Tag Archives: Features

Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Journalists

Let’s see.

The Los Angeles Times laid off >20% of the people who work in its newsroom. Line up five people. One is given a cardboard box. About 115 people got boxes.

Over at Time magazine, the CEO sent out a memo to staff that says, in part, “We must continue increasing our revenue while managing operating costs efficiently. Over the last 12 months we have diligently reduced our expenses. There is still more work to be done.” More work to be done by fewer people, as the union that represents Time’s editorial staff reported that 15% of its members were let go.

Business Insider’s CEO’s memo pointed out that last year they developed a vision and “This year is about making it happening and focusing our company and efforts toward the future.” Then the other shoe dropped: “Unfortunately, this also means we need to scale back in some areas of our organization.” As in some 8% of its employees being eliminated from the rolls.

Sports Illustrated, which figured a few years back that while it might have some of the best sports writing in the known Universe, putting sexy women in bikinis on its cover would provide more visibility for the brand and at the very least one-time purchases by people standing in line at Barnes and Noble, had about 100 people in its newsroom. Week-before-last the management sent out emails to many of those writers and editors advising them that their services were no longer required. And some of those remaining got a message telling them that they have 90 days or so. Sports Illustrated is owned by Authentic Brands. Authentic Brands also owns an array of other brands that aren’t ink-on-paper or digits-rendered-on-a-screen, like Airwalk and Eddie Bauer, Dolce and Gabana and Juicy Couture, Quiksilver and Reebok. It also owns the right to Elvis. Perhaps before you know it, when the King’s cred diminishes, his likeness will be looking for work.

Continue reading Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Journalists

Sounds All-Too Familiar

Bad Dog is a band you’ve probably not heard of. It consists of two guys, David Post and Craig Blackwell, and is based in the Washington, DC area. They’ve been bumping around for a few decades now.*

And you may have heard music produced by Bad Dog but you may not think that you’ve heard Bad Dog because the given song was purportedly by someone else even though it was by Bad Dog. Perhaps that would provoke nothing more than a shrug, but think about how Post and Blackwell must have felt upon discovery of that.

Welcome to the Age of Ephemeral Digital Non-Ownership.

It’s like this.

As a story in The New York Times, appropriately headlined “Their Songs Were Stolen by Phantom Artists. They Couldn’t Get Them Back,” the band recorded a CD last July it planned to give away at a party in December.

The album was appropriately named—at least as regards to what has happened—“The Jukebox of Regret.”

In July Bad Dog uploaded the album to SoundCloud.

Then, as the NYT reports, “nearly every song on it somehow turned up on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and at least a dozen other streaming platforms.”

Which might have seemed to be a Big Win for Bad Dog, except for one thing:

The songs weren’t necessarily with their actual titles and they were labeled by “people” who aren’t Bad Dog.

Continue reading Sounds All-Too Familiar

Of Jawbreakers, Paleontologists and Morgan Wallen

Let’s assume you run a candy store. You have an assortment of sweets.

There are candy bars. Suckers. Mints. Jawbreakers. Truffles. Gum.

People come into your shop and one after another buys the jawbreakers. They all leave the store looking like they have a massively swollen cheek on one side.

Soon there are few left. There is the usual number of other items bought. But the jawbreakers exceed expectations.

So when you make your next order, you not only buy grape and cinnamon, but go for a variety of other flavors like chili and bacon.

After all, you are in the business of moving product, and the jawbreaker seems to be the candy of the moment.

Which brings us to music.

Consider this from the “2023 Luminate Year-End Music Report”:

In March Morgan Wallen released One Thing at a Time.* The album generated 482.65m On-Demand Audio (ODA) streams, or about 20% of all Country music streamed that week (a total of 2.22 billion for the category).

Country music had more than a moment in 2023. Luminate, a company that provides data and analysis for the music and entertainment industries, determined Country was the fastest-growing streaming genre in the U.S. While those 2.22 billion streams might seem like a lot, in July the number of Country streams hit 2.41 billion.

While billion is a word that is commonly thrown around nowadays to the extent that it really doesn’t mean much, here’s a way to think of it courtesy of the University of California Museum of Paleontology:

“If you, and one descendant per generation, saved $100 every day, and each of you lived for 90 years, it would take you and 304 generations of your descendants to save up one billion dollars.”

Yes, a billion is a lot. And 2.22 billion is a lot more.

So if you’re in the music business in the U.S., odds are you’re going to start providing a whole lot more Country acts to your catalog, including the analogues to chili and bacon and whatever else sounds intriguing.

Not only did the genre grow 23.7% in the U.S. in 2023—which puts it in third place, behind World and Latin music, but they “only” had 5.7 billion and 19.4 billion ODA streams compared with Country’s 20.4 billion—but the listeners of Country largely consist of Millennials and Gen Z, which means that there is a potential long future for the genre.

(Let’s go Museum of Paleontology for a moment. Let’s assume that the average length of Country songs is three minutes. If there were 20.4 billion streams, that’s 61.2 billion minutes. One billion minutes equals 1,902.6 years—yes, just shy of two millenia. So the number of streams goes to 116,439 years. That’s a lot of listening.)

Speaking of time, albeit in a comparative blink of an eye, the flurry of purchases of musician catalogs over the past few years notwithstanding, Luminate calculates that when the top 500,000 tracks in the U.S. are looked at, music released during the past five years account for 48.3% of all the ODA. While that means, of course, that 51.7% of the music is over five years old, and therefore some venture funds might be cashing in on their catalog buys, one could argue that music streaming began with Napster in 1999, so that 51.7% is spread across 20 years.

Which brings us back to near the top.

While one might assume that the top album U.S. in 2023—including physical sales, on-demand streams, total album equivalents, and on-demand video—was something by Taylor Swift, it turns out Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time was at the top, with total album equivalent consumption of 5.362 million units. Swift’s Midnight was second at 3.209 million.

However, looking at the top 10 Swift seriously dominates. Wallen has an album at number five, too, Dangerous: The Double Album, which had 2.179 million units. That means a total 7.541 million.

Swift albums were also at 4 (1989 (Taylor’s Version), 2.872 million), 6 (Lover, 1.875 million), 8 (Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), 1.775 million), and 9 (folklore, 1.612 million).

Her accumulated number is 11.343 million units.

If we take the average length of an album (going to the classic 20 minutes per side of a disc), then Swift’s number equates to 453.72 million minutes of music listened to in 2023.

While that may seem like a lot, it is not something that would even raise an eyebrow of a paleontologist: it is only 863.24 years of listening.

Which brings us back to the top of the top.

There is something called a “Mega Bruiser Jawbreaker.” The world record for eating one is 17 days, four hours, eight minutes, 19 seconds.

During the 863.24 years of listening to Taylor, only some 18,535 Mega Bruisers could be consumed.

So were you to be running a candy store, that’s not the kind of jawbreaker to order.

But if you’re in the music business, Swift and Wallen are the flavors that matter.

==

*The album was released on what is arguably one of the best label names in the business: “Big Loud.” Damn right.

Data: 2023 Total Music Sales and Streams

The music industry likes to talk about consumption, which is another word for tuberculosis, and it makes all real music lovers gag. They talk about consumption because they don’t want to talk about sales because sales are down from their pre-Napster heyday. Consumption is up though. So yay.

For real though, it’s a good thing that streaming has allowed people to listen to more music. Who could argue with that? (I mean, besides any artists who are unfortunate enough not to own their own masters…which is most of them.) But for fans, this is a great time to be alive. The celestial jukebox is real. And if you want something weird that’s not available on Spotify or Apple Music, there’s a good chance you will be able to find it on YouTube. Go nuts.

Just don’t try to convince us that streaming “love is embarrassing” 1,250 times is the same as listening to GUTS. You didn’t “consume” the album. So keep that in mind when you hear that total U.S. album consumption increased by 12.6% in 2023. Did it really? Song “consumption” may have increased but who knows how many people are actually listening to albums? There’s no way of measuring that.

But overall things do seem to be getting better for the music biz. Actual album sales rose a little bit. Vinyl is up. Even our beloved old compact disc did better this year. And of course streaming is way up. 1.453 trillion songs were streamed in 2023. That’s a lot of zeroes! 1,453,000,000,000 songs.

And a good chunk of those songs were recorded by Taylor Swift. No joke, Luminate reports that “1 in every 78 audio streams was a Taylor Swift song in the U.S. this year.” And Billboard points out that her collected catalog sold 6.172 million copies (3.484 million of that on vinyl!), accounting for “6% of all album sales last year across all albums by all artists.” She sold 1.014 million copies of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) on vinyl. It blows my mind that she even pressed a million records, let alone sold them all. It’s staggering.

* * *

Total U.S. Album sales (physical + digital in millions)

Total Album Sales (physical + digital albums)

2023: 105.32 million
2022: 100.09 million
2021: 109.0 million
2020: 102.4 million
2019: 112.75 million
2018: 141 million
2017: 169.15 million
2016: 205.5 million
2015: 241.39 million
2014: 257.02 million
2013: 289.41 million
2012: 315.96 million
2011: 330.57 million
2010: 326.15 million
2009: 373.9 million
2008: 428.4 million
2007: 500.5 million
2006: 588.2 million
2005: 618.9 million
2004: 666.7 million
2003: 667.9 million
2002: 693.1 million
2001: 762.8 million
2000: 785 million
1999: 754.8 million
1998: 712.5 million
1997: 651.8 million
1996: 616.6 million
1995: 616.4 million (I’ve heard the figure is 616,957,000)
1994: 614.7 million (I’ve heard the figure is 615,266,000)
1993: ~573 million (1994 was 7.4% increase over 1993)

Continue reading Data: 2023 Total Music Sales and Streams

Elvis Live(s)

In 2023 Taylor Swift set a record for being at the top of the Billboard album chart, the Billboard 200, more frequently than any other individual: 68 weeks. Swift has been releasing albums since 2006, when her self-titled disc dropped. Her first album at the top was her second, Fearless (2008), which racked up 11 weeks there, or 16% of her total run (so far; she’s probably added to her dominance by the time you read this).

Swift took the top spot from Elvis, who, with 67 weeks, is the second solo artist on the list.

(Both have a ways to go to be at the overall top of the Billboard 200 cumulative list: the Beatles have marked 132 weeks.)

Elvis’ Billboard 200 numbers are for 10 albums released between 1956 and 2002, with that last date being pretty damn good for a guy who died in 1977, or 12 years before Taylor Swift was born.

In Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, if we use the Syd Field three-act structure from his Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (1979), the Confrontation occurs in a Las Vegas that resembles the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. A dirty bomb apparently went off in Vegas, although it seems as though it was a neutron bomb, given that with the exception of the massive statues that are being reclaimed by the desert, the casino hotels still stand, which gives Rick Deckard, portrayed by Harrison Ford, a place to live, hidden away from the Wallace Corporation. (Apparently he’s been there since the time of the first Blade Runner film, which is set in. . . 2019.)

As Ryan Gosling’s K, in 2049, wanders through the casino that houses Deckard, he goes into a theater, where a glitchy Vegas-era holographic Elvis performs “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” about which Deckard, after engaging in a fist fight with K, says, “I like this song.” Elvis first released the song, which is based on a melody from a French composition of 1784 (“Plaisir d’amour”), in 1961. Deckard is in his 30s in the first film, which means he would have been born in 1989 at the latest or 1980 at the earliest: either way he was born after the 1969 residency at the International that is associated with Elvis and that rhinestone-decorated white jumpsuit.

Evidently, Elvis continued to have resonance maybe in the future (it is not disclosed when Sin City became Empty City, so it based on the setting of the first film in 2019, it could have been anytime between then and 2040, based on the idea that the ruin-like nature would have taken at least nine years to be as manifest as it is). Maybe that future is. . .2024.

Continue reading Elvis Live(s)

John Maynard Keynes Meets the Beatles

The arts, of which music, of course, is a big part, plays a massive role in the economy of the U.K., which consultancy McKinsey describes as “a cultural powerhouse—often punching above its weight.” Small, but powerful. (In terms of size, the U.K. is approximately as big as Oregon.)

Looked at in terms of the gross value added to the overall economy in 2022, the arts sector, McKinsey found, contributed £49 billion, which doesn’t mean a whole lot until it is put into a context like this: that’s 50% larger than what the telecommunications industry puts into the coffers.

There are impressive metrics, like the U.K. having the highest number of Nobel laureates in Literature between 2000 and 2023 and its actors coming in second in the number of Academy Awards received.

But then there’s one that seems completely understandable if still eye-widening: The U.K. is one of three net exporters of music in the world.

It’s not that every country doesn’t export music; even the smallest country in the world, Vatican City, does.

It’s just that music in the U.K. has a visibly consequential effect on the economy of the kingdom. (Thank you, Beatles, for starting that phenomenon.)  According to UK Music’s “This Is Music 2023” report, U.K. music exports generated a cool £4 billion in 2022. And looked at overall, music’s contribution to the U.K. economy last year was £6.7 billion, a non-trivial chunk of the aforementioned £49 billion.

Continue reading John Maynard Keynes Meets the Beatles

Wrapping Up 2023

This is the year the pandemic officially ended when the WHO declared the global health emergency to be over in May. I had managed to avoid infection until this March when I got it exactly six months after my updated booster. It sucked. I survived. So it goes. 2023 was the year we realized we’ll probably all end up catching covid if we ever leave the house. Pretty much everybody I know has had it, even my friends who are still super careful and wearing masks to the grocery store and avoiding indoor concerts altogether. It’s a bummer.

The virus seems to have warped our sense of time. Events might have happened five months ago or five years ago and you can never really remember which off the top of your head. Can you believe that the Chinese spy balloon thing happened in 2023? It did. Weird, right?

Lots of other stuff happened this year, believe it or not, such as Finland joining NATO and Donald fucking Trump getting criminally indicted multiple times. King Charles was crowned. Canadian wildfire smoke messed up our skies all summer. A homemade submarine imploded near the wreckage of the Titanic. Maui burned down. Taylor Swift got people interested in football. Taylor Swift got people interested in life. The Detroit Lions won games. Ukraine held on. Gaza, not so much. Elon Musk killed Twitter. That was all this year. Hope you were wearing a seatbelt. It’s crazy out there.

As always, lots of great music came out. Several of my longtime faves released solid new albums: Robbie Fulks, the Hives, the Handsome Family, Mustard Plug, Wilco, the Mountain Goats. Plus, lots of good new stuff by youngsters: boygenius, Gracie Abrams, Olivia Rodrigo. Some surprising remixes, reissues and posthumous releases: Replacements, Ben Kweller, Sparklehorse. And then there was Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from the Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958–1971, full of mindblowing artifacts, sort of like a sequel to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music except instead of just being curated and compiled by one crazy guy, this collection was all recorded by one crazy guy. If you’re unfamiliar with McCormick, you won’t regret looking into him. Fascinating story.

I’m excited for 2024. In regards to music anyway. Not excited for another election cycle, which regardless of the outcome is guaranteed to be another shitshow. Who knows if we’ll survive it? But hey, I’m trying to be hopeful…and maybe even optimistic. I’m trying.

Continue reading Wrapping Up 2023

Search Me: What Did People Look for in ’23?

Whatever the topic—from changing a light switch to trying to determine what else you’ve seen that actress in—the now-default move is to “Google it.” This may be a bit of the “Kleenex” phenomenon, where the brand name stands for an entire class (i.e., you may be blowing your nose with a generic product, but in order to do so you ask someone to give you a “Kleenex.”) Google has become the default search engine, and it must be said that it evidently has earned that given that according to Wikipedia there are 81 search engines that it has identified—from 123people to Yooz—that are now things someone might search for, not search with.

Google puts out an annual aggregation of its top searches for a given year, globally and for specific countries. The categories are wide-ranging, from News to Games, from Athletes to Recipes.

And given the apparent interest (i.e., Google “knows” what things garner a sufficient number of searches such that it is worth codifying), Music and subcategories are on the “Year in Search.”

And what people searched for in 2023 may be more revealing than the “Billboard Top 100” or the Spotify top artists and songs (the top artist for ’23, no surprise, is Taylor Swift, whose music garnered 26.1 billion global streams between January 1 and November 29; the top global song may be a bit more unpredicted: “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus, which had more than 1.6 billion streams).

Here’s a look at who and what people wanted to learn more about via Google in 2023.

Continue reading Search Me: What Did People Look for in ’23?

Time, Time, Time

There are things that we take for granted, which is reasonable given that there are a whole lot of other things that we have to think about, so these things on the mental wallpaper are simply assumed to be (when the decoration is first applied it draws attention, but soon it simply blends into the background).

Take, for example, the calendar.

Prior to the period when Quintus Fulvius Nobilior was running things in Rome—153 BCE—the calendar had ten months, not 12.

The last month of the year, then as now, was December. And the month got that name from Latin, decem, or ten.

But the Roman senate, perhaps being more scientifically capable and knowledgeable than those who currently have offices in the U.S. Capitol, decided that it would be better to have a calendar that was more aligned with what was happening in the heavens, as it were: the lunar cycle—the time it takes the Moon to go through all of its phases (i.e., from new to new)—lasts 29.5 days. And a solar year, the time it takes the Earth to make a revolution around the Sun is 365.242 days. So going back to the lunar cycle and correlating it with the solar year, there’s 29.5 x 12 = 365.25 days.

Thus, the senators deciding that the calendar would be 12 months, with the addition of January and February. December stayed at the end of the calendar. (And every four years February gets an extra day in order to keep the calendar straight.)

Because December is the final month, it is understandable that it is a place from which what had occurred during the previous 11 months is considered.

Like the people who died during the year.

Continue reading Time, Time, Time

Ownership: What It Isn’t

Although it seems as though car companies are proclaiming the wonders of electric vehicles and making it sound as though their dealerships are chock full of them, with models to fit every need, that is far from being the case. On the one hand, most original equipment manufacturers don’t have all that many—Ford has two, three if you count a cargo vehicle aimed at contractors; GM has three, and during the first nine months of 2023 it sold 6,587 of them combined; it, too has a cargo vehicle, so if its 333 units are added, that still isn’t very many: if all of them were parked at the Mall of America’s parking lots about half the spaces would still be empty. On the other hand, these vehicles are pretty much pricy: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for an electric vehicle—as in what people actually paid at a dealership—was $51,762: in 2022 the U.S. median income was $74,580; with 20% down and a five-year loan, buying that average EV would set someone back about $805 per month, or about 13% of household earnings (although the $74,580 is a pre-tax figure, so it would actually be a lower number).

What a real area of interest that OEMs have is something that isn’t widely talked about because were it to be it might be perceived as being rather greedy. What they want are recurring sources of revenues. That is, traditional OEMs that sell through dealerships (those that don’t use dealers can be counted on your fingers) actually sell the given vehicle to the dealer, then the dealer sells the SUV to you and makes a profit on the difference to what it paid the OEM and what it charges you. This means that the OEM gets money once for each vehicle.

What the OEMs would like is to sell subscriptions to individuals, not so much for entire vehicles (although there is that), but for options. What is perhaps the most notorious example of this is what BMW tried to do a while back, which is to charge a fee for those who wanted to use the heated seat function that was installed in the vehicle. That was pretty much on the heels of its earlier idea that if you wanted to use Apple CarPlay in your 3 Series, then you would pay a fee to BMW to do so. While that CarPlay play isn’t going to occur again, there are efforts by OEMs to develop their own competitive systems, which is where the fees are likely to sneak in. What’s more, what is becoming more common and seemingly acceptable are fees that are charged by OEMs that will allow one’s electric vehicle to go faster: this is activated by an over-the-air software update.

While that may be exhilarating, it is also expensive for the individual who has both the vehicle: they have paid for the motor that is capable of performing at X + 2 but that motor is limited to X until they pay more to get that 2. Presumably a motor that can only provide X would be less expensive than one that can go X + 2, which means that those who have no intention of ever going X + 2 are paying more, and those who are interested in X + 2 pay a recurring fee to the OEM, so it makes money on both ends.

At this point—or a few hundred words back—you are wondering whether this was actually something written for Motor Trend, not Glorious Noise.

Continue reading Ownership: What It Isn’t