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How Spotify’s algorithms are ruining music
May 2, 2019 | Financial Times | Michael Hann.

(1) FINAL DAYS OF EMI, By Eamonn Forde, Omnibus, RRP£20, 320 pages
(2) SPOTIFY TEARDOWN, By Maria Eriksson, Rasmus Fleischer, Anna Johansson, Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, The MIT Press, RRP£14.99, 288 pages
(3) WAYS OF HEARING, By Damon Krukowski, The MIT Press, RRP£14.99, 136 pages

In April, the IFPI — the global body of the recording industry — released its latest annual Global Music Report. For the fourth consecutive year, revenues were up, to a total of $19.1bn, from a low of $14.3bn in 2014. Nearly half those revenues came from music streaming, driven by a 33 per cent rise in paid subscriptions to services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal...... It is worth remembering that 20 years ago, the IFPI reported global music revenues of $38.6bn. Today’s “booming” recording industry is less than half the size it was at the turn of the century.....The nadir for the recording industry coincided with the first shoots of its regrowth. ....In August 2007, the British record company EMI — the fourth of the majors, alongside Universal, Sony and Warner — was bought by private equity firm Terra Firma (Guy Hands, the fund’s founder and chairman) for $4.7bn; a year later, a Swedish company called Spotify took its music streaming service public. The former was, perhaps, the last gasp of the old way of doing things — less than four years after buying EMI, Terra Firma was unable to meet its debts, and ceded control of the company to its main lender, Citigroup. Before 2011 was out, the process of breaking up EMI had begun...EMI’s demise was foreshadowed before Hands arrived, with a blaze of hubris in the early 2000s. Forde, a longtime observer and chronicler of the music business recounts the “disastrous and expensive” signings of that era......Handspreached the need to use data when signing artists, not just the “golden ears” of talent scouts; data are now a key part of the talent-spotting process.

* to qualify as having been listened to on Spotify, a song has to have been played for 30 seconds.
* hit songs have become increasingly predictable, offering up all their pleasures in the opening half-minute. Their makers dare not risk scaring off listeners.
* for all the money that the streaming services have generated for the music industry, very little of it flows back to any musicians except the select few who dominate the streaming statistics,

.......On Spotify, music consumption has been reorganised around “behaviours, feelings and moods” channelled through curated playlists and motivational messages......The data Spotify collects enable the industry to work out who its market is, where it lives, what else they like, how often they listen to music — almost anything, really. It’s the greatest assemblage of information about music listeners in history, and it has profoundly altered the industry: it has made Spotify music’s kingmaker......when an artist travels abroad to promote a new album, the meeting with the local Spotify office is more important than the TV appearances or the newspaper interviews. ...Spotify enables artists to plan their band’s set lists so they can play the most popular song in any given city.............So what? What does it matter if one model of music distribution has been replaced by another.....It matters because Spotify has profoundly changed the listener’s relationship with music....Older musicians often wax about how, when you had to buy your own music as a kid, you listened to it until you liked it, because you wouldn’t be able to afford a new album for another month. Now you simply skip to the next one, and probably don’t give it your full attention. Without ownership, there’s no incentive to study...........Faced with the impossibly wide choice of Spotify, it becomes easier to return to old favourites — easier than when flicking through your vinyl or CDs, because the act of looking through your own music makes things you had not thought of in years leap out at you. Spotify actually makes people into more conservative listeners, a process aided by its algorithms, which steer you towards music similar to your most frequent listening.....The theme of Krukowski’s book is that the changes in the way the music industry works have been about controlling and eliminating excess noise. That’s in a literal sense and in a metaphorical one, too. Streaming has stripped music of context, pared it back to being just about the song and the moment....but noise is the context of life. Without noise, the signal becomes meaningless......The world of the old EMI was one of both signal and noise; where myths and legends could be created: The Beatles! Queen! The Beach Boys! Pink Floyd! It was never all about the signal. The world of Spotify is one of signal only, and if you don’t appreciate that signal within the first 30 seconds of the song...all may be lost
abundance  algorithms  Apple_Music  books  book_reviews  business_models  curation  cultural_transmission  data  decontextualization  EMI  gatekeepers  Guy_Hands  hits  indoctrination  iTunes  legacy_artists  music  music_catalogues  music_labels  music_industry  music_publishing  noise  piracy  platforms  playlists  royalties  ruination  securitization  signals  songs  Spotify  streaming  subscriptions  talent  talent_scouting  talent_spotting  Terra_Firma  Tidal  transformational 
may 2019 by jerryking
Music’s ‘Moneyball’ moment: why data is the new talent scout | Financial Times
JULY 5, 2018 | FT | Michael Hann.

The music industry loves to self-mythologise. It especially loves to mythologise about taking young scrappers from the streets and turning them into stars. It celebrates the men and women — but usually the men — with “golden ears” almost as much as the people making the music....A&R, or “artists and repertoire”, are the people who look for new talent, convince that talent to sign to the record label and then nurture it: advising on songs, on producers, on how to go about the job of being a pop star. It’s the R&D arm of the music industry......What the music business doesn’t like to shout about is how inefficient its R&D process is. The annual global spend on A&R is $2.8bn....and all that buys is the probability of failure: “Some labels estimate the ratio of commercial success to failure as 1 in 4; others consider the chances to be much lower — less than 1 in 10,” observes its 2017 report. Or as Mixmag magazine’s columnist The Secret DJ put it: “Major labels call themselves a business but are insanely unprofitable, utterly uncertain, totally rudderless and completely ignorant.”......The rise of digital music brought with it a huge amount of data which, industry executives realized, could be turned to their advantage. ....“All our business units must now leverage data and analytics in innovative ways to dig deeper than ever for new talent. The modern day talent-spotter must have both an artistic ear and analytical eyes.”

Earlier this year, in the same week as Warner announced its acquisition of Sodatone, a company that has developed a tool for talent-spotting via data, another data company, Instrumental, secured $4.2m of funding. The industry appeared to have reached a tipping point — what the website Music Ally called “A&R’s data moment”. Which is why, wherever the music industry’s great and good gather, the word “moneyball” has become increasingly prevalent.
........YouTube, Spotify, Instagram were born and changed the way talent begins its journey. All the barriers came down. Suddenly you’ve got tens of thousands of pieces of music content being uploaded.......Home computing’s democratization of recording removed the barriers to making high-quality music. No longer did you need access to a studio and an experienced producer, plus the money to pay for them. But the music industry had no way to keep abreast of these new creators. “....The way A&R people have discovered talent has barely changed since the music industry began, and it’s fundamentally the same for indie labels, who put artistry above sales, as it is for major labels who have to answer to shareholders. It’s always been about information.....“We find them by listening to new music constantly, by people giving us tips, by going out and seeing things that sound interesting,”.....“The most useful people to talk to are concert promoters and booking agents. They are least inclined to bullshit; they’ll tell you how many people an act is drawing,”...like labels, publishers also have an A&R function, signing up songwriters, many of whom will also be in bands)....“Journalists and radio producers are [also] very useful people to give you information. If you know you’ve got particular DJs or particular writers who are going to pick up something, that’s really good.”
.......Instrumental’s selling point is a dashboard called Talent AI, which scrapes data from Spotify playlists with more than 10,000 followers.....“We took a view that to build momentum on Spotify, you need to be on playlists,”....“If no one knows who you are, no one’s going to suddenly start streaming a track you’ve just put up. It happens when you start getting included on playlists.”......To make it workable, the Talent AI dashboard enables users to apply a series of filters to either tracks or artists: to sort by nationality, by genre, by number of playlists they appear on, by the number of playlist subscribers, by their industry standing — are they signed to a major? To an independent label? Are they unsigned?
.......What A&R people are looking for, though, is not totals, it’s evidence of momentum. No one wants to sign the artist who has reached maximum popularity. They want the artist on the way up....“It’s the direction. Is it going in the right direction?”....when it comes to assessing what an artist can offer, the data isn’t even always about the numbers. “The one I look at the most is Instagram, because that’s the easiest way for an artist to express themselves in a way other than the music — how they look, what they’re into,” she says. “That gives a real snapshot into [them] and whether they really have formulated a world for themselves or not.”......not everyone is delighted with the drive to data. “[the advent of] Spotify...became the driving force for signings...“A&Rs were using their eyes rather than their ears — watching numbers change rather than listening to music, and then jumping on acts....they saw something happening and got it out quickly without having to invest in the traditional A&R process.”... online heat tends to be generated by transient teenage audiences who are likely to move on rather than stick around for a decade: online presence is a big thing in electronic dance music, or some branches of urban music, in which an artist might only be good for a single song. In short, data does not measure quality; it does not tell you whether an artist has 20 good songs that can be turned into their first two albums; it does not tell you whether they can command a crowd in live performance..........The music industry, of course, has always had an issue with short-termism/short-sightedness: [tension] between the people who sign the cheques and those who go to bat for the artists is built into the way it works..........The problem is that without career artists, the music industry just becomes even more of a lottery. It is being made harder, not just by short-termism, but by the fact that music has become less culturally central. “It’s so much harder to connect with an audience or grow an audience, because there’s so much noise,”
.......Today the A&R...agree that the new data has its uses, but insist it still takes second place to the evidence of their own eyes and ears.......As for Withey, he is not about to tell the old-school scouts their days are done....Instrumental can tell A&R people which artists are hot, but not which are good. Also, there will be amazing acts who simply don’t get the traction on the internet to register on the Talent AI dashboard.....All of which will come as a relief to the people running those A&R departments. .....when asked if data will become the single most important factor in scouting talent: “I hope not. Otherwise we may as well have robots.” For now, at least, the golden ears are safe.
A&R  algorithms  analytics  data  dashboards  tips  discoveries  filters  hits  Instagram  inefficiencies  momentum  music  music_industry  music_labels  music_publishing  Moneyball  myths  playlists  self-mythologize  songwriters  Spotify  SXSW  success_rates  talent  talent_spotting  tipping_points  tracking  YouTube  talent_scouting  high-quality  the_single_most_important 
july 2018 by jerryking
Spotify Wants Listeners to Break Down Music Barriers - NYTimes.com
JUNE 3, 2015 | NYT | Farhad Manjoo

Spotify, which has just introduced a new version of its app, says that because online streaming services let us call up and listen to anything we like, and because its curated playlists push us toward new stuff, we are all increasingly escaping rigid genres....Spotify itself has about 60 million active users, 15 million of whom pay $10 per month for an ad-free premium version. On average, the company said, the service exposes each of these listeners to one new artist every day. That is making listeners less beholden to music of certain styles and eras. Instead, many of us will try anything, just because we can easily sample it online.

Spotify is betting that fixed musical genres will fade away. In its new version rolling out to iPhone users, the company has expanded its effort to program for moods and activities rather than merely certain kinds of musical tastes.
Spotify  streaming  music  market_segmentation  playlists  curation  Farhad_Manjoo 
june 2015 by jerryking
An Ode to Joyful Music Streaming
Jan. 3, 2014 | WSJ.com | By John Jurgensen..

With more Spotify-like services on the horizon, a bounty of unexplored music beckons. But will they do a better job of helping you figure out what to listen to next?

As more people switch from the known confines of their personal music collections to the endless offerings of music-rental services like Spotify or Rdio, they're likely to suffer similar bouts of search-bar paralysis. As with the endless smorgasbord of gummy bears, Froot Loops and other toppings at those frozen-yogurt chains, what starts as a tantalizing abundance of music can suddenly seem overwhelming. That's one reason why we fall back on the same stuff we've been listening to since senior year in high school.....There's no shortage of guides designed to lead us through the wilds of digital music, but they all have drawbacks. .......Automated algorithms are OK for interpreting my personal listening patterns, but a music service should also show some humanity by reacting to what's happening in the zeitgeist [JCK: curation]. In the way that a cable-TV channel will program Will Ferrell movies when "Anchorman 2" is hitting theaters, why not play off the moment when everyone was talking about Beyoncé's surprise album by suggesting singers that influenced her or opened the door for her career? (Then again, I don't need an excuse to load up some classic Tina Turner.)

People complain that MP3s triggered the demise of extensive liner notes. While I'm not one to slavishly pore over the fine print in my LP collection, I want to click on a digital track as it plays to find out who wrote it, identify any samples it includes or—dare to dream—see how it connects to work by other artists......With every digital music service offering more or less the same stock—give or take a Led Zeppelin, which recently made an exclusive deal to stream its catalog on Spotify—my money will go to the one who can best guide me through the aisles.
algorithms  concierge_services  curation  humanity  music  playlists  Rdio  Songza  Spotify  streaming  zeitgeist 
january 2014 by jerryking

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