Tag - streaming

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.

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.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

New Album From Kim Richey in April

Kim Richey is one of our very favorite underexposed artists from here in Nashville (though I think she’s living in London a good part of the year now.

Kim will be releasing a new album (note I didn’t say CD…) in April.  I’m such a fan… it may be one of the few albums I actually “buy” this year. Tthough I don’t know in what format… download?  I’ll buy a physical CD only if I can get it at a show and have her sign it.

In the meantime, here’s the title track:

iCloud: Yes, You Can Have Your Horseless Carriage…

And pretty new icons, too.

…but you still have to pull it with a horse.

Other than that, there really is a lot to like about all the announcements that Apple made yesterday, and they announced a lot.

First there is the new operating system,  OSX Lion, which brings some of the touch screen features of the iPhone and the iPad to the desktop.  Then there is iOS 5, the new operating system for all the iGizmos, which at the very least will finally allow you to sync them altogether without a cord.

And then there was the Big New Thing: iCloud, the remote storage service that unifies everything into a whole new, self-organizing, digital ecosystem.

It will take even the most dedicated observers some time to assess all the features in all this new software – much of which will not actually be released until next fall.   So there is plenty of time to sort it all out and start saving sheckels for our nifty new laptops, phones, and tablets.

But in one critical aspect, the new iCloud service is woefully lacking – and missing a grand opportunity to deliver music distribution to its inevitable destination. Read More

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" ? 

Spotify Fans Weigh in on “Google’s sorry music widget”

Logo_400_90 Spotify is big in the UK — where, I guess, you can actually get it. So it’s not surprising that a British source would make unflattering comments about not only the pending new “Google Music” service, but Lala.com as well:

Hyped overnight as a Google ‘Music Service’, what we see instead is set to be the most underwhelming launch in a long history of label-backed music flops. It’s barely a ‘service’ – merely a sorry widget that yokes a DRM-crippled version of LaLa’s already unpopular streaming offering with unsold Adwords inventory.

Instead of a text ad, a search for a music related keyword will show a widget. This allows you to listen to the song, according to Business Week – but only once. After that you pay to hear the stream at 10c a play. (You can also buy the song.)

Don’t all rush at once.

Ah, apparently they haven’t done their research there. You don’t pay “10c a play” to hear the song again. With lala.com you pay 10c for the track and then you can listen to it as much as you want, forever and for always.

Now granted, that’s not quite as encompassing a model as a flat monthly fee for all your ears can eat, but it certainly makes a buck go farther than shelling out 99c to download the track when the fact is all we really want to do is LISTEN to it.

BIG WIN for Lala.com – Teams with Google for Streaming Audio Service

None of the companies involved will confirm the new Google Music service – we have “no comments” or absolute silence from Google, LaLa, MySpace and iLike. But the new service is all but confirmed. And we have the screenshots showing how the service, which will be announced on October 28, will look to prove it.

Matt Ghering, a product marketing manager at Google, has been one of the people talking to the big four music labels about the new service, we’ve heard from one of our sources. And he has supposedly sent these screenshots of the look and feel of Google Music search to various rights holders and potential partners.

The first screenshot shows how a search result might look on Google for a search for “U2.” A picture of the band is to the left of four streaming options for various songs, and the user has the option of listening via either iLike or LaLa. Click on one of the results, and a player pops up from the services that streams the song, along with an option to purchase the song for download.

We don’t know if this is the final look of the service, but it’s definitely something Google has been sending to people to show them what it might look like.

More thoughts on this later as we digest all the information coming in. But one thing is clear – this is a huge win for LaLa and iLike. Both will get massive flow from this deal. And as much as we criticize MySpace, their acquisition of iLike is starting to look sort of brilliant.

via www.techcrunch.com

Breaking News! Music Biz Needs “Radical Overhaul” !

One of tenets of the “Music 3.0” concept that I’m articulating here is that the experience is less about the “product” and more about… well, the “experience.”

Now uber-market research firm Forrester (via Ars Technica) confirms the theory, and takes a few sacred cows — like Digital Rights Management (DRM) and 20th Century copyright law — over the falls with them.

There is even an elaborate diagram that attempts to illustrate the myriad ways that “users” will cease to be “consumers” in the new era. The “creators” will not so much offer up an end-product as they will drop a marker that starts the process — around which will form the various tribes who will respond in kind:

Forrester_music_ars

The music industry needs a “radical overhaul” to its products if it wants to revive sales, and that overhaul revolves around actually catering to consumer needs. That’s the argument in a new report from market research firm Forrester, which says that the music business needs to give up being obsessed with itself in favor of letting users create their own music experiences with ease. This goes far beyond offering mere albums for purchase—Forrester suggests users be allowed to completely customize and share their music in an extremely open, platform-agnostic manner.

First and foremost, the firm says consumers have the “right” to a unique music experience. This means that they should be able to completely customize what they’re looking at and listening to by having lyrics, on-demand live footage, photos, live chat with other fans, expandable music/video players, and more right at their fingertips. Imagine the recently introduced iTunes LP, but with much more content to choose from and fully customizable.

So this new model, it’s not so much about the shouting as it is about the “call and response.”  That is an expression of the return to the “oral traditions” of music that will thrive in the new era in which music is no longer “product” based.

Unfortunately, the Forrester Research report that Ars Technica cites above can only be had in its entirety for the low, low price of just $499.  That’s a bit of a deterrent to precisely the kind of “mash up” the report would seem to encourage.

But, then, $500 is a bit much to pay for something that seems so… obvious.

Spotify: It’s a Start

Tonight, Spotify boss Daniel Ek admitted that less than 10% of Spotify subscribers had upgraded to the Premium version.

Spotify claims over 1 million subscribers but only a maximum of 90,000 of them are stumping up £10 a month for the ad-free Premium service. That means it brings in just £900,000 a month – not small change but not enough to make the service profitable.

It's likely that the Spotify Mobile app on Android and iPhone will increase those numbers but Spotify is keeping just how much close to its chest.

Ek told the crowd at the Glasshouse that Spotify could be profitable if it "chose to be" but that he's focused on developing the business.

via stuff.tv

I suppose that for most users, the occasional ad is a small price to "pay." I would say though that the fact that there are a million users is not insignificant. That represents the leading edge of a constituency that is going to get used to hearing whatever they want, whenever they want. And if Apple ever approves the iPhone app, you can add "wherever" to the equation.