Late last month, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a brief post on Facebook at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, asking his friends for forgiveness not just for his personal failures but also for his professional ones, especially “the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together.” He was heeding the call of the Jewish Day of Atonement to take stock of the year just passed as he pledged that he would “work to do better.”
Such a somber, self-critical statement hasn’t been typical for the usually sunny Mr. Zuckerberg, who once exhorted his employees at Facebook to “move fast and break things.” In the past, why would Mr. Zuckerberg, or any of his peers, have felt the need to atone for what they did at the office? For making incredibly cool sites that seamlessly connect billions of people to their friends as well as to a global storehouse of knowledge?
Lately, however, the sins of Silicon Valley-led disruption have become impossible to ignore.
Facebook has endured a drip, drip of revelations concerning Russian operatives who used its platform to influence the 2016 presidential election by stirring up racist anger. Google had a similar role in carrying targeted, inflammatory messages during the election, and this summer, it appeared to play the heavy when an important liberal think tank, New America, cut ties with a prominent scholar who is critical of the power of digital monopolies. Some within the organization questioned whether he was dismissed to appease Google and its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, both longstanding donors, though New America’s executive president and a Google representative denied a connection.
Meanwhile, Amazon, with its purchase of the Whole Foods supermarket chain and the construction of brick-and-mortar stores, pursues the breathtakingly lucrative strategy of parlaying a monopoly position online into an offline one, too.
Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon have become world dominators, the question of the hour is, can the public be convinced to see Silicon Valley as the wrecking ball that it is?
These menacing turns of events have been quite bewildering to the public, running counter to everything Silicon Valley had preached about itself.
It is very likely that we will hear about a move to make significant amendments to the Copyright Act at some point before the beginning of campaign season in 2018. There are a high number of copyright-related bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives in the current session, so brace yourself for an “omnibus” copyright bill that would try to cobble them all together Frankenstein-style.
A Frankenstein omnibus bill would be a very bad idea in my view and will inevitably lead to horse trading of fake issues against a false deadline. Omnibus bills are a bad idea for songwriters and artists, particularly independent songwriters and artists, because omnibus bills tend to bring together Corporate America in attack formation.
[Editor Charlie sez: Mr. Ek, meet Commissioner Vestager….we’ve been hearing this from the “quiet angel” for a while now.]
While competition online starts the same way as that in offline markets, my research shows it often settles very differently online.
Both have seen lots of competitors emerge in a new area underpinned by new technologies. But online, consolidation ends in a high-stakes winner-takes-most “title fight” between the two strongest players.
In search this was AltaVista vs Google, in social media it was MySpace vs Facebook and in business networking Spoke vs LinkedIn. The result is that the victor at this critical juncture goes on to dominate their corner of the market and becomes almost unassailable in that space.
The evidence is mounting that Swedish music streaming company Spotify is on the verge of seizing the crown in music.
Pandora has been for some time the dominant real-time streaming service in the United States. Three years ago it had a clear lead but competition from Spotify appears to be stronger than ever. Pandora was a mass market pioneer in the online “radio” style streaming format where users pick stations and the music is compiled for them, whereas Spotify adopted an on-demand model which has prevailed.
We get an update this week on the total “address unknown” mass NOIs filed with the Copyright Office for the royalty-free windfall loophole. This time we have to thank our our friends at Paperchain in Sydney for doing the work of decompressing the massive numbers of unsearchable compressed files posted on the Copyright Office website. As you can see, there’s been an increase of approximately 70% since January 2017. (For background, see my article.)
As you can see, Amazon is still far and away the leader in this latest loophole designed to stiff songwriters, followed closely by Google. However, Spotify is moving on up. Spotify does get extra points for starting late in March 2017, but they are catching up fast filing over 5,000,000 as of last month.
[Editor Charlie sez: When you read Adam Raymond’s post about Spotify, you’ll probably wonder how these scummy tracks get onto Spotify in the first place. Who thinks of this stuff?
Remember this from Tunecore’s “Music Industry Survival Guide” circa 2009?
TIPS TO SELL MORE MUSIC ONLINE
You’re an artist, composer, performer, you make music: you used TuneCore to distribute your music into iTunes and other stores. Here are some easy ways to get discovered and sell more music.
Cover Popular Songs
Cover versions of songs sell well. Known songs have a built-in audience already. People looking for “Let It Be” or “America the Beautiful” know what they want. If you “cover” (record your own original version) of these songs you create a way to get discovered and make money. And once someone buys a song of yours they are more inclined to listen to and buy other songs you have recorded.
Also, naming your song the same name as a more popular song allows it to surface when people search. With one click to listen to a 30 second stream within the digital stores, you can increase getting heard.Â However, you do want to be careful as to not make a potential fan angry at you for tricking them into listening.
Record Holiday-Themed Music
Music tied into or about a holiday sells well. For example, “spooky” Halloween sound effects or “scary” themed music (i.e. “Tubular Bells”, the theme song to the movie the The Exorcist) sells enormously around Halloween. Christmas music sells really well around the Christmas season. This ties back to covers: a cover of “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bell Rock” can fund you through the rest of the year. Don’t forget other, perhaps neglected holidays throughout the calendar-there is no doubt the world needs a great Groundhog Day or Columbus Day anthem. Be sure to name your songs with easily searchable words.
Stores like eMusic, iTunes and Amazon Music have millions upon millions of songs in their stores. Most customers use the “search” function in the store to find music, so take advantage of it: put words in your album, artist/band and song titles that will help you show up when people search. Are you a mariachi band? Put the word “mariachi” in your name. Is your album a collection of nature sounds? Consider words like “forest” and “natural,” and so on. This is a gray area: if your music sounds like Bob Dylan, don’t necessarily use his name, but you could use words with association, like “folk.” It’s your music, but ask yourself, what words can I use in my band name, album name and/or song name that will cause my music to appear when people search?
Keep this in mind when you read Raymond’s post!]
Excepts from The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry [and Spotify]
On a website with more than 100 million active daily users, there are plenty of ways to game the system, be it for attention, or, if the streams pile up enough, profit. And the frauds cashing in on the latest hot single are hardly alone. A bevy of unknown artists have found ways to juice their streaming totals, whether it’s covering songs from artists who don’t allow their songs on Spotify, or uploading an album of silent tracks, each precisely long enough to generate a fraction of a cent for the artist.
Gaming Spotify does not rely strictly on deception. Some artists, a term used very loosely here, are providing people exactly what they want. It just so happens that what they want is ephemeral nonsense. Take, for example, the artist Happy Birthday Library, whose Spotify catalogue consists of hundreds of personalized versions of “Happy Birthday” streamed more than a million times.
The success of this gimmick — obvious by the sheer number of “Happy Birthday” artists — provides a handy illustration of how much on-demand streaming has changed the way we use music. Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom. The seamless integration of streaming music into our daily lives has encouraged the creation of disposable songs that, years ago, no one would have imagined listening to through speakers. But now that a jazz version of the Gilligan’s Island theme is easily available, why not?….
A cynic might look at all of this and shrug his shoulders. Craven opportunism has been a part of the music industry since the first concert ticket was sold. But even if the money-grubbing isn’t new, the manner in which it’s grubbed is. And no matter who’s doing it, the effect is the same: Music is devalued.
Never before has a song title or artist name been more important than the actual songs themselves. There are no consequences for deception, either. Every day there’s a new mark searching for “Lucky for You That’s What I Like,” and listening to a song by Franz Horrman before realizing his error. Never before have so many songs existed just so an album can have a 20th, 30th, or 40th track. Now, major artists hoping for quick success on the charts can perfect ten songs, or they can just churn out three dozen. The streaming numbers could be the same either way.
One of the internet’s core strengths is its ability to create communities on a scale that were never possible before. People from around the world can loosely group together around a topic remarkably easily. What used to be a niche interest can suddenly be shared with millions of other people.
This has obviously had something of an impact on the music industry….
These “fake hits” are fascinating because they are hits. They have millions upon millions of streams, coming from a huge global audience. And those streams equal a very significant revenue stream. For example, if you get on “Today’s Top Hits”, the biggest playlist on Spotify, you can expect to get at least a couple of hundred thousand streams a day – more if you’re near the top of the playlist – and that adds up to a decent amount of money if you do the math. From one playlist, on one platform.
But they’re still fake. Outside of the bubble, there seems to be very little resonance or connection. You can’t sell out shows based on big streaming numbers alone. These numbers represent attention and revenue, which is great, but the engagement is transitory, at least to the scale that the numbers would suggest. They’re the start of a fan’s journey with an artist rather then the end. The fans listening to tracks on Today’s Top Hits are listening to exactly that – they’re listening to the playlist, not the tracks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – in fact, quite the opposite, it’s an amazingly powerful new mode of music discovery. Where things come unstuck is where this new pattern of engagement – curation bubbles and echo chambers – slams into the traditional record industry.
Is streaming music a good business?
Streaming has taken over as the dominant music format and is attributed with revitalizing the moribund business of record labels big and small. But for streaming companies, the answer is not as clear-cut.