The Malthusian cultural world has arrived

For music, at least:

The simultaneous advent of streaming music and the vinyl renaissance has led to some very interesting recording industry statistics over the past few months. Last month, the RIAA reported that vinyl revenues outpaced sales from streaming services, despite actual streams vastly outnumbering physical vinyl sold. Now, Nielsen has released data revealing that, for the first time ever, old music (the “catalog,” defined as music more than 18 months old) outsold new releases in 2015.

It’s important to note that Nielsen’s numbers here don’t include streaming numbers, but that in itself is telling of current trends: an easy-to-draw hypothesis from these stats is that new music exists primarily in the streaming realm, rather than in album downloads or physical copies. And as 2016 has progressed and seen such things as Kanye’s The Life of Pablo shenanigans, exclusive streaming rights, like Rihanna and Beyoncé with Tidal and Drake with Apple Music, and the fact that the Beatles dominated Spotify in their first 100 days on the service, streaming music’s hold on the future seems to be growing tighter.

And note this:

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was the third-best-selling vinyl record of 2015.

I suspect you are not surprised to hear that Prince is dominating the Billboard 200 right now.

The pointer is from Ted Gioia.


The only people still paying to listen to music are Baby Boomers?

Everyone else is playing computer games or downloading it illegally.

No, Prince is more of a Gen X icon. Prince made his work very difficult to get online, so it's not surprising his are selling well now.

'Prince made his work very difficult to get online'

I know that providing a list of links proving this wrong would not pass muster - so take on faith that a torrent of Prince's work can be found online.


Of course the caveat 'legally' applies. Thankfully, Prince was so unconcerned about legality that it led to this - 'Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 801 F.3d 1126 (2015), is a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, affirming the 2008 ruling of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, holding that copyright holders must consider fair use in good faith before issuing a takedown notice for content posted on the internet. Stephanie Lenz posted on YouTube a home video of her children dancing to Prince's song "Let's Go Crazy". Universal Music Corporation (Universal) sent YouTube a takedown notice pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claiming that Lenz's video violated their copyright in the "Let's Go Crazy" song. Lenz claimed fair use of the copyrighted material and sued Universal for misrepresentation of a DMCA claim. In a decision rejecting a motion to dismiss the claim, the district court held that Universal must consider fair use when filing a take down notice, but noted that to prevail a plaintiff would need to show bad faith by a rights holder.'

Such a fun case - 'Based on Prince's and Universal's statements, Lenz argued that Universal was issuing takedown notices in bad faith, as they attempted to remove all Prince-related content rather than considering whether each posting violated copyright, and in particular was a non-infringing "fair use." Universal expressed concerns over the fact-intensive investigation and subjective results of determining whether a potentially infringing use falls under the general "fair use" doctrine.

The district court held that copyright owners must consider fair use before issuing DMCA takedown notices. Thus, the district court denied Universal's motion to dismiss Lenz's claims, and declined to dismiss Lenz's misrepresentation claim as a matter of law. The district court believed that Universal's concerns over the burden of considering fair use were overstated, as mere good faith consideration of fair use, not necessarily an in-depth investigation, is sufficient defense against misrepresentation. The court also explained that liability for misrepresentation is crucial in an important part of the balance in the DMCA.'

Leading to this result in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals - 'On September 14, 2015, the 9th Circuit affirmed the District Court, holding that while fair use arises procedurally as an affirmative defense, copyright holders have a "duty to consider—in good faith and prior to sending a takedown notification—whether allegedly infringing material constitutes fair use". Importantly, the court viewed fair use not as a valid excuse to otherwise infringing conduct but rather as not infringement in the first place. "Because 17 U.S.C. § 107 created a type of non-infringing use, fair use is 'authorized by the law' and a copyright holder must consider the existence of fair use before sending a takedown notification under § 512(c)."'

What Prince thought and the law are not the same thing, though it is true that someone had to go to fairly extensive effort to demonstrate that fact.

I gather prior is giving blanket permission to take anything prior produces and use it freely without compensating prior....

The 60s were the decade of a billion flowers blooming from the flower beds of the first half of the 20th century.

Then in the 70s, the rent seekers and speculators took over the music industry and since then it's been a battle between the rent seekers and a limited number of great artists who could wrest power from the rent seekers.

Prince was locked in a bad contract, thus he painted slave on his face. But he was hardly the only artist screwed by the rent seekers. The Indian government would have been much easier for these artists to deal with than the record labels they signed to as teens in many cases.

Most younger people I know start paying for their content basically as soon as they're not poor. I think they still download a lot to see what's on the market, but anything they really like they buy, pay to attend concerts, buy merchandise, etc.

It's not hard to justify downloading everything when you're on a rice and beans budget. Or even when you've got a few hundred dollars a month after basic needs. But once you've got a couple grand a month beyond basic needs it's hard to justify not paying for content.

Creative IP law should only apply to people earning over $20-25k a year, or something like that, in my opinion. It would create a lot of good will and willing payers once they had some money to spend.

You can't really impress guests with your streaming music the same way you can with beautiful vinyl albums lining a vintage cabinet in your restored home, can you?
It doesn't matter really that listening to those vinyls isn't any better than digital, or that you almost never actually play them. They're just a part of the atmosphere.

As a rock fan with a few vynils I never play, I'd say those vynils are for me. For the guests, it's kindness, food, alcohol and conversation. Objects are nice, but you can't rely on them to please your guests. A patch of grass, or a big windows if it's cold outside, with a nice view beats any vintage cabinet.

'You can’t really impress guests with your streaming music'

Depends on your taste and your friends, I guess.

In the current year 2016, there's basically been a human lifetime of widespread music recording and distribution.

Perhaps we reached a point where there simply weren’t enough days in 2015 for new music releases that could outsell hundreds of years of musical history.

That would seem to be part of it. We already have more high quality recorded music than one person will ever be able to listen to. This is arguably true of books and films as well, but those media arguably date themselves in a way music doesn't. Books become dated as language changes, tropes become tired and social concerns and mores evolve. Older movies/TV shows compound those issues with technological and fashion change so that the special effects, clothing and soundtracks of older films can often become a distraction for younger viewers. (TV shows would also seem to support the Flynn effect, since even "quality" TV shows from 40 - 50 years ago seem awfully simplistic and banal today). But have there been any significant advances in recording technology (from the listener's perspective) or musical complexity since "Dark Side of the Moon"? In what sense has that music aged in a way that would make it inaccessible or irrelevant to a 20 something today? I assume it holds up much better than other products of 1973 like "The Exorcist" or "Gravity's Rainbow."

Perhaps, in music it's fine to say "I have this influence" while in other domains it's penalized to say you have influences . Why Skip James and Robert Johnson were so interesting for 40 years younger Bob Dylan? For any guy born in the 80s, Pink Floyd is also 40 years before.

Also, music is much older than audiovisual media. Music has been made long before recording media existed. Thus, music from 50 years ago is already a mature product. Cinema and TV are young since they decided to make something beyond putting camera and microphones in a theater play. There's some innovative music that can't be reproduced live, but most recordings can almost be reproduced live for an audience. By age, music could be compared with wine. Are wines from 2012 better than wines from 1950?

In writing, or perhaps some kinds of movies, if you say "I'm influenced by...", many people immediately start to judge according to an ideological lens. In music, you can say that it has a lot to do with specifically musical aspects of the influence, although presumably one is generally also attracted to be influenced by musicians who make you think, inspire in a socio-political sense, etc.

In writing, you can't often say "oh, I just love this specific way of the turn of phrase, this type of literary tool, as inspired by ..." whereas it was also the socio-political relevance that attracted you. Maybe sometimes, but not often. Consider Bob Marley. Very danceable music and pleasant/happy to listen to (even though many themes are in fact troubling if you take the time to learn about them), if generally quite simple. Was reggae popular because of the beats or the message? Obviously, both, but I think if it was just the beats, the influence would have been slim to nothing.

In other words, it's easier to cover up the socio-political aspects of why an artist would have been drawn to another artist. And then, having listened lots and lots to them, start to copy their ways in the more technical/artistic sense.

Ever met a strongly pro-capitalist person who is a huge fan of John Lennon? Maybe they get along with his tunes, but definitely very few dedicated fans in that cross-section.

Great point - why has TV improved since the 60s in a way that literature, or music, or even movies, have not? The corollary question is whether TC has really "improved," as opposed to just changed to something we currently happen to like better. (It's possible that 2040s audiences will see aGOT as an embarrassing artifact of the past and believe that Happy Days is a far superior program).

> why has TV improved since the 60s in a way that literature, or music, or even movies, have not?

Answer is simple: revenue model. Pay TV enables what was once impossible, just as streaming makes it impossible for anyone to become the next Beatles.

Porn was doing much better before pay tv.

And "pay tv" has not produced much of anything that wasn't first done on broadcast tv.

House of Cards is just a more extreme version overdone of the British broadcast tv series. In fact, the number of "pay tv" remakes of British broadcast tv series is remarkable. I'd argue the cutting edge of serial movies is out of the UK and EU.

TV once meant three big networks, thus creating a market for shows that had at least some appeal for practically everyone.

Today even the most popular TV can't get the share-of-audience numbers that was possible then, but, that has freed producers to produce what a smaller audience might like intensely (instead of blander material made to please practically everyone).

Then Fox picked up the Simpsons and then X-Files, and what's now CW picked up Buffy and ST:voyager.

The big 3 never could handle graphic stories or s/f genre.

Fox captured a significant share of boomer young adults, and wb/upn teens plus boomer s/f fans.

Today Fox is a reliable channel for graphic stories in both graphic and human form, and CW is the reliable s/f channel which keeps a large production system going and developing new artists and craftsmen.

It's all about the labor force. The labor value chain turning imagination into reality. Josh Weedon and Chris Carter and Matt Groening, et al, are icons thanks to the labor value chain. My earlier life icons were pretty much individualists: Asimov, Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Milton Friedman, ... The former improved the general welfare far more than the latter by redistributing wealth from the idling masses to tens of thousands of workers.

Rock has arguably seen no meaningful innovation since the 1990s or so, especially in the mainstream. But that logic absolutely does not apply to mainstream hip-hop or R&B (& related pop) or EDM, the first two of which which have been outselling rock for years, so I'm not sure that's it. I suspect some of the explanations given below are much more important.

Mostly I agree. However, the Mumford and Sons stuff ... it seems that a lot of acts have taken that sort of feel.

Most of what I've heard in recent years from the industry is basically a simple background beat, an appropriate number of bells and whistles, very simple song structure, just the right length of song for attention span and radio play, largely cleansed of anything critical of the establishment ... and some lyrics based around sex, tugging on emotional strings, carefully written lyrics which play on people's insecurities, desires, etc.

Basically, if the industry gets behind it, that's basically a sign that there's nothing really of interest. They've found the right face and gyrations to market.

What real innovation have you seen in hip-hop and R&B since the 1990s?

If 48% of purchased vinyl is never even listened to (per previous link) they are more akin to baseball cards than actual musical artifacts. If these items to not appreciate in value I sense there will be a crash in that market just as there was in sport cards. If so, I suspect in 5 years time, vinyl sales will again drop off substantially.

This is disingenuous in several ways.

First, the streaming number only includes ad-supported streaming, and ignores the approximately $1 billion coming from subscribers.

Second, those are revenue numbers. Revenue from vinyl involves significant costs. Revenue from streaming, for labels, involves almost no marginal cost. I'd expect that even with those limited revenue numbers, profit would be greater from streaming.

Still, vinyl is resurgent.

Beat me to all of this. From tfa:

"Paid subscription services demonstrated, by far, the most notable growth, up 52.3% from 2014 sales figures to more than $1.2 billion in 2015. They’ve surpassed digital downloads of albums, but not of singles, though both of those streams declined last year."

Vinyl generated 416M in revenue, as Scott pointed out above that is revenue, not profit.

My 19 yo niece is crazy about vinyl. I have hundreds of vinyl records and have contemplated getting back into it but idk...too much work.

There is way too much music available out there. We need more curators.

Maybe it's me, but I don't feel the urge to "own" the music as I once did. My actual purchases have dropped off even as my listening time has increased.

In college I downloaded a large number of songs from the Apple iTunes store to my laptop. I then synched my laptop with my iPhone and listened to them on my iPhone.

One day my college laptop died. The songs were still on my iPhone - but I couldn't transfer them from the iPhone to another computer. I couldn't connect my iPhone to a new computer without losing my songs from the old one.

Apple has some complex, cloud-based solution to all this, but I never got it to work.

Instead, I no longer listen to music on my iPhone and just stream from spotify, using YouTube to listen to artists (like Taylor Swift) who are not on Spotify. I might eventually pay for a premium Spotify account so I can listen on my iPhone.

If you bought the music from iTunes you can call Apples Support and get it all back. All the purchased music should be available to download to up to 5 authorized devices. And you can get any old devices removed from the list. Any purchases bought at the 99 cent (locked) rate may have to be upgraded to the $1.29 unlocked (and higher quality format) and so you might have to pay 30 cents per song.

You also don't need an Apple device. I listen to iTunes on my Dell laptop more than I do on my iPhone.

I agree, it's not the PITA it was a few years ago. Just sign into iTunes and on the apple store page there's a link to your purchases and download all from there. Or for the newest versions, it will just show everything iTunes thinks you've owned after you sign in on the normal music screen.
That being said, backups are still a better plan, especially if you get your music from a non-Apple source.

I primarily use streaming music as background noise. When I want to listen to music "seriously" I set aside a couple of hours each week and listen as I would at a concert. Those sessions are about half CD/SACD and half vinyl.

Not only is the percentage of revenue generated by vinyl sales tiny, the number of units sold is negligible by present, and past, standards. The fact that the units sold is so small, is the reason why the year to year growth for vinyl is so high. The market for vinyl is still very much a niche market of limited edition releases sold atticus based on scarcity to collectors hoping that these discs will be investments, rather than fans dying to hear their old favorites again.

The trend is still interesting, as it seems to be the only physical music media that *isn't* going down Y2Y. CDs are definitely losing out in the younger demographic that buys more music.

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