Tag - itunes

@PatMetheny, WTF?

Did you really just release HALF a record?

Pat Metheny, 20th Century Man

Pat Metheny, 20th Century Man

I think I have to confess something that a lot of my Vast Legion of readers will take issue with: I get really irritated when fairly major recording artists use manipulative techniques to get me to buy their records.

And I will confess further, likely much to the dismay of anybody who is still trying to make any kind of a living from “selling music,” that I consider the whole concept very “20th century.”

It’s an idea that originated with Edison and Berliner and Johnson in the early 20th Century.

And has been essentially obsolete since the advent of the Internet, MP3s, and Napster.  I live in the era of the Celestial Jukebox now.  I expect it all to be delivered for a single monthly fee.  Kinda like my cable teevee.

But people keep trying to sell me records, and they keep trying to do it with what I regard as onerous promotional methods.

Like releasing only parts of a new CD on Spotify. As Pat Metheny has done with his new album, called Kin.

First of all,  I have been a Pat Metheny fan since early 1980s.  As Falls Witchita, So Falls Witchita Falls (released in 1981 – no Spotify link) is one of my all time album titles, and some of the tracks on Off Ramp (released 1982, also no Spotify link) are repeat-play classics.

And I have been listening to a LOT of Pat Metheny lately, in particular his solo acoustic release from 2003, One Quiet Night (Spotify link)  and 1992’s multi-sonic-dimensional Secret Story (Spotify link). His music offers that rare blend of soothing and soaring, stimulation without distraction, that is ideal for doing other kinds of work like processing photos or, especially, writing (for the most part; some of his music can also be wild and frenetic and “outside” – and that’s OK, too.  That’s what the “skip” buttons are for…)

In fact, I just shelled out something like $150 for two tickets to see Pat Metheny when he plays the Ryman auditorium later this month.  That’s a hell of a lot more money than I’ve paid to almost any artist I can think of in the past year or so (I tend to frequent small, less expensive clubs than the bigger concert halls).

So imagine my perplexion when I went to Spotify and discovered that, yes, like the email said, Kin by Pat Metheny is now available on Spotify… but ONLY 5 OF THE 9 TRACKS ON THE ALBUM.

What the fuck?  C’mon Pat, what’s the fucking point? Do you seriously think that I am going to set aside my 21st Century, stream-it-all model just to hear the other four tracks?  Are you and your management (more likely) so out of touch with how new technology works in the marketplace that you really think that’s going to work on me?

Is the $150 I just put directly into your pocket (apart from whatever onerous “convenience fees” that were part of that sum), not enough to sustain your creative energy? Do you really need the $9 that the full record would cost to download, or, worse, just the $4 to “purchase” the original tracks?

I cannot begin to tell you how antiquated the whole concept sounds to me.  Or how disappointing it is that you’ve attempted to “tease” me with a partial release.

I know that the royalties that streaming services pay are a subject of raging controversy all over the Interwebs.  I know that artists and labels get paid only a fraction of a penny each time a track is streamed over the internet, and that those streams cannibalize the market for potential unit sales.  Or as  friend of mine just put it, “Spotify is great for me and devastating for creators.”

To which I have to respond: if it is great for the user, then the creators will have to adjust, because what works for the customer is always what will prevail in the marketplace (that’s an old law of economics that I just made up).

The advantage of streaming for a creator is, potentially, in the multitude of plays.  When I buy a record, the artist and his label get paid once.  But when I stream a recording over and over again – precisely as I have been doing lately with Pat Metheny – the creators get paid every time.  Yes, the actual numbers may bear some adjusting, but over the long term, and as more people become accustomed to this mode of delivery, the numbers are going to add up.

Because, like Lefsetz keeps saying, the future is streaming.

So please, don’t insult my good intentions and fan-boyhood by withholding half of your new release from the format that I am most inclined to listen to.

Now, all that said, let me hasten to add: there are circumstances when I will purchase CDs, but that is typically when I have gotten excited about some new, emerging artist – somebody who can genuinely benefit from an individual expression of support, both personal and financial. And, as often as not, I will be happy to contribute considerably more than the cost of a single CD to that artist’s crowd-funding campaign if they ask for it.  In the past few years I’ve made a lot more $35 to $50 contributions to such campaigns than I have purchased individual $15 CDs.

Because this is the 21st Century.  Because I want to a “patron,” not a “consumer.”

This new record sounds terrific, what I’ve heard of it, and I will probably listen a lot to those FIVE of the NINE tracks.  And Pat will get a few pennies for the privilege.  And those pennies will add up across the breadth of the considerable following he has amassed over the several decades of his career.

I like Kin so much that I’m going to embed the Spotify player for it right here in this blog post, so you can listen to the tracks that are available now:

But I will NOT go to iTunes and drop even the $4 it would cost me to get the other tracks.  Because iTunes is just not how I listen to (god, how I hate the word “consume”) music any more.

“Selling” discrete units of music – (vinyl, CDs, downloads, whatever the format) is an industrial model, and we don’t live in an industrial economy any more.

If you don’t believe me, then just climb into my time machine, fly about 20 years into the future, and look back on today.

See what I mean?

I Want My #Streaming #iTunes

So this story has beenAmazonMP3 making the rounds for the past coupla/few days:

Amazon Aims To Compete With iTunes :

I think it’s just nifty that Amazon wants to poach some of iTunes MP3 / download sales, but I think they’re both on the wrong track.  Downloading is so… 1999!

I’m more intrigued to see what’s behind the reports that Apple is planning to launch a service akin to Pandora sometime maybe this year.   I just hope that whatever they’re building – if anything? – that it’s as much like Spotify or MOG as it is Pandora.

For starters, I’m pretty fucking bored with Pandora.  I have a lot of stations in my Pandora account (which I pay for, btw), and it’s frustrating how often I hear the same tunes – even when I’ve “thumbs-downed” them.  It seems their playlists are very shallow – it’s the same one or two tracks from each album that comes up in my rotations.

It’s entirely reasonable to think that if Apple is going after streaming licenses, that the resulting service might be more like Spotify or MOG (the two other services I subscribe to) than Pandora – since both Spotify and MOG have a “radio” feature that I sometimes find superior to Pandora.  If the licenses that Spotify and MOG have with the labels permit both on demand AND programmed streaming, then it seems reasonable to assume that’s what Apple is building, too. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

But before such a beast can be unleashed, Apple is going to have to finally give up the pay-per-download ghost and start driving iTunes customers toward a streaming subscription service.  They have to let go completely of the old paradigm before the new one can have a chance – and that letting go will finally force the shift.

At first, it may seem like that’s going to have a detrimental impact on the music industry.  After all, it was the iTunes store that got much of the music-buying word to switch to downloading instead of buying CDs in the first place.  It’s reasonable to assume that once Apple offers streaming, users will eventually stop purchasing altogether.  That’s gonna make some people very nervous.

But keep this statistic in mind, which was reported a couple of years ago by the NPD Group: the average music consumer spends about $40 on recorded music, which gets them ownership of a whole three or four CDs a year; if a great number of those consumers can be persuaded instead to spend $10/mo to have access to the entire history of recorded music, then they’ll be spending $120/year instead of $40 – and you’ve just tripled the size of your industry.  Somebody ring a bell.

But not too loudly, because there’s still gonna be a lot of adjusting to do.  Because once streaming becomes the norm — as downloading has replaced a lot of physical sales — then the business model on the creators side of the equation will be contingent on how much people area actually listening to the content – not how many units they can sell. That is spelled d-i-s-r-u-p-t-i-o-n.

Personally, the reason I hope that Tim Cook and the gang will come up with something is because, for me personally at least, I think it has a hidden potential to be a much more valuable service than either Spotify, MOG, Pandora, or any of the existing services. Why? Because in addition to the vast selection that such a service would offer, it will also contain the much narrower universe of music that I have in fact personally purchased over the years – a digital collection that now includes a lot of the stuff I purchased on vinyl going all the way back to the 1960s.

Thanks to Apple’s iTunes Match, which grew out of Cupertino’s acquisition of Lala.com almost three years ago, Apple now has my entire music collection living in its iCloud.  That means that Apple – and really only Apple –  has the ability to blend the music I have purchased over the years with new music that might be compatible.  I have no idea how they’re going to do that, but when they do, that will be the most awesome streaming music service of all.

So, c’mon Tim Cook, whathefuck are you waiting for??

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click here for previous musings about Apple’s prospects for a streaming music  subscription service and the Celestial Jukebox in general.

Is the iTunes+Lala.com Merger Destined for the iPad?

Last week CNET.com offered some thoughts about how the iPad will work as a music player.  I think they're on the right track with this item: 

IPad_music_small_270x190 

Cloud-based music service. Even if the iPad had wireless sync, the most affordable model has only 16GB of storage. This isn't enough for most music lovers' digital collections, especially if they're going to use the iPad for other functions like electronic books and photos. So how about taking that Lala acquisition and using it? Instead of having to load music onto the iPad itself, I could sync it from my computer to Lala's online music locker service, then stream it over the Web directly to my device. Bye-bye, storage limits. Best of all, every time I update my music collection, it's updated everywhere simultaneously. This is such a no-brainer I'd be stunned if Apple doesn't make it available shortly after the iPad launches.

via news.cnet.com

This seems pretty obvious to me. I wonder what sort of a fast-track the Lala team is on to incorporate its functions into the iPad version of iTunes.

One disadvantage of the impending iPad compared to, say, an actual MacBook is the absence of third-party multi-tasking. On the MacBook, that capability is essential for the "browser is my iPod" scenario because it requires Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil software to flip the audio signal from my browser to an Airport Express (or Apple TV) and then to my stereo.

Without multi-tasking, that scenario is not going to work with the iPad. But I can still use iTunes to connect to my Airport Express or Apple TV, since iTunes has audio export to other devices built right in. So what's missing is the ability to access my music collection from the iPad without needing to store the whole 60GB collection on the device itself.

I'm sure Apple knows this, and that's why the company acquired Lala.com. My entire music collection is already in Lala's cloud. I suspect it is only a matter of time before it shows up in my iPad's cloud as well.

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 Lala.com 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, Lala.com 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 "Lala.com" 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" ?