Streaming Services And The Future Of Music(ians)

david byrneA few weeks ago, artist David Byrne published on his website an essay entitled “How Will the Wolf Survive: Can Musicians Make a Living in the Streaming Era.” In it, he relays his view that, unless changes are adopted in the way musicians earn from streaming music, musicians will wither and their heretofore steady stream of art will dry up. Streaming services, he says, impart legitimacy to the act of consuming music without paying for it.

This reinforces the idea that music is something you can (and should) get for free, even if now it’s legal. For consumers this is a pretty amazing deal”it’s like Napster, but legal! The government tends to view things that way too”what’s good for the consumer is theoretically encouraged and supported. Sadly, consumers and businesses that cater to their demands don’t often take the long view; they’ve been known to overfish huge swaths of the oceans, spill oil over and over, chop down all the trees in a forest and then wonder why the topsoil that would support reforesting has washed away. So, I wonder similarly if streaming-on-demand might be similarly a business model that will deplete the resource”we who create music”that it depends upon. Many industries have depleted the resources they depend on, it’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

Byrne goes on with a point-by-point discussion of the common responses to this troubling vision, and suggests four things that could drastically improve – or at least illuminate – the challenges he sees. He calls for a better split of the monies paid out from the streaming services, a chance to opt-out, transparency in accounting, and an end to “free” streaming services. It is worth reading in full, and note the ways in which he defines the services he’s critiquing, specifically excluding non on-demand options like Pandora.

Billy Bragg responded to Byrne’s view in a speech given at an event sponsored by Music Tank (which he subsequently adapted for his own Facebook page). Bragg mostly agrees with Byrne’s perspective, making some distinctions that are experiential, and some that are simply uncertainties, but then disagrees with one key element of Byrne’s four suggestions:

Do You Respect Music?


You may already have seen signs of a new movement in music rights. #IRespectMusic is a campaign in support of instituting performance royalties resulting from commercial radio airplay. The US is one of a handful of countries (including such shining cities on a hill as Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda) which does not pay performers for airplay.

Former Talking Heads frontman and author of How Music Works David Byrne has written an essay describing the problem and laying out the convincing argument that US law needs to change. And as he says:

The momentum behind addressing this issue is approaching critical mass: there is currently a bill supporting artists’ radio royalty sponsored by former Congressman and newly appointed Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Mel Watt; Jerry Nadler is sponsoring it here in N.Y. If we act now, we can fix this…

Step one for us musicians and music fans is to sign a petition to demonstrate public support of the bill.
(h/t The 405)


More like this:
The Best Music Books of 2013
Industrial Revolution: Revaluing Music
Spotify Offering Free Mobile Music Streaming

The Best Music Books of 2013

4474421855_5630cc2cfb_oOh baby, it is literally so damn cold outside. I have no interest in walking in a winter wonderland because the weather outside is actually frightful and I’m terrified that if I try to go anywhere I’ll get lost in a blizzard and never make it back home. It’s that cold. If Beyonce was like, “Hey girl, you can have backstage passes to my show this weekend if you just stand in the snow for ten minutes,” I’d be like, “Sorry, lady, but my heat is on and I’m not coming out for anything.” [Of course, it became bizarrely warm here in New England on the day this went to press. -ED.]
I guess there is one nice thing about these frigid climes “ they offer up a great excuse to blow off plans and cuddle up inside with a new book. And with all of the excellent music-related titles that came out in 2013, I’ve had plenty to choose from. So if you’re a total wimp about the cold like me, grab one of these bad boys, pour yourself a half a drink more (at least), and get your read on.
I’m not the world’s biggest Morrissey fan, but the review that convinced me to pick up Autobiography was this one from Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield, who writes, “Practically every paragraph has a line or two that demands to be read aloud to the mirror, tattooed on foreheads, carved on tombstones. High praise, coming from a guy who also writes for a living. But it turns out he was right: this book is bitingly funny, endlessly entertaining, and stocked with crazy personal anecdotes. Morrissey’s writing is “ no surprise, given his songwriting abilities “ electric. While I won’t be getting anything from this book permanently inked on my forehead, I might consider it on some less valuable real estate like an arm or a foot.
Mo Meta Blues
Drummer for The Roots, bandleader on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, producer, DJ, and all-around rad human being AhmirQuestloveThompson is one of the busiest and most accomplished artists working today. His memoir, Mo Meta Blues, is one of the coolest and most interesting pieces of literature to hit shelves in 2013. This book will teach you a lot, make you smile a bunch, and give you the lowdown on a whole list of records that you may not have known about and absolutely must check out. Is Questlove the coolest guy in music? Yes. Is he the coolest guy in the entire world? Probably also yes. Mo Meta Blues is proof.
9781555537296_p0_v1_s260x420Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN
Carter Alan
I get the feeling that Carter Alan‘s Radio Free Boston wasn’t too widely read or reviewed outside of the New England area, and that’s a real shame. The book details the history of Boston’s WBCN radio, a station founded in the late ’60s when its DJs could essentially say and play whatever they wanted. Author Carter Alan, a former music director and DJ at the station, manages to stay mostly objective as he recounts its history, but it’s charming how his love for WBCN shines through nonetheless. This tale may not have a happy ending “ WBCN played its last notes in 2009 “ but the book kind of makes you wish radio stations today were as cool as this one was in its prime.
How Music Works
David Byrne
Okay, yes, technically Byrne’s How Music Works was released at the tail end of 2012. But the paperback edition, which came out earlier this year, is completely revised and updated and includes the same beautiful, full-color pictures that were found in the hardcover version. So I’m counting it. While the text is exhaustively researched and incredibly thorough (some might say dense), the book manages to be fun and engaging throughout. And while the Talking Heads frontman does discuss how music works in a technical sense, the book really shines when he writes about how and why we relate to music the way we do. Part memoir, part textbook, and all celebration of music, it’s the kind of book that you can come back to year after year.

Chart Catfight!: Look Who’s Hot on Carly Rae Jepsen's Tail in the Battle of the Pop Divas!

Carly Rae Jepsen is in luck. It looks like she won’t have to ensure the continuation of her celebrity run after Call Me Maybe falls from its current summit by relying on the hoopla generated by her own Nipplegate”nude photos that ended up being someone else’s.

Thanks to a call from Adam Young, the one-man band behind Owl City, Jepsen is about to relight the fire under her rising star the old-fashioned way: with a new hit. “Good Time,” her duet with Owl City, just debuted at No. 18 on Billboard’s Hot 100, which means that her breakout No. 1 single won’t forever be alone on her hit list.

It’s pop symbiosis at its most effective: He saves her from that pop purgatory known as one-hit wonderdom, where he had been languishing since 2009, when the Owl City single “Fireflies” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, and she helps get him out of it. Sure Katy Perry could have accomplished the same thing in the middle of a dead sleep, but that hardly would have been a meeting of near-equals.


Industrial Revolution: Revaluing Music

Unlike some of the more desperate record company execs, indie artists today are not clinging to the fading music revenue models of the past. Instead of mourning the loss of record sales, these musicians are rethinking the value of their music, pioneering new methods of conveying their artistic output to listeners while still receiving something of value in return.

Many artists find that selling their music direct to fans, via their own Web sites and utilizing the variety of commerce tools available on the web, can make up for the decrease in overall sales. Many such commerce tools are highly user-friendly and in the end take only a very small piece of the revenue pie, relative to retail stores like iTunes and longtime artist favorites like CD Baby. The artist, then, receives the lion’s share of the price paid by the fan.

In addition, buying music direct from the band makes a difference from the perspective of the fan. The perception by the latter that they are giving money to an artist that they like and want to support, rather than to a company (retail or record”even if the artist has a label that obviously receives a share), personalizes the music attainment experience and breaks down the growing cognitive barrier to paying for music at all.

Other artists are experimenting with new ways of seeing a return for their recorded output. Many observers wonder how vinyl sales could possibly be growing while music sales are generally way down, but the answer is that it is expressly because of the de-valuation of common CDs and MP3s that vinyl has found new worth. The rarity of vinyl (though growing at a very healthy clip, vinyl still comprises a minute fraction of music sales), along with the relative opulence of the packaging, the (arguably) higher-fidelity and the retro-chic factor, have made vinyl LPs seem worth shelling out for to music consumers otherwise reluctant to pay for the ubiquitous compact disc or completely intangible MP3 file. The increasingly common practice of making a digital download part of the package has boosted this value immensely. Very recently, many artists have taken this concept and run with it, releasing unique versions of their albums on that near-extinct portable favorite, the cassette.

Have you heard their new tape?

It’s not only indie bands getting in on the action. Radiohead, as previously discussed in this column, is always trying something different, from the pay-what-you-like model of 2007’s In Rainbows to the newspaper album version of this year’s The King of Limbs. And when you’re The Flaming Lips, what else is left to do but release your music on a flash drive, buried in a life-sized human skull made entirely of gummy?

Damien Hirst's favorite new album.

Still other artists try to add value to the more pedestrian CDs and MP3s by bundling them with non-music merchandise, like t-shirts and posters. In effect, neither the music nor the merch is the primary product. Only together do they appear to comprise something worth buying. Sometimes even that doesn’t whet the appetite of the fan, who steadfastly refuses to pay for something they feel is and/or should be available for free. There is a way, however, that clever artists can still see something in exchange for their music. Money, after all, isn’t everything. In a recent experiment, David Byrne and Brian Eno released their record Everything That Happens Will Happen Today in exchange for just the listener’s email address, via the Topspin platform, a young company which exists to seek additional answers regarding the new way of doing things in music. Email addresses are extremely valuable, both practically and theoretically, in ways not even developed yet. Direct access to music fans via email is a way to cut through the sound and fury of Internet and media bombardment.

In any of the examples discussed here, the running theme is getting direct-to-fan involvement and cutting out the middleman. Let’s face it, cassettes won’t ever come back and Radiohead already ditched pay-what-you-like and probably won’t be doing another newspaper album. But these are all important steps in boiling down the exceptional opportunity provided by the web to kill off the old and often artist-suffocating music business model.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

iamamiwhoami artist revealed?


Maybe you’ve been following the enigmatic (and fairly disturbing) videos of mystery artist iamamiwhoami on YouTube. If not, do check them out. Most are one-minute vignettes set to alternately ambient and jarring electronic music, featuring a feral blonde woman with freakishly long eyelashes. First guess is Lady Gaga, naturally. Who else would wrap themselves in plastic to play the piano, or lick a tree? Well, looks like there may be another wildly eccentric pop performance artist out there. For the mystery reveal, click here. Check out the video here.

The Bad

Lady Gaga’s Telephone finally debuts

Lady Gaga's "Telephone"

(And by bad we mean Michael Jackson-style, you know, with dancing thugs, leather and snarls.)

The wait is over for the Lady Gaga and Beyoncé collaborative video for Telephone. For your patience, you get nine-plus minutes of women’s penitentiary sexy times, sandwich making, mass poisonings, multiple costume changes and good ol’ fashioned, Thelma and Louise-style, female camaraderie. (Sweet Beyoncé even swears!) Get an eyeful here¦ and lookout for cigarette sunglasses to become the next big thing.

Alex Chilton dies

Alex Chilton

The untimely deaths keep coming. This time it’s Alex Chilton, former front man of ’60s pop act the Box Tops and later, Big Star. Chilton died in New Orleans on Wednesday at the age of 59 from what appears to be a heart problem. If you’re unfamiliar with Chilton’s work, we suggest you go to your music source of choice and download “The Letter” by the Box Tops and “September Gurls” by Big Star. Another sad day for music.

The Ugly

Miley Cyrus says a bunch of dumb stuff in Teen Vogue

Miley Cyrus

Oh Miley. The soundbites from your latest interview are like potent little vitamins to fortify all your haters. When you’re not dissing the public at large by declaring you and your boyfriend’s superiority (I think we’re both deeper than normal people, what they think and how they feel,) then you’re contradicting yourself. Exhibit A: The more I make music that doesn’t truly inspire me, the more I feel like I’m blending in with everyone else. So after this next album, I’m taking some time off.” Exhibit B: I don’t really believe in breaks. Once you figure it out, let us know. We’ll have to make do in the meantime with our shallow thoughts and feelings.