Original Content

music, music business, music industry

It’s surprising that music hasn’t caught up with TV yet when it comes to original content. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and other TV/movie subscription services all create their own content as part of their USP (check us out with the marketing jargon). Why haven’t music services done the same? Spotify, iTunes et al have yet (as far as we’re aware) to create their own original content, sure they’ve signed exclusivity agreements, which is smart- we’re now seeing Tidal do it too- but it’s not the same as original content and here’s why..

Streaming services (should) have vast amounts of data about their users’ preferences when it comes to the type of music they enjoy, the time of year they play certain songs, the instruments that were used, the tempos etc so why not utilize that like Netflix did when they created House of Cards? They looked at the type of movies and TV shows people were watching- did they like suspenseful drama? was there humor in the one popular thriller, if so how much? How important were sex scenes or nudity? What was the lighting like in those movies? So many variables were analyzed and used to create the script and direction of the show. Look how popular the show is, it’s no accident!! It was created for mass consumption and people have eaten it up.  

Using data in a similar fashion could help write and produce the perfect song for certain genres. Imagine figuring out which key of song, chord progressions etc listeners gravitate to the most and crafting a track around that? Sure you might say it takes the creativity out of making music but the opposite could be argued. Less parameters mean you have to be more creative to make your song stand out. 

Now, we’re not arguing to make all music sound the same but if you want people to hear your music (why else do you do it?) then why not make it appeal to as many people as possible? If people haven’t latched on to your song in say, Germany, it could be for the simple reason that the German market don’t like 1 minute instrumental bridges like yours or that it’s the wrong time of year for that style of song there. If you knew to make those changes or wait for the best time to release the song you could save yourself money on marketing because you’ll know when to release and also be more confident it will gain traction. If a streaming service produce a song or an album that appeals to Germany, all of a sudden they’ll have more subscribers in that market. 

That’s just one of many examples of how creating original content using their data can really set a service apart from its rivals and lure in fans. Things like this could already be in the works but for now we’ll leave y’all with the idea, who knows, we may see it sooner than we think. 

-HS

Jay-Z’s TIDAL and Higher Quality Audio

music, music business, music industry

We just saw this piece on Billboard about Jay-Z owned music streaming service TIDAL. We have nothing to comment on the content of the article but it did get us thinking about TIDAL and other high quality streaming services. Do we really need them? 

Let’s face it- the internet, laptops and mobile devices have killed music quality. As producers and engineers it’s soul destroying to spend so much time on a mix only for it to be played out of some shitty laptop speakers or those tiny little holes in your phone. All those nuances and adjustments to the sound get lost when they get played on those systems (where the hell did our bass go?!). Of course as engineers we have to mix a song to play across all formats but there is no avoiding the discrepancies in sound quality across the wide range of devices people consume music on. The other issue is that people tend to use the EQ presets on their systems that essentially turn the bass and treble up. This means we have to mix songs to counter that- keep the bass a little lower than usual and have the vocals a little louder than you would on a flat EQ setup. The trouble you run into there is that not everyone uses the same presets so it’s a guessing game as to whether your song is gonna sound like shit or not (this is particularly worrying when we visit A&R offices- there is one guy who runs a big label that uses computer speakers with a big subwoofer and the first time we played our stuff for him we were both cringing at how overpowering the bass sounded. Every time we see him now we keep the bass a little lower on the mix to counter this!). 

Now, having said all of that, the average listener can’t identify any of that. They don’t hear music through the same ears that folks who make music do. When producers or engineers hear music they are constantly analyzing it (it actually makes it a little harder to enjoy it if we’re honest). It’s the same for people who are in video when watching TV or movies, if something’s not quite right you notice it and it bugs the hell out of you. Without fail when we play our songs to our wives, families or close friends there is always the comment that they can’t tell the difference from the demo and the final iterations of our mixes- sometimes they even prefer the demo because they got so used to hearing it! This isn’t supposed to sound snobby or elitist but it’s true- music quality isn’t as important to the masses. This is why TIDAL and other HQ streaming services will remain niche products. There’s nothing wrong with that but for most consumers the quality that Spotify, Pandora and other services use is more than fine and they won’t pay a premium for better quality. Have a look in your settings on the streaming service you use (you do have one right? It’s 2015…) and most likely it’s set to 96kbit/s or 128kbit/s. For context, CD quality is about 320kbit/s. You’ve gone this whole time not caring and probably thinking it sounded great, which it most likely did! Spotify offers the use of 320kbit/s and we’re sure the others do too, so why pay double for more than CD quality?

TIDAL and the other HQ services offer what is called lossless audio. Basically what happens when an MP3 file is created is that the program takes out pieces of information that is deemed unnecessary (how much gets taken out depends on the bitrate- this is why 320kbit/s is better than 96kbit/s- more information per second means less needs to be taken out). The reason lower bitrates are used is to keep the file sizes down, pretty useful for streaming or storing multiple files on a phone as it requires less space. Lossless files don’t take anything out so are exactly the same as the original files. This has its obvious benefits as the sound quality is how the creator intended it but we challenge most people to notice the differences between a high quality MP3 and lossless file when not listening on high end systems. If you can hear the differences they’re really not that substantial and for most wouldn’t motivate them to pay a premium for it. 

We have nothing against TIDAL but just question whether consumers will utilize its lossless streaming because as we’ve learnt first hand, the average listener can’t tell the difference- especially on the systems that are typically used now. It definitely has it’s place with the hifi crowds but for most, they’ll stick with the cheaper services who do a fine job already.  

Just something to think about. 

-HS

New Music Tuesday- Mumford & Sons

music, music business, music industry

There were a ton of new releases today from high profile artists including Madonna, Sam Smith, Mumford & Sons, Luke Bryan, Jason Derulo, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Van Morrison.

We really like Mumford & Sons’ single “Believe”. It has a haunting feel and really catchy hook (there are bound to be a ton of dance remixes to this). About 2 minutes in a big beat comes out of nowhere that you can’t help but nod your head to.

Mumford & Sons are all about the music, which is a big reason they’re so popular. Unless you’re a big fan, you’d be hard pressed to pick them out of a line up but could identify their songs pretty easily. Rather embarrassingly we got talking to Ben from M&S at a party, he was a really nice and humble guy and just said he was in a band when we were asking what he did (of course with both he and Paolo being from England they MUST know eachother too..). We thought nothing of it and finished our chat before sitting down at our table. About 30 minutes later he was introduced to present Daniel Glass an award, we felt like absolute idiots for not knowing who he was but it says a lot when people love your music and don’t know who you are. That means they’re invested in your music and truly enjoy it without having any bias because they like who you are. That’s a good thing!

-HS

Spotify Hits 15m Subscribers

music, music business, music industry

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbThere will be a long, probably too long, post about music streaming and its impact on the music industry coming at some point but we just had to stop and talk about the Spotify announcement from yesterday that they’ve hit 15m paid subscribers.

A lot has been spoken about Spotify and its supposed negative effect on the music business recently thanks to Taylor Swift taking her music off of it completely a few months ago.  We fall on the other side of that argument and see streaming as the future of the industry. We’ll try and keep our reasons brief here so as not to spoil the big post that will be coming soon (we know you can’t wait..)

Yesterday’s announcement is big because 15m people are paying $10 a month to stream music on Spotify, that’s $150m monthly revenue and $1.8bn annually. Take into account that in the United States alone there are over 320m people and globally the population sits just shy of 7.3bn, 15m really isn’t that much. Yet those 15m subscribers generate more than 10% of the total global recorded music revenues from 2013 ($15bn). Just imagine if there were ten times the amount of paid subscribers, and judging by the amount of YouTube views major label artists get, there are more than that listening to music for free online. From Spotify alone there would be more money coming in to music than there is now, and Spotify doesn’t have to be the only player!!

Artists that are disgruntled because they claim to be losing out on money from lower sales need to sign better contracts. Spotify pays out 70% of its revenues to right-holders, just as much as Apple and other online retailers, where are the complaints from those that dismiss streaming? Artists have always lost out in shitty deals, check out 30 Second To Mars’ brilliant documentary Artifact for some insight into that. On the flip side, more needs to be done for songwriters and publishers as they do lose out from streaming- although they made pittance on the sales anyway, roughly 9 cents per song total (split between all parties). Hopefully laws will be put into place to change this as unlike the artists, writers and producers can’t sign endorsement deals or tour off of the back of the songs they write and should be compensated fairly. The money generated per stream is a mute point. The more money in the pot, the more there is to distribute. Right now there isn’t as much in the Spotify pot as there are only 15m subscribers. You can’t compare that to a fixed amount for a sale. As the amount of money coming into Spotify grows, so will the per stream revenue.

Before this post turns in to a long rant, we’ll end by congratulating Spotify and hope they continue to grow and break into new markets. Considering only 3% of all commercially released music sells more than 1000 units, streaming services are giving the other 97% a platform to reach new fans and build a base that they can make money from with a low barrier of entry and zero commitment for the consumer to check out their music.

We’ll elaborate further on all the points raised but hope we’ve given you something to think about, whichever side of the argument you sit.

-HS