All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Numbers, Numbers & a Few More Numbers


According to Luminate, entertainment data accumulator and analyzer, there were one trillion streams globally in three months this year. January to March. A trillion. A one followed by 12 zeros.

Super Fly Fan

Luminate definition of “super fan”:

“a music listener aged 13+ who engages with an artist and their content in multiple ways, from streaming to social media to purchasing physical music or merch items to attending live shows. More specifically, the super fans who were identified in the studies referenced in this report were participants that self-reported engaging with their favorite artists in 5+ ways.”

Seems that there is a lot of them in the U.S.: 15% of the general population 13 years old and above. Roughly 50 million.

How You Can Tell

A field guide to a probable super fan: “people who purchase CDs, cassettes, or vinyl, are more than 2x as likely (+128%) to be music super fans.”

Why Does This Matter?

“They also spend more than 80% more money on music each month than the average music listener.”

Physical Graffiti

Super fans like things that are more manifest than, say, NFTs (what has happened with them, by the way?).

Luminate describes them as “collectable-loving.”

As such, the vinyl boomlet, which, according to stats from the RIAA, has grown for 16 years running.

The RIAA found that in 2022 there were sales of $1.7-billion of physical musical media in the U.S., of which $1.2-billion was for vinyl. Which doesn’t leave a whole lot for CDs and the rest.

(“The rest?” you wonder. The RIAA includes music videos purchases, which accounted for $19.9 million, and “Other Physical”—CD singles, cassettes, vinyl singles, DVD audio, and SACD–that garnered $14 million.)

Continue reading Numbers, Numbers & a Few More Numbers

Sight & Sound

While there is considerable attention being applied to the Apple Vision Pro headset—”Revolutionary dual-chip performance. Our most advanced Spatial Audio system ever. Responsive, precision eye tracking. More pixels than a 4K TV. . . “—what is arguably more interesting and less gizmo-like is something that Jony Ive—who led Apple design from 1997 to 2019 and as such is the man who probably had more influence on product design than anyone since Raymond Loewy—has been involved with through the company he established post-Apple: design consultancy LoveFrom, [yes, there is a comma as part of the name]. It would seem appropriate if the name was “LoveForm,” as that is clearly a focus of what Ive exhibited during his career.

As the firm’s website proclaims,

is a creative

We are

[They could have probably used some commas there, but. . .]

You may
know us
by our
past work.

[Well, Ive’s, anyway]

We are
obsessed with
the traditions
of creating
and making.

devoted to


We collaborate
with leaders
and founders.

We work on
projects for joy.

[Presumably Ive is at a stage in his career when projects that are not joyful are not going to be part of his portfolio.]

We develop
our own ideas.

[Something of a weak close, but there is it. Would “We develop and insist on our own ideas” turn off prospective clients?]

Continue reading Sight & Sound

Whistle While You Work (By Yourself)

Several years ago I spent some time living with my brother and then-new sister-in-law. Probably because I felt somewhat awkward with them in a one-bedroom apartment, I would whistle so that they would be aware of where I was. Not that I was some sort of great whistler (in case you are, you might want to know that The Masters of Musical Whistling Competition will be held in Hollywood in September), but I figured that it both served its purpose and was somewhat tuneful.

But then my sister-in-law said to me one day, “Don’t you ever whistle a song?” and that essentially ended my whistling then and pretty much since. After all, I thought that I was sufficiently melodious, riffing on well-known songs of the day. To her it was nothing but a series of high-pitched undifferentiated sounds emitted by my lips.

ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, has released an AI model called “Ripple.” Apparently one can sing or hum something into the app and then the AI expands that with an instrumentation. Suddenly, everyone is a musician of sorts.

Realize that during Q1 of this year there were 120,000 music audio files uploaded to streaming services each day, according to Luminate. Ripple was released at the end of Q2.

Presumably a non-trivial number of those 120,000 files made my whistling sound like I was channeling Molly Lewis, not making perceptually random toots.

Now imagine what is going to happen now that there is the opportunity for people to go “hnnh, hnnnh, hnnh, hnnnnnnh. . . .” and achieve orchestration for their efforts, slight those they may be.

Continue reading Whistle While You Work (By Yourself)

“Coo, coo, ca-choo”

Music written for its own independent existence has long been a part of motion pictures. That is, there are soundtracks composed especially for movies, but there are other songs that are used as part of the soundtrack that were written to stand on their own. By and large, these additional songs were used primarily to give the characters a reason to dance. Sometimes there was a Bing Crosby croon to set a scene, which was then used in Elvis movies. But still, it was mostly dancing, especially in beach movies.

Arguably, the most significant change occurred in 1983 with the release of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill. In this case, the music—and there is an abundance: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye version), “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Tell Him,” “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Kasdan, along with George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, wrote the screenplay for that movie), “Good Lovin’,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Theme from J.T. Lancer,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Quick Silver Girl,” “The Weight,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha version), “In the Midnight Hour,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “Joy to the World”—is so fundamental to the plot that it is almost a character onto itself. It isn’t simply to add background to the scenes; even when there is dancing (e.g., the kitchen scene to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”) it is more organic than is typically the case in movies. (Presumably when Kasdan pursued his MA at University of Michigan, the proximity to Motown was influential.)

There is a bit of music that wasn’t written for a movie that has fundamentally become part of how the movie remains in memory: “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel in the Mike Nichols movie The Graduate. It is so entwined with that film that people probably mistake Anne Bancroft’s character’s name for the actual name of the movie.

Continue reading “Coo, coo, ca-choo”

On Age

Paul McCartney just turned 81. Which means he was born in 1942. He was born into what undoubtedly seemed to his parents as a world at war. And war wasn’t something that was happening elsewhere: the Nazis had bombed London and other cities from September 1940 to May 1941. Liverpool was one of the most heavily bombed cities.

1942 was a non-trivial year in terms of births of musicians: Brian Jones*, John Cale, Arthur Brown, Ian Dury, Spencer Davis, Andy Summers. And recording engineer Glyn Johns was also born in 1942; he was to work with The Beatles on the Let It Be recording and was the person who suggested that the band perform on the roof of the Apple Studio building.

Assuming that when one is around 16 the music that one listens to probably has a bigger effect overall than music heard at any other time in one’s life (i.e., childhood is behind and the edge of adulthood is sharply there), it is interesting to note some of the biggest songs in the U.K. in 1958:

  • “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis was the first record to debut at #1 on the UK Singles Chart
  • “Wake Up Little Susie” by The Everly Brothers spent two months in the top 10
  • “Chicago” by Frank Sinatra sold big for three months

And while expected musicians including Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and Little Richard had hits in the UK in 1958, it is worth knowing that Paul Anka, Harry Belafonte, Pat Boone, and Perry Como did, as well.

Quite an array of musical influences.

Continue reading On Age

Actually Surfing with the Alien

There has been increasing interest of late in extraterrestrial vehicles, those things known in a simpler day as “UFOs,” or “unidentified flying objects.” Now they are “UAPs,” “unidentified aerial phenomena,” which is arguably a fuzzier term in that while an “object” implies a physical thing, and “flying” is a description of what that thing is doing, “phenomena” can be something less definitive, like a cloud (not that a cloud isn’t a thing, but it is certainly more vague than something that might be called a “flying saucer”), and aerial simply indicates that it is in the air, as in that cloud just being, well, a cloud. What’s more, the Pentagon has established the “All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office,” which is certainly a mouthful of words that is sufficiently vague while being somewhat hubristic: is the Department of Defense going to “resolve” a UFO?

Earlier this week, a man who is apparently a “decorated Air Force veteran,” with the decoration somehow providing more credibility to him—not to in any way under-respect someone who has served meritoriously in the defense of our freedom, but in this case a “professor who has spent the last 20 years spending his days wandering around Groom Lake, Nevada, and nights monitoring telescopes and radar arrays” might seem more legit—filed a whistleblower complaint to Congress and the Intelligence Community Inspector General, claiming the government has obtained “partial fragments” and “intact vehicles” of “non-human origin.”

Cue the “da-da-duh” music and subsequent gasp.

Which got me to thinking about the golden record written about a couple weeks back being carried by the Voyager spacecraft titled “The Sounds of Earth” with the artist on the label indicated as “United States of America, Planet Earth.”

In addition to the record, there is a stylus to play it. And the protective cover of the record is inscribed by what are glyphs that provide instructions on how the recording can be played. As the Jet Propulsion Laboratory puts it, the drawing of the record and the stylus has “Written around it in binary arithmetic. . . the correct time of one rotation of the record, 3.6 seconds, expressed in time units of 0,70 billionths of a second, the time period associated with a fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom.”

The notion is that no matter what the alien is, they’ll know about that “fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom,” and I must confess that even though I am not an alien, I wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of what “0,70 billionth of a second” is, nor why the JPL uses a comma in that number rather than a decimal point (which leads me to understand my limited understanding of mathematics to boot).

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The Sound of Money

Beyoncé and Jay-Z have, it is reported, as who can really be certain about hot celebrity goss, bought a house in Malibu for $200 million. It measures 30,000 square feet. Or about half the size of a football field. Apparently a Roomba i7 can clean as many as 2,500 square feet. So arguably the Carter family might need 12 of the devices. However, the battery charge would be such that a given vacuum can handle 1,000 square feet before a need to recharge. So it could be that they need 30. Which probably wouldn’t be much of a problem. And while the $200 million for a house is something that probably none of us has a good metric to compare it to, know that Oprah reportedly (remember, the factual uncertainty of things) bought her digs in Montecito—about 60 miles up the coast from Malibu—for a mere $52-million. Of course, it is smaller, though not exactly a starter: 23,000 square feet.

All of which is to say that doesn’t it make you wonder whether you should have actually listened to your parents and instead become a musical sensation such that you could have wed another musical sensation so that now you’d have to ponder the potential annoyance of a fleet of robot vacuums?


Jay-Z spent some $1.1 million in 2015 to purchase TIDAL, the streaming service that had been founded a year prior. Timing is everything, it seems. He sold the company to Block (previously known as “Square”) in 2021 for some $300-million. (Yes, even with COVID-caused inflation, the value of that $300-mil would be more than enough for a manse and a phalanx of i7+ models.) However, Jay-Z and Beyoncé—as well as performers ranging from Arcade Fire to Madonna, Chris Martin to Rihanna—continue as stakeholders.

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Gold Record

Let’s put Elvis to the side.

Among the other top recording artists of the 1950s were:

  • Fats Domino
  • Chuck Berry
  • Little Richard
  • The Everly Brothers
  • Bill Haley & the Comets

Even for those who are music mavens, this list is probably one that is more informational than musical.

That is, there probably aren’t a whole lot of people who spend any time listening to any of these musicians.

This is not to doubt their talents or contributions to music.

But to go to the point that with time (1) tastes change and (2) there is an abundance of other music that becomes available such that “Blueberry Hill,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Tutti Fruitti,” “Bye Bye Love,” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” just aren’t as compelling as they once may have been. And when you factor in demographics—let’s say for the sake of argument that in mid-decade a given fan of any of those recording artists was 16 years old; this fan would be 84 years old—the larger cultural relevance of these songs, to say nothing of all of the others that the musicians created, becomes somewhat marginal at most.

(A digression: in 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both of which carried along gold-plated albums.

The NASA description of the process of creating the records is worth quoting at length:

“Blank records were provided by the Pyral S.A. of Creteil, France. CBS Records contracted the JVC Cutting Center in Boulder, Colorado to cut the lacquer masters which were then sent to the James G. Lee Record Processing center in Gardena, California to cut and gold plate eight Voyager records. Gold plating took place on August 23, 1977; afterward, the records were mounted in aluminum containers and delivered to JPL. The record is constructed of gold-plated copper and is 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The record’s cover is aluminum and electroplated upon it is an ultra-pure sample of the isotope uranium-238. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.468 billion years. The records also had the inscription ‘To the makers of music – all worlds, all times’ hand-etched on its surface.”

Carl Sagan and his colleagues selected the contents of the Golden Record (this is far more meaningful than anything from the RIAA, given that it is meant to represent all of planet Earth, not just transactions).

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Casual or Committed

One of the things that is missing from the music experience is a certain level of commitment. To be sure, there are still people who are engaged and perhaps even obsessively loyal to performers. But there is a large number who most certainly are fans of particular performers but this is more about attentiveness than it is engagement.

This all goes to the primary means by which media is now consumed: a few taps on a screen and voila! When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod in 2001 he made what then seemed to be an unimaginable claim: the device, which was about the size of a pack of cigarettes (yes, in 2001 even people who didn’t imagine themselves to be ironic or gloomy smoked), would put “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Now it isn’t a matter of containing songs on a hard drive as 1,000x are available, as it were, through the digital ether.

To be sure, this situation is one that was created by technological determinism. Its give way to bits.

Whereas it once was a commitment to owning artifacts—as in physical objects that house recordings, be it polyvinyl chloride discs or magnetic tape—it is now essentially about rental of the content without the container.

And the container once had resonance in a way that seeing an image on a screen simply doesn’t. Album jackets, sleeves, labels, and even the vinyl itself (there were sometimes easter eggs found in the space between the last groove and the paper label). Musical artists collaborated with graphic artists: one thinks of Frank Kozik, who died a couple weeks back: he worked with bands including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Offspring, and more. There was an exponential increase in the experience, the physical art working to enhance or even explicate the audio art.

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Listening at Home & Lingerie

It is something of a suburban right-of-passage that, when teens, a parent or two yelled at us while we were in our room, “Turn that – – – – – down!” And the five-letter word was not music, but more likely noise or trash or something that only has four letters.

Then it’s onto a dorm room or apartment, where there was considerable audio freedom, although odds are good that there was a pounding heard, vaguely, thorough a wall, ceiling or floor as the neighbors were not as chuffed with the tunes being played at considerable volume than we were.

At this point in time some of us have our own offspring who may be listening to music that we find to be somewhat off-putting at any volume (and if we don’t, there is a good possibility that the music selection will be calibrated until we do).

That right-of-passage—loud music/chastisement/moving/music/rinse/repeat—is being delayed for nearly a third of American teens, according to the Pew Research Center.

It finds that 32.9% of those who are between 18 and 34 still live in their parents’ home. That’s 29.7% of women and a surprising 36% of men.

At that point there is arguably a confluence of listening between a considerable number of them and their parents, such that the volume is selected at a more moderate setting.

What is more surprising is the number of those 18 to 34 who still live with mom and or dad in other countries. The top 5, according to Pew are:

  1. Croatia: 5%
  2. Serbia: 3%
  3. Greece: 9%
  4. Portugal: 3%
  5. Italy: 5%

But what is more surprising is the number of males who still live at home in places like Croatia (83.5% male; 69% female) and Greece (80.1% male; 65.2% female). What is the loud music situation in those households?

Continue reading Listening at Home & Lingerie