Author Topic: The Death of Casual Music Listeners as Supporters of Music  (Read 190 times)

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The Death of Casual Music Listeners as Supporters of Music
« on: June 26, 2014, 08:21:50 am »
Interesting perspective....

Two Op pieces

The Death of Casual Music Listeners as Supporters of Music
By Steven Stone

In an article in the NY Times on June 8th David Carr advances the idea that "free music" available through the Internet is killing the music industry. And instead of charts and graphs Mr. Carr offers up himself as a prime example of shifting demographics.

First, read the article Below. It will, if you are in the music industry, depress you. If you are not in a music industry, or a music collector, the article will leave you wondering, how, besides live shows, will musicians make money in the near future? And how will young musicians ever make the transition from starvation to subsistence to middle class wages? VanDyke Parks lays out the current situation for songwriters in an article in the Daily Beast.

How valid is David Carr's argument that casual music listeners like himself no longer "need" a personal music collection because, "With scarcity now gone, songs are in the air, a mist we move through like so much department store perfume. We are no longer collecting music; it is collecting us on various platforms." Using himself as an example, Carr has decided he no longer needed to keep a library of CDs, or buy new ones because all his music "needs" were being met by streaming services. Carr sold all his CDs at a garage sale and isn't looking back.
I think the first casualty of this new paradigm is the listener's personal involvement with the music and the creators of the music. What was that song? Who made that music? It doesn't matter to a casual consumer because music, when served up and consumed as background and soundtrack for living, no longer has the same impact or meaning as when it's chosen as a primary stimuli. The bond between creator and consumer won't be as strong, and may never be powerful enough for listeners to make the jump to fandom...

Casual music "consumers" (those who aren't fans or collectors) have become non-players in the world of music monetization. Since the end-users pay nothing for their music, naturally the purveyors of all this free music - Spotify, Pandora, Google, uTube, etc., must pay nothing (or virtually nothing) to the artists in order for their business plans to remain viable (or so they say.).

The short-term result of this shift in how consumers consume music and what they seem willing to actually pay for means that recorded music as a viable product may be over. In the new world commercial paradigm recorded music may be relegated to a loss-leader advertising expense - something that exists only to bring peoples bodies to live performances.

Never before have we had such fine tools for making recordings. The irony is that never before have there been less opportunity to make money from those recordings - at least if your goal is to sell music to a casual listener...

He's right, of course, in general, but wrong in the particular. "partly because the physical artifact is more attractive than the plastic CD case" - I beg to differ. I have many CDs in both plastic and gate-fold that contain attractive and interesting booklets and even attractively- painted CDs. If Carr lacks any particular interest in either current but even more in classic albums and artists, well that's sad. I have no problem culling the 'crap' out of my collection, but would never consider wholesaling it.

I still buy CDs, and rip them as flac to my media drive. I can play them on either of my network connected Denon receivers or access them from the internet, or if purchased from Amazon (likely), play them through their service.

Sitting here with Glenn Campbell's Ghost on the Canvas, Hear Music's Mele O Hawaii and Bruce Springsteen's The Promise in hand though, is much more satisfying.


Free Music, at Least While It Lasts

Late last Thursday, I stopped at the fruit stand and some big, vivid red grapes caught my eye. The vendor said a two-pound bunch would be $6, which seemed steep. I was about to tell him as much, and then came to my senses and gave him the money.

I wondered why I hesitated when it came time to pony up and realized that, as just one more participant in the Something for Nothing economy, I’d grown accustomed to getting all sorts of lusciousness for the price of zero.

Throughout that day, I used a suite of services from Google — email, contacts, documents — for a price of nothing. I deployed a free app called HopStop to plot my subway route to Brooklyn to meet my daughter for dinner, then used free mapping built into my iPhone to navigate to the restaurant. Along the way, I listened to song after song on the free version of Spotify. There were some nominal charges for the data services, but in general, I was free-riding.

The outbreak of free is being felt all over the economy, but music is an industry that has produced the soundtrack of contemporary American life. Artists are singing the blues about the crippling effects of streaming, and no one wants to be part of the day the music died.

Music has been free for decades through the miracle of ad-supported radio, but streaming services feel different because I can listen to what I want, whenever I want. The implicit promise of radio has been that consumers will hear a song they love and buy it. But when I love something on Spotify, my response is to listen to it some more on Spotify. I could pay $10 a month for the premium version and have done so in the past, but for now, I’m sticking with the free service and put up with an occasional commercial.

With scarcity now gone, songs are in the air, a mist we move through like so much department store perfume. We are no longer collecting music; it is collecting us on various platforms.
Spotify has doubled its number of subscribers, paid and unpaid, in the last 18 months and reached a milestone of 10 million paid subscribers worldwide last month. In May, Pandora served up 1.73 billion hours of music, up 28 percent over the previous year. The two services have important differences, but they both have premium pay options as well as ad-supported free models. And Amazon, Apple and YouTube are all moving swiftly into the streaming space.
It is a very new world with behemoths crashing in, looking for a place to profit in a regulatory environment that hasn’t evolved much since before the Rolling Stones made a good record. On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that it would review the 73-year-old agreements that govern Ascap and BMI, which oversee licensing for radio stations, public spaces and websites. The agencies collect close to $2 billion a year in royalties, but operate under consent decrees that they say do not give them the flexibility to negotiate workable deals in an age of streaming.

Many labels and the musicians and songwriters they work with say streaming outfits risk wiping them out by paying tiny royalties, but the people who make all that yummy music are actually being loved to death by fans who expect it to be free.

And it’s only going to become worse. Hand a music CD to a 10-year-old and ask her what it’s for. Most will never see a song as something that was imprisoned on a disc or a download that you had to pay for.

And it’s not just tweens. A few weeks ago, we had a garage sale at our house and I was willing to part with only about half my books. But when I looked over my collection of CDs and thought about what I wanted to keep, my answer was, um, nothing. There were hundreds of them, carefully collected for more than a decade, some of them gifts, some of them even recorded by friends or bands I had written about, but they’ve been idle for years. I priced them at a quarter each and then some guy offered $35 for the whole bunch and we caved. We even threw in the rack.

Books have retained some value in an evolving personal media ecosystem, partly because the physical artifact is more attractive than the plastic CD case (which can be opened only with a crowbar). CD collections no longer signify cultural identity. (LPs, which are making a niche comeback, are a different matter.)

Music’s jailbreak began almost as soon as songs could be rendered in ones and zeros. When Steve Jobs of Apple decided that the price for a song was 99 cents, he “saved” a record industry besieged by piracy by burning about half of it down. People ceased buying albums and bought only the songs they wanted, a disaggregation that wiped out inefficiency — which is profit by another name.

Between what I bought and what I burned, I ended up with about 7,000 songs. But guess what? I don’t listen to those, either. Why would I when I can mindlessly push a single button?
I wrote a profile of Neil Young a while ago in which he railed about the loss of sound quality, but as Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, has said, “good enough is good enough.” The convenience of pushing a button on a handheld device that streams wirelessly to a speaker is always going to trump hunting down a CD with marginally better sound and plopping it into a player.

Think I’m the only lazy one? Sales of digital downloads dropped a whopping 13 percent in the first quarter of this year after falling 5 percent in 2013, which was the first year since the debut of iTunes that sales of digital music dropped. Apple has certainly noticed; Less than two weeks ago, it announced it would buy Beats Electronics in a $3 billion deal that includes a fledgling streaming music service.

The acquisition also included the expensive Beats headphones — $300 and up in a variety of colors so they also serve as fashion accessory. People will still pay large money for devices, and this weekend, thousands of people will spend at least $250 for three-day access to the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York. It’s a curious disconnect: Fans will pay top dollar for a music accessory or a music event. They just won’t pay for, oh yeah, music.

Writing in The Daily Beast last week, the musician Van Dyke Parks said that in the good old days, a song he recently wrote with Ringo Starr would have provided him “with a house and a pool.” But at current royalty rates, he estimated that he and the former Beatle would make less than $80, which means he will have to choose between a dollhouse and a kiddie pool and then share it with Mr. Starr.

Superstars like Beyoncé can drop an unannounced bomb on iTunes and sell a million copies in under two weeks, but most artists are having trouble treading water in the stream. Streaming services argue that as their subscriber base grows, musicians will be able to survive on many small slices of a very big pie.

On the bus ride home from dinner last week, I streamed most of the wonderful new album from Parquet Courts, courtesy of the Something for Nothing paradox. The $6 grapes were delicious, by the way, but I consumed them slowly and consciously, each one carrying not only lusciousness, but the knowledge that I had paid for them.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 08:23:23 am by Mac »
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