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Nextbop's State of the Union address

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Written by Seb

I’ve decided to start blogging on Nextbop in order to add a more personal touch to the website and, let’s face it, to ensure more regular updates! I feel it’s important for me to explain where we’re coming from and what our objectives are. I’m not the most articulate person and English isn’t my first language, but I do feel that my thoughts and opinions are worth hearing (or reading?), so do bear with me. If you’re fluent in French, you can also check out Justin’s (Nextbop’s other co-creator, not Timberlake) [personal blog], where he publishes essays mostly on the subject of jazz.

Nextbop has been a roller-coaster experience for us. Justin and I are simply two 23 year olds who somehow got the crazy idea that we could create a new audience for jazz music. We get a tremendous amount of joy and pleasure from discovering and listening to new jazz artists and that’s what we wanted to share with the rest of the world. So without really knowing what we were doing, we borrowed $5,000 from Justin’s mom (my mom wouldn’t lend us any money) and we set on to create a website. It took two years and a great deal of effort (just try to imagine how long it took to upload all the pictures on the website, to copy & paste all the bios, to insert the names of all the albums tracks one at a time, etc.) but we finally launched Nextbop on July 1st. I think we should add that Justin and I have absolutely no experience with graphic design and website building, so we had to hire a design agency and a programmer, which means that our initial $5,000 has now vanished into thin air. Not that it’s important, but I just wanted to stress how very little resources we had for this website.

I’m going to be brutally honest in saying that the results have been extremely disappointing. First of all, we’ve received very little recognition from the artists we are trying to promote. Most never answered our e-mails, we received very few words of encouragement and one even went as far as to tell us that we had no right to take the bio and the pictures from his website. I don’t think they realize that we took two years of our time to create a website with the sole purpose of promoting them and their music. On top of that, we’re full-time University students (one in Finance and one in Asian studies, if you’re curious) who not only have no money, but who had to borrow some to make this project possible.

We’ve also had a ton of problems with record labels. Being the good law-abiding citizen that I am, I felt it was important for us to obtain the permission from records labels to stream their music on our website. Most of them haven’t answered our e-mails or returned our phone calls, but I was completely stunned when some of them started refusing. We aren’t even allowed to stream songs which are featured on the artists’ MySpace pages! How are we supposed to promote jazz artists and to create a new audience for jazz if people cannot listen to the music?

We’re trying to help the record labels and the artists and not only are we not being paid for this, but it also uses up most of our free time. Maybe I’m a bit too naïve, but all we’re asking for is a little help and a little gratitude. I mean, who else out there is trying to initiate young people to jazz music? What do they have to lose? There has been a lot of talk about “Can Jazz Be Saved?” recently, following the Terry Teachout [article] in the WSJ. I’m a little late to respond, but I’m starting to believe that jazz doesn’t want to be saved. Jazz is barely surviving and it is content with the way things are. Jazz is a music made by jazzmen for jazzmen and this is why the audience is dwindling.

The problem is that some of the jazz being made today does have mass appeal and I firmly believe that if people get an opportunity to discover The Bad Plus, EST or Brad Mehldau, just to name a few, they will integrate jazz to their current musical repertoire. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I opened up to jazz with “These are the Vistas” by The Bad Plus. All you have to do is take a room full of young people and put on “Smells like Teen Spirit” and the reaction you get is: “WOW, what is this? That’s not jazz… it’s fucking good!”

Jazz needs to change its image. People don’t realize that the music has evolved since Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Jazz is thought to be either old and corny or complicated and intellectual. That’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve with Nextbop. We want to show that all these preconceptions are wrong. We want to show people that anyone can find something they like in today’s jazz music as long as they are a little open-minded.

Jazz also needs to be heard. Patrick Jarenwattananon alluded to this in his “Why Music Magazines Are Dying” [article]. Just take Jay-Z for example (yes, I love Jay-Z). The “Blueprint III”, his new album, hasn’t been released yet but 3 singles and 2 video clips are already creating a huge amount of buzz on the internet. This is something that jazz does not understand. No one will make the effort to buy a jazz album or MP3 if they cannot listen to it first! And only featuring 30 second samples is absolutely ridiculous, especially in jazz where songs are often 10 minutes long or more! This is why it drives me crazy when labels do not allow us to stream any music. How are we supposed to compete with Jay-Z and the likes when jazz labels make it so difficult to hear the music in the first place? People have the choice between listening to mainstream music for free or paying for jazz. I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point.

So where do we go from here? I know that our website isn’t perfect and that there are a lot of things to improve. I also know that part of it is buggy, especially in Internet Explorer, and we plan on fixing these issues as soon as we can. What I find sad is that there are already a number of great songs on the site, but no one is listening to them. I think the labels and the musicians who accepted that their work be featured should be rewarded, so take the time to discover new music and tell the people around you when you find something you like. If more people come to the website it will give us greater leverage to convince record labels to allow us to stream music. Also, we’d really love to have more feedback from you (the only comments we’re getting are spam). And if you have any suggestions to improve the website, do let us know (info [at] nextbop [dot] com).

I haven’t given up. I will continue to fight with artists and with labels even though it’s been extremely frustrating and time-consuming. I personally believe that jazz can be saved and I truly intend on doing everything I can in this difficult battle. This blog post will stay up on our front page for one week. Afterwards, on September 7th, we’ll be uploading around 15 songs from all of Medeski, Martin & Wood’s Indirecto recordings. We are extremely grateful to Indirecto for making this possible, so make sure to come back on the 7th and tell your friends about it!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have helped us along the way. Thanks to the artists and managers who we’ve been in touch with. Thanks to the labels who have allowed us to stream music. Thanks to the journalists who mentioned us in the press. Thanks to our graphic design agency and to our programmer. And thanks to our friends and families for supporting us. I would have liked to thank all of you one by one, but there are so many and I don’t want to forget anyone! From now on, I’ll make sure to thank the people involved as new developments arise. Now I finally know how it feels to win an Oscar…