Must See Documentary: The Way the Music Died: Why You Should #DitchSpotify

Big thanks to Jon at Camden Live for posting about this really important documentary about the deep, down and dirty effects of Spotify on music, musicians and the creative process.

It’s always been a hard road for musicians to make money from their songs. Nonetheless, selling tons of singles and albums was at least a target and something bands could dream about.  Of course, there were many ways the labels could work the sales figures to get their shares out first, and only then the bands might see something. Despite the conflict between the often industrial-strength labels and the upcoming artists, there was at least hope that money was flowing back to the content creators.  Now though in the age of streaming music, the connection between making music and making a living is profoundly broken.

This schism is the subject matter for Lightbringer Production’s documentary film “The Way The Music Died” featuring insights from musicians and industry pros, including Mishkin Fitzgerald from Birdeatsbaby.  The film probes the spirit of artists determined to keep writing songs in the face of the meager payouts from the giant and ever-growing music stream service Spotify. Find out why this is ripping-out the heart and soul of new music.

#DitchSpotify

@artistrightsnow Op-Ed: Spotify’s New ‘Discovery Mode’ Is Just Payola

Getting discovered in the music business has never been easy. Before the pandemic, artists could at least rely on the industry’s historic mainstay to break through — playing as many gigs as possible and hoping to build a following. But with that path closed for now, artists and their label partners are increasingly dependent on Spotify, the undisputed king of music streaming, and its black box algorithms.

That’s why Spotify’s cynical decision to use this moment to launch a new pay-for-play scheme pressuring vulnerable artists and smaller labels to accept lower royalties in exchange for a boost on the company’s algorithms is so exploitative and unfair. Artists must unite to condemn this thinly disguised royalty cut, which apparently has just been released in “beta” mode and is soon expected to enter the market in full force. 

Read the post on Rolling Stone

Working for free only pays off for the owners of AI. And then there’s a negative side.

Yes, the word around the pitstop on the race to The Singularity is that the Epsilons are getting tired. The dominance of artificial intelligence playlist algorithms on artists’ careers is beyond chafing at a surface level–it’s wearing away muscle and bone.

Stuart Dredge has an insightful post on the subject with a couple choice quotes:

“We’re asking artists to do a lot. They’re not just recording and touring. Now they’re expected to understand crypto and NFTs, and expected to be using TikTok on a regular basis, and be on their Twitter feed, and on Instagram, and creating content and engaging with fans,” said Matthew Maysonet, head of sales and marketing at Empire.

“It’s a huge task! They’re holding multiple jobs in addition to creating art, and I think a lot of times, people forget that music is art, and it takes a certain mindset and level of focus to create that itself, let alone commercialise and monetise it.”

“We do risk burnout for some artists who are using all these socials, including having to worry about the algorithms on different DSPs. ‘If I don’t release a single every five to six weeks I’m not pinging that algorithm and my monthly listeners are going to decrease…’”

“Those are things that artists never had to really worry about before, at least on this score. I’m excited to see how we as an industry accommodate and approach that over the next few years to even things out a little bit… I think it’s something we should be addressing.”

It is something we should be addressing, but it’s at the core of the streaming juggernaut that has made a number of powerful people very, very rich. We don’t have to renew Daniel Ek’s role as Simon Legree, but firing him will not be easy since he essentially is the streaming hegemon based on his supervoting shares of Spotify’s stock alone.

What is artificial intelligence that is at the core of playlist algorithms? it’s kind of like having a continual seat belt warning with an automated driving system that keeps you from moving over 5 mph but forces you to drive forward and then backward over endless speed bumps combined with always-on parental controls all rolled into one and implanted in your brain, but operated by droids who speak in sentences they claim to be declarative but end with a question inflection who keep warning you that you’re choosing not to work hard enough for a reward (so it’s your fault you’re broke) while Daniel Ek and the swamp children float through a miasma of misery asking “how many fingers, Winston?” as though that made sense. And you do it all for free so a Prime Mover can scrape your data, your fans’ data, and the data of your unborn children and sell it to the other members of the data timocracy, all for the hope of hitting a jackpot when the odds are all on the house. Because Justin Bieber.

Cool, huh? Let’s have more of that. And somewhere Russ Solomon is saying, “Miss me yet?” This is why I say “data is the new exposure.”

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that artists have had about enough of this whole thing, but having boarded Kafka’s Merry Go Round with hope, they are having a hard time getting off with their sanity.

Which is to say that changing this predictable Hunter S. Thompson universe we’ve allowed to fester is not going to be easy, but if we don’t…we may find that “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Another One Bites the Dust: Bandcamp acquired by Tencent’s Epic Games and still no fairness for session musicians

Bandcamp has been a safe haven for independent artists for years and throughout the pandemic. When asked by fans where fans can go to engage in fair commerce with artists outside of the downward centrifugal force of the big pool maelstrom, many said go to Bandcamp.

Now that Bandcamp is acquired by Epic Games, the cats paw of its 40% owner (that we know of) the Chinese surveillance company Tencent, the bloom may be off the rose. Tencent, like its affiliate Spotify, uses music for data scraping in the music-driven streaming data honeypot.

An example: Spotify has integrated “neuromarketing” into its advertising sales efforts.  “Neuromarketing” is an ethically controversial area of research; the literature tells us, for example, that “…recent opinions on ‘neuromarketing’ within the neuroscience literature have strongly questioned the ethics of applying imaging techniques to the purpose of “finding the ‘buy button in the brain’ and …creating advertising campaigns that we will be unable to resist.”).  In other words, “neuromarketing” marries quite well with the addictive qualities of social media and the endless playlist of the celestial jukebox designed to keep “users” connected to Spotify, or what I call the “streaming data honeypot.”

The Bandcamp sale raises a number of competition questions, however, and also some business ethics questions if nothing else. First and foremost is the ability of platforms like Bandcamp to follow in the steps of Google, Facebook, Tunecore and Spotify and skim the cream off of the artist’s efforts to drive traffic to their platforms for years that adds tremendous value to the firms’ valuation, yet does not share in that value with the artists when they cash in on all the years of work. This is particularly insulting when it comes to session musicians, or the “nonfeatured artists,” who get zero from streaming and less than zero on platform payday, be it an acquisition like Bandcamp or a public offering like Spotify–or Tencent.

Doing the acquisition through Epic Games allows Tencent to hide its hand and the other activities it engages in like surveillance of international users for the Chinese government through its WeChat messaging app.

How does this all jibe with the Bandcamp ethos? Well, it certainly wasn’t mentioned in the Bandcamp founder’s groovy message about “joining” the Tencent ecosystem. A target describing getting acquired as “joining” the buyer is Orwellian Silicon Valley-speak for “cashing out on your hard work and giving you nothing” as opposed to “I took twenty pieces of silver.”

Was there any discussion of what happens to fan data going forward now that it’s partly owned by someone who has real problems with surveillance? Or any protections from what happens when Tencent buys a majority stake in Epic?

Nope.

What it does tell you is that streaming is now becoming a game of market share, largely driven in my view by the tension at the heart of the market-centric royalty model. That algebra boils down to this: Your Streams ÷ Total Streams = Your Royalty. When the number of recordings on streaming platforms like Spotify increases at a rate of tens of thousands a day, there will be an impact, even at the margins, on the number of Total Streams. If Your Streams does not increase at a rate that is greater than the increase in the rate of Total Streams, what happens?

Your royalty declines over time. It is math. It will happen–unless–unless you find a way to slow that decline by increasing Your Streams (which was the plan). The fastest way to do that is to acquire catalogs. Note that even if you have hits and build careers, it may not do that much long term to increase your streaming revenues quarter after quarter, which translates into month after month, week after week, day after day. And as streaming is becoming the dominant distribution configuration…that only left platforms like Bandcamp as a place that artists could get a fair return and sell in configurations of their choice. We’ll see how long that lasts.

What it does mean is that the industry got a little more concentrated and choices got a little narrower and achieving escape velocity of the streaming tractor beam of death got a little harder. And another one bites the dust.