I was driving home from the office on Friday night, the start of Memorial Day weekend, when over the radio came this audio.  What you will hear are excerpts from President Reagan’s Inaugural Speech, given on January 20th, 1981.  I was struck by how true and powerful his words are. At times, I believe that it is necessary to remind ourselves of the true power of the American spirit, and to this day I believe no one has done it better or more accurately than Reagan did on that day. So now, let us go back to 1981, outside the United States Capitol building with the Presidential monuments and Arlington National Cemetery in the distance…

“As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever.”

“If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.”

-President Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981

I’m sure we can all agree that the passenger railroad tragedy that occurred on Sunday December 1st in New York should never have happened. It killed four, injuring dozens of others; reports now point directly to human error as the cause.  The manner of vehicle is inconsequential in this equation; any vehicle attempting a curve with an engineered speed limit of 30 mph can expect that same curve to be life-threatening at 80 mph.

You might expect, as I did, that a modern passenger train in 2013 would have safety measures in place in order to automatically apply necessary braking when approaching a dangerous curve.  After all, trains run on tracks, right? The complicating factors in any train route are exponentially more predictable than practically any other form of transportation. Why wasn’t there a safety redundancy?

Well, it turns out that some of the MTA’s trains utilize a safety mechanism that has been in existence for almost 100 years. It’s been aptly named Automatic Train Control. In fact, the LIRR (also part of the MTA) implemented a version of ATC in the 1950’s, and has used it ever since on many of their lines.  But apparently NOT on the train that derailed Sunday.

I’m fond of train travel, but it is well-known that passenger rail service in the United States has not turned a profit in well over 40 years. Why? The government nationalized passenger rail service in 1971 in an effort to “save” the industry from collapse.  At the time private rail companies were desperately looking to free themselves from the growing financial burden (and regulation) of passenger service in order to focus on more profitable freight service.

Since nationalization, passenger rail in the United States has received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayers’ subsidies from the government without once showing profit. The classic argument of passenger rail being a necessity is hard to fathom. If rail service is so critical, why has it not managed to complete a single year in the black in a generation’s time? Amtrak subsidies alone have amounted to more than $1.4 billion per year in the past few years, and it is estimated that subsidies to the MTA are in the same range, if not more.  Since economic viability is obviously not the goal, why isn’t safety? Whis is existing technology not universally implemented which could have prevented this most recent derailment among others?

It is healthy to question the wisdom of mandates that force taxpayers to fund entities who have no way of succeeding in the free market.  At the same time, however, it is important to take note of situations in which the regulated entity is closely tied to the regulator.  In the case of passenger rail, it can be argued that they are essentially the same entity. The conflict of interest between a government that both regulates and operates a service leaves us all less safe, since oversight is essentially internal.  For those who might disagree and be far more trusting than I of the competence of our state and federal governments in ensuring passenger safety, take note of this: Congress passed a rail-safety law that mandated the installation of a new “Positive Train Control” in all passenger and freight trains by 2015.  The PTC systems are quite costly; estimated to cost between $6 and $22 billion for nationwide implementation – and there are significant doubts as to their ability to meet the 2015 deadline, with railroads attempting to push the installation deadlines back as many as 7 years.

In the wake of this latest deadly passenger rail tragedy, I have serious questions for lawmakers who vehemently push for future safety measures while disregarding the necessity of current action using existing technology that has been readily available for nearly 100 years.  If this latest tragedy is indeed a result of human error, as it appears to be, some blame must rest with that person responsible for the safe operation of the train.  Yet, this deadly tragedy has shone a light on a much deeper and dangerous issue. This is a failure of government to successfully regulate an industry under its own monopolistic control. The result: every time we board a train we place our lives in the hands of a frightening conflict of interest.

Ed Nash is the President of Altius Management in Nashville, TN.

The Long Road Back; Has The Music Industry Been Asking The Wrong Question?
By: Ed Nash

Recently the music industry reported its first revenue increase in music sales since 1999. Though this news is certainly welcome, it is also long overdue. In the late 1990’s it became apparent that physical music media (CD, Cassette, Vinyl, DAT) would lose badly in their effort to rule the music market as a primary distribution method. This realization led to massive innovation within the tech sector, which (of course) was promptly hamstrung by recording industry navel-gazing. Nevertheless, a new model began to emerge, and finally fourteen years later we’ve seen an uptick in revenue. Had the recording industry embraced the new paradigm with the same vigor the tech sector brought to music distribution, we might have seen this growth much sooner. But while the majority of the entertainment industry has seen increased revenues, the music industry has been lost in search of an answer to the wrong question, “How do we sell more music?”

The Long Road Back

While the entertainment industry has been seeing increased revenues, the music industry has been lost in search of an answer to the wrong question.

Granted, this latest news is a glimmer of hope; it is evidence that the music industry is finally beginning to embrace the realities of the changed market. While the record labels ask us to believe that the digital revolution was the downfall of the music business, the actual numbers tell a different story. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global music industry has actually seen substantial growth over the past several years. Michael Masnick, founder of Techdirt, released a fascinating report in 2012 pointing to evidence that the overall entertainment industry grew by 50% in the past decade. Additional data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and iDATE shows that “…from 1998 to 2010 the value of the worldwide entertainment industry grew from $449 billion… to $745 billion.” Quite a contrast to a decade of dismal reports regarding music sales – apparently the digital revolution didn’t kill the music industry; it killed the status quo business model. The latest sales figures are indicative of a turnaround, albeit a long one. A robust future for the entertainment business is hindered only by continued resistance to inevitable change.

But how did we get here, and why has it taken so long to begin to improve?

Before 1982 and the dawn of digital music, record labels operated with a decades-old distribution model. They were not simply selling music; they were selling music contained within analog media. The nature of analog media meant that copyright violators could only distribute audibly inferior analog copies, which, if re-copied, resulted in further fidelity loss. It wasn’t possible for music to go “viral;” it was bound by the limitations of the physical media.

Upon the introduction of the Compact Disc in 1982, digital music began its inevitable rise to dominance. As a digital medium, when one CD is copied to another, the result is a digital clone of the original. It became theoretically possible for every person on earth to own a perfect copy of a recording of which only one copy had ever been paid for. Fast-forward to 1999 when mpeg compression made music easily sharable via the web as MP3s. By 1999 the doomsday prophecies of 1982 looked like understatement when digital technology rendered physical media not only obsolete but impractical. By 1999 it wasn’t just cheaper to steal music; it was easier.

Before illegal downloading became rampant, the music industry’s distribution model was based on the economic principle of scarcity – possessing only a finite amount of physical product. A few major labels signed a few artists who offered occasional records, leveraged airplay from radio, and sold products to those who could afford the luxury from brick-and-mortar retailers. The pre-digital-download music industry had a much simpler model: only we have it; the public wants it.

But by 1999, the availability of illegal mp3s began to disrupt the concept of music as a scarce commodity. For a large percentage of tech savvy music lovers, the music industry had entered a period of abundance – post-scarcity. Easily obtained, free product decimated music sales. And while change was imminent, its direction was not obvious. The major labels watched sales dwindle, hoping the cat might just wander back into the bag on it’s own – essentially doing nothing to adjust the value proposition in response to the marketplace.

The music industry was completely caught off guard. As I wrote in a WSJ piece just after his death, Steve Jobs was the first to successfully adjust the value proposition by introducing unheard-of convenience to legal music sales through the iPod device and the iTunes Music Store. But it has been ten years since Jobs brought us the iTunes Music Store, and the record labels have only now begun to visibly claim the digital marketplace as their own.

A marketplace needs a product; with the iPod, Steve Jobs introduced new physical product (the devices themselves) that gave otherwise-restricted access to a new virtual marketplace which made the legal consumption of digital music easier and more satisfying than stealing it. Jobs was ahead of his time in understanding that the public bought his products for the compelling interaction made possible through enhanced access to digital media. It has taken a while, but the industry is shifting to see things more clearly from this perspective. Edgar Berger, President & CEO, International at Sony Music Entertainment recently remarked on the shift: “At the beginning of the digital revolution it was common to say that digital was killing music,” Berger stated. “Well the reality is, digital is saving music. I absolutely believe that this marks the start of a global growth story.”

Is music itself still valuable? Absolutely. Pollstar reported that revenue from concert tickets in the US increased by over 300% between 1999 and 2009. But will the profitability of recorded music continue to increase? In a word, yes. However, it is contingent upon the industry continuing to provide an enhanced value proposition for recorded music product – just as the entertainment industry has provided for nearly every other commodity within it.

People love music – that’s not going to change, but if the music industry is to regain momentum, first we must embrace technology and the opportunities that it brings. We must stop focusing on the small portion of the population who will never be willing to pay for music, and instead focus on adding value for those who will. In many ways, the music itself is already viewed as a benefit of the delivery mechanism, not necessarily a product in it’s own right. — love it or hate it, there’s no use fighting it. Use it. If you need proof of concept, look no further than your mobile app store where forward-thinking artists and labels offer enhanced music experience through free mobile software. Adding clear value attracts market share growth. It’s no longer just about selling music; it is about serving your fanbase.

We will never return to a scarcity model when it comes to music access, but innovation in the distribution and consumption of digital media gives us the opportunity to create scarcity of enhanced experience. When “always leave ‘em wanting more” isn’t an option, give them more satisfying access and then ask them how they ever lived without it. Now, that’s the right question.

Ed Nash is President of Altius Management based in Nashville, TN.

Titanic II
"That's a great name for a ship!" SAID NO ONE SINCE 1912

“That’s a great name for a ship!” SAID NO ONE SINCE 1912


The Mystery Behind The Oscars

February 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

By Ed Nash

The Academy Awards have come a long way since the first ceremony was held in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel. Tickets then were $5. Adjusted for inflation, that would be approximately $63.00 today– a far cry from the near-priceless tickets for the internationally influential event the awards have become. The ceremony was first broadcast on radio in 1930, television in 1953, and is now seen on TV by viewers in more than 200 countries. 

But who the heck is Oscar? The organization that puts on the award ceremony is called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And the ceremony is formally referred to as The Academy Awards. So where did the name Oscar come from? The trophy that is given to award recipients was officially named Oscar in 1939 by the Academy, but the name was used as early as 1934  in the press, and Walt Disney used the term the same year in his acceptance speech. So who is Oscar, and who deserves credit for dubbing the name? The origins of the name have been contested, and there is much rumor and speculation. Before I reveal my choice, these are the four most popular possibilities: Continue Reading…

Altius Pushes The Envelope In Entertainment Representation (via PR Newswire)

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 16, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Ed Nash, Founder and President of Nashville based Altius Management, is gaining momentum and buzz for his ingenuity and unique approach to connecting talent with projects, as well as managing creative entities within the creative process. “We certainly…

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5/30/2012 The Daily Wrap with Michael Castner (WSJ Radio Network)

Click for link to PRLog press release: Can A Guitar Change The World?

Small, moderate successes sometimes combine to experience huge results.  While Hollywood reporters and studio executives are feigning shock and amazement at the record-shattering numbers produced by this weekend’s The Avengers worldwide opening, there are undoubtedly a select few visionaries in the background who are celebrating the success of a plan that has been in the works for several years. It has just now, however, culminated in near-perfect form.

It is said that patience is a virtue… In this case, the combination of patience, years of creative planning and strategic integrated marketing has set up the unprecedented success that The Avengers is experiencing.   After all, it is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Thor.  Each of these previous movies did moderately well at the box office, and each proved to be a link in the framework that would make up the biggest tentpole film of all-time.

The Avengers has shattered records by opening to over $200 million through Sunday at the domestic box office.  Granted, the marketing budget, estimated at $100 million was in-line with a movie of this caliber– but it is the makeup of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the very strategically detailed and often understated use of shared elements including cast, characters, plotlines, and settings that built the marketing awareness and execution to a much bigger value than the $100 million alone.  As early as 2008, The Avengers was referenced in a scene following the end credits of Iron Man, and Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury, set the scene for future interactions with The Avengers and the group known as S.H.I.E.L.D. with a pointed, but vague mention, obviously designed to build intrigue.

In the entertainment business, it is helpful to remember that usually, a success such as this weekend’s Avengers opening is not necessarily, as The Hollywood Reporter called it, a “shocker.”  Looking back on the careful strategic planning, it is clear that massive success was always a possibility.  What can be credited as a triumph, however, is the fact that in this rare case, the stars over Hollywood obviously aligned, and nearly every piece of the massive development, production, and marketing machine combined in near-perfect harmony to execute a creative business plan that has spent years in the making.  Kudos to those who made it happen – I commend your creativity, your execution, and perhaps most of all, your patience. ***

Ed Nash is the President of Altius Management in Nashville, TN and works with music, comedy, film, and television clients and properties.

The Avengers Cast

The cast of the record-breaking film The Avengers

An old Chinese proverb says “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.”  It is brilliantly simple, and perfectly exemplifies the benefit of education over an offer of simple charity.  But as much as I am fond of seafood, I don’t want to write about fish… I want to write about music and how some of the sweetest sounds I’ve heard in the past week are the result of an idea that is deeper and more meaningful than any I’ve heard in years.

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