Posts Tagged ‘music industry’

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Women in music: the lost generation

August 9, 2010

If you spend any time at all listening to apologists for the music industry, you will hear (over and over again) two primary justifications for its existence: i) that they find and nurture talent and ii) that it’s the only way for artists to reach the top tier of music stardom.

So, here are some of the top-selling female artists:

And here are some of the top male artists:

Notice anything?

It’s abundantly clear what the critical criterion is for female super-stardom. And just as clear that the same criterion is not applied to men. The music industry might like to think of itself as nurturing talent, but in reality, it’s a gatekeeper – among other criteria, it keeps women (but not men) who aren’t in the 99th percentile of attractiveness, and willing to exploit it as much as they can, out of the Top 40.

This asymmetry between men and women can be traced to the launch of MTV in 1981 and the rise of visual culture in music. Think about female musicians in the 1960s and 1970s – Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Carole King – all attractive, certainly, but there wasn’t the marked differential between male and female musicians that is on display in the images above. I mark the start of the double standard for male and female artists—and therefore the start of the ‘lost generation’ of female artists—with the band Yazoo (Yaz in the United States). Yazoo featured Alison Moyet’s fantastic singing backed with songwriting by Vince Clarke (formerly of Depeche Mode, and who later founded Erasure). They released two brilliant albums in 1981 and 1982 before disbanding: Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both, which hit #2 and #1 in the UK, respectively, but barely cracked the top 100 in the US. (You and Me Both eventually went platinum in the US, seven years after its release.) Here’s a promo video that their UK label, Mute, released for Yazoo’s first single, “Only You.”

It’s plausible that Yaz’s relative lack of success in the US stemmed from Alison Moyet not conforming to ideals of female beauty at the exact moment (within a year of MTV’s launch) when the music industry decided it mattered.

One of the reasons why I’m excited about the increasing ability of musicians to interact directly with their fans is because it heralds the end of this type of gatekeeping for female artists. Perhaps optimistically, I think that the event marking the end of the lost generation of female artists is the Belly Incident. Boston artist Amanda Palmer chose to break with her label, Roadrunner Records, and strike out on her own, and a major contributor to that decision was Roadrunner’s insistence that the video for “Leeds United” (at top of post) be re-edited to remove a shot of her bare belly which didn’t conform to their ideals of taut, airbrushed perfection. Palmer’s fans rallied in her defense, posting photographs of their own stomachs in Belly Solidarity, and in the end, the original edit stood.

I’m not arguing that the physical appearance of performers is unimportant—it is, and until our society changes pretty drastically, it will continue to be more important for women than for men. But now that the music industry no longer completely controls the distribution channel for music and who has access to it, people like me and you can hear more music by awesome, creative, challenging, talented, compelling female artists—without requiring them to also look like they’ve stepped out of a record executive’s sexual fantasies.

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Do You Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass [why, and buy]

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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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“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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Experiment: name-your-own-price merch

February 17, 2009

merch-table

Should you let your fans pay what they want for merch? Dave Allen, the original bassist of the Gang of Four, recently made the argument on his music blog that bands can make more money by not posting prices at merch tables and instead letting fans name their own price for merchandise at concerts:

My thinking here is that those fans that really like the band and are leaning towards buying will ask what the price of a CD is. And the answer should be “how much do you want to pay?” I guarantee that the answer will be somewhat along these lines – “I only have $4,” “I’d like to give you $10,” “You guys were great, here’s $20,” “I have no money.” You should sell your CD at those prices to all of those folks and give one to the guy with no money. They will never forget the experience they had and they will tell their friends that you are the coolest band on earth for doing that.

Allen argues that, on average, bands are likely to make more money doing this than by having fixed prices. More importantly, however, this approach either leverages an existing relationship (people who have money are happy to give the band more than the ‘official’ cost of the CD) or it helps develop a relationship. Here at z=z, we recently discussed the role of relationships in differentiating artists in a world where the music itself may be fungible.

While I’m not a musician, I know that a number of artists read this blog – please let us know what you think. And if you decide to try this, please share how it works out!

How bands can make more money by not putting a price on a CD

MP3: Electric Laser People – Move Right, Move Left [buy, CC-licensed download]

Image: From behind the merch table by Flickr user Brett L., reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Some new models for music

February 12, 2009

dcfc-iphone-app

A couple of bands that are using technology in interesting ways…

Groove Armada is making waves with a new model of music distribution. They left Sony last year, and are now in a deal with Bacardi, of all people. Their plan is to reward people for sharing music. You go register at the site (attesting that you’re of legal drinking age, of course), download your first free track, and get a unique link to share with your friends.  As more people get and share the song using your link, you are rewarded by being able to download more songs. I have to admit that I’m less interested in downloading the music than I am in seeing a data visualization of the number, timing, and distribution of how the links spread… (Why yes, I am a nerd.)

Pitchfork is making a big deal about Death Cab for Cutie‘s setting a ‘solid precedent‘ with the band’s new, free iPhone app – I guess they are too hip to have noticed that Pink got there first. Listening Post had a great article last October, in which they make a compelling case that the iPhone could be the new Myspace. It’s pretty clear that cultivating a relationship with fans is going to be a key element of differentiation between bands. Cory Doctorow talks about this in the context of authors, but it’s equally applicable to music:

But what kind of artist thrives on the Internet? Those who can establish a personal relationship with their readers…[who have] the ability to conduct their online selves [in a way] that establishes a non-substitutable relationship with their audiences. You might find a film, a game, and a book to be equally useful diversions on a slow afternoon, but if the novel’s author is a pal of yours, that’s the one you’ll pick. It’s a competitive advantage that can’t be beat.

Putting a direct link to your band in your fans’ pockets seems like a good step forward in establishing this relationship.

MP3: Groove Armada – Chicago [buy]

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Emerging models for new music: Illius Rock

January 26, 2009

illius-rock

We’ve spent a bunch of time here at z=z discussing different models for the future of music. Here’s an interesting one. Boston-based Illius Rock runs ‘campaigns’ for artists. Emerging artists ask their fans to make contributions, typically for studio expenses, to shoot videos, touring and the like. In exchange, fans get treats, like exclusive songs, parties, cameos in music videos and the like. Interested in learning more? They’re throwing a launch party tonight (Monday, January 26th) at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, featuring z=z faves The Main Drag.

MP3: The Main Drag – A Jagged Gorgeous Winter

[via Bradley’s Almanac]