The SJD is amazing. Yet again.
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.
Might be worth noting that "minor hit" of theirs secured them the support slot for Dire Straits at Western Springs. At the time, the biggest gig any NZ band had ever played at home. Few have topped it since.
Also - go through every compilation of kiwi hits that's ever been released, and for some reason, that song is always in there — usually either the last track or the second-to-last track. As earners go, it appears to be a bit of a perennial. :)
What you all appear to have missed - but was revealed at Midem last week - is that Lana del Rey is 100% CGI.
Having just been in Auckland for a spot of summer, where I enjoyed a lovely swim at Pt Chev as well as a few free swims with my nephews in the pool at Lloyd Elsmore, I returned to Birmingham - one of your cold climate, non-beachy parts of the world.
Yesterday, I went down to my local council-run Leisure Centre (that's what they're called here), which has in the last year been made free. The Leisure Centre has a very good family pool, which is now entirely free at all times to card-holding council tax payers - and in off-peak hours, the gym facilities are also completely free. Likewise swimming lessons, aerobics classes, pilates, spin classes and so on.
When they introduced this scheme, we were all pretty astonished. This is neither typical of councils in the UK, nor of Birmingham City Council in particular. In fact, it's fair to say that this is not simply the magnanimous gesture of a well-funded, benevolent and enlightened City Council. They simply did the maths on the cost of ongoing healthcare in the community, and weighed that up against the overall advantages of having a less sedentary populace - and then took the plunge, as it were.
And while, as you might expect, it turns out that when you do make things free, people use the facilities more, that's not necessarily a burden on resources. In fact, the staff who have to be there during opening hours actually now have something to do - include teach water safety and basic swimming lessons to a bunch of people who live nowhere near the sea, but may one day visit somewhere with a nice coast.
And the mix of elderly patrons and young families from my local area (along with the odd person like me who has the privilege of managing their own diary) - all splashing about in the water - felt about as close to the idea of a community as you're likely to get around these parts. And that seems like a good and proper thing for councils to be interested in.
The non-commercial use one is quite a thorny one. Case in point - I've been approached by the marketing department of the university I work for. They have announced that they would like to republish the work of their blogging academics on a site specifically designed to recruit students.
The blogging that I do - like that of my colleagues - is personal, on my own time, and although on a related topic to my area as an academic, not part of my salaried work.
Grey area, I suppose...
New Music Strategies is under an Attribution, Non-Commercial licence. As the author I can, of course, grant permission - but the question is whether the use of the work as a marketing tool to bring revenue and students (considered 'clients' these days) to the institution classifies as commercial use under the rules.
Saw Lessig speak in London once. Really engaging presentation style.
On a related note, I was on a panel at a music industry conference here in the UK yesterday. The topic was Copyright and IP.
I mentioned that I was in favour of copyright reform, and explained that the problem stems largely from the fact that the rules we have do not work in the current media environment. Unfortunately, what the delegates heard was "I think that you should not be allowed to make money, and furthermore, I wish to boil your children and dismember your pets."
Several of the delegates (typically, those from record companies) indicated that they had never even encountered the idea of copyright reform, and certainly had never heard anything quite so preposterous in all their lives.
Meanwhile, in Belfast, at another music industry event I'd had to decline to attend, Feargal Sharkey (who is now heading a massive UK pan-music-industry über lobbying organisation) announced that he is strongly in favour of copyright extension to 95+ years.
And he's going to get it - despite the Gower Report.
Credit where credit's due - they're quite good at the internet these days, aren't they?
That email from me in your inbox is work. You can ignore that until after all of your own festivities have subsided.
A gathering of New Zealand radio academics raised their glasses and said nice things about you in Lincoln last week. Let's pretend that was related to your birthday in some way.
Have a great week.
I resisted Facebook for three years. Finally it reached the point where people whose opinion I respect were inviting me daily, so I succumbed. It has one major drawback for me, and one distinct advantage.
It turns out that everyone I know is an idiot. Like 8 year-olds hyped up on sugar and food colouring on Halloween night, they're all manically running around dressed up as zombies and vampires, playing a pointless game of bitey tag. I refuse to be 'it' and I want them to be grownups again please.
I can now find my students. Not in class? Oh -- Debbie is recovering from a massive binge drinking session and is accidentally in Nottingham. I see.
But Limmy rules them all. Start with the worrying 'Requiem' video and then go to the Xylophone plaything.
Most worryingly of all, he seems to have gone legit.