Monday, February 21, 2011

Week 5

This is a summary of my thoughts on the preface and Chapter 1 of Musicophilia, Chapters 2 and 3 in A Manual for the Performance Library, This is your Brain on Music, and a few music cognition websites.

Preface and Chapter 1 - Musicophilia

Having never thought about it, I found it fascinating that Sacks and other scholars make an argument that music is pointless in an evolutionary sense. Truly, if one looks at most other human behaviors such as the need to reproduce, eat, find shelter, and make tools, one can draw those tendencies to the need to survive. However, with music, despite the fact that humans seem to enjoy it from infancy, it seems that there is no scientific evidence as to why we are drawn to it. Sacks' mention of music's ability to help and/or hinder mental patients was also interesting, either culminating in a hallucination or a therapeutic song.

The story of Dr. Cicoria and his sudden love of music after a lightning strike made me think of a documentary I've seen on schizophrenia. In it, there is a schizophrenic piano savant who can play amazingly. However, if he is representing a different personality at the time, he will argue to the end of the world that he is not a musician. If you sit him in front of a piano, he has no idea what to do. It is amazing how the brain seems to have an on/off switch for musical inspiration and talent. Sacks seems to tease the reader with what the true catalyst of musicophilia could possibly be. He mentions that there are select groups of people who suddenly become music lovers in their late 40s. He says that near-death experiences can deeply affect people to the point that they become completely different afterwords. Whether the phenomenon can be explained scientifically or spiritually, it certainly seems that music has a profound effect on people.

Chapter 2 and 3 - A Manual for the Performance Library

Purchasing and general acquisitions for music most definitely seems specialized. Having to track down certain revisions of an obscure musical score sounds like a challenging task. A performance librarian must also evaluate musical scores based on a few criteria. I found it especially interesting that proper page turns and actual paper quality are taken into consideration, these are things I had not previously considered. Reading about all of the different fees taken into consideration when renting music made me think back to Gordon's recounting of the costs involved in say, putting music on a soundtrack. Certainly the fees make sense, but it's amazing how many of them seem to add up.

Girsberger specifies that in his opinion, performance librarians can come up with their own way of classifying music in their library. This seems counterintuitive and I'm amazed he doesn't encourage a standard format such as a MARC record. Surely whoever happens to use the collection would get used to the cataloging tendencies, but a standardized rule set would make more sense. Despite the fact that these materials may not circulate outside of the library, keeping everything the same as other libraries would be most user-friendly.

Despite its publication in 2006, I'm surprised that Girsberger recommends a card catalog and in the previous chapter only mentions in passing that websites for rental music might be a helpful resource. Surely, a consistent electronic catalog would be easier to maintain than a card catalog.

I have to reconsider a bit about what I said about a standardized cataloging rule set earlier. At least in terms of instrument arrangements, the coding for cataloging seems consistent. The organization of flutes/oboes/clarinets/bassoons translating to 2 2 2 2 representing each number of instrument needed seems to be a widely used shorthand for musical cataloging. Similarly, Girsberger does mention that standardized cataloging rules such as MARC are used by some music libraries.

Girsberger talks a bit about using a rule set in terms of how to enter data when there are multiple titles and ways to spell a particular name. He recommends that the cataloger use an authoritative source such as a book to refer to. Although it would be more time consuming, it seems to me that a more searchable catalog would include as many of the different spellings and titles that are available. This may not be feasible in every situation, but I think this cataloging attitude would improve the retrieval of the search engine.

This is your Brain on Music

It seems that this book draws many similarities to Sacks' work, weighing the mysteries of music with human cognition. Things like an especially trained ear or perfect pitch - are we predisposed to have this talent or can it be learned? Music can evoke emotion and be studied for years without knowing all of the answers. Each of these articles and books seem to be making music to be more enigmatic and nebulous; outside of human comprehension.

Ohio State University Music Cognition Center website

This website has a frustrating number of questions with no answers. Certainly these questions piqued my interest. Specifically, wondering if there are different ways of "listening" sounded interesting. Certainly there's passive and active listening, but it would be fascinating to find how different people listen to music. In the introduction to This is your Brain on Music, Levitin mentioned that Paul Simon listens to his records as a whole. I'd imagine some others listen only to the lyrics or yet others listen to the rhythm parts.

Origins of Music Website

I find it amazing that from simple hieroglyphics and drawings that researchers could decipher melody and specific musical notes. It did make me wonder what they operationally define a "song" as, though, because I'm sure neanderthals or similar ancestors could have beat out rhythms or have sung songs without documentation.

Brain Diagram

I thought it was interesting that memories and associations were involved in the diagram as a brain's effect on music. I sometimes underestimate good memories being associated with a certain song I like. Perhaps my favorite album is not necessarily because it's the greatest recorded of all time, but because of the positive memories I correlate with it. The way music conjures memories is unlike many other senses.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Week 4

This is a summary of my thoughts of Chapter 7 and 8 in The Future of the Music Business and the introduction and Chapter 1 of A Manual for the Performance Library.

Chapter 7

Firstly, I was amazed to find that at the time of publication that ringtone sales were exceeding the sales of digital downloads. In the latest generation of music, it has been interesting to find the increasing willingness to sacrifice sound quality for convenience. Rather than have a great sounding recording of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, the average music consumer would prefer to have it ripped into an mp3 file along with many other CDs to make it more portable. I feel the same way with ringtones. Cell phone speakers are not made for sound quality and I find it strange that a short clip of the chorus of a song would be so sought after. Despite the steady decline of CD sales, it is interesting to find that the major record labels are finding ways to continue to make money. It seems the sales of "master" ring tones might be the key (ringtone mp3s made from the original recording masters).

Gordon's prediction that music in video games will become a bigger part of the music industry is correct. Even in this generation of video games, licensed music has become important. As Gordon mentioned, developers of music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero spend millions to acquire licenses to features artists like Metallica, Green Day, and The Ramones in their video games, but are repaid with even more millions of dollars in sales. Much like the modern music business, players may also purchase more songs to play on Rock Band for a small fee.

Chapter 8

Reading about the recording industry's financial troubles struck an odd chord with me. As a musician and music lover, I support local bands and small independent labels. As a whole, I think this is a rare stance. Although I do not often help major labels in terms of sales, I don't hinder them either by illegally downloading their music. Consumers think it's a victimless crime to steal from huge corporations like Sony/BMI, but at the rate that peer to peer applications are being used to download music, it seems that these corporations are being pushed out of the market. Gordon's assessment of major labels being slow to jump on the digital music bandwagon when Napster made it clear that the public was ready for digitized music was apt, but as he said, not the sole reason.

Seeing that the major labels and record industry had to work with other industries like electronics companies was interesting. Asking an electronics company to make their product less user-friendly and workable in exchange for nothing except success on the record industry's end is a tough sell. Since there was no real benefit in adding hardware or software to computers to reduce music piracy, I'm not surprised this did not happen. At the end of the chapter, when Gordon mentions that technology allows for this generation to pirate music, it made me realize that technology and music will eventually have to embrace and work together for the music industry to work.

The RIAA's lawsuit against "children and grandmothers" baffled me. As Gordon said, the RIAA did not exactly profit from these thousands of settlements and court cases. The only rhyme or reason I can think of for these lawsuits would be for the RIAA to send a message that they will track down and punish whoever might illegally download music. I think part of the reason consumers don't have any remorse for using peer to peer applications and acquiring music illegally is for reasons like this; these large corporations seem heartless and greedy, so why should the average consumer not try and stick it to them a bit?

Intro and Chapter 1

A performance librarian seems like an interesting niche profession. It's truly a combination of two talents or hobbies, information retrieval and reference skills mixed with a love and knowledge of music. The way Girsberger describes the job, performance librarians must have an intricate knowledge of whatever ensemble or conductor he or she is working for since the librarian must help select music that corresponds with their style and skill level. The performance librarian has much more responsibility in the final product than say a law librarian or medical librarian. Though my knowledge of these professions is lacking, I'd imagine law and medical librarians must have familiarity with information unique to these fields, but the performance librarian's responsibility to edit sheet music and select it shows that he or she would be much more in touch with the musical group he or she is working with and their successes or failures.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week 3

This is a summary of my thoughts for Gordon’s The Future of the Music Business for Chapters 5, 6, and the websites provided.

Chapter 5

I found it interesting that Gordon included a chapter on music videos at all. My band is releasing an album at the end of this month and I was thinking it would certainly be cool to shoot a music video for our single, but have been second guessing myself wondering if people really watch them anymore or if they even really have an impact on music consumers. It seems the days of MTV and the “Video Killed the Radio Star” generation is over, but perhaps websites like YouTube make music videos a still viable form of music media.

Firstly, I can certainly agree with Gordon’s terminology of “promo videos” rather than “music videos.” In a casual comparison between videos from the 1980s and 90s to the ones now, it seems modern music videos are much more concerned with selling the band and making them look the part rather than being an artistic vision that compliments the music as it was back then. It’s more of a music commercial than it is a music video.

Later in the chapter, I found it odd that iTunes sells music videos. As a Zune user and generally a person that avoids Apple products (for no particular reason), I am not too familiar with iTunes. As previously mentioned, it seems that YouTube is a viable source to watch music videos for free. I can understand wanting to own a song to download onto an mp3 player or to burn, but actually owning a music video seems like a strange practice. Have music videos become a replacement for standard mp3s? Does the audiovisual effect necessitate repeat viewings?

Chapter 6

The information on music compilations was eye-opening. I had never considered that a record company might be reluctant to release a song that might still benefit them. It seems like a bit of a risk to hope that the compilation would renew a listener’s interest in that particular song, which would then lead to he or she purchasing more albums by that artist whose recordings the original label owns. In my experience, local bands will get together to make compilations to generally raise awareness of other bands around town. The bands can each split the cost of pressing and everyone can enjoy new exposure. It’s interesting to see things on a small versus large scale.

The rules of music on film are interesting. The idea that it costs more to play a song during the opening credits rather than in the background makes sense. Many of the songs played at the beginning of James Bond films for example, stick out in my mind. On the other hand, I will oftentimes listen to film soundtracks and not remember hearing even half of the songs during the film. It seems that music on film is a compromise between both recording artist and director: the artist wants exposure but the director does not want to let a song interrupt the flow of his or her film.

I also found MFN costs to be a fascinating negotiation. Between all of the licensing and rules that Gordon has already summarized throughout the first chapters, MFN seems to be one of the more nightmarish to negotiate. MFN essentially means that in a contract with multiple artists, whoever garners the best deal financially, all of the others on the compilation/film/etc. gets the same deal. So if Madonna demands a certain high price to be on a soundtrack, all other artists get paid her fee too unless they decide to drop Madonna off of the soundtrack altogether.

From many of Gordon’s descriptions, it seems that a savvy record label representative can negotiate his or her way around the fees and contracts that the industry is rife with. For example, when he speaks of using songs in commercials, a savvy representative would perhaps track down a lesser known song that is cheaper to license. This way everyone is happy, the artist gets exposure and the commercial has a fitting and hip song for its product. Additionally, Gordon mentioned that MFN costs can be negotiated and avoided depending on when and where a song is played in TV or film. If a song is played only on cable TV in the U.S., Gordon states that this can cut down on costs a bit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week 2

This is a summary of my thoughts for the readings assigned during week 2, including Downie’s article, the websites posted this week, and Chapters 3 and 4 of The Future of the Music Business.

Music Information Retrieval

When beginning Stephen Downie’s article on Music Information Retrieval (MIR), he immediately acknowledged my skepticism about obstacles in music searching. Reading Dr. Simon’s definitions of MIR, I could only think: how useful could a music search engine be if it couldn’t “listen” to and identify songs? I mean, it’s great if the potential user already knows the name of that obscure Austrian composer, but nine times out of ten it seems that the user needs to make the search engine work for him or her rather than the other way around. Certainly, if or when this technology becomes available, it will truly be an evolution in information retrieval.

Unfortunately, from Downie’s description of all of the complex facets of MIR, it seems that this evolution is a long way off. Many of Downie’s descriptions of elements such as timber and harmony makes me think that perhaps music is too varied and multifaceted to ever truly be searchable. Even with documents made only of text, library of congress tags and descriptors can be insubstantial for a proper search, so what hope is there of properly categorizing something that means so many different things to so many people like music? Downie describes this effect in the multiexperiential challenge, saying that music can be anything from background noise to traditional hand clapping to a soundtrack to a film.

Chapter 3

Much of Gordon’s chapter on webcasting rang true for me. He spoke of ClearChannel, a conglomerate who owns the vast majority of major commercial radio stations. Having webcasting available helps lessen ClearChannel’s impact, allowing smaller artists to be represented on internet stations. Major radio station playlists have always been shrouded in mystery, some arguing that the “payola” scheme is still in place, which dictates that record companies or other private businesses pay radio stations to play songs by certain artists. Hopefully internet radio can remain open to more niche audiences and/or have more diverse playlists. Gordon also ventures that these internet radio stations are more likely to take a chance on riskier artists, those who may not catch on with a wider audience immediately.

One other note I wanted to make about the webcasting chapter was the way artists get paid. Hearing about record deals and now hearing about radio plays, it’s amazing to think how 2/100 of a cent per listener could ever add up to any type of profit. I’m sure there are details and ideas that I’m leaving out, but it’s difficult to imagine that these fractions of cents could ever add up to anything significant.

Streaming and selling music online digitally has certainly taken off, probably more since The Future of the Music Business was written. I think iTunes has become one of the most popular ways to legally acquire music. As Gordon mentions, this also changes the dynamic in how singles work. Since iTunes allows a user to purchase any track from an album for a dollar, it seems singles could be more important than ever. Perhaps there’s less pressure from an artist to produce a solid, cohesive album and more to produce a few single-worthy songs.

Chapter 4

I found it interesting that record labels will register fake downloads of popular music on illegal free music websites such as LimeWire and formerly Napster. I think this shows users the risk of downloading from such sites, that files could be infected or fake, but it seems like an odd practice to me. On the other hand, it will likely encourage the use of authorized music download providers such as iTunes and Amazon MP3.

Gordon included an article on “double dipping” by artists who are arguing that downloading a song should include royalties for a public performance much like streaming music online or playing in a club would earn. Gordon’s argument that the user downloads a song then later decides to play it makes sense. It should not be considered a public performance unless the user hits a button and instantly hears music, much like webcasting and streaming works.


I found the SEMLA website interesting, as it chronicles the strengths of various music collections in the Southeastern United States. In Tennessee, for example, I now know that Belmont University has a strong emphasis on vocal music and has many additional music research resources. Professor Simon was right about the various agendas of each organization. It seems that the Music Library Association is more interested in spreading awareness of music in libraries while the International Computer Music Association is geared more towards integrating technology and music. Judging from Downie’s assessment of the state of MIR, I would put more stock into the ICMA, hoping that they would help move MIR research forward.