Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The Future of the Music Business
Nearing the end of the book, Gordon writes a chapter on peer to peer music websites that allow unlimited free music trading such as the old Napster, Kazaa, and Grokster. Gordon interestingly chronicles the movement of the industry from singles to albums and back to singles again with the advent of iTunes. In an interview with Wayne Rosso, he describes the downfall of Napster partially being that a central part of the system kept a log of all the files and the court ruled that Fanning and company could have prevented the music that was copyrighted from being there. Interestingly, it seems that internet speed has moved the peer to peer and music downloading zeitgeist further now that downloading music takes seconds rather than minutes or hours. I seem to recall downloading music on Napster back when it was popular and waiting an entire day for everything to download. Also, Rosso says that Apple does not make its money from iTunes, they make their money by selling compatible iPods. I find this an interesting business model and explains why other similar services have failed. Even Microsoft set up the Zune Marketplace for their portable music device, but it seems unpopular as well. Rosso makes an interesting point that people do need to pay money for music, but the price that the record companies set may not necessarily be right. Perhaps this is why the 'name your price' model has worked for artists like Radiohead.
Next, Steve Gordon explores music in virtual worlds with Mike Lawson. Lawson performs music on Second Life, a virtual world in which musicians can perform for virtual audiences with a microphone and a bit of planning. Lawson and a few friends play in a virtual blues club and make money from donations from other Second Lifers. Lawson says the appeal is being able to play at home in his own studio and have a much wider audience to play to regardless. There is also the ability to stream one's music outside of the virtual world, so interested listeners do not necessarily have to be in Second Life. Interestingly, there are no other virtual worlds or platforms that allow for virtual musicianship, but I would not be surprised if there is one in the making.
I tried the Graph Theory website, which allows users to use multiple solo violin samples and link them to each other to create a composition. The selections made affect the future performances of the piece. I think this is a very cool idea, although there are some inherent problems with it. I assume it's all written in the same key so each piece can fit together, but without deciding what goes where, notes that sound good together and resolution notes may not occur. Then again, maybe the creators of the website are hoping users choose resolution notes and samples that sound cohesive together.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Future of the Music Business
Gordon interviews John Buckman, the owner of Magnatune, a record company that bills itself as "not evil." They do not use arbitrary DRM rules and seem to give their artists a lot of freedom. The contracts with artists are nonexclusive, meaning in theory that the artists could pick up another label or independently sell their merchandise and music. The website allows users to listen to an entire mp3 stream of an album. John Buckman the owner, then hopes that people are interested to get a high quality physical copy with which to listen to the album elsewhere. Buckman also splits the profits with artists 50/50, which judging from other record contracts Gordon has chronicled, is unheard of. I think it's interesting that Apple and iTunes currently dominates the online music market and aren't terribly friendly to indie labels. Buckman was lucky enough to garner enough interest in his website that Apple became interested in helping him. It seems like quite a hurdle.
Gordon's next subject, Creative Commons, is a term used to describe a community in which musicians can build upon and use each other's music without fear of financial difficulties and lawsuits. Thomas Goetz from Wired magazine released an issue with a CD full of Creative Commons-licensed music, meaning subscribers could freely take that music and improve upon it, remix it, sample it, or any other variety of changes without recourse from the artists or labels. There are "Some Rights Reserved," meaning Creative Commons does not give complete control over a track. For example, one song might allow sampling by anyone while another may only allow noncommercial use. Goetz makes the argument that all musicians are thieves, always being inspired by other artists. This is only a continuation of using other musicians as muses and makes it much easier to sample and enjoy the music of others.
Gordon speaks next with Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby. CDBaby is an online music retailer. Sivers got his start by building the website to sell his own music online, with credit card capabilities and a "shopping cart" feature. Sivers also runs Hostbaby, a hosting site in which a band can have their own .com domain name for a reasonable price. CDBaby's connection with iTunes is much like Magnatune's, in which Apple came to them. It seems that this is the only way to compete with iTunes is to essentially buddy up with them on their own terms. Many companies come to CDBaby asking to be able to distribute their catalog and some want to "cherry pick," or choose a certain number of the best artists. CDBaby does not allow this and only sells on an all or nothing approach.
Global Music Archive
I found this to be a particularly user-friendly and helpful archive. There are very specific collections included in this archive, such as a Ugandan popular music cassette collection and East African music collections. According to the website, they will also be including an Indigenous Mexican music archive. My browser unfortunately did not recognize the player the website used to listen to the music. Also, I assume East African music is obscure and difficult to search for, so they should have designed an archive that highlights the collection rather than giving users a search bar.
International Alliance for Women in Music
This website is a coalition to raise awareness of women's contributions to music. I found it insightful and interesting that they have a link to names to request to radio shows. Although they say they request both contemporary and classical musicians, most seem to be classical. They also hold an annual concert, which seems like a good way to raise awareness.
Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz
This website allows you to search for photographs, but also offers a few links with which to browse: by venue, by artist, or by subject. I browsed by Carnegie Hall and found a picture of Charlie Parker playing a gig. It seems to be a small collection, but a cool little piece of history that the Library of Congress has successfully digitized.
This is a British alternative rock magazine archive. In the reviews alone, there is enough material to get lost for days. I read a lengthy and cohesive chronicle of the Smashing Pumpkins' career and discography, the writers not-so-cheekily calling Billy Corgan a megalomaniac. Great website, lots of reviews, easily found search bar.
Voices from the Dust Bowl
Another highly specific music collection, archivists from the Library of Congress took the time to convert almost 18 hours of Dust Bowl farmers in 1940 and 1941 singing folk-story type songs. In most, there is no musical backing, just country-like flat voices of farmers singing tales or telling stories. The website is not terribly easy to navigate, but it is an impressive collection.
Virtual Instrument Museum
This is a searchable archive of most of the instruments known to man. The website allows the user to search by region, instrument type, and a variety of other options. For most instruments, the user can listen to an audio sample to hear what the instrument is like. I listened to an instrument from Southeast Asia called a gender that is made of wood and sounds much like a vibraphone.
The Canadian Encyclopedia of Music
This is another browse-friendly music encyclopedia. I read up on Disaster Music, music inspired by various disasters. In Canada, a fire in 1825 and a few mining explosions produced mostly folk songs telling the story of the disaster and remembering those who passed. The archive is surprisingly updated to 2000, with a Canadian pop article referencing Avril Lavigne.
The ARChive of Contemporary Music
This website has a delightfully cheeky outlook, saying their archive of 1950s to present music will be important when the "spacemen" take over. They have a list of every music genre one can think of (or can't) from aboio to zoukous. Website design-wise, it is frustrating because the entire website seems to be contained in a small square in the middle of the computer screen. There also doesn't seem to be a whole lot of content here.
This is a blog that has many resources and links to African American music. Unlike a few of the other sites, this one seems to truly embrace all genres of music involved in their niche. The introductory post mentions a punk rock band called Death and Aretha Franklin in the same sentence. The entries are all bite-sized reviews, often with Youtube links to hear the music that is being reviewed. The scope may be too large for the authors of the site to keep up with, but the content that is here is quality.
Chicago Jazz Archive
This Chicago Library-run archive has documents, pictures, and samples of jazz from the Chicago area. The front page has many links, depending on the user's needs from research links to jazz humor links. There are also links to maps of famous Chicago jazz clubs over the years, showing what is still there and what was once there.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Future of the Music Business
Chapter 11 starts with Gordon singing the praises of utilizing websites as a musical artist. Having been a musician in the age of Myspace and Facebook, I certainly agree with him. He compares a music website to an online "press kit," or media portfolio of sorts that contains a demo, a bio, pictures, and other positive press of a musical artist. I completely agree, in my anecdotal experience, booking agents are contented visiting my band's Facebook and Myspace page instead of requiring that I send them a full-on press kit. Similarly, e-mail lists and tour dates help fans get in touch and know when and where a band is playing. For most bands I listen to, I check their Myspace page or official website to see when they are coming through Denver. Having an online store in which to sell merchandise such as CDs, t-shirts, and stickers is also crucial. Most bands I know use bigcartel.com, a free-to-use and customizable vending website. Gordon also provides a few lessons regarding e-mail lists that I've learned, such as adding incentive to sign up in the first place and not sending out too many e-mails so it doesn't feel like subscribers are getting spammed. The interview at the end of the chapter has Gordon speaking with a promotions consultant about providing music online, it got me thinking about a recent purchase of mine. I purchased two albums by artists on Paper + Plastick Records, a small record label with poor distribution, meaning finding a physical copy of a CD was nearly impossible. Their website allows users to purchase the entire physical CD for around $8 or $9 and comes with a free instant download. This way, I get the physical CD but also the instant satisfaction of the mp3s on my computer so I can put them on my mp3 player. Genius.
In the next chapter, Steve Gordon interviews Will Calhoun of Living Colour. Calhoun says that Myspace and e-commerce (selling music online) are becoming foundations of being a musician and that the former helps him connect with fans all across the world. He also weighs the pros and cons of being on an independent label versus a major label. A major makes more people care about your music and invests in it, but takes a large percentage of profits. Independently, it is more difficult to find fans and garner interest, but the profit margin is much more heavily in the artist's favor. Calhoun and another jazz musician Dave Samuels touch on the existence of YouTube a bit. Both seem to accept its existence as an inevitability but think it can be a promotional tool as well.
In the next chapter, Gordon continues his discussion of online music promotion and vending with The Orchard, an online independent music distributor. The owner Greg Scholl talks about how promotion online can be free, as opposed to putting a poster up in a major record store, which often costs a label money. Another site he's involved in, eMusic, is a subscription site. He explains that subscription sites don't mean that if the user stops paying monthly that they will lost all the songs they paid for, instead they just stop using the service. Once a user purchases a song, he or she owns it. This seems to be quite a logistical problem for music subscription services, differentiating and describing how the process works. Gordon also points out other tools on the Internet that help artists promote themselves such as blogs and podcasting. A friend of mine visits a website called One Track Mind, a blog that offers a free mp3 every day by a different artist to discover. Labor of love-type blogs like these help users discover new music and ways to support bands that would have been unheard otherwise. Satellite radio is also becoming a form of media to watch, with Sirius and XM merging and having freedom to play unsigned artists and major players like Howard Stern. It's also a great tool for up and coming artists, there's an unsigned artists station that many A & R guys from the music industry listen to.
Wikipedia - Improvisation
I found this entry interesting, especially the focus on taking in one's environment and feelings as one improvises. As a musician who has not improvised before, this was interesting to hear. I also thought it was cool that some composers were bold enough to fully improvise a full symphony with nothing tying it together but for a recurring melody.
The website wasn't working for me. Hopefully I can come back and update this entry.
I like the ideas implemented on this website, but I'd rather seem them used on a free-to-use and indie-artist friendly website like Last.fm. I also wish that the site would show the user what mood a particular song is considered. I listened to The Beatles' "Yesterday" and felt that it was "calm" and "dark" but I couldn't find a way to prove myself right or wrong. Also to its credit, there are a fair number of options available to non-paying users.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
This is a summary of my thoughts for the assigned readings and websites to discuss for Week 7.
Chapters 15 and 23 of Musicophilia
Clive’s story is both amazing and saddening, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to “wake up” to a new existence every few seconds. His diary especially was troubling, in which he chronicled his “awakeness” and was amazed to see he had entries in it from the previous day. His wife, who loved him despite his constant greetings and confusion, wrote a memoir about it. Sacks describes that Clive had a few conversational topics that somewhere in his subconscious he had a knowledge of and was comfortable conversing about. Despite all of this, Clive’s piano playing ability and more importantly his improvisational abilities are astounding. A footnote describes that amnesiac patients are sometimes better at improvisation because of their spontaneity. Even though he has a hard time remembering what she looks like, Clive recognizes his wife through other senses like her presence, her smell, and her voice. Almost like a blind person, Clive’s other senses are heightened somewhat. Clive’s musical talent provides more evidence that the musical part of our brains seems to be something that functions and acts completely differently than the rest of it. Impressively, Clive’s piano playing is dynamic instead of robotic and memorized, showing true functioning in his musical talent despite his illness.
Sacks next chapter talks about hypnotic states and music, it almost seems like music can be an even more “in-between” state than hypnosis and consciousness or even sleepwalking and sleep. Sacks recalls some of his own pleasant and unpleasant states involving music. It was interesting to hear that even obscure or latent orchestrations and songs appear out of some people’s subconscious. Both of the chapters this week imply that lifelong musicians have special psyches that can defy common logic and known science. From personal experience, I can attest that writing vocal melodies for songs will sometimes frustratingly result in a melody very similar to a song that I had listened to weeks, even months ago. Perhaps music has a way of boring its way into the brain underneath the subconscious much like the sense of smell can ignite memories.
Chapters 6 and 7 of A Manual for the Performance Library
One of the challenges presented in regards to being a music librarian is space. I can imagine that not all librarians have a dedicated library, especially if they are involved with only a few or a smaller music ensemble. The result, rows upon rows of boxes in an impromptu area or multiple storage areas, would result in the need for an extremely organized librarian. Similarly, a smaller music library must utilize sign-out sheets instead of barcodes. Recently, my library had an afternoon during which our system was down and we had to do everything the old-fashioned way. Less than an hour in to manually checking patrons items out, I was ready to EMBRACE technology again, so this would definitely be another challenge for a performance librarian even with a small collection. Part of the trouble would be tracking helpful things like circulation and archival date, things that are nice to know when weeding and selecting new material. Surely the librarian keeps track of these things, but again, this must be done manually.
Other responsibilities such as auditions and making concert programs are discussed with great detail, more facets of a multifaceted job. Girsberger’s final point is about good communication, which is easy to see considering the previous six chapters. A performance librarian has a complex job that requires professionalism and working with what could be multiple ensembles. Renting, lending, and preserving music requires good communication with the ensemble and vendors.
Who Owns the Media?
It was interesting to see all of the connections and what all of the multimedia corporations own. I had no idea that General Electric was so powerful, they must have a good publicist. I also stumbled upon one of the bigger arguments of our age on this website, whether or not the Internet should say free. Big companies like the ones on this site are trying to make the Internet a profitable enterprise and websites like this one are working to stop it.
This is a website describing the injustices and ways that modern and popular music industries such as iTunes and the RIAA are unfairly treating artists and consumers. For example, iTunes does not give a fair share of profits to its artists. Also, the compression of .mp3 files is said to go unnoticed by consumers, but the editors of this website argue otherwise, especially when listening in a quiet uninterrupted environment.
I had a friend who went to Berklee for percussion and she came back never wanting to play the drums again. Hopefully, this is not the case with those who choose careers in music business and management. My undergrad school, University of Colorado Denver, offered a music business degree, but the breadth of the possibilities at Berklee shows its truly a music school to end all music schools.
I've heard questionable things about the game design degrees at Full Sail, hopefully their music business degree is more reputable. Their website design certainly speaks to a school that's saavy with technology and art.
I scanned the punk listings for various media outlets looking for those listings and found an interesting request or two. The opportunities part reminds me a bit of the opportunities that ReverbNation offers bands, various gigs and festivals that they email you and remind you about. Certainly a cool idea.
Music Business Solutions
Although I'm sure Peter Spellman means well with his information, his website provides a frustrating amount of vague ideas and no real answers. This of course is because he's trying to sell a consulting service, but I found this frustrating nonetheless.
Music Biz Academy
Same complaint as the last website, unfortunately. This authors of these books probably have great ideas and tips, but without offering at least one or two from the books, I have a hard time believing them. The music business can be full of naive dreamers and it seems that some of these entrepreneurs are trying to take advantage of that.
The Long Tail
A very interesting article arguing that perhaps consumers tastes get less and less mainstream the more they follow the not-so-beaten path using search algorithms and suggestion systems on sites like Amazon and Netflix. The author describes that retailers like Netflix and Barnes and Noble rent out or have consumers buying a good chunk of their stock that's not in the top percentages of their sales. This describes the long tail, a phenomenon of people being interested in niche genres. Much of the strategy, the author describes, is leading the consumer down a particular path of their likes and dislikes. This reminded me of Pandora and last.fm, internet radio stations that suggest new artists and music based on your preferences.
With random search using the Parsons code, (URRRRDDDDRUUUDUDUDR), I happened upon "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, one of my favorite songs of theirs. My only concern with this search engine and many other melody search engines is that they're very unlikely to have more obscure music, as my search pulled up Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. What if I was looking for an obscure punk band from Boston with a similar lie-lie-lie melody?
This article gives me further faith/fear that Google is taking over the world. If anyone has the ability to construct a workable music-based search engine, its them.
I appreciate that these guys at least let you download a trial of their digital music reading software before you buy it. Using XML seems complex to notate music, but perhaps for those who are already versed in computer language could find it to be more helpful.
As with music-map last week, I was impressed by Gnod's music finding capabilities. As with my complaint last week, I'd like just a bit of information on the bands I'm looking at and rating. Perhaps if it's a band I say I hadn't heard of, they could list a few soundalikes.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Chapters 7 and 11 of Musicophilia
The first thing that struck me about Chapter 7 was Sacks describing the way a brain can be at odds with one's musical talent or skills. He says fingers will not do what the brain tells them to sometimes. Clearly, even from the existence of his book, there is still much to be explained in terms of how the brain works especially in conjunction with music.
Reading about different parts of the brain being affected by musicianship was interesting. According to a study in Sacks' book, the corpus colossum and the planum temporale are often enlarged in professional musicians, whereas math or science specialists are more difficult to tell apart anatomically because the parts of the brain they use are not so specialized. This reminded me of a similar study done on London taxi cab drivers, showing that their hippocampus was often larger than average, reflecting that this part of the brain might have to do with memory and spatial reasoning.
It seems that Sacks is making a bit of the nature versus nurture argument in a few of these chapters, querying whether a strong musician is predisposed to be from birth or that other life influence affects it. He has yet to make a strong case for one or the other, but I think most anyone could be nurtured into musicianship. With the Suzuki training and various other early age musical training, this seems to make a strong argument for being able to grow into a musician.
Sacks' story of Jorgen Jorgensen, the man who lost an ear and gained pseudo three dimensional hearing with the one left, reminded me of the importance of both ears when listening to music. On occasion, my headphones will get disconnected or not connect properly and only play through one half of my headphones. I can't stand when this happens, as I miss everything from the recording that was panned to the left ear. Background vocals, the high hat on the drum set, various other things are totally missing and detracts from the listening experience.
From what Sacks is saying though, it seems possible as he says to "recalibrate" the world to using one ear. I also found it interesting that the improvement is not necessarily the ear or the cochlea, its the brain adjusting to hear from one side better.
Chapters 4 and 5 of A Manual for the Performance Library
I was surprised again that there is no reliable order that scores are put in for the performance library, just as cataloging is not completely consistent. It really seems that a music library association or something similar should adopt a consistent rule set for these to improve searchability and make things a bit easier for the performance librarian. I also found it amazing how many things a performance librarian must take into account, such as numbering parts properly and acquiring sheet music that lays flat when opened and can withstand note taking. All of the steps make sense, but the number of things that a performance librarian must keep track of is daunting.
A performance librarian seems to have to encompass many different roles, as Girsberger specifies at the beginning of Chapter 5. When marking music sheets, a performance librarian must imagine him or herself as the performer, looking for bad page turns and other oddities or troubles that may arise while playing. For example, Girsberger mentions the distraction of an entire section doing a page turn during a quiet part of the song. It seems that the performance librarian is truly a part of a music ensemble; just as much as any of the players in it since she or he must have such a deep appreciation and understanding of music.
Sociology of Rock Music - website
Despite the 90s style website design, I found this website interesting and informative. The article on the supposed dirtiness of "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen was especially entertaining. The mumbled lyrics can possibly be attributed to braces, a too-high boom microphone, and an overworked voice. Ha!
This website was very impressive. I tested it with an obscure Chicago punk band named Much the Same and it worked! The only thing missing is just a bit of information on each band you click through, but I suppose you could just go over to allmusic.com once you discover a musical artist.
Kevin Kelly's article
I found it especially interesting how the advent of the phonograph shaped music. Since it could record only four and a half minutes, musicians shortened their songs. Perhaps this could explain the average three to four minutes of a pop song these days. Also, it forced musicians to shorten their songs and make them more melodic. It's definitely interesting to see the way that a simple invention could change something as nebulous and complex as music with a simple duplication tool.
The Royalty Calculator
It is pretty amazing to see how many records an artist has to sell to break even with most outcomes. I also found the statistic that 90% of record label artists sell 150,000 copies or less when in my calculation (with records going at $9.98) I'd have to sell at least 1.5 million to break even.