Category - “industry”

As it applies to music, the term “industry” is obsolete — a 19th century construct applied to a new 21st century paradigm. Still it’s interesting to see how much people use the expression “Music Industry.”

Have You Ever Felt Like This?

Cartoon By R. Cobb

I was just text-messaging with a friend about the music business.

He said “What the hell do I know?”

I replied, “What the hell do any of us know?”

I wish I could remember where I first-ever saw this cartoon.  I know nothing more about than it was drawn by a cartoonist named Ron Cobb.

But I think of it often, like when ever I think of a foreign landscape (like the “new” digital music business) and how we often try to get “plugged in” with obsolete ideas and technologies.   The metaphor seems apt.

If that doesn’t make the point, then there is always this reliable chestnut that is often attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Of course, that could probably be said about a lot of businesses…

The Joy of Making Music:
Karen Waldrup At Douglas Corner

Karen Waldrup on stage at Douglas Corner - April 12, 2016

For those of you new subscribers who haven’t seen the expression before, “The Joy of Making Music” is the umbrella/brand for my studio and performance photography business.

This week I had the pleasure of shooting Karen Waldrup at a showcase she performed at Douglas Corner in Nashville.

I met Karen at a music industry gathering a few weeks ago. I was there with my camera (name tag: “My name is Paul; Ask me about my silent shutters”) and met Karen  hanging back at the bar at 3rd and Lindsley while waiting for the proceedings to commence.  We traded business cards. Then I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at “my office” promoting her showcase and figured, “may as well…”

These “industry showcases” are not your typical ‘singer/songwriter’ show; they’re kick-out-the-jams and belt-it to-the-rafters (well, depending on the act) affairs intended to get the attention of the industry types who can make a difference in a rising artist’s career (read that: label heads).

From what I can tell, Karen Waldrup has been banging on some of those doors for a while – and now she’s got the chops and her career is primed for a breakthrough.   She’s got an A-Team band behind her, and this was as ‘professional’ a showcase as I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years in Nashville.

As befits any truly original musician or performer, Karen Waldrup is not an easy woman to peg: she’s a little country, a little southern rock, a little pop. She’s a southern girl who likes her whiskey and wonders if her ex-lover’s fancy new wife serves it as well as she did.  She’s a polished performer with a powerful stage presence who can deliver the goods across the spectrum from hard rocking country to acoustic power ballads.

I caught her here in the rare moment on stage when she seems to be soaking it all in; I say “rare” because  most of the time she was full-throated rocking out. (The rest of the photos will have to wait until she and her management team have signed off on them.)

In the meantime, have a  listen to Karen’s 2015 EP “Getaway”

and check out this rhinestone-fringed guitar!
It's a bird... it's a plane... it's Karen Waldrop's rhinestone-fringed guitar!

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Karen Waldrop’s rhinestone-fringed guitar!

Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

"Music Industry Showcase" at The Rutledge in Nashville - December 8, 2009

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

A “Band On The Brink” – An ‘Industry’ On The Edge

Last night, a rogues gallery of characters from Nashville’s business and creative communities assembled at the Belcourt Theater to deliver what could be considered a start-of-the-New-Year self-assessment: 

bannerThere were three parts to the evening that did a surprisingly good job of hitting any number of moving targets.

The first part was a short documentary film describing the origins, history, demise and resurrection of a band called “The New Dylans.”  The film was the final, compiled installment in a year long effort to document the reconstitution of a group that broke up in the mid 1990s – and uses their tale as an object lesson on the State of The Music Industry in Nashville in the Digital Age. Read More

We Are All Vassals and Peasants Now (2)

Another dispatch from the Feudal Future

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Late last spring, as I was reveling in the final episodes of Season 4 of Game of Thrones (and re-watching seasons 1 thru 3 in between), I found myself pondering just why such a show, with it’s rather graphic and brutal portrayals of a medieva realm – with its feudal social, political, and economic structures – would find such a large audience in this day and age.

It seemed particularly perplexing since “this day and age” is defined largely by the emerging digital economy of the internet, mobile devices, and apps.

When the Internet first surfaced in the late 90s, it seemed to hold this great promise of a technologically induced egalitarian culture.  Now it’s all about the “sharing economy” – in which we all share our resources with one another, and the ultimate wealth creation flows upwards.

Rather than an egalitarian culture of fairly distributed wealth and influence, the new reality seems much closer to the feudal constructs of the middle ages; Instead of a digitally induced restoration of egalitarian democracy, it seems the new reality works much more like a feudal oligarchy.

As much as I’d like the notion to be a bit of a stretch, others seem to be picking up on the idea, as in this piece that appeared recently in The Guardian:

…with the examples above, everyone profits from your work, except you. If you’ve contributed for years to Wikipedia you must now accept a new political economy: you have permanent lower-caste status, and have simply been working hard for other people to get rich…

…In short, you’ve been a mug.

And this seems to be the common thread. Strip away the language of “sharing” and “community” and you’ve got an economy that requires an endless supply of mug punters.

The author of this piece, Andrew Orlowski, echoes the sentiments expressed by Jaron Lanier:

Getting an “internet economy” that benefits the people who do the work, take the risk, or provide the resources – and gives us a modicum of self-respect – should be a start. Our media, MPs and policy wonks are still off dreaming of Unicorns, though. Maybe we need a new lot entirely.

Given the political realities of the day, I’m not holding my breath waiting for anything of that magnitude to happen. In the meantime, at least we have a plausible explanation for our fascination with “Game of Thrones.” #GOT

What A Fucking Racket (updated)

Yes, the show will be sold out before the tickets go on sale.

Overlay-McCartney-2013I missed Billy Joel when he played at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashvile a few weeks ago.  I saw him a couple of times in Los Angeles in the 1970s, but after hearing from people who went how great the show was I’m sorry I didn’t see it.

And I let Bruce Springsteen come and go last week.  Him I saw the last time he was here, and frankly was disappointed in the show.  I do not know entire Springsteen canon by heart, and the sound was pretty awful to my ears.  I guess that’s how it goes for arena shows (although the sound for U2 at the Vanderbilt Stadium one hot July night several years ago was OUT-fucking-STANDING, due largely to “the claw” stage and sound system).

I also missed Paul McCartney the last time he came through Twangtown.  The tickets were pretty well sold out before I could get to them, and when I looked at the after-market prices, I was looking at nearly a grand for nosebleed seats.

McCartney is coming back to Nashville in June, and not to be morbid or anything, but anytime he’s in the vicinity is quite possibly the last opportunity I will have in my lifetime (or his?) to see an actual Beatle sing Beatles songs.  So I have made a note that the tickets go on sale Friday at 10 AM and have arranged to be at my keyboard-and-screen when the time comes.

According to the Bridgestone Arena website,  the tickets for this show will be priced from a low of $29.50 to a high of $254.50.  I’m sure something in between would make sense and even if all I can get is “nosebleed” seats, at least they’re in the arena.

But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I just noticed a friend posted to Facebook that she already has her tickets “in hand.”  She got them through “American Express card holders pre-sale.”

Well, I don’t have an American Express card. I got out of the credit card habit years ago, I now have ONE credit card and ONE debit card an neither of them is American Express.  So no surprise I was not offered a “Pre-Sale” opportunity.

But the whole operation is fucked up from the get go.  I fully expect that there will be not tickets available when I go online on Friday.  Because even though the tickets will be “going on sale” at that time, much of the venue will have been “pre-sold” before the tickets become available to the general public.

Or, I could just jump the gun on the after-market and pre-buy them from an outfit called “Ticketdown” which is also offering “pre-sales” tickets at something between 3 and 4 times the ‘rack rate’ listed on the Bridgestone site.  Tell me, how is an after-market website able to offer tickets BEFORE they ‘go on sale’?

The whole set-up is kinda like saying “the tickets will cost $X.  Unless you actually WANT one.  Then it will be 3- or 4- times $X.  And that’s assuming know the secret password and handshake.

Because it’s a fucking racket.

I dunno, maybe I’m jumping the gun here.  But based on my past experience, and what I’m hearing from private channels and seeing online, I expect pretty much the same.  I’ll get online at 10 AM on Friday and there will be no tickets available.

Stay tuned.  Or, if you’re reading this and you know somebody, just please tell me who to call so I can be part of the fucking racket, too.

– – – – – – –

Update 140423:  My Facebook friend who snagged her tickets via the American Express Pre-Sale offer has informed me that she paid no premium for the tickets, they were sold at the rack rate that the Arena is showing on their website.  OK, fair enough.  She also told me that she’d purchased the $85 seats – arguably the sweet spot in terms of pricing and seating – and then adds, “…there are $55, $201, & $297 seats [still] available….” which sounds to me like the $85 seats are gone. I’ll find out Friday.  I’m pretty well resigned to sitting in the “nosebleed” seats if I can get inside the arena at all.  Good thing we have a pair of great binoculars….

 

 

 

Why Would Anybody Ever Buy Another Song?

From the Department of No Shit, Sherlock:

Crowded Field

Crowded Field

Derek Thompson points to the elephant in a post at TheAtlantic.com.

Citing the increasing saturation of the streaming music market (where any more than one or two services qualifies as saturation), Thompson points to the elephant that has been in the room since… well, since the first Real Audio player made streaming music a reality in… what, 1996?:

…what isn’t there room for in music?

Buying it.

“Young people today don’t buy music anymore,” said Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst at Wedge Partners. The numbers agree.

I suppose my objection here should be something along the lines of “whatchyou mean ‘young people’, Kimosabee?”

Or maybe I should take it as a compliment that somebody thinks 63 can qualify as ‘young’  – particularly since I just bought tickets for a movie tonight at the reduced fare for ‘seniors.’  But I digress…

I have been arguing for years that the ‘unit purchase’ model for music – whether it’s physical products like CDs (or, yes, even the revered, resurrected vinyl…) or virtual units delivered as purchased downloads – has been on the wings of the dodo for years, and that any assertions to the contrary are an exercise in viewing the future through the rear view mirror  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I sincerely implore you to click the link and find out).

And no, the fact that I’m engaged in a project that is about to release its third physical product at the same time that I’m predicting the demise physical products is not lost on me. I write these things because I think I’m observant, maybe even a tad prescient.   I never said that made me invulnerable to also being a hypocrite.  Such is the nature of living on a cusp. But there I go again, digressing…

As Thompson reports, the handwriting is on the wall, the die is cast, the nails are in the coffin.  Pick your metaphor, but this is we see when we turn the car around and start steering through the windshield:

“…digital music sales fell last year for the first time ever, by 6 percent, as the music business inches closer to an access-over-ownership model. Overall streaming (which includes digital radio) is up 32 percent to 118 billion song streams in 2013. On-demand streaming (e.g. pick and click a song on Spotify) doubled last year.

Meanwhile, we have Tommy Silverman and others at the annual Austin TX Spring Break Clusterfuck known as “SXSW,” (that’s pronounced “ess-ex-ess-doubleyew)  professing to possess the keys to a $100-billion kingdom with a more colorful metaphor of his own:

This enema that we’re going through is making us realize that our business is much bigger than what we thought it could be,” Silverman said. “We’re in the attention business now.”

And the nominees for the 2014 ‘Masters of the Obvious’ award are….

Silverman etal be right, the entirety of the recorded music business  could certainly be much larger than the rapidly-shrinking single-digit-billion-dollar business it has recently been reduced to.

I’ve done this math for you before: A couple of years ago the NPD group estimated that the average music ‘consumer’ spends a paltry FORTY dollars per year on music purchases (that figure is surely even less now).  That expenditure adds a bountiful 30 or 40 new tracks to their record collection every year.  Now persuade those tight-fisted consumers that for only TEN DOLLARS (per month…) they can have the entire history of recorded music – past-present-and-future – at their disposal, and you can effectively triple or even quadruple your aggregate industry top-line.

Of course, that’s assuming they have any money left after paying for their cell phone, cable teevee, broadband internet and Clover brewed coffees at Starbucks (which I am drinking as I write & post this…)

It may not add up to the $100-billion that Silverman is hallucinating, but it could be considerably more than whatever the current figures are.

But whatever the figures might be, we will never realize the full potential of any future business model until we stop trying to drag the old models long with us.  I don’t care if your fancy new “human-powered” streaming music service is called “beats,”   It does no good to beat an internal combustion engine with a buggy whip.

But there’s another message in all of this that I think has been overlooked, and that’s all this emphasis on recorded music.  That’s the biggest buggy whip that we’re dragging along with us, the biggest thing that looms in that rear view mirror.

As long as we’re focused on how to preserve or grow the recorded music business, we’re going to miss the point of what Silverman inartfully calls “this emema” that the industry is going through.

What we cannot see so long as we’re driving backwards into the future, surveying the landscape in front of us through the rear view mirror (really, try to get that image in your head…), is that the ‘future of music’ is much less about the recorded music than it is about the way that music lived before it became any kind of product – back when music simply did not exist unless there was somebody in the room playing it for you, which person was often yourself and your friends.

The future of music is not any kind of product, physical or virtual, delivered by truck, download, or stream.  It’s much more… organic, and ‘aural’ than that.  But until we’re a little further removed from the product era, it’s going to be hard for most people to appreciate that prospect.

The idea was never more succinctly put than during a conversation I had with Scott Huler, one of the presenters at last year’s TEDx Nashville.

“I tell my kids,” Scott said, “that music is not something you buy.  It’s something you make.”

I don’t care how many billions Tommy Silverman thinks the ‘music industry’ can be, those children are the future.

 

 

 

 

The Failure of Inattention

Monday was a “snow day” in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.  

2014_08_1024x1024Freezing rain had settled in the night before and made the roads pretty much impassable by the time of the morning rush hour, so Monday was canceled city-wide.

Ann and I threw some logs on the fire and settled in to watch about 6 episodes of the new HBO drama True Detective, with Woody Harrelson and newly-minted Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as diametrically opposed Louisiana homicide investigators.

Harrelson’s character is Detective Marty Hart, who, midway through the series shares this indispensable observation about the “detective’s curse.”

“The solution my whole life was right under my nose … And I was watching everything else … my true failure was inattention.”

Given my propensity for oddball associations (see blog tagline above), I immediately thought of that observation when I read this guest post in Billboard this morning about YouTube -v- The Music Industry:

During a MIDEM panel this year, YouTube vp content Tom Pickett said the company had paid more than $1 billion to music rights holders during the past several years. Well, that’s sweet. Hey, you know who else has done that? Spotify. The difference: Spotify did it with a fraction of YouTube’s audience.

In other words, while musicians and songwriters are are complaining about the paltry payouts from Spotify, Pandora, etc…. Well, you get my point.  Hopefully.

Breaking News! Music Industry Adapts…

… to the most recent technology shift.  Just in time to get clobbered by the next one…

musica-streamingI have to admit I’m getting a big kick out of the two items that landed in my news feed this evening.

First, Billboard has reported that…

For the third time this year — and only the fourth time ever — the year-to-date total sales of digital albums have exceeded those of CDs.

How long did that take, about ten years?

Let’s see, when did iTunes start selling downloads.  April 28, 2003. So, yeah, just a little over ten years.

That’s important, because it tells us how long it takes for something that seems unlikely one day to become “mainstream” the next.  It’s the statistical flip side of “it can’t happen here.”

Which is significant, because of the insights offered in another piece that was published today.  David Ross’s Nekst.biz posted an interview with Billboard’s Glenn Peoples that goes into considerable detail about how music online is already shifting from downloads to streaming:

…half of the country listens to Internet radio on a regular basis (monthly), so that’s mainstream behavior, but there is still room for growth…The streaming model is set to grow for the foreseeable decade.

There is much more to the analysis than that (obviously).  But that might be all you need to know.

The first item tells us how much has changed in the past decade. The second item tells us now much is going to change in the coming decade.

All of the above was written while listening my Bill Frisell channel on Pandora.  Which is now playing Pat Metheny.

The Celestial Jukebox abounds. Along with newsfeed irony.

Life is good.

As I’ve Been Saying All Along…

…The music industry is a $100-billion 21st Century business trapped in a $7-billion 20th Century business model:

That’s according to Marc Geiger, head of William Morris / Endeavor (aka Ari Gold‘s super-agency):

“The recorded music industry can grow to a $100 billion-plus business within the next 15 years – but only if it abandons pushing music ownership and fully embraces the streaming subscription model, said Marc Geiger, WME’s global head of music, during a powerful, deliberately provocative keynote speech on day two of Midem.

“If you still think [the future] is about owning files I will talk to you again in 24 months and you will deny that you ever said it to me,” Geiger stated during a slick 25-minute presentation, which was entitled “20 Years of Pain. No More Fooling Around: The Definitive Future of the Music Business.”

I heard several years ago that the average music “consumer” purchases roughly $40/year of recorded music.  So they’re spending $40 year – less than $3.50/mo – to “purchase” 3 to 4 CDs, maybe 30 to 50 tracks to horde in their own personal private music “library.”

So tell them instead that for a measly $10/mo (your mileage may vary) they can have the entire history of recorded music on a gizmo in their pocket and see what happens.

You know the old expression: “do the math.”