Category Archives: the business of music

When Old Is New Again: From Cassettes To Multicolored Vinyl

This post is syndicated from Yahoo! Music Stop the Presses!

Monetizing music ain’t what it used to be. In an age where digital music files are easily ripped, downloaded and distributed, the urge to pay for that great new album has steadfastly declined.

Alongside torrents, mixtapes, and social websites like Hype Machine, Exfm and We Are Hunted, streaming services like Rdio, Rhapsody, MOG and Spotify make music discovery easy.  It’s been reported that with an annual growth rate of nearly 95%, subscribers to cloud-based music services will exceed 161 million in 2016.

This makes it easier for an artist to share their work with the masses  – but how can the same artist pay the bills with the concept of free?

When it comes to the actual making money part, bands have no choice but to get creative. And many are doing just that – by inventing new channels and resurrecting familiar ones.

The indie-rock band Radiohead is perhaps the ultimate example of exploring new distribution opportunities in the 21st century. In 2007, they incorporated a “pay what you want” model for the album In Rainbows.

For their recent release The King Of Limbs, the band decided to offer up several options.  The album will come in two digital formats – either 320 kbps MP3s ($9) – or CD-quality, uncompressed WAV files ($14). For the super fan, the third and pricier option is a newspaper album ($48 + $53). It offers  MP3s or WAVs along with vinyl, CD, several large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-color piece of degradable plastic to hold it all together.

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20 years of Ninja Tune

This year, British indie label Ninja Tune celebrates 20 years of bestowing upon us layered beats of aural bliss.

Founded by the musical duo Coldcut in 1990, the highly-regarded label has made a significant contribution as a pioneer and major influencer of the electronic music space. Now, some 90 artists deep (including artists like Ghislain Poirier, Amon Tobin, DJ Vadim, Roots Manuva, and Mr. Scruff) the label continues to serve as inspiration to artists everywhere including those they’ve sought relentlessly to promote.

Like similar electronic labels (Warp, Ghostly, DFA) the Ninja Tune sound is distinct, it’s brand is quality, and it’s street-cred thankfully remains intact in a marketplace with increasing crossover between electronic music and pop.

To celebrate, the label has issued Ninja Tune XX Box Set (to be released 10/5) , and the book 20 Years of Beats & Pieces (10/12), telling the story of the label, their artists, and their art.


Free Ninja Tune iPhone app by Mobile Roadie

20 Years of Beats & Pieces

Pre-order the book on Amazon

10 Years of Warp Records

The first HTML5 album, from Francis and the Lights

Muxtape founder Justin Ouellette is back with a design created specifically to play on the iPhone 4 and iPad. This is a great workaround as both operating systems notoriously don’t stream Flash. You can listen to the full album, embed it, and download tracks directly from iTunes all while multitasking (a new feature for the iPhone). Pretty cool!


A Rant on Accessibility, Part 2: Gimme Gimme

Music Technology is  slowly changing. It’s adopting to consumer needs by giving music fans access to music anytime, almost anywhere, from anyplace.

New models like Rdio and Spotify allow us to search and listen for pretty much anything as long as there’s a solid network connection + computer or smart phone.  We can easily create playlists and share them with friends. We can discover new music and in the case of Spotify, collaborate on dynamic playlists and create artist or decade-centric radio stations.

Old models like Rhapsody work like a storefront while granting us access to music in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. This model, although advanced at the time, still doesn’t allow us to see other users’ playlists or collaborate in an interactive way.

MOG is a strong contender in the marriage of content with editorial. With a firehose of musical content coming at us constantly, it’s nice to have direction from tastemakers to learn about what’s worth checking out.

Most notably, portability has become a reality with the development of apps for the smart phone. On the open-source Android platform, music specific apps like iMusic and Chompin make listening to music on the go a breeze – and are possibly the cleverest of the new breed.

Both apps aggregate music from blogs rather than hosting the content locally.

iMusic snags it’s musical database from what users are already listening to, similar to how agreggates possibly one of the largest collections of music metadata on the internet simply by leveraging the data provided by its users.

By aggregating music from blogs, both services eschew potential legalities of making music available that hasn’t been officially released to the marketplace yet. It also broadens search.

Crawling blogs makes the odds of finding the exact track one is looking for – a b-side, remix, or live version – much greater.

This is particularly important because music fans take pride in discovering something new and/or exclusive. We invest our time in these sites. It’s disappointing when we can’t get access to music we know is out there. We can’t play DJ, or personalize playlists on your site as much as we’d like to.

What iMusic and Chompin are doing is brilliant, not only because it makes the user experience better – but it’s also indicative of a newer and perhaps broader way of purchasing music.

Labels are still hesitant to leave content in the hands of consumers. Sure, we download illegal promos, search for torrents of leaked albums, and unflinchingly pass along un-licensed mixtapes. But in truth this isn’t a bad thing.

Here’s why: music fans do it feverishly. They do it with a passion. They chomp at the proverbial bit for these leaks.

We want to be tastemakers. We’re eager to be the first to tell our friends about something new. And when we like it, we’re telling everyone we know.  Hyperdistribution, anyone? Even according to the old business model, this remains the single best way to acquire a superfan.

If a record has stickiness, it can be released into the wild and it WILL be noticed.

It might not be picked up on the traditional charts but you’ll see it on Hype Machine. It’ll appear on We Are Hunted. You’ll see friends dedicate singles to one another and watch viral videos over and over again. Let these users decide what they like. Give them access to everything, and keep an eye on the numbers. If the music is good and the marketing power behind the band is smart enough – the revenue will follow.

The concept of music ownership is affected by the aforementioned technologies anyway. Why would I want to tend to my un-wieldy music collection when I can queue up a playlist in the cloud?

To be clear, ownership is not going away. It’s simply changing.

If I can listen to a full, lo-fi version of a amazing record on repeat – for free – I’ll gladly shell out my hard-earned moolah for hi-res WAV files.

I’ll buy a ticket to the show when the band comes to town. If I’m in love with a particular record (which tends to happen every week with die-hard music fanatics), I’ll see them again and again. I’ll be inclined to purchase vinyl or limited-edition items like prints and other merch.

Make music more accessible – and let the fans decide.

If it’s good enough, they’ll tell their friends. And buy concert tickets. And a hi-res copy of the album.  And subscribe to the fan club.

And so on, and so on.


A Rant on Accessibility, Part 1

Musings: Crafting Mixtapes in a Digital Age

Choice Albums of 2009

There were many amazing releases this year from all genres, ranging from well known artists to the obscure.

Below are my top 10 pics for 2009 as well as a quite considerable list of notable runners-up!

Runners Up:
Doves  “Kingdom of Rust”
Bodycode “Immune”
Silversun Pickups  “Swoon”
Muse  “The Resistance”
White Rabbits “It’s Frightening”
Nosaj Thing  “Drift”
DJ Vadim “U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun”
One Eskimo “One Eskimo”
Ingrid Michaelson  “Everybody”
The XX  “xx”
Volcano Choir  “Unmap”
The Antlers  “Hospice”
Dead Weather  “Horehound”
Neon Indian  “Psychic Chasms”
Dead Man’s Bones  “Dead Man’s Bones”
Califone  “All my Friends are Funeral Singers”
Mayer Hawthorne  “A Strange Arrangement”
Monsters of Folk  “Monsters of Folk”
Phoenix  “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”

Click here for last year’s choice music podcasts of 2008.