Tag Archives: streaming

The End of Ownership: Material Gives Way to the Ephemeral

Here we are living through social distancing. Living through a period when we interact with people, primarily, unless those people are part of a small group we are confident of, via Zoom or Teams or from behind a mask, ideally six or more feet away. Masks and sweatpants have become increasingly important to people, the former because of the need to go out and the latter because somehow the “office” is something that is only evident from the waist up.

And when we have to encounter surfaces, there is a frantic look around for some means by which the object is sanitized or our hands are. Or both.

If we need stuff—like, say, food—then it isn’t a matter of just going down the street to the local bodega or hopping in the car and buzzing over to the supermarket. It is something that is carefully planned and executed. And while time has dulled the edge of the potential virus, there is still some hesitation regarding whether the objects should be brought in to the kitchen right away or whether those cans, boxes and bags should be permitted to settle for a period of time.

The material has become suspect.

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But it wasn’t COVID-19 that had the effect on the music industry in the U.S. that is unfolding. It seems that people have decided that when it comes to music, most are not particularly interested in any sort of ownership. The transient is sufficient. And when the numbers for 2020 are calculated, odds are that what occurred in 2019 will be nothing if not magnified.

In a report from the Recording Industry Association of America for overall economics of 2019, the trade group found “Total revenues from streaming music grew 19.9% to $8.8 billion in 2019, accounting for 79.5% of all recorded music revenues.”

And more telling: “The streaming market alone in 2019 was larger than the entire U.S. recorded market just 2 years ago in 2017.”

The biggest chunk of the monies in 2019 streaming were for subscription services, accounting for $6.8 billion. That in itself is 61% of total recorded music revenues.

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The Importance of Artifact

The reports of the existence of the “last” Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, is treated as though here is something that is completely quaint and old-timey: “Yes, son, way back when we used to go to a store and rent movies on discs. And sometimes we actually bought them!”

And on the subject of buying discs, while Best Buy, which had been the #1 music retailer, had announced that it was going to stop selling CDs, it has modified that. It will continue to but with a greatly minimized selection; there will probably be more selection of Keurig coffees.

In this era of downloading and streaming, the notion of buying physical artifacts like discs is becoming increasingly unthinkable.

While vinyl discs are making something of a comeback, you rarely hear any arguments about the fidelity of the sound as being a reason for this occurrence. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that many of the purchasers of vinyl probably have some crappy Crosley record player upon which the latest novelty is played. Sure, there are audiophiles who have never given up the grooves, but they’re becoming like philatelists in the age of email, which has then given way to texting.

But a question that seems to go unasked is who benefits from this? And I would argue that it is the purveyors of the digitally based music (or video) products.

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Listening to Gresham’s Law

Back in 1558, Sir Thomas Gresham, who was the financial agent for Queen Elizabeth I, articulated what was to become known as “Gresham’s law.” The law has it that “bad money drives out good.”

He was talking about physical currency.

One way to think about this is to take a quarter out of your pocket (assuming that you’re reading this in the U.S.; if not, it doesn’t make any difference although it will be less physically obvious).

When you look at the coin edge-on you see a sandwich of materials. There is a copper center covered by two shiny layers.

Said quarter is 91.67 percent copper. The shiny stuff is nickel and it makes up the remainder.

Prior to 1964 quarter were made of silver.

So in Gresham’s law, the “bad money”—the metal sandwich—drives out the “good,” the silver, which has a much higher value in terms of the metal alone. Almost as soon as the cupronickel quarters appeared the silver quarters disappeared. Some were saved by coin collectors. Some, no doubt, were melted down (which, by the way, is illegal) and sold as metal.

What does any of this have to do with music?

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Apple Music and the end of ownership

I’ve been using Apple Music for a couple weeks now, just like everybody else. And I’m starting to think this might be the thing that finally pushes me over the edge away from the purchasing/owning/collecting mentality that has been a part of my life and identity since I joined the Columbia House tape club and got thirteen 8-tracks for a dollar. In high school I would take my dishwasher paycheck and buy a new imported Smiths 12-inch every week. I’ve got boxes and shelves full of CDs. I like physical media.

But the truth is I listen to 90% of my music via iTunes on my computer in my office through decent Klipsch speakers. I have a real stereo and the remaining 10% of my at-home music listening is divided between vinyl and SACDs through a vintage Project One amp and Advent Prodigy Towers. I listen to CDs in my car.

With new music my process has been to buy the CD and rip it to MP3 or ALAC and then add the songs to my iTunes library. I then throw the CD in my car or in a box or on a shelf. Or I’ll buy the record and use the download card. I have an elaborate series of smart playlists that help me make sure I give all new music at least four spins before falling out of heavy rotation. Higher ranked songs get played more frequently. Everything with three stars gets played at least once every four years or so. I’m anal. And this system works for me.

I rarely buy downloads, and almost never from iTunes. I think downloads are grossly overpriced for what you get: lossy files with no liner notes. I’ll happily spend $20 on a record, but I won’t pay more than $2.99 for an album download. Especially when you can usually get the CD for $9.99. CDs are not very glamorous but they’re lossless and they’re permanent.

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Stream the new Asteroid No. 4 album

You can now stream the entire new album from Asteroid No. 4. What I love about this band is their inclusion of sounds beyond “drone” in their exploration of psychedelic music–but rest assured, there’s some drone in there too. It’s just that there were as many weirdos on the farms back in the day as there were in warehouses and these guys know it.

Dig this 45 minute tour of Cosmic American Music while summer fades to fall and the nights take over the days. There’s a golden chill in the air, so warm up with a nip of whiskey and a tug on your pipe.

Read our interview with the band:
12 YEAR ITCH: GLORIOUS NOISE INTERVIEW WITH THE ASTEROID NO. 4

David Vandervelde – One More Time

I have a soft spot for dreamy pop songs. As noted many, many times here in the past, I am a nostalgic sort so it should come as no surprise that anything that is at once contemporary and referential of hazy memories and half-dreams would be my jam. I bought the Julie Cruz album, for heaven’s sake!

David Vandervelde’s new LP Shadow Sides has those elements. It’s warbly and wobbly and a bit out of focus, but the colors come through vibrant and rich. Yes, like a Polaroid. I am guessing that’s by design because his aural style is so clearly defined and consistently applied it can’t be by mistake.

Dig this track, “One More Time” and lament your 8th grade break up all over again.

 

Stream the whole album here.

Crow Moses – Horse Heaven Hills

Full disclosure: I played a set with Crow Moses’ Mike Musikanto last fall here in Portland. But if I recused myself from writing about the music of people I actually know then you all would miss out on SOOOO MUCH.

Crow Moses has a familiar feel to it, without being same-y or derivative. It has some lovely melodies and lilting vocals that open into impressionistic lyrics about people and places you might recognize, but not quite remember. Produced by The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, the sound of the album is warm and home-y. There are pedal steel guitars peeking in an out, jangly guitars waft through.

Title track, “Horse Heaven Hills” is lush without being overwrought. It sounds like a lovely place to sit and watch the sun set over your hometown.

Warner Bails on Streaming Sites

Warner Music has decided against licensing new music to online streaming sites like Last.FM, Pandora and others. Citing his belief that these sites, which deliver his artists’ music to untold potential new fans, was not “positive” for the music industry, chief executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. told the BBC that Warner would not issue licenses to new sites.

“Free streaming services are clearly not net positive for the industry and as far as Warner Music is concerned will not be licensed,” Bronfman told the BBC. “The ‘get all your music you want for free, and then maybe with a few bells and whistles we can move you to a premium price strategy’, is not the kind of approach to business that we will be supporting in the future.”

Instead, Bronfman said Warner will focus on launching their own fee-based service to compete with streaming sites and online retailers like iTunes.

“The number of potential subscribers dwarfs the number of people who are actually purchasing music on iTunes,” Bronfman said. He sees the potential for subscriptions in the “hundreds of millions if not billions of people, most of whom are not today either buyers or certainly heavy buyers of music.”

Yeah, right. Good luck with that.

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Poll: 75% of Students Prefer Downloads to Streams

iPhone A recent University of Reading study finds that 75% of students polled prefer downloading music to buying hard copies or even streaming, which may speak to a sort of splitting of the difference for how younger audiences view digital music. If there was ever any debate on whether people still want to “own” music, this bit of information sheds a little bit more light.

The popularity of streaming sites like LastFM

, Pandora and Spotify had a lot of nobs who think about these things wondering if we’d eventually hit a point wher nobody owns and keeps any form of music—be that physical CDs and records or digital files. The idea was that as broadband and wireless technology improved and the masses moved to smart phones we’d eventually just have all music available on demand via streaming tools. But is that what anyone wants?

According to the survey of 10,000 university students, “75 percent said they wouldn’t pay for a music-streaming service but would rather use sites such as iTunes to download and keep tracks on hard drives or MP3 players.”

The survey is cited in a press release apparently issued on behalf of TunesPro.com, a new download site hoping to compete with iTunes. Their angle seems to be to undercut on price. The press release quotes a spokesman for TunesPro:

We keep our prices low and concentrate of making money through volume sales. Currently we charge 19c per song and offer a further 10% when a whole album is purchased. We believe this will attract the younger users away from iTunes, which charge almost 6 times more than we do.

So for now it appears many younger audiences still want to possess something for their money. Will that hold as the ease and cost for bandwidth decreases and becomes more widespread? Will you still want to “hold” your music?