Tag Archives: streaming

All That Is Solid Melts Into Digits

The first time I opened my Kindle “library” on a browser I was surprised: There, next to several titles, was an indication that there is an “Update Available.”

This was the case for books written by authors no longer existent. For books of a recent vintage.

These updates are for the most part invisible to the reader.

There are several reasons why a given book might need an update.

For example, typos could have been identified and of need of fixing. Sometimes the conversion from the page plates to the digital format results in seriously bad breaks that require adjustments.

It could be that a given author who has published a hardcover version of, say, a biography has obtained additional information and so the paperback edition of the book includes that. Consequently, that information might be rolled into the Kindle version of the book.

But there are conceivably other things that could happen that are less benign, especially in this age where we seem to be reverting to book banning: Might someone who is so politically inclined not go into the digital file for a book or several and take a metaphoric ax to the content that she or he feels is in some way inappropriate? For a physical book on a shelf that is something that cannot be done in a way that doesn’t leave the paper in tatters. For the digital book that is something that could go without much notice. This would give a whole new notion to the concept of an “abridged edition.”

The question this raises is when is something “done”? When is it complete?

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Ghost Musicians in the Cloud

In 1948 Stan Jones, who had received a master’s degree in zoology from University of California-Berkeley, a rodeo competitor, actor, singer, songwriter, and one-time National Park Service employee in Death Valley, wrote a cowboy song about ghost riders in the sky. He and his Death Valley Rangers recorded “Riders in the Sky,” which was then covered by an array of other musicians.

For example, there was Burl Ives, whose version spent six weeks on the Billboard chart in 1949, peaking at 21.

There was another recording, this by Vaughn Monroe and the Moon Men. (Evidently this had nothing to do with Outer Space; Monroe’s signature tune was “Racing With the Moon,” which was released in 1941 and became a million seller—by 1952. Monroe, who was a big band leader, also performed with the Moonmaids, from ’46 to ’52.)

Bing Crosby recorded “Riders in the Sky.” His version made it to 14 on the Billboard charts.

Miss Peggy Lee recorded the song.

In the cases of Ives, Monroe, Crosby and Lee these songs were all recorded in the Spring of 1949. This means that within a year Jones’s original was released then covered multiple times and those multiples were all vying for airplay at approximately the same time.

Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra recorded an instrumental version of “Riders” in 1961, the same year The Ramrods released its instrumental version that includes various cowpoke-related overdubs. (The Ramrods was formed in 1956 by sister and brother Claire and Rich Litke; Claire played drums for the band. Meg White wasn’t born until 1974.)

Johnny Cash took up the reins in 1979. Cash added the “Ghost” to the title and his version was on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart for 16 weeks; it made it to number 2.

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The Physical Impossibility of Making It in the Environment of Financial Sharks

Damien Hirst’s artworks go for millions of dollars at auction. By several accounts, he is the richest visual artist in the world. The old caution that parents made to children: “Don’t be an artist. You won’t make any money until after you are dead” clearly doesn’t hold. Hirst is 56 so he has a long way to go, adding to his ~$400-million personal valuation.

Hirst is an artist who creates works that, by and large, are large such that they aren’t things that he can personally execute. Take, for example, what is arguably his most famous piece to date, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which is a 14-foot-long tiger shark in a large aquarium (84 x 204 x 84 inches) that is filled with formaldehyde. Unlike those sailfish that are mounted on the walls of paneled basements that are meant to speak to the piscatory prowess of the residential fisherman, Hirst didn’t go out on a boat in subtropical waters, catch the shark, then bring it back to his studio, where he wrested the dead, slimy object, which probably weighs just under a ton, into the tank.

He had help.

So because Hirst is as much an entrepreneur as artist, he cleverly created a company named “Science (UK)” that includes staff that at the end of 2020, numbered at 156. As was the case in the U.S., the U.K. had a government program established to address potential job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Companies would get money in order to protect employees.

Turns out, according to ARTNews, that Science (UK) received £1.31 million (a.k.a., $1.77 million) in 2020.

The same year it gave the shove to 63 of its employees.

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Science, Music & Money

The Stewart Brand quote often gets bandied about by those who say it with a tone of righteousness, a tone not born of authenticity as much as unsubstantiated entitlement: “Information wants to be free.” This, of course, is what is presumed to be some sort of blows against the empire, an attack on things like paywalls that have it that someone actually provide remuneration for whatever value they receive from that information.

But as is oft the case, the quote is truncated for convenience. Brand actually wrote:

“Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to measure. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient.”

Yes, that whole expensive part gets conveniently left out of the sloganeering.

What seems to be conveniently overlooked is that there is data, raw unorganized points, and then there is information: that data put into context.

This is the case whether that data takes the form of an array of words organized into something with meaning (little, had, Mary, a, lamb) or musical notes into a song (think of Beethoven’s Fifth: “duh-duh-duh-duuuh” and put the last note anywhere else).

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Salmagundi: Random Bits

Driven

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is, in a word, grand.

One of the striking things about it (no, not that it has 4×4 capability that allows the vehicle, which has civilized comfort, to drive the Rubicon Trail, which is something that is simply unimaginable unless there is a certain level of desire for potential catastrophe that one has) is the fact that it has a McIntosh audio system with 19 custom-designed speakers (including a 10-inch / 25.4-cm subwoofer), 950 watts of power and a 17-channel amplifier.

All vehicle manufacturers, nowadays, have high-end audio companies providing equipment for their vehicles. Many of these audio systems come from Harman International. Brands like: AKG, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and Revel. (And Samsung owns Harmon.)

But Jeep is now the only auto brand on the planet with McIntosh.

What is interesting about the deployment in the Grand Cherokee is that on the 10.25-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard you can see a simulated image of the classic McIntosh dial with the needle sweeping up and down across the face.

Because of that recent experience, while flipping through The Absolute Sound, looking at audio equipment I’ll never afford, I spotted an item titled “McIntosh Announces MC35000 Vacuum Tube Amplifier Mk II,” which is a contemporary execution of “McIntosh MC3500 Vacuum Tube Amplifiers that exclusively powered the sound system used at Woodstock.”

Yes, that Woodstock.

Some quick math puts it 52 years ago.

Who knew that vacuum tubes would still be used today? While it might be like a carburetor in a 2022 Jeep, apparently it isn’t.

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Music Matters in the UK

“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.” The Merchant of Venice

To say that music is important in the United Kingdom is to understate things immensely.

Consider this:

“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the creative industries added between £110 and £130 billion to the UK economy, supported over two million jobs and, since 2010, grew at nearly twice the rate of the economy as a whole. . . . The UK music industry contributes an estimated £5.2 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy per year, of which recorded music generates approximately £1.5 billion in retail revenues: a figure that is also growing year-on-year. The industry employs over 200,000 people, ranging from music creators (including over 50,000 UK artists) and their ecosystems, music venue and touring staff and employees of record labels, music publishers, music streaming services and collecting societies. . . . [I have no idea what a collecting society is, but I like the concept] Annually, the sector generates £2.7 billion in exports, and recorded music specifically generates £500 million in export revenues.”

All of that comes from a report conducted by Parliament, “Economics of Music Streaming.”

Think about that.

In the UK there is a recognition that there is a non-trivial number of citizens who make their livelihoods from music. In research conducted last year they discovered that 90% of UK festivals had been cancelled due to COVID and 93% of grassroots music venues were on the edge of shuttering. What’s more, they found that a quarter of people in the music industry didn’t qualify for Self Employed Income Support Scheme (a supplemental income program from the government, sort of like unemployment compensation in the US). And producers and sound engineers had lost an average of 70% of their income as a result of the socio-cultural-economic impact of COVID on the UK.

In the US the was the passage in December 2020 of the “Save Our Stages Act,” which provides $15-billion administered through the Small Business Administration, setup to provide six months’ of financial support to venues to keep their employees solvent. A good thing (although reportedly bolloxed in its administration at the start), but it is notable that the Brits take music so seriously that they have economic analysts looking into the impact on the finances of the country overall, as well as individual workers in the industry. Strange to think that Boris Johnson is a member of the Conservative Party. When he had an alleged conservative in charge of our government it resulted in little more than embarrassment, which continues today.

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Cars, Turntables & Physical Objects

Last week I had the opportunity to drive a 2022 Honda Civic. It was the top-of-the-line Touring trim. It is an all-new, 11th generation Civic. It has leather seats, Bose audio with 12-speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an array of sensors for safety, moonroof, 180-hp turbocharged engine. . . and a lot more stuff.

It is really an impressive vehicle, and being a Honda Civic, I would imagine that whoever buys one is likely to have it for some years in reliable operation. A value play.

This morning I read piece by Jacob Heilbrunn in The Absolute Sound about his quest for getting a custom reference stand for his turntable. He contacted the chief engineer at a Buffalo, New York-based company, Harmonic Resolution Systems, about getting the company’s VXR stand. As things went, Heilbrunn obtained a custom VXR Zero stand.

It cost $52,000.

The Civic has an MSRP of $28,300.

I suspected that I was missing something.

So I looked at the turntable that Heilbrunn needed this very specific stand to accommodate.

A TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable.

According to Hideaki Nishikawa, who designed the reference turntable, “The goal of the project was to develop a truly groundbreaking product, building on our expertise and knowledge and incorporating new ideas and insights. To achieve this goal, the project had to be cost-no-object. And it had to have whatever technologies would be best suited for sonic performance, no matter how much it would cost.”

The result is a unit that weighs 727.5 pounds and measures 35.5 x 26.6 x 13.2 inches.

According to a recent review in Stereophile, the TechDAS Air Force Zero has a base price (i.e., there are models above it in the TechDAS lineup) of $450,000.

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The Black Widow Effect

This is not about music. At least not directly.

It is about performance, pay and distribution. All things that are absolutely germane to those who make a living via musical performances.

The first goes to the lawsuit filed by Scarlett Johansson (or precisely, Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc., F/S/O [which means “for services of”] Scarlett Johansson) against the Walt Disney Company.

Quick: Where is the Walt Disney Company as a legal entity located?

1. California
2. Florida
3. Delaware

Yes, Delaware. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the entertainment business is big business so Disney, like a majority of Fortune 500 companies, incorporate in Delaware, largely because Delaware legislatively keeps its corporation statutes up-to-date regarding the world as it exists today, not at some hoary point in the past; it also operates a special court, the Court of Chancery, that rules on corporate law disputes sans juries.

(That said, the suit was filed in L.A.)

The opening line of the suit is worth pondering: “Over the past decade, Scarlett Johansson’s work has generated billions of dollars for Marvel Studios, and, by extension, its parent company, Disney.”

Billions of dollars over the past decade.

The lawsuit contends that her latest, Black Widow, would provide Johansson with money that would be based, in part, on box office receipts but the amount of those receipts was reduced because Disney didn’t just make Black Widow a “theatrical release” (i.e., in move theaters), but, on the day that it opened in theaters, made it available to subscribers of Disney+ (for $30).

Back in 2017 Johansson and Marvel Studios entered into an agreement in which “that guaranteed her a share of ‘box office receipts’” and “To protect her financial interests in these box office receipts, Ms. Johansson obtained from Marvel a valuable contractual promise that the release of the Picture would be a ‘wide theatrical release.’” The idea–remember, this is 2017–is that Black Widow would play in a whole bunch of cineplexes for what was an industry standard of 90 to 120 days, after which there could be other outlets.

In other words, she would make bank primarily during the time it was in theaters.

But because it was released on Disney+ as well, the number of people who would pay at the box office was reduced.

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In My Room: On the Sound of Music

Anyone can record a song from their living room and put it out. That over-saturation of music, it’s a good thing.—Zak Bia, Cool Hunting

Forget the big budget records, more and more music is being made by individuals in bedrooms, home studios, on a budget.—Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

The first quote is from a guy who has started his own recording company, Field Trip Records. The context isn’t so much about recording per se as it is about breaking artists. Obviously, last year was pretty much a wash in terms of what he calls one of “the best ways to break artists”: “through live shows and showcases.” So it was a matter of recording (“I signed this kid when he was 15, and he was doing all this on his own from his bedroom”) and getting the music out into the environment at large.

Presumably that is now much easier, although it is probable that given the number of people who were recording in their homes because there was little else to do after March 2020 there is going to be a tremendous glut of music to choose from. Which will either lead to people (1) accepting things that are less than first-rate because they are interested in anything new and different or (2) ignoring much of the available output, wanting only the best audio fidelity.

Which leads me to the point being made by Lefsetz. In his case he was writing about Spatial Audio on Apple Music. His beef is that existing recordings are being remixed via Dolby Atmos. According to the Dolby website, Atmos “It starts with the artist. Dolby Atmos technology lets them place each voice, instrument, or sound in its own space. Wherever you hear it, you’re in the center.”

The question at hand is whether the “artist” is involved—or even the engineer—in reformatting the music from its original format—probably stereo—to Atmos.

And these audio changes are something that Lefsetz decidedly does not like: “Actually, the more I listen to these Spatial Audio cuts, the more offensive they become. . . . . These are not the original records, they’ve been messed with, they’re not even facsimiles, they’re bastardizations.”

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It’s All About the Ecosystem [Money]

Because once you get in, it is ever so hard to escape

Apple Music recently released a statement about how it pays artists for streams, which positions the company as being more, um, generous than, say Spotify.

There’s this: “While other services pay some independent labels a substantially lower rate than they pay major labels, we pay the same headline rate to all labels.” Let’s face it, there are plenty of artists whose music you’re interested in that aren’t on the majors (a statement I can make with some confidence given that you’re on this site), so why should they get any less attention because of the company that their music happens to be distributed by?

This one is the kicker: “While royalties from streaming services are calculated on a stream share basis, a play still has a value. This value varies by subscription plan and country but averaged $0.01 for Apple Music individual paid plans in 2020. This includes label and publisher royalties.” Admittedly, you have to have one ginormous number of streams in order to have enough money to order a beer at your local bar.

But when there are other companies that are paying money at rates that are so complicated to work out that you might as well spend your time calculating a variant proof for Fermat’s Theorem, a penny is something that can be readily understood.

This gets into the tricky category: “Apple Music paid out royalties for more than 5 million recording artists around the world in 2020, over 1 million more than in 2019. The number of recording artists whose catalogs generated recording and publishing royalties over $1 million per year increased over 120% since 2017, while the number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $50,000 per year has more than doubled.”

If we break it down it says there were four million artists on Apple Music in 2019, and now there are 20% more. But the part that is a bit obfuscatorial is the fact that while there is a large percentage increase in the number of musicians who have earned over a million dollars since 2017, not knowing how many made a million in 2017 makes that increase a mystery. That is, if there were 100 in 2017, the 120% increase isn’t a whole lot, which is the same case for the doubling of the $50,000 earners.

Continue reading It’s All About the Ecosystem [Money]