SINGLES DEFINE THE MODERN MUSIC BUSINESS

Singles versus albums. This has been a big music business debate for the last several years. It remains such a debate, that I’m literally doing just that this afternoon at New Music Seminar in New York City in a panel entitled “The Great Debate: Singles Vs. Albums”. I expect a very spirited discussion about this, but I also sit and wonder…what’s the debate?

In the scope of music history, the album is a blip on the radar. When some of the first music was created, our ancestors didn’t decide to sing an entire specific body of work around a fire. Early church leaders didn’t ask people to sing a hymnal front to back, but instead cherry picked songs to sing that were appropriate to that day’s service. So why should we expect the album to be so special that it’s supposed to permanently remain in the music business?

Maybe it’s a question of money vs. influence. There’s no question that the recorded music business has lost money in the last decade, and that most of that has come from lost album sales. Yet look at the influence that music has gained in the process. We used to be amazed when an album sold 10 million copies worldwide. Now, several songs sell that many worldwide every year. We now see songs get 100x that influence by hitting a billion streams on YouTube.

If you influence people, the money will follow but not the other way around. Today, that’s exactly what is happening. Because once these songs reach influential levels, they have far more revenue streams than ever before. In addition to sales, these songs are streamed heavily on internet and satellite radio generating revenue. Their official videos make millions on YouTube and Vevo. Millions more come in when the songs are used in regular people’s viral videos and remixes. Sync uses are more prevalent and also adding more and more dollars into the coffers.

Even in their still relative infancy, subscription services such as Spotify and Rdio contribute both dollars and influence. In the last month, one of the biggest songs in the world, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us”, was streamed over 25 million times on Spotify alone.. This is on top of being a Top 10 selling single on iTunes in 14 countries as of this writing. . Spotify streams not only add influence, but also additional money to the bottom line. Compare that with Daft Punk, the biggest worldwide album release in the last month. Less than 40% of the 28 countries that Spotify is in has their album tracks in the Top 15 most played songs, even though the single is. And this is the only album in the last month to have any serious representation on Spotify streaming worldwide.

This newly diverse revenue stream is causing all those involved with songs to make money like never before. Last year, writer/producer The-Dream stated that he made around $15 million for co-writing Rihanna’s “Umbrella”.. And he was one of four writers on that record. While the album did sell 6 million plus copies worldwide, as a 1/4 writer of the song The-Dream’s take on that is estimated to be around 1% of his total income from the song. This makes 99% of the revenue to be likely derived from single-based activity, not album based.

There’s still a place for the album for those artists still committed to making a suite of thematic musical works. The album still has a vital place in the overall diverse revenue stream for an artist. But its power has diminished so greatly that for most artists it is no longer relevant. When you look at usage patterns on radio, television, online and on portable devices, it’s clear that the pathway to the hearts, minds and wallets of music fans is thru the single.

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BILLBOARD HOT 100 COUNTS YOUTUBE VIEWS, AND BOT VIEWS WILL SUFFER

On Wednesday February 20th, Billboard added YouTube views to their Hot 100 methodology which radically changed the makeup of the esteemed chart. The most immediate change came at the top, where “Harlem Shake” by Baauer, the viral sensation, debuts at #1. It marks the first time that a relatively unknown artist debuts at #1 with very little radio airplay to aid it. Given the ubiquity of the song last week, with everyone from the Today Show to college swim teams to the Norwegian Army joining in, it feels culturally right to see the song at the top spot. As many writers have noted, this is probably the biggest change to the Hot 100 chart in a very long time.

But why did it take this long to add YouTube (and VEVO) views to the chart? With numerous videos being seen north of 100 million times, YouTube’s influence on pop culture has been clear for a few years. At a minimum, it’s been two years since the game changing Rebecca Black video. Shouldn’t Billboard have been counting YouTube all along?

The likely reason why they haven’t is because YouTube numbers have to be trustworthy if they are going to influence the bellweather singles chart. Simply scraping numbers from YouTube is not valid as it doesn’t account for country discrepancies within a US based chart. But it also doesn’t account for activity from bots, a practice many labels and artists have used to varied success over the last few years.

In advance of the Hot 100 announcement, YouTube stepped up its enforcement of its Terms Of Service forbidding bot views. The most noticeable result was a 2 BILLION view decrease in major label videos 2 months ago, but similar audits of videos at all levels have been ramping up for months now. With a chart influence now on the line, both parties are more incentivized to stay honest. The timing of these events feel like more than coincidence, and certainly suggests a concerted effort to increase YouTube’s credibility for chart eligibility. As such, I would anticipate enforcement to get more strict, with account deletions a likely punishment for bot activity.

Last week’s #1 was “Thrift Shop”, another song that broke out of YouTube. Getting the credit as the “breaking spot” for back to back chart-toppers is crucial to reinforcing and growing YouTube’s brand. Having more credible numbers is certainly good for everyone in the long run. For those who think they can do an end-run around the system, it feels very likely that this one is closing rapidly.

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INTERNET USAGE SPAWNS…MORE RADIO LISTENING?

For years, the digital tastemakers cried out about the death of radio. This was one medium that would surely die out as the internet revolution took hold. I used to counter this by asking the room how many of them listened to radio in the last week. Inevitably, in a room full of digital trailblazers, about 90-95% of the hands would still go up. The truth came out: people still listened to radio even after they adopted digital.

But that’s the older crowd. Many people cite personal experience at watching their 14 year olds dive into headphones on portable devices or spend hours on end on YouTube. These people are surely growing up not caring about radio and it will clearly be phased out of their lives. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite. Top 40 radio, the traditional go-to format for teenagers, is having one of their best years ever.

Over the last few weeks, trade publications have been reporting on Top 40 radio getting record ratings all over the country. Z100 in New York, considered the format’s biggest, got its best ratings in nearly 25 years. Top 40 topped the ratings in Washington DC for the first time in 33 years. High numbers for Top 40 are also being posted in Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.

What’s intriguing is that these are not a concentration of internet neophytes. They’re actually more digitally savvy than non-radio listeners. In a webinar to be given later today, Alan Burns & Associates will be diving into many of these facts. Among them is an analysis of women who are “Heavy/Deep” Top 40 listeners are 28% more likely to have sent a tweet. Nearly 3/4 of them use Facebook daily.

It’s worth noting that the Burns webinar will focus on a study of women, because it appears that female music fans are the revenue drivers of the modern music business. Surveys have found that men steal more music than women. Meanwhile, only one of the artists in the top 10 selling albums and singles so far this year has a male-skewing audience. Top 40 radio has traditionally had a female-leaning audience. But what’s making it so big right now?

First is the repetition. This audience wants to be entertained by music. I’ve heard numerous complaints from women that they dislike music thru subscription services because it’s too much work to hear their favorites over and over. I can point out they can thru playlists and radio-like functionality. But that doesn’t diminish what they feel, and most people don’t have access to someone like me to point these things out. The truth is the overwhelming variety of musical choices is desired more by males than females. On average, women have 25% less music in their collection than males. At the same time, they remember 28% more lyrics by heart than men. Internet radio is generally proud of the fact that they have more variety and don’t repeat songs every hour. The numbers seem to show that this may be a liability to a strong segment of listeners.

Then there is the data. The beauty of the internet is that the world can see what songs are truly becoming hits before they are actual hits. So the tastemakers can anoint specific songs to a top visibility. Then those songs can be heavily promoted to radio. Where that audience falls in love with the song via repetition and consumes more of that song online, generating a brief continuous loop of self-fulfilling hitdom. Think Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, both of whom started on independent record labels, blew up online, and then went on to multi-week #1 song runs.

Finally, there’s the tastemaker influence. While the internet crows about its need/ability to be the music tastemaker, most people don’t want to work for that. They want it at a push of a button. They also want it obviously and they want it crowd sourced. My music recommendations that only I post get 1/5 of the activity that I get from recommendations that everyone else also puts forth. The internet also thrives on a 24/7 need for “new”, while radio steadily hums along with a constant drumbeat. And it turns out that people want that drumbeat because it seldom sticks without it. And they do want music to stick.

So rather than obliterate antennas and making tuning of a decimal-delineated number obsolete, we are actually seeing the two entities working symbiotically. Radio needs the internet to surface the hits. The internet needs radio to establish hits that bring traffic. Maybe it turns out that what we needed all along wasn’t a war between two mediums, but a solid peace treaty to work together.

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FUTUREHIT 2012 MIDYEAR REPORT – INDUSTRY OBSERVATIONS

After looking at what’s happening on the songwriting side of things yesterday, I wanted to examine the state of the industry overall. The numbers point to some signs of weakness in sales. We only have one million selling album for the first time in 21 years of Soundscan. Gold albums declined from 16 to 11. Even on the track sales side, we’ve declined from 52 million selling songs to 47, despite a 6% overall uptick. This suggests that there’s a marked increase in “medium-selling” tracks, which could be good news, especially for independents.

Overall, the decline in album sales continues to be a concern, or as Paul Resnikoff states, Kiss Your Album Sales Recovery Goodbye. Album sales are down 3.2% overall, despite a 13.8% increase in digital album sales. Yet dig deeper and there are more interesting trends. Catalog sales had another up year, increasing 5.4%. So the decline came at the expense of new music. I would say there are several factors contributing to this.

First, take a look at our top 3 sellers of the year. They are all new acts on their first hit. And one of those acts (important fact) doesn’t have an album. Given the YTD sales of Gotye and Fun, if Carly Rae Jepsen had released a full length album, it’s likely she would have made up as much as 10% of the differential gap between this year’s sales and last. Maroon 5 has 2 of the top selling tracks of the year, but their album was only out for one week of this comparison. Had it come out 3 weeks earlier, it too might have covered another 5% of the gap. But either way, traditional buying habits show many people purchase an album after they know more than one song. So having the top songs come from new acts would suggest a slightly down market for album sales in any case.

Now let’s take a look at those catalog sales. Those numbers have been going up for the last 2 years largely due to the return of the bins in the front of Wal-Mart and Best Buy stores selling older titles for $4.99. The prominent positioning at retail is now going to cheap, older titles thereby driving up their sales. Both Wal-Mart and Best Buy have increasingly placed their new music releases in harder to find places. My local Best Buy has the top sellers positioned down a regular aisle facing the rear of the store blocked by an aisle of hair dryers. Wal-Mart has been moving their CD racks to the mid-point of the media sections. You’d be hard pressed to get sales if it’s not in a visible place by which to sell the product.

Then, once you get to the sales racks, most of the CDs are going for $11.99. Gone are the days of discounting in order to drive people into the store. There are also many deluxe editions going for $16.99 and up. In some ways, I think this is good to drive revenues into the business. Especially to get the die hard fans to pay more for first-in-market deluxe editions. On the other hand, once the fans have the record and the album has been out a month, $11.99 is hardly an impulse price. Not having enough titles priced under $10 on a regular basis is going to harm overall sales figures. One just needs to look at the economy (and the bins in the front of the store) to know price is a contributing factor to sales declines.

I wouldn’t bank on albums for the business as a whole. Why would I start singles label if I did? But I wouldn’t give up hope on the album overall. I would just look to better pricing and release strategies to boost the numbers overall.

Billboard also noted that Pop and Rock are ruling the mid-year charts. But I guess that this is all how you determine what is rock. The two artists propelling rock to a top category are Gotye and Fun. Yet the defining element to their “rock” definition seems to be airplay on rock radio. I hear these songs and I hear well-written left-of-center pop songs. I know each act would do great at a rock festival like Coachella, but Snoop Dogg plays there as well. Overall, I think we’re in an era where many songs and artists are tough to place in a genre box. So when Billboard states Rock tracks outsold Pop tracks, this is largely because of how these acts are categorized.

Rock, in particular, has a tough identity crisis which leads me to be skeptical of any stats involving this genre. One can hear Carly Rae Jepsen and clearly say “Pop”. One can hear David Guetta and clearly say “Electronic” or “Dance”. One can hear Kanye West and say “Hip-hop” and Eric Church is clearly “Country”. Yet say Gotye, Maroon 5 or Train to different people and you’ll get different genre answers.

It’s also fair to say that Hip-Hop is headed in this direction as well. Is Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” an Electronic song, a Pop Song, or a Hip-Hop song? Or for that matter Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones”? The answer is all of the above making genre classifications that much harder to rely on. If anything, those songs and even the fungible rock songs are examples of multiple genres influencing songs, which I predicted would continue to be a common element of hit songs.

What does this all mean? It means we’re an industry in flux. The ground is shifting on what the prevailing sound will become. The strategies are consistently evolving on how to market and release albums and track. We haven’t even begun to discuss the ever growing percentage of revenue coming from items not here, including streaming and sync income. We have clearly not arrived on a definitive model for the business’ future, nor will we in the short term. What we do have is a business still in flux and still being redefined. Yet knowing tomorrow will not be like today just means taking risks. If people in the industry continually take those risks and find new elements to make it, we will find plenty more growth in music in the years ahead.

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FUTUREHIT 2012 MIDYEAR REPORT

Another 6 months down, and time for another Futurehit 2012 Midyear report. There’s lots of stats to chew on. Single download sales are up. Album sales are down. Two songs sold over 5 million downloads in 6 months. What’s really interesting is that I see signs of an industry ready to go thru another major shift musically and financially. Where this will lead is an increased reliance on digital singles and a re-examination of passive fans and how they will contribute to a future music business.

GOTYE, FUN. & CARLY RAE JEPSEN

To start, let’s group out the Top 3 selling singles so far this year. Collectively, they have sold nearly 15 million downloads in the US alone. 2.2% of all downloads sold came from these 3 songs, which is pretty impressive. But can you find the trend in these three songs? The truth is that these songs are all radically different in texture, style, rhythm and theme. The top seller, Gotye, has an 18 second intro which runs counter to my theories of short intros. Fun. has a rhythm change in the song that hasn’t existed in a top hit in years. In other words, they broke the mold. What this suggests to me is that people are indeed may be tiring of the sameness found in many of today’s hits and they are ready for a new sound. I’m not sure the new sound is found in either of these songs, but the same sounding Euro-influenced dance pop may be waning.


Also worth noting that the top 3 sellers are also the first time any of those artists ever hit in the US. The notion of superstars ruling the charts is quickly being disproven with this trio. What’s also worth paying attention to is that while it’s their first US hit, it’s not their first release. All of them have been making music for a few years in one form or another, so it’s not that they got lucky their first go-round. They developed over several years. In fact, despite the notion that always exists of labels signing young artists, these singers are aged 32, 30 and 26 respectively. Signing that 17 year old is not necessarily the ticket to huge stardom.


These artists were largely not developed within the major label system. Two of these acts, Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, were created under completely independent labels that then got “upstreamed” to the majors. Fun. was signed to a major, but under the Fueled By Ramen imprint that has maintained some independence from its parent company Warner Music Group. In the top 50 selling singles, there is not one track that is 100% independent. There are only two songs out of the Top 50 that were created as an indie. And they are the #1 and #3 best sellers of the year so far. To some degree, this underscores the continued importance of major labels on big hit songs, but also that big creative hits do come from outside the system.

The sheer success of these songs (they are the only ones selling over 4 million apiece this year) leads me to feel that the public is starting to clamor for something different. They really want a unique spice in their life that is not the same repetitive rhythms. Naturally, it has to be a great song as well, so don’t be different just for the sake of being so. Make no mistake, these are also very well structured songs with universal themes as well. Yet sonically, there’s a strong argument to not emulate what you’re hearing across the board.

THE OTHER HITS ARE STILL A FORMULA
Or is there? Because once you venture outside of the Top 50, you find that there are a lot of similarities in the songs. While the Top 3 are outliers, taken as a whole there is still a general pattern and formula to what elements one needs in a successful song.

INTROS
The average length of intros in the Top 50 selling songs is still around the 7 second mark. 7.7 seconds to be exact. But that’s also a bit misleading as one song, Coldplay’s “Paradise”, has a 61 second intro. Take that song out and the average intro length of a top selling song is 6.5 seconds. Once again, about 1/4 (24%) of the hits have no intro whatsoever. And only 30% of the hits have an intro of 9 seconds or more. In fact, in the top 10, only the Gotye song has an intro longer than 9 seconds.

TEMPO
There’s no mistake that overall the rhythmic thumping that you’re hearing is working. Over half the Top 50 sellers (56%) have tempos of 116 BPM or greater. Digging deeper, the generally accepted Euro-dance BPM (between 125 and 130 BPM) covers over 1/3 (36%) of the top sellers. Even Gotye doesn’t escape this, as it’s 129 BPM rhythm is certainly a reason why it’s been favored by remixers around the world.

Contrary to my expectations in Futurehit.DNA, mid-tempo songs aren’t making a comeback as 20% of the top selling songs fall between 95 and 112 BPM. My theory as to why this is happening is probably due to a couple of factors. One is that the rapid ADD attitude reinforced by an on-demand world with everything at your fingertips causes people to gravitate to songs that are working at the presumed speeds of their brains. There’s not a lot of downtime. Then, add in a growing club culture reinforcing fast songs appropriate for the environment and radio programmers reluctant to bring the energy down. All this adds up to a reinforced tempo that’s unlikely to recede anytime soon. The energy is in the air.

MAJOR/MINOR
Two of the top 3 songs of the year (Fun. and Carly Rae Jepsen) are sung in a major key certainly suggesting that people are looking for very happy tunes. In fact, when I first started to formulate what I was going to write, I thought I was going to point to Gotye as a minor key outlier. In actuality, it’s the major key songs that are the outliers. Of the Top 50 selling songs, 2/3 of them are either in a minor key or contain a relative minor. Specific to the relative minor, it appears that there’s been a noticeable spike in its usage this year with 18% of the top songs containing it. Whether the reason comes from a downbeat mood over economy or other reasons, it is clear that minor keys are desired more by audiences today.

Another overall summary I would recommend reading for the first half of the year is this analysis by Billboard.

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DO YOUTUBE VIDEOS HAVE A PERFECT LENGTH?

In Futurehit.DNA, I discuss various strategies on how long an artist should make a song to perform well in today’s digital world. As YouTube has grown, the importance of having your video perform there has also increased. So, in a YouTube environment, what is the ideal length for your video? We can now thank Billy Chasen for some strong insight to that question.

Billy, the founder of turntable.fm, decided to find “the perfect YouTube video length”. He wrote a bit of code to pull the duration of the top 950 videos on YouTube. The answers should not be surprising to my long-time readers. Many of the popular videos are about 4 minutes in length.

The interesting thing is that the four minute length seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most popular videos are at 4 minutes because they are music videos. And the most popular songs in general are about 4 minutes in length to still conform to radio needs. So it’s hard to tell if the average viewer finds 4 minutes as the ideal length, or if the music rules and relative popularity on YouTube are responsible.

Perhaps the more interesting bit of information is what Billy calls a “less defined wall” at about 2 minutes. When he takes out music videos, he finds that many popular videos are around that 2 minute mark. His suggestion is to make music videos 4 minutes long, and non-music videos about 2 1/2 minutes long.

But that 2 minute wall actually has a lot more to it. I’ve often seen and discussed the two minute point being a factor when it comes to music as well. Outside of a song’s intro, the time I’ve found people are most likely going to stop listening to a song is about the 2 minute mark. More specifically, it’s usually right after the second chorus, which often occurs at about that spot. This is why songwriters often stress the need for a compelling bridge at this point. If you fail to re-engage the listener here, they may not stay listening to the whole song. I also refer to this as the “mix tape mentality” whereby kids are accustomed to hearing about 2 minutes on a DJ mix before it goes into a new song.

My suggestion based on this data is to pay close attention to both points of the song and the video. The YouTube data is strongly suggesting the audience fatigue at this moment, so make sure you do things in your song and video at that point to re-engage the audience. Also be very cautious about songs going longer than 4 minutes. I still advocate for longer songs, but be cautious on how much longer. And if your song is 3:20, don’t worry too much about alienating if you extend it to 3:50 (unless it’s clearly a boring extension).

It’s great to see new data reinforce the ideas I’ve been looking at for several years. Pay attention to these metrics and you’ll certainly increase your odds of succeeding in the new music paradigm.

Special thanks to Shamal Ranasinghe for bringing Billy’s post to my attention.

THE PERFECT YOUTUBE VIDEO LENGTH

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T. FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS TO ME

Last week’s White/Lowery debate was bigger than I anticipated. Plenty of supporters and detractors. Yet very few discussed the final paragraph where I mentioned several artists making a handy living from the internet on their music. Tyler Ward is about to do another European tour with sold out shows in the fall. Megan and Liz had to win a contest to play at the iHeartRadio festival. DJ Antoine’s two biggest videos combined have over 100 million views. Forbes wrote about Alex Day a few weeks back asking the question, “Where is the music press on all this?”

This just scratches the surface. There’s an amazing class of musicians who have nearly everything: fans, familiarity, income. But the one thing they don’t have is respect. Meanwhile, other musicians who have respect don’t have the income. What we’re experiencing here is nothing new, quite frankly. In the late 80s/early 90s, indie rock had a ton of respect and was desperately trying to make money from it. Meanwhile, jam bands were growing at a rapid clip making a lot of money, while getting derided by music critics. Eventually, some in each camp got an uneven mixture of both, while others fell by the wayside. I’m sure the same could be said for battles in the early 70s and probably even in the fifties during the transition from big band to rock music.

In my earlier days with internet radio (2001!), I had several people push hard because they felt internet radio was finally going to give esoteric indie artists a chance to have widespread success. I argued against that point. Just because something esoteric can reach a bigger audience doesn’t make it less challenging for someone to listen to. Let alone something people want to spend money on. People want easy-to-digest music that makes them feel good. Naturally, that’s what became the most popular music on internet radio, and is now the most popular music on streaming services.

There’s always been a very small class of musicians who command both respect and reap the rewards. (Arcade Fire comes first to mind) Others tended to get one or the other. Many get neither. Maybe it’s time to step back and recognize that this is push/pull is just part of the mindset of the musician. This dichotomy will always exist. If we are to accept artists of “artistic merit” should earn more money, then I hope we can also recognize artists earning money should earn some “artistic merit”. I realize this is futile and will lead some of you to leave “have you listened to their crap?” comments. But that’s my point. Theirs makes money. Yours doesn’t. It’s not the internet. It’s the struggle that’s always existed with art and commerce.

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BREAKTHROUGH TRENDS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

This past week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at New Music Seminar entitled “Breakthrough Trends Of The Music Industry”. The panel was comprised of some of the brightest minds in the music business. These folks also know their statistics and where to get it. Some of them were very helpful in my popular argument this week about downloading.

The presentation had many amazing facts about where the music business is and where it’s heading. For one, 94% of all new releases sold fewer than 1000 copies (singles or albums). Wikipedia traffic is an accurate predictor of future sales. File trading is on the wane. Meanwhile, sales are up overall and more revenue is coming to artists and labels via SoundExchange every quarter. There’s been a lot of requests for the slides, so here is the deck presented at the panel. What’s your take on these figures?


NMS 2012

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IS STEALING MUSIC REALLY THE PROBLEM?

Once again, the issue of stealing music and its moral/financial/ethical arguments are dredged up. And once again, most people miss the overall point, causing the collective issue to dig a deeper ditch while those who’ve moved past it (i.e.: major labels) are busy raking in the dough in the new music business.

Yeah, you heard me. It’s 2012, and now the neophytes are actually many indie artists (not all) while the smarter ones tend to be concentrated at major labels, thereby strengthening their power.

What started this was a post on NPR’s website by an intern named Emily White who admitted to buying very little music in her life but owning a lot via various levels of legality. This led to an impassioned response by Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery, who eloquently argued for the ethical and moral obligations Emily should have towards these artists and how stealing music has dramatically impacted their financial lives. This post has sprung up impassioned responses by, among others, Bob Lefsetz and a manager who is also, coincidentally, named Emily White. People have dug in their heels and have spilled many hours defending and vilifying both sides.

Yet lost in this discussion is one important element. Facts. Because if you’re going to argue that stealing has impacted your business, you should actually prove that…y’know…a lot of people have actually stolen your music.

Google, as the worldwide leader in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see the level of demand for free music by David Lowery’s group Camper Van Beethoven, the message I get is, “Not enough search volume to show graphs.” This basically means, from what I can gather, that less than 50 people per month in the entire world are even showing intent to steal his music. Statisticians basically refer to this as essentially zero. Technically, the same search terms for his band Cracker show some potential thievery intent at work. However, if you actually searched these terms, you’d find most people were actually looking for a program to crack site passwords, and if they were looking for music they were more likely intending to steal the music of Uncle Kracker, who might actually have a legit beef on music stealers.

None of this is to say that I’m naive to think nobody is stealing music. Far from it. I just don’t think they’re stealing the music of the majority of artists bitching about thievery’s impact on their business. The statistics don’t bear it out. At my panel at New Music Seminar, Musicmetric CEO Greg Mead pointed out that file trading is actually decreasing in recent months. This echoes what fellow panelist Russ Crupnick reported in NPD Group’s “Annual Music Study” back in March when they reported that P2P site activity decreased from 19% of the internet population in 2006 to 13% last year.

Respected blogger Cory Doctorow also noted last month that a summary of over 20 different papers on file trading shows very little impact on sales from file trading. Drew Wilson, the author of the summary, got his results from such “fringe” groups as The Wharton School, The Journal of Law And Economics, and The Journal of Business Ethics. The most interesting line in the summary to me is this one:

Judging by the evidence we’ve collected, the evidence does not point in the direction that file-sharing, in and of itself, displace sales, but rather, other factors would also play a role in displacement of sales.

The primary “other factor” is the fact that there are too many artists competing for shrinking dollars, largely due to the shift from albums to singles. Despite the economic number that David Lowery quoted of the number of professional musicians falling by 25%, if you took “album releases” as an indicator, it seems like the number of pros has increased. In a decade, we’ve gone from about 30,000 albums being released to over 77,000 last year. And that’s just albums going thru legit channels. The problem, as noted by Chris Muratore of Nielsen on the previously noted New Music Seminar panel, is that 94% of those releases sold less than 1,000 units. Indicators that I have examined showed those low sales aren’t because of people stealing them. They come from too many releases causing most people to not even realize they are out. For example, 80s rocker Lita Ford has a new album that came out yesterday. As of this writing, it’s the 91st most popular new release on Rdio. How many of you have the patience or time to sift thru the other 90 releases to get to #91? Let alone decide to even put in the effort to steal it? Whether you were going to listen to it or not, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone reading this found out that Lita Ford had new music from this paragraph. Stealing it is even further down their priority list.

And now that you know Lita Ford has a new record, what are you going to do about it? If you have a remote interest in her music at all, you’re most likely going to listen to it on a perfectly legal source such as YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody or Slacker. Why? Because I bet you caught yourself subconsciously saying that it would be quicker and easier to stream it and see what it’s about there than finding a site to steal it from, let alone having the downloads clutter your hard drive. Guess what? This is what most people do now. Having a download on a hard drive…single or album, purchased or stolen…this is the 2012 equivalent of “buying a CD with one good song on it”. People are smart and will legally stream something before any sort of ownership decision solely because they don’t want their hard drive cluttered with music they don’t like. And guessing by the demographic of my readership, I would also guess most people just want to check out what Lita is up to and have no intention of any sort of ownership. The music would have to be mind-blowing to shift the decision from “let’s see what she’s up to” to “I need to own this”.

So while all these independent artists argue thievery, do you know who’s winning? Major labels. This week, of the top 100 tracks on Spotify, only 6% are on independent labels. Major labels have figured out that the game is about exposure and awareness, two things that they are actually quite good at. It’s not about royalty rates, thievery, or even quality of music. It’s all about how I get people to know I exist. Major labels aren’t ignoring file traders, but they have moved past how much of their day they concern themselves with it. Instead, they focus on putting energy behind making music that the public wants and marketing the shit out of it so it rises above everyone else. While you’ve spent the last few years claiming the major labels are “dinosaurs” who are going to be “out of business”, they’ve actually become stronger behemoths who are more progressive than you realize.

As for the quality of their music, that’s a subjective opinion. And it’s no more subjective than the independent artists who have figured out how to make a big business out of the new music business. Artists like Tyler Ward, Kina Grannis and Alex Day, amongst others, are making six figures a year in the new paradigm. They struggle to get respect from traditional media because they’re not considered cool, credible musicians. Yet they run rings around the businesses these so-called cool bands deliver. Why? Maybe it’s simply because they deliver the kind of music more people want nowadays. As far as I can tell, they spend not a minute worrying about the money they don’t make and instead spend time making more money from the sources that do pay.

I agree ethically with David Lowery’s assessment. A person who spends extra to protect migrant workers in a third world country but takes money out of musicians’ mouths is a hypocrite. Emily White should stop complaining about wishing for a Spotify-like service and actually…y’know…subscribe to Spotify. But for actually succeeding in 2012, it’s the wrong argument. The biggest problem that David Lowery has to face is exemplified by Zach, the 24 year old New Media indie label guy at the end of Bob Lefsetz’ response post to Lowery’s “screed”. When told by a co-worker that David is the founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, he replies, “Not sure what either of those are…”

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RADIO ROYALTIES: WHAT THE BIG MACHINE/CLEAR CHANNEL DEAL MEANS TO YOU

This week has been a big one for radio royalties. On Tuesday, the Big Machine Label Group, home to Taylor Swift and probably the largest independent record label, cut a deal with Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations. The deal allows the label, and subsequently the artists, to get royalties for airplay on the radio. Your average person may presume that your favorite singers are already getting paid when they hear a song played. The truth is that the U.S. is one of the last countries to NOT pay.

The deal breaks a long-standing log jam between radio stations and record labels. Yesterday, the deal dominated a Capitol Hill hearing run by the House Communications and Technology subcommittee. While there is still a lot of work for other labels to come on board, there’s a lot of positive talk coming from the hearing. Little details are known about how the deal is structured. However, the deal is largely viewed as a way for Clear Channel to move away from internet streaming royalties being a variable cost (pay per song played) and become a more reliable business model (likely a percentage of revenue). This is certainly going to be a great deal for both sides in the long run, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck it.

The question, though, is what does this deal for radio royalties mean for the music? What does this mean for a song’s chances of getting played and earning the most money possible? This was something that readers of Futurehit.DNA have been long prepared for, and avid followers have already been creating music prepared for this reality. In Chapter 2 of my book, I discuss how inevitably the variable cost of “per play” would have to move to a more manageable structure. This has a significant impact on how an artist earns money from the internet, and now likely terrestrial radio. Here’s what I wrote on how an artist could inevitably prepare for this day:

If that loophole is, indeed, closed, it will likely put songs on more equal footing. But it only changes the strategy if you are a performer or songwriter. If this change occurs, a programmer will not care about the length of a song, as his cost structure becomes relatively static. The performer, however, will want to take up as much listening time as possible in order to collect larger royalties. Longer songs would simultaneously block other songs from playing at the same time, therefore depriving other artists from royalties.

For an artist and record label, as other labels and radio groups come on board over the next few years, the strategy shifts subtly. In recent years, one needed to push their songs to be slightly longer than the competition to make it more cost effective for internet radio outlets. Now, we will be moving to a scenario where the length of a song won’t affect the outlets. They can play thousands of songs and still have a fixed revenue target of how much they have to pay artists and royalties.

Some likely scenarios that will develop with online radio:

* Genres with high “skip rates” become more cost-efficient. Urban music formats tend to have a higher likelihood of people not listening to a whole song. This leads to an increased ARPH (Average Royalty Per Hour) and is cost-inefficient for an internet outlet. With that barrier removed, online radio will be more likely to promote Urban music and provide potential growth.

* Oldies artists will finally start seeing revenues. One doesn’t see a lot of promotion for oldies radio not so much for its lack of popularity, but for its cost. Songs prior to 1968 or so tended to be 3 minutes or less. This made those formats more costly to stream online, so their promotion was de-emphasized. These artists now stand to start making more money just from additional promotion. Add in the numerous traditional oldies radio stations that never paid, and this class of music now stands to benefit tremendously. Considering that many of these artists have had fewer sales in recent years (their audience tends not to buy as much), they stand to gain the most per capita.

Some scenarios that will likely occur with new music:

* Radio will be moving back to 3 minute songs. Between short attention spans, need for variety, and that ever present “more songs per hour than the other guy” liners, radio stations will be demanding shorter songs. Taking away the higher royalties per hour such songs incur online just adds to the incentive radio stations will have on asking for songs at that length. These songs will subsequently also research well. As radio’s power makes these songs more popular, it will have the dual effect of driving up demand on pure-play internet radio (such as Pandora) and driving up their costs when they can’t move to a percentage of revenue model. This will only increase the power of traditional radio companies in the music space.

* Intros will remain short for quite awhile. Clear Channel has been signaling for awhile that they take digital seriously. Their iheartradio has made significant traction against Pandora, for one. This airplay, and revenue, will be an ever growing percentage of the exposure their company can give a song. The research garnered from the app may actually be an influential element to the traditional stations. As they are more financially aligned to push customized stations, the need to have songs impact quickly becomes exponentially greater.

* Soundexchange will be a different business. As more deals covering multiple revenue streams come up, they will also circumvent digital revenues going directly to Soundexchange. For label artists, it will also mean direct payments from them will go thru the label first. To be competitive, Soundexchange will also likely need to find percentage of revenue solutions for many other online radio outlets or those services may go out of business.

For those who are long-time readers of Futurehit.DNA, none of this is new information. For those who are new to this blog, this information is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come in music in the next decade. The Clear Channel/Big Machine deal will not drastically change anything today. More labels need to sign up before that happens. But it is a clear sign of where things are rapidly heading for new music discovery. I hope you’ve read Futurehit.DNA to be prepared!

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