Reining in the revolution

August 12, 2007


    As anyone with any curiosity about music well knows, a revolution is sweeping the industry and everything is up for grabs. Keeping abreast of the changes -- which seem to come by the dozens each day -- has been challenging, if not impossible. Now, a former Chicagoan has launched what could become the key Web site for charting the future of the music business as it unfolds.

    The Daily Swarm ( went live last May and quickly became a must-read for anyone interested in music and the business of selling it. In its first week, it made a big splash and attracted more than 100,000 readers by spreading a story from an advertising trade journal about the unauthorized use of images of Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone in a series of footwear ads. Since then, the number of dedicated visitors has been steadily growing from 3,500 a day.

    "I had been talking about this idea with a couple of friends for almost a year," says editor David Prince, who runs the site from his Brooklyn apartment. "We all saw that there was a ton of music-business information scattered around the Web, but there wasn't really one place that was bringing it all together. The idea was to bring it all together in a sort of Drudge Report or Huffington Post-style home page with headlines and links, where if you didn't have the time to check 50 sites per day, you could scan our front page, read the headlines and really have a pretty good idea of what was going on."

    Taking those popular political blogs as its models, the Daily Swarm includes headlines, synopses and links to the full text of two dozen of the day's most important music news stories, archiving the rest so readers can trace developments as they were covered with different perspectives ranging from daily newspapers to trade journals to blogs. One recent morning's offerings included stories about a major deal for EMI Records; the death of a popular New York disc jockey; a new AC/DC download offered by a wireless service provider; controversial anti-war comments made by Ozomatli during a tour of the Middle East; possible reunion tours by the Fugees and Led Zeppelin; anti-file-sharing messages appearing in Archies comic books, and an update on R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" saga.

    "It's been a really interesting lesson in learning how information moves throughout the world on the Internet," Prince says. "I can definitely tell who's digging deep and trying to root out the stories. I also see a lot of regurgitation out there. The Internet is an echo chamber, and what I'm most excited about is the opportunity to take what I hear and talk about with people and start inserting more original reporting into the slipstream, because there's definitely a lot of stuff that doesn't get reported at all."

    A 38-year-old graduate of DePaul, Prince was born and raised in Chicago and Evanston, and his diverse resume makes him the perfect man for his new job. He first made his mark on the local music scene in the mid-'90s, publishing the dance-music magazine Reactor and running several memorable raves headlined by the Aphex Twin and Daft Punk. (He's one of the few Americans who can legitimately brag that Daft Punk played in his house, to borrow the lyric by LCD Soundsystem.)

    Prince became a confidant of and literary collaborator with Timothy Leary, and he was at the California bedside of the legendary acid guru when he in died in 1996. After that, Prince spent three years working with Poi Dog Pondering and its manager, Carolynn "Chaka" Travis, before moving to New York and working for the next three years as a researcher and staff writer at Spin magazine. Finally, from 2004 to 2006, he ran the M3 Festival in Miami concurrent with that city's Winter Music Conference, the biggest annual gathering of the dance-music industry in the United States.

    "Doing M3, programming all the speakers and panels and booking bands and DJs, I learned a lot about where the music industry is headed: what stories are interesting and why there is so much action right now and how it is all changing so radically -- pretty much everything we're covering on the site," Prince says. "There are so many huge, ongoing stories: Ticketmaster vs. Live Nation; Live Nation vs. [rival concert promoter] AEG; Apple vs. Zune; Apple vs. the record industry; the relationship between music and advertising and the fate of the major labels: EMI, Warner Bros. and Sony. There are 20 major stories that are going to be ongoing for months and years. To me, that's the fun part about the site: If you really do check it out once a day, you will see these consistent threads, which you really need to be following every day if you're involved in music at all."

    Prince launched the Daily Swarm with $5,000 invested by friends, the help of a Web designer in New York and an ad salesman in Los Angeles. Otherwise, it's basically a one-man job -- for the moment. "I get up at 6 a.m. every day; get my coffee; flip through every page of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal between 6 and 7, then spend from 7 to 10 reading everything that's been posted online from England overnight followed by all the morning stuff that's come online in the U.S.," he says. "Then I load up the site and keep checking feeds to update it through the rest of the day.

    "The next two steps are to open it up for comments from people reading the stories -- that's going to be coming within the next couple of weeks -- and then to start posting a couple of other writers who will be regular contributors, bloggers or columnists to free me up to start doing more original reporting and analysis. We don't want to do reviews -- there's plenty of criticism out there, and I don't want to compete with Pitchfork [the Chicago indie-rock Web site,] because they do it so extensively -- but we also want to start talking a little bit more specifically about music."

    Speaking of music, given Prince's tapped-in position, it only seemed fitting to close with his thoughts on that timeless but timely question: Wither the music industry?

    "One of the big changes that's already occurring is that there will be no more record labels. An artist is no longer going to go to one company to do their merchandising and another to do their publishing and another to put out their records; it's really going to be a partnership between an artist and a business person to steer every aspect of their career. As for how bands will break through the clutter, it will be the same as it's always been: The one sure way is to go out and play live, building your fan base one by one, because everything else is a crap shoot. You can talk about getting your music in commercials or on TV shows, getting played by Internet radio or being noticed on MySpace, but that's all like playing the lottery. The only guaranteed way is to go out [and] let people have that personal, intimate connection with your music."

    In other words, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Viva la revolution!