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Ze Frank’s BuzzFeed Video Studio Shows Musicians How It’s Done

At the Code/Media Conference at the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, Calif., Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and the rest of the refugees from the Wall Street Journal have come to make money for themselves. That’s the mantra of the Internet … DIY until the big boys take over, and it all solidifies.

BuzzFeed has a movie studio. It started with two people; now it’s got 160 and a four-acre campus. It’s run by Ze Frank. I Googled him while he spoke. Turns out he went to Brown and studied science. There are exceptions, but those who learn how to analyze and scope the entire landscape win in the end.

So BuzzFeed makes 50 movies a week — 5,000 so far. They’re all over YouTube and Facebook, and they’re all about playing and learning and/or making money.

That’s what Ze said you do — learn or make money. If neither happens, you never do it again. And there’s no bitching allowed.

Bitching has taken over the music business narrative. We’re our own worst enemy, constantly decrying tech and the public and anybody else who refuses to allow us to do it the way we used to in the pre-Internet era.

Of course it’s hard to write a great song. And no one cares about a good song. But the truth is, access is easier than ever, allowing you to experiment until you gain traction. So put it up on YouTube and see if it sticks. And if it doesn’t, do it again. And again. Failure is the route to success.

Of course tech has infiltrated the means to production in music. People love being able to make it at home. They just hate that everyone won’t listen and pay them millions.

BuzzFeed doesn’t do it like the old studios. There’s no separation of functions, because the younger generation knows how to do everything. They know how to write, shoot and edit. You just set them free. Meanwhile, the music business is run by old men who want to keep doing it the old way. If you turned over the business to the under-30s, it would be much better. Make them the heads of labels. Because when you have a blank slate, nothing is off limits, nothing is off the table.

Frank created a movie studio out of whole cloth. And he knows it’s not like Warners or Paramount; it’s about virality. Subscribers are a fraction of those who see clips — commenters even smaller.

If you’re in the creation business, you’ve got to be an optimist. You’ve got to see the new tools as an opportunity, not a deterrent. You’ve got to know there’s no center and no cohesion. You’re building your own network; none of the old ones reach everybody. If you want someone to rescue you, you’re toast.

It’s a whole new world. Everybody is multitalented with numerous skills. But in music, one person sings, another writes and another plays and/or produces. Is that a recipe for success?

No, success is about capturing lightning in a bottle: Lorde at home recording off the grid. It’s about throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Polishing albums for years that get a month’s worth of publicity and a weekend’s worth of play is not how you do it anymore. Now you create. Marketing is passe, too slow, too old school. It’s about doing as opposed to selling. It’s about finding out who you are, and reacting to the reception as opposed to trying to get the public to conform.

There’s not one public, there are many.

And the best and the brightest — those with insight and gumption — are triumphing.

If you’re complaining, you’re losing.

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