Economics & Music

A hoodwink has taken place.

Things are a lot worse in the music business than people would think. We are being fed a digital representation but with nothing to prove a physical engagement. The music business rebound is being done with the public paying the price. HUH? The labels debt is being transferred to the subscription audience. A captive crowd? Like a casino, cruise ship or better yet a PAC (performing arts center). PAC’s can book some stellar music but also have to fill a quota and bring in sub-acts for the already paying audience. If you have a PAC membership or subscription (think season ticket holder) this is what a captive audience is. They don’t have a choice in the music because they are paying for the subscription, to be a part of an audience, regardless of what comes down the channel. You went to a football game but have no care who sings the anthem. The label would like you to follow the visual entertainment so you do not care who is singing or what they sound like. Ariana “freakin” Grande. I think it was Barnum who would hire bad sounding musicians to play outside his circus show so people would hurry inside for better entertainment.

So the digital representation of new media is filled with visual acts who cannot back up a physical presence in music. Bad music hurts the inner ears. If you can listen between your ears, and follow them deeply inside your head, you’ll come to hear so much trash it will change how you listen. Kind of like the technology is changing how we listen to records. Please take the volume down in your headphones to the lowest setting. When we have a choice we are going to choose what sounds best not what someone says I should sit down and listen to, just because I have this season ticket/subscription/membership, or that you should buy a pair of headphones b/c sports players have them. Your ears will thank you as you get older.

Let’s use the hypothetical but relatable case of a clothing subscription model. If you subscribed to an online service and ordered a pair of pants, the model guarantees, if they don’t fit, send them back. You do not have to pay for something that you do not have an experience with. In this option, the clothing company guarantees your physical relationship with the product. If it does not work, no harm, no foul. Now take the label model at streaming services. You pay a subscription, are fed mostly label style (same sound) music, aren’t being allowed to get a refund if you don’t like the music being pushed, and are being spoon fed as if you were a baby in a high-chair. Your choices have diminished and they have removed the variability of bottom-up choice or natural selection that the internet is suppose to provide. The radio is broadcast, the internet is choice. Labels are restraining a natural system and making the audience pay the price. This system will not work. You hear this music and then go see an artist live and you feel cheated. No one forces you to buy a ticket and makes you sit in a seat if you do not like the show. You have the option to leave. The prison model of label/streaming, forces us the same sounds with very little options. I skipped 7 songs last night inside a Pandora app, just to change rhythm. Seven songs, same exact tempo, same beat….low dimensionality.

The label missed the boat and began to sink but their transfer to a subscription platform is a tell that they are not primarily interested in the best, but in a quota-to-fill model. The stiff arm tactics with the label owning equity in streaming services will again benefit the label but not the artist and is all paid for by the audience and advertisers. In a live concert setting (where complex systems thrive through interactivity and variability) the promoter makes a lot of money but the artist is usually the bigger winner (In most cases and in the long run). The seasons changed with interactive technology, but labels have been propping up their antiquated model with audience subscriptions and technology they did not create. Independent artists cannot rise through Spotify due to agreements with label music. Agreements like a lower royalty rate if the song plays more in the service. These non-interactive plays inside playlists are being modelled so the label gets the dollar no matter what plays and when. They are ignoring the data and taking the money.  This disregard, of what interactive systems need to thrive, is another tell of their misunderstanding the market. The labels are essentially pulling the same business model that Vulfpeck did. They do not care who is listening and when (the context doesn’t matter) they only care that the money comes from streams. Streams of what? Blank 30second spaces?  Question: What are they counting (keeping track of) inside streams? Answer: The artists on their roster or anything that benefits their bottom line.

The NDA deals with Spotify, and the like, basically stifles all new sounds from coming up and thus Artisans are headed to Youtube.  The artist and Youtube split the share down the middle. That’s agreeable, who argues with equality in the system. This is also why labels hate Youtube, they don’t get they money, the artist does. Youtube will break Artists before the label, and the label will come running. Take the Bieber kid for example. The label came in and marketed something without letting it develop. The poor kid remains in the news, probably due to an inability to deal with the audience. Just like your girl Ariana. The stifling of letting an organism develop naturally, truly harms these acts in the long run. It’s hard to be a long-term artist in a model where the label is only concerned with the short term dollar.

This is a fragile system that concentrates errors with artificial structures around music. Music starts with performance, not records. Music starts with rhythm, not melody. Primary parts and path dependence. The sequence matters. You wash your shirt then you iron it. You do not push a song when you have zero demand live. You do not make the packaging bigger than the product. And the artist never comes before the song, ever, ever, never, ever.