Thank You, Sir Paul

We needed Paul McCartney this past week. Fortunately, we got him.

This was the kind of week that made me want to declare a media blackout. The news was dominated by ugly reports about immigrant children being ripped from their parents and detained within our own borders. The music world, which often offers some relief from the harsh realities of everyday life, was instead the source of a horrible, unfolding story about the violent life and death of rapper XXXTentacion. As details emerged about his brutal treatment of other people before his own death during a robbery June 18, I was reminded that artists are also capable of behaving horribly.

For most of the week, my socials were awash with tweets and comments full of anger, despair, and shame from friends embarrassed and revolted by the family separation occurring at the U.S. border. But then something happened Wednesday that began to change the mood of the week for me: Paul McCartney released two new songs.

We hadn’t heard new music from Sir Paul since 2013. I was eager to know what he had been writing. Both the songs, “Come on to Me” and “I Don’t Know” gave me something new to think about besides current events.

“Come on to Me” sounded like a rollicking good bar song, with a big drum sound and a harmonica part that reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s “Poor Tom.” On the other hand, “I Don’t Know” felt like a reflective update to “Yesterday,” with Macca singing about seeing trouble at every turn and asking, “What am I doing wrong? What’s the matter with me?” The more somber “I Don’t Know” seemed to capture the mood of the week, as if Paul were saying, “I understand.” But “Come on to Me” reminded me of the power of his music to uplift. Continue reading

Five Great Songs about Summer

Welcome to the season of sticky sno-cones, loud suburban street festivals, and music spilling out of open windows of fast cars. And music always makes the summer season. To celebrate the arrival of summer, check out these five great songs about el verano and make sure your playlist is up to date:

Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone

Like so many great summer songs, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” is awash with nostalgia, recalling a fleeting romance that ends with the inevitable coming of the fall. But oh them summer days in between the end of the spring and the first of the fall! You can take the song to mean the literal arrival and passing of the summer months or read something deeper into the lyrics: growing older, looking back, and reflecting.

Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

Drums, please! It’s time to kick back and unwind with a soft subtle mix while you cruise in your car. School is out. The temperature’s about 88. And you’re invited to a barbeque that starts at 4. What’s not to like? In “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Fresh and the Fresh Prince take us to the Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia, where “Little boys messin’ round with the girls playing double-dutch/While the DJ’s spinning a tune as the old folks dance at your family reunion.” The song hints at a nostalgia we often hear in other summer songs, but it never loses its sense of time and place thanks to the smooth lead rap, vivid lyrics, breezy background vocals, and irresistible backbeat. You’ll keep coming back to the plateau. Continue reading

The Train Is Coming

The minstrel warned us that the train is coming.

On an oppressively hot June night in Chicago, Robert Plant sang 13 songs of longing, joy, and carnality with a voice that has grown sweeter and softer over 69 years. His concert was mostly a joyous celebration of life. But if you listened closely as he dipped into his rich songbook, you could hear the minstrel conjuring narrators who contemplated aging, loss, and mortality. Midway through the evening, Plant assumed the voice of a man about to be executed, pleading for the hangman to give him a little more time in “Gallows Pole”:

Hangman, hangman, turn your head awhile

I think I see my sister coming, riding many mile, mile, mile

Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand

Take him to some shady bower

Save me from the wrath of this man

On “The May Queen,” an aging celebrant sang of time’s passage:

A heart that never falters

A love that never dies

I linger in the shadows

The dimming of my light

An old blues man gazed at death in “Fixin’ to Die”:

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord

I believe I’m fixin’ to die

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord

I believe I’m fixin’ to die

Well, I don’t mind dying

But I hate to leave my children crying

The older you get the more likely you will learn what it is to experience the effects of age, if not on yourself then on someone in your life. In his 69 years, Robert Plant has faced the loss of close family and friends, and nearly the loss of his muse when he almost quit singing after the death of his son, Karac, in 1977. But he is not one to dwell on the past. Since the break-up of Led Zeppelin in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, Robert Plant has record 14 albums, six of them after he turned 50. He scoffs at those who would question how he stays inspired at an age when many have retired from their work, and he writes songs that celebrate living, not losing. Continue reading

Shareable Custom Alexa Skills Bring Us Closer to a Voice-First Future

Amazon continues to create a voice-first future.

In April, Amazon launched Alexa Skill Blueprints, which makes it possible for anyone to create their own Alexa skills and responses, with no coding required. And now Amazon has made Alexa Skill Blueprints shareable through channels such as Facebook, text, Twitter, and messaging apps.

With Alexa Skill Blueprints, voice becomes a source of user-generated content, such as creating skills that help the babysitter find things in your home or skills that help you learn new subjects through your own voice-based flash cards, among many other potential uses. Here’s an example of how to create your own family trivia game:

Empowering people to create their own Alexa skills without any coding experience is important to Amazon’s vision for making voice the connective tissue of commerce and everyday living. Alexa fuels an entire voice-based commercial ecosystem that includes, for example:

  • The use of Echo smart speakers to manage our smart homes, listen to music (preferably by streaming Amazon Music), and order products and services. Echo is Alexa’s primary vessel, enjoying a commanding 70 percent marketshare.

For Amazon to achieve its vision, consumers have to become comfortable using their voices to accomplish tasks that we’re accustomed to doing with our fingertips. So far, Continue reading

Why GDPR Isn’t Coming to the United States

Will draconian privacy laws ever come to the United States as they have in Europe in recent days? The question is reasonable in light of ongoing news stories about Facebook’s cavalier treatment of user data. Now that the European Union has enacted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we now have a template for stronger protection of consumer privacy, with businesses being held to more stringent privacy standards and facing steep fines for failing to uphold those standards.

The likelihood of GDPR-style regulation coming to the United States was one of several topics I discussed with a panel of journalists and industry practitioners recently. The panel, hosted by Chris Heine of the Bateman Group, focused on the many possible impacts of GDPR. Participants ranged from Gartner Analyst Andrew Frank to Kevin Scholl, director of digital marketing and partnerships at Red Roof Inn. My take: GDPR isn’t going to come to the United States anytime soon – especially during the Trump administration. Here’s why:

  • Data privacy is not a priority at the Federal level. We’ve already experienced the mother of all data breaches – and nothing happened. Remember Equifax, whose failure to protect user data affected millions of Americans? If ever there was a reason to usher in more serious privacy laws, Equifax handed it to the administration on a platter. But in fact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau actually scaled back its investigation of Equifax. And Americans moved on. Meanwhile, influential businesses such as Alphabet and Apple have too much lobbying power for GDPR regulation to take hold widely. (Google alone spent more than $18 million on lobbying efforts in 2017.) The corporate-friendly Trump administration will likely place the adoption of widespread privacy measures low on the priority list.
  • The American won’t demand widespread regulation anytime soon. We may claim we care about privacy when we are asked– but our actions say otherwise. For example, the brutal Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal created a #DeleteFacebook spasm, which died away. It’s not that we want to give businesses unfettered access to our data. But we don’t have the time and energy to police them. Who really takes time to read the mind-boggling user agreements we are periodically asked to review when we update our Apple operating system or when LinkedIn or some other platform revises its practices? (Here’s LinkedIn’s privacy policy. I’m sure you’ve reviewed it carefully because you care about privacy, right?) In addition, and perhaps more importantly – big tech has the upper hand. We’re hooked to our devices and platforms. They fuel our lives. We’ve given them permission to manage us – which is a big reason why #DeleteFacebook died. We may be annoyed with Facebook the brand, but we want Facebook the community.

A more likely scenario: Facebook will take the fall. The company will become subject to more regulation and scrutiny, thus reframing a potentially more widespread issue as the problems of one company. Instead of inspiring Federal action to regulate privacy more broadly, Facebook’s failures will instead marginalize the issue. We’re already seeing Apple capitalize on Facebook’s problems by attempting to demonize the social media platform.

Tougher privacy laws may take hold at the state level, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a dramatic change to occur nationally.

For more insight into our panel, check out:

Adweek, “4 Big GDPR Concerns for Brands, Agencies, and Vendors,” Chris Heine, May 9, 2018.

Bateman Group, “Here Are 4 Big GDPR Concerns for Brands, Agencies and Vendors,” Chris Heine, May 23, 2018.

CNBC, “People will forget about data privacy issues soon — at least, that’s what ad experts expect,” by Michelle Castillo, April 12, 2018.

DMNews, “7 Ways GDPR Will Affect Your Marketing Efforts — According to Top Marketers,” Hillary Adler, May 28, 2018.

Voice Looms Large for Apple and Mary Meeker

Apple and Mary Meeker agree: we’re living in an increasingly voice-first world. But how well is Apple adapting?

On May 30, Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist Mary Meeker, one of the most influential pundits in digital, released her annual Internet Trends report. The uptake of voice-based digital interfaces was a significant theme. She identified voice as one of nine areas where innovation and growth are occurring as U.S. internet usage continues to growth.

“With voice, we’ve hit technology liftoff with word accuracy and we’ve certainly hit product liftoff with Amazon Echo’s install base estimated to be around 30 million plus,” she said, as she presented her report at the 2018 Code Conference. And she presented slides to illustrate her point.

It’s worth noting that in her 2016 report, she quoted Andrew NG, chief scientist at Baidu, who said, “As speech recognition accuracy goes from say 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time. Most people underestimate the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy – 99% is a game changer . . . “

According to Meeker’s 2018 report, we’ve now approaching that point where accuracy rates will trigger widespread adoption.

As Meeker noted, sales of the Amazon Echo have been phenomenal – an example of a technology company identifying a need that people did not know they had.  And the Echo is an important, but not the only, barometer of voice’s uptake. Businesses such as Amazon, Continue reading