Tag Archives: streaming

Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

“Finding my books on the Books3 data set was disappointing and disorienting: writing is how I’ve made my life, artistically, and—this is important—practically too. . . . Books and writing are how I pay my mortgage, my children’s tuition, my grocery bill. To see my work so cavalierly stolen and used, without my consent, by corporations eager only to increase their own profits, is frankly terrifying.”—Elisabeth de Mariaffi, in The Walrus

Books3, if you’re not familiar with it, is a dataset of books—thousands of them (as in around 183,000)—that were downloaded from pirated sources—so the authors received nothing for their work—and then used to train the AI language models of several companies, including Meta and Bloomberg.

Odds are, you’ve not heard of de Mariaffi.

Odds are, you have heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is estimated to be worth $96 billion. Zuckerberg? About $115 billion.

Neither probably thinks about making their mortgage payments or the size of the grocery bill.

There are lawsuits against Books3 by authors and other interested parties.

There are lawsuits against OpenAI for illegally using authors’ works. There are some more famous writers—Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen—involved in suits, as are some, well, outliers, like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Silverman.

While the name brands probably aren’t too concerned about the price of a gallon of milk, what is notable about these undertakings is that these people are trying to protect their work from the potential unfair reuse of manipulated variants thereof that would lead to increased corporate profitability and no benefit redounding to them.

Think about it: Books3, used by humongous corporations, didn’t even plunk down $20 for a copy of The Firm.

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The Importance of Objects

Given the increasingly sorry state of the planet there is a an increasing importance to the actions encompassed in the phrase “reduce, recycle, reuse.” Less stuff is arguably better.

A Google search of “minimalism” comes up with “about 873,000,000 results”—ironically maximalist, I think—with the characteristics of the 3Rs foremost, not the works of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, or Terry Riley.

But even those who are associated with a comfortable but minimalist lifestyle, like Marie Kondo, aren’t full-on 3R mavens. Kondo writes of her KonMari approach:

“One of the reasons the KonMari Method™ is associated with minimalism is because many people discover while tidying that they’ve been living with items they no longer love – or never did. And they suddenly feel empowered to let them go with gratitude.”

Objects are OK—as long as said objects provide the individual with what can be considered personal “joy.” And arguably, much music is associated with the joy—or even sorrow—in our lives.

Artifacts of a life are certainly not as important as family, friends and, certainly, life itself, but those objects are in many ways definitive of the person’s movement through time: Perhaps it is a collection of stubs from concerts seen (in a pre-scanning age) or the first Wilco LP bought when the comparative obscurity was in its own way important.

They may be things that haven’t been looked at or used for some years, but at the time of acquisition they were certainly notable and they carried that importance, although perhaps diminished over time, forward.

Another phrase that’s heard is “Get experiences, not things.” But things acquired during those experiences (e.g., a concert T-shirt or a Fillmore West postcard from a visit to San Francisco) can bring the memories back in a powerful way. (One could gloss the famous literary manifestation of this: the madeleine cake dipped in tea that gave rise to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: no physical cake, no memories evoked, or at least not to such an extent.)

Which is a roundabout way to get to the recent “RIAA Mid-Year 2023 Revenue Report,” which has it that first-half U.S. retail revenues hit $8.4 billion, the highest take in a six-month period.

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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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On the one hand, there are the dollar figures, which in themselves are somewhat difficult to come to any reasonable grips with unless you are someone who spends their time being a quant, professionally or recreationally, and if you are one you look at this number and wish that you’d been calculatedly clever enough to have bought a piece of the action before the number dropped:

$2.181 billion

Which, in itself, doesn’t seem that big a deal until you look at it like this:


Which is a significant number of places after the dollar sign.

That, according to MusicBusiness Worldwide, is the Q1 cash generation of Sony for its recorded music and music publishing operations.

An increase of 9.7% over the same period last year.

But now as we move to the other hand, there is something that is truly odd, or at least a little bit unusual.

Here are the musicians who generated the greatest revenue and what got them there:

  • SZA: SOS
  • Miley Cyrus: Endless Summer Vacation
  • Harry Styles: Harry’s House
  • Depeche Mode: Memento Mori
  • Beyoncé: RENAISSANCE
  • Måneskin: RUSH!
  • Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 17: Fragments-Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997)
  • Michael Jackson: Thriller
  • Harry Styles: Fine Line

The first thing that is atypical is the fact that Dylan is on the list. The week in October 2016 when Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Money magazine of all things had a story about Dylan’s chart performance. (Let’s face it: you can readily imagine Money writing about the likes of Ben Bernanke or Paul Krugman, Nobel economics laureates, but Literature? Dylan?)

The piece says, in part, “For all of Dylan’s acclaim and notoriety, and also for how phenomenally prolific ‘the voice of a generation’ has been. . .you might assume he is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Hardcore Dylan fans know that just isn’t the case.”

His sales numbers have not been in the least bit great, at least in the context of Big Selling Artists.

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Hearing, Seeing, Earning

No Static At All

According to Nielsen, some 47 million Americans listen to AM radio. Given that there are some 338 million Americans, that isn’t a small number.

While electric vehicle sales are still under 10% in the U.S., the number is growing.

And as it grows, the number of AM radios in vehicles declines. Electric vehicles produced by Audi, BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Volkswagen and Tesla are all AM-radio free.

Ford has announced that its immensely popular F-150 Lightning electric pickup, will not have AM starting in model year 2023.

This isn’t (necessarily) a case of what’s known in the industry as “decontenting,” or removing things to reduce costs and increase profits.

Rather, electric motors throw off electromagnetic interference that affects AM reception in a way that it doesn’t affect FM. (The same goes for other electrical phenomenon, such as non-automotive lightning.)

Because Tesla is by far the most popular brand of EVs in the U.S. (and everywhere else for that matter), it is interesting to note something about its entertainment strategy.

What’s involved in getting AM, FM and Sirius Radio (assuming there is an appropriate antenna affixed to the roof) in a Tesla?

The customer must purchase a Radio Upgrade. It costs $500. But to get the Radio Upgrade it is necessary to get the Infotainment Upgrade. According to Tesla, to obtain the Infotainment Upgrade, “Owners of compatible vehicles can schedule an appointment through the Tesla app for purchase and installation. This upgrade is available for $2,250 plus applicable tax, including installation, for vehicles equipped with Autopilot Computer 2.0 or 2.5 and for $1,750 plus applicable tax, including installation, for all other vehicles.”

But wait, there’s more: “Some features enabled by the Infotainment Upgrade require a Premium Connectivity subscription.” And for that: “Premium Connectivity currently is available as a monthly subscription of $9.99 plus applicable tax or as an annual subscription of $99 plus applicable tax.”

Remember when radios were standard equipment in cars?

The least-expensive Tesla is a Model 3 that starts at $46,990.

Well, at least static from the audio isn’t an issue.

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The Downside of the Age of Convenience

The analogy is imperfect. Still consider.

Alain Ducasse (19), Pierre Gagnaire (14), Martin Berasategui (12), Yannick Alleno (10), Anne-Sophie Pic (8) are all assembled and told to do their very best.

The numbers aren’t their ages. It is the number of Michelin stars these chefs have been awarded. Arguably they are the top five chefs in the world.

So they get to work. Perhaps some of them go all in: hors-d’oeuvres, amuse-bouche, soup, appetizer, salad, fish, main course, palate cleaner, second main course, cheese course, dessert, and mignardise. That alone might make someone feel like Mr. Creosote.

But these people are absolute masters of their art. What they create is phenomenal.

Say you decide to go to Anne-Sophie Pic au Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne. This isn’t a simple matter. It takes effort on your part. But the Michelin Guide tells you: “Diners can be reassured that the demanding inventive streak that has ever linked the Pic name to high-flying Gallic gastronomy continues to thrive here. A culinary masterclass throbbing with flavour.”

Where else are you going to go so as to get a meal that is “throbbing with flavour”?

You get there. You eat. You know that it is true. Each of the courses is something that is special. It seems almost impossible that each is different yet each is something that is consistently exceptional in its own way. Each part contributes to the whole. While each course is individually wonderful, the chef creates a comprehensive gastronomic experience. And when the napkin is finally folded, you have an indelible memory.

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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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