U2’s Songs of Innocence: a great album opens new revenue model for musicians

Released yesterday, U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, hits you twice over.

First, this album comes after five long years, after No Line on the Horizon (2009) and is the Irish band’s fifteenth. Such a long period between albums raises fan expectations and U2 doesn’t disappoint. I particularly enjoyed ‘Cedarwood Road’ and ‘Iris’, but each of the album’s 11 songs stand strong. It’s too early to write a critical review but I’m loving the album.

Second, if you have an iTunes account, you can download this album free. This is new and could open up a new trend — as consumers stop buying music, musicians are making more money from concerts, investing and movie licensing than album sales. “We were paid,” the band’s lead singer Bono told Time magazine. “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”

Although the size of the Apple-U2 deal remains undisclosed, it is likely to be big. The big question is will such a deal be offered to lesser-known musicians and open new revenue streams? My assessment: yes, but the value of those deals will vary. For budding musicians, this deal opens another door for them to be able to pass through, just as releasing videos on Youtube has been for some time now. Disruptive technologies are impacting not merely sounds but revenue models for musicians as well. We need to watch this space carefully.

My first exposure to U2 came with their fifth album The Unforgettable Fire, released in 1984. The song, ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ blew me completely. By the time I reached college and became part of my college rock band, U2 released its seventh album, The Joshua Tree. This time I was ready, and we played the album’s most-famous track, ‘With Or Without You’ on stage. We got accolades, awards and encores for our performances but we knew it was the music of U2 (along with Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams among others) that pulled the crowds and gave us our 90 minutes of fame.

Listening to Songs of Innocence, took me all the way back to those heady days. Over the next week, you will hear much about this album as well as this deal, but for now, I sign off with some links I found interesting around this ‘autobiographical’ album:

With ‘Songs of Innocence,’ U2 Recasts Its Youth: New York Times
Bono Reveals Secrets of U2’s Surprise Album ‘Songs of Innocence’: Rolling Stone
U2: Songs of Innocence – first listen review: The Guardian
U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’: A Track-by-Track Guide: Rolling Stone
Bono On U2’s Not-So-Free iTunes Album: Time
Review: First Impressions of U2′s ‘Songs of Innocence’: Wall Street Journal
The U2 discography

Happy listening!



China increases gas price to $10.64 per unit, what will India do?

Over the next 10 days, while India would be entering the next round of debate on gas pricing, China will be acting on gas price reforms it initiated in July 2013. On September 1, 2014, bulk and non-residential users in China will face a rise of 20 per cent in the prices they pay for gas, to $10.64 per million metric British thermal units (mmBtu).

“The latest price increase takes the domestic price for bulk users to about $10.64 per mmBtu, roughly on par with the current Asian spot price for LNG at $10.80 per mmBtu and the reported price of around $10 per mmBtu for the Russian pipeline deal,” Reuters reported.

So, even as it initiates price reforms on the demand side, it is simultaneously strengthening its supply pipelines through a $400 billion and hugely-complex deal. Under this deal, signed in May 2014, Russia will supply 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to China every year for three decades, beginning 2018.

“While both China and Russia are tight-lipped about the price of gas, analysts place it at between $10 and $11 per mmbtu. UBS estimates another $3 per mmbtu in “transmission tariffs”, taking the price of Russian gas reaching Shanghai to $14.2 per mmbtu,” I wrote in First Post, while covering the deal.

There is another reason why this price rise has come along with an increase in supply. “PetroChina has contracted LNG from Qatar at $18 per mmBtu, while the border price for piped gas from Russia is understood to be around $10/MMBtu,” Energy Intelligence reported on August 25, 2014. “While the pipeline flows could temper future LNG demand, the price reforms could make the superchilled gas more affordable.”

The big picture for China is to ensure that gas prices are increased such that it catalyses exploration and production, ensures there is no cut in demand, while pursuing a clean energy policy (gas is less polluting than oil). In other words, balance the interests of three key stakeholders — consumers, business and the environment.

India’s debate has been skewed by politics. So, even as we wonder whether the Rangarajan formula is acceptable or a new one, whether the price of gas should be $8.4 per mmBtu or something between $6 and $8 per mmBtu, we continue to import gas from Qatar at a landed price of $14 per mmBtu, effectively pay Qatar a high price while keeping domestic explorers and producers hanging.

“State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp has told the government that gas production from some of its deep-sea fields would be viable only at prices of up to nearly $13 per unit,” The Economic Times reported in an April 4, 2014 story. “It has asked for prices of $10.72 to $12.63 for two blocks in the Mahanadi basin, close to RIL’s KG-D6 block, where gas has been sold at $4.2 since 2009.”

In an August 25, 2014 story, The Economic Times reported that ONGC, Reliance Industries and Cairn, India’s largest explorers and producers sought an immediate hike in gas price. “Sources said producers reiterated that the sanctity of production sharing contracts (PSC), which the government has entered into with them, should be maintained. The PSC provides for a market discovered gas price.”

Disclosure: I am the New Media Director at Reliance Industries Ltd.

What the Narendra Modi government decides the final gas price in the next 10 days, it needs to examine three issues. One, the pricing should encourage global investors to come in and set up exploration and production facilities in the harsh deep-waters of India. Two, the PSCs it has signed with companies need to be honoured. And three, it should decide on the basis of law and logic, not out of fear of allegation politics.



India’s No. 1 disrupter gets a copy of The Disrupter

Last evening, when Soma Banerjee and I went to give a copy of The Disrupter to India’s No. 1 disrupter, Arvind Kejriwal, we took with us the nineteen-year-old Deepak Mayur, who, fed up with corruption, saw hope in Kejriwal and whom we have profiled in our book. Ably shot by my nephew Abner Manzar, Mayur is the young man in a blue check shirt.
“A second-year student of political science in P.G.D.A.V. College in the capital, he [Deepak Mayur] became the go-to person for redress in Chilla Village, which lies next to the East Delhi locality of Mayur Vihar and houses about five thousand households, living in unplanned concrete houses, in an area of less than one square kilometre,” we have written in The Disrupter. “His entire family—father, mother and three siblings—are AAP members, Mayur the most active among them. ‘He has always been different,’ says his mother Mukesh, who runs a beauty parlour. ‘He used to teach younger children free of cost. He took responsibility from his young days.’” Read more about him in The Disrupter.
When we asked Mayur him about what was going on in his constituency, he said BJP was gaining strength, while Congress was nowhere in sight. Does Aam Aadmi Party have a chance? “We are trying our best,” he said.
This was also a day when Kejriwal was nursing a swollen eye, the result of an auto-rickshaw driver’s slap. Irrespective of political affiliation, ideological proclivities or even the religious adoration of one man over another, violence can’t be a currency of elections. But in 2014, it seems to be gathering momentum, particularly against Kejriwal.
On his part, Kejriwal seems to be taking this in stride. We found him to be quiet but unfazed. “I have come to know that the BJP and Congress have been making use of many unemployed youth for attacking me,” he told reporters in a press conference, minutes before our meeting. “If they think the country’s problems can be solved by getting me beaten up, I am ready to come alone wherever they call me.”
Call him brave, label him reckless or stamp him an opportunist, but one thing is clear: he is ready to stand by his convictions, even at physical peril. While cases like these may create an opinion that the angst of the aam aadmi is brimming over and leaders are facing the lash of his frustration with a rotting system, the fact that the virus of violence settles down so easily, tells us a lot about who we are and where we are headed.
— Gautam Chikermane
Pre-order The Disrupter here


First copy of The Disrupter is here, in bookstores this week

How do you explain the joy of creation? How do you describe holding in your hand an idea that took long days and longer nights before it allowed itself to take form? How do you feel when five weeks of your most intense writing translates into a book?
I have no words.
What I do have is the first copy of The Disrupter.
By this weekend, I hope, the book would have reached your favourite bookstores and from there into your homes. Beyond that, I hope that you find the book interesting, provocative, disruptive. I hope it makes you think. Whether you agree or disagree with its thesis, I hope you engage with it.
And most of all, I hope you let me know your views.
Happy reading.
— Gautam Chikermane
Pre-order The Disrupter here:

Ye Kahani Hai: dedicating my song to Elections 2014

Dedicating my song, Ye Kahani Hai, to the most important election in free India. I wrote this as a protest song, which the hugely talented Contraband generously gave its music to. Halfway through the song, protest becomes hope, it takes our sense of disenfranchisement away and forces us to take the responsibility of our politics in our own hands. Protest remains the undercurrent; aspiration sits over it.
As polling begins for the 16th Lok Sabha, this song is a reminder that this is our story, our script, our country. Think carefully, study the candidates and the parties behind them, evaluate what they stand for, analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
Make your vote count.

Ignore the bad recording — it was captured on a phone, in a room with bad acoustics by my friend PKR (Twitter handle: @Prasanto) — and watch Ye Kahani Hai here
Pre-order The Disrupter here

Aam Aadmi Party’s contribution to Indian democracy is ‘dissent’

Ananya Vajpeyi has an interesting piece in Open magazine, where she analyses the strategy of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), using absolute as well as comparative lenses of analyses. Author of the brilliant book, Righteous Republic, Vajpeyi examines the phenomenon with a robust depth, laced with compassion. While comparing the usual strategies of Congress and the aggressive stance of BJP, she delves deeper into AAP.
“AAP’s strategy is in fact the most interesting, because it must proceed with practically no funds, all new party-members, campaign volunteers and election candidates, and a complete lack of infrastructure, cadres or other sorts of resources to put up a viable contest in any constituency anywhere in India,” she writes. “The three parties are like persons belonging to three distinct generations — the aged Congress, the middle-aged BJP and the youthful AAP.”
In, The Disrupter, we have explored this aspect of AAP under a chapter titled, Politics of Entrepreneurship: “…AAP has set the ball rolling for other political entrepreneurs — not necessarily aligned with either AAP or with its values — to benefit from the opportunities it is throwing up. It has shown that in order to pursue what many call the most fulfilling profession in a democracy, politics, you don’t need to either have an incumbent daddy or be a criminal. If your idea is strong enough, if it engages voters, if it seeks to solve real problems, your enterprise will get the support it needs. You can pursue the politics of values, the politics of change, the politics of disruption, riding solely on the courage of conviction.”
Vajpeyi writes that AAP’s is a more negativist stance, “pointing out that things have gone badly awry, and need fixing” than knowing how to set them right. “This,” she points out, “is a courageous stand to take, all the more so because no immediate political rewards seem in the offing, despite the recent stint in office in Delhi during Arvind Kejriwal’s short-lived Chief Ministership of December 2013-February 2014.”
All Indian citizens, she concludes, need to “recognise that the work sought to be done by this fledgling party is actually the work of dissent. And no matter how regular, free and fair our elections, democracy cannot flourish without dissent.” A point, all observers would agree with.
You can read this insightful piece here
Pre-order The Disrupter here

AAP manifesto: no ‘left-right’ on economics, weak on foreign policy

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) released its National Manifesto – 2014 yesterday. It pushed its anti-corruption agenda further with its Jan Lokpal Bill as the first promise. The second leg on which AAP stands is decentralisation of decision making and devolution of power, through the creation and empowerment of gram sabhas in rural areas and mohalla sabhas in urban centres — in its manifesto, it stands at the second place. But of the many issues before India, sceptics were concerned about how India’s youngest party would deal with two — economic policy and foreign policy.
In the space of economic policy, AAP has devoted six pages and stands on firm ground. It has addressed most concerns of the aam aadmi such as prices, jobs and growth. “It is neither Left nor Right and will support every good idea, old or new, if it is in the interest of India,” the manifesto states. Its 11-point agenda includes:
* Facilitating economic growth
* Creating jobs
* Simplifying rules and curbing the black economy
* Promoting honest business and unleashing entrepreneurial energy
* And controlling prices — curiously, this point comes at the end
As far as foreign policy goes, AAP’s stance is short. It is limited in its vision, the expanse would need further mindspace. I’m curious why the party has taken such a conservative, almost defensive, stance on foreign policy. While the minute of foreign policy are layered, the big picture shouldn’t be to difficult to construct. This is what AAP broadly talks about:
* Zero tolerance policy towards cross-border terrorism
* Develop border areas as zones of high economic engagement to create a larger constituency for peace on both sides and tackle illegal immigration
* Strengthen engagement with the US, BRICS and IBSA; promote legitimacy of the UN and democratisation of IMF
In our book, The Disrupter, we had suspected that AAP would be on the backfoot as far as this important aspect of governance is concerned and questioned their spokesperson Atishi Marlena. This is what she told us. ‘People ask, “How can you be a national party if you do not have a view on foreign policy?” We are not embarrassed by the fact that we don’t have the answers. But we are going to find the answers. One or two leaders can sit together and form a policy on anything. But the idea is that it should be well-informed and that it should be thought through.’
Makes some sense — better to come out upfront about one’s limitations rather than promise the moon standing on shaky territory. But in a manifesto, it leaves a big hole.
Some links:
* Download the manifesto here
* Kejriwal releases AAP manifesto, says party is not against business, industries
* AAP unveils economic, foreign policy in manifesto
* Minimal Government intervention will help industry grow: AAP
* AAP manifesto promises Jan Lokpal, police reforms
* Pre-order The Disrupter here
Happy reading.

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