The Rise of the Artist.. or, Ayn Rand’s Music Industry

November 15, 2009


This graph is from a recent entry over at the Times Labs Blog called “Do music artists fare better in a world with with illegal file-sharing?

“This is the graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see… The most immediate revelation, of course, is that at some point next year revenues from gigs payable to artists will for the first time overtake revenues accrued by labels from sales of recorded music.

The article’s logic and data parsing looks sound, though its analysis is confined to the UK music industry only. It validates an opinion I’ve held since the beginning of the demise of the music industry: that the demise would favor the artist and frown on the record men.

This will only be the case, however, for artists who were not only releasing a consistent stream of quality product, but whose careers were centered around their ability to perform. The traditional record industry was founded on the premise that artists want to make music and not negotiate deals, find distribution channels, or haggle over merchandise profit margins. And this remains true. Which means the industry in its current state favors the resourceful, talented, motivated artist, and incentivizes the remaining lot of musicians to get their act together and take the reigns of their career.

We lose, of course, the lazy but undeniably brilliant musicians who need the maintenance, guidance, and hand-holding of a great manager or producer to bring their talent to the masses. These gems are the ones we should mourn, if only slightly, as the music world shifts toward an “Atlas Shrugged” reality where the suits can no longer hop a free ride on the talent.


The Loudness War

August 24, 2009


A war has been raging and you can hear its noise grow louder, but you may never have noticed it.

It’s called The Loudness War: “the music industry’s tendency to record, produce, and broadcast music at progressively increasing levels of loudness to attempt to create a sound that stands out from others.” For the past few decades, mastering studios have been tasked with baselining singles and albums at ever increasing volumes in order to keep up with, and attempt to exceed, the efforts of competing artists and radio hits. Airplay is at stake, and sheer volume is seen as the easiest method to get to the top of the charts. (The hardest method, by the way, is to write pop songs that strike an an irresistable balance between catchyness and pretension, so as to straddle the teeny-bopper hunger for the hook and the more mature sensibility of nuanced and thought-provoking performances, all laced with passion and youth and drive. So, you have to admit, you can see the appeal of the easy out here…)

The problem is not merely the immaturity of watching rival companies spending time and money shouting their way out of an argument. The fact is, this Decibel Inflation has what most consider to be an unacceptable side-effect: distortion. As volumes are increased with each mastering and re-mastering session, you lose definition and contrast between the highs and lows. In effect, the lows become high and the highs become higher. So you’re left with a more one-dimensional result than is likely desired. As Bob Dylan lamented:

“You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like—static.”

The Loudness War’s collateral damage is dynamic range. Modern records are set in a world where there is little difference between black and white, red and yellow, green and purple. It is instead a compressed landscape of shades that lack distinction. Dark gray and pale gray, rose and salmon, jade and lavender… The Loudness War is the reason your older albums sound softer than the one you bought last year, and why classic records are constantly being remastered. The old standbys can’t keep up in the current marketplace without a little lift.

If you want to hear an example firsthand, check out this YouTube clip: The Loudness War.

Of course, the matter does come down to preference. Some argue that the louder baseline volume of current recordings are in keeping with the increased sources of noise occurring in daily life, and the prominence of music playback devices that let listeners bring their music outside into these noisy environments. This is in stark contrast to the listening of LP’s in a reverb-friendly and relatively quiet room.

Unfortunately there are no checks and balances here. I don’t know when the breaking point will be reached, but I hope it’s not our eardrums…

Earworms or Herpes

June 25, 2009


This is from the great blog Indexed in a post entitled “I will now ruin your day by mentioning Hanson’s “MmmBop”

For those unfamiliar with what an earworm is or who have never heard the song before, I apologize in advance:

Hanson’s “MmmBop

The Perfect iTunes EQ

June 18, 2009


Check out Merlin Mann’s entry over at 43 folders: “Perfect” iTunes equalizer setting

Kate Earl – Best New Artist of 2009

June 13, 2009
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson, © All rights reserved

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson, © All rights reserved

I’m 1 for 1 on Best New Artist predictions so far (proof here in 2008…), so I suggest you take heed.

Her name is Kate Earl, and she just released her EP on June 9th. You can pick it up on iTunes or AmazonMP3: Introducing Kate Earl – EP

The EP is a playful and layered mixture: on top is Kate’s delicately powerful vocals, which are a foil to the beats and syncopation trading blows below. The tunes have dub-appeal—there’s a hint of reggae infused in there somewhere, but it’s the catchy (sometimes haunting) melodies that stand alone, and separate Kate from her peers on the music scene these days.

It’s soulful and  fun and relevant, but the reason I am predicting Kate’s profound success this year is because of her songwriting. These songs are hers, and the glossy pop brilliance is rooted in deceptively mature taste and craftsmanship. What I’m getting at is this: these songs hold up without the production, which is a notoriously difficult quality to find these days, especially in great singers. If you need proof, check out the video below which features Kate on solo piano playing her song “Melody:”

The Golden Page

May 29, 2009


This Information Age we’re living in is full of knowledge, most of which is free and entirely at our fingertips. Yet despite the litany of sites offering free downloadable copies of classics, the world at large remains largely unread. Why?

Perhaps its because the words are not on a page.

You may argue that words are words, and can be read wherever they appear. While this is true I argue that the medium matters. A lot. More than we may realize. Amazon’s Kindle is trying to address this issue, which is this: People want to read things in a format that suits one’s field of vision.

I dont think this is a conscious choice. It’s simply a more comfortable reading experience when you’re looking at something your eye is able to take in without trouble. This is why reading a novel on your computer screen, or scanning through a treatise typed on a billboard, will never be best practice. The medium matters.

So what, then, of music?

The term “medium” or “format” in music relates to the way in which the sound is recorded and listened to, and can range from LP’s to streaming mp3’s.  And the format does matter. Audiophiles who swear by the warmth of long-playing records sometimes have a hard time enjoying the experience  of listening to music on an iPod Shuffle. Similarly, Apple-philes find that the portability and interactive nature of the iPod and iPod Touch make listening to music more fun, and find LP’s antiquated, crackly, and inconvenient.

In the end it amounts to personal preference, but always remember that the way you intake certain art forms can affect your opinion more than the art itself. The subtle way that content relates to medium is an overlooked aspect of preference.

(For further reading into the mysterious nature of aesthetics, check out the Wikipedia article on The Golden Ratio: )

Duffy Dominates

December 31, 2008

Duffy Microphone

Duffy had the biggest album of 2008 in the UK. Billboard has the news here.

Her album Rockferry sold just under 1.7 million units, and has validated my prediction back in April of this year before the album dropped stateside.

If you don’t have it yet, download the full album from Amazon for $5!