Apple Tips A Hat Toward “The Browser is My iPod”

What with all the speculation about what Apple’s acquistion of means for the future of iTunes and digital music in general, here comes the closest indication yet that Apple understands that music storage and delivery are moving into “the cloud.”

But (drum roll please) Apple has changed tack and is now offering browser-based song previews of 30 seconds of the music. This means you can sample a song from an iTunes Preview link using a Web browser.

If you like a track you can then hit the button to purchase it through the Apple music service.


Dollars Become Dimes, Dimes Become Pennies, Pennies Become…???

Of course, speculation continues to fly out of every conceivable channel and orifice re: what Apple's acquisition of means. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal tried to get a grip on what some of us have been anticipating for more than a decade – that the Celestial Jukebox is coming whether we like or not. And with its acquistion of Lala, now Apple will have a pivotal hand in expediting its arrival:

ITunes-LalaWhere Apple's iTunes requires users to download music onto a specific computer, lets users buy and listen to music through a Web browser, meaning its customers can access purchases from anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet.

Apple is considering adopting that same model for songs sold on iTunes, a change that would give consumers more ways to access and manage their iTunes purchases—and wouldn't require them to download Apple's software or their purchases.

That is potentially great news for consumers.  And potentially devastating to the remaining vestiges of the recorded music industry. 

So let us (quickly) review the history of digital music distribution over the course of the past decade, and speculate a little further about what this means for the decade that arrives in a couple of weeks:

First (well, we gotta start somewhere…), there was Napster in the summer of 1999, which for the first time demonstrated the ultimate potential of digital music delivery.  The critics and nattering nabobs at the time all screamed Armageddon because Napster was "free" (i.e. stolen).  They missed the point, which was that Napster was the first service that demonstrated the promise of "whatever you want, whenever you want it."  The issue was not cost, it was access. 

In 2003, Apple opened the iTunes store, which "unbundled" all the tunes on a CD and offered them for paid downloads at 99c per track. iTunes took the complexities and unreliability of file-sharing services like Napster and made it all simple and reliable, and that made the downloads worth 99cents to an exploding new market.  

But the real disruption in iTunes was not the price or convenience, it was the unbundling, which brought "whatever you want, whenever you want it" one step closer. 

With iTunes, if there was only one song a consumer wanted from any particular CD, that was all he/she needed to purchase.  And with that, the price point of $15 for a typical CD was reduced to a single dollar.  The price for music was reduced by a factor of (actually, more than) 1/10th:  dollars became dimes – and the recorded music industry started going into the proverbial dumper.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008, and an online CD-swapping service called "" launches a streaming music service.  Contrary to the iTunes  model of offering "30 second clips" for sampling, suddenly users can listen to whatever they want to, in its entirety, the first time for free.  If you want to listen again, you shell out a dime per track and have unlimited access to that track via Lala's cloud-based server and your browser (which signal can easily be sent to your stereo).

Now it is late 2009 and Apple —  the company that sent the recorded music industry down the slippery slope of rapidly and steadily declining revenues by changing dollars into dimes — has acquired Lala, the company that reduces those dollars into pennies.  Suddenly the song that cost me $15 a few years ago because I had to purchase it on a CD along with maybe nine or ten other songs I might not have wanted, the song that I could get from iTunes for a buck… I can now get for a mere 10cents. 

And so, again, the question: this all sounds great for consumers, but what's it going to mean for the producers? 

In days of old, when knights were bold, and the toilet that the recorded music industry is now swirling into had yet to be invented, one pillar of the business model was something called a "mechanical royalty."  That means that every time a song was reproduced in some mechanical medium (cylinder, disk, CD, download), the composers and their publishers are paid, by law, something like 9cents.  Careers and publishing empires have been built on those pennies.  

But in the business model that Apple now seems ready to embrace, those pennies disappear altogether because there are no copies.  There is only the one original copy that is accessed by through the cloud by whoever wants to hear it.  

I mention the mechanical royalty here because it represents the most endangered species in this impending paradigm shift.  The 9cent mechanical royalty is in a sense a proxy for all the revenue that recordings generate (which perhaps suggests why its rate is mandated by statute).  

But in a world where there are no copies, the mechanical royalty becomes irrelevant.  The Harry Fox Agency (the National Music Publishers Assn, named for a former president, which collects mechanicals on behalf of its members) is, in a word, doomed.  

In lieu of the mechanicals, it is presumed that some kind of "performance" royalty will be collected by the performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Sound Exchange, etc.)  

And with that, we can all breathe a sigh of relief,  considering the recent news that European streaming service Spotify recently paid Lady Gaga a whopping $167 for over a million streamed "spins" of one of her songs.  

How many ways are there to say the word "doomed" ? 

Bonnie Bishop – December, 2009

I discovered Bonnie Bishop shortly AFTER missing her during the Americana Music Conference in Nashville in October.  I’d gone to see Sarah Siskind in a showcase at the Rutledge, an left when Sarah was done; the next week, I started going through the listings of the showcases I’d missed, and listening to what I could find on I got to Bonnie Bishop, and her album Things I Know pretty much knocked me out, especially the trackLucky Ones. It was another two months before I had a chance to see her live, and here are some photos I shot of the show.

Bonnie Bishop

Bonnie Bishop – Live at The Rutledge – Nashville, TN – Dec. 8, 2009

Click the photo above to open the slide show; click the |> play button to start the show and hear “Lucky Ones” by Bonnie Bishop

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Nashville Icon Guy Clark

Guy Clark is something of a legend in Nashville.  Some of his songs have broken through the public consciousness, like Jerry Jeff Walker’s rendition of “L.A. Freeway,” but outside of Nashville, Guy Clark is something of a secret treasure.   


Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends, Tamara Saviano, asked people to suggest songs and artists to record them for a Guy Clark tribute album that she is producing. As I scrolled the list of suggestions, I had to admit to myself that that while I’ve been living in Nashville for more than 15 years and I know of OF Guy Clark, I don’t really KNOW Guy Clark as well as I should.  So I decided to go into (yes, it’s still there, despite Apple having acquired the company over the weekend…) and avail myself to as much Guy Clark as I can get my ears around today. 

And, thanks to the widget-wizardry of and the Internets (hey, that could be a band name!), you all can listen along with me, starting with his most recent album, “Somedays the Song Writes You:” 

Somedays The Song Writes You -…

Photo above of Guy Clark performing “The Randall Knife” at the Next Big Nashville Songwriter Session at the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, 2009.

The End of the World as We Never Quite Knew It: Apple Acquires

Apple-logoSaturday morning, I made the mistake of sleeping in, and sometime around 7:30 awoke to the news that Apple is acquiring  At least three different people, all well aware of how I've been advocating Lala in recent months as an alternative to iTunes (no more 30 second clips!) sent me links to stories in Hypebot, the NYTimes, and the Wall St. Journal all announcing the same deal. 

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plan." said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling.

Leaving me, along with every body else in the business, to ponder what it all means. 

There are only two possibilities: 

1) Apple really hasn't built any infrastructure for a streaming/subscription service into iTunes, and has chosen instead to acquire that infrastructure rather than develop it in house.  Or… 

2) They're going to shelve the whole thing. 

Lala-logoOver the past few weeks, whenever I've shown somebody the Lala iPhone app (which I have been privileged to be part of their beta program), the question has invariably come around to, "and Apple is going to approve this?"  Because anybody with half a wit can see that a system like Lala has devised pretty well obsolesces the iTunes "30 second samples for 99c downloads" model.  Throws it right under the bus and drives over it half dozen times.  "You can listen to anything you want to, in its entirety, for free" — pretty well redefines (on demand) music distribution. 

It's gratifying in one sense that Apple sees the handwriting on the wall, and recognizes as I've been saying for a while now that the "end zone of digital distribution is the 'Celestial Jukebox' – whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are (if the bastards ever let us)."

I speculated a while back that Google, after announcing Lala's participation in the Google Music search program, would be the company to acquire Lala.  That, I feared, would throw the Celestial Jukebox into the lurch that is now forming between Google and Apple as Google begins to get into some of Apple's business with Android, Chrome, etc.   In that regard, I suspect the Apple acquisition is ultimately the better result. 

With its unsurmountable domination of the digital music delivery business, Apple is in a far better position to make the best of Lala than Google.  What remains to be seen is Apple's time frame.  

When I started talking about Lala (and started this blog) a few months ago, and speculated re: the challenge that streaming presents to iTunes' download model, one friend predicted that Apple would "ride the download model all the way to the bottom." 

At the very least, Apple seems well aware of where that bottom is an is now making the necessary preparations to continue to be a force in digital music delivery once the download model has run its course. 

On the other hand, what Apple's acquisition of Lala empowers Apple to do is to determine the timing of the arrival of that bottom and the new paradigm its arrival heralds.  With Lala in their pocket, it will be almost entirely up to Apple to determine when the download model is over and when the cloud storage and streaming model takes over. 

No predictions here how long Apple is going to milk the downloads.  I'm just glad this means it will all work seamlessly with my other Apple products: Macs, iPhones, AppleTV, and Lord only knows what's next. Somebody, please pass the Kool-Aid.

Worlds Collide: Brooks… & Springsteen


It's not everyday that an ostensibly right-leaning columnist (albeit for the ostensibly  left-leaning New York Times…) waxes eloquent about a populist, progressive rock star, but here's David Brooks doing just that: 

I followed Springsteen into his world. Once again, it wasn’t the explicit characters that mattered most. Springsteen sings about teenage couples out on a desperate lark, workers struggling as the mills close down, and drifters on the wrong side of the law. These stories don’t directly touch my life, and as far as I know he’s never written a song about a middle-age pundit who interviews politicians by day and makes mind-numbingly repetitive school lunches at night.

Last week, my kids attended their first Springsteen concert in Baltimore. At one point, I looked over at my 15-year-old daughter. She had her hands clapped to her cheeks and a look of slack-jawed, joyous astonishment on her face. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing — 10,000 people in a state of utter abandon, with Springsteen surrendering himself to them in the center of the arena.

It begins again.

Yeah I sorta know what he means:



Great Time for “Music” – Not So Much for the “Industry”

Here's a chart that's making the rounds of the Interwebs this week that illustrates as well as anything the shifting paradigm of "music" -v- the "music industry" (i.e. the recording industry.).


This is the graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see.

It shows the fate of the three main pillars of music industry revenue – recorded music, live music, and PRS revenues (royalties collected on behalf of artists when their music is played in public) over the last 5 years.

Hopefully, this analysis – and there’s more on the nuts and bolts of our method below – sheds some factual light on the claims and counter-claims that are paranoically sweeping across the music industry establishment, not least that put forward by the singer Lily Allen in this paper recently – and the BPI – that artists are losing out as a result of the fall in sales of recorded of music.

The most immediate revelation, of course, is that at some point next year revenues from gigs payable to artists will for the first time overtake revenues accrued by labels from sales of recorded music.


OK, so, it doesn't exactly support the argument that the "remunerative value of recorded music is approaching zero," but it does support the widely-held contention that the value in music now is in the "live" experience, and not so much in the recordings.   

And the article that comes with the chart supports the seemingly contradictory business model that you can actually "create value" by giving stuff away.

How Much Is A “Stream” Worth? Maybe Not “Zero,” But Not Much More Than That

From somewhere on the edge of the Cascade Mountains: 

I've been taken to task on occasion for speculating that the cloud-storage and streaming content paradigm (aka "The Celestial Jukebox) reduces "the remunerative value of recorded to music" to something "approaching zero."

Gaga Now comes the news from Sweden – home of the much-hyped, but still not available in the US streaming music service called Spotify – that Lady Gaga was paid a whopping $167 for more than one million plays of her tune "Poker Face:"

Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” was one of the most popular tracks for 5 months on Spotify; being played more than 1 million times. But according to reports this weekend, the Swedish Performing Rights Society only paid her $167. If true, it confirms other complaints from other artists like those of Swedish musican Magnus Uggla who pulled his music off Spotify declaring, "I'd prefer to be raped by Pirate Bay than played on Spotify".

I just ran the numbers through the calculator on my iPhone (turn it sideways and it can handle those kinds of numbers) and determined that $167 divided by 1-million = $0.000167. I think that equates to 1.67 10,000ths of a dollar, or 1.67 hundredths of cent per play.

After Hypebot released this initial "$167" story, Spotify came back with a rebuttal asserting that they paid Lady Gaga "more than that," but refusing to specify what exactly they did pay.  The follow up story is worth reading because it does illustrate the complexity of these issues.  But Spotify is going to have to demonstrate that what they paid Lady Gaga amounts to something like 1,000 times the reported figure before the return from a stream approximates anything like the expected return from a 99c download.

And therein lies the problem that faces everybody in the industry as the model shifts from downloads to streaming.  

Admittedly, even 1.67-hundredths-of-a-cent is not quite zero, but it sure is close.  

Anyway you slice it, it's hard to fathom how teensy numbers like that support a viable industry for recorded music.