Saturday, June 20, 2009

Joshua Boltuch of Amie Street: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

So, back in the 70s, my older siblings Michael, Maureen, Joseph, and John respectively turned me onto Arlo Guthrie, Carly Simon, Led Zeppelin, and The Monkees and my cousin Thomas turned me onto The Clash, The Ramones, and Talking Heads.

With that kind of introduction and education, it's no surprise I got hooked on music and started buying vinyl.

If I remember correctly, Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was my first in 1973 at Korvettes in Flushing, Queens...of course a double album. My dad told me that if it affected my grades in any way, he would take it away. I was seven.

$4.99 was then the going rate for a single LP. Then the prices slowly starting climbing over the years, despite Tom Petty’s very public efforts in the early 80s, and vinyl rose bit by bit until it was about $7.99 or $8.99.

When CDs came along in the late 80s, even though they were less expensive to produce, the list prices put them at $14.99 or more. Over the last 10-15 years, the street price has settled at about $11.99 or so, but of course lots of places sell them for more and less than that. Of course now CD prices are dropping in price to compete with digital downloads and they are often costing less than mp3s albums.

After the demise of the original Napster and the rise of iTunes, the $.99 a song model arose and somehow took hold. But in an era where many listen to music free from myspace or off of artists’ web sites and others file share, most working musicians are wondering how they will make a living making music when it's clear you can’t rely on the sale of a physical product any longer, along comes an idea that I really like.

Amie Street was started in Providence, Rhode Island on Amie Street on July 4, 2006 by Elliott Breece, Josh Boltuch and Elias Roman while at Brown University. They are now based in Long Island City, just across the river from Manhattan. Roman is the Director of Business Development and Operations, Breece is the Director of Product Development, and Boltuch is the Director Public Relations and Marketing.

We'll talk more about how Amie Street works during my interview with co-founder Joshua Boltuch, but the idea is that when a song is added, it starts free up to .98 and will go up in cost as demand rises up to a maximum of .98. Occasionally, shoppers who frequently recommend artists will also get credits from Amie Street, so it’s a bit of a buy back strategy.

The mp3 files are all free of digital rights management, or DRM.

Musicians receive 70% of the revenue from each sale. And yes, I know that for musicians recording music costs a lot of money, especially if you go into an 24 track studio to do it, but I also know there's something to pricing things at the right point to get those impulse buys. Part art and part science, on Amie Street more than a few times I have bought an artist’s entire album because I heard 60 seconds of a song, like it, and it was priced at $3.00. Would I have done that if it were priced at $9.99 or $16.99?

I find the interface of Amie Street to be among the best out there in terms of leading you from one genre, artist, or song to the next. It might not be quite the same as wandering the aisles of your favorite brick and mortar record store, but there is something about the interface and sampling opportunities that are more thought-out than what most of the big online music retailers have done.
It has also incorporated some social networking functionality into the site, so you can see what other friends are listening to and be turned on to artists in a more webby way.

This interview was recorded in October 2008 and I'm afraid it just delayed for a handful of reasons, but I’m happy that it’s seeing the light of day now, just as Amie Street comes up on their third anniversary.

I sat down with co-founder Boltuch at the Amie Street offices in Long Island City to discuss:
* How and why mp3s started getting priced at $.99
* How Amie Street is using the net’s technology to help music fans find more music
* Why musicians are submitting their music to Amie Street and what they like about the business model

Music featured in this interview includes:
1) Passion Pit: Little Secrets
2) Dirty Projectors: Stillness is the Movie
3) Harlem Shakes: Nothing but Change Part II
4) Juana Molina: Un Dia
5) Tulsa: Fill Her In
6) Machel Montano: Defense
7) Sadie: Dien Blaues Auge-Brahms
8) Camera Obscura: French Navy
9) The Faraway Places: Run While True
10) Marco Benevento: Now They're Writing Songs
11) Boyou Roux: Zydeco Sont Pas Sale (No Salt in The Snap Beans)
12) Prabir and The Substitutes: Who's Going to Love You?
13) Chuck Brown: Autumn Leaves
14) Heidi Berry: Time
15) Elvis Perkins in Dearland: Shampoo
16) Peaches: I Feel Cream
17) Gongui: Me Ama Te Amo
18) Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens: Trouble in my Way
19) The Kills: Fried My Little Brains
20) These United States: Honor Amongst Thieves
21) MSTRKRFT: 1,000 Cigarettes