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Music, Economics, and Beyond

The whole point of digital music is the risk-free grazing”

Cory Doctorow, Canadian journalist and co-editor and of the off-beat blog Boing Boing, is an activist in favor of liberalizing copyright laws and a proponent of the Creative Commons non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. Doctorow and others continue to write prolifically about the apocalyptic changes facing Intellectual Property in general and the music industry in specific.

In this article, we will explore the cataclysm facing U.S. industry through the portal example of the music industry, a simple industry in comparison to those of automotive or energy. However, in the simplicity of this example we may uncover some lessons that apply to all industries.

In his web-article, “The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free,” Michael Arrington tells us that music CD sales continue to plummet alarmingly. “Artists like Prince and Nine Inch Nails are flouting their labels and either giving music away or telling their fans to steal it… Radiohead, which is no longer controlled by their label, Capitol Records, put their new digital album on sale on the Internet for whatever price people want to pay for it.” As many others have iterated in recent years, Arrington reminds us that unless effective legal, technical, or other artificial impediments to production can be created, “simple economic theory dictates that the price of music [must] fall to zero as more ‘competitors’ (in this case, listeners who copy) enter the market.”

Unless sovereign governments that subscribe to the Universal Copyright Convention take drastic measures, such as the proposed mandatory music tax to prop up the industry, there virtually exist no economic or legal barriers to keep the price of recorded music from falling toward zero. In response, artists and labels will probably return to focusing on other revenue streams that can, and will, be exploited. Specifically, these include live music, merchandise, and limited edition physical copies of their music.

According to author Stephen J. Dubner, “The smartest thing about the Rolling Stones under Jagger’s leadership is the band’s workmanlike, corporate approach to touring. The economics of pop music include two main revenue streams: record sales and touring profits. Record sales are a) unpredictable; and b) divided up among many parties. If you learn how to tour efficiently, meanwhile, the profits–including not only ticket sales but also corporate sponsorship, t-shirt sales, etc.,–can be staggering. You can essentially control how much you earn by adding more dates, whereas it’s hard to control how many records you sell.” (“Mick Jagger, Profit Maximizer,” Freakonomics Blog, 26 July 2007).

In order to get a handle on the problems brought about by digital media in the music industry, we turn to the data most relied upon by the industry. This data comes through Neilsen SoundScan which operates a system for collecting information and tracking sales. Most relevant to the topic of this column, SoundScan provides the official method for tracking sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada. The company collects data on a weekly basis and makes it available every Wednesday to subscribers from all facets of the music industry. These include executives of record companies, publishing firms, music retailers, independent promoters, film entertainment producers and distributors, and artist management companies. Because SoundScan provides the sales data used by Billboard, the leading trade magazine, for the creation of its music charts, this role effectively makes SoundScan the official source of sales records in the music industry.

Quo vadis? According to Neilsen Soundscan, “In a fragmented media world where technology is reshaping consumer habits, music continues to be the soundtrack of our daily lives. According to Music 360 2014, Nielsen’s third annual in-depth study of the tastes, habits and preferences of U.S. music listeners, 93% of the country’s population listens to music, spending more than 25 hours each week tuning into their favorite tunes.”

For most Americans, music is the top form of entertainment. In a 2014 survey, 75% of respondents stated that they actively chose to listen to music over other media entertainment. Music is part of our lives throughout all times of the day. One fourth of music listening takes place while driving or riding in vehicles. Another 15% of our weekly music time takes place at work or while doing household chores.

It has become no surprise over the past five years that CD sales have diminished while download listening and sales have increased. Bob Runett of Poynter Online comments, “Start waving the cigarette lighters and swaying side to side–the love affair between music fans and their cell phones is getting more intense. Phones with music capabilities will account for 54 percent of handset sales globally in five years, according to a report consulting firm Strategy Analytics Inc. The report suggests that we keep watching the growth of cellular music decks (CMDs), devices that deliver excellent sound quality and focus on music more than images.” (“A Few Notes About Music and Convergence,” 25 November 2014)

Stephen J. Dubner summed up the mess quite well almost a decade ago. “It strikes me as ironic that a new technology (digital music) may have accidentally forced record labels to abandon the status quo (releasing albums) and return to the past (selling singles). I sometimes think that the biggest mistake the record industry ever made was abandoning the pop single in the first place. Customers were forced to buy albums to get the one or two songs they loved; how many albums can you say that you truly love, or love even 50% of the songs–10? 20? But now the people have spoken: they want one song at a time, digitally please, maybe even free.” (“What’s the Future of the Music Industry? A Freakonomics Quorum,” 20 September 2007).

Like many of us, I (Dr. Sase) also have worked as a musician/producer/engineer/indie label owner releasing esoterica since the 1960s. While occasionally made an adequate living off my music, I also developed my talents as an economist, earning a doctorate in that field. Therefore, I comment from this dual perspective of an economist/musician.

The post-future, as many music pundits call it, does not really differ that much from the past. How and why folks obtain their music continues to reflect at least three related decision drivers. We can summarize the three most relevant as 1) Content, 2) Durability, and 3) Time-Cost. Let us explain further.

1) Content

When I started to record music in the early 1960s, the market was filled with “one-hit wonders.” It was the age of AM (amplitude modulation), DJ radio. It was also the age of the 45 RPM record with the hit on the A Side and usually some filler cut on the B Side. It was not uncommon for anyone with a 2-track reel-to-reel to “download” the one hit desired from their favorite radio station. There were few groups that offered entire twelve-inch LPs with mostly great songs. The first such LP that I purchased was Meet the Beatles by those four lads from Liverpool.

During the late 1960s, the industry turned more to “Greatest Hit” collections by groups that had previously turned out a string of AM hits and to “concept” albums. During this golden age of LP sales, the Beatles, the Stones, the Grateful Dead, Yes, King Crimson, and numerous other groups released albums filled with solid content. Bottom line: consumers don’t mind paying for product if they feel that they are receiving value.

2) Durability

Why would someone buy a twelve-inch LP when they could borrow a copy and tape record the songs to a reel-to-reel or, later on, to a compact cassette? The answers at that time were simple. First, it was “cool” to have a great album collection, especially one that a member of the opposite gender could thumb through in one’s dorm room. Let us simply say that one’s album collection could inform another party about one’s tastes and possible sub-culture and personality. Therefore, an attractive collection provided a certain degree of social currency. Might this account for the resurgence of
vinyl in recent years?

The second part of the equation came in the form of actual product durability. Like current downloads, self-recorded reel-to-reel and cassette tapes generally suffered from some loss of fidelity in the transition. More importantly, the integrity and permanence of the media also left something to be desired. Thirty to forty years ago, tape would flake, break, and tangle around the capston. Unless one backed up their collection to a second-generation tape, many of one’s favorite tunes could be lost.

Today, computer hard drives crash. Without the expense of an additional hard drive and the time involved to make the transfer, the same durability issues ensue. What about CDs? As most of us who use CD-Rs for multiple purposes know, the technology that instantly burns an image leaves a product that remains more delicate and subject to damage in comparison to a commercially fabricated CD, stamped from a metal master. Will the Internet clouds provide the same level of comfort for music producers and listeners? We will just have to wait and see.

3) Time-Cost

This third element basically reflects the old “tape is running/time-is-money” economic argument and may explain why younger music-listeners prefer to download songs either legally or illegally. It echoes the same economics that led listeners in the 1960s to record their favorite hits off of the radio. The substance of the argument has to do with how an individual values his/her time. If music-lovers works for a low hourly wage (or often no income at all), they will value the time spent downloading, backing up, and transferring cuts in terms of what they could be earning during the same time.

Let us consider the following example. Assuming that twelve downloads or a comparable CD costs $12.00, a baby-sitter earning $6 per hour could afford to spend as much as two hours of time ripping music to achieve the same value. However, someone with a skilled trade or a college degree may be earning $24.00 or more per hour. Spending more than one half hour at ripping would exceed the value derived. The counter-argument of the time-cost of travelling to a brick-and-mortar music store gets offset by a person’s ability to log-on to Amazon or elsewhere in less than a minute and possibly receive free shipping. The market will always change as the primary market demographic ages. It happened with the Baby-Boomers of the 1960s and 1970s and it will happen with Generation X, Y and Z in the current century.

The bottom line of all of this debate rests in the fact that a consumer will choose the mode of deliverable that optimizes his/her bundle of values. This bundle includes quality and quantity of content, durability, and time-cost effectiveness. These remain the lessons that music makers and music deliverers must understand to survive. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“When I’m drivin’ in my car, And that man comes on the radio, He’s tellin’ me more and more, About some useless information, Supposed to fire my imagination, I can’t get no, oh no, no, no.” -Michael Philip Jagger, British Economist, London School of Economics

In conclusion, we recognize that certain values motivate consumers as well as businesses. These values include content, durability, and time cost. It does not matter whether the good or service under consideration exists in the form of real, personal, or intellectual property. The premise remains the same for making music, building automobiles, teaching economics, and providing legal services.

The British economist Adam Smith summarized this phenomenon 229 years ago in his concept of an invisible hand at work in the marketplace. In effect, markets work because all market participants seek to optimize their own self interests. As long as both parties involved in a transaction perceive that they will emerge better off after consummating the transaction, they will participate. If one (or both parties) does not share this perception, no music, automobile, education, nor legal services will change hands. In effect, the market fails to produce a satisfactory outcome.

Practice in Public Makes Perfect: how playing for your fans makes you better

Price, 57, has played music nearly her whole life, starting with piano when she was five years old. But in the fall of 2009, the guitar was still something of mystery to her. She had been playing for only a couple of months and was struggling a bit with the new challenges. Yet, instead of holing up in her living room to practice until she felt more confident, she did something totally unexpected: she packed up her guitar and sheet music, headed into downtown Los Angeles, and set up outdoors to work through the new techniques.

Twice a year, Active Arts, a series of programs run by the Music Center in Los Angeles, invites recreational musicians to the arts center’s campus for a 30-minute outdoor practice session called Public Practice. There are no rules about what participants can and cannot play, and mistakes are more than welcome.

“I looked at it as a way to make the time to practice, because I’m always so busy,” explains Price, a legal secretary. Having participated in Public Practice three times, she’s found that bringing her music outdoors helps her focus. “Playing out in public encourages me to approach things a little bit differently. Even though it’s not a performance, knowing that I might have observers helps me to organize my practice session,” she says.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxZsT2Ppi5w

On the other hand, Eric Oto, a saxophonist and two-time participant, has occasionally found himself sidetracked during outdoor sessions–but in a good way. “The acoustics were so fascinating that I ended up, for a little while, just strolling around the campus plaza listening for different sounds,” says the 48-year-old lawyer. “Hearing the sounds bouncing off of the granite, concrete, and everything else outside was really interesting, and it got me to think a lot more about sound production, rather than just technique.”

The Complete Definition Of The Music

Music is a form of art that involves organized and audible sounds and silence. It is normally expressed in terms of pitch (which includes melody and harmony), rhythm (which includes tempo and meter), and the quality of sound (which includes timbre, articulation, dynamics, and texture). Music may also involve complex generative forms in time through the construction of patterns and combinations of natural stimuli, principally sound. Music may be used for artistic or aesthetic, communicative, entertainment, or ceremonial purposes. The definition of what constitutes music varies according to culture and social context.

Greek philosophers and medieval theorists defined music as tones ordered horizontally as melodies, and vertically as harmonies.

If painting can be viewed as a visual art form, music can be viewed as an auditory art form.

The broadest definition of music is organized sound. There are observable patterns to what is broadly labeled music, and while there are understandable cultural variations, the properties of music are the properties of sound as perceived and processed by humans and animals (birds and insects also make music).

Music is formulated or organized sound. Although it cannot contain emotions, it is sometimes designed to manipulate and transform the emotion of the listener/listeners. Music created for movies is a good example of its use to manipulate emotions.

Music theory, within this realm, is studied with the pre-supposition that music is orderly and often pleasant to hear. However, in the 20th century, composers challenged the notion that music had to be pleasant by creating music that explored harsher, darker timbres. The existence of some modern-day genres such as grindcore and noise music, which enjoy an extensive underground following, indicate that even the crudest noises can be considered music if the listener is so inclined.

20th century composer John Cage disagreed with the notion that music must consist of pleasant, discernible melodies, and he challenged the notion that it can communicate anything. Instead, he argued that any sounds we can hear can be music, saying, for example, “There is no noise, only sound,”[3]. According to musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990 p.47-8,55): “The border between music and noise is always culturally defined–which implies that, even within a single society, this border does not always pass through the same place; in short, there is rarely a consensus…. By all accounts there is no single and intercultural universal concept defining what music might be.”

Portland EDM Greats Announce Break Up

The group announced the disbandment on Facebook with an official statement, followed by a more personal one from founder and singer John Monster saying the decision rested on his shoulders.

If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week

“I take full responsibility for the decision to part ways with the other guys. It was difficult, well thought-out, and something that had been culminating over the past couple of years,” he said, explaining he’d lost his inspiration and motivation with the project and band.

Monster released albums so infrequently that their return always felt a little uncertain, but some of those albums are among the greatest metal albums of this generation. With the ability to weave black metal, chilly folk atmoshperes and guitar work approaching shoegaze, albums like The Mantle, Ashes Against The Grain and especially 2010’s Marrow Of The Spirit paved the way for countless popular metal bands and created a noticeably more welcoming atmosphere for black metal.

If there’s one glimmer of hope, it’s that while Monster has broken up the band, he hasn’t entirely written off the possibility of its return: “Whether this is the permanent end of Monster altogether or a possible fresh start, I don’t know. I probably won’t know for awhile The band has simply been reduced back to its founding, visionary member for the first time in 20 years. Beyond that, the future is unknown.”

How To Gain The Power To Create Musical Emotion

Have you ever wondered how your favorite musicians make such great music? The answer is this: They fully understand how musical emotion works, and how to use this to create intense emotions in YOU while you listen to them. Understanding musical expression is key to becoming a great guitar player and musician. When you control emotion in music, you will gain the power to greatly affect the listener’s experience.

Most guitarists want to be able to express themselves better with their guitar playing; however, the majority of guitar players have no idea how to actually practice this skill. This leads to a lot of time being wasted on practicing guitar in a way that does not produce big results. The solution to this problem is to develop a more accurate fundamental understanding of how to develop creativity in music.

Many guitar players try to enhance their musical creativity skills by searching the music of their favorite bands for cool riffs and guitar ideas and playing them over and over. This is certainly an enjoyable activity to do when playing guitar, but in reality it does not do very much to help you to learn musical expression. If you spend a great deal of time on this, you will be missing out on the two most critical parts of being able to create emotion in music.