Music

There is a new paper by Karol Jan Borowiecki, published in Oxford Economic Papers:

I investigate the consequences of long-run persistence of a society’s preferences for cultural goods. Historical cultural activity is approximated with the frequency of births of music composers during the Renaissance and is linked with contemporary measures of cultural activity in Italian provinces. Areas with a 1% higher number of composer births nowadays show an up to 0.29% higher supply of classical concerts and 0.16% more opera performances. Classical concerts and opera performances have also rather bigger audiences and obtain greater revenues in provinces that have been culturally active in the past. Today, those provinces also exhibit a somewhat lower supply of other forms of entertainment (e.g., sport events), thereby implying a tantalizing divergence in societies’ cultural preferences that is attributable to events rooted in the past. It is also shown that the geography of composer births is remarkably persistent over a period of seven centuries.

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

The U.S. classical music market

by on May 13, 2015 at 2:12 pm in Data Source, Music | Permalink

The classical sales situation in the US has hit the pits. Aside from Andrea Bocelli, who trundles on at around 400 a week – cds and downloads combined – the best performer on Nielsen Soundscan was the Anonymous 4, chirping sweetly on a farewell tour with just 189 registered sales.

Sales are so bad that Hilary Hahn, at number 10, failed to clear 100.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

Evelyn [Evelina] Petrova

by on May 11, 2015 at 1:15 am in Music | Permalink

She has been my most significant musical discovery of the last year, and these days it is rare when I find something new in music which truly surprises me.

Dave Gelly put it this way:

At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I found myself listening open-mouthed to a Russian woman playing the piano accordion while making wordless vocal sounds into a microphone. Her name was Evelina Petrova and the sounds varied from whoops and bird-like twitterings to a kind of demented lamentation. God knows what it was all about, but it had me transfixed.

What could sound less appealing than Russian accordion music?  I say imagine the devilish imp which sometimes runs around Stravinsky’s borrowings from Russian folk music, hook it up to an accordion, and pinch it repeatedly and irregularly.

Here is a good, descriptive review of her first album.  Here is her home page.  Here is a YouTube duet with piano, good but I prefer her solo.  Try this solo clip for her dirge side.  Here is another good (and more lively) solo clipHer CDs are on Amazon here, buy Living Water if you only get one.

She also has collaborated with Jethro Tull, or so I am told.

I’m passing through Baltimore on the train today (a talk at U. Penn and chatting with Ashok Rao), so I have license to do this.  Here goes:

1. Author: There is plenty to choose from here, including Poe, James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Frank O’Hara, and H.L. Mencken.  I do not love F. Scott Fitzgerald as many do, same with Upton Sinclair, but they deserve mention.  I’ll opt for Poe, with Gold-Bug as my favorite story.  Hammett’s Red Harvest I also enjoy and have taught a few times, delicious incoherence.  Anne Tyler has a few good books, but stop reading after one or two of them.

2. Philosopher: John Rawls, though since we’re talking about Baltimore I feel I should call him Jack.

3. Painter: Morris Louis or Grace Hartigan?  I feel I can do better, help out people.

4. Popular music: Tori Amos grew up in Baltimore, I like her Little Earthquakes and various singles, live cuts, and cover versions, available only in scattered form as far as I know.  Is Dan Deacon popular?  Frank Zappa is a remarkable musical talent, but I don’t actually enjoy listening to him.

5. Jazz: Eubie Blake, there is also Bill Frisell and Billie Holiday.

6. Classical music: Philip Glass was born there, though I associate him with NYC.

7. Baseball: I still remember that old Orioles rotation with Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Dobson, all twenty-game winners in the same year.

8. Soviet spy: Alger Hiss.

9. Movie, set in: I don’t love Diner or Avalon, how about The Accidental Tourist, or Twelve Monkeys?  The first half of Silence of the Lambs is excellent.

For good measure toss in Thurgood Marshall, Tim Page, Babe Ruth, The Wire, Walters Art Museum, the underrated BSO, and Brooks Robinson.  Who or what else am I forgetting?

The bottom line: Lots for one city!  Let’s hope it gets better soon.

I will be speaking at the Voice and Exit Festival in Austin, Texas, June 20-21. Voice and Exit is like a TED conference on steroids, an edgier, more radical TED. It looks like a lot of fun. Hope to see you there.

Here is a bit from V&A:

imageWe assemble those who ask: What are the systems and ways of life that are holding us back? What can we create to make those old ways obsolete? What innovations enable us to find wellbeing, life meaning and stronger connection to others? How can we live intentionally today so as to create that better future? Voice & Exit is an environment of exploration where we “criticize by creating” a better world.

musiclife

That is from Dianne Theodora Kenny, via Ted Gioia.  Kenny notes:

For male musicians across all genres, accidental death (including all vehicular incidents and accidental overdose) accounted for almost 20% of all deaths. But accidental death for rock musicians was higher than this (24.4%) and for metal musicians higher still (36.2%).

Suicide accounted for almost 7% of all deaths in the total sample. However, for punk musicians, suicide accounted for 11% of deaths; for metal musicians, a staggering 19.3%. At just 0.9%, gospel musicians had the lowest suicide rate of all the genres studied.

Murder accounted for 6.0% of deaths across the sample, but was the cause of 51% of deaths in rap musicians and 51.5% of deaths for hip hop musicians, to date.

Beware selection, because of course most rap musicians aren’t dead yet.  This problem will be more extreme, the younger is the genre.  Another selection effect may be that getting killed, or dying in an unusual way, contributes to your fame.

Here is one excerpt from his very interesting post:

I get and very much like the skeptical, anti-theoretical thrust of Strauss. I like his deep wariness of ideal theorizing, his exhortations to pay attention to the political life we are always already living. He’s right to see reasoning with others about about how to live as an inherently political activity. He’s right to insist on honoring the distinctive excellences of those sensitive to the texture of real political life and expert in its ceaseless negotations. He’s right that social scientific theories about politics are less politically valuable then good political judgment, and that people who think they’re going to govern “scientifically” are dangerously stupid. (Paraphrasing, here.) And, yes, when philosophy is merely a handmaiden to the dogmas of our age, pursued under the “ecumenical supervision” of the universities, it is profoundly compromised. To be a philosopher is not to have a job you clock in and out of. To be a philosopher is simply to be, philosophically, always. Right! But the Socratic life is the one very best life? The naturally right, life? Nope. Nope. I’ve read and read and never quite follow how we end up there. I mean, I think this is a great life, beyond wonderful. But nope.

Anyway, Strausseans are strangely obsessed with this idea that the philosophical life, so construed, is the best human life, full stop, and are therefore obsessed with the tension between the best life, which is in the business of exposing bullshit, and the political life, which is built on it.

I am very happy to order this book in advance, I hope Will lets me know when that is possible.

The economics of busking

by on March 23, 2015 at 3:18 am in Economics, Music | Permalink

Mark Sandusky has a good article on that topic, here is one excerpt:

Time your busks wisely! Profits can vary widely from day to day, hour to hour. Our low for a Friday night was $98 for two hours of performance. Our high for two hours of performance on a Monday afternoon was $3. This was also our low, because we never busked on another Monday afternoon. We made the most money in between 5pm and 10pm, on evenings before weekends or holidays. Our understanding is that money drops best when people are feeling tipsy, but before they’re actually drunk.

The piece serves up other points of interest.

That is the topic of my new column for The Upshot.  Here is one excerpt:

Higher prices also skew the customer mix toward wealthier and thus older people, who exert less influence over the purchasing decisions of their peers. They are less likely to text about a concert, put it on their Facebook pages or talk up its reputation to dozens of friends at parties. The younger buyers are usually the ones who make places trendy, thus many sellers use lower prices, with lines if need be, to lure in those individuals and cultivate their loyalties.

The next time you are waiting in line, take consolation in the fact that otherwise you might not have heard of the opportunity in the first place. If we see a line at a club, restaurant or movie, we figure something interesting is going on there, and so lines have become a driver of publicity.

Income inequality also may be encouraging sellers to use lines to better segment the market. The rich line-jump by buying Museum of Modern Art memberships, to see special exhibits before they open, while others line up. Restaurateurs give regular customers prime tables, especially if they are good tippers and order expensive wines, while others can’t get a reservation after 5:30 or before 11 p.m. This may seem unfair, but it extracts higher prices from those able to pay the most for New York’s cultural institutions and restaurants. In fact, the inconvenience of the line helps sell the more expensive line-jumping package to those who don’t have the time or the patience to wait.

Do read the whole thing.  There is also this part:

Waiting a bit can also make people more patient, by removing their attention from the immediate here and now and stretching out their time horizons. Some of these positive effects of waiting have been studied by Professors Xianchi Dai of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago in their paper “When Waiting to Choose Increases Patience.”

There’s also evidence that people value some things more if they have to wait for them. Provided it does not dominate your daily life, a bit of waiting can help create a special experience or memory. The people who wait in line for new iPhones rarely need the product immediately. Waiting in line binds them to a community and demonstrates their commitment.

The waiting also heightens the value of anticipation and makes the product seem more exciting. A world where there is nothing to wait in line for is arguably a less interesting place.

Facts about music

by on February 8, 2015 at 3:02 am in Books, Music | Permalink

Between 2008 and September 2012, there were 66 No. 1 songs, almost half of which were performed by only six artists (Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele, and Lady Gaga); in 2011, Adele’s debut album sold more than 70 percent of all classical albums combined, and more than 60 percent of all jazz albums.

That is from William Giraldi, who is reviewing Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, an interesting book which I hope to cover more soon.

The pointer here is from Torsten Kehler.

*Schubert’s Winter Journey*

by on January 28, 2015 at 3:53 pm in Books, History, Music | Permalink

The author is Ian Bostridge and the subtitle is Anatomy of an Obsession, and of course it focuses on Die Winterreise.  This is the first book published this year to make it into my 2015 “best of the year list.”  Here is one good review of the book.

Drive-thru metal is really a thing, or at least this L.A.-based band is trying to make it a thing. Mac Sabbath (yes, that’s really their band name) is a foursome of rockers who dress up as McDonald’s characters and perform covers of Black Sabbath songs. And they even change up the lyrics so they’re burger-themed.

On stage, they dress as Ronald McDonald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese (with tusks and sans the top hat).

According to Mac Sabbath’s Facebook page, they’re not a joke band to sell t-shirts. They describe their shows as “Ronald Osbourne and the whole gang in full regalia playing all their hits like ‘Sweet Beef’ and ‘Chicken for the Slaves’ in a multi-media show with video, theatrics, audience participation and sing alongs.”

There is more here, including videos, via Robert Lawson.

Favorite popular music of 2014

by on December 30, 2014 at 2:50 am in Music | Permalink

By now I’ve bought and heard most of the top CDs recommended by sources such as Pitchfork and Spin, and overall I find them to be a well executed but fairly uninspired group of recordings.  (Best of all, try the Ben Southwood music aggregator.)  What I really enjoyed this year was:

1. Aphex Twin, Syro.  Especially impressive after such a long hiatus because his later recordings were not always first-rate.

2. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah.  Self-recommending.

3. Calypso Craze, 1956-57 and Beyond.  From the Bear label, this is by an order of magnitude the best Calypso compilation ever.  Seven CDs, and you don’t need to buy any more Calypso again.  You’ll also learn how much influence Calypso has had on subsequent popular music, including Chuck Berry (“Havana Moon“), Harry Nilsson, and a good deal of rap, among others.

Run the Jewels 2 and St. Vincent I might pick as runners-up.

I’ll listen to some Swans in the year to come.

Highest earning musicians of 2014

by on December 14, 2014 at 4:08 am in Music | Permalink

1. Dr Dre ($620m)

2. Beyoncé ($115m)

3. The Eagles ($100m)

4. Bon Jovi ($82m)

5. Bruce Springsteen ($81m)

6. Justin Bieber ($80m)

7. One Direction ($75m)

8. Paul McCartney ($71m)

9. Calvin Harris ($66m)

10. Toby Keith ($65m)

11. Taylor Swift ($64m)

There is more here.  Dre did so well from selling a music company, and it is the largest single year windfall in music history, or so we are told.

Since its adolescence more than four decades ago, the New York Philharmonic’s home at Lincoln Center has been known as Avery Fisher Hall. Now, as the orchestra prepares for a major renovation expected to cost more than $500 million, the Fisher family has agreed to relinquish the name, so the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center can lure a large donor with the promise of rechristening the building.

…Lincoln Center is essentially paying the family $15 million for permission to drop the name and has included several other inducements, like a promise to feature prominent tributes to Avery Fisher in the lobby of the renovated concert hall.

While the ability to raise money through naming opportunities has become a staple tool for arts organizations, perhaps no event speaks louder to its utility as a fund-raising mechanism than Lincoln Center’s willingness to pay a veteran donor to step away so it can court a new benefactor in his stead.

The full story is here.