Why Danger Mouse is the most relevant man in music

I came across a feature in this Sunday's SF Chron (yes, I still read the newspaper) detailing the litany of projects that Danger Mouse (the dude on the right) has produced since he put together "The Grey Album" in 2004 (which I'm listening to as I write this post).

If you're not familiar with "The Grey Album," it was a mashup of Jay-Z's "The Black Album" with the Beatles "White Album."Was it legal? No. Was it awesome? Yes. And it made Danger Mouse a superstar. Since then, he has gone on to collaborate with artists like the Gorillaz, Beck and most recently,  James Mercer from the Shins (the dude on the right). Not to mention Gnarls Barkley. But Danger Mouse is more than just a superstar.

Danger Mouse is the most relevant artist in music today.

Full disclosure.
Before I get into why I think Danger Mouse is so relevant, I must disclose that I sort of know him. Not well, but well enough to root for his success.

To me, Danger Mouse is Brian Burton, a kid who grew up around the corner from me in Spring Valley, a suburb outside of NYC. He was friend's with my kid sister and I remember him coming by the house a couple of times. I used to go over to his house with my dad, who was a plumber, to fix the sink every once in a while. His dad was a real cool guy. I remember he raised show dogs. Brian was always a really nice kid, but to be honest, I hadn't thought of him until my sister said to me on the phone one day, "You ever hear of Danger Mouse? He's Brian-fucking-Burton from around the block!"

This is all interesting stuff, but it's not what makes Danger Mouse so damn relevant. Here's what is:

He embodies the expectations of the Millennial generation
I saw a study a few years ago that asked college students if they thought they would be famous in their lifetime. 28% said yes. Not that they could be famous. Not that the might be famous. That they would be famous! That was amazing to me, but fame is a very tangible thing in the YouTube era. And because it's perceived as actually within reach, people desire it even more. Tens of millions of people tune into American Idol every week because they are entranced with the notion that any one of us with the talent and the desire can take the fast track up the career ladder and become a star.

Danger Mouse said screw the ladder.

He didn't ask for permission. He made something because it was cool. He put it up on the web and now he's famous. That, ladies and gentlemen, is today's American Dream.

He embodies the malleable nature of media
A fundamental shift happened with the advent of "Web 2.0" and social media: the internet effectively shifted from a series of static pages that we passively look at to an immersive experience that we actively engage with. The web today is a malleable object. And soon, all media will follow suit.

Music is no different. All you need is a Mac with GarageBand and you're a musician. Of course, like any creative endeavor it takes tremendous talent involved in doing it very well. 
Danger Mouse had that talent. But he didn't have a studio and producers and loads of expensive equipment. He had a Mac and GarageBand. And he mashed up a plate of genius.  

He embodies the collaborative world we live in
In their book, "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything," Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams describe a new economy where companies are taking advantage of a new collaborative world to foster innovation and grow their enterprises.

Brands like Procter & Gamble, BMW, Lego, Boeing, and Netflix are all actively going outside their walls to find new ways to innovate and better ways to produce their goods and services. These companies are pioneers of the collaborative economy.

Danger Mouse is a pioneer of the collaborative musiconomy.

Take a look at his resume:

  • 2004 - he puts out "The Grey Album"
  • 2005 - he produces a record for the Gorillaz
  • later in 2005 - he puts out "The Mouse and the Mask" with MF Doom under the moniker DangerDoom
  • 2006 - Gnarls Barkley releases #1 hit "Crazy" this a collaboration with Cee-Lo Green
  • 2007 - produces "The Good, the Bad and the Queen" with ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon, the Verve's Simon Tong and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen
  • 2008 - collaborates with The Black Keys
  • 2008, again - collaborates with Beck
  • 2009 - collaborates with Sparklehorse
  • 2010 - collaborates with Mercer
Notice a trend? This is guy is blazing trails everywhere he goes and in everything he does. Collaboration is not a special on the menu. It is the menu.

No one else in music this today is so dialed into everything that's shaping the cultural landscape today. 

Brian, you are making it happen. Keep it up.

And, Amanda says "hi."


Facebook's virtual currency vig is not so bad

Facebook-hating is becoming quite vogue these days. Seems everybody has an opinion about why these guys are horrifically evil. Maybe they are, but one thing that's come under scrutiny certainly doesn't make them so. It is their new rule that games use Facebook's virtual currency... and that Facebook gets a 30% cut.

This is obviously a deep cut into the revenue of rising stars--particularly Zynga that has over 80 million people playing Farmville on the Facebook platform. But is it wrong?

Maybe if you live in the fantasy world where the notion of giving away unlimited value to the masses for free has become sone sort of quasi-religious moral imperative. But here's a news flash:

Facebook is a business.

Zynga is making millions of dollars running a business on the Facebook platform. Why shouldn't Facebook get a cut? Apple gets 50% of revenue from music sold in the iTunes Store. Is that any different? They created the platform, they get paid.

Ironically, Facebook is getting slammed for creating a virtual currency standard. Zynga may bemoan that fact, but it's something I'm sure they'd like to do themselves. Granted, Facebook's standard is a pproprietary one, but a standard nonetheless.

What do you think? Is Facebook evil?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Persuasion - A lost art?

Some direct response marketers claim that the focus on ROI and auction-based media forces good creative. That notion illustrates a fundamental problem in advertising today—that the art of persuasion is dying. And it's simply not true.

The dominance of direct response has made it so that good creative has been relegated to what performs well in driving clicks. Sure, the more sophisticated wonks out there focus on the second or third click and name it a conversion, but it's still about a click. As long as it fits neatly in a spreadsheet.

Persuading audiences to click may result in measurable ROI, but David Ogilvy would roll over in his grave to think that this is what the art of persuasion has been reduced to. Persuasion has the power to change mass behavior, to create demand, to impact culture, to inspire. It requires an understanding of the rational and the emotional triggers that drive human needs and desires. And when those kinds of insight are combined with creativity, they can be transformative. But sadly, persuasion is an emotional achievement that doesn't always fit neatly into a spreadsheet.

Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't measure and optimize online creative. It's an imperative. So, let's put our tracking tags in place and move on.

When I was at DDB a decade ago, Keith Reinhard came by the office and spoke to us all. He asked us how many famous banner ads we could name. He challenged us to think bravely in a 468 pixel wide box. Direct response driven marketing does not lead us to fulfill that challenge. Rather than compel us to think creatively, it drives the industry to do what worked well last week, but try and make it .01% better at achieving clicks.

Yesterday, I spoke to a direct-focused marketer who told me that honestly, the creative they run that performs best are ads with fear-based messaging, so that's what they wind up running. They hadn't invested in their brand at all because they couldn't measure the ROI of that. And they were steadily seeing a long-term decline in their results.

That is a direct result of online being dominated by direct response.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to a client from a major consumer software brand. He began the conversation by saying that our work and our service was far better than another agency they had been working with, but they had to shift more of their work to that other agency for one reason. They were cheaper. I explained why we charged what we did: the steps we took to ensure quality creative and our rigorous quality assurance testing process. He looked at me with a completely straight face and said "What if we don't care if you do all that QA? That's not how our bonuses are calculated."

That is a direct result of online being dominated by direct response.

Last week, I had the opportunity to see Scott Bedbury, the former CMO of Nike and Starbucks speak. He started off his conversation telling the audience that we were facing the commoditization of Planet Earth and that the perceived difference between brands was never smaller. He reminded us that some of the most important things you can do for a brand are not predictably quantifiable.

I'm sorry. I just can't buy that a shoulder shrug that failed attempts to encourage the advertisers to also care about those earlier in the buy cycle adds up to forcing good creative.

Special thanks to industry vet, Tom Cunniff, for inspiring this post.