Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Friday Music: The Superstar Economy

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    This week I'm super excited because it's Eurovision Song Contest week! This year it's being held in Copenhagen and judging by the rehearsal videos, it's going to be the usual blend of great pop and weird thrills.

    This year Sky channel UKTV have the NZ screening rights (a good match, I think). They'll be screening all the shows (two semi-finals and the final) live (7am on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), with an encore screening at 9.30pm the same day.

    But if you haven't got Sky but fancy a pyjama party on your couch, you can watch the official live webstream on Eurovision.TV.

    In the mean time, here's Austria's entry: Miss Conchita Wurst, an elegant bearded-lady diva. Her song "Rise like a Phoenix" is like a long lost Bond theme.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1870 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    In other music news, an Official Information Act request has revealed why Immigration NZ banned Odd Future from coming to New Zealand back in February: they thought they'd be able to spin it into a good-news story for the agency.

    When you read the emails between agency officials, it sounds like they were primarily most interested in Odd Future causing a media storm which would make INZ look like the good guys. INZ's decision seems like a direct response to pressure from outside lobby groups with little investigation of the actual potential for harm from Odd Future.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1870 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    In the mean time, here’s Austria’s entry: Miss Conchita Wurst, an elegant bearded-lady diva. Her song “Rise like a Phoenix” is like a long lost Bond theme.

    I gather several former eastern bloc countries are in open uproar at the prospect of this impeding spectacle of western moral collapse.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Timely stuff, Russell. I still hear folk trot out the 'Long Tail' tosh as if it were established fact.

    On another topic, just read an interesting article in Screen Education (Aust) about how some cinemas are now doing special film screenings for sensory-sensitive/autistic children--keeping the lights on, turning down the sound etc. Would you like me to mail you a copy?

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2333 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    One up for the Austrians. Could be worse--could be Miss Brat Wurst.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2333 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    The long tail is stuffed with classic songs and gems that very few people want to buy or hear, your vanity items and shit call is a little disingenuous - one shouldn't suggest the material in the long tail contain no merit or need culling, just no one should expect them to earn much if anything... as was the case when physical dominated, sales were still concentrated on those with the biggest (marketing) budgets and like today breaking even on a release was the best the vast majority of acts could hope for

    Nothings really changed but the access to music one could never have dreamt of hearing 15+ years ago, which is a positive thing to my listening habits

    The skew towards the few I'd say confirms the long tail theory - its just that the skew is to a very very small % not quite the 50/50 breakdown the wiki page suggests

    Would a label and their acts as seen here survive Mulligan's cull?

    http://www.audioculture.co.nz/labels/f-star-records

    There is more to culture than commerce but everyone here knows that :)

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 358 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    It's a total abuse of power, and I say that as a firm believer that gangsta rappers are a bunch of knobheads. But everyone's entitled to due process. Hopefully their management will find a way of suing INZ for this.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4484 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    But the way the global catalogue has grown actually exagerrates this effect The long tail is stuffed with shit no one wants to buy: vanity releases, soundalike records, etc. Mulligan actually suggests biting the bullet and cutting this “pollution” out of major music services altogether. At the least, removing it from the statistics might give a better impression of what’s really going on.

    Two words: Sturgeon's Law. Elton John remarked that the solution should be to shut down the Internet for 5 years. And surprisingly, piracy had nothing to do with his remarks.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4403 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    In other music news, an Official Information Act request has revealed why Immigration NZ banned Odd Future from coming to New Zealand back in February: they thought they’d be able to spin it into a good-news story for the agency.

    When you read the emails between agency officials, it sounds like they were primarily most interested in Odd Future causing a media storm which would make INZ look like the good guys. INZ’s decision seems like a direct response to pressure from outside lobby groups with little investigation of the actual potential for harm from Odd Future.

    Or quite possibly for the same reasons a firefighter would commit arson. In the sense of a desperate need to look like a hero at all costs.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4403 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Dubber,

    The Long Tail has its uses as a conceptual framework, but I found myself debunking it a couple of days ago in a public conversation with Dave Allen (formerly Gang of Four / Shriekback - now at Beats Music) when he trucked out the old 'eventually everything gets played' quote from the book, which actually refers to Rhapsody's catalogue - a much smaller one than, say, Spotify's is today - of which less than half has ever been played once.

    The Echo Nest's Paul Lamere made use of this fact when he made Forgotify - a web application that only plays you things that have never been played once on Spotify. Not even by the artists' mothers. I have friends who use this as their main listening source these days.

    But equally spurious is Mulligan's approach to data. He routinely uses IFPI/BPI numbers, not known for their rigour - or even accuracy to the correct decimal place (famously, one often repeated 'piracy' figure, out by a factor of ten, was used as support for the noxious Digital Economy Act) or those from Soundscan, which measure supermarket CD sales and iTunes sales, though not any of the independent download retailers.

    In general, these figures typically leave out the alternative economies of the independent music sector. Not ALL independent music, of course - it'll include most of the transactions that Merlin represents (larger independent labels), but hardly 'all music'. Bandcamp's $69m to artists so far might not outweigh the sales of the hits as Anderson suggests, but leaving that number out entirely as Mulligan tends to also significantly skews the figures.

    It's like when the UK govt made an assertion about the total value of the music industry by adding up the VAT, while overlooking the fact that you have to make over £60k per annum before you even bother registering for VAT. I can think of one or two independent music businesses that make less than £60k. No wait. I can think of thousands.

    The problem is that numbers that include massively successful outliers and exclude hundreds of thousands of smaller players don't actually offer you any usable information or meaningful analysis. And it makes the conclusions kind of hollow.

    There was a statistic (Mulligan again, if I recall correctly) that said that the recorded music industry in Britain had a bumper year in 2011. And then someone pointed out that what had actually happened was that Adele had released a record. No actual information about industry trends or consumer buying patterns could be discerned or acted upon - because all that we learned was that lots of people like Adele. But in aggregate: what a successful year we all had - and what a bright future awaits as the result of our miraculous recovery! (sigh...)

    The fact that Adele is on an 'independent' label - and the related questions about the discourse of independence within the recorded music industry - is a much more interesting discussion than 2+2 = The Future.

    Back catalogue doesn't help either. That's been skewing record sales data ever since everyone started replacing their Eagles records on CD. If you want useful intel about what's going on with the recorded music industry, you need to a) cut the top 5% of sales out of your analysis (ie: remove the superstars); and b) disqualify anything older than, say, five years.

    That methodology introduces its own problems - but it'd give a much more robust and pragmatic picture about what's going on from year to year, provide some actionable analysis and avoid the worst of the Leonhard-esque futurism nonsense that the totalising, essentialist and indiscriminate Mulligan reports tend to inspire.

    Birmingham, UK • Since Nov 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Alan Perrott, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    ha, Robyn, that's exactly what I was going to post - what's not to love about Eurovision?
    seems to be a shift from the club beats to moody ballads this year, but it's got to be Austria's year.
    and while disappointed Jedward aren't back for Ireland, it's good to see the French flying their haircuts.
    as for the UK, nil point. again.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 326 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    A big yes to what Andrew says above. I have been happily listening to non- superstars since ages ago. I take some interest in what is happening in music but much of my listening is off the grid and is not superstars.

    I am enjoying the long tail and now if I like someone I check to see if they are on bandcamp because I know that is the quickest and best way to get $ to them without all the waitig and fee deductions of the alternative systems.

    We have much better computing power and data reporting tools. What we don’t have is many commentators who really understand that data well enough. On the other hand they often have a barrow to push so we get that instead of the analysis.

    Applying a few useful filters to the reporting will make for better analysis. While the long digital tail may not be making an impression on the top end there is still plenty in there to get excited about.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 216 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jason Kemp,

    A big yes to what Andrew says above. I have been happily listening to non- superstars since ages ago. I take some interest in what is happening in music but much of my listening is off the grid and is not superstars.

    Mine too. Well, maybe. Who knows? If I alert a few people who end up buying the brilliant Race Banyon record on Bandcamp, that presumably shifts it out of the long tail and into Mulligan's Core Catalogue (5m songs) or maybe even Frequented Catalogue (1.25m). It's arguably no longer part of the long tail.

    On the other hand, as is obvious to readers of this blog, I'm often doing my listening on Soundcloud, some of it to derivative works (remixes and edits) that actually can't be commercialised.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Forgitify is ruining my day and I can't stop.

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 304 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Andrew Dubber,

    Bandcamp’s $69m to artists so far might not outweigh the sales of the hits as Anderson suggests, but leaving that number out entirely as Mulligan tends to also significantly skews the figures.

    Is it that significant? That’s about 0.5% of global recorded music revenues since Bandcamp launched. Although I agree, it’s pretty poor leaving them out, especially given that in this country anyway, Bandcamp sales contribute to chart positions.

    Point taken about IFPI figures. But they'd have to be a long way out to really falsify what he's saying.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington, in reply to Jason Kemp,

    I am enjoying the long tail and now if I like someone I check to see if they are on bandcamp because I know that is the quickest and best way to get $ to them without all the waitig and fee deductions of the alternative systems.

    Agreed, Bandcamp is more and more becoming my first stop off along the digital music purchasing process.

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 892 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    Bandcamp is awesome as a platform and means for artists to sell direct - but also really painful to use, if you know what you want or have a direct link you're sweet but discovery in itself its pretty useless - as are most digital stores to be honest, fantastic intuitive search engines they are not

    Like in the physical world (of old) you can never rely on one service/store, but you always have ya fave

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 358 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder,

    As a producer unaffiliated with any labels I'm using the triumvirate of Souncloud-Bandcamp-Facebook to publish, publicise and moneterise my music. Unfortunatley 23 million bedroom producers and bands are doing the same thing, making it a very cluttered space. It's no suprise to me that the super-tzars with the backing of the media machine are still taking the lions share.

    Small time bedroom producers and local bands are still in the same position they've always been in, and often need another organisation to create some leverage and visibility into the music market.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I gather several former eastern bloc countries are in open uproar at the prospect of this impeding spectacle of western moral collapse.

    If the Eurovision Song Contest doesn't convince you the human race deserves to be scoured from the earth by fire and flood, then it's just not doing its job.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12052 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Dastardly Bounder,

    As a producer unaffiliated with any labels I’m using the triumvirate of Souncloud-Bandcamp-Facebook to publish, publicise and moneterise my music

    Argh! And I was going to play my part in the blessed ecosystem by featuring your track this week! Soz! Best wait till next at this point.

    I'll be in touch about Entrain too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to bob daktari,

    Bandcamp is awesome as a platform and means for artists to sell direct – but also really painful to use, if you know what you want or have a direct link you’re sweet but discovery in itself its pretty useless – as are most digital stores to be honest, fantastic intuitive search engines they are not

    I'd probably get something from Bandcamp as often at once a week, but I gave up trying to discover new things there. I'm 100% sent there by the artist or whoever, and in that situation it works brilliantly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Dan Slevin,

    There’s also the fact that while there might be shelf space for everyone and everthing, display space is shrinking. A music service, be it iTunes or Spotify, can’t show you very many things on your mobile phone screen.

    I finally took up Spotify after the Telecom free deal and now use it quite a bit but simply cannot get it to refresh the "Discover" list it created after the first three albums I listened to. I'm now actively trying to find the opposite kind of music in order to get rid of it. Seems obvious that "Discover" is full of paid placement and has nothing to do with any 'discover' algorithm.

    The best way to discover new music remains a curator which is why these pages are so useful.

    Wellington, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Samuel Scott,

    Forgitify is ruining my day and I can’t stop.

    I believe there is a 12-step programme,
    or was it 12-bar blues...
    just one more...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5092 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Sweet as Russell, I always appreciate your support...

    And I think David Slevin is correct - curated music is the was I discover new tunes too. I maintain a list of relevant music blogs (www.fatberris.com is a fav) then follow artists on facebook (like trentmoller or lulurouge - who are on fatberris) and soundcloud, which often leads to supporting those artists on Bandcamp.

    The artist has to be awesome though and to have proved their worth by giving me free tunes to hook me in, and then I'll buy something. I do the same thing; I'm basically giving away a tune a week in the hope that when I release my next album a small percent of those people who like what I do will share the love and pay a stipend.

    Quite a convoluted path for the indy producer...

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Nice to see The Verlaines get an 'absolutely essential' review in a recent Uncut* for their FN/Captured Tracks reissues of 'Hallelujah All The Way Home' & ' Juvenilia'

    *warning link contains a Beth Gibbons Black Sabbath cover...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5092 posts Report Reply

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