Major Labels Realize that Free Music Is not Sustainable

The free model of music streaming, where listeners “compensate” record labels and artists through advertising, is increasingly coming under criticism. A Rolling Stone article explains how major labels have decided that “We need to limit free.”

As music streaming revenue has exceeded that of recorded music sales for the first time, record labels are realizing that giving away their content for free – even if it is compensated by ads – isn’t viable. Ad-supported streaming is a small part of the overall streaming income, at around $295 million, in 2014, compared to nearly $2 billion generated by streaming overall, but the vast majority of people still listen to music without subscriptions. For Spotify, some 20% of users have paid subscriptions, while 80% listen to free.

If you do the math, based on the above numbers, that suggests – just back-of-the-envelope calculations – that paid subscribers inject some 30 times as much revenue into the music economy, per person, than freeloaders. It’s obvious that this cannot last. Just as free content is killing newspapers and magazines, free music is draining income from the music industry.

As the Rolling Stone article points out:

“At least one of the three major labels is in the process of renegotiating its contract with Spotify this year, sources say, and most are pushing for this sort of change to the free service.”

Apple is rumored to be planning to only offer a subscription model for their music streaming service, likely to be launched this year, and based on Beats Music.

Rdio’s CEO, Anthony Bay, told Rolling Stone:

“The view is, ‘Piracy is bad, so legal “giving away for free” is better. But as you see more and more, a lot of managers, artists and executives are saying, ‘Maybe free was too good.'”

The 10 (Plus 4) Best Grateful Dead Songs

Dead 50th

The Grateful Dead will be celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary this year, notably with a few “reunion” concerts at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the location of the last ever Dead show, July 9, 1995. Singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia has been gone since that summer, but in addition to the surviving band members – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman – the Dead will consist of Trey Anastasio (guitar), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), and Bruce Hornsby (piano).

I’ve been a Deadhead since my teen years; I “got on the bus,” as Deadheads say, in 1977, seeing the band for the first time at New York’s Palladium Theater. I used to trade tapes, then CDs, and have most of the band’s official releases of their live concerts.

I thought it would be interesting to create a list of the Dead’s 10 best songs for those unfamiliar with the band. But I couldn’t just choose ten; there are four essential songs that simply cannot be omitted. So I list them separately to leave room for ten other great songs.

I’ve not included Amazon links for the various albums I mention, and not all the songs I mention are best heard on a specific album. If you want to discover most of these songs, the excellent Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack is perhaps the best way to check out the Dead. It’s got five CDs chock full of great music, from one of their most fecund periods. Sunshine Daydream (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) contains one of the Dead’s best concerts, 8/27/72, Veneta, Oregon, and has a partial film of the day. And One from the Vault (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) has the 8/13/75 show, from the Great American Music Hall, which contains the three-song combo I mention below, but also one of the rare performances of Blues for Allah. After that, you’re on your own.

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Essential Music: Metamatic by John Foxx

MetamaticJust over 35 years ago, John Foxx released his first solo album, Metamatic. Taking the name from a painting by artist Jean Tinguely, this album stands as one of the classics of early electro-new wave.

After recording three albums with Ultravox, John Foxx left the band to strike out on his own. Unlike Ultravox’s art-rock sound, Foxx developed an electronic, nearly industrial tone for this record. This isn’t in any way the industrial music of Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten, but closer to the sounds that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were to feature in their early albums. Most of the music is synthesized, with a mechanical, robotic tone; the bass sounds like the engines in a massive ship, and the drum kit has “cymbal” sounds like compressed air. All this gave the album a futuristic tone at the time of its release.

Foxx has said that the album was recorded in “an eight-track cupboard in Islington,” and has discussed how he was heavily influenced, at the time, by the novels of science fiction author J. G. Ballard. As such, the album is full of references to cars and roads (Ballard’s novel Crash), and is rife with references to a sterile, industrial world. In addition to creating a sound, Foxx released an album of excellent songs: Underpass, No-One Driving, Plaza, A New Kind of Man, He’s a Liquid, and more. There’s not a weak song on the album.

Flashing back to early 1980, this was a transitional period. The Clash had just released the swan song of punk, London Calling, and Pink Floyd had released The Wall, just before Metamatic hit the stores. Joy Division had released their first album, Unknown Pleasures, and was working on a second album, Closer, another Ballardian work, which was finished shortly before lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide a few months later. This was also the year of The Durutti Column’s first album, Return of the Durutti Column, and the charts included songs by Gary Numan, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, and The Passions. More mainstream musicu included that was on the airwaves at the time included The Pretenders’ Brass in Pocket, the ur-rap song Rapper’s Delight, by the Sugarhill Gang, and Madness’ iconic One Step Beyond.

Like many musicians of the time in the UK, Foxx leaned toward continental Europe, taking influence from Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Much of the early new wave music owed a lot to these early electronic bands, not just musically. I remember well the music videos of the time, with the young men in their angular haircuts, starkly dressed, often in long coats, trying so hard to look German. Look at Foxx’s photo on the album cover: shades of gray, as he stands there looking dapper in his button-down shirt and wide tie. When I saw Ultravox live that year, after Midge Ure had taken Foxx’s place, the band, now a smooth synth band, all wore the requisite gray coats as they performed music from their best-selling album Vienna.

Metamatic seemed, for a while, like a one-off in Foxx’s career. His follow-up albums, such as The Garden, eschewed the industrial sounds and leaned toward a more lyrical, nearly anthemic approach (especially the songs The Garden and Europe After the Rain). Throughout his career he has oscillated between two extremes: this rough-hewn electro-pop, and pure ambient music (including some wonderful collaborations with Harold Budd). Metamatic sits at one end of this continuum.

In addition to the album itself, the Metamatic period was full of great singles and B-sides, such as Glimmer (a great instrumental, which was the B-side to No One’s Driving), Film One (another instrumental), and perhaps the most industrial/Ballardian song, Burning Car, the A-side of a single released in 1980. All of these extra tracks from the period are available in the bargain box set, John Foxx: The Virgin Years, 1980-1985. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This set contains Metamatic, The Garden, The Golden Section, and In Mysterious Ways, along with lots of extra tracks. (In other words, don’t just buy Metamatic if you want the album; you definitely need at least the bonus tracks from that period.) Otherwise, there is a two-disc edition of Metamatic alone available. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

A new kind of manFoxx also performed the entire Metamatic album live, along with several of the single sides, in 2008, and released an album from those performances called A New Kind of Man. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) While it may seem like a nostalgic exercise, this album actually takes these songs and reworks them just enough to make them sound fresh, while retaining most of their original sounds. If you do like Metamatic, you should absolutely hear A New Kind of Man.

Interview with R. Andrew Lee, Minimalist Pianist

I first discovered the recordings of R. Andrew Lee when I heard his five-hour November, released on the Irritable Hedgehog record label. After that, I purchased many of his other recordings, including music by Tom Johnson, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben, Anne Southam and others.

I’m particularly enamored of the kind of slow, gradual minimalist music that is November, and the other recordings that R. Andrew Lee has made cover other facets of what may be called minimalist music.

But I was especially interested when Mr. Lee announced a crowdfunded project for new recordings of “considerable duration.” I contacted Mr. Lee, and we conducted an email interview over several weeks.

Q: You seem to have staked out a space where you play very long works of “minimalist” piano music. You’ve recently crowdfunded new recordings of what you call Music of Considerable Duration.

And you also premiered a 3-hour work by Randy Gibson, last month, called The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield.

What attracted you to this idea of playing and recording very long works?

R. Andrew Lee: My interest in longer piano works was sparked by Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano. When I was in the early stages of my dissertation research, I came across a post by Kyle Gann called Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life. He wrote that, “By the time I played the final measures an hour later I was in a healthier and completely altered state of mind.” I was intrigued, so I decided to pull out the score (which I had thanks to my research) and give it a go.

DroppedImageAs Gann writes, the piece isn’t technically demanding in any traditional sense, but I did find it difficult to maintain focus for so long. I don’t think I made it more than about forty minutes before my mind gave out and the notes stopped making sense. Still, I found the experience fascinating, and before long I gave a performance of the work for a small but appreciative audience. After that, I found myself increasingly drawn to works of longer duration. When looking at the website of a new (to me) composer, the first piece I’d listen to would be the longest they had available. It was a while before I jumped off the deep end on something like November, but I was finding enormous pleasure in the challenge of interpreting a continuous musical idea over a long time.

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What’s Up with the U2 Free Album Download Numbers?

u2-album-cover.jpgIt’s an interesting turn of events that a free album, given to all iTunes Store customers, has elicited such a wide variety of reactions. Some people are delighted that the album is free; others incensed that Apple is forcing specific music on them. I wrote an article for Macworld about how to hide the album – because you cannot delete it from your iTunes library – which has been extremely popular. Lots of people don’t like U2, and don’t want this album.

But I’m curious about the numbers that are being reported. Re/code claims that “iTunes users have downloaded more than 2 million copies” of the album. That’s 0.4% of the 500 million iTunes Store accounts. Is it possible that so few people have actually downloaded this free album?

This album can show up in your iTunes library, or on your iOS device, in several ways. If you have Settings > Music > Show All Music turned on on your iOS device, you’ll see all your purchases (except for those you’ve hidden, using the technique I explain in my Macworld article). And if you have Show iTunes in the Cloud purchases checked in iTunes’ Store preferences, the album will display in your iTunes library. Presumably, if you have automatic downloads turned on, you’ll also have downloaded it. (I can’t confirm this; I don’t have this feature turned on, and I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether the album downloads automatically.)

So the above suggests that people will see the album in their iTunes library, or on their iOS devices, but could only two million people have actually downloaded it? U2’s last album sold a bit more than a million copies – very low for this band – but I’d have expected more people to want to grab a freebie. Unless the fact that it’s free makes it seem less worth listening to…

What about you, dear reader? Did you download the album? Did it show up in your iTunes library automatically? And did it download automatically?