All posts by Stephen Macaulay

How to Write an Earworm

In the days of AM radio, when songs were under three minutes long, there were a variety of sequences of songs played—repeatedly—which were generally described by the disc jockey as being the “top 10.” It was never entirely clear what the number described (i.e., top 10 of what?).

But it should be noted that while there was undoubtedly the whiff of something shady (to mix a couple of metaphors), radio station managers knew that they had to be exceedingly careful because of Congressional investigations into so-called “payola” in 1960, which even caused comment by then-president Dwight Eisenhower, who considered this to be an issue of public morality.

Which seems a bit too far.

But be that as it may, the FCC established a law that says, in part, “When a broadcast station transmits any matter for which money, service, or other valuable consideration is paid or promised to, or charged or accepted by such station, the station, at the time of the broadcast, must announce: (1) that such matter is sponsored, paid for, or furnished, either in whole or in part; and (2) by whom or on whose behalf such consideration was supplied.

In other words, the issue was (and conceivably still is) that the station (or more likely the DJ who was getting swag and whatnot from the A&R man repping the label and musician) would play a given cut over and over and over again. The effect would,  presumably, be one of an excessive number of listeners buying into the ad populum fallacy: if it is being played that much it must be good.

Or there is another thing that could have come into play: the Ohrwurm phenomenon. The earworm. The hearing a song “in your head.” A song “stuck” in your head.

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Googling “how to write a hit song” results in 386,000,000 results.

According to Robin Frederick, who operates mysoundcoach.com,

“Here’s the simple skeleton structure on which most hits are built

  • VERSE / CHORUS
  • VERSE / CHORUS
  • BRIDGE / CHORUS”

Ms. Frederick goes on to explain, “Those monster radio hits often add a section between the verse and chorus called the pre-chorus. It’s used to build anticipation and excitement leading up to those huge hooky choruses. Pop/Dance hits will sometimes have a section after the chorus called a post-chorus. This is where the music producer gets to show off his or her chops.”

Got it?

The chorus counts.

Continue reading How to Write an Earworm

Over There

Although it is easy to talk about the “music industry,” just what is it, or, more accurately, what are the elements that establish the whole?

I found an answer in a report prepared by UK Music, a trade organization that represents—yes, exactly what its name unambiguously states.

In its codification there are six primary sectors and then a various number of subsectors in each:

  1. Music Creators: musician, composer, songwriter, lyricist, vocalist, producer, engineer
  2. Live Music: music festival organizers, music promotors, music agents, production services, ticketing agents, convert venues and arenas
  3. Music Publishing: publishing rights holders, publishing companies
  4. Recorded Music: recorded rights holders, record labels, physical manufacturing and distribution, digital distribution, recording studios
  5. Music Representation: collective management organizations, music managers, music trade bodies, music accountants, music lawyers
  6. Music Retail: retail of musical instruments, manufacturer of musical instruments, digital music retail, physical music retail

Of the sectors, Music Creators has by far the greatest number of people employed (“full-time equivalency,” meaning this is what they do), with 142,000 of the industry’s total 197,168. In second, way, way, back is Live Music at 34,000; then Music Retail, 11,300; Recorded Music, 5400, Music Representatives, 3,100; and Music Publishing, 1,368.

The importance of the music industry is really significant to the UK economy. According to UK Music, it contributed £5.8-billion to the UK economy in 2019. To put that into some context, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK automotive trade association, the auto industry contributed £15.3-billion during the same period. The music industry employs 197,168. The auto industry 864,300.

But whereas people who work in the auto industry work for employers, according to UK Music, 72% of the people in the music industry are self-employed. When times are good, that is not bad. But when times are bad, that is not good.

And we all know which time we’re living in now.

While the UK government has established the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (yes, Scheme is part of its official name, not some sort of linguistic dodge) as part of its response to the COVID-19, UK Music estimates that only about a third of those working in entertainment and the arts qualify for it.

Continue reading Over There

Sporting Events, Concerts & Potential Disinterest

Unless you are a participant, for viewers/listeners/attendees of live events, music and sports are both forms of entertainment, which have many similarities from the point of view of the attendee. They are (and this is in the context of pre-C-19) held in large structures and there are plenty of people also in attendance. There is a multitude of things that you can buy, from overpriced beer (as you’re prohibited from bringing in your own beverages, this is not a price predicted by market forces but by the venue owner or event organizer) to hats, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Sporting events tend to last longer than concerts (with the average football game taking 3 hours and 12 minutes, for example), unless Bruce Springsteen is involved.

One fairly notable difference is that sporting events start on time, largely because of TV contracts. (This also explains, in part, why the NFL game is as long as it is: the game consists of four 15-minute quarters; halftime is 12 minutes for a regular game, although for the Super Bowl it can run 30 minutes or so.) How many times have you been to a concert when it started within 30 minutes or so of the time on your ticket?

And speaking of tickets, it has been reported that Ticketmaster is considering a plan for concertgoers where by attendees would have to verify that they’ve either tested negative for C-19 within a period of 24 to 72 hours before the show or, whenever this happens, have been inoculated. All of this is smartphone based (e.g., you get a test; tell the lab to send the information to a third party like CLEAR; the third party provides the OK for attendance). A benefit for Ticketmaster is that because this also means that a given ticket is digital, there is no reselling outside of its approved method.

And speaking of selling, it is worth noting that according to Statista, the average price of a concert ticket in 2019 (the last year of normalcy) was $96.17. Not surprisingly, the cost of attendance has gone up over the past few year, but curiously, in 2014 the average price of a concert ticket was $82.07 and it fell to $78.30 in 2015; it rose to $81.27 in 2016 and has gone up ever since. As for the NFL, the average price of a ticket, again according to Statista, in 2019 was $102.35. It has done nothing but go up over the past several years (e.g., in 2014 the average price was $84.43 and it was $85.83 in 2015. No drop. All increase.).

If you’ll accept the argument that there are similarities between things like professional football games and concerts, then there is the very real potential that there will be a profound change vis-à-vis live events.

That is, according to a survey conducted by Morning Consult on live sports viewing habits (as in watching things on a screen) of all adults, Millennials and Gen Zers, the latter cohort is not nearly as keen as the Millennials. That is, whereas 50% of Millennials watch sports at least weekly, the figure is just 24% for Gen Z. And while only 20% of Millennials never watch sports, 39% of those in Gen Z never do.

Continue reading Sporting Events, Concerts & Potential Disinterest

And There’s More Evidence of the Decline

ESPN is, of course, the sports channel, network, brand, whatever.

It is primarily owned by Disney, with the Hearst Corporation, another media conglomerate that lacks associated characters (except for fans of Welles’ Citizen Kane).

ESPN, since its establishment in 1979, has spun off a multitude of thin-slices, as in ESPN+, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc., etc., etc.

For purposes of full disclosure, my interest in sports is very evanescent at most. I think the only time I spent any time watching ESPN was some years ago when, for reasons that even I can’t come up with, I’d watch the World Series of Poker.

So here we are, about 100 words into this thing, and you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with music.

It’s this: “ESPN” was originally an acronym for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.”

Entertainment.

Presumably, the most amount of musical entertainment associated with ESPN is openings to football games or bumper music on either sides of breaks or during the X Games. Comparatively—as in comparing the amount of time dedicated to baseball and the amount of time dedicated to soccer and the amount of time dedicated to music—the “entertainment,” if “entertainment” is thought to be something different than “sports” (which leads to a question of what “sports” are if not a form of entertainment: although I am confident that the people that I watched on the World Series of Poker all saw sports as a means by which they could achieve a bit more income), is microscopic.

For years ESPN has been something of a sports juggernaut (you don’t have all of those ancillary channels unless you are able to justify it).

But then it has hit COVID-19. Or COVID-19 hit it.

ESPN recently announced it is furloughing (a.k.a., “dismissing”) 300 people and not hiring 200 people for which it has had open positions. 500 people who have lost or who won’t get a job. Which is about 10% of its staff.

Given the decline of the fortunes of other companies in other industries (e.g., Delta Airlines has lost $22.4-billion through the third quarter of 2020—billion), the decline at ESPN is clearly not of the same magnitude.

But it is telling that a brand name in the entertainment sphere is hurting, largely, one guesses, because there are fewer traditional, normal games occurring. And when there are schedules, there are sudden shifts as, say, college players and/or coaches have positive tests.

One company that is certainly now part of the fabric of the quilt that is the music industry is Live Nation, the company that promotes events and has venues, reported its Q3 2020 results: a decline of 95%–which is actually better than Q2, when it saw a 98% decline.

Continue reading And There’s More Evidence of the Decline

At What Cost?

You’ve probably not heard of Marc Geiger, unless you’re into the business of the music business: He was, until recently, the head of the William Morris Endeavor Music Division, or more simply: he was an agent. Agent to the stars.

But you have heard of one of the things that Geiger was responsible for creating: Lollapalooza.

Create a phenomenon and make a lot of money.

Geiger has created a new company. He’s accumulated some $75-million in capital for it.

It is called “SaveLive.”

The “Live” is as in “live music.”

And while many of us might think that the way to do that would be to help fund the bands that are not out on stages right now because of the pandemic, finding a way to buy their music or swag or something, that’s why many of us are not clever business people.

Instead of the musicians, Geiger is looking to support the venues where the musicians would perform were it not that the number of venues that have had to keep their doors shut legally or economically is still high and those that are open have had to reduce the number of patrons allowed in, which is making their continued existence iffy at most.

As I’ve written about before, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has worked with Congress on creating the Save Our Stages Act—sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX), which just goes to show that music, like viruses, knows no party affiliation—which is wrapped into the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROS Act), which, unfortunately, is stalled in the Senate.

As NIVA recently wrote about its members’ situation and the financial straits that are being caused by the pandemic and how they need more industry-specific help: “Unfortunately, previous Payroll Protection Plans do not work for this industry because we’re shut, so sadly we’ve been forced to furlough about 95% of our employees. While nearly 90% of America’s businesses are operating, as gathering places, we are not.”

The longer this goes on, the fewer venues will remain. After all, the people who own stages may not have to pay many of their employees, but they still have to pay property taxes, utilities, insurance and other things that aren’t going to go away even when the virus does.

So enter Geiger and SaveLive.

At its most simple, the plan is for it to buy at least 51% of venues. That way the previous owner will have income that can be used to do things like keeping the pipes from freezing this winter (yes, yes, there are venues where it doesn’t snow, but you get my drift).

Geiger told the New York Times, “I believe the artist economy is going to be very big when it comes back. Artists will want to tour to get their cash moving again, and people are going to love going out more than ever.”

And so the venues will be there to support those acts. Thanks to Geiger’s company.

This raises some questions.

Continue reading At What Cost?

Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Seem

The Road

While it might not seem to be, when bands go out on the road, touring, that’s business travel. They’re not out there because they want to sleep in a bus or collect loyalty points at a chain motel where the room smells like cigarette filters and feet. It’s their job the same way the proverbial traveling salesperson is racking up the miles on that rental Impala that has a mysterious noise coming from under the hood that increases slightly with every mile clocked on the odometer.

The musicians show up at the venues large or small, hoping they’ll make the nut that will continue to allow them to make it.

Although bands aren’t corporations per se (of course, I’m talking here about bands that are clawing along in buses, vans and beaters, not those who probably have empty office space in Delaware that is the address of their incorporation papers), they are businesses, in effect, that face the same sorts of logistical challenges on the road as the aforementioned salesperson.

Good news, such as it is, for those bands who are facing the consequences of COVID-19 is that as McKinsey points out in an examination of business travel trends of the moment, “For Corporate Travel, a Long Recovery Ahead” by Andrew Curley, Rachel Garber, Vik Krishnan and Jillian Tellez, “Looking first at the distance of business travel, regional and domestic trips will likely see a return before international travel does.” So odds are for the foreseeable future, competition with non-domestic brands bands will not be much of an issue. And for those who may have car sickness, better lay on a bigger supply of Dramamine because the McKinsey report continues, “Within domestic travel, trips that can happen in personal or rental vehicles may replace short regional flights until companies’ comfort with sending employees via airplanes increases.” While taking the Delta Connection may seem a bit extreme for many bands purely from a financial standpoint, there are those musicians who need to get to a gig that would be outside the realm of a drive—although that verb should have been in the past tense—needed—because it is still the case that most venues are closed and will continue to exist in that state for the next several months—or they’ll simply stop existing.

All of which means that this whole discussion of business travel is a moot point because if bands have no place to perform, it just may be that they’ll have to disband.

That is a consequence of C-19 that will silently echo for years after the vaccine has been injected into our systems.

Continue reading Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Seem

Random Notes

You’ve probably received emails from the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post encouraging you to subscribe in order to support the investigative journalism that the papers perform. Yes, while there’s lots of stuff that you can get for free online, paying people to do the work is not free, so if you want to get that information, you have to support it. (Ironically enough, you are getting this for free and I am getting nothing for it. Go figure.)

I recently received a subscription solicitation in my inbox with the subject line:

Support the journalists speaking truth to power

One of those papers or The New Republic or The Atlantic or National Review or Mother Jones?

No. Rolling Stone.

While I know that the solid work of Matt Taibbi appears in the pages of RS, here’s the question: If the objective is to support solid political reporting (assuming, of course, that speaking truth to power doesn’t mean the heads of record companies or Daniel Ek), is getting a subscription to Rolling Stone the right place to spend?

Well, there is that tote bag.

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In 1997 David Bowie created, working with Prudential Financial, “Bowie bonds.” When issued, they had a face value of $1,000 and were a long-term investment, as they had a maturity of 10 years.

The purpose of the bonds was to raise money so that Bowie could buy back the rights to the music on albums released between 1969 and 1990.

There was $55 million raised.

This approach became something like the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) phenomenon that is now all the range especially in tech circles, as variants were created for James Brown and others. (One would have thought that the King of Soul could simply mint is own money, but alas. . . ).

Bowie bonds came to mind as the management company for BTS, Big Hit, went public on the Korean stock exchange and had an immediate valuation of initially $7.6-billion, which then dropped to about $4-billion, and while the number is probably something entirely different right now, odds are that unless something completely unexpected happens to the seven-member band that has been performing since 2010, odds are Big Hit will continue to be a big hit, as the members of the band are undoubtedly fungible.

The thing about music that isn’t often taken into account is the fact that it is the “music industry,” just like, say, the “auto industry.”

The $55-million of Bowie 1997 would be worth about $89 million today.

Or $3,911,000,000 short of Big Hit.

Continue reading Random Notes

Listening to The Drifters in the Age of COVID

Back in the 1960s, there were a number of songs that were about places rather than people, many of which were performed by The Drifters, a group that was highly influential but for some reason not as widely known as they should be (e.g., “Who’s singing that song?” “Don’t know.”). Their performances of these songs is often heard in things ranging from commercials to movies—and if it isn’t The Drifters, it is by performers who cover it close to The Drifters’ approach.

In 1962 The Drifters recorded “Up on the Roof,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, which became a hit in 1963, and later became named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock”. (The Drifters also made the list with “Money Honey” and “There Goes My Baby.”) The lyric of that song could have been written to describe this past summer, when New York City was a COVID-19 hotspot:

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat race noise down in the street (up on the roof)

In 1963 The Drifters had a hit with “On Broadway,” a song written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. While they weren’t the first to record the song—as The Cookies and the Crystals had beat them to it—their version was the most popular, having reached 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

What’s interesting about this song is that while “Broadway” connotes what is referred to as the “Great White Way”—the section of the street between 42nd and 53rd streets—because of the lights that shine from the theater marques (“They say the neon lights are bright/On Broadway”. . .”I’ll have my name in lights”), the lyric goes on to say that while the protagonist/narrator is told that the possibilities are dim—“They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway”—he (in The Drifters’ version) doesn’t believe that:

But they are wrong, I know they are
I can play this here guitar
And I won’t quit till I’m a star
On Broadway

While Bruce Springsteen performed at the Walter Kerr Theatre from October 2017 to December 2018, the notion of someone making it performing on Broadway with a guitar is certainly something that seems unusual today, as it must have been back in 1963, when shows that opened that year included Brigadoon, Oliver! and Pal Joey, things that are more of bravado than ballads.

Continue reading Listening to The Drifters in the Age of COVID

Looking at Lists

Although ranking lists are common and therefore something to be ostensibly sniffed at, let’s face it: we all fall to the allure of the ad populum. We want to see what groups of other people think, either in order to justify our own positions or to maintain that the wisdom of crowds is actually the stupidity of crowds.

Or, at a more superficial but just as important level, it is like eating potato chips: non-nutritious but damned tasty. (Lists are actually less deleterious to one’s well being than the chips are, as while there may be fat in the list, there is likely no salt, so you have to bring your own grain to the assessment of the results, and the size of that chunk may be rather large.)

When I Googled “richest musicians,” the featured snippets box, that thing that sometimes shows up at the top of the results page, listed:

1. Paul McCartney
2. Andrew Llyod Webber [sic]
3. Jay Z
4. P-Diddy
5. Madonna
6. Herb Alpert
7. Dr Dre
8. Celine Dion

and while the top of the snippet indicated that the list included 17 more that were just a click away (i.e., it is a list of the top 25), I noted that the domain was “.ng,” something that I was not familiar with.

So I Googled that and discovered it is for Nigeria. I wonder if a prince who has millions of dollars that he would like to put into my bank account is in any way involved in creating the list. After all, McCartney and the others have serious money, too, so they undoubtedly hang out with that guy who needs a place to park his immense fortune and it could be that this list is simply a list that he created to keep track of his pals.

There are plenty of other sites with their versions of the “richest musicians,” including the monetary sounding “ledgernote.com,” the musical “playback.fm,” the institutional “gobanking.com” and the financially hip sounding “wealthygorilla.com.”

I don’t know if my virus protection is up to any of them, so I decided to forego additional research on that area of listed information.

Continue reading Looking at Lists

The Importance of Numbers & Events

One of the things that is not well known about many publications is that they don’t make money—or at least much money—from the publications themselves, be they the physical object that we know of as a magazine or as a digital variant. You’ve probably noticed various subscription offers—tote bags notwithstanding—that have a phenomenally low price. That’s predicated on the publications needing to get high circulation prices so that they can “sell the audience” to advertisers: “We have X + 1 readers, which is better than our competitor, which just has X, so buy our space.” Cheesy tote bags can go a long way.

Another way that they make money is to hold events of various sorts. They capitalize on the brand that they have otherwise established.

One of the consequences of COVID-19, at least for the organizations that care about the health and well-being of their supporters, is that there have been a vast number of in-person events cancelled or postponed. Let’s face it: any event needs to have a critical mass of attendees in order to pay the venue rental and so on, and that critical mass would be difficult to achieve if there is social distancing involved. Of course, there is the possibility of some promoter thinking, “Well, since we can only have 50% of the attendees, we’ll have to double the price of the event.” And that is unlikely to work particularly well for a variety of reasons, ranging from the fact that there is still a high level of trepidation among those who still have jobs regarding how long that’s going to last (I find it interesting that of late when jobs numbers are reported it sounds as though only low-wage individuals have lost their jobs when there are regular reports, for example, in publications like Adweek about agencies shedding people and offices), to say nothing of the millions who simply have lost their jobs and that restaurant or club just isn’t coming back.

So the alternative that some publications are taking is to hold virtual events. One of them is Variety, which describes itself as “the most authoritative and trusted source of entertainment business news, reaching an audience of affluent influencers. For 113 years, influential producers, executives and talent in entertainment have turned to Variety for expert film, TV, digital, music, and theater business analysis and insights.”

In an interview with Morning Consult, Dea Lawrence, Variety’s chief marketing officer, said that since COVID-19 they’ve held more than 60 “Variety Streaming Room Events.” What’s striking is that there are significantly more people “showing up” for the virtual events than there were for the physical ones.

That is, pre-COVID, only 10% of those who bought tickets for the physical Variety events actually showed up. For the virtual events, the number is 43%. As Lawrence said, “We started pitching all of the advertisers immediately. . . .”

And those numbers look good (i.e., 72,091 unique registrants; 31,238 unique attendees), which undoubtedly make the sponsors of the events happy. What’s more, the virtual events cost Variety less than the physical ones did, which undoubtedly makes Variety‘s chief financial officer happy.

Continue reading The Importance of Numbers & Events