Creative Mashups

Have you ever heard of the word mashup? It’s a term that is often utilized by professionals in the web page design and music industries, one that refers to a site or song that incorporates (or “borrows”) disparate elements from existing works or styles. The composer mashes the elements together, producing a new creation that is startlingly new and yet clearly familiar.

Last weekend, for instance, the New Haven Symphony closed its holiday concert with a song called Jingle Bells Forever. Blending Stars and Stripes Forever, the traditional closing song of Memorial Day concerts, with Jingle Bells, which occupies a similar position at Christmas season events, it represents an oddly fascinating mashup of diverse musical pieces.

In a broader sense, we’ve also been witnessing mashups in many other sectors of our society, haven’t we? In politics, for instance, we see Donald Trump, with his blended persona of politician, real estate tycoon, and reality television personality. And in business, we observe Airbnb and Uber, firms that represent mashups of the emerging social media industry with the traditional hotel and taxi industries.

And who can forget the Apple iPhone? The mother of all mashups now dominates the mobile device industry with its aggregation of book reader, camera, computer, GPS device, music player, and (of course) telephone. Entire industries have fallen under the competitive onslaught of its myriad of diverse features.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that mashups simply present newly combined and integrated packages of existing products and services. In other words, there is usually nothing new under the sun about their individual functions.

In fact, even the phrase “nothing is new under the sun” is not new at all. It’s a sentence that originally appeared in Ecclesiastes 1:9 of the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian bible. Likewise, the elements of contemporary mashups are derived from elements that have long existed in our society.

So if you’re curious about what new and unexpected wonders will emerge during the upcoming year, you might find that the most creative surprises won’t really be new at all. Instead, they might be creative mashups of concepts and ideas that have been around forever.

The NFL: Forgetting Its Business Model

When did it happen? When did the National Football League, the most successful professional sports organization in the United States, suddenly lose its ability to manage its own affairs after thriving for almost a century?

Many believe that this past month (or even this past week) has been the worst time in the history of the League.  And for good reason: public protests have recently exploded over a startling series of violently criminal acts, debilitating player injuries, and highly questionable corporate behavior.

But the origins of such recent outcomes might be traced back to 2013. Last year, after all, was the time that the NFL first appeared to decisively step away from its traditionally successful sports business model.

Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to describe its decision as “intentionally forgetting” its classic model. After all, at its essence, the traditional game of football generates far more violent physical contact than any other major sport in the United States.

That’s why, for much of its existence, the game was only played on Sunday afternoons. And that’s why each game initially featured (and still features) a half time break midway through its sixty minute period.

League officials always knew that the human body can only sustain “just so much” violent activity before it requires resting and healing time. Weekday, Saturday, and halftime (on game day) rest periods were thus mandated for recuperation purposes.

But last year, the NFL announced an unprecedented agreement for a television network to broadcast Thursday (i.e. midweek) games throughout the season. And earlier this year, the League boldly asked performers at its Super Bowl half time show to begin paying fees in exchange for media exposure.

So what should we make of a full slate of midweek games, staged for the benefit of television networks? And an even more drastically elongated half-time show for the purpose of showcasing musical acts?

Such activities are inconsistent with a traditional business model that is dedicated to placing the fittest (and the most appealing) players on the field to compete for athletic victories. Nevertheless, they are perfectly consistent with a model that is dedicated to optimizing television ratings, music sales, and other media revenue streams.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the NFL’s recent travails betray a surprising forgetfulness of its traditional game-dominant business model. Instead, the League has recently chosen a media-dominant business model, a strategy that is now impacting its fortunes accordingly.

Vinyl Records: The New Growth Story!

Times are tough in the music business nowadays! Sales of CDs, and of almost all other forms of recorded music, are dropping precipitously. And the live concert business is wilting as well, with entertainers from U2 to Christina Aguilera forced to cancel performances because of low customer demand.

Earlier this month, however, when Billboard reported its annual SoundScan sales totals, one form of recorded music actually reported a significant increase in sales volume between 2009 and 2010. And the size of that increase would have been impressive in any era: 14% on a year-to-year basis!

Even more surprising was the nature of the format that experienced this increase in sales volume. Yes, it was the venerable disk shaped record, a technology that was first introduced in the 1880s and that overtook the phonograph cylinder during the 1920s. Can it now become the growth story of the 21st century?

Spanning The Eras

Before we get too carried away with excitement over the possible resurrection of the vinyl record, it may be worth noting that only 2.8 million long-form vinyl albums were sold in 2010. That’s obviously a miniscule number in comparison to the 440 million long-form recordings that were sold in electronic or other non-vinyl formats; nevertheless, it surprised many analysts who had already assigned the vinyl record to the dustbin of history.

Just as surprising was the broad mix of musical eras that were popular among vinyl purchasers. The top-selling vinyl album was the Beatles’ classic Abbey Road; it was first produced in 1969 in the heart of the vinyl era. The #2 album, though, was issued by Arcade Fire, a band that began performing in 2001. And the #3 album was issued by Radiohead, a band that first emerged in 1985. In other words, the top three vinyl record bands of 2010 actually span the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s!

Although it is true that the 2.8 million vinyl albums that were sold in 2010 represent well under 1% of all long-form recordings issued that year, it is nevertheless evident that the vinyl medium is somehow remaining attractive to a wide variety of age groups. What could be the cause of that attraction? And what might that tell us about the future of paper books and film photography, the other survivors of the media communication industry of the 20th century?

Seeing, Hearing, Feeling … and Even Smelling!

Electronic forms of music are, of course, superior to their predecessors in many respects. They offer much clearer sounds than the imperfect recordings of vinyl and magnetic tape. Their devices are smaller and far more mobile than turntable technologies. And they can easily be copied from one unit to another, a feature that has certainly contributed to their popularity, although they have bred concerns of piracy among record producers.

Fans of vinyl recordings, however, have long treasured the sensory experiences that are embedded in turntable technologies, experiences that are forever lost when one shifts to electronic media. The visual pleasure of gazing at album cover art, the sound of the unique imperfections that personalize each vinyl album, the feel of the dust rag as it sweeps across the face of the record – and even the smell of a long-forgotten album sleeve pulled out of a musty cover – are, in the minds of some dedicated fans, well worth the inconveniences of the medium.

Some may scoff at such individuals, but they do have a valid point; namely, that the sensory experiences of vinyl albums are indeed qualitatively different than those of electronic recordings. It should come as no surprise, then, that certain individuals would derive more pleasure from older vinyl media than from newer electronic ones.

Paper and Film

So what may the resurgence of vinyl records teach us to expect from the other main forms of 20th century communication media? Such as paper books, for instance? And film photography?

Bibliophiles may take heart from the surge in vinyl record sales; after all, an old book does convey a visual, a tactile, and even an aromatic experience that is far more distinctively sensual than an e-book that is loaded on an Amazon Kindle or an Apple iPad. Although e-books might indeed grow to dominate the book industry some day, there will always likely be readers who will prefer to crack open the spine of a hard cover classic than to download the corresponding pixels from a web site.

Film photography, though, is a different matter. The sensory experience of clicking the shutters on a film camera is no different than pressing the button on a digital camera. Furthermore, the visual pleasure that one experiences when viewing a digitally generated image is the same as what is felt when viewing a filmed image. Because there aren’t any noticeable differences in the sensory experiences of producing and accessing digital and film images, consumers have no reason to maintain their allegiances to the older technology.