Category - music 3.0

The new era started with Napster. Its arrival heralds a return to the era before Edison.

We Can Gather, and We Can Sing

The "6 Chair Pickin' Party"

The “6 Chair Pickin’ Party”

Three things happened yesterday which, if I can adequately weave the path through them, attest to the current state of music, address the current debate on the subject and,  ultimately, gently, point a way into the future…

FIRST:  I had a moment on that antiquated old medium called “radio.”

As I was getting out of the shower yesterday morning and making the bed, I turned on WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate) and heard a promo bumper for “On Point,” the program out of Boston that follows “Morning Edition.” I heard the show’s host, Tom Ashbrook, announce that he would be discussing the streaming music royalties debate that has taken on new strength in the past week since some guy in a band called “Radiohead” (irony abounds) announced  that he was pulling his music from Spotify and other streaming services, on the pretext that “it doesn’t pay new artists enough…”  or some such nonsense.

As soon as the show came on the air and they announced the call-in number, I dialed in.  Wonder of wonders, I was quick enough to get a ring instead of a busy signal (this might have been the second or third time I tried to call that program, parts of which I hear almost every morning).  A producer picked up the line a few moments later.  I told him what I had in mind to say and he said, “OK, if Tom takes the call, say ‘Hi Tom…’. Don’t say “good morning” because the show is rebroadcast at different times during the day…”

Commence heart pounding.

Then I went about making breakfast, and sat down to eat it, while listening to the discussion on my telephone headset.  And then in between a bite of eggs and grapes I hear, “Paul from Nashville, you’re on the air…”

Gulp.

I then proceeded to verbally fall off my breakfast barstool.  You can hear the whole embarrassing episode here, but since this is digital retrospect, I will repeat it more precisely as I would have said it if my heart had been pumping at something closer to a normal rate:

1) When this guy Tom Yorke says that he’s pulling his stuff off of Spotify because it doesn’t pay new artists enough, that is an “altruistic red herring.”  He’s really not concerned about new artists so much as he is about the apparent decline of revenue inherent in the shift from unit sales (i.e. 99c per download regardless of how many times you listen to a track) to fractions-of-a-penny payments per stream per listener (where you only get paid by how much a song is listened to – and then, not very much).

This professed concern for “new artists” strikes me as  a smokescreen, and actually contrary to what new artists need.  As I did manage to point out on the air, I’m much more likely to become interested in a new artist if I can actually hear their music, which is a lot harder to do if their music is not on a service like Spotify.

Actually, I really don’t know Radiohead all that well… maybe I should go listen to some of their music on Spoti….oh, wait…

2) Behind the smokescreen of his concern for “new artists,” I think that what Mr. Yorke and his ilk are really professing is that the industrial-age model of selling music in discrete units – that bear a high price because of their relative scarcity – should some how be preserved in the digital era – when the quantity of ‘content’ that is now available approaches infinity.  Well, get a clue buddy.  Buy a vowel.  You cannot drag the old model into the new reality.  Let go of the nuts, silly monkey, and you can at least keep your hand…

Anyway, that’s what I meant to say; Instead I made some clunky allusion to buggy whips.  I’m pretty sure the cliche police will be knocking on my door any minute now…

3) If these jokers really want to make an issue of something that is unfair in the music biz, they should join the crusade to get terrestrial radio (i.e. “broadcast” radio – which is actually radio; “internet radio” is just an oxymoron, and destructive one at that, because its use compels us to think that the medium is something that clearly it is not…) to pay royalties for the recordings that they broadcast.

As it stands, broadcast radio pays royalties only for the compositions – the songs – that are broadcast on the public air.  The United States is one of the very few countries in the world that pays nothing to the artists or labels who produce the actual recordings.

if you want parity between analog and digital, if you want more money from the use of your music… start there. Of course that’s assuming you can actually get your music on radio.  Good luck with that…

Anyway, that’s more precisely what I was trying to say in my 15 seconds of fame on the radio yesterday.  Thanks to whoever heard that and is now reading this for the opportunity to indulge in perfect 20/20 verbal hindsight.

SECOND: I direct your attention to a blog post by the erudite and pithy Kidd Redd, a partner at Nashville’s Flo Thinkery – which figures because he is clearly something of an original thinker in his own right.   In his “Stylerant” post yesterday, Mr. Redd addressed the same issue that “On Point” addressed that morning.  Follow the link to read the whole thing; In the meantime here’s the paragraph I thought was pertinent (scroll down to Starving Musicians):

So listeners download, and they stream. It is only natural for artists like Thom Yorke to suddenly stop dancing weirdly and say, wait a minute, I need to do something to make people understand that this making of music really is hard work, it has enormous value, and you can’t have my album for free. Slow clap, Thom. I’ve always thought that artists who don’t like the deal should simply pull their music. Good for you. Only thing is, no one will care. NO ONE, except music biz peeps and your Mama. People have lives in which music is only a part. Maybe a big part, and a part we would all be sad to live without, but then again, we won’t have to. We can gather, and we can sing.

“We can gather and we can sing.”  As anybody who has followed my musings on these subjects over the years will recall, that premise is central to my thesis, my as-yet unwritten “Grand Nebulous Theory of the Future of Everything, Music in Particular.” Which goes something like this:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on the era of industrialized music – wherein music became a product, packaged and shipped and sold like soap – as a brief, anomalous period in the annals of human history.

The ultimate, end result of the disinter-mediation of the digital era is going to be a return to something more akin to music as it was before there were recordings:  less as an expression of popular, mass culture, and more a manifestation of community spirit.  We are going to stop expecting that music is something that somebody else – the Tom Yorkes of the word – does for us, and something that we do for ourselves.   Music not as something that you buy, but something that you make.

THIRD: That point was graphically – and aurally – driven home last night at a home in the hilly and leafy West Meade neighborhood of Nashville where a small congregation of hand-made music and song lovers gathered… and sang.

The event was the the revival of a tradition that was very much at the heart of my Nashville experience for the first 8 years that I lived here – Mike Williams “6 Chair Pickin’ Party” – where Mike and his wife Kathy would invite a half-dozen songwriters into their home – along with typically 40-50 guests – to swap songs and stories around a faux electric camp fire.

kateo6chairs

Another view of last night’s “Pickin’ Party” – photo purloined from Kate O’Neill’s Facebook page…

In the late 90s and early aughts, Mike’s Pickin’ Party was a Nashville institution.  Three Wednesdays of almost every month (the exception being when Mike and Kathy spent a month in Kerrville, TX, doing pretty much the same thing in the open late night/early morning air), some of the best singer/songwriters in the world would climb the steep hill to Mike and Kathy’s house, past the sign that said “Park on street… Sing on key…” to play their hits and their personal favorites for an enthusiastic audience tightly huddled in the living room.

The parties were discontinued in 2003 when  Kathy was chosen to serve as CEO of the whole international Girl Scouts organization, and she and Mike took up residence in a loft in lower Manhattan.  They tried to host similar parties there, but that effort was discontinued when the other residents objected to all the traffic in the one small elevator that served their entire building.

On a personal note (as if this whole blog post is not personal notes?) and as I explained to one of the performers last night, the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been in Nashville started at Mike Williams’ pickin’ parties, when I asked a few people I’d met there, “what would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet…?”  That was in the spring of 1995 (yikes!), so of course I had to explain to most of the people I was talking to just what the Internet was (and once they figured it out I sold the business to them…).

Mike and Kathy are back in Nashville now – they had the foresight to hang on their house here for the decade that they were in NYC – and they’re cranking up the Pickin’ Parties again with a series of events every other week in July and August.  They travel a lot in a big ol’ motorhome that was their retirement gift to themselves, but when they’re in town, Mike says, there will be parties.

And if you could have been there last night – as you are welcome to be at the next three parties, on July 31, August 14 and 28 (contact me for info) – then, I believe, you would have seen the real future of music.

If you had been there, you would have been part of room filled with talent and heart and whimsy and laughter, great playin’ pickin’ and singin’, an audience that did not hesitate to sing along and oh…did I mention heart? I heard some of the best songs I’ve ever heard last night.  Songs like Whit Hill’s “Stethoscope”, a song that you would likely never hear on the radio but nevertheless fires a harpoon right into your heart.  Or Laurie McClain’s “My Heaven.”  Here, listen for yourself:

 

So yesterday was an intriguing, unpredictable confluence of events and musings that, taken together, somehow demonstrate the trajectory that we’re somewhere in the still-early or maybe middle stages of: The real future of music is not about downloads, streaming, radio or “American Idol,” or who gets paid how much for what.  The real future of music is like its distant past: people… gathered and singing.

 

 

 

@AmandaPalmer Nails It @TedTalks

After raising more than a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign last year, Amanda Palmer (aka “Amanda Fucking Palmer” – just had to get that in…) delivered what some are saying was the highlight of this year’s TED Conference:

One highlight – among many in a very touching and effective talk – is where, near the end, she discusses the shit-storm that erupted when she asked performers to join her on stage during tour without offering any of her $1-MM Kickstarter money in compensation.

Harkening back to her days as a street performer (she was a “living statue,” which she also discusses and describes in the talk) she describes how the critics reminded her of the people who would drive by her on the street and shout “get a job.”

After you listen to her describe in intimate detail how she got there, the very organic connections that resulted in a $1-MM raise, you get a much better sense of how some people just don’t get it and likely never will.

Don’t Waste 3 Hours Watching The #Grammys; Just Watch This.

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 11.10.07 PMI wasn’t going to write this. After discussing the subject with a couple of colleagues last week I figured, “ah, what’s the point?” Then I saw this video (below) and heard the song. So, at the risk of putting my finger back in the socket, here we go again:

Some of you who are regulars here, or live in Nashville, or have some connection to the music business, will likely recall the controversy that came to a head this time last year over the sudden rise of Linda Chorney — an “indie” singer/songwriter from New Jersey who pretty much came out of nowhere to secure a nomination for a Grammy award in the “Best Americana Album” category.

The controversy arose because a) nobody in “the industry” – especially the “Americana” insiders who regard themselves as the keepers of that particular musical flame – had ever heard of Linda Chorney and b) because she used the Recording Academy’s own “Grammy 365” social network to lobby for and ultimately win her nomination.  To her advocates, Ms. Chorney had effectively “worked” the system.  To her detractors, she’d “gamed” it.

I was rather surprised and disappointed at the response of the Nashville-based Americana community. I thought Americana should have embraced the nomination, rather than turning a cold shoulder toward it.  After all, the genre defines itself as “…contemporary music that honors and/or derives from American roots music, period.”  What could be more “roots” than somebody coming literally out of the reeds and convincing a “jury of her peers” that she was worthy of some recognition?

lindagrammyThe furor that erupted over her nomination turned into something of an ordeal for Linda Chorney, who nevertheless made the best of her “red carpet” moment the night of the big show in Los Angeles.  As she attests in a recent blog post:

The bullying really did hurt. I thought after my long, hard road as a musician, paying my dues, playing clubs for three decades, putting out six albums, and totally believing in myself, had finally paid off! This was the biggest break of my life. And instead, I was accused of cheating, and it was never emphasized in the media that I got there because a lot of people liked the album enough to vote for it. Plain and simple.

Say what you will about the Grammys and their declining relevance: as a lingering vestige of analog/industrial music in the balkanized digital era; or whether the selection process is fair or easily manipulated. Still, one thing cannot be denied: Linda Chorney got a great song out of her experience.

The Grammy Awards telecast that will be aired tonight will no doubt (and once again) be a triumph of spectacle over talent; Somebody will swing from the rafters, or there will be a pounding dance number with a cast of thousands and exploding pyrotechnics — hell, there may even be some memorable moments of music, if somebody like Adele just stands there and sings, or Mumford and Sons tears it up with banjos and acoustic guitars.

But I doubt that anything that happens on tonight’s Grammy show will be as touching – or pertinent – as “When I Sing” – a song I first heard when Linda came through Nashville last summer and performed a short set at a songwriter showcase.  I was touched by the song then; now I think she may have translated her Grammy experience into a classic:

Now that you’ve seen the video, a few further observations:

1) The lyrics of the song express an essential sentiment that is too often missing in music in the modern era: that music – and singing in particular – is personal, intimate, and at its best soothes and elevates the soul.

All of the music that will be performed on the Grammys tonight will be included in the telecast primarily for one quality only: its ability to draw the largest possible audience.  That is, after all, what the Grammy Awards telecast is really about: ratings.

It will also most notably be about other people singing, which is the great loss induced on our culture with the advent of the analog/industrial era:  the pervasive belief that music is  the exclusive province only of the most talented, the most worthy and the most deserving – and the rest of us just get to sit and watch and listen.

A song like “When I Sing” reminds us that the organic, transformative, soul-affirming power of music belongs to all of us, not just a chosen few who get to be on the TeeVee.

2)  The video itself strikes me as unique in the annals of music video.  Where are the  prancing “video babes” that typically populate these musical mini-movies?  Not here, obviously.  Instead, the central on-screen image is that of a mature woman whose appearance bravely portrays the measure of her years.

Even more striking is the vocal that accompanies the visual.  The appearance of the woman in the video may have changed with the passage of time, but the voice still sounds like that of a much younger woman, and the lyrics are conveyed with child-like joy.  Therein lies another great power of music that is stolen when we let only others do it… the sheer joy of singing in our own voice, and with it, the recall of what it felt like when we first learned to sing…

3) Finally, the part that I wasn’t gonna bother to report: As it will likely surprise no one, there is still something rotten in Grammy-land.

The controversy that started with Linda Chorney continues to dog the Recording Academy today, both publicly and, apparently, behind the scenes.

Publicly, the same thing that happened to Linda Chorney in 2012 has been happening again in 2013, this this time in the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) category, where an otherwise unknown named Al Walser  secured a nomination, much to the chagrin and outrage of EDM insiders. As reported in the Huffington Post (and elsewhere):

For the second year in a row, the Grammys are facing criticism for allowing a nominee in a field where some say he lacks credibility. Walser’s inclusion along with better-known artists Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris and Skrillex set off complaints about The Recording Academy’s Grammy365 social media platform that allows members to lobby each other when it comes time to vote.

Critics pointed out the problem when little-known singer-songwriter Linda Chorney scored a nomination in the Americana category last year and took up the cry again this year when Walser’s “I Can’t Live Without You” popped up in the dance category.

“I think the Grammys need to take a hard look at their infrastructure to make sure that something this disgraceful doesn’t happen again,” music producer and DJ Tommie Sunshine said.

Disgraceful?  Really? Did somebody actually have the nerve, in this day and age, to say that it is “disgraceful” for a performer to stick his head above the radar, present his work to a body of his peers, and thus secure a nominal measure of recognition for doing so?  Disgraceful?  Did he really say that?

I guess he did.  And like every asshole, Mr. Sunshine is entitled to his opinion.  But if there’s any disgrace afoot, it’s in the way the Academy has responded to these controversies, not in the slate of nominees the process has produced.

When Neil Portnow, the president of NARAS was asked last year about the Linda Chorney dust-up, he defended Linda and the Academy’s procedures:

And Neil Portnow, the academy’s president, agrees. He says her story shows there truly is a level playing field for all artists.

“It shows everybody has a shot,” Portnow said. “That really is the truth.”

But now we find out that even as Portnow was defending the submission and selection process for Grammy nominees, forces were operating behind the scenes to assure that nothing like Linda Chorney’s nomination could ever happen again, at least not in the “Roots Music” categories like Americana and Folk.

This year a committee was created to filter the results of the nominating process.  A very small, select body of hand-picked industry insiders considered the results of the first round of voting (for the nominees).  From the fifteen top vote-getters, the committee decided who the five final nominees would be.

In other words, the way the nominating process works now, “You can vote for whoever you want, but we’ll decide who the winners are.”

If that’s how the Recording Academy wants to run its little charade, that’s their business.  But what makes the whole affair truly “disgraceful” is that nobody in authority bothered to tell the rank-and-file that such a change had been implemented.  Everybody who voted for a Grammy nominee this year thought they were voting according to the same procedures as last year.  Little did they know… nor was anybody going to tell them.

Ah, what’s the point?

As Timothy Sexton pointed out amid the controversy last year, the Grammys have always been behind the curve:

In 1969 the Beatles recorded what went on to become their biggest single ever and a song that spoke to an entire generation with “Hey Jude.” So, naturally, the Grammy voters chose “Little Green Apples” to represent the best of 1969. “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols caused an explosion heard throughout the music industry that is still sending sound waves through the record business today….. Amid all that power from the streets of London, what did the Grammy voters view as the most important song of 1976?  “Send in the Clowns” from a Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical.

As Sexton concluded in 2012, “How can you dilute the Grammy awards when they possess not a single shred of credibility?”

The Grammy Awards will be telecast tonight on CBS starting at 8PM Eastern Time and run for more than three hours.

But If you want a truly musical moment with considerably more than “a shred of credibility,” just scroll up and watch Linda Chorney’s “When I Sing” video again.

–Paul Schatzkin
February 10, 2012

 

 

 

Piracy & Royalties: The Medium Is The Message #4

I hope this  post doesn’t piss off any of my songwriter friends.

I thought of them immediately when I started reading this story in the Sunday Tennessean (I still get Nashville’s sorry excuse for a daily paper, but only on weekends):

Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

And the situation is even worse than it appears.

[The jobs are] being obliterated by technology.

The Tennessean story is behind their paywall, like that makes any difference. It’s an AP story, find it here if you have to.  And the story is accompanied by the following chart:

JobLosses

…which offers the clearest illustration I have seen yet of the impact of the Internet era on the global economy, and familiar forms of employment in particular.

Just look at the first item – travel agents – and you see an industry that has been reduced by more than half.  The  pervasive availability of information about airfares and destinations via the Internet has drastically reduced the business for travel agents. The need for informed experts with good connections certainly persists to some extent — as Ann discovered while planning our trip to Scotland last year.  Nevertheless, employment in the field now is a fraction of its former stature.

But I haven’t heard any news about the travel industry demanding legislated protection from vagrants with computers and WiFi connections (maybe that story ran in the Tennessean on a Tuesday?).

I might have had songwriters and digital royalties in the Internet era on my brain while reading that story after hearing my friend Jerry Vandiver describe the check he’d recently received from the Harry Fox Agency – the company that distributes the songwriter’s share of recording royalties – for a whole two cents:2cent checkI think the point that Jerry was trying to make was that the royalties he’s earning now are a thin fraction of what he might have expected before the Internet decimated his livelihood.  He didn’t mention “piracy” specifically, but I suspect that’s always lurking in the wings of any such conversation.

And the point that I am trying to make – which this AP story about all manner of shrinking industries bears out – is that Internet piracy is not the root cause for the plight of the modern professional songwriter.

Like McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” Translation: “it’s the technology, stupid.”

The AP story describes is a 21st century where almost every facet of the economy has been effected by new technologies.  It ain’t just songwriters, and we’re really not in Kansas, anymore, Toto.

A lot of my songwriter friends remain convinced that  “piracy” – the prevalence of file sharing and unauthorized downloading – has shrunk their industry and livelihoods.  There was a lot of verbal wrangling on the subject last year around the legislation (SOPA, PIPA)  that the intellectual property-based industries (film, television, music, etc.) wanted, that got shot down in Congress.   It surprised me, the virulence of some of the rhetoric – the intimations that anybody who opposed the legislation was not sympathetic to the plight of songwriters, etc.  But, then again, where livelihoods are threatened, virulence is no surprise.

My position has always been that piracy alone is not the source of the shrinkage – it is not even the dominant factor. Unauthorized file sharing is not the affliction, it’s a symptom of a much larger systemic condition.  This AP series about the permanently shrunken job market throughout the 21st economy seems to prove the point.

The music industry was indeed the canary, and we are getting much deeper into the mineshaft now.  Beware the “Lights In The Tunnel.

Just as the arrival of the printing press presaged the demise of the scribe monks who, prior to the 15th century, were the only ones who could make copies of the Bible, we now see the Internet and digital technologies transforming almost every aspect of our culture and economy.

Admittedly, the issues facing the creative arts are different than those facing an industry like travel.  With easily digitized media like music, the impact derives from the sheer volume of what is now available.  Recorded music used to be a scarce resource, distributed on plastic or vinyl wafers that were shipped from factory to retail on trucks.  Now its all reduced to electrons and digits that are transmitted through the air.

“Air” is actually a good analogy.  Or “water.”

The big difference between now and the time before Napster is that the quantity of “content”l that is now available through modern channels is no longer scarce.  It is, for all intents and purposes, infinite.  The entire history of recorded music is now available at the tap of a touch screen. When you have instantaneous access to way more content then you will be able to listen to over the course of an entire lifetime, the supply is essentially infinite.

And I think there is a lesson somewhere in Economics 101, in the chapter on Supply on Demand, where it says that “if the supply is infinite, the price will approach zero.”

In which case, even a 2cent royalty check begins to look like a king’s ransom…

Origins of the Troubadour Logo

I was (again) going through the photo archives over the long holiday weekend, and came across the set of photos from when/where I found the Troubadour that graces the top of these pages.

It was during our annual “Fall Tour” in 2010, which in October of that year took us to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  That summer had been pretty dry, and so I mostly remember that fall tour as being warm and brown, rather than cool and colorful — which is what we expect for a “fall tour.”

The Ozark Medieval Fortress near Lead Hill, AR

The Ozark Medieval Fortress near Lead Hill, AR

The hostess at the b&b where we stayed told us something we didn’t expect to hear:  that there is medieval castle being built in the forest about an hour east of Eureka Springs.  Sure enough, later that morning we found ourselves traipsing around the grounds of something called the Ozarks Medieval Fortress, where a contractor with some experience restoring old chateaus in France had commenced to building a small stone castle, using techniques much like those used in the 12th and 13th centuries.

While wandering the grounds, I happened upon this display, which described some aspects of life around such a dwelling and fortress during their heyday:

The Original Troubadour

I spent about 15 minutes photographing the sign from numerous angles, and when we got home extracted just the Troubadour element to use as the logo for this website, etc.

In its first incarnation, the Troubadour illustrated what I thought was going to be the gist of “Cohesion Arts” – “Fostering A New Troubadour in the Era of the Celestial Jukebox.” I’m still enamored of the seeming paradox in that juxtaposition.  And while the original conception of “Cohesion Arts” (some kind of artists-management-collective) was set aside last summer, I still believe there is some merit in the notion that all this technology is actually restoring aspects of culture that were paved over in the era of mass production and broadcasting.

The "future" never did look like that, but the 1930s sure did.

The “future” never did look like that, but the 1930s sure did.

It may be hard to see it that way, because for most people, the perception of the future is colored by a hangover from the immediate past.  We expect the future to be like the present – only more so.  Like when you look at illustrations from, say, the 1920s or 30s, what you typically see is not so much a prediction of the future as a reflection of the ethos of that present era.

By same token, every time I hear a prediction that something happening today is “the future of… (insert subject here), I can’t help but hear extensions of an old paradigm that some are still trying to drag into the future.

And, as long as we are talking about troubadours, I can say that I find this tendency particularly true in the realm of music, where we continue to live in a hangover from the previous era, where we think we have been successful every time we somehow manage to adapt old forms to new technologies.The actual future remains elusive, and, particularly in the realm of music, I don’t think we have seen the full impact of digital technology.  The download model is an extension of the product model – we’re still buying and selling discrete units.  But once the streaming model settles in, the ultimate shift will be dramatic in ways that we have yet to foresee.  Just the fact that there is so much objection to the business model makes me fairly certain that we haven’t got a clear grasp on what’s coming at us. So I’ll stick with the Troubadour, who at the very least is a reflection of a very different time, not just the time immediately before the one we are entering now. Besides, it came from a castle, and as you all should have figured out by now, I’m a sucker for castles.

The Medium Is The Message, Version…

…I don’t know, I’ve used that expression so many times I’ve lost count.

But that fundamental McLuhanism came to mind again when I watched this TEDx talk that traces the effects of evolving technology on music delivery.

My own “Music 3.0” scenario deals only with the delivery actual audio; this talk focuses on the effects of sheet music.  The way I see it, “sheet music” is not really music.  It’s paper.   It doesn’t become music until somebody interprets the marks on the paper and transmit them from his eyes to his fingers or vocal chords to your ears.

In that scenario, there have been three epochs of music delivery.  The first, as  Dr. Bowen describes, was the ‘aural’ period – if you wanted to hear music, somebody had to be in the room to play it for you.  And even after the introduction of printed sheet music, that remained the case.

The delivery of actual music didn’t change until the introduction of the cylinder recorder in the late 19th century.  That introduced the second epoch – music as an industrial product – which was extended by the introduction of audio broadcasting in the early 20th century.

That epoch ended with the arrival of Napster, the first iteration of on-demand-delivery of digital audio.  In the digital era, music (delivery) is no longer a product.  We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it is.

My hunch is the new epoch looks a lot more like the first epoch than it does the second, but it looks to me like most of us are still trying to drag the second epoch into the third.

So this is an instructive discussion of how exactly technology effects – and disrupts – music delivery.   Dr. Bowen probably doesn’t know it, but he’s a pretty damn good McLuhanist himself.

 

The Mumford Fiasco

...but tickets are still available!

OK, I’ve thought this all through a little more, and will concede now that Mumford & Sons and The Ryman Auditorium don’t really suck.

But boy, the process of buying tickets for Mumford’s three shows at the Ryman in March through Ticketmaster sure does.

First, a brief recap of my personal history with the Mumfords, because it is, I think, fairly illustrative of how things work in an era when the imperative to buy “records” simply no longer exists.

I think Mumford and Sons started appearing on my musical radar a little over a year ago.  Can’t recall now where they first showed up, probably one of the four or five channels I monitor regularly on XM Satellite Radio.  Then I think they showed up on the Grammy Awards freak show last year doing a set with some human frog impersonator… what was his name… oh yeah, “Dylan.”

But it wasn’t until I grabbed their 2010 release Sigh No More from MOG.com that I started to have a greater appreciation of this band’s very energetic, organic, acoustic… Oh fuck, I don’t know what to call it, it’s just really very original, and uplifting and engaging in a way that very little music is these days.  So I was hooked.

But please note, I did NOT “buy” the album.  I listened to it via my streaming music subscription service. Sigh No More was just one of the hundreds of records I listened to last year for all of $10/mo.  And then I created a “Mumford & Sons” channel on Pandora, and we listen to that channel a LOT.

Maybe the best seats in this - or any - house.

But all that means is that so far, Mumford & Co have earned several pennies for all the enjoyment we have gotten from their music.  All along, I figured, the big pay off — for the band and us — would come when they finally came to Nashville and  (I hoped…) would play at the Ryman Auditorium.  For all it’s short comings (cramped aisles, hard wooden seats, and pray whoever sits in front of you is not wearing a cowboy hat…)  the Ryman is still one of the best live music venues in the country.  And if you can get the front row of the balcony (aka “The Confederate Gallery”), it may be the best live music venue in the world.

My point here is: in the era of cheap – essentially costless – recorded music, seeing the act live is how they’re going to get my money.  So when Mumford and Sons announced – like a week ago – that they’d be playing 3 shows at the Ryman early in March, I figured it was time they got my bucks.

I can be so naive some times.

Tickets for the Mumford’s Ryman shows were set to go on sale via the Ryman website starting at 10AM on Saturday February 4th.  So at 9:59 AM I – and, I gather countless thousands of other Mumford fans, sat with browser windows loaded and ready to fire the moment the clock struck 10AM.

Lotta good that did me.  Because even though I was submitting a ticket request within seconds of the window opening, all I got in response was:

The not-so-funny joke in that display is “other tickets may be available on Ticketmaster.com.”  Well, excuse me but even though its branded “Ryman Auditorium,” this WAS “Ticketmaster.com.”

And the net effect of the screen is: “This is the only way to purchase tickets for these shows. But you can’t actually buy tickets for these shows.”

And this, apparently, was the common experience of most of people who tried to buy tickets.  All the evidence you need of what a tortuous, frustrating, and ultimately futile experience buy tickets for these shows started to show up within minutes on Mumford & Son’s Facebook page, which as of this writing has well over 300 comments. Here are a few that tell the tale:

or this one:

or hundreds like those.

I did not realize it at the time, but this whole fiasco was unfolding in real time via Twitter.  Typical tweets directed @TheRyman told a similar tale:

There are dozens, maybe hundreds more, tweets to that effect.  And yet, @TheRyman kept insisting that the show was not sold out, and that tickets were still available.  As late as 10:44 AM, @TheRyman tweeted:

and finally, a little after 11AM:

Well, dear Ryman Official Tweeter, maybe YOU called it at 11:09 AM, but for nearly everybody who tried to buy tickets to these shows when they went on sale, it was over within minutes.  And, judging from the scarcity of tickets when they did go on sale, and the number of people who report being able to score no more than single seats, it was really  over before it started.

Since giving up on my desire to see one of these shows around 10:20 yesterday morning (other obligations called…), I have given considerable thought to the message in that first screen shot above, the one that simply says, “no exact matches were found, but other tickets may still be available…”

In defense of the Ryman and the band, that message does not say “sold out.”  But for the average user, who refreshed countless times – and has to enter a stupid “captcha” code like this:

…over and over again with every attempt to refresh, the shows may as well have been sold out.  There is really no meaningful difference between “not sold out” and “can’t buy any tickets.”

And as if to underscore just how fucked up this whole process was and still is: the screenshot at the top of this post is what the Ticketmaster site is STILL displaying if you try to purchase tickets today, 24 hours AFTER @TheRyman “called it” and announced the shows sold out.  As of 8AM Sunday morning you can go to MumfordandSons.com and the  listing still says “Buy.”  And if you follow that link it takes you right back to the Ryman’s Ticketmaster box office, and let’s you go through the same futile, frustrating experience that most users encountered BEFORE the shows were officially “sold out.”

So anybody who concluded between 10AM and 11:09 that the entire run was sold out would have been entirely justified in coming to that conclusion, because now @TheRyman says it IS sold out, and the website is presenting the same “still available on Ticketmaster.com” reply page.

It is hard to imagine a process that could be more fucked up than this one.

I’ve belabored this point long enough already.  There are a lot of factors involved, starting with the immeasurable popularity of the band and ending with Ticketmaster’s near monopoly of the business of ticket vending for large venue shows.  The attempt to prevent scalping is probably some kind of factor, but despite the “paperless ticket” policy for these shows, there are tickets being sold at resale sites like Stubhub and Craig’s list.

My point for now is simply: there has GOT to be a better way to handle a sale like this.

 

It's already random, so why not?

Why not a lottery of some sort? Say the lottery opens at 10AM. And the window to enter the lottery is open for 24 or 48 hours, take your time, no hurry, no need to pound multiple browser windows to try and snag the few remaining seats.  Once the lottery window closes, winners are chosen in some rationally distributed quantities of 1, 2, 3 or four tickets. Go ahead and make them paperless if you think that will help minimize scalping.

Yes, the resulting distribution of tickets would be entirely random.  But it’s hard to imagine how the process could be any more random than the one that people experienced yesterday, with a few people snaring tickets – mostly single seats – and most people being spurned by a system that STILL SAYS “tickets may be available…”

I don’t know if that’s any kind of solution, but I do know that the system we all encountered yesterday sucks a huge bratwurst.

But just how fucked up this all was driven home by one final irony.  Yesterday afternoon at 2:37 I got into my car, where the radio had been tuned to WRLT – Nashville’s Radio Lightning (love Fred Buc’s “Retro Lightning” on Saturday mornings).  And the minute the radio fired up, what do you think I heard?  Of course, “Mumford and Sons… at The Ryman…Tickets on sale now!”

There is so much talk these days about how “live” is the only remaining salvation of what is left of the “music business.”  And yes, the shows are sold out, so some seven or eight thousand people will indeed have the pleasure of spending an evening with Mumford and Sons.  Maybe I’m just expressing the “politics of envy” here.

Of this much I am reasonably certain: whoever got tickets to see these shows, get cleaned up and dress nice. It’s going to a good night for a hookup: There are going to be an awful lot of single people at these shows.

–Paul Schatzkin, Feb 5 2012

 

 

 

Linda Chorney: Poster Child for A Paradigm Shift

“To create a new paradigm we must refrain from putting energy into the current one.” Fred M.

When I first read this story about an unknown and unheralded singer-songwriter who worked an internal NARAS social network to secure a Grammy Award nomination in the Americana category, I wasn’t sure what to think.

But after reading some of the reactions to the effort, I know exactly what to think:  You go, girl.

Recapping for those of you who may not be familiar with the story: Linda Chorney is an “independent” (i.e. no label support) singer-songwriter, touring performer and recording artist from Sea Bright, NJ (just over the bridge from my own home town of Rumson!) who has been working the circuit around the world for over 30 years (believe me, I know the type). As first detailed in this account in Daily Variety:

The resourceful Linda Chorney secured a Grammy nomination in the category of Americana album for her self-produced, self-released “Emotional Jukebox” by taking her mission directly to voters, employing the peer-to-peer function of the Recording Academy’s own site for members, Grammy 365.

Many in the tight-knit Americana community have reacted quizzically, and sometimes vehemently, to Chorney’s nomination, which trumped several well-known artists in the genre.

The whole phenomenon raises all kinds of interesting questions, starting with whether or not Ms. Chorney’s recording conforms withthe definition of the category she was nominated in, “Americana.”

The concept of of “Americana” really defies any clear or simple definition.  The Americana Music Association, which considers itself the guardian of the genre, defines_Americana as…

“…music that honors and is derived from the traditions of American roots music. It is music inspired by American culture traditions which is not only represented in classic man made / roots based sounds but also through new and contemporary artists whose music is clearly inspired by these great traditions.”

Since its inception in the late 1990s, “Americana” has come to encompass a broad range of musical styles.  Rosanne Cash probably put it best when she said from the stage at the 2010 American Music Awards show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium that “Americana is where they put you when you don’t really fit anywhere else…”

By that definition, Linda Chorney’s CD “Emotional Jukebox” certainly qualifies as “Americana.”  So why are so many in the Americana circle so bent out of shape that Ms. Chorney has secured a Grammy nomination in their category?

The indignant reaction reinforces the simmering, sub-surface criticism of  some observers who regard “Americana” as its own insular little world, dominated by a new generation of uber-insiders — despite its origins in the “alt” corner of country music.  These critics observe that certain names that are close to the nucleus of the genre keep coming up, and winning awards year after year.  Case in point: Buddy Miller has won so many “Instrumentalist of the Year” awards that one disgruntled commentator suggested after this year’s awards show that the time had come to rename the category ‘Buddyana.” Read More

Julia Nunes: Emissary from The Future

 

 

Julia Nunes at The Basement in Nashville – Nov 3, 2011

Julia Nunes came to Nashville last night, and brought with her the latest incarnation of “Music 3.0.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Julia Nunes is the poster child for launching a career by posting cover songs on YouTube.  I started hearing about her probably a year ago from my colleague Charles Alexander.

Julia Nunes’ clever, engaging, DIY videos have garnered hundreds of thousands — collectively, millions — of views on YouTube, and have generated enough of a fan base that she raised nearly $80,000 with a Kickstarter campaign to record a full CD of her originals.  Now she has management (AC Entertainment, the people who bring you Bonnaroo) and promotion and distribution (Nashville’s Thirty Tigers) and a career with some air under its wings.

And, judging from the packed house at The Basement last night, she has an enthusiastic audience — some of whom drove considerable distances to see her, and most of whom were probably seeing her in person for the first time.  That fact was underscored by the comment I overheard from one young woman in the audience as Julia took the stage, “I can’t believe she’s not on my computer screen!”  Score one for “reality.”

Indeed, what I found most compelling about this show was not the performance, but the audience. Read More

“Jonathan Coulton” is (or is not?) a “Business Model”

I first learned of Jonathan Coulton a couple of years ago when “Code Monkey” was playing on XM Satellite Radio. Then I started reading about his “Thing A Week” program, where he released a new song every week for a year.  These elements plus what sounds like a rather arduous tour schedule has put Mr. Coulton at the top of the indie singer/songwriter scene, to the point where he was cited recently on NPR’s Planet Money podcast for having earned something in the neighborhood of a half-million dollars from his music in 2010.  Not bad for a guy with a guitar and laptop.

In his own response to the NPR reporting, Coulton took issue with some of the points, like the part that compared him to a Snuggie, and whether or not the way he run his business might be applicable to other musicians trying to build a business in the digital firmament.   In comments posted to Hypebot, he makes these observations:

[because of the internet]… We now have an entirely new set of contexts and they come with a whole new set of tools that give us cheap and easy access to all of them – niche has gone mainstream. It is no longer necessary to organize your business or your art around geography, or storage space, or capital, or what’s cool in your town, or any other physical constraint. And this is not to say that anyone can become a moderately successful rockstar just by starting a blog – success is still going to be a rare and miraculous thing, as it has always been. There are just a lot more ways to get there than there used to be, and people are finding new ones every day.

Whether or not Coulton’s “business model” can be applied more broadly to other artists, there is still a lot to learn from how he has found a way to prosper amid the shifting tides.

But if that’s not really interesting to you, just watch the video: