Archive for the ‘future of music’ Category

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If music recommenders were people

November 30, 2009

University of Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, they’re related) and his research team have created instruments to measure two aspects of personality: the systemization quotient, which measures how oriented you are towards systems (anything with predictable inputs and outputs) and the empathic quotient, which measures how oriented you are towards people. People who are autistic tend to have very low EQs, but frequently have very high SQs. (You can measure your own SQ and EQ here.)

Pandora is clearly all about the systemization, with no empathic component – it’s practically autistic. Your friend saying “Best fuckin’ album I’ve heard in months” and sending you a link is all EQ, no SQ (and for most of us, that’s the killer app).

Baron-Cohen describes people who have similar EQs and SQs – that is, they are equally oriented towards people and systems – as being ‘balanced.’ Last.fm‘s social sharing and Hype Machine‘s ‘another user tried searching for [this band] next’ have moderate EQs and SQs. And The Echo Nest‘s Recommend + Analyze combo explicitly aims to have both a high SQ and high EQ – what people are saying about the music, coupled with its intrinsic characteristics.

Of course, just as with people, it’s all about the diversity of approaches.

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Music Hack Day Boston: the art of noise

November 25, 2009

I promised myself that I would actually make something at Music Hack Day Boston, not just hang out while other people made stuff. So I signed up for circuit bender Jimmie Rodgers‘s newbie workshop on making an Atari Punk Console, a simple synthesizer that Jimmie designed and has made available as a kit. It uses a two-up timing chip to drive a speaker which, when tweaked with a pair of potentiometers, makes some very fun electronic squeals. The whole circuit fits into an Altoids tin.

So, while all the real hackers got going on their projects, I settled myself down with a kit and a soldering iron, surrounded by a tableful of kindred spirits. Three of the fastest hours of my life later, I found myself delightedly pushing buttons and turning knobs to  make weird noises come out of my circuit. It was fantastic to reconnect with the pleasure of actually building something and having it work (that’s my handmade synth in the picture above).

I also discovered a new measure of awesomeness in teaching, one that’s so much better than the standard end-of-course evaluations: a whole bunch of Jimmie’s students (myself included) bought him drinks that night at the Echo Nestival.

You can look through a photo gallery, listen to Jimmie talk about circuit bending, and hear some of the great sounds in this piece for NHPR.

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Music Hack Day Boston: roundup

November 23, 2009

Right. So. The lights went out on my laptop this weekend. Literally, as it happened: the backlight on my screen died, and my plans to liveblog the Boston Music Hack Day died with it. So here’s a roundup instead.

Laptop or no, it was a great weekend, with three excellent panels and lots of hacking, including 30+ demos shown off on Sunday afternoon, and an amazing number of interesting conversations. Anthony Volodkin, a founder of Hype Machine, wrote a clear (and laudatory) summary here. You can also check out the PublicSpaces Lab post here, and there’s an annotated list of all the projects at Indie Music TechJen Nathan did a fun piece on NHPR’s Word of Mouth on the circuit bending contingent (more on that in the next post). If you prefer your reportage a little more à la minute, check out the Twitter hashtag #musichackday for observations and soundbites.

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Music Hack Day Boston, Nov 21

November 21, 2009

10 am: Saturday, November 21st:

I am a nerd imposter. Paul Lamere just announced that the primary activity for this weekend is hacking, and that everything else is optional. As someone who spends way more time doing experimentation and analysis than coding and soldering, I’m suddenly realizing that I’m the wrong kind of nerd.

I’m at Microsoft NERD’s sunny offices on the Charles River in Cambridge, in a room full of the right kind of nerd: people who are excited about spending the weekend creating at the intersection of music and technology. It’s still pretty early on Saturday morning, and the auditorium space is only about half-full (I guess the hackers are conserving their energy for some overnight hacking in the Echo Nest offices). Right now we’re listening to elevator pitches from companies like SoundCloud, SongKick, Collecta, Tapulous and more, all of whom are sharing their toys.

In a pleasant break from tradition, we ended the opening session twenty minutes early – let the hacking begin!

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What does ‘selling out’ mean, anyway?

November 17, 2009

Three recent perspectives on artists licensing their songs to big companies.

The end of selling out. A predictably trite blog post in Newsweek about the ‘sudden shift’ to fans not really caring if songs get used in commercials.

What does it say about our culture? Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney, wrote a post for NPR which offers an considerably more nuanced route to the same question that Newsweek asks: what does it say about us that we are no longer bothered about music being used in commercial contexts? Brownstein argues that our infinite access to music has led to a well-developed ability to divorce music from its commercial content. But she (rightly, I think) questions this tendency to decontextualize music.

What does it mean to sell out? Amanda Palmer, as usual, got to the crucial point, even though she wasn’t specifically discussing ads:

selling out is when you go against your own heart, ideals and authenticity to make money.

selling out is an action, a 180 from a stated position.

…but if neil young were to suddenly hire the matrix to write him a thumpin’ dance album and then appear on saturday night live snogging bob dylan, i’d have reservations about his integrity.

Like everything else, there’s no single right answer. When I hear “Lust for Life” soundtracking a cruise line commercial or “Heroes” behind a Microsoft Windows ad, it doesn’t diminish my respect for Iggy Pop or David Bowie, but it sure as hell diminishes my respect for those companies, or at least their ad agencies (and I’m not alone). Boston favourites The Motion Sick getting their videogame-themed love song “30 Lives” in Dance Dance Revolution is a win all around. And I must admit to more than a tinge of sadness when I listened to Modest Mouse‘s The Moon and Antarctica for the first time in ages and found my mind wandering to minivans.

EDIT: Make sure you check out the comments for Michael and meredith’s great remarks from the musicians’ perspective.

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The name-your-own-price model: some data

October 26, 2009

WoG distributionIndie musicians are thinking and talking about the name-your-own-price model for digital music (what Radiohead did with their last album). There’s a dearth of data though—Radiohead, for example, never released their numbers. But last week, San Francisco-based indie game developers 2D Boy ran a NYOP birthday sale for their game World of Goo, and they plotted and shared the distribution of how much people paid for it. As well, they surveyed purchasers about why they paid what they did. (You can read their full analysis here.) One thing that really stood out for me—and that has clear parallels to musicians—was the collateral rise in full-price purchases of 2DBoy’s other titles.

The other thing that struck me was that they plotted a distribution of how many people bought the game at different price points. But that plot didn’t take into account how much money they made at each price point – one person who pays a dollar is ‘worth’ as much as 100 people who pay a penny. So I took their data and replotted it, first multiplying the number of people who paid in each price range by how much they paid (this is analogous to something I do in my day job). It’s only an approximation, since I took the amount paid as the mean of each bin but it’s probably a little lower, since a lot more people would have paid the round number than any other amount (for example, for the $2.00-$2.99 bin, I approximated the amount paid as $2.50, but I imagine a lot more people paid $2 than any other number, so that would skew the mean lower). You can see from the graph (click for a cleaner PDF) that people who paid around $5 contributed the most revenue, followed by people who paid $1 and people who paid $10.

What does this mean for musicians? Well, it seems really discouraging that most people paid the minimum amount. But you can think of this group of people as just taking a chance on you, and helping to get the word out. Because when you put it in dollar terms, the many fewer people who paid $1, $5, 0r $10 had a disproportionate impact.

Note, of course, that the NYOP model is a whole different world when you’re dealing with physical CDs, since they don’t have a negligible incremental cost.

(thanks to @zeroday for the pointer!)

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What will music fans pay for?

October 9, 2009

portrait-debcha

This piece was crossposted to Music Think Tank.

Earlier this week, I talked about how NPR and webcomics have a business model that’s predicated on the primary work (the radio broadcast and the webcomics themselves, respectively) being available for free; once the overhead is covered, the incremental cost of additional readers or listeners is approximately zero. I pointed out that music has historically been very different: the business model for music is based on people paying for the music itself. But now that music can be transmitted digitally it also has, not coincidentally, an incremental cost of zero. And unlike NPR, you don’t need a radio transmitter to share it with your friends.

I know that there is ideology on both sides: people who feel that all music should be free, and people who feel that downloading any music you didn’t pay for is theft. But how you feel about the issue doesn’t change the facts: listeners have the option of not paying for music. And, as Cory Doctorow has pointed out, it’s never going to get harder to move bits around than it is right now. So it might be time to think about a business model that reflects this.

I’m not a musician. I’m a fan. And from my perspective, it’s clear that fans do want to support artists that they like. Taking a page from NPR’s book, here’s a list of things that fans will pay for, even if they can get your music for free:

The music. First and foremost, many people will (and do) pay for digital music, even if they don’t have to. This might be because it’s easier to use iTunes than BitTorrent. Or it might be because they want to support the artist. Or both.

CDs and merch. Atoms, not bits. Do you pledge money to NPR to support the programming, or for the This American Life DVD? I’ve bought merchandise even when there was no rational reason for me to, simply because it was a way to support an artist I love. I buy CDs at concerts, because I know the money goes directly to the artists (and because I can listen to them in my car).

Relationships. Anything signed or limited-edition is not just about the article itself—it’s about expressing a relationship with the artist. And relationships aren’t fungible. Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer are two excellent artists who have close relationships with their fans, who in turn support them.

An experience. The canonical example of this is, of course, the concert – whether it’s $5 to see your favorite local band or hundreds of dollars for an arena show. But this also includes things like doing ‘shrooms in a Lamborghini with your favorite drummer.

Something unique. The illustration at the top of this post is a commissioned portrait (“Portrait of the Blogger, with Johnny Toaster,” by rstevens). Definitely worth paying for.

A narrative. What’s a story worth? Apparently, quite a bit. The Significant Objects art project posts thrift-store finds for auction on eBay, along with the back stories. But the back stories are fictional, and are described as such. Nevertheless,  the items go for substantially more than their market value.

What are you willing to pay for? What have you offered to your fans? Other thoughts?

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Read: Fans, Friends and Followers

July 2, 2009

FFF cover

Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age is a new e-book by Cambridge-based Scott Kirsner. He’s been writing, speaking, and connecting people involved in the uptake and spread of innovations for many years, including a column in the Boston Globe (together with its  companion blog), and he also writes regularly on music and technology for Variety.

Fans, Friends and Followers focuses on creators and artists that are thriving in the age of digital distribution, and what can be learned from them. While there are framing chapters which pull out some of the important themes, the heart of the book is a series of creator interviews, which are fascinating reads, showcasing as they do the wide variety of stories, approaches and goals of the artists. These case studies span a wide range of fields, including documentary filmmaker Curt Ellis, comedian and writer Eugene Mirman, and zed equals zee fave Jonathan Coulton.

Scott Kirsner was kind enough to answer some questions about the book for zed equals zee:

So, one of the themes that I took from the book is the ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach – that there is a diversity of ways to use the Internet to share your creative efforts. Anything that you think is an absolute necessity? Anything that you would recommend against?

One thing that’s a necessity: carving out the time and the energy to spend cultivating your fan base, and communicating with fans. There should definitely be a dedicated person in any band who’s responsible for audience-building (that’s a term I like better than “marketing”), or maybe someone you know who isn’t in the band but really understands the Web and social media well. I think in the 20th century, your label took care of all that stuff. In the 21st century, it’s your responsibility. One thing I recommend against is building a super-fancy, expensive, Flash-heavy Web site that no one can update except for the original designer. I can’t tell you how many bands do that — and the result is that fans visit your Web site once or twice, but never come back because it never changes. (And people assume that because your last gig listed is in 2007 that you must have broken up!) Even if you have a bare-bones MySpace page or blog, it’s better to have something you can continually add content to than something better-looking that stays static.

Another of the themes is what I call ‘hookers and taxicabs, not limos and supermodels,‘ after the scene in the movie Hard Core Logo – that the age of the gigantic arena-filling star may be over. What do you think the biggest a native-to-the-Internet artist can get? Do you think that the definition of success has changed, and if so, how?

I do think we’ll eventually see Internet-driven artists playing arenas and stadiums. Today, there are lots who are playing pretty big clubs or opening in bigger venues. To me, the definition of success is making a living without having to work a day job, and more importantly, making the kind of music you want to make — contributing something unique to the world — rather than compromising your vision. All of the artists I interview in Fans, Friends & Followers are doing that. Few are jillionaires (yet), but most have more creative freedom than artists who are signed to labels, which is really important.

On a related note…while I’m happy about seeing entertainment dollars go to more artists, do you think that the pie can be sliced too thin? Do you think it’s harder or easier for an individual artist to make a living?

I think it’s getting easier for individual artists to make a living, and perhaps harder for artists to wind up on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people. But to me, there’s a cultural and societal benefit to having more people (rather than fewer) earning a living making music or movies, writing books, or engaging in any kind of artistic endeavor.  [debcha’s note: Sing it, brother!]

What was the most unlikely or counterintuitive story in your book or from your research?

One of the bands I use as a case study is OK Go. I love the fact that their homemade videos for “Here It Goes Again” (featuring them dancing on treadmills) and “A Million Ways” (featuring them dancing in someone’s backyard) have probably been seen by more people on YouTube than any videos their label made for them. And those videos basically had no budget at all — just the cost of a videotape. Damian Kulash, OK Go’s lead singer, told me that their online success really has built their reputation globally much more than anything their label has done. When they went to Taiwan, a country where their record hadn’t been released, they were headliners. In Korea, where they opened for the Chemical Brothers, thousands of people knew the words to all of their songs. What made the videos successful, Kulash says in the book, were that “they didn’t bear the stamps of this kind of top-down marketing push. They were very clearly homemade.” (Though eventually they were shown on MTV.)

There are a number of visual artists interviewed in Fans, Friends and Followers. Unlike music and video, which are considered to be low culture, success in art has been more about critical approbation (inclusion in curated shows or collections) rather than about popular appeal. Do you think that the art world is changing in response to the rise of the Internet? If so, how?

I think there are two groups of artists today (and maybe there have always been.) Those who want acceptance by the art establishment probably are finding that the Internet doesn’t really help them much. But those who want to make a living — whether you are a fine artist, graphic designer, cartoonist, or illustrator — can be hugely helped by understanding digital tools and strategies. I do believe the Web will help launch the next Keith Haring or Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I think the art establishment is going to have to pay attention to that.

Any final thoughts?

I think there’s a pendulum shift happening that everyone has to acknowledge, whether you’re a writer or indie filmmaker or musician. In the old world, you could spend 90 percent of your time on your creative work, and just 10 percent promoting it. In the new world, I think the split is going to be more like 70/30, or even 60/40. Rather than gritting your teeth or complaining about the time it takes to cultivate a fan base, I think the best approach is to figure out how to make the marketing and promotion part of your art — don’t feel like you’re selling out somehow — and enjoy it. Artists like Andy Warhol and Frank Zappa and David Bowie and Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway were (and are) all great self-promoters, too.

Check out a 35-page preview of Fans, Friends and Followers here, or buy the full book here. Also, check out (or contribute to) this wiki, which collects all the online tools listed in the book and more.

MP3: OK Go – Letterbox (They Might Be Giants cover) [buy]

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Music and tech roundup

June 30, 2009

A quick hit of assorted news from around the intarwebs while I’m around the world.

Band makes video out of CCTV footage. The Get Out Clause, out of Manchester, performed in front of some of the UK’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, then requested the footage under the Brit equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, and edited it into the video for their song “Paper” (that’s the vid, above). There’s some question about how much of it is from CCTVs, but it’s still a pretty cool idea. Also, file this one under ‘new business models’ – getting taxpayers to involuntarily fund your promotion efforts (via Hypebot).

Amanda Palmer makes $19K on Twitter in 10 hours. A few weeks ago, we mentioned Amanda Palmer’s online Twitter auction, and we totted up her numbers to report that she made more than $4000. She wrote a letter to Bob Lefsetz, detailing the auction, sales of the #LOFNOTC t-shirt, and a concert. It was a hell of a lot more than $4K (via amanda fucking palmer).

Speaking of Twitter users, apparently we’re valuable to the music industry. A new report by marketing firm NPD reports that Twitter users are heavier consumers of music than Twitter users on a number of axes: they’re about twice as likely to have purchased music downloads in three months prior to the study (and they spend more money), are much more likely to listen to Internet radio, and more. Ars Technica suggests that these differences may be due to Twitter users being tech-loving early-adopter neophiles, although neither they nor NPD seems to make any attempt to correct for household income, which seems like an obvious possibly confounding factor.

Hype Machine publishes names of bands who tried to manipulate charts. Hype Machine recently reported on bands (or PR teams) attempting to manipulate its ‘popular‘ page, and the efforts they took to limit this. But I thought that the most interesting element, at least sociologically, was that they named names: an alphabetical list of the artists “who[they] believe have attempted to manipulate the charts on the Hype Machine. [They] thought [they]’d publish this list to let everyone make their own judgments about quality, integrity and marketing strategies.” You can see the list for yourself here.

Who is the best band in the world today? The Guardian asked a bunch of musicians to name the artist they thought was the best in the world. Geddy Lee of Rush replied, “Describing someone as “the best” is something you do at school in grade 5,” which made me smile, and Rush would probably have been my answer in Grade 6 (not in sixth grade). He did eventually reply with ‘Radiohead.’ You can read the full list here.

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Crowdsourcing: Built to Spill and radio

June 24, 2009

built to spill

Two current examples of crowdsourcing:

Legendary PNW rockers Built to Spill (pictured) are playing the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle on July 24th and they’ve decided to let their fans vote on the setlist. The Stranger‘s art and music blog, Line Out, has a poll where you can select your first choice of song. I hope that this will go a long way towards shutting down people who yell out requests.

Jelli.net crowdsources radio. Yes, real radio. This Sunday, June 28th, they’ll have the first of their regular slots on San Francisco’s Live 105. For two hours, starting at 10 pm PST, it’ll be an experiment in the real-time crowdsourcing of radio. You can go to the website and vote on songs to be played, and you can even band together with other listeners to pull songs off the air. It looks like the station streams online too, so you don’t even have to be in the Bay Area to check it out.  (via Hypebot)

MP3: Built to Spill – You Were Right [buy]

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Music and tech roundup, part 2

June 17, 2009

sympathiestotheband

Part 2 of this week’s music and tech roundup (part 1 is here).

The 10 Commandments of Music 2.0… Hypebot’s concise list of how to engage your followers as an artist. Our fave is #3: “Thou Shalt Giveaway Free Music – Like Jesus and the loaf of bread, give your flock a gift that multiplies as they pass it around.”

…which Trent Reznor is no longer following. The pioneer of social media in music bails, citing the preponderance of jerks and trolls and haters on the Internet. Ironically, this might be a case where being a ‘legacy’ musician (ie pre-dating social media) may be a detriment, not an asset; Reznor’s take on the situation is that some of his fans are upset that the real, Twittering Reznor doesn’t match their long-held image of him.

Why people buy music. A survey of a thousand or so customers at independent music stores revealed a couple of interesting things: one, friends were the biggest influencers of music purchase. The second was that 65% of music store shoppers spent less than 10% of their music spending on digital purchases, which strongly suggests that they are a distinctive subset of the music-buying public (via @pampelmoose).

Virgin Media and Universal team up to offer unlimited downloads for a flat rate. Gizmodo reports that the record label and cable company are set to offer a new subscription service that will let you either stream or download (as DRM-free MP3s) as much music as you want for £10-15. It seems pretty steep for music from a single label, but it’s an interesting experiment (thanks, @mchangolin!)

[Image: The Crowd at a Rock Show on Subnormality; click for larger image]

Thou Shalt Giveaway Free Music – Like Jesus and the loaf of bread, give your flock a gift that multiplies as they pass it around.
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Music and tech roundup (er, part 1*)

June 15, 2009

DS June 15 2009

Lots of stuff happening in the music and tech world this week.

Custom Facebook URLs for smaller fan pages coming soon. Facebook did a terrible job of communicating that only artists and other brands with more than 1000 fans could register custom URLs during the big land grab last week. But they did announce that they’ll open up registration to smaller bands on June 28th. Mark your calendar! [via Hypebot]

eMusic CEO on the Sony deal. There was a considerable outcry when eMusic raised its rates a few weeks ago, not helped by their terrible corporate communication (sensing a theme here…). In this Q&A with eMusic CEO Danny Stein, he reiterates that the indie labels they work with were agitating for higher fees, and the addition of Sony was the ‘catalyzing event’ they were looking for. He also addresses discontented indie music fans and talks about their Six Degrees feature.  [via Epicenter]

New model for musicians? Amanda Palmer held an online auction of random stuff from her apartment yesterday, including a (used, albeit not recently, one presumes) glass dildo, raising somewhere north of $4000. To be perfectly honest, I think you can only pull this one off if you are Amanda Fucking Palmer.

[Image: the inimitable Diesel Sweeties by rstevens. Click on the image for the full strip.]

*While writing this post, I got a text from a friend of mine that the band in the bar on 6th Street that she was in was really great. So I abandoned it to go listen to some live music. Stay tuned for part 2 of this roundup tomorrow.

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Songkick: social media site for concerts

June 10, 2009

songkick screenshot

Songkick brings together two bright spots in the world of music: fan communities, and live music. On the one hand, it’s an evolving database of live shows, complete with dates, opening bands, and fan-uploaded media like photos, posters and (of course) ticket stubs. On the other hand, you can be a Twitter-like follower of not just artists, but also venues and other users, whether they are your friends from down the block or a music editor on the other side of the world.

While there is lots of concert information on the web, it’s primarily sequestered on either artist sites or on music blogs. Songkick scrapes the web to find information related to live shows, but it seems like the predominant source of content is from users. Like all crowdsourced/social media sites, it’ll continue to get better as more people use it. At the moment the database is still a bit rocky. A search of ‘The Mountain Goats‘ returns two entries: one with an uploaded photo but no concerts, and the other with a 477-show ‘gigography’ but no photos. And the latter doesn’t include the Somerville, MA show on March 25th of this year, which Brad of the eponymous Almanac did a fantastic job of describing, recording, and sharing.

I’d love to see a local music scene make the most of Songkick by ensuring that local indie shows make it onto the site (hint,  Boston Band Crush, ahem): it seems that the ability to follow and connect with other users would be particularly compelling if you could meet them at concerts around town.

[via Underwire]

MP3: John Darnielle – Beach House [with thanks to Bradley’s Almanac; go read what Brad had to say about the show here]

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Another round-up of SF MusicTech

June 9, 2009

SF MusicTech audience

Jason Feinberg, writing for PBS’s MediaShift website, just posted a good summary of the SanFran MusicTech Summit. He hit the nail on the head as to what made it an engaging conference:

The tired meme that holds the industry screwed up by not embracing Napster in 1999 may be true, but after 10 years the discussion needs to move forward….The panel discussions were focused on specific actions we can take to boost revenue, enhance fan engagement, foster social network interaction, and evaluate digital delivery options, as well as talk of how artists can take active roles in their (digital) careers. … I found the focus at each panel to be on working solutions, data that has shown results, and fostering discussions between opposing viewpoints.

Read more of what he has to say about some specific panel discussions here.

(Thanks to Simon Owens for the heads-up!)

Image credit: Julie Blaustein

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Jukebox in the sky, or in our hands?

June 8, 2009

HD vs year

Further to our discussion of streaming vs downloading a couple of weeks ago, here’s a short article from Digital Renaissance, “The Future of Private Copying,” that came out about a year ago, in which the author gives projections for the average size of a hard drive. I’ve taken the data from that article* and plotted it; note that it’s a straight line on a semi-logarithmic scale (that is, the size of hard drives is increasing exponentially, Kryder’s Law). Also note that the average song is about 5 MB (0.005 GB) as an MP3 and about 25 MB in a lossless format. As the author writes, “How will this development affect private copying? When music fans can say: “I have all the music from 1950-2010, do you want to copy?” What kind of business models will be viable in such a reality?”

I’d love to see something similar forecasting the use of the wireless spectrum, which I know is a bit up in the air right now because of the delays in switching from analog to digital television broadcasts. If anyone can point me to a good reference, I’d really appreciate it.

*I haven’t sourced the data, but a quick troll through Dell and Apple’s site suggests that the numbers are in the right ballpark, and the shape of the curve is documented. It is an extrapolation though, which is always a bit dangerous.

EDIT: In the comments, Mark Chang writes:

The spectrum is there. It all depends on regulation and deployment costs in a country like the US. For instance, in Korea, SK Telecom has had MelOn, a streaming music service, since 2004. AFAIK, you can subscribe and stream all you want to your phone….

I would say that storage is free, bandwidth is where you pay. And you end up paying the provider of said bandwidth plus the fees to cover the licensing of the material. Since in the US, the copyright complexities and general craziness of the recording industry, and the propriety-stuff-first thinking of the wireless carriers, it becomes orders of magnitude harder. But only from a business perspective. This is all easy from a technology standpoint, and really, advantageous from a cost perspective.

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God Help the Girl’s subscription model

June 5, 2009

Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebastian) has launched his latest project, girl-group inspired God Help the Girl. He’s blogging about it for the Grauniad, and the first post came out a few days ago:

I was in a pop band, but there was no glamour. I had given it my best shot, but I had experienced none of the highs that I had perhaps expected a working pop singer to experience. I’m not talking about snorting coke and laydeez. I’m talking about something else … it’s hard to say. …Belle and Sebastian have never had a hit record. Not really. Not a proper hit record. Therefore, Belle and Sebastian have never recorded music with the feeling that anyone was actually waiting to hear it! We have never recorded for an audience. Therefore, we have always recorded music … in a vacuum!

They’ve developed a beautiful website to showcase the project, including Murdoch’s diary, a place to ask questions, and making-of videos. And the music project itself is being presented as a subscription, with digital music, CDs, 7-inches, videos and more:

This subscription package will gently unwind over the months allowing you to soak up the living, breathing world of God Help The Girl. A musical project with a beautifully and diligently crafted narrative that deserves to be listened to over time, for each place, character and voice to be properly digested before moving on to the next.

You can learn more about the project here, or subscribe for yourself here. While God Help the Girl aren’t the first people to do a subscription model of this sort, this is a notably well-executed version.

MP3: God Help the Girl – Come Monday Night

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“Music industry must change the record”

June 4, 2009

uncased cds

Technology artist and writer Victor Keegan has a column in The Guardian, in which he makes some interesting points about 2008 music sales:

In the last quarter of 2008, album sales in the UK were – wait for it – 0.9% up on the previous year, when the economy contracted by 1.5%. And UK royalties for songwriters rose 8% in 2008. Recession? What recession? Overall album sales, which some had predicted would collapse by more than 10% in 2008, fell by only 3.25%, while digital albums rose by 65%. And the singles market? Why, 2008 was the biggest year on record in terms of units sold across all formats…Indeed, if there had been no publicity about illegal downloads then, on the published evidence, the music industry is one that has been doing remarkably well during the recession.

He also touches on a number of other points, such as the industry’s efforts to extend copyright terms and that innovation in music marketing and sales seems to be almost entirely from outside the music industry, namechecking Spotify and Nokia. Read the full article here.

Image:  It’s those home-burned CDs again, ready for disposal by Flickr user Trevor Coultart, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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The future is what it used to be

May 28, 2009

momus

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Imagine Elvis never happened. Imagine Elvis Presley recording all his music for a dollar in the little booth where he cut that first 78 for his mother’s birthday. And imagine a music industry which, instead of investing in a single massive star called Elvis, distributed ten thousand stars, all recording for a dollar, in totally different styles, all appealing to small, highly self-conscious cults in a fragmented society. A society in a state of fabulous confusion, exploding into fragments. Our society, now.

Sound familiar? That text is from an essay, titled “Pop Stars? Nein Danke!” by famously eccentric Scottish musician Momus (pictured). And it was written almost two decades ago (in 1991). As that quote demonstrates, it’s an astonishingly prescient essay; in fact, I stumbled on it while I was trying to find the earliest use of the phrase, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people.”

A bit more to whet your appetite:

The feeling I get when I walk into a record shop is not that there is a battle of titans ‘clashing for the number one spot’. That is the model of the old monopoly capitalism. Entering a record shop now, a good one like Tower or the Virgin Megastore, is like standing in C.S. Lewis’s Wood Between the Worlds, where you can pick a pond and enter one of an infinite number of worlds at different stages of their evolution….

…To stay sane, to stay plausible, pop artists must drop their claims to universal stardom. Let’s abandon the nostalgia, let’s drop the rhetoric, let’s restructure the music industry. We now have a democratic technology, a technology which can help us all to produce and consume the new, ‘unpopular’ pop musics, each perfectly customised to our elective cults.

Now go and read the whole essay. And by the way, music industry? Don’t tell us that nobody saw it coming.

MP3: The 6ths – As You Turn To Go (feat. Momus) [buy]

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MP3 search engine: Sad Steve

May 27, 2009

sadsteve

My favourite recommendations embody unsolicited enthusiasm, so I thought I’d share this one:

Back in the day, I used to really like this website called Sad Steve, which basically searched SeeqPod, but gave you their sources as downloadable links. When SeeqPod died a couple of months ago, I was therefore quite sad, since sadsteve.com became non-functional. However, somehow Sad Steve managed to get their search running again and I am convinced (based on the little I have used it today), that it is better than SeeqPod was. I don’t know how they did this, but I have gotten a lot more results than I used to when they just used SeeqPod. I even managed to find a 16-second clip from this obscure Vermont funk band that I like.

It’s a lot more than just a search engine, so check it out!

(Jacob)

Sad Steve

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Streaming vs downloading

May 26, 2009

peanutsAt the SanFran MusicTech Summit last week, Terry McBride continued to beat the drum for streaming music versus downloading media. He argues that mobile devices will enable us to listen to anything, anywhere, thereby obviating the need to select and store music ourselves. I respect McBride and what he’s done with Nettwerk tremendously. But, at least at the moment, the streaming-only model of music has some significant challenges.

Streaming requires an always-on connection. Some places where I’ve listened to music in the last couple of days: At my desk. On the highway. In my apartment. Somewhere in the Snoqualmie-Mount Baker National Forest. In the weight room of my gym, which is in its basement. Only two of these places have a reliable connection to the outside world. It was pointed out (by Robb McDaniels, I believe) that you can always push music to a device faster than you can listen to it, which means that you have a buffer. Of course, this seems to defeat one of the few advantages of streaming: that you can select music spontaneously.

Bandwidth is a much scarcer resource than storage. Raise your hand if you think that we have lots of wireless bandwidth to go around. Now raise your hand if you think that that we’re near the lower limit of memory storage size and price. You over there, doing the Superman impersonation, put your hands back on the keyboard and go learn about the tragedy of the commons and Moore’s Law. If I want to listen to the Hold Steady and Malcolm Middleton cover of Bryan Adam’s “Run to You” a hundred times (and I do), I can download it a hundred times and save the storage cost, or I can download it once and not have to worry about bandwidth and a connection. And frankly, I much prefer the solution where I’m paying the cost of storing the music on my nth generation iPhone rather than making everyone else share the cost by wirelessly streaming it everytime I want it.

I don’t trust the music companies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a technological fix for this one. After a decade of RIAA, DRM on iTunes, and more, we’ve been Charlie Brown to the music industry’s Lucy a few too many times. I don’t trust them to not yank the football of my music away from me – it’s as simple as that. I’m happy to stream music, especially when it’s well-curated and new (thank you, KEXP). But if I’m ever going to want to listen to it again, I want a physical copy or an unrestricted digital copy. I want to own it – to have unrestricted, irrevocable access to it indefinitely, so I can listen to it without EULAs or unilaterally-defined ToS.

What do you think? Am I hopeless Luddite, clinging to the notion of music as property when I should be embracing the Great Big Jukebox in the Sky? Has the ability to stream music changed your buying habits? Let us know in the comments.

MP3: Malcolm Middleton and the Hold Steady – Run To You (live) [via Stereogum]