Markets in everything

by on January 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm in Economics, Music, Philosophy | Permalink

For only 23,500 euros (who says you can’t take it with you?):

Sweden’s Catacombo Sound System is a funeral casket that eternally plays the deceased’s choice of tracks while they’re six feet under.

Created by Pause Ljud & Bild, the system consists of three different parts. Firstly, users create an account through the online CataPlay platform, which connects to Spotify and enables customers to curate a playlist for their own coffin or get friends and family to choose the tracks when they’re gone. The CataTomb is a 4G-enabled gravestone that receives the music from CataPlay and display the current track — along with details and tributes to the deceased — through a 7-inch LCD Display. Finally, the CataCoffin is where the parted will themselves enjoy two-way front speakers, 4-inch midbass drivers and an 8-inch sub-bass element that deliver dimensional high-fidelity audio tailored to the acoustics of the casket. The video below explains more about the concept…

Of course I want Brahms’s German Requiem, the Rudolf Kempe recording.  I am afraid, however, that I (in some form) will last longer than Spotify does.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

Let’s compare iTunes downloads to a mythical perfect streaming service which lets you listen to everything for a fixed fee each month or sometimes even for free. In the interests of analytical clarity, I will oversimplify some of the actual pricing schemes associated with streaming and consider them in their purest form.

Streaming seems to encourage the demand for variety, so the website vendor wants to make browsing seem really fun, perhaps more fun than the songs themselves.  (An alternative view is that the information produced by streaming services, and the recommendations, allow for in-depth exploration of genres and that outweighs the “greater ease of sampling of variety” effect.  Perhaps both effects can be true for varying groups of listeners with somehow the “middle level of variety-seeking left in the lurch, relatively speaking.)

The music creators are incentivized to create music which sounds very good on first approach.  Otherwise the listener just moves on to further browsing and doesn’t think about going to your concert or buying your album.

Streaming, with its extremely large menu, also means commonly consumed pieces will tend to be shorter or more easily broken into excerpts.  This will favor pop music and I think also opera, because of its arias.

Advertising is a more important revenue source for streaming than it is for downloads.  The music promoted by streaming services thus should contribute to the overall ambience and coolness of the site, and musicians who can meet that demand will find that their work is given more upfront attention.  It encourages music whose description evokes a response of “Oh, I’ve never had that before, I’d like to try it.”  Even if you don’t really care about it.

People who purchase advertised products are, on average, older than the people who purchase music.  Streaming services thus should slant product and product accessibility on the site toward the musical tastes of older people.

Since streaming divides up revenues among a greater number of artists, that should encourage solo performers with low capital costs, who can keep their (tiny) share all for themselves.  It also may require that the artists on streaming services can make a living or partial living giving concerts, even more so than under the previous world order.

This music industry source suggests that streaming boosts album sales in a way that downloads do not.  It also questions whether that boost will be long-lived, as streaming services take over more of the market.

When the marginal cost of more music is truly zero, does that make musical choices more or less socially influenced?

Hannah Karp shows that in the new world of streaming, mainstream radio stations are responding by playing the biggest hits over and over again.  Ad-supported media require the familiar song to grab and keep the attention of the listener.  Risk-aversion is increasing, which probably pushes some marginal listeners, who are interested in at least some degree of exploration, into further reliance on streaming.

The top 10 songs last year were played close to twice as much on the radio than they were 10 years ago, according to Mediabase, a division of Clear Channel Communications Inc. that tracks radio spins for all broadcasters. The most-played song last year, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” aired 749,633 times in the 180 markets monitored by Mediabase. That is 2,053 times a day on average. The top song in 2003, “When I’m Gone” by 3 Doors Down, was played 442,160 times that year.

So the differing parts of the market are interdependent here.

What do you think?

Happy public domain day!

by on January 1, 2014 at 12:53 am in Books, History, Law, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

I received this email from James Boyle at Duke:

Dear Tyler, An early Happy New Year to you and your family — I hope all is well?    You may remember our annual survey of the stuff that would be entering the public domain if we had the copyright laws from 1976.
The list this year is a particularly scrumptious one.  The mouseover of the book covers is another pleasure.

·      Samuel Beckett, Endgame (“Fin de partie”, the original French version)
·      Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
·      Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
·      Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
·      Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
·      Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
·      Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
·      Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
·      Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
·      Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
·      Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
      ·      A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom


The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Bridge on the River Kwai, A Farewell to Arms, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,  3:10 to Yuma, 12 Angry Men, Jailhouse Rock,  Funny Face,  An Affair to Remember, Nights of Cabiria and The Seventh Seal..

(Is this list depressing when set against 2013?)

In the world of fine arts, Picasso’s Las Meninas set of paintings… only themselves legal because no copyright covered Velazquez’s.. would also be entering the public domain.

Merry Christmas!

by on December 25, 2013 at 6:36 am in Food and Drink, Music, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink


Merry Christmas from New Orleans and best wishes for the New Year to all our readers.

Favorite popular music 2013

by on December 15, 2013 at 6:31 am in Music | Permalink

These are some favorites from some radically incomplete sampling, not a “best of” list:

1. Kanye West, Yeezus.  His best album by quite a bit.

2. MBV, by My Bloody Valentine, there is a good short review here.  If you had to ask who did better after a 20-year hiatus, Kevin Shields or Bobby Fischer, this is decisive evidence in favor of Shields.  A totally unexpected renaissance.

3. Acid Rap, by Chance the Rapper, available on YouTube here.

4. Wed 21, by Juana Molina.  Why isn’t she better known?

5. Matangi, by M.I.A.  Her first album had enough posturing that I figured that was it, but by now she has compiled an impressive streak.

I am also starting to like Churches, Bones of What You Believe.  My favorite jazz album of the year has been Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, Hagar’s Song.  I have more on order.

Saxony State Police in Germany have developed a smartphone application that can identify neo-Nazi lyrics and racist words in rock songs. Der Spiegel reported Tuesday that German interior ministers will meet this week to discuss whether to implement this new method of policing.

The government said that neo-Nazi music helps radical organizations recruit youth, and it is used as a type of gateway drug to bring in new conscripts. The application, nicknamed “Nazi Shazam,” can identify names of songs just by playing a small sample of a song. The application would allow the police to react instantly if far-right songs are played on radio stations, at concerts, in club nights or at demonstrations.

There is much more here, hat tip goes to MT.  This is of course another method of surveillance and measurement of our tastes, and some version of this idea will be picked up by marketers, whether or not this particular example is adopted.

Keith Richards’s *Life*

by on November 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm in Books, History, Music | Permalink

I very much enjoyed this book, which also gave me an excuse to dig out old Rolling Stones albums and listen to them again (“Dear Doctor” is perhaps my favorite Stones song, an odd choice).  If it were a 2013 publication this memoir would make my best books of the year list.  Here is p.167:

“The only reason we got a record deal with Decca was because Dick Rowe turned down the Beatles.  EMI got them, and he could not afford to make the same mistake twice.  Decca was desperate…they thought, it’s just a fad, it’s a matter of a few haircuts and we’ll tame them anyway.  But basically we only got a record deal because they could just not afford to fuck up twice.”

The practice habits of Alexandre Tharaud

by on November 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm in Education, Music | Permalink

He is one of my favorite pianists, try his Chopin Preludes.  The blog Ionarts reports:

After this residency at the Cité de la Musique, he will take a vacation of three months, during which he will move into a new apartment, with a view of the Seine. He will still not have a piano at home, which he offers as advice to many young musicians. Most important, he says, is not to play on a beautiful piano, because it does not encourage you to work.

Tharaud only practices on pianos in the homes of his friends.

Companies, academics and individual software developers will be able to use it at a small fraction of the previous cost, drawing on IBM’s specialists in fields like computational linguistics to build machines that can interpret complex data and better interact with humans.

That is a big deal, obviously.  The story is here.

That is the new book by Mark Lewisohn, and I was so keen to finish it that I neglected to see the Ender’s Game movie yesterday.  944 pp. and you only get up to 1962 and the beginnings of the first LP!  Despite the length, it is gripping throughout.  In addition to the obvious angles on The Beatles, it is a study of Liverpudlian history, the nature of poverty, why educating even really smart people can be problematic, why relative age matters so much for young people, how groups gel, the importance of practice, the importance of management, and the importance of origins, among a variety of other more general topics.

This work is one of my five favorite non-fiction books of the year.  And if you are wondering, it is not just me: the book has received very positive reviews elsewhere.

Fanfare is the leading periodical for classical music reviews, and every year it asks numerous critics — this time 45 of them — for their top five classical music picks of the year.  In turn, each year I present a meta-list, which simply is a list of all the works selected by more than one critic.  This year we have:

1. Meanwhile, by Eighth Blackbird., assorted contemporary pieces.

2. Haydn,  The Creation, conducted by Martin Pearlman.

3. Arvo Pärt, Adam’s Lament.

4. Bellini’s Norma, with Cecilia Bartoli.

I just ordered 1-3 of those, for the Bellini I am still stuck on Maria Callas.  My personal picks of the year, in classical music, would be:

1.  Shostakovich string quartets, Pacifica Quartet, several volumes, including some other Soviet compositions as well.  I find these more powerful than Emerson, Manhattan, Brodsky, or the other classic sets of Shostakovich.

2. Arvo Pärt, Creator Spiritus.

3. Klára Würtz and Kristóf Baráti, Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano.

4. The Art of David Tudor, seven disc box set, caveat emptor on this one.

Gangnam fact of the day

by on October 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm in Music | Permalink

I am here for a few days, so my attention turned to a new paper by Kim and Jung, entitled Investor PSY-chology, here is the abstract:

The global success of “Gangnam Style,” the 18th K-pop single by the South Korean rapper PSY in 2012, was an exogenous shock to international investor enthusiasm about DI Corp., because the company’s chairman and CEO is PSY’s father. The stock price of the semiconductor equipment company jumped by almost 800% in three months without material information. Using Korean microstructure data that identifies non-resident foreign individual (NRFInd, hereafter) investors and resident foreign individual (RFInd, hereafter) investors by nationality, we study international individual investor behavior. The count of flash mob videos and parody videos uploaded on YouTube from each country is our proxy for the enthusiasm of individual investors. We find that NRFInd (RFInd) investors in specific countries become net buyers (sellers) of DI Corp. when a flash mob or parody music video is uploaded in their country. This is because RFInd investors had already purchased the stock on the day PSY left Korea to meet Scooter Braun, the producer of Justin Bieber. Our results support a “resale option” explanation about the bubble in the asset price.

Hat tip goes to @EmanuelDerman.

Will the sports sector ever be disrupted?

by on October 12, 2013 at 10:26 am in Music, Sports | Permalink

Here is a question from a recent symposium:

People spend 4 hours per week watching sports and 40 listening to music. But the music industry is one sixth the size of the sports industry. Why?

No time-shifting for live contests, much less piracy, less substitutability (there is only one Super Bowl), and greater indivisibility of product would be the beginnings of an answer.  The source is here, hat tip goes to Ted Gioia.

My favorite things Minnesota

by on September 7, 2013 at 1:15 am in History, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

I am here for but a short time, speaking at the university, but here is what comes to mind:

1. Folk singer: Is that what he is?  Bringing it All Back Home remains my favorite Dylan album, of many candidates.

2. Rock music: The Replacements were pretty awesome for a short while.  The Artist Formerly Known as Prince has an impressive body of work, with Sign of the Times as my favorite or maybe Dirty Mind, though when viewed as a whole I find the corpus of work rather numbing and even somewhat off-putting.  Bob Mould I like but do not love, the peaks are too low.

3. Jazz: The Bad Plus come to mind.

4. Writer: Must I go with F. Scott Fitzgerald?  I don’t like his work very much, so Ole Rolvaag is my choice.

5. Coen Brothers movie: Raising Arizona or Fargo.   The more serious ones strike me as too grim.

6. Director: George Roy Hill, how about A Little Romance?

7. Columnist: The underrated Thomas Friedman, who ought to be considered one of the world’s leading conservative columnists but is not.

8. Scientist: Norman Borlaug.  I hope you all know who he is by now.

9. Advice columnist: Ann Landers, most of the time she was right, much better and sharper than her sister Dear Abby, plus she coined better phrases.

What else? Garrison Keillor belongs somewhere, even though he isn’t funny.  Thorstein Veblen is often unreadable but on status competition, and its Darwinian roots, he was way ahead of his time.

Overall this is a very strong state, and on top of that I feel I am missing some significant contributors with this list.  Are there painters or sculptors of note from Minnesota?  I can’t think of any.

What I’ve been listening to

by on August 15, 2013 at 3:40 am in Music | Permalink

These are some CDs which have stayed in my active listening pile for six months or maybe more:

1. The Roots of Drone.  Usually I hate collections, and listen to them only once, but on this virtually every track is good and the order is very well arranged.

2. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy.  I don’t like the more recent CD with David Byrne nearly as much.

3. Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran.  Powerful stuff, music for a revolution or civil war.

4. Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can.

5. Brian Eno, Lux.  As good as any of his older albums, believe it or not.

6. P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake.

7. Alela Diane, Wild Divine.

8. Continuous Beat, Rez Abbasi Trio.  Guitarist born in Karachi, this is probably my favorite jazz album over the last few years.

9. Earl Hines in New Orleans.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the best Hines CD and this seems to be it.

10. My Bloody Valentine, Mbv.  Get the LP version for the proper sound.  It’s amazing how good this comeback is, after a twenty year hiatus.

There is also James Blake, Taylor Swift’s “Stay, Stay, Stay” and classical music I will save for another day.  If you can find on iTunes Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” with the excellent Aaron Diehl, buy it, it is the most musical fun I have had all year.