The Internet Saved the Musical Star
What a difference a new media makes. In the old days of the music industry, musicians all wanted to sign a deal with a major label and if they were good enough or lucky enough to land a contract, they often complained of how much the industry took advantage of them. Today, thanks to the Internet, a musician can actually make a decent living without ever getting a traditional recording contract.
For instance, Brian Message, manager of the alternative band Radiohead, launched Polyphonic with the idea of investing about $300,000 each in rising stars. The company has $20 million in seed capital. But he's not looking to become an industry label; his goal is to help these musicians, who don't have record deals, to reach their audience directly over the Internet. It would appear that this is where the music-consuming audience is these days: research company Nielsen says that physical album sales fells 20 percent last year, while the sales of individual digital music tracks rose 27 percent.
Polyphonic will invest in musicians who will then record their own music and choose outside contractors for their publicity, merchandise, and touring. The musicians will share in all the profits from the music and touring rather than receive an advance, as they would with a major label. Best of all, they will own their own copyrights to the music, as well as the master recordings. That means they and their heirs may continue to earn money from their work. This matters a lot to any artist.
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It's Time for TED Again
Every year since 2004, technology people and others who think they can change the world have gathered at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. This year's conference is no exception and with tickets going for $4,500 a pop, the audience is as elite as the presenters. Those of us who can't make it to the conference can take consolation in the fact that the TED website always posts videos of speaker presentations online.
This year's theme is The Substance of Things Not Seen, or as the TED site further explains, the hidden forces shaping our future, the mysterious functioning of things, the invisible and the not-yet-discovered. Session titles include What We Know, Seeing is Believing, Nature's Challenge, and more. Presenters include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, optical innovator Joshua Silver (whose invention to help provide cheap, properly-prescribed eyeglasses was discussed in a past Weird and Cool), quantum physicist David Deutch, and many more.
Jessica Griggs, attending the conference and writing about it for New Scientist, mentioned some of the highlights: learning that a quantum supercomputer can be kept working by being watched continuously; hearing about a company hard at work to effectively provide a speaking Wikipedia for people in remote villages in India and Africa without access to the internet and those unable to read; Stephen Fry possibly being intimidated for the first time by the intelligence of his audience; and of course Gordon Brown's talk. The British prime minister spoke about how real-time, worldwide communication (such as Twitter, Flickr, and similar sites) have changed the face of society, and what they can be used to accomplish. This is a conference which believes it can change the world - or if not, at least spread ideas about how to make it a better place, Griggs notes. In today's world, we can use that kind of optimism and enthusiasm.
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Win a Kindle for Hunting Pork
Everyone knows that members of Congress funnel federal funds to their home districts in so-called pork barrel spending. Politicians prefer to refer to such spending as earmarks. Earmarks or pork, it's exceptionally hard to track, because the actual items allocating the spending are buried in bills thousands of pages long. Now all members of Congress have been required to reveal their earmark requests, but they aren't required to do so in any particular format. So we're still in a bad position trying to track all this information down, right?
Not exactly. Federal watchdog organization Washington Watch is trying to gather all of the earmark information in one place, and they're harnessing the power of crowdsourcing to do it. They've set up a form on their web site to allow users to enter earmark information into their database. They've even included tips and tricks to help you fill out the forms. Washington Watch will display the information on their web site as they receive it.
If you want more than the satisfaction of knowing you've made government a little more transparent, Washington Watch is also offering prizes. The person who enters the most earmarks before the October 1 deadline will receive an Amazon Kindle. The second most ambitious earmark hunter will receive an iPod Shuffle. Third place gets a fruitcake. If you don't like fruitcake, don't worry; any winner can claim the cash equivalent of their prize.
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