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 are what comes down the channel. You went to a football game but have no care who is singing 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.

Standards & Practices

“If you never say anything where you’re going to be wrong, you’ll never say anything interesting.” Peter Thiel

There was a man who apologized (in his way) for something America has been doing for centuries, voting.  He didn’t like how they voted and felt that he could speak for them (since he obviously saw that they didn’t know what they were doing when they did it). He is a smart, all-knowing being who works for Pandora (the music service). He is there to tell computers what to do with music. He decides things like how, when, and what you will be listening to. If you use his company’s technology service, his goal is to make sure that his preferences are the ones you enjoy and that you do most of what he is not willing to do. He wants to introduce social justice when he benefits from a kushy job at a tech firm. I doubt he will be relinquishing this position to someone less fortunate than he. He wants everyone to vote like he and his peers do. He agrees with everything said about music from his peers, and they rarely argue or introduce new sounds to one another. Everything around them is derivative in some form, from how they dress, to what they listen to. This is evident in the selection of music they choose to distribute. He and his co-workers want to introduce a term that they cannot live by (interactive). They will claim to be something they are not and they will do this all on the backs of college dropouts who make music. They feel their college degree affords them the privilege of getting to choose which music (music made by college dropouts) is heard by larger swaths of the general population. Again, they are the current privileged class, who believe that others, not them, should go about with such a silly mission as to reverse historical events which have nothing to do with modern people. These practices are not democratic, enlightened, or with a respect for individuals.

The partner to the above is a lover of neomania. They too feel science is everything, so much so that their business model is propped up by focus groups, who seem to be researching the same sound for over fifteen years (Aguilera-Ariana). With nothing to show for it (their income has drastically dropped) they have had to let many of their staff go. Many of them can be found working at similar services like the above. They do not play music themselves (very well) but are prone to purchase the newest device and listen to music that their friends do. They also have a college degree and have been slowly eroding their understanding of the primary function surrounding music. In the early 80’s they allowed a music video distribution system to dictate how their artists should look. They capitulated and became a lover of looks instead of sounds. This attitude and mindset makes them a poor judge of character, as reality does not rely on looks, or looks have nothing to do with reality. They did not invent the new music distribution technology and are beholden to those who did. They use old sounds to prop up a new technology and fund their antiquated model with old (catalogued) money. They know the new technology is the future but they missed the boat. They also will claim to be an interactive function of the music industry, when never before have they been interactive with music. They dumb down the fact that America is about talent not image. They have very weak ideas about how America should be represented in the music space. When they are approached about their lack of understanding about music, they cower. They are most likely to be a pacifist, or the dog in the fight that has to lie down so they don’t succumb to injury. They hire, exclusively, college graduates which will not know how music was done before. They distribute art in a music space that looks good, but cannot perform, sing, play, etc. to the standard that got us here in the first place. They even keep an artist on their roster who vocally admits to hating America.

As the world looks to societies to emulate, we in America are sorry for the above partnership and their direct attempt to stifle innovation, do only what others are doing, or carry on a legacy of quality. This is not who we are, as Americans involved in music, this is not what we believe. We aren’t in the business of having to apologize for historical events, but we are in the business of debunking falsehoods about our country and defending its standards & practices. We do not believe that computers should decide what you hear no more than you should decide what you hear and we do not believe that image is more important that sound.

Gifts & Works

Did you do something for that trophy? Did you earn what was given to you? How much work did you do?

An apprenticeship model is surely needed in many areas of daily work. Where it is needed the most (for me) is in music. Never in the history of music has there been so many non-musicians making decisions about music for musicians. Never in the history of the industry have we seen such a lack of talent in music and the arts. The idea that a product can just be marketed to solve all ailments is a new argument. This is also why it will not last long. Tonight at the restaurant gig I felt the pressure from those types who believe all you need is a little marketing to bring in the crowd. First off I play a dinner music set not a feature. I’ve turned down musicians who want to sit in, merely because they aren’t interested in playing soft, and in the background. What if that is what the audience wants? Would you deny your song to be played on a plane, while boarding. Would you deny your song to be played while someone did homework? Would you deny your song to be played over an office or restaurant radio? This is all background, non-interactive, lean back approaches, and roughly more than 80% of music played is played in this form. The interactives are of course the ones who activate the song to be disseminated in such a manner. What these musicians did not want to do is be in the background, they wanted to be featured, they wanted their fifteen minutes. This mentality is where we are in music today, with those trying to get noticed so quickly they start wearing meat dresses.

Gone are the days of the A&R man who went to the shows and who was also a musician. Nowadays the idea of someone who scouts music has a college degree and does not play an instrument (well). With this background, this is the type of musician they will mostly come across and sign. John Legend is a perfect example, college educated and a below average singer/musician. This scout will tell you all you need is the marketing arm of the label and you’ll be a star. I can’t even go in to counting the thousands of acts like this, but they do not, and will not have long careers. They will not have a greatest hits album, and will see profit if they get on “Now (that’s what I call music) 52” and book some tertiary market shows. Giving the label some credit is the last thing I will ever do. They have put their investment in short-term artists and in marketing. Remember inside a label deal, marketing is the heaviest amount advanced and tour support is the least amount. They do not invest in touring (performance) because they have never had a business that revolves around it. Their business solds records, how many records do you buy? Why would you listen to what they are saying about music when they are missing a key first step, performance. Label vets are also at streaming services like Ek’s place and still trying to tell musicians what to do with their music. While we live in this trophy era, no one is getting the negative feedback they need to be better. This information is missing. Let’s say you lost your keys and in the process of looking for them you turn over a chair to find out, unfortunately, they are not there. So what does not work (if used correctly) will lead you in a better direction to finding your keys. The label only tells you what works, like Audiokite, but what works today may not work tomorrow, music business is no science. Labels cannot tell you what doesn’t work and what doesn’t work is better info because you won’t look under that chair again for your keys.

The future of anything valuable is the real transaction, and long-term artists get this. Artists who perform then record can have a career that lasts (you only have to be right once and in this model it is much harder to be right again). A hit that pops can be the artists gravy train for decades and decades to come, as long as this artist is a real transaction performer.

The institution of the record label does not value performance and therefore do not value the artist in the long term. The idea that a label can propel a musician to the heights of music is a falsehood. This arena of transferring fragility to artists (if they cannot perform) has been growing steadily inside labels. Artists in the 60’s and 70’s were real-time performers, that’s why most of them still perform today. The artists we have today are more often going in to film, movies, tv, and everything other than performing the hit/song the record label help them make. This recording artist has bypassed the first step of music and has made many believe you do not have to perform to get paid. Sure, but you won’t be respected by real musicians either. You will not go down as an ICON in music, and will more likely be known for some lesser medium of entertainment.

With respect to the current system in place. There is a new distribution in digital music called streaming, the advances in this technology are wonderful but not for the current recording artist as stated above. Real transaction (performance/tour/ticket) data shows us who went to see Green Day at Joe Louis Arena (Detroit) last Friday at 8pm. Interactive streaming data shows us that Jill Steiner (fictitious) pays for a subscription and pulled up Snoop Dogg at 8:08am last Tuesday just to play the song “Beautiful” featuring Pharell. Not everyone can go to the show (it’s exclusive to people who have interest) and their interest made them purchase a ticket, they made a choice. Jill did the same thing, she wanted to hear that specific song at that exact time of day (maybe while getting ready for work, or driving, or). The radio system never could do this and that was our whole distribution system of media outside of making an album purchase, which is the record label’s specialty. But in this speciality they have made themselves vulnerable to change, the change being the choice to listen to whatever we want vs. having a silo of information and a top-down distribution model. The bottom up approach relies on people wanting to go to the concert. This means the artist has to be a performer to stick out amongst 40 million songs. The audience that carries the most value interacts with the music. The way to that audience is through those who have experience interacting with the music and the audience in real-time. The label cannot understand this concept and will crash the streaming side of interactiveness. It’s propped up by quick money right now, Spotify generates most of the revenue for these labels and Spotify is propped up with quick cash in an era where VC’s had access to low interest dollars. Spotify isn’t profitable and is being pressure to have an IPO, this is scary stuff as the artist hasn’t benefitted and won’t in this model. The artist only benefits when they can turn that interactive data into a ticket sale.

The idea is simple, but to allow record institutions to be the pilots of this plane is asking for a crash. Nothing about the label institution can help an artist be a better performer, which is what an artist needs in order to have a sustainable career. You may sell a track or two, but if you can’t perform it, you are already washed up, or will be the writer to someone else’s performance. A musician who has been on the ground in the mode you will be in, carries more value than any label person’s idea of what college musician’s do. When there are 40 million tracks available to everyone, what will it take to make it, or stick out amongst the crowd. What will the audience want to interact with? For this we will want to go to the closest engagement between the audience and the music. Where real transaction data brings a better understanding of context. What does the label teach, marketing, not performance. To stick out in today’s music industry it will take learning from those who have been involved in live music, not marketing. Make sure they have musical experience, can play an instrument and be able to “talk music” and not “talk about music”. These practitioners are aware of the real transaction, and in the real transaction there is real value.

Static & Dynamic

“I am acting on behalf of later generations.” Seneca

You’re mostly likely interested in music, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this. In my mind almost nothing today is as it seems and those that accept a representation, via the internet, are receiving a narrowly focused outlook. Music was never meant to be a spectacle, it was never meant to sway you with visuals, and it will never be a reality inside a virtual space. What virtue is there inside a static environment. What are we saying when we say static? We are merely translating the differences in music industry models. When we say static there is this picture of a recording studio that pops in my head where those in attendance are most likely being paid to add their two cents, like college professors, psychologists, and social theorists.

On Labels

This is how record labels work. Everything they teach is backwards. They are not involved in live music and they are not involved in pushing NEW music to the world. New music would be derived from a new proven sound, not from a sound that is signed, then records, then goes on tour. This is a backwards model to what music is. Music is not technology, music is the act of transferring human energy through an instrument (the voice is my favorite instrument). Record labels are technology dependant, their business has always been about the sale of a piece of recorded media. This media is a second step in the process of music. It is not up to the artist to expect label execs to know what is happening the world when they remain in an office environment, radio station, recording studio. In these environments everyone would essentially be listening to the same music and commenting on what everyone is listening to. Outside of this office or building, who else is listening, when and where (context) has never been deduced. Data from sales and radio model does not tell us who is listening, but if you look at a ticket sale vs. an album sale, you can see who was listening to what song and at what time (*this is estimated, but still more concrete than an album sale). My aunt knew I liked music but would often buy CDs I didn’t like. The label only counts the sale.

In the shrinking of the label system, those who are no longer at a label are quickly hired by streaming services who are poised to be the “next record label”. So the next record label is going to look a lot like the first? Doubt it. Why were record label staff even approached, when it was a fight for streaming to even get licenses? My guess, probably so they can hang around their college friends, name-drop, and talk about the music they like. I can imagine the water cooler being something about the fact that “they” get to work on “so-in-sos” project. I also feel they push their favorite artists so they can meet them and then title it “in-studio sessions”.

It has carried from somewhere and indoctrinated all that work in a label. Think about the promotions department, who may not even like the music they are having to sell, but does so for the paycheck. Somebody saying that music sounds good, for money, isn’t saying much. In this mode the record labels and streaming services all think alike and all listen to the same music (like their college peers). Musicians rarely finish college but only college degree candidates need apply to work in the globalized (catalogued) music industry. There is not much diversity inside a system that thinks alike. More on that later.

Labels do not tour with artists, unless it’s on the back of that promotion department. Labels also enjoy telling artists what a larger audience will “want to hear” or more pertinently “want to see”, all from the comfort of a board room.  Labels sometimes even manage to get artists to sign away publishing rights all in the name of getting your music to a larger audience (shame, shame, know your name).  These label/streaming staffers enjoy music but most enjoy doing “something else”. They’d rather be doing that “other thing” but instead got stuck in the music business because of their college degree.

I will now make the statement that the college degree era of music has moved us away from a primary source of music and its structure within humans. Musicians, who you listen to, most likely did not finish college. While labels fill their staff with college grads and musicians don’t go to college, what we get is a next generation that don’t seem to remember how it was done before. Asking people not on the scene, to help deduce data around the engagement between the music and the audience, is second hand knowledge.”You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears” -Seneca.  Or Feliz Salmon’s take, “The ones on the ground, who see the facts in a real world context, should be doing the contextualizing.”And (emphasis mine) if you want to understand how an audience reacts to music, you will want to be in the closest engagement between the audience and the music. In this the idea of a producer has become somebody who knows how to play a video game vs. somebody with an ear for long term success.

On Physics

The dynamics of music have been slowly eroding. Active listening is not a lean back approach and also done a lower level. It doesn’t need to be loud if you are paying close attention. Sometimes I play music through a bluetooth speaker and have to turn it down to the lowest setting in a quiet environment or else it hurts my ears. The loudness war is exactly that, a small minority railing against a decision made in the early 90’s to increase the volume in the mix/master process. When older generations complain that things are too loud, it isn’t because their hearing is going bad, they actual have very active and sensitive hearing (just cause many older people wear hearing aids doesn’t mean all older people are in need of hearing aids, or the Taleb version of mistaking absence of evidence for evidence of absence). They are accustomed to listening and learned over the years that the best approach to listening intently is active. Or Seneca’s version, advice is not delivered at the top of the voice. If it’s not delivered this way, why have we humans been steady reversing this idea. Headphones and compressed audio files are a dangerous combination for anyone interested in conserving their hearing.

People who say streaming sounds like downloads/cds are possibly going deaf, or just don’t listen well enough. The technicality of this can be mapped to what compressed waves are. They are narrow, and with less space comes smaller waves (more waves crash near the shore). What doesn’t like time/space doesn’t like unpredictability or randomness. The asymmetry or nonlinearity in wave functions maps to the fragile and antifragile generalization. With less time you have more actions, again more waves crash near the shore. Time is more events happening in a space. The more events happening the faster a higher level frequency. Turbo chargers (in engines) have a high whistle. The faster, higher frequency of wave the the less space the wave has to move. The smaller, shore crashing waves don’t like time, and are spaced much closer to another (like a college millennial who believes the world is coming to an end). These smaller waves are treble heavy, think of the size of a tweeter to a sub.  A sub is large in part because the waves it pushes are large, and a tweeter has the opposite effect. In the information age we are being forced (through loudness and digital compression) to listen backwards to how nature intended. The EARth is round and your EAR hears circular sound waves. The lack of warmth, the lack of fullness, and the lack of breath, all things computers (electronics) lack. So for your own hearing conservation (or not needing a hearing aid when you are older) we should be listening at low volumes and without headphones. Headphones direct a narrow channel allowing sound to pass, like compression. Around the time of Van Halen (MTV) the in-ear mold was produced for performing artists. Starting with the drummer who couldn’t get his monitor loud enough. When our ears remain the quickest sense we must ask ourselves why the music, in the image age, is getting louder, and louder, to the point where we shove direct tubes in our ears and proceed to play at loud levels. If you look at a screen long enough, you’ll go blind, and if you continue to use headphones you’ll go deaf.

Bass shakes and treble breaks. What do larger wave patterns have to do with compression: Our ears our shaped to react better to lower tones and some lower frequencies register in the sense of touch. So we like it slow and low, naturally. “When the object is not to make him want to learn but to get him learning, one must recourse to these lower tones, which enter the mind more easily and stick in it.” Seneca….. A high pitched scream is much worse than listening to James Earl Jones speak. This is why you feel the car with bass before you hear anything else. Feeling (your gut) is primary to decision making, ears are secondary, and the eye is wherever. It only takes two to make new. I’m sticking with my gut and my ears to deduce music, not my eyes. A majority of EDM makers today are also great video game players, who can get the screen to do stuff, they just can’t seem to get their body to do much. Sitting in front of screens doesn’t make one quick on their feet. No one likes the person who walks in front of a movie.

 Are more people watching vs. listening? Is anyone dancing? We reject the eyes as being primary, they are prone to illusions and are worthless in the dark (under opacity). The ear tells the eye where to look, as in which direction will the ambulance be traveling. Who’s sorting (applying algorithms to) your music? Visual or Audible first people? Can you mimic someone’s dance moves by watching them dance? Is it easier for you to dance on your own while listening to music? What was dancing before it was given a name and we had a term to describe it. For this matter what was anything before it was given a name. What’s in a name? What are the things you understand without giving a name. The shimmy, the shake, the twist, the swing, the step. Ask a baby to explain why it is dancing. Terms for things are nice but they too are not primary. What’s more important is a feeling. If you feel it, it’s moving you (somehow). I can’t saw what a DAW is, but I can with better certainty say what it is not, it is not a drummer, it is not a dancer, it is not, at its essence able to dance with locomotion. Robot dancing was a joke at the club to make people laugh. It still is a joke. What worries me is that we are moving more in the direction of this robotic, engineered, music. There is no lag, no hitch in their get up, and no way to self heal. Do you think a robot has a limp? Without this lag, they can’t swing. Without an orbit there is no gravity. Without locomotive movement (full of uncertainty principles) there is no depth. In the shallow shore will many waves crash. Treble heavy, compressed, unnatural systems.

On Video Gamed Hits

The mass production (not to be confused with the band) taking place today has vaulted the engineer in front of the producer with no clear hit(s) leading the way. Those who use the Max Martin/Dr Luke excuse don’t see the point. We are not talking about Swedish song-writers, who study American R&B to reproduce hits from classic styles (globalization), we are stating an obvious structural defect in making every engineer a producer just because he/she has the ability to manipulate a computer screen. This video game style of music has come to the the foray of the music industry. So much music is made by people who cannot make music without a computer screen in front of them. Electricity in humans is sufficient to make music but the humans using electricity outside of their body aren’t making anyone move naturally. Making music in a computer is the same as allowing the computer to make music. This is an attack on any musical person who allows music to move through them. Taking a line from Keith Jarrett: “electricity is inside every human, why are we playing with electronic toys”. For the non-dancing robotic movement, hand-waving EDMers, If the power goes out, make sure to find a drummer so you can still dance.

A producer is there to find the right sounds and the right movements within a piece, and reconstructs (with the artist) a better overall product for presentation. Engineers in recent times have had to put all their time into learning the newest technology (which changes often… protools 10.1 HD, plugins, logic, etc.). This is very similar to the person who has to have the latest version of a video game. The time needed to learn the new version is obvious time diverted away from listening to music or going to shows,  or getting outside, or dancing, you get the point. What we are being pushed are decisions from a group of computer nerds, whose love for these new digital technologies becomes a form of neomania, leading them away from sounds into what the screen is doing.

An engineer/producer story 

The story usually goes as such: The label owes a favor to an engineer ( I refuse to call him/her a producer, more on this later) who is hired on to mix a record furnished by a live band (who sold tickets). This engineer has the task of taking what an audience has already heard and making it his own on the grounds to reach a larger audience. Now the label should care, but doesn’t (remember they owe this engineer work, due to some contract negotiation or friends of friends, type of thing), know that this engineer does not play an instrument professionally (just in living rooms), nor do they care that his/her experience is strictly within a DAW, not around musicians, and especially not around a seven piece band. This caring attitude should extend to record sales but those don’t sell so what we have witnessed is this story play out over and over with remanufactured hits, or remakes, or copies, or flash-in-the-pan, forgot it already type of music that they mistakenly call HITS. To get this info, labels and studio engineers would need to ask the live audience the difference between a song and a hit, and would also need to make sure to ask the superfans to get the better answers. This unknowingness of anything related to the fan and the music is brought inside of their recording and production facilities and essentially becomes a game of knowing how to capture sounds in a computer vs. having any depth of understanding about which sounds to capture.

So with this agency problem we see two things: the artist’s intention to have a record that reaches a bigger audience & the diverting intention of the label to pay back a favor to a recording engineer (who has never seen/heard the audience respond to the band in real time to the music which he/she is about to mix). The non skin-in-the-game types are not deducing information about your record (mix) by being at your shows and/or listening to you rehearse, but from a boxed in, static space (usually some board room where they hold “meetings”). This gives them no experience with the crowd that hears the band in the real transaction.  This obvious model error shows us that their ears are not in tune to the listening audience.  I have no sympathy for artists who believe in this model, just like I have no sympathy for the engineer who believes they are a producer, or the label executive who is better at baking bread than listening to live music.

A producer today has to be more dynamic than that of a DAW engineer. Producers cannot spend their time keeping up with all the digital changes nor can they be expected to look at music and decide on the basis of a hit by staring at a computer screen. Producers today (and tomorrow) should be listening, not just for new sounds, but for those elements in music that will be able to play in twenty years time. To stay relevant, all these EDM producers will have to produce tracks/songs/music that we will find ourselves listening to in twenty years. In twenty years, if you’re still listening to Avicii and Aloe Blaac singing about waking up when it’s all over, you are probably still sleeping and would have missed twenty years of music. What’s most disheartening about the sensational recording industry is that they sent a guy like Aloe to D.C. on behalf of song-writers. Most song-writers I know face the problems of the day. They do not bury their head in the sand and they do not ask to be woken up when it’s over. These types sound like the farthest things from musicians, and more like the type who ask you to do something that they wouldn’t normally do. This is the inverse-hero and I long for the day when musicians were heroes and stood up for what they felt was right. This can only come from a varied type of musician, one who travels and plays in front of diverse groups, one who is dynamic.

So the same static recording engineer the label hired to mix a seven-piece band will most likely not enjoy attending shows, and if he/she does, they will probably critique every shift in sound. A personal story: I once mixed an eight piece band in a live setting and after it was over I was approached by some recording engineer types who had only this to say, that I moved the faders too much. Did they miss the concert going on, onstage?  I guess they are accustomed to a recording room where they set the dials and let technology do its thing. I’ve fired these engineering types in the live setting as they tend to “set it and forget it”. They didn’t come on their own volition, they knew somebody in the band. They do not seem to understand that a human (x’s eight) playing in front of live crowd, will play harder/softer at all different times. They will dance, get tired, get winded, get amped, scream, shout, whisper, sweat, pause for a break, drop the microphone, put the microphone in the crowd, dip it in the wedge, etc. Recording Engineers want things to be automated (static), and live engineers live in the moment, each moment, every night, in a different room, with a different (dynamic) setup. From this we see that engineers can easily capture the wrong sounds, keeping the audience in a static state. A producer who knows what sound to capture (or not capture) is primary to an engineer who merely knows how to capture sounds.

Like the narrow focus of looking through your camera phone, these engineer types see music but have a hard time hearing it. What we get is a skewed version of reality. If you take your eyes off the camera phone, your focus expands to include everything around you, but this everything around you awareness cannot be found inside a recording studio/office, by staring at a computer screen or from those who use their eyes as the arbiter of music. The natural stress provided by an audience in attendance makes the performer stronger, but the stress inside a recording studio is usually directed towards a machine not functioning properly. And we can’t forget that those in the recording studio (static) are being paid to be there, while the audience at a show (dynamic) paid to be there. The social dynamic of music is currently under the watch of the non-social, non-interactive, and non-skin-the-game types. Where do you pay for music? What music would you pay for? What elements need to be present for you to feel you got your monies worth?

On Low Dimensionality

Low dimensionality and low variability leads to blowups and diversity is proclaimed inside the record industry but they are the furthest from diverse. They have been surely loading their roster/portfolio with Look-A-Likes and Sound-A-Likes for over fifteen years. Listen from Aguilera – Ariana. The “Me-Too” company is all but original, yet the technology is new.  Let’s go back to the label (who did not conceive the idea for said technology), and who owes a favor to a engineer/mixer who, just likes me, enjoys some Hip-Hop every now and then (again we are not calling them producers). The label asks this engineer to mix a recording by a live band. There isn’t a person I don’t know who doesn’t have a story about a Hip-Hop concert that goes something like this. We went to the show just to wait for hours for the act to hit the stage, only to do a shortened set of their hits (in medley form) and then bounced off stage as if they were late for a recording studio session. So now the engineer asked to mix a band’s record is doing so from an idea that is not as musical as one would think. Yes the bass line is the most relevant after the beat (in the music not lyrics) but the musical melodic lines are absent if you travel to another country that doesn’t speak the language.  They can rap along (talk in rhyme) but they can’t sing-a-long. This really doesn’t matter much as the goal was not performance, it was selling a mix-tape. You know the type who stands on the street and asks if you like rap, tries to put headphones on your ears, and then asks for money for the CD ( I also hesitate calling Hip-Hop music, just like people hesitate calling us drummers, musicians). Anyhow, the label loves these go get em types, the type of record salesman you can find on a street corner, but who may not stay on stage longer than the minimum time stated in the contract (and sometime much less). I’ve seen stand-up comics do four hour sets without a break. In the last era of the record industry (when CDs sold) more rappers were signed than almost any other style or genre. The ultimate sales > performance model.

This isn’t to say I don’t like Hip-Hop or its producers, on the contrary, it is to say that there is an obvious error in the overall process of the macro music industry, stemming from a record label model or the idea that sales > performance. If you are trying to get a record deal this is what you will aspire for as this is what the label signals. This cycle is vicious. This is next to impossible for a real musician or the opposite of Ariana Grande to comprehend, as they have to perform in order to make a sale. If the performance is horrible, the audience will tell their friends and the tickets for the next show won’t look so hot. (The fact that this girl, who hates Americans, is still signed to the ironic label Republic Records is similar to those who turned their head the other direction when Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright used his words against America.)  The label is out of the live performance business, so they will not be finding these live acts (a clear agency problem with no skin-in-the-game) and pushing them to you via Spotify’s interactive technology. Quite the screw-up we’re involved in at the moment. It’s also why my ethics won’t allow me to use these wrong models.  There is nothing interactive about top-down strategies that put sales before performance. If you cannot perform, you aren’t going to sell. If you sell something besides your performance, you are better off going the video, image driven artist that MTV appreciates. The idea that all you need to do is get your music in front of the “right person” to reach a larger audience is utter BS. People are not lottery tickets. Make the right music (don’t lie to yourself) is all you have to do. Putting your music on Spotify doesn’t say anything about your music. The Swedes don’t understand “God Bless America” “America The Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangeld Banner” but are being touted as the channel for Americans who want to listen to music. Chuck Berry recently died as well. He wasn’t from Sweden. Where is your music coming from? From a programmer or from inspiration.

On Models

A large model error is having antiquated processes of the label decide what to do with new technological platforms for the artist and audience. Streaming services are staffing those who do not work with the artist and the audience to help decide what to do with the new technology that connects the artist and the audience. The money labels made from a physical product vanished into software and their only hope is to restart from the ground up. Their model of sales>performance is a structural defect inside an interactive, real-time model, and there is no cure for structural defects; we must allow them to collapse. Mr Iovine says something about the model of free/subs in relation to charting and everyone agrees. First off, these charting ideas are just as antiquated as their models. To break it down again, if you read my last post it states that radio models were about airplay in a bullseye region and sales were about albums and sometimes singles. The trumpeted Billboard chart was all about sales but remember my aunt also bought CDs that I didn’t like. Their understanding of bulk sales is no understanding at all. We don’t know what we don’t know, and the labels don’t know performance metrics in interactive models. They do not have this transactional knowledge inside a radio/album model (We have already debunked this). The new technology and the data it provides is new to label minded folk and does not fit inside their structural framework of decades past. They didn’t have the wherewithal to build the technology but are trying to decide with the tech geeks about how the audience listens, reacts, and interacts with music.

If subs are the only things counting towards popularity the BIGS are stating that non-interactive and interactive subscriptions count. This seems off, if we are living in a “singles world”. If we are to be counting singles then by all means we should be counting interactive free streams (I change the radio station in the car If I don’t like the song, Does Jimmy?). Interactive subscriptions are great, but a lot of people and businesses that pay for subs are prone to letting playlists play. They are not being interactive but their subs count towards these dumb charts. How do they know what to measure when they don’t even know who’s listening. We should be measuring interactiveness (ticket sale style models) and not sales of subscriptions in hopes to call it an “album” which suffices the label’s antiquated P/L. And if playlists are your leader then it’s once again label driven (through spotify types) songs being pushed (non-interactives know how to push). If someone pushes you it is b/c you were standing still. If you pull someone then both of you are moving in the same direction. When we interact with a song (whether free, nothing is free) we are pulling the “product out of the startup” or the “song out of the artist”. So Jimmy is neglecting the free service which he agreed to for so long. Radio got the music from the label, for free, and often the label paid for songs to be on radio. Now Jim doesn’t want to count the people who listen to free radio, only those people paying for something. Interesting when the coming of age is around 14-18 and they don’t pay for music.

The free tier is also ad supported. If your song gets big on Youtube, you win. If it gets big inside of Spotify, you do not share ad revenue and the labels are propped up with your song’s popularity and your audience’s money. When they see this they will come running, offering you the world. What are they offering?  The technology made to be interactive with the music audience (harvest/analyze data between the interaction of the audience and the music) is being composed by nerds who don’t dance, but who play video games, label executives who aren’t on tour and cannot explain what your fans want to hear, and engineers (in a box) who call themselves producers of large swaths of audience desirable content. The engagement properties of content work this way: the further you are from the real transaction the further you are from understanding music’s primary function. Live performance is a deeper understanding of the communication structure or interaction between the music and the audience. The closer the engagement the closer the action. In the macro word of sales it is much easier to bullshit your way to the title of music expert, like Bob Lefsetz (never heard his music) or these kids who get hired by Pandora, that play a guitar in their living room, and by this and their computer science degree are deciding what music you hear. You can’t do this at the micro level, where dynamics of said music remains interdependent. How many of these people, deciding the music you hear, actually get paid to play music, and feed their families doing so? I think the streaming title of “artist in residence” is to signal how they employ working artists. Let me catch a hook somewhere D.A. Wallach Bread makers make bread and others make noise. I don’t want a federal arts program if this is type of music that is gonna get funded. Spotify has been around for 6+ years in the US and not one artist worth noting has come from strictly interactive means. The popularity of interactive growth is all over Youtube. In fact the majority (if not all) of the acts you hear about “breaking records” on Spotify are already record label artists. So these were acts that had RECORD deals not Streaming deals. So Spotify has to create their own music artists to compete or not compete with the labels. Spotify has to break an artist outside of the record label model. Spotify has to prove what interactive music does. And Spotify has to do this all while hiring record label individuals. Old ideas and structures inside new technology. New ingredients, same old shell. Doesn’t sound promising.

On Faculties

Audience interaction in the live setting is complex, but it’s also about simplicity. Songs, in the classical, non-recorded, performance only form, were called “movements”. If the song today moves an audience, the real-time flow, pulse, and reactions in the context it originates, will show us these elements. The record label is in bed with streaming and a record is a rerun. What we get in this horrible combination is change (technologically) without aesthetics (hits).

In 2011 I attended the Billboard music touring conference and proposed to the panel pictured below, a question about the relevance of EDM in a live setting and the music leading its way. (I’m sitting somewhere house left, probably out of the frame).panel

Bill Werde shrugged my comment off as aesthetics because I proposed the audible argument vs. the visual spectacle that was EDM. Bill is no longer at Billboard and SFX was delisted and filed for bankruptcy. This 2011 year was also the same year Coran Capshaw received a humanitarian award. I was upstairs reading a book in the Roosevelt hotel outside of a backstage entrance and saw the poor man get turned away from this backstage entrance due to not having the right credentials (no fault on the part of the Billboard college intern working the door who didn’t know what a Virginia cowboy looks like). Coran was such a gentleman about it and walk away. That’s a sign of true success, when you don’t care for the award and you’re fine with being turned away at the door. Sitting in this same chair I was also approached by Kenny Chesney, and who I presumed to be his manager, they asked where the nearest bathroom was. I wasn’t working this event but I guess there is something about a touring musician that reflects outwardly to other touring musicians. I politely gave them the direction to the nearest mensroom. Now this Billboard intern, did he not know who these music people were? Was this not taught in college? Which leads us to the primary statement of the music industry collapsing due to its reliance on college graduates or “the educated class”. This says that the musicians who make the music, and in which the majority of them do not have a college degree, are not credentialed enough to be a part of the label/streaming world. What will new musicians and their new music do? Where will they go for development? They can’t trust the old process inside such an interactive technology and they can’t trust this globalized system to lead them in the direction of new success.

The college degree candidates for music will continue to head to the Big Streamers for jobs and these jobs will be there to push what music is already in catalogue form to the rest of the world. Your college degree candidates are not deducing new sounds for the market, they are disseminating catalogue music. And new acts through these services sound a lot like the current acts in a label catalogue. So it seems then the bifurcation of music is among us.  One leading in the direction of a globalized strategy (or label model) the other in the form of new developments and a new direction for new artists with new music. The globalized strategy works, it takes from what is and makes it better. This focus is where Spotify and others will continue to be moving, in the direction of scale.  What I am excited about in the globalized era is the amount of next generation performers who will (so easily) with Youtube and streaming services, be able to emulate James Brown, The Eagles, Bill Evans, Tower of Power, Keith Jarrett, and a host of talents. We will see growth from this but there are key elements our top performers share, they do not have college degrees, and they come from a performance model (live) vs a recording model (rerun). The reruns and derivatives are out there. With all theses people listening to the same music, who originates what you will hear next?

On New Structures

With all the current systems in place to derive from what is and make it better, what area of the music industry will then be the ones who do something new, authentic, original, and make it stick out amongst the forty million available tracks to stream? What area of music can decide quicker and with better metrics if a song/artist will stick. Re-referencing the true statement above, If you want to know better how an audience will respond to music, you will want to work in the environment where the audience is at its closest engagement with the music. A quote from the above Billboard 2011 article states, “No matter what the genre, live music is of high interest to investors these days”. Does that make recorded music (catalogued) a low investment strategy? What are investor returns who invest in the globalization radio/label/streaming model? If live music is of “high interest” to investors, where are these investors who are interested in partnering with businesses and individuals who are steeped in live music. How much longer will we wait before the influence of live connects with with the technology that interacts with the fans. Labels, who don’t attend concerts regularly, or are non-musical, have missed many hits that went into obscurity and will continue to do so.  Labels and streaming are not experienced in live music (interactive models) and investors should heed this main point when making decisions. EDM leads with visuals, and an old model with new technology is mispriced in the market. The opportunity to make new sounds for a new generation sits right in front of us.

Hardware & Software

“This was meant to be a match made in heaven/instead we are slowly drifting in the opposite direction.”

Napster scared the dickens out of the label. The digitization of tracks showed us that good music can not be controlled and that labels should not be the ones deciding what is good for the listening audience (that the invention of social media platforms were not going to be used as thought, or the artist is never bigger than the song type of thing).

The technology changed the business, it did not, however, change the music. The label depends on the music to sustain their business, this means they depend on the artist to furnish them the music so they can make a business from it (this has not changed). But a big change has occurred and many label executives are blinded by it (I’ve sat in their offices and looked in their eyes). To get this streaming revolution going we have to thank Daniel Ek and Tim Westergren, who, without their services none of this would be possible, but it is their services which do not have as bright a future as the others (as they hire label/radio model error types, expect engineers to curate music, aren’t that profitable, are only licensed apps not playback devices, etc.).

I started listening to Pandora in 2005 and quickly maxed out the 100 stations, which to this day play predictable music (developed world type of stuff). Then there’s the limit on many times you can hear a song…Spotify is so sporadic, I have anxiety every time I let it do its thing. 

The labels had a physical product, they lost it to Napster types and have been steady trying to gain back some relevance in the physical space of music (360 deals take from touring revenue). Now that labels own stakes in Spotify, Pandora, etc. they are using this as their physical product or CD revenue. (Thus the reason they have tried to model streams to match album sales, but a stream is not a physical piece of anything!!! We must never forget this key business driver: The record labels had a physical product to sell, they do not have a physical product any longer. Where the heck is their money coming from?) Right now all of Big Streaming negotiates with the label for the same music (mostly old catalogue music made by musicians, not EDM digital stuff which is found free all over the internet). This means, Rhapsody, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora et al are basically the same channel. Sub channels inside do not count, as this is too much work for an individual with tastes in music, (plus these tastes are being curated by the furthest from a musical person, with computer engineers). There is no way I am going to Spotify for Ambient, Jazz, Hip-Hop, EDM, etc… they cannot be great at all of them. Would you want an orthopedic surgeon operating on your heart?

We have to have the device before the app, and Apple/Google are steady trying to be the device in your hands, or the gramophone in your home.  Any extra steps, beyond the device needed to play the music, are going to become so fragmented that Big Streaming Apps (BSAs) will slowly be fettered out. How is this possible you say? Take a little look at radio, all music, stories, news, weather, etc. all started on one station. As radio (and record technology) grew in frequencies, and in listeners, the music spread out across stations. Radio stations started becoming format driven (580 became classical, 1640 became jazz, 1200 became news and weather and so on and so forth). Labels began signing a certain type of sound and when the technology grew, more sounds were created, and added, and so forth. The advent of FM changed it once again as a new radio band was able to broadcast a completely new style/sound/genre not being broadcast on AM, it fragmented/branched out again with genre labels and more and more music was made (so many labels, signing so many different sounds). We are destined to see a fragmenting once again, with distribution all over the place, finding the right niche of listener, but not as we’ve seen it in the past.

you can see the fractalness of where this is going, genre branching as streaming apps grow and become formatted…the U2 album inside itunes will be a lot like the future but not as forced….

Soon, all BSAs will all have a free tier (playing singles in format style like radio) and a subscription tier for the fan who wants the album (extra content). Now here is where it will get tricky, if BSAs begin formatting with the label sooner than later. They may have a future, but they will still be light years behind, as no one has seem to have caught on yet that labels, radio, and publishing never knew who was listening, but are being hired today (By BSAs) to help deduce business models around who is listening. The labels, (I am using terminology here, as record labels today will most definitely not look like record labels of the future. So the term will change with the intended meaning of what a “record label is.” The future demands an investment in the most lucrative area of the industry, which is live, and labels today do not care for live. New “live first” (vs marketing first) labels will emerge and be your “new label”) well, their only chance of survival (without some drastic, intervention & overhaul) is to do as Motown did, with a set sound of what they are willing, and capable to promote, and with a matching station (streaming service) playing Motown specific music. But today still you have multiple genres at one label, all running the same business model and licensing all their music to these BIG services. This is due for an overhaul, but they do not see it coming, hence the blindness. The physical product remains visible, but the technology remains invisible.

Royalties are a hard business to crack. Publishers, rights holders, and rights management all had a nice run with the label/radio model because no one knew who was listening, so it was easy to hide (with smoke and mirrors) their lack of value in the system.  The court system (copyright board) is on fire and I think a proper tracking of payments technology will have to be established before courts can adjust. 

In the good ol days, of the label controlling the music we hear, they set up manufacturing services for vinyl, eight track tapes, cassettes, mini-discs, CD’s, laser discs, all types physical pieces of technology. But before this, parts of some labels were also manufacturing the playback device. RCA made gramophones, and Sony made walkmans and portable transistor radios. They merged with the rights owners, as the rights owners needed their devices to remain valid in people’s homes and in their ears and the technology needed the rights owners to deliver content. Today the equivalent of a gramophone has to have a connection to the internet and comes from a playback device made by some of these companies: Apple (iphone), Google (phone), Samsung (phone), LG (phone), Blackberry (phone) and some more stationary devices like a Sonos soundbar, all physical (you can touch) pieces. Two of these have built in streaming services in Apple Music and Youtube Music (owned by Google). One is loved by the recording industry for its large customer base and hefty profits (for the label) the other is hated for their even larger customer base with lesser profits (for the label, and more for the artist who is independent). I will never argue a 50/50 split when the label has been getting >70% with streams. With proper structures in place to retrieve playback data, we will see a healthier industry, but before music gets paid, the music has to be deemed valuable. What has been valuable to the label since MTV has been much more image driven than audible. But looks don’t matter in reality and in reality the artist has to prove his or herself in the real transaction of live (that forgotten industry that’s way older than recording technology, and more robust). “You can’t fool too many people for too long” -Nassim Taleb

We should very skeptical of record labels owning a piece of these BSAs. The labels missed the boat on creating a new technology (that interacts with the fans) so how are they somehow still afloat? In the place of a physical product the labels negotiated with Spotify, Pandora, etc to be part equity owners in the product they did not create (sound familiar). This has been the label game for some time, let others do the work, then claim you own a share for doing absolutely nothing. When I say nothing I mean without skin-in-the-game. The label will not be helping drive your band’s van/trailer. They will not be unloading or loading gear. They will not be writing songs, or playing on stage, or offer much support in the realm of performance, and they most definitely aren’t coming to the show. Today the lowest part of a record deal is still tour support and the highest is marketing. These non-interactive types are the furthest thing from understanding the real transaction of the artist/listener experience, yet they remain inside BSAs trying to figure out how to create a User Experience, on a User Interface, without ever experiencing or interacting with a user (listener) face-to-face. I wish they would all quit their jobs but it’s not that easy.

The problem being, the BSAs remain in bed with the label (who remain non-interactive) until the label can produce their own service or do better/different deals with the Playback Devices (PBs/phones). If the playback devices get smart, they will not need the labels or the BSAs to make music have a great future. YouTube is already a direct line to the listener, which cut out an extra step (agency problem) in the process of listening to music. Youtube has production facilities and Apple has done at least two direct deals with artists who bypassed a label. In this future Spotify and Pandora are destined to remain non-interactive. Which leads us to question their data analyses of interactive transactions, when they have never interacted in the real transaction.

The data to match the listening audience was never possible inside the old technology. In the bullseye radio market, a song could be spun 7 times a day, in an area of 300,000 listeners, and with some scientific mumbo-jumbo formula (which included focus groups) they would attempt to tell us how many people (but not who) were listening. This is some messy data as no one really knows who was listening, just like no one knows if Alicia Keys first record sold 500,000 copies in the first week because one man (Clive Davis) bought 300,000 of them. These tactics are the same as going to a chinese take-out and seeing a tip jar full of cash. Did every customer tip or did the owner stuff the jar with cash from the register, no one knows. But what we do know, with interactive data, is who is listening, when and where, think of it like a concert ticket…Friday night, at the 9:30 Club, there will be people listening to the sounds of so and so. This real transaction data has been taking place long before the gramophone was ever invented. The label’s business (built on gramophone technology) was to promote singles (through radio spins) and sell (physical) albums (through record stores). Their distribution started with radio and they gave radio whatever they thought would spin. Today a stream is neither a sale (album) or a spin (radio) because today we have the choice to stream (invisibly) what we want.

Now that the physical piece of music has been digitized, the influence and power of the industry falls on the remains physical pieces needed to play music. Think your phone, an instrument, a musician (something you can touch).

Look at this crap. You are an independent artist (congratulations) who feels as though you should put your music on Spotify and Pandora because this is what people without skin-in-the-game are telling you to do. They will not be harmed by their words, they are only talkers and you should avoid them like the plague. You write a hit, and put it on these services, which are partly owned by a label, now your fans, your music, and your hard work is in part being shared by a label who have done nothing, not even market your songs. This was all done by an audience liking the song enough to share it and listen again and again and by you or your band possibly touring and gaining credit in the market. All the while your song(s) are influencing an even bigger audience to use said platform (BSA) more and more. In the meantime you see no money (or very little money) and are leading your followers to platforms partly owned by labels, but you have no desire to be on a label. Now if your followers subscribe, they are paying a label and a service to stream your music. The pooling of payments has got to stop.  Mariah Carey does not see revenue from Macy Gray’s concerts sales. These services use ads to reach your followers and pay for their vacations with this ad revenue, but do not share this ad revenue with you, or invite you on their vacation. Weird right, sounds just like radio. This is not good business, using old models with new technology. I can’t think of anyone who would look at this model and say, “yes, that’s the future…your skin, in their game.”

So even though we were fortunate to hear some of the amazing singles we did, partly owed to artists (who demanded, if not more, that this or that song be the single) and partly owed to a different era of the label biz, (when label execs didn’t put marketing first but wrote songs and went to shows) what we did not hear about are the thousands of artists who had the talent, the single and the wherewithal to make it, but succumbed to the label’s idea of an album cycle, and drowned in obscurity.

Everyone in music knows their role, and if they don’t, they become helicopter enthusiasts, uber drivers, or pickled egg makers, you get the point, they end up doing something else. Most label executives are leaving for other things. Take a look at one head of A&R, who just loves Broadway musicals. He too believes music is about image and followed his heart right on out of the music business taking his label with him. Artists do not stay around forever and neither should these executives and their antiquated models that do not fit the new technology. These non-interactive models are so mispriced in the market, that is interactive, it is only a matter of time until history jumps in favor of the artisan/entrepreneur.

Problem: artists/entrepreneurs are not seeing the proper payments in an interactive setting mostly due to a system of non-interactives trying to captain the ship

So there seems to be two questions that remain… Will the government do a Ma Bell on the record labels (giving streaming services equal footing in the market) or will Apple/Google be able to purchase Warner/Universal/Sony…and if they purchase said labels, are they smart enough to revamp interactive music, without the presence of those non-interactive types?

The bifurcation of a pre-streaming label and post-streaming label is upon us. The label can keep their old catalogue, I’ll be over here working with new model artists who wish to retain their intellectual property.