Archive for the 'politics' Category

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

25/06/2012

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

The Trichordist

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.

Emily:

My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting…

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The Music Industry: It’s Becoming a Third World Country…

26/05/2011

Paul Resnikoff for Digital Music News, Monday, 23 May 2011:

It was supposed to be the complete opposite. But years into this digital revolution, the music industry seems to resemble a Third World country. I’m talking about extreme gaps between the rich and poor, a depressingly large group in poverty, endemic corruption, extended decline, and the presence of pervasive, religious ideas that have little connection to reality.

This industry has become so totally bi-polar, I’m not even sure where to begin. Well, how about the charts—any chart. Whether it’s BigChampagne’s Ultimate Chart, Billboard’s Hot 100, or the most-streamed songs on Grooveshark, the top-ranked artists are all the same. It’s Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Justin Bieber, and the Black Eyed Peas, week after week, over and over again. And sure, indie success stories are definitely happening, but why aren’t they hogging the rankings next to the mainstream, major label priorities?

The rich are a tiny, elite cadre, and they’re benefiting from a preferential pipe that still matters. In fact, not only do mainstream channels like terrestrial radio and TV still matter, they have a dominant influence over music culture. But these channels are also controlled by a tiny group—ie, mostly the majors. Turn on a terrestrial station, and it’s the same artists played ad nauseum (in fact, it looks like this), while the masses languish in obscurity.

And how about the road? Maybe festivals are the bright spot, but the huge artist ransoms belong to Bon Jovi, U2, and Lady Gaga, who are minting millions every night. It’s a tiny group, but how can that be reconciled with the artists that are struggling to pay for gas for their tour bus? For example, Imogen Heap, and the mass of other artists struggling to cover tour costs?

Then there are the obscene—and questionable—salaries for a top cadre of executives. We just learned that RIAA president Cary Sherman yanked down $3.2 million in compensation for 2009, and Mitch Bainwol $1.6 million. And we’ve been witnessing a textbook looting of Warner Music Group for years, with a select group of operators walking away with tens of millions in cash. Yet, every week I hear about new layoffs, or get emails from people struggling to find employment in this business. It’s almost impossible to find a good job it seems—even for really qualified people. That’s why people are fleeing towards other industries, just like people emigrate from horrible economic situations.

And what about the impoverished artists? Instead of some egalitarian revolt, a vast majority of artists are barely surviving. Forget about the pricing debate between Tunecore and CD Baby for a second—because on both platforms, the average yearly payout is about $175 per artist—before costs (we calculated both). Yet the pervasive idea is that direct-to-fan channels can make artists self-supported winners, that intermediaries don’t matter, that radio is dead, that labels are redundant, and that the solution is to simply respond to every tweet and email.

And who gives us this misguided inspiration? The extremely rare lottery winner, or artists that were already promoted by the major label machine (like Amanda Palmer or Radiohead). As if somehow, these post-major success stories are a template for others to follow, rather than rare exceptions.

I’d say nothing’s changed from the ‘old days,’ but it seems like it’s actually gotten worse. And I’m left wondering why this ‘music nation’ keeps sliding.

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Why Curation Is Important

24/03/2011

Curators are filters. The filter system for the music is led by the DJs, the A&Rs and the critics. “Why Curation Is Just As Important As Creation”, an op-ed by Steve Rosenbaum (curator, author, filmmaker and entrepreneur) for Mashable, 18 March 2011:

The personal web publishing boom has led to an information explosion. It’s a data free-for-all, and it’s just beginning. Andrew Blau is a researcher and the co-president of Global Business Network in San Fransisco. Blau has foretold the changes in media distribution and content creation. Now he’s watching this new, historic emergence of first-person publishing.

Today, publishing tools have been set free, Blau says. Cost, ownership, and barriers to entry are all gone, almost overnight. “The ability to amplify one’s voice, to amplify that beyond the reach of what we have had, reflects a change of course in human history.” He pointed to the difficultly of sorting through the riot of voices online. What that chaos needed was curation—a way to get value out of the information flood. But the role of the curator has been a contentious one, and not everyone has been on board with the concept.

WHO GETS HEARD?

All big changes have unintended consequences. Blau says that the old problem—limited access to the tools to amplify speech—has been fixed by the Internet. It used to be that making and moving information was so expensive that the question of who was going to get permission to speak was a central social and political issue. But now speech is more democratic.

That development, not surprisingly, creates a new problem. “The problem is who gets heard,” Blau says. “The real issue that remains is access to an audience. Because that’s hard. Access to technology has become trivially easy for most people in the industrialized world, and increasingly easy for people in the emerging economies around the world.”

Blau is right: Speech is easy. Being heard is hard and getting even harder. Computers can’t distinguish between data and ideas or between human intellect and aggregated text and links. This lack of aesthetic intelligence in a storm of data changes the game. […]

Okay, let’s get this part out in the open: Creators don’t like coloring inside the lines. They’re fueled by a passion to make original work. But there’s a reason why painters don’t rent a storefront, hire a staff clad in black clothing, and throw endless cocktail parties with white wine and fancy hors d’oeuvres. That’s called a gallery, and a gallery owner is a curator. These are the people who enjoy the process of choosing what to hang, how to price it, and how to make sure painters have enough income to pay the rent and buy more paint and canvas. Hopefully.

The web doesn’t work that way. At least not yet. The folks who run the online galleries—the curators—aren’t asking permission or giving a revenue share, which means that content creators need to get comfortable with the idea that in the new world of the link economy, curating and creating aren’t mutually exclusive. Exhibit A: Seth Godin. He is one of the web’s best-known marketing wizards. He’s a speaker, author, website owner and entrepreneur. And he says that content creators can’t ignore curation any longer.

“We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage,” Godin said. […]

“If we live in a world where information drives what we do, the information we get becomes the most important thing. The person who chooses that information has power.” […]

THE BILLION DOLLAR OPPORTUNITY

[Robert] Scoble has declared curation as the next “billion dollar” opportunity and wonders aloud as to whether he should “create or curate” as tech news breaks in Silicon Valley. Scoble says a curator is “an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.”

“I used to drink from the real-time fire hose, because on the social web, everything was about real time,” says Brian Solis, author of “Engage”. “Then I realized over the years that it’s actually more about right time than real time. In fact, when information comes through, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the right time to engage, capture it, and share it. I’m more successful now creating a list of information, relevant information, and then repackaging, repurposing, and broadcasting that information at the right time.”

Getting people to pay attention to you—by following, friending, linking, or otherwise engaging—will have real economic value, says communications consultant and author Chris Brogan. “Attention is a currency, just like many others. We understand time and money as two interchangeable things. But attention is just as much something that needs to be arbitraged and disconnected from a 1:1 value. Said another way, ‘Attention costs me time and time is worth money, so attention by extension is worth money.’”

CONCLUSION

Data will be created with staggering speed, and systems will need to evolve to find, gather, and package data so that you can get what you need, when you need it, in coherent and useful bundles.

Curation taps the vast, agile, engaged human power of the web. It finds signal in the noise. And it’s most certainly going to unleash a new army of web editors armed with emerging curation tools.

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7 Rock Songs Exploited For Commerce And Conservatism

20/03/2011

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd for AlterNet, 27 November 2010:

[…] musicians are increasingly filling their duckets with cross-promo deals from companies. While outside-the-mainstream artists and the towers of commerce have historically had a tenuous relationship, in the choked-income era of the mp3—where it’s increasingly difficult for even prominent groups to make a living off recorded music—more and more musicians have been letting marketers use their tunes for a check. It’s such a frequent occurrence it barely registers as cognitive dissonance these days… The song’s political message is wildly at odds with the capitalist idea being sold (see: Rolling Stones’ latest). Or, worse, left-wing songs are hijacked by right-wing politicians without permission. In both instances, sometimes the disconnect is so vast, it ends up in the courts. At the very least, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

1. The Beatles and Nike
In one of the earlier and more memorable instances of a song’s perpendicularity to its placement, Nike bought the Beatles’ classic peace advocacy jam “Revolution” for the purpose of hawking running shoes. To be fair, the 1987 clip wasn’t anti-peace, featuring shots of normal humans doing sporty things and being generally healthy… but let’s just say Nike’s co-opting of political sentiment in order to establish cool cred set a precedent. Apple Records, the Beatles’ music group, sued the company for $15 million—Nike had purchased the rights to the song from Capitol Records, which owned the North American rights to the song. Two years later, a settlement was reached out of court, but the concept had done its damage. In an interesting postscript to the story, a 2005 Nike poster mimicked the cover of the first Minor Threat album without permission (Minor Threat being one of the most political, anti-corporate, do-it-yourself punk bands of the ’80s). Dischord Records, the band’s label run to this day by lead singer Ian MacKaye, released a statement:

To longtime fans and supporters of Minor Threat and Dischord, this must seem like just another familiar example of mainstream corporations attempting to assimilate underground culture to turn a buck. However, it is more disheartening to us to think that Nike may be successful in using this imagery to fool kids, just beginning to become familiar with skate culture, underground music and D.I.Y. ideals, into thinking that the general ethos of this label, and Minor Threat in particular, can somehow be linked to Nike’s mission.

The poster was removed and the parties settled out of court.

2. Rolling Stones and Call Of Duty
The Stones are completely game for corporations to use their tunes—they started young when they wrote a special song for a 1963 Rice Krispies advert, and a short laundry list of subsequent brands they’ve supported includes Sony, Coca-Cola and Victoria’s Secret. Truthfully, Mick Jagger’s lascivious lyrics can be funny when they’re hawking, say, Microsoft Windows… but it got super weird recently when “Gimme Shelter” showed up in a disturbingly hyperviolent ad for the video game Call Of Duty: Black Ops, which features celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel wielding machine guns and shooting up everything in their sights. Um, Rolling Stones, you know you wrote that song based on the despair of Vietnam, right? But if the song was sullied by the egregious war imagery, the band’s bottom line remained intact. This week, the commercial prompted a sales spurt for the Stones based on the Black Ops spot.

3. The XX vs. The Conservative Party
Shoe-shufflers the XX have been the toast of Britain this year—starting out as four 20-year-olds in a basement, their soft-take sensuality and near-whisper vocals were universally angsty enough to garner them a Mercury Prize. And apparently the Conservative Party took to the trio’s restraint; in October, the Tories played songs from their album at a party gathering, which the band’s label, Young Turks, immediately condemned in a statement: “The XX/Young Turks weren’t invited to any party, didn’t approve the use of their music at the party and certainly don’t approve of said party.”

4. M.I.A. and Honda
Maya Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A., has built her career on outspoken political fortitude as much as impeccable diasporic pop. And while she’s sometimes confused her message—generally delivered in rants about Sri Lankan genocide and government-controlled Internet—it’s undeniable that she means well. So seeing her first-ever hit, “Galang” juxtaposed with a Honda commercial was slightly discomfiting, particularly considering the song’s a brittle, wry tale of a drug-related murder. A moment of levity, then, when you realize that she actually mentions rival car company BMW in the original lyrics.

5. The Killers and Nike
The Killers’ anti-war track “All These Things That I’ve Done” isn’t going to win a prize for complex literacy anytime soon, but it is important to note that the catchiest hook in an already catchy song is the gospel-tinged anthem, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.” Nike, once again, decided it would apply a pro-peace line to competitive sportsmanship, for its minute-long “Courage” slot, aired during the 2008 Olympics, which spliced sweaty, determined-looking athletes with shots of wild game. Interestingly enough, David Cameron of Conservative British Party/the XX fame also used this track in a campaign ad… his taste is better than his politics, it seems. […]

6. Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan
It was 1984 and “Born in the USA” was a biting, bitter paean to working-class Vietnam vets… but it was 1984, so why wouldn’t Republicans interpret it as a shining, uncritical, vociferous act of patriotism? They were taking everything else around them, too, so no reason to think Bruce Springsteen would object to Reagan using his song for the campaign. But, whoops, someone forgot to do their research, and that person was George Will, who recommended the track to Ronald’s higher-ups. Springsteen, as we now know, is a true-blue lefty, but back then it wasn’t so clear, though his staff politely declined when the campaign asked to use his track. Later, he also refused an offer of several million dollars from Lee Iaccoca to put the song in a Chrysler commercial. Whattaguy.

7. Gang of Four and Kinect Sports
Gang of Four was a self-professed Marxist punk band whose songs were mostly about the vapid nature of commercialism and feeling disenfranchised from 1970s Britain. “Natural’s Not In It” is one of their best-loved songs, its robotic jaggedness and staccato lyrics reflecting the automaton nature of consumer society:

The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure/The body is good business/Sell out, maintain the interest.

Which is all well and good until the song popped up in an ad for Kinect, Microsoft’s new video game platform—though only the intro guitar part was included, cutting off before the lyrics could undermine the sell. Guess these guys’ ideals changed over 35 years. […]

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Looking To A Sneaker For A Band’s Big Break

18/03/2011

Ben Sisario for The New York Times, 6 October 2010:

RIGHT now it is just a shell, the peeling remnant of an old dry cleaner on a graffiti-covered block in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. But soon the 5,200-square-foot space will be transformed into a sleek new recording studio in the heart of the underground-rock capital. And in the latest twist in pop’s relationship with Madison Avenue, the struggling bands making music there will already be encountering corporate America: the studio is being built by Converse, which will let them record free.

A shoe company giving away studio time might seem peculiar. But with its new project, Converse—whose sneakers have been worn by generations of bands, from the Ramones to the Strokes—wants to become a patron of the rock arts. The company is not alone: lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels.

Looking to infiltrate the lives of their customers on an ever deeper cultural level, they are starting imprints, scouting for talent and writing checks for nearly every line item on a band’s budget. And as the traditional record industry crumbles, plenty of musicians are welcoming these new rock ’n’ roll Medici.

“Artists are finding the only way to achieve any financial safety is to become a lapdog of the great corporations,” said the author and media critic Douglas Rushkoff […].

Not long ago most youth-minded brands’ pop strategies were limited to tour sponsorships and licensing songs for TV commercials. Now they compete to offer bands the kind of services once strictly the province of record companies: money for video shoots, marketing, even distribution. Red Bull and Mountain Dew have record labels with credible rosters. Levi’s, Converse, Dr. Martens, Scion, Nike and Bacardi have all sponsored music by the kind of under-the-radar artists covered in Pitchfork and The Village Voice, and they blitz the blogosphere with promotional budgets fatter than most labels could muster.

For the brands the desired payoff is coolness by association. And while a generation ago these arrangements would have carried a stigma for the artists, branding deals are now as common in rock as guitars. A band’s decision to do business with a soft-drink company is often no different from its decision to sign with a record label.

“Music is everywhere now, and if you have it tied to a brand, there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, a girl-group-meets-grunge band from Los Angeles […].

Ms. Cosentino’s band has existed for barely a year, but she is already a branding vet. Well before she signed a proper record deal, with the small label Mexican Summer, she released a single through a boutique headphone company. And when Converse asked her to collaborate with the rapper Kid Cudi and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend on a song that would be given away on its Web site, she didn’t hesitate. “It was an amazing opportunity,” she said by phone recently from a gig in Iowa. “If I said no it would have been stupid.”

Converse’s studio, called Converse Rubber Tracks, is the brainchild of Geoff Cottrill, the company’s chief marketing officer. On a tour of the raw space he wore a pair of ripped jeans, a Rolex watch and a big, I-swear-it’s-true smile as he described the plans for the studio, which is to open by the end of the year. After applying online, bands deemed dedicated and needy enough will be able to record whatever they want there. No need to prepare rhymes for “Chuck Taylor”—Converse says it will have no influence on the music, the artists will keep ownership rights, and, as with many brand-as-patron projects, the songs aren’t intended to be used in ads.

Mr. Cottrill said the company wants to “give back” to its loyal customers, but of course the enterprise is not purely altruistic. The idea is that helping new bands will build good will for the brand (and generate future sales) and also give Converse an advantage over all the other companies out there competing for young eyeballs.

“Think of a cul-de-sac with four garages, and in those garages are four bands,” Mr. Cottrill said. “On the street are all the big brands of the world—Coke, Apple, the car companies—standing there waiting for the garage door to open and the cool band to step out so they can tell them they’re going to make them famous. But I would venture to say that inside those garages those kids are already wearing our shoes.”

To run the studio Converse has hired Cornerstone, a media and marketing company in New York with a history of seeding corporate branding campaigns with hip music. It also operates Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound imprint, which releases free MP3s by blogger favorites like Neon Indian and Chromeo. Jon Cohen, a founder of Cornerstone—who is also an owner of The Fader magazine and its related record label—said his brand-run projects fill voids in the beleaguered music industry. “A brand now has the ability to really break an artist,” Mr. Cohen said.

Lifestyle brands have been cultivating their roles as music curators for years; Starbucks even started a label after its success with albums like Ray Charles’s “Genius Loves Company.” And the patronage model grows out of the same kind of margin-trolling philosophy that has led big companies like Apple and Nike to license music by rising but still low-profile artists, said Josh Rabinowitz, director of music at the Grey agency.

“Indie-inflected music serves as a kind of Trojan horse,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. “Consumers feel they are discovering something that they believe to be cool and gaining admittance to a more refined social clique.”

An early adopter was Scion, Toyota’s Gen-Y line, which started a giveaway label in 2005 and still puts on dance and metal shows around the country. Red Bull Records began in 2007 with a team of former major-label executives, and other companies offer bands more specific forms of support: Motel 6’s Rock Yourself To Sleep program, for example, gives free rooms to touring groups.

In the short term those services are much appreciated by bands. But what long-term effect the brands’ power will have on musicians’ careers—or on the music itself—remains to be seen.

Artists and talent managers say that the music deals offered by brands can be fairer and more favorable than traditional label contracts. These days major labels want bands to sign so-called 360 or extended-rights agreements, which give the label a piece of nearly every dollar a band makes, from concerts to merchandise. On the other hand, most brands offer short-term deals with few strings.

When the dance-rock band Chromeo released its single “Night by Night” through Green Label Sound last fall, Mountain Dew paid for a video, remixes and a wave of publicity online and off, and the band walked away with full ownership rights; that song is now on its album “Business Casual,” which was released by Atlantic last month. Chromeo faced accusations of selling out, but David Macklovitch, aka Dave 1, its lead singer, questioned that knee-jerk response.

Major labels’ 360 deals, he said, are “way more of a sell-out than doing a collaboration with a brand where you have full creative control and you give free content to your fans.” (Many artists on Atlantic have extended-rights contracts, but a spokeswoman said Chromeo does not.)

But not every branding deal goes smoothly. Two years ago the Island Def Jam Music Group announced Tag Records, a joint label with Procter & Gamble’s Tag Body Spray that promised a “multimillion-dollar marketing effort.” A Brooklyn rapper, Q da Kid, was signed, and the veteran producer and music executive Jermaine Dupri was established at the helm. But in less than a year the new label collapsed, Mr. Dupri left Def Jam, and Q da Kid was stuck in contractual purgatory.

“I was with a company that didn’t understand the music business,” the rapper said in a telephone interview. “They’re used to their brands flying off the shelves like it ain’t nothing, and they thought, ‘If we put enough money behind this, he’ll be big.’ And it wasn’t like that.”

Whether Tag fell apart because of a clash of corporate cultures or a more typical major-label power struggle—Mr. Dupri was known to feud with Def Jam’s chairman, Antonio Reid—is not clear. (In an e-mail Steve Bartels, Island Def Jam’s president, leaned toward the culture-clash explanation. “I think the interaction could have been more focused,” he wrote. “The nuances of developing a new artist can take years.”) But Tag Records’ fate points to the reality that sneaker and soda companies are ultimately in it to sell sneakers and soda, not music.

Mr. Cottrill suggested that the long-term success of Rubber Tracks would depend less on whether the bands that record there go on to fame and fortune than on the extent to which they keep Converse in their heart.

“Let’s say over the next five years we put 1,000 artists through here, and one becomes the next Radiohead,” he said. “They’re going to have all the big brands chasing them to sponsor their tour. But the 999 artists who don’t make it, the ones who tend to get forgotten about, they’ll never forget us.”

Critics have often complained about the influence of licensing and advertising on music. In the mid-2000s, for example, rap started to develop lots of blippy, simple melodies that would sound good in ringtones. It may be too soon to tell whether the patronage of Red Bull, Mountain Dew and Converse will warp the sound of indie rock. But if young bands are developing with their attractiveness to corporate America in mind, will they, say, avoid political content?

Chris Kaskie, the president of the music web site Pitchfork, noted a lack of debate about the implications of bands’ working with brands. When Nike makes a cool mix-tape, he said, there is little comment about the company in the indie-rock world.

“Young bands are growing up in a culture where there’s less off that discussion happening, less of those underlying issues being addressed,” Mr. Kaskie said. “But the experiment that these bands are doing is important to see where it goes.”

Ms. Cosentino of Best Coast said that her decision to work with Converse was not just about the publicity. She’s a fan of the company—“I’ve been wearing Converse since I was a child,” she said—and noted that when she recorded “All Summer,” the Converse-sponsored track with Kid Cudi and Mr. Batmanglij, the company gave no instructions other than that it was looking for a “summer vibe.”

“We just made something that is a fun song,” she said, “that will hopefully make people dance around in their Converse during the summer.”

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The Destruction Of The Music Economy

17/03/2011

“Institubes (2003 – 2011)” an obituary signed by Jean-René Étienne and Émile Shahidi, founder and A&R of the high-profile Parisian record label, 16 March 2011:

So, the next Institubes record is not coming soon. And I can’t tell you how much it pains me to write these words. We’ve released many records in our (almost) eight years of existence and managed to introduce a number of excellent artists to the world. Good times were had and accolades garnered. I’m not so conceited nor high on my own supply that I’d try and talk up our “legacy” but I don’t think that in five, ten or twenty years I’ll look at our discography and cringe. Now I get to tell you, Institubes fans, friends and allies, that we have to wrap it up. Party’s over.

I could write ten pages about the realities and difficulties of the music business but you’ll only get about two paragraphs and not much whining. We never lived those halcyon days some industry elders tend to rave about. We always moved through a post-apocalyptic, terminally pauperized landscape, complete with irradiated A&R zombies and mutated eyeless bloggers. It’s always been a bit of an uphill battle. But it got worse and worse. At first it was fun to figure out ways to get people to check out our music. But once that’s done and you have something resembling an audience, it becomes apparent that this is not really your job. Your job is to reconcile the public with the very idea of buying records. All the power to you if you can bear it.

We’re closing shop because the operation is losing too much money, this much is clear. Most of what we could have done to prevent or delay this outcome reside in two words: lifestyle and branding. Investing in t-shirts and co-branding, scoring “collaborations” or sponsorship deals with deep-pocketed companies. I have but a regret: we actually did it sometimes. We should have said no more often. Bands struggling to get together with brands, artists and audience deriving more validity from corporate interest than from anything else, bands happy to learn that in the future they would have to “take charge of their own promotion”: this wasn’t for us. In other words, on our small scale, we should have been able to carve a non-capitalist niche within the larger corporate world. I thought, being young and naive when we started, that “underground” meant just that.

The fact that ours is a struggling industry, where 90% of your time is spent “staying afloat”, obscures an important fact: we are still playing by the rules that got us fucked in the first place. The way we do business is defective: our values are defective, our contracts are defective, our post-Napster economy itself is defective. I just read an article by a label owner who states that “anything we can do to stay afloat should be condoned”. I don’t think so, no. Staying afloat by any means necessary is a meaningless pursuit. The only honest way for a record label to make money is by selling records. We’ve always been uneasy about selling anything else.

And our current cultural economy isn’t healthy either. Consumer practices are fucked. You don’t need me to tell you that music is devalued. Not only because we no longer sell shit (and even when you do, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re selling free shit), but also because tracks are peaking faster than tumblr memes. In our historical moment, music is everywhere but second or third or tenth to many other interests and areas of culture. Fashion, Apple, video games, “devices”, social media, etc. And that’s cool, I guess. But I don’t want to have to be a function of fashion. Nor do I want to urge an artist to publish half-baked tracks every month in order to stay “relevant”. Depleted accounts is one thing, but depleted attentions? […]

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Institubes is a great label indeed; many of the tracks they released are in my DJ selections. Jean Nipon, an Institubes artist, is featured on the double CD I put out on Citizen Records in 2007 (Jean Nipon Vs. Aï “A​.​C. Anthem (The Micronauts Remix)”). And Das Glow, another Institubes artist, remixed one of my tracks (“High Rise (Das Glow Remix)”).

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The Real Death Of The Music Industry

16/03/2011

Michael DeGusta for Silicon Alley Insider, 18 February 2011:

In January, Bain & Company produced the following chart as part of their report on “Publishing In The Digital Age” (PDF):

Then […], someone posted it on Flickr. Subsequently, Peter Kafka of Wall Street Journal’s MediaMemo noticed it and passed it along to Jay Yarow, who made it Business Insider’s Chart of the Day on Wednesday, citing Kafka and the Flickr post. On Thursday, […] John Gruber at Daring Fireball linked to it and between those two postings the chart garnered a fair bit of attention, including from the likes of apparent digital music expert Bob Lefsetz (“First in Music Analysis”). No one seems to have tracked it back to the original source nor noticed what happened to catch my eye straight away:

This chart sucks.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT

Oh, Bain—I hope no one has hired you for your expert “analysis” in this field:

• The chart uses raw revenue numbers, not adjusted for inflation or population.

• The chart is labeled “Global Music Turnover” but the data is actually US only.

• The chart says “Bain Analysis” but it’s very unclear that they did any analysis, since anyone paying the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] $25 can login and immediately see virtually the same chart, albeit formatted slightly differently.

• They fail to clarify how & if they distribute the RIAA’s 16 sometimes vague categories amongst the 4 they use.

THE RIGHT CHART

All discussion herein is for US recorded music as covered by the RIAA. The above chart is adjusted for inflation & population—for full details, see below.

So let’s correct the inaccurate conclusions one might reasonably draw from the misleading Bain chart:

• Wrong: The music industry is down around 40% from its peak in 1999.
Correct: The music industry is down 64% from its peak.

• Wrong: At least the music industry is almost 4 times better off than in 1973.
Correct: The music industry is actually down 45% from where it was in 1973.

• Wrong: The CD era was the aberration (Mr. Gruber’s reasonable take).
Correct: The CD peak was only 13% better than the vinyl peak, not over 250% better as the Bain chart implies.

The overall conclusion is that the music industry is actually doing much worse than the Bain chart implies:

10 years ago the average American spent almost 3 times as much on recorded music products as they do today.

26 years ago they spent almost twice as much as they do today.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Turns out that, somewhat unsurprisingly, the recording industry makes almost all their money from full-length albums:

Equally unsurprising, no one is buying full albums any more:

That’s just over 1 album per person per year now, and only 0.25 downloaded albums per year. Here Mr. Gruber’s guess is more on target, though current numbers are still substantially below pre-CD numbers. In addition to piracy and the general lack of interest in buying albums vs. singles […], it’s also possible that consumers’ ability to convert CD to digital versus having to rebuy vinyl albums on CD accounts for some of the disparity as well.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Let’s dig deeper into those precious few newer sources of revenue, all of which were at zero in 2003:

Downloaded albums & singles have grown nicely, but we’ve already established that is not nearly enough to offset the loss of the physical equivalents.

Mobile, which includes “Master Ringtunes, Ringbacks, Music Videos, Full Length Downloads, and Other Mobile”, hit its peak in 2007 and has actually been in decline the past 2 years. Looks like the death of the ringtone – and possibly the birth of the iPhone?

Subscriptions—presumably Rhapsody, Zune Pass, and the like—have also drifted downward the past 2 years.

To reiterate what I was very surprised to find: two of the big new areas, mobile and subscriptions, appear to both already be in decline.

That only leaves internet & satellite radio—Pandora, etc.—and others that pay via SoundExchange. It had a good uptick since 2007, but that’s when they negotiated royalty rates for online broadcasters. Even if they maintain some solid growth, it still adds up to a pittance.

Looks like the smaller and shrinking recorded music industry is here to stay. […]

THE GORY DETAILS

• The population data I used comes from http://www.census.gov/popest/

• The inflation data I used comes from the CPI-U at http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?cu

• I used 2011 dollars (January 2011, the latest available) because I feel present day dollars provide a better visceral understanding of the sums involved than using some other arbitrary date.

• Here’s how I grouped the RIAA categories:
8-Track: Includes “8-Track” & “Other Tapes” (described as “reel-to-reel and quadraphonic”)
Vinyl: Includes “LP/EP” & “Vinyl Single”
Cassettes: Includes “Cassettes” & “Cassette Single”
CD: Includes “CD”, “CD Single”, “DVD Audio”, & “SACD”
Videos: Includes “Music Video”
Digital: Includes “Download Single”, “Download Album”, “Kiosk”, “Download Music Video”, “Mobile”, “Subscription”, & “Digital Performance Royalties” (described as SoundExchange royalties)

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The Suppression Of Collective Joy

23/11/2010

Fred Gardner for CounterPunch Weekend Edition January 27 – 28, 2007:

Barbara Ehrenreich made a quick visit to San Francisco last week to promote her new book, Dancing in the Streets. Her noontime talk at the Commonwealth Club Jan. 18, excerpted below, was attended by about 100 people, mostly women. The subject was the suppression of collective joy, a historical trend that might seem abstruse—who but an insightful sociologist would try to name and explain it?—but which has affected every one of us directly. “‘Collective joy’ is a clunky term,” Ehrenreich acknowledged, “but it’s the best I could come up with.”

Almost a decade ago, before Ehrenreich’s forays into the labor force recounted in Nickel And Dimed and Bait And Switch, she got interested in human bonding. Not sexual bonding, she explained, and not just the kind that holds families together, but:

“the kinds of bonds that hold communities together and can even bring strangers together… Ritual, organized ways that people can make each other not only happy but joyful, delirious even ecstatic… Dancing, music, singing, feasting—which includes drinking—costuming, masking, face paint, body paint, processions, dramas, sporting competitions, comedies…

“These activities are almost universal. When Europeans fanned out across the globe from the 15th to 19th centuries conquering people, they found rituals and festivities going on everywhere from Polynesia to Alaska to Sub-Saharan Africa to india. Everywhere there were occasions for dressing up—often in a religious context but not always. The Europeans were horrified by what they saw and described it as ‘savagery’ and ‘devil worship.’ They thought it showed the inherent inferiority of indigenous people that they could let go in this way. The truth is, these traditions were European, too, but forgotten. The ancient Greeks had a god for ecstasy, Dionysus. Women especially worshipped Dionysus…

“There is evidence that Christianity until the 13th century was very much a danced religion. The archbishops were always complaining about it. When dancing was eventually banned in the churches it went outside in the form of carnival and other festivities that filled the church calendar. In 15th century France, one out of four days of the year was given over to festivities of some sort. People didn’t live to work, they lived to party…

“Going back 10,000 years we find rock art depicting lines and circles of dancing people. There is evidence that this capacity for collective joy, especially through synchronized, rhythmic activity such as dance, is hardwired into humans. It’s part of our unique evolutionary heritage. Chimpanzees can get excited and jump up and down and wave their arms, but they’ve got no rhythm. They can’t dance. They can’t coordinate their emotions…

“The evolutionary scientists say it was probably this capacity that allowed humans to form groups larger than kinship groups—large groups that were essential for defense against predatory animals and eventually against bands of other humans. The techniques—the dance steps, the musical instruments, the costumes—are cultural, but the capacity for collective joy is innate. We are hardwired to be party animals…

“Why is there so little collective joy today? Why is our culture bereft of opportunity for this kind of thing? Mostly, we sit in cubicles at work and we sit in our cars. If you mention ‘ecstasy’ people think you’re talking about a drug. The cure for loneliness and isolation and despair is Prozac… The simple answer is: the ancient tradition of festivities and ecstatic rituals was deliberately suppressed by elites—people in power who associated this kind of frolicking with the lower classes and especially with women…

“The Romans had their own Dionysus worshippers in Italy and they slaughtered them in 60 BC with the kind of ferocity they later directed at Christians… The Protestants were the real killjoys. They just wiped out that entire calendar of festivities from the Catholic church and outlawed dancing and masking. Around the world it was mainly missionaries who crushed the ecstatic rituals of indigenous people. In this country, slave owners banned not only reading and books, they banned the drum. They understood that in these kinds of rituals people found collective strength. A similar thing happened in 18th century Arabia with the rise of Wahabist Islam, the antecedent of Al Qaeda and Saudi Islam. Their main enemy was not Christians or Jews so much as it was the Sufi tradition within Islam which is ecstatic and involves music and dance.

“Elites fear that disorderly kinds of events could turn into uprisings. And this fear is justified. Whether you’re looking at European peasants in the late middle ages or Caribbean slaves in the 19th century, they were using festivity and carnival as the occasion for revolts.

“A second reason that comes with the industrial revolution is, of course, the need to impose social discipline. It’s hard to take agricultural people or herding people and convince them that they should get up and work six days a week, 12 hours a day, and then spend the seventh day listening to boring sermons in a church. To discipline the working class and slaves was a huge enterprise.”

Festivity has been replaced over the centuries by spectacle—“something you watch or listen to but you do not participate in directly.” As examples Ehrenreich cited the transition “from danced Christian worship to the masque, a drama going on on stage,” and football, which originally “was played by hundreds of people on a side. It was a mass sport in which whole villages took on other villages, men women and children. It was a melee that got tamed into football where a few participate and most watch. Spectacles involve your eyes and ears, not the muscles of your body, and they require no creativity on the part of the spectator. The creativity has been centralized.”

People keep trying to reinstitute festivity because, Ehrenreich emphasized, “we were meant to get up and move.” She recalled “the rock rebellion of the 1950s and ’60s—the kids in the audience refused to sit still. They kept lifting up out of their seats. Police would be called. But the kids would get up and dance as soon as the police turned their backs.” Other examples include “costuming, even if it’s only wearing the team colors or a cheesehead. Face paint—what could be more ancient. The wave… In Latin America you get people bringing their drums to the stadium and dancing in the bleachers…

Ehrenreich remarked the emergence of entirely new festivities such as Burning Man, the Love Parade in Berlin (at which a million people have danced in the streets), and the transformation of Halloween into a grown-up celebration. In response to a question about San Francisco’s efforts to contain the partying on Halloween, Ehrenreich said that repression has often been rationalized in terms of maintaining public safety and order—”too much noise, that kind of thing.” Almost as an afterthought she added, “a lot of the repression of what goes on in clubs is carried out in the name of the war on drugs.” (Ehrenreich is a former board member of NORML.)

Ehrenreich’s scholarship (even her throwaway lines contain the seeds of PhD theses) doesn’t keep her from waxing lyrical. She concluded by reading a passage from Dancing in the Streets: “Walking along the beach in Rio we came upon members of a Samba school rehearsing for Carnivale—four-year-olds to octogenarians, men and women, some gorgeously costumed and some in tank tops and shorts—Rio street clothes. To a 19th century missionary or a 21st century religious puritan their movements might have seemed lewd or at least suggestive. (Missionaries always called indigenous people lewd.) Certainly the conquest of the streets by a crowd of brown-skinned people would have been distressing in itself. But the samba school danced down right to the sand in perfect dignity, rapt in their own rhythm, their faces both exalted and shining with an almost religious kind of exaltation. One thin, latte-colored young man dancing just behind the musicians set the pace. What was he in real life? A bank clerk? A busboy? Here, in his brilliant feathered costume, he was a prince, a mythological figure, maybe even a god. Here, for a moment there were no divisions among people except for the political ones created by Carnivale itself. After they reached the boardwalk, bystanders started following in without any indication or announcements, without embarrassment or even alcohol to dissolve the normal constraints of urban life, the samba school turned into a huge crowd and the crowd turned into a momentary festival. There was no quote point to it, no religious overtones, no ideological message, no money to be made. Just the chance—which we need much more of on this crowded planet—to acknowledge the miracle of our simultaneous existence with some sort of celebration.”

Ehrenreich’s comments in response to questions included the following:

Most of the megachurches that BE has looked into (for another project) are “quite staid in their form of worship… The ecstatic Pentacostal forms of worship are to be found in tent revivals and storefront churches of the poor. The pentacostal movement was founded in the early 20th century by a black man. It became an interracial denomination and brought in the forms of music that were not ordinarily associated with worship. Hot forms of music. Lively forms of music that encouraged movement…

“Christmas was once so wild that it was banned in certain states. People would costume themselves and go door-to-door, demand drinks from every house they went to, pour out into the streets, and dance. Typical festival behavior. The transition was made in the late 19th and early 20th century to an indoor holiday. (As if instructing a child) ‘This is something you celebrate with your family…’ Caroling from house-to-house is a dim reminder of Christmas’s sordid background.

“It’s been said by many sociologists that Americans are remarkably tied into our nuclear families at the expense of community bonds. Many things have been blamed on this hallmark of American society, including the high divorce rate. We’re expecting so much from this tiny group of people, our family.”

Anthropologists see rituals in retrospect as a way of building community but the participants saw them as a way of bonding with deities.

“In the game Second Life people go off and have a second life as boring as their first ones. There’s no muscular involvement. And that is important… Mirror neurons have been getting a lot of attention recently. There are parts of our brain that respond to seeing another person’s motion by preparing to execute the same motion. We are connected very deeply on the muscular level, which is missing on MySpace.

“In the 18th century in all parts of Europe there was an epidemic of what physicians called melancholia. This is the period when traditional festivities were disappearing. There was a rise in suicides and what we would today recognize as “depression.” I would argue that festivities and ecstatic rituals are traditional cures for what looks to us like depression. One example is the Czar ritual in Northern Africa. A woman becomes so depressed that she takes to her bed and won’t get up, won’t do anything anymore. Maybe her husband has announced that he’s taking a second wife… Classic, severe depression. The cure? They bring in the Czar healer, who comes with a bunch of musicians. And you bring all the women in town for days and nights of ecstatic dancing. Pretty soon, the depressed woman gets up and is all better… There are many examples of these sorts of things being used curatively for what we would call depression…

“There are always class tensions about festivities. In the 1970s the elite of Rio di Janero decided they wanted to have nothing to do with Carnivale. So that was the week you went off to your country home if you could afford to. Now the elite is trying to retake Carnivale and turn it into more of a spectacle.

“There are tensions around sporting events. The ticket prices have gotten too high for the working class. Most average fans—the fans who had been bringing carnival aspects to sporting events—can’t even go anymore. The rich are up there in their skyboxes. The last thing they want to run into is some face-painted maniac.

There has been an “Increasing carnivalization of protest. People bring drums. The press mocks them for having a good time, as if it means they’re not serious. And yet that is the ancient form of protest.

“The ancient Hebrews were not in favor of ecstatic rituals, which they associated with the Canaanites, the indigenous people of Palestine, who were not monotheistic, who worshipped a goddess as well as a god, and who had pretty wild forms of worship. So throughout the old testament prophets are saying ‘Don’t backslide! Stay away from those golden calves.’”

Ehrenreich has an essay in the current Harpers attacking “the cult of cheerfulness—by which I don’t mean joy but the almost ubiquitous injunctions in our culture to be perky, upbeat, smiling, and positive-thinking at all times.”

Some in the affluent crowd seemed to think they could find private solutions to the suppression of collective joy. There were questions such as “Would you say that a marathon fuses elements of individualism with collective joy?” To which BE replied,

“I’ve never run one. I’d have to defer to marathon runners on that. What it does not involve is that synchronized, rhythmic activity.”

She seemed momentarily puzzled by the question, “What kind of new things do you see bringing out collective joy in the future?” “New things?… To me it’s more about the recovery of a lost tradition. Those ancient technologies—dance, costuming, feasting, food sharing—can we recover that?…

“There’s no question that we’re hardwired to be social animals. We are intensely sociable, more so than any other primate. And sometimes in not good ways. There are other manifestations of collective excitement, say that of a lynch mob. Another not good way in which we’re overly sociable is that we will revise our own perception of the world sometimes to fit with what we’re being told. We want to conform, very strongly. And we have to push back and think for ourselves…

“It’s a back-and-forth dialectic. In Key West there’s an annual thing called the Fantasy Fest. It was very mardi-gras like—costuming, people used to prepare their dance sketches for months before. You’d get a troupe of people and dance down the street. It got so successful that in recent years Bud Lite has sponsored it. And what it has lost is that creativity. Now you have 3,000 people come into this small island to get as drunk as they possibly can and take off their clothes…

“Most of us don’t have much time in our lives because of this ridiculous cultural expectation that you should get up every morning and work. And work defines you, it’s the measure of your worth as a human being…

“A great deal of individual artistry is involved in traditional festivity. I’m thinking of small-scale societies before they were all wrecked by imperialism and global capitalism. Individuals who craft musical instruments, individuals who are very good at costume making, who come up with new dance steps, new rhythms. This is not just about merging with the group. The festivity ideally brings out the creativity of individuals.” […]

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Music Sales USA 1973-2008

02/09/2010

(Français ci-dessous)

This one year old infographic from the New York Times shows recorded music sales incomes in the USA, from year 1973 to year 2008.

Total incomes in 2008 are lower than any other years. Download sales are tiny and very far to compensate for the near to extinct vinyl sales and the rapidly declining CD sales.

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Cette infographie du New York Times montre les revenus des ventes de musique enregistrée aux États-Unis de 1973 à 2008.

Le revenu global est inférieur en 2008 à toutes les autres années. Les ventes en téléchargement sont infimes et très loin de compenser les ventes de vinyl en voie d’extinction et les ventes de CD en chute libre.

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