Tag Archives: Music

Spotify: Who’s the Real Enemy?

Music is the most universally emotional device in the world. Whether it’s a first world country full of technology or a tribe of indigenous people with a bunch of handmade drums, music plays a role in their culture. There’s something about music that allows people to connect to emotions. Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic, I put on The Early November.

With that being said, it’s obvious that the music industry is a multibillion-dollar industry. But the question remains, how do these companies get music into the listener’s hands? Since there is so much money involved, the market is plenty saturated. The mainstream methods of my youth were CDs. One would go to their local Sam Goody, Hastings, or Best Buy and pick up the album of an up and coming artist on a Tuesday. However, that has changed drastically.

spotify streamingIn 1999, Napster was created to allow anyone to file-share music. Due to the legal infractions on copyright, it didn’t last long. Fast-forward to 2006, Spotify was founded. Rather than file sharing, Spotify allows listeners to stream music on an ad-based platform or pay up to $9.99 for an ad-free listening experience on the go with access through smartphones.

This seemed like a great outlet for artists to get exposure through digital distribution and to make a little money on the side. You can find pretty much any song from any artist on there. However, there have been mixed reviews about whether or not this is good for the music industry.

Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify last year. She believes that Spotify is robbing artists of money and squashing creativity. Swift told Business Insider, “I’m always up for trying something. And I tried it and I didn’t like the way it felt. I think there should be an inherent value placed on art.” She went on to explain that streaming has greatly decreased the amount of money artists can make.

Spotify DownloadDaniel Ek, CEO of Spotify feels differently about their distribution model. Ek explained in an article that “Our whole reason for existence is to help fans find music and help artists connect with fans through a platform that protects them from piracy and pays them for their amazing work.” He continued stating that the real enemy is piracy. Piracy is how listeners are stealing from artists. Spotify has paid out $2 billion dollars to artists since it’s inception. That’s compared to a whopping $0 that piracy has contributed.

Victory recordsIt’s clear that Spotify has paid out artists compared to other venues like Pirate Bay. But there is some shady stuff going on. Last week, I was feeling nostalgic again and I tried to pull up Hawthorne Heights to only find that it has been removed from Spotify. In anger and frustration, I began to blame Victory records for removing their artists from Spotify.

After a little digging, I found that Spotify is allegedly the one to blame at this point. The record label was quoted in a Rolling Stone article saying, “Victory Records’ catalog of music was pulled from Spotify last night [Monday] as a result of Spotify not properly paying publishing revenues due to Victory Records’ artists in blatant violation of US Copyright laws.” However, it came out that Victory records is not paying their artists and holding all the profit. Spotify will likely resolve this issue with Victory Records once they make some form of agreement to pay out artists properly.

The way people are receiving content whether it is movies or music is evolving into a streaming method. Ek said Spotify is not only streaming, but mainstreaming. It will affect content creators regardless, but is it wise to go against the grain? Ironically enough, the week after Taylor Swift pulled 1989 from Spotify, it was the number one downloaded album on Pirate Bay.

Peter Seifert

Is Spotify Good or Evil?

With over 50 million users across the globe, Spotify is the leader of all of the online music streaming services. Spotify has had an increase in profits but has also had an increase in loss. The New York Times reported that Spotify earned $1.3 Billion dollars in 2014, a 45% increase from the previous year.

Spoify logoBut along with the increase in revenue Spotify also lost a total of $197 million dollars, more than the $68 million that they had lost the year before. Spotify blamed the loss of revenue on the employee hiring that they had done that year stating that they had hired 958 new employees.

As the leading music streaming site it is important for Spotify to have popular artists so that they can increase the number of paid subscribers to help increase their revenue. The only issue is that Spotify pays artists .00068 cents per stream. While plays keep adding up it can lead up to quite a large sum of money but not as much money as if people had actually bought the music.

Time Magazine reported on how much the top songs were making. Calvin Harris’ song “Summer” made a total of $1.7 million dollars in 2014. It had a total of 203 million streams throughout the year. While to the common person that seems like a lot of money, artists have a completely different opinion.

Last November Taylor Swift made a giant splash right before her 1989 album release. Taylor Swift decided to take her music off of Spotify, saying:

“I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.’ I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.”

taylor swift and spotifyTaylor Swift has a respectable opinion on it. Swift didn’t like her music being on Spotify because, “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.” Most people would agree with her, but some people would think that having her fans enjoy her music is better than her getting compensated for it.

Pirating has become such an issue with music over the past few years. Having your music on Spotify creates a little bit of revenue and it is better than receiving nothing for your music at all.

Even though Spotify may not be beneficial to mainstream artists it is however extremely beneficial for underground and local artists. It is really easy for underground and local music to be spread around. Artists can put their music up for free and can be spread across by word of mouth. People can suggest a band and tell their friends that they are on Spotify and then that person can just whip out their phone and find them in the blink of an eye.

There are pros and cons of Spotify. A con would be that mainstream artists do not feel like they are being compensated. A pro is that it can be beneficial to not very well known artists. Maybe Spotify will increase the amount of money for ad free streaming to try and keep the popular artists there or maybe they will find something else. Will Spotify stay the top streaming site over the next couple of years?

Daniel Hampe

Death to the Download: Why the Competition for Listens is Tougher Than Ever

For most of the 2000’s, digital music downloads made up the majority of ways people would buy and listen to music. Everyone you knew in 2008 had an iPod/mp3 player and if they didn’t, they sure wanted one. To be able to take your little square music box and your white headphones anywhere you wanted was a total game changer. This was the way we listened and would continue to listen to music forever. Or so we thought…

Streaming MusicWith the emergence of streaming websites such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Tidal, we no longer have to pay for each individual song. Remember the countless hours of putting together the perfect playlist and waiting through downloads upon downloads? Well now Spotify does that for you. Do you remember spending hours and hours surfing the net to find that new sound you had been looking for? It was just barely worth showing your friends the next big song. Now Pandora does that for you.

Pandora LogoPandora is a massive player in the music streaming industry. Pandora was founded in 2000, establishing itself as one of the first sites to jump start the streaming bandwagon. Pandora attempts to be a different animal, and the same beast (maybe this will make that reference work a little bit better for you). It changes the game with how it lets you stream music. You don’t pick songs to listen to, you pick a song you like and it plays you songs that you would be interested in based on that selection. This clearly has it’s uses, and its drawbacks.

Spotify LogoAnother one of the music industry giants that contributed to the gradual decline of download music is Spotify. Based on its website, Spotify claims to have over 75 million active users. If each of those users listen to one song a day (which some won’t, but some could listen to dozens a day) that’s at least 75 million plays a day. I imagine the number is much higher than that, but that is a lot of traffic on one site. Spotify also boasts a library of more than 30 million songs, rivaling that of Apple Music. These numbers should be more than terrifying to Apple and Amazon, similar to trends of people ditching cable for streaming, it is apparent that people know what they want, and they aren’t going away from it any time soon.

Apple Music  Tidal Music

Apple Music and Tidal are a little bit new to the streaming scene. Apple quickly recognized that what it was doing before was no longer an option, so they had to change. Enter Apple Music. It’s a streaming service that for a monthly fee you can listen to all of the songs that you want on itunes. It also creates playlist based on songs you already have downloaded. It is by Apple obviously, so people like it because they already have their macbooks and iphones so the integration is nice.

Tidal is a new company that is more for the artist. Tidal, by far, pays more to the artist for their music. Spotify pays the least. Tidal is a pretty fresh concept and so far hasn’t worked out like they had planned. It definitely has potential, but it is almost too early to tell in many ways.

Company Pros Cons
Spotify User friendly, large library, free. Ads, some artist refuse to use it (Taylor Swift).
Pandora Free, large library. Can’t choose specific song.
Apple Music Apple integration, large library, huge potential. Not free, relatively new and unknown.
Tidal Jay Z’s circle, fresh idea, pays more. Not free, to new to fully understand.

To me the clear winner in this comparison is Spotify. It has a hold on the streaming game and is not about to let go any time soon. That being said, Apple Music and Tidal do have the potential to overtake Spotify if they make all the right moves. If Jay Z can get music that other services can’t, it will put a real strangle hold on Spotify. Apple Music already has the plat form to be successful. They just need to utilize what they have and not be ignorant to what the people want. As for now, however, it is and will continue to be all about Spotify.

Trey Kamberling

Beats by Dre: #SoloSelfie

Beats by Dre has done it again. Their #SoloSelfie campaign is designed to promote the new Solo Beats 2 headphones. The campaign calls for users to take their #SoloSelfie and upload it to social media with the hashtag #SoloSelfie. In this blog post I will provide information about Beats by Dre’s marketing strategy, their innovation on the selfie, and the power of the hashtag. I will also question the effectiveness of Beats by Dre’s current strategies.

Soloselfie

Beats by Dre was originally founded by rapper and hip-hop producer, Dr. Dre, and Intercope-Geffen-A&M Records chairman, Jimmy Lovine. On August 1, 2014, Apple Inc. acquired Beats for $3 billion in a cash and stock deal. Beats by Dre’s primary focus is on headphones and speakers. Dr. Dre claims his headphones allow listeners to hear “all the music”.

I own a pair of Beats by Dre Studio headphones, and to be honest, I did not buy them for their high quality of audio. I bought them because they look good and their noise cancellation is awesome. I also like the company because my favorite NBA player, LeBron James, has his own Beats line of headphones.

The headphones have a strong emphasis on the bass in songs. So for hip-hop and most pop songs the headphones are perfect, however for anything else the audio quality is not really worth the high price. So why are they one of the most popular headphones on the market? They became popular through their marketing practices. Beats by Dre focuses heavily on product placement and branding deals with celebrities.

The #SoloSelfie campaign is loaded with celebrity endorsers wearing the new Solo2 Beats headphones while performing the “Solo Selfie. Beats by Dre produced several promotional videos showing off the new Solo2 headphones, with directions on how to do the Solo Selfie. The video below was their first promotional video for the campaign and currently has about 17 mil views on YouTube.

The promotional video has many celebrities performing the Solo Selfie. Shortly after this video was launched, Beats by Dre revealed an extended version designed to teach users how to take a solo selfie. This video is filled with the same celebrities; only they are the ones teaching how to do the Solo Selfie. This video currently has about 1.5 mil views on YouTube.

As you can see in both of these videos, the #SoloSelfie campaign is definitely targeting younger generations that love to share pictures of themselves. Beats by Dre stepped it up by doing a video selfie, an innovation following the photo selfie.

Once people across the world found out about this campaign, Vine exploded with users posting their Solo Selfies. Some users made Vines making fun of it while others just posted their own Solo Selfie. Good publicity or bad publicity is still a good thing for Beats by Dre and their campaign. As long as people are posting their videos with the hashtag Solo Selfie, it is earned media for the company.

According the Beats by Dre website, about 17 mil people have joined their movement. This number is based on how many people have shared their Solo selfie on any social media site with their hashtag. This just shows how powerful the hashtag can be. With this campaign they want their users to feel connected and have the ability to like, comment, and share other Solo Selfies. The hashtag makes this happen.

Beats by Dre has built their company around their branding. The #SoloSelfie campaign is no different. Is their celebrity strategy working? It seems to be connecting with younger audiences, but they haven’t reached the older crowd just yet. Beats by Dre will continue to have great success as long as they remain true to their branding and continue to receive celebrity support. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog post. Feel free to respond with your opinions on whether or not Beats by Dre’s current marketing strategies are working for their brand.

-Thomas Zittergruen

Soundcloud’s Push for Prominence (and Profit)

With over 350 million users and no considerable fiscal return, Soundcloud is now dipping into some new ideas to make their business platform more profitable.

SoundcloudTwitter recently introduced Audio Card a partnership with the German music-streaming service that allows users to play music directly from their timeline. It allows artists to seamlessly share their work with fans without interrupting the way they browse through tweets, providing a valuable utility for the way people discover new music.

Soundcloud is also working to appeal with more mainstream audiences by initiating changes that allow for the monetization of their distribution methods. By implementing an advertising system to their site, it’s becoming clear that their goal is to start profiting from their business model.

However, Soundcloud remains unique compared to its competitors because it’s a service that’s just as much oriented to assist the artist whose distributing their content rather than the person who’s listening to it. The introduction of On Soundcloud is clear proof of this; it functions as a partner program for artists that gives them a way to earn royalties from their work.

So how will this affect traditional record labels in their efforts to sell and distribute music? The route of self-distribution is becoming more and more lucrative for up-and-coming musicians looking for the capability to reach mass audiences at a cheap price. Not only useful for smaller independent artists, but Soundcloud is a valuable asset for prominent musicians who want a way to release songs directly to the listener. Acts like Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, and Diplo are all signed to major labels, yet release new music for free though Soundcloud.

Soundcloud1According to Billboard, Soundcloud is currently engaged in “active, ongoing and advanced discussion” with the three major labels in an effort to integrate copyrighted material into what can be played on their site. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in the development of a paid-subscription plan for listeners, and will surely play a big role in competing with outlets like iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify.

The addition of advertising may prompt some legal lawsuits for Soundcloud, similar to what YouTube dealt with in 2007. The National Music Publishers Association argues that since they are uploading copyrighted content, they should be required to pay royalties. Soundcloud stands by the notion that since it’s for promotional use only, it’s still fair game. Both sides are looking for a win-win situation, so these discussions are still ongoing.

The future for Soundcloud remains somewhat hazy and uncertain, but one thing is for sure: They need to start making money if they want to stick around, because they can’t continue to operate with such large net losses. It’s clear they are taking the necessary steps to do so, and it will be interesting to monitor what kind of success rate they will experience.

Mike Hudson

Why Singles Ruin Music

Singles are select songs from albums that artists and record companies distribute to promote record sales, but in recent years sales of singles has actually affected album sales.

In years past, singles were sold on 45-RPM records with either other promotional singles, or B-sides to the album itself. This eventually evolved to the cassette single by the late 1980s, which held either a few songs, or the single plus remixes or alternate recordings. By the 1990s, the Compact Disc replaced the cassette, and singles were released on this format, usually in a cheap, flimsy case and contained either a few songs, or remixes similar to the cassette.

CD singles were not as popular as earlier varieties, and record companies feared they would take away from album sales, causing the change from “Singles Charts” to “Album Charts” in the late 1990s. This trend continued into the 2000s, until Apple released the iPod, and iTunes shortly after, causing a revolution in music distribution.

Because of this new format, it is much easier to sell single songs over full albums because they are cheaper, and Apple makes it possible to buy individual songs, when a person would normally have to buy the whole album.

The problem in this case is that artists are now focusing on this new format, and have turned from writing whole albums with a central theme, to writing individual songs with no connection to each other. Artists also concentrate on writing a handful—or less—of good songs and releasing an album with “filler tracks,” or tracks that have little thought or effort into them just to fill album space.

Lady Gaga

iTunes has a bar graph that shows a song’s popularity compared to other songs on a particular album. In popular music, these graphs generally show a few songs on an album with a popularity of 10, and the rest of the songs with a popularity of 5 or less. With this specific example of Lady Gaga’s “The Fame,” the top four selling songs on the album are all popular radio singles, the rest of the songs on the album are seldom—if ever—played on airwaves. This example also has an “album only” option for the final song, which means the song can only be purchased by buying the whole album, as opposed to an individual download. With this example, the album only track has 0-out-of-10 bars, indicating very little sales compared to other songs.

The distribution of music from Taylor Swift offers a different example of how singles dominate the album selection. On her album page, Taylor Swift’s singles outnumber her albums. This persuades consumers to buy singles over full-fledged albums, boasting a lower price, and containing the most popular songs on the album.

Taylor Swift

Not all artists are following in the digital downloading trend. The progressive band Tool doesn’t allow any of their music to be downloaded from iTunes or Amazon MP3. Instead, the band encourages their fans to go to record stores and buy physical albums, and is against buying individual tracks.

Music thingAt the other end of the spectrum, there are artists who feel the idea of digitally downloading and paying for albums should be the fan’s choice. The band Radiohead released their 2007 album “In Rainbows” on their own website, and let fans decide what they wanted to pay. This type of procedure is called a “pay-what-you-want” download. Other artists have had similar success with this idea. The independent YouTube personality Keith Apicary sold his debut album as a pay-what-you-want download in 2010, letting fans decide the price.

CD bundles are also becoming more popular, combining an album with live footage/recordings or additional albums included. With video becoming more and more important to consumers, this medium has the possibility to bring back the sale of physical records.

I think that people should stop downloading singles and start buying physical albums again. This should not fall solely to the consumer, though. Artists need to start looking back at what made music great years ago, and follow the same idea. Instead of writing individual songs, they should start writing albums with a central theme.

In my opinion, collectors buy CDs, and serious music collectors buy vinyl. My reasoning behind this is that physical albums come with so much more than digital singles. With an album you get the album artwork, along with a booklet that my contain lyrics to songs, or an inside look to the recording process or previous concert tours. Many believe that vinyl has the best sound.

Kyle Flathers

When Music Went Digital: Launching the Digital Music Downloading Era

Imagine if Cable and satellite stations did away with their whole packaging bundles and instead gave each customer the power to pay for stations on an individual basis.

No longer would you have pay for a large expensive cable/satellite bundle just so you could watch a handle full of stations. You would be able to pay for only the stations you wanted to see and not be stuck with a hefty price tag having to pay for a bunch of other channels you never watched.

In essence this is what the introduction of digital downloadable music did for the music business. Thanks to the introduction of the digital download, if a listener liked a particular song they didn’t have to go out and buy the musician’s whole cd just to get that one particular song, especially if they wouldn’t like the other songs. The introduction of the digital download service allowed customers to buy songs on an individual basis at cheap prices.

iTunes Chart
iTunes Downloads

When Apple launched its Digital download service in April of 2003, it introduced a new way consumers could buy music. This new format came at a point when music sales were already at their strongest, with CD’s selling nearly a billion units a year after the turn of the millennium. It wasn’t long until it was made clear that consumers preferred the pick and choose convenience of digital downloading as digital units outsold CD’s by 2007. By 2011 digital downloading grossed more revenue than physical albums. Just last year alone, Digital downloads outsold their physical counterparts 7 to 1.

Why Digital Downloads?

The two main driving factors behind the successes of the digital download are price and convenience. The underlying attribute of the successes of digital music is the pricing: physical formats like the CD have production costs and distribution costs. This leads the Label to share some of the burden with you as they charge some $13 for a new release at a local retailer.

iTunes and other digital music distributors don’t have pricey production and distribution costs, and customers can buy singles for McDonald’s Value Menu prices, from between 99 cents and $1.29. The digital version of songs provide customers with a great value. If you’re like me, you probably only buy a handful of artist’s albums.

It is a real convenience to be able to buy just the single you might have heard on the radio. You don’t have to drop everything and drive on down to the closest retailer just to purchase the song. With digital downloading you can get the song in an instant just by firing up iTunes on your computer. The emergence of smartphones and other internet equipped mobile devices now even allows you to buy songs if you’re on the go.

The Trouble with Piracy

After ten years, digital downloads face old and new foes alike, including piracy and the recent emergence of music streaming applications.

Though digital music introduced a quicker way for us to receive music, it also made it easier to pirate music. Since music made its digital debut at the turn of the millennium music sales have nearly dropped by 50%, much of this because of piracy. The Recording Industry Association of America reports that on average we illegally download somewhere between $7 and $14 billion dollars’ worth of songs annually.

US Album Sales

Spotify/Pandora taking a toll on digital downloading?

Spotify
Spotify use in 2012

The emergence of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify also seem to affecting the digital music industry. If you have unlimited accesses to stream whatever you want from wherever with Spotify/Pandora on your phone, then what’s the point of ever having to pay for and download songs anymore?

What’s the Future of Digital Downloading?

With Spotify and Pandora become ever more popular, will streaming replace iTunes and downloading like digital downloading replaced CD’s in the early 2000’s?

Many major artists have sided with downloading over streaming services, claiming that streaming takes away from album sales, thus hurting their chance of making a living. Artists like Taylor Swift, Kid Rock, and AC-DC, have choose in the past few years not to release their records onto streaming services, in hopes that they’ll see higher album sales.

Taylor Swift

But is this enough to combat streaming? Surely there can be more done to make iTunes/digital downloading more appealing. Might I suggest a lowering in digital album and single prices? If consumers are able to buy whole albums digitally, as well as singles at an equally reduced price, I think it will encourage more people to go out there and buy the songs/albums they like.

What changes do you think need to be made by iTunes and digital downloading’s to help them compete with streaming services? Do you see streaming as the new standard of how we listen to music? Please feel to leave your comments below, and thanks for the read!

– Carver Terpstra

The Loudness War: Is Quality Overrated?

Have you ever listened to your music at a comfortable volume when all of a sudden, the next song wants to blow your speakers? This is a result of the music industry’s Loudness War and it all started in the ’90s.  Producers and record label higher-ups are making the decision to bump up the overall song volume before its release.

For me this causes problems like a song losing dynamics, potentially clipped or distorted sound, and simply getting tired of continuously changing the volume.

Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” has been criticized over and over again for being a “loud” album.  If you look at the picture below, it compares the original release with a less-loud version available for download on Guitar Hero.

Top: Original Release, Bottom: Guitar Hero Version
Top: Original Release, Bottom: Guitar Hero Version
Michael_Jackson-Black_or_White_Loudness
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”

Another good example of the differences between releases of a same song is Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”.  This picture shows the waveform of the original compared to two re-releases on different compilation albums.  Notice how the volume gets raised with each release.

Increasing a song’s volume in this manner destroys its dynamics (link).  Build ups, louds, and softs all lose their intensity when they fall victim to the Loudness War.  As a result, the end product is generally not the same as the artist intended it.  As a producer, I don’t like to step on an artist’s toes in the creative process, so why go behind their backs in post-production? Not to mention that bumping up the volume can greatly affect the song’s fidelity.  In today’s tech world where we are continuously trying to increase quality with new formats, HD, and lossless compression, why do we hinder ourselves with a song that isn’t in the best quality it can be?

Music Machinery does a good job on comparing “loud” to “normal” or “quiet” artists.  15,000 songs were compared from the top 1000+ artists.  The average rating was -9.5dB and a “loud” artist was considered -5dB+.  They point out that in the loud section, Avril Lavigne is louder than Metallica and Katy Perry is louder than Megadeth.  Also worth pointing out, there are heavier artists that still made the quiet section such as The Velvet Underground, Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins and Aphex Twin.

Now, I don’t expect any of you to go out and remove anything loud from your collection because of the Loudness War, but I hope that you keep and open ear and be critical about loud music.  Many producers and organizations like Turn Me Up! and the European Broadcast Union are also voicing concern about this production malpractice.  I think songs should stick out because of their musicality and creativity, not because some jerk in the industry has a new compressor.  Let’s let the listener decide if a song should be “turned up.”

Jake Swesey