Tag Archives: streaming

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]

The Disturbingly Small Numbers

The $15 minimum wage is a contentious issue. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. It was established in 2009. 2009 was Windows 7.

Yes, you’d think it would be time for a change.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a minimum wage increase would impact the following:

• More than half (51%) of workers who would benefit are adults between the ages of 25 and 54; only one in 10 is a teenager.
• Nearly six in 10 (59%) are women.
• More than half (54%) work full time.
• More than four in 10 (43%) have some college experience.
• More than a quarter (28%) have children.

The issue here is one of people earning a living.

If we’ve seen anything in the past year it is that people who are working at grocery stores and doing food delivery services were putting themselves at considerable health risk. Odds are they didn’t want to. But it was their job and they had to do it. $7.25.

If someone works 40 hours per week, that is 2,080 hours per year. So at $7.25, the annual wage is $15,080.

And according to the EPI, were a raise to $15 per hour occur (it is worth noting that this wouldn’t necessarily be an instantaneous increase but that there would be a stepped approach, going to $9.50 in 2021 and reaching $15 in 2025) a full-time worker employed year-round would earn $31,200.

To put that into some perspective, know that the average price of a used car—remember, these people need to get to work in order to earn anything—is over $23,000. And that, of course, would mean the need for car insurance, on top of rent, utilities, food, clothing, etc., etc.

At this point—or far earlier—you may be wondering if you’ve accidentally stumbled onto a website dedicated to economics, not music.

Hang on. We’re getting there.

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Ain’t We Got Fun?

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, painted The Scream in 1893. Fast forward 128 years and there could be the sound of a wail heard from the fjords: Jack Dorsey purchased “a significant portion” of streaming service Tidal from Shawn Carter for $297-million. One assumes that when you’re dealing with that kind of money “Jay-Z” isn’t on the paperwork. Carter bought what was to become Tidal from its Norwegian founders for $56 million in 2015. Lock, stock and smoking barrel for $56 million; a “portion” for $241-million more.

As you may recall, the plan that Jay-Z had when establishing Tidal was to get a group of musicians—including Madonna, Kanye, Daft Punk, Jack White, Beyoncé—and give them a piece of the action (~3%) in order for them to create Tidal-specific music. That way there would be a solid reason for fans to go to that outlet rather than other venues.

In terms of the subscriber base, however, Spotify is doing exceedingly well and Tidal, music catalog notwithstanding, is not sweeping away the competition for dollars and ears. Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music account for about 70% of the market, leaving the rest to others—and the rest isn’t just Tidal.

Dorsey, the man behind Twitter, is also the co-founder of Square, the financial services company that offers clever point-of-services devices (portable, pedestal-based) through which people buy things, as well as the backend software to make the transactions complete. Swipe. Tap. Voila!

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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.