent some time exploring earthmine’s San Francisco and was pretty impressed with what I saw. It would appear that some serious graffiti enthusiasts have found their way into the world to bomb some sick spots. Unfortunately, for every good piece of graffiti art there’s a picture of a penis politely asking passerby’s to touch it innapropriately.

Touché...

Touché...

Earthmine’s innovation is an interesting take on socializing the street view product, letting it’s users “interact” through pieces of art with the rest of the community. Other wanderers and vote on pieces of art, but even the most lauded of designs can be taken down by anyone that feels it necessary to paint over. Thankfully, you can still access past pieces of art on any particular canvas.

As far as pure entertainment value, it’s a fun way to get around, explore San Francisco, view other’s art and maybe throw up something yourself. The community is entirely run by the art since you can’t see other people roaming in browser and there is no official message board or way to send information. But in that sense, it stays true to the graffiti community in real life. You’re just walking by, looking up at a great piece of art thinking “I wonder who did that?”

When I started this blog, one of the first things I mentioned was how amazing music has become in the way that we share it, listen to it and play with it. The internet has revolutionized the music industry, propelling the role of music in our lives to incredible heights. Ben Parr, a writer for Mashable, recently posted an article about the internet and its role in the rise of social music. He writes about its humble beginnings, the growth of MP3’s, illegal sharing, legitimized applications like iTunes, and the use of music social networks like Last.fm.

The last few years has also seen innovations in music-themed entertainment, namely the popularization of games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. The idea has been around since about 1996 when PaRappa the Rapper was one of the first rhythm based video games of its time, but has since become a major force in the video game industry.

So what happens when you introduce a social aspect into the world of music based video gaming? You get Loudcrowd, a “music community for people who want to do more than just listen.” Loudcrowd is a DDR type gaming site where users complete dances and challenges to unlock clothes, music tracks (that come with additional challenges) and more.

Players have two options for building up their battery meter to unlock items, either sending dances to other users or completing solo challenges. It can be pretty addicting, and I’m not the only one who has spent quite some time playing around with the dance challenges. Loudcrowd has made a good attempt and mixing social networking, video gaming and music discovery. Although I’m a fan of what the site is trying to do I’d like to offer my observations and a few suggestions as to how the site can improve and fulfill its objective.

Social Networking

Loudcrowd has taken rhythm based video gaming and infused a social aspect to it. Players hang out in a lobby together where they perform dances for one another and complete challenges. Dances can be sent to other user along with a short message after the DDR-type minigame is completed.

For some reason there is no local chat feature, communication is limited to one on one conversations with other players. In order for there to be a healthy music community, there has to be an open discourse where users can share information with each other and contribute to the dialogue as a whole. Even if they didn’t want to have open chat, at least make forums available. Especially since the site is in beta, users should be able to look at each other’s ideas and be able to expound off of them.

It’s also slightly frustrating that the messages are limited to 60 characters (And you thought Twitter forced you to be concise!). I think it’s a brilliant idea that users can keep up a conversation by means of sending dances to each other, but it’s difficult to have any kind of meaningful discussion other than flat “Hey, what’s up – Not a whole lot, you?” kind of talking. Users can take the discussion to straight up instant messaging, but you have to choose between the two as the game can move pretty fast. Loudcrowd should up the character limit to dance messages, letting users engage in complex discussions without sacrificing the fun of doing it through video gaming.

I had asked a few regulars (all of whom had reached the level limit on the site) how many friends they had made in Loudcrowd and only one or two responded with a number more than 3. In a site that is trying to promote a community, users should be able to develop a bigger network.

Video Gaming

Player's complete challenges to send dances to other users

Player's complete challenges to send dances to other users

It appears that the primary function of Loudcrowd‘s site is video gaming, and for something that’s offered for free on the internet, its a lot of fun. Players can select up to four difficulty levels on different challenges in the game. There’s the rhythm based dancing mini game, a fill-in-the-blank survival minigame and a turntable mini game. The three different challenges help mix it up and give users options on what they want to participate in, but they can get stale after a while. Anyone I talked to on the site thats been there more than a week has said they’ve gotten bored with the gameplay.

This is fine if they’re trying to offer a casual gaming site for people to spend a few minutes on every day to kill some time, but fails if they are attempting to create a solid destination for players to immerse themselves in. The revenue model is based around buying upgrades for storage space on the items you can unlock, but when the site isn’t offering a continuously entertaining video game challenge, or items that affect and improve the experience, then it’s hard to see how people are going to stay on the site. Loudcrowd says they are introducing new games every two months, and I wonder if that’s too long a time span to keep players constantly engaged. It’s a great idea to keep expanding its gaming options, but it’s also important to build upon the mini games already in place.

Players can level up through accumulating points and ideally it’s supposed to unlock better items through the challenges, but players level out at 50 and most level 50 players I met said they did it in less than a week. I’m at level 10 after an estimated total of 5 hours on the site, and haven’t noticed any increase in the variety of options. The reason why a game like World of Warcraft is successful is because there is something to continoulsy strive for, the experience expands and improves with every challenge completed. Even though Loudcrowd is operating on a much smaller scale than WOW, it has to give players an incentive to keep playing. Expand the clothing options, offer items that actually affect the game play like power ups that can be used in challenges, and either up the level max or make it harder to level out. No game should be TOO easy.

Lastly, I’d like to see a larger focus on competition. With a DDR model in the dances, players need to be able to compete against one another and not just themselves. Some of the mini games and track challenges offer score charts where you can compete on the scoreboard, but players want to be able to compete directly against each other. The whole winner/loser dynamic may not be the biggest self esteem booster, but it’s usually why people play engage in multiplayer games in the first place.

Music Discovery

To start off, I have to say that the music on the site is great. It’s all mostly independent electro (a scene that has been really taking off the last couple years in the music community) bands from partnerships they’ve secured with record labels like Beggars Group, DFA, Domino, Downtown Records, and Modular. This makes sense with the type of gaming that’s offered, but it’s not the only genre of music that has a beat that works in the system. From the feedback I’ve gotten it seems that most of the users aren’t necessarily electro heads, and some have said they just turn off the music after a while. Targeting a specific genre is all well and good when you are appealing to one area of the music community, but when your audience has varied musical tastes I think it’s important to cater to that.

I would also like to see a larger selection of music offered, even if they stick with a pure electro theme. The playlist changes every week but the songs come from a selection of about 4 or 5 artists, and I’ve heard repeat songs during 30 minute gaming sessions. It would be cool to see a comprehensive playlist, one that emphasizes the new tracks that are debuting that week but still give attention to ones in the past. Over time, the site can offer a large music library that still introduces good music to those who may not have been lucky enough to be signed in when the track first came to the site.

Good start with a lot of potential

Despite some of my observations, Loudcrowd really is an innovative, refreshingly fun site and you can count me as a fan. The artistic side is very well done and very stylish. The site is a great example of taking a browser-based system and making the most out of it with the aesthetic quality. The art and music fit seamlessly together, complimenting each other and creating a solid, congruent environment.

One of the cool feature in Loudcrowd's player profiles

One of the cool features in Loudcrowd's player profiles (Not my profile)

I’m also a big fan of the user profiles, they’re unique to the site in a way I haven’t seen in other virtual worlds or social networking sites. Not only can they list their favorite bands, but there is a space for favorite lyrics, most influential band and things of that nature. There is also a bar graph on each user’s page detailing the times the user is usually on the site. I haven’t even been able to hit all of the features associated with player profiles and I think that speaks to the potential in depth of experience.

As a music lover, I’m very excited to see what else the creators have in store for Loudcrowd. The way the site blends music and video gaming only enhances each of those aspects. I spend a lot of time on the internet searching for new music, scouring sites like Hype Machine for new tunes. When you’re on the computer though, music usually serves as the background function. While I listen to new tracks on Hype Machine, I’m usually doing something else that takes away being able to fully appreciate and be a part of the music that’s playing. Loudcrowd offers a way to stay entertained and engaged with music, interacting with the beat while you discover new music.

I wouldn’t normally take the time to sit down and analyze the bits and pieces but the site really speaks to me, and I’d like to see them improve on the great features they already have in place. If Loudcrowd succeeds, we can be sure to see more innovations like this in the future.

So I’m reading this article in Business Week about the future of gaming on Apple consoles, and by consoles I mean the iPhone. Apple has long neglected the poor Mac, leaving me playing Roller Coaster Tycoon to satisfy my computer gaming needs (Purposely leaving WOW on the shelf for fear of giving my soul away to Blizzard). Well, it looks like they have some pretty cool things in store for gaming applications on the Iphone.

The most exciting part of this news is the inclusion of multiplayer capabilities on the iPhone as a handheld gaming device. This idea has been attempted with the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP but it was too difficult to connect to other players in any sort of fun gaming environment. You basically have to know who you want to play with in order to set anything up. Hopefully the iPhone applications will have some sort of lobby function, or even an auto connect with other random players trying to set up games.

In a world where connectivity is expanding at a lightning speed rate, gamers want to pit their skills against other live human beings. Artificial intelligence, for the time being, pales in comparison to what the human brain offers. Instead of giving a single player a world to operate in, pitting themselves against scripts and AI, multiplayer offers an environment in which multiple brains can interact, create and compete.

Working together towards a common cause

Working together toward a common cause

People want to share their experiences with others. Ever since one of the first video games, Pong, it has always been more fun to play with another person than it was to play against the computer. Even when the game was strictly one player, like the original Mario, sharing the experience with another person, trading controllers, was ultimately more fulfilling than playing by yourself.

The fact that these features are just starting to come to iPhone applications is a little surprising. I guess it can be chalked up to limitations of a developing technology because I doubt application designers have failed to see the promise of multiplayer capabilities. However, the brilliant minds at Apple have shown questionable logic with their direction of iPhone utilities in the past. Regardless, multiplayer is coming to the iPhone and it is going to make its use as a gaming device compete on a very high level. The iPhone will succeed on this level for the same reason that social media has become such a hit and why other developers will continue to use human connectivity in their pursuits: human beings want to interact with other human beings.

Indaba Music is featuring Vinyl Life‘s Phil Moffa as their new “Artist in Residence” to educate potential music makers on production methods. He’s already got to work, even making an interesting post in the studio blog about the continued importance of vinyl in electronic music (His group is called “Vinyl Life” after all, so no surprise there).

From the Website:

In an age when most electronic musicians and DJs rely on computers to do the work for them, Phil Moffa believes that the best sounds are created through the use of physical hardware and analogue signal paths. Based out of his own Butcha Sound Studios, Phil Moffa uses a growing arsenal of hardware equipment to craft the unique electronic sounds for his group Vinyl Life. In addition to his work with Vinyl Life, Phil teaches at The Conservatory of Music at Purchase College and is a regular writer for DJ Times and Club World Magazine. As Indaba’s very first Artist In Residence, Phil will be sharing his vast knowledge of sound design, synthesis, and electronic music.

Indaba Music is a social network and web application launched in 2007 to let artists from all over the world to find each other and collaborate on projects. The site boasts 125,000 registered users in over 170 countries and has at the very least spawned a few minor record deals from resulting collaborations on the site. Indaba Music has been successful in hosting remix contests where users remix tracks from major label artists and have the songs judged by the artists themselves for prizes.

Now, that’s a lot of information to get to my main point about this: do not underestimate what a great move this is for Indaba. From the outset, Indaba has set out to create a platform that serves artists beyond the usual means of production and distribution, encouraging collaboration and the exchange of ideas. In the time they’ve made their site they’ve created a very powerful engine (although the flash program used for production is subpar to even GarageBand), and users have been creating a plethora of remixes from their collaborations.

But the internet is already LITTERED with remix after remix of just about every song ever published. Now, it’s not a bad thing that people are using Indaba to make remixes, the site has responded in kind with weekly remix contests featuring (and judged by) major label artists like Alkaline Trio, Kanye West and the Derek Trucks Band. The establishment of an Artists In Residence program however, is a step towards seperating Indaba from remix sites like Splice and Jamglue.

The website states:

The Indaba “Artist in Residence” program is designed for experts in a particular field of music to share their unique knowledge with the Indaba community.

Although the site hasn’t announced any plans yet for other artists, the language suggests that they’ll be partnering with more than just DJ’s in the future. Indaba has already generated a lot of interest from musicians while it’s in beta, but bringing in artists to be participating members of the community is going to strengthen it’s dialogue and creative exploration.


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