On Spotify, artist payments, and supporting the music you love so that it survives

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has opined about today’s music industry. It’s an interesting read. In short, he more or less says artists must adapt or die. There are some choice quotes, such as:

[O]bviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single artist saying ‘I’m happy with all the money I’m getting from streaming

Ek is right in that we are living in a different era, but his words also feel tone deaf when you bear in mind how little streaming services pay artists. However, some in the media are seemingly behind Ek’s words—at least to some degree. I saw one magazine editor state he’s now writing several stories before breakfast when he used to be part of a team working on just a few stories per week.

In journalism, the newer model (more; faster) can work. But music as rapid churn seems unlikely to. Even the best bands/artists aren’t going to be releasing multiple albums per year (and even if they did there’s no guarantee that’d make a great deal of difference in terms of streaming income). It’d be noise as noise. But mostly, there’s a time consideration—music is extremely time-intensive. I can often write a typical magazine feature in a day, if I already have the research done; if not, a couple of days might be enough. It’s unlikely I could write, record, mix and master even one three-minute song in a day. And even if I could, I’d need to be pretty famous already for that to be commercially viable.

It should therefore come as no surprise many musicians are responding to Ek by saying release frequency has slowed primarily because money pressures result in music becoming more a hobby than a career. And although of course no-one is owed anything from anyone—people cannot take it for granted that they should earn a living of any kind with what they do—I find it sad we are rapidly heading back in time to an age where creativity is being squeezed from education through to adulthood.

If you’re already really famous, none of this will matter too much. If you’ve legacy fame—one of those bands endlessly touring a greatest hits package—you probably have a decent shot again once COVID’s under control and you can do gigs. Beyond that, Ek appears to be saying “it’s your fault you’re not doing well” when streaming payments are bloody awful. But also, it’s hard to know what the solution is, if anything. We’ve trained an entire generation to think creative output is without worth—or at most should be all-you-can-eat for a pittance. “I do my bit because I have a Spotify sub” isn’t a great help to most artists.

As ever, this all comes down to the same thing: support what you love and you’re more likely to get more of it. Don’t support what you love and it might disappear. With music, that means directly supporting artists, beyond your 10 bucks a month to a streaming service. So if you really like an artist, buy their album direct. You might be one of a dwindling number doing so, but it all counts.

August 3, 2020. Read more in: Music, Opinions, Technology


The Guardian vs Brian Eno or the interviewer vs the interviewee

I was recently pointed at a Guardian interview with Brian Eno. The piece is perhaps most politely described as confrontational. At one point, Eno apologises for being ratty, but the write-up mostly showcases a writer slamming into a wall on discovering what an artist wants to talk about isn’t what he himself had in mind.

Often, it seems Simon Hattenstone, for whatever reason, has an obsession with Eno’s past. There are questions about Eno’s background, and of his many collaborations. Eno is not interested in discussing such things, at one point noting the journalist can find answers to such questions in countless interviews elsewhere (“But you can do research. That’s your job!”), and so a big chunk of what’s reported seems to paint him as controlling. Relatively little of the piece is about the things Eno’s currently interested in: art; ambient and generative audio; society.

It’s an uncomfortable read, not only as a typical reader, but also as a writer. I’ve interviewed plenty of people myself, and you’d perhaps expect me to side with the writer here, but I don’t. I always prefer interviews where I get out of the way. Once, I interviewed Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but the transcript is closer to a lecture. I just sat and listened as he spoke about the things he wanted to and was interested in. The end result was far better for that.

Additionally, I find the notion of repeatedly revisiting the same old thing curious. If you’re going to get a short time to chat with someone like Brian Eno, why on the day dredge up his dad being a postman? Why waste time grilling him on working with Roxy Music, Bowie and Talking Heads, when he’s talked about that so many times before? Why not instead spend the time finding out something new, talking about ideas, thinking and projects that cement the interview in the present? That’s got to beat unnecessary confrontation, and trying to get someone to reword something they’ve said many times before, on subjects they’ve long had enough of discussing.

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Music, Opinions

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Dear music and telly industries: stop punishing those who buy your stuff

The BBC reported on Friday that it’s once again illegal in the UK to rip CDs to your computer. This might come as a surprise to you. First, you might not have been aware this was illegal in the first place. Secondly, you might be nonplussed that the pathetic changes to the UK’s fair-use laws have in part already been dialled back, but there you go.

About a year ago, I wrote for Stuff.tv about government changes to personal copying exceptions, and how they didn’t go far enough. My argument was (and is) that while companies should be allowed to weld DRM to released media, individuals should be able to circumvent it for personal use, as long as there’s an expectation of ownership with the purchased media. (In other words, you shouldn’t be able to ‘back-up’ music from Spotify or video from Netflix, but you should be able to make personal copies of CDs, digital books and comics, DVDs and games.)

The key sticking point is plainly noted in the BBC piece:

A judge ruled that the government was wrong legally when it decided not to introduce a compensation scheme for songwriters, musicians and other rights holders who face losses as a result of their copyright being infringed.

UK Music estimated the new regulations, without a compensation scheme, would result in loss of revenues for rights owners in the creative sector of £58m a year.

In other words, because you’re not rebuying again and again, rights owners potentially lose money, and so they want something for nothing. They should somehow be ‘compensated’ for you making personal copies of items, for your own use. I imagine they’re pretty angry about the portable nature of digital files, too, since they can be used across devices and platforms, without you having to rebuy for each new machine. Naturally, everyone ignores the fact people have finite money, and people still very much into music are still buying it, often on physical formats; they’re now just once again being punished for having the audacity of wanting to back-up this content.

At the time of the Stuff piece, given the craven and half-arsed nature of the changes in law, it never occurred to me that we’d go backwards and end up again at the status quo. The BBC adds in its story that it’s “unclear how the change will be enforced”, but then it’s almost never been enforced. What is clear is that once again we have industry representatives effectively punishing those who pay for things. All this does is piss people off. By making it illegal to rip your own CDs to your own computer and legally listen to the music you paid for, these organisations are hastening the decline of income from said purchases, not protecting their artists.


July 20, 2015. Read more in: Music, Technology

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Introducing 365 loops

My day job most often involves writing or design, but my underlying passion remains music. Unfortunately, a lack of time and any kind of commercial success in that area means I often find myself going for some time without creating any new tunes—and if that goes on long enough it can get me down. The thing is, although it doesn’t take me long to write a song, all of the associated bits and pieces—arrangement, vocals, editing, mixing, mastering—can see even a quick project stretch out to months or even years.

Because of this, and even though I’m still intending to release an entirely new album this year, I’ve hit upon the idea for a project that I hope will keep the fires burning regarding creating new music, inspire future work, and possibly lead me in new directions. It’s triggered somewhat by the notion of instilling some kind of routine, in much the same manner as people who take a photo each morning, or writers like Ian Betteridge who are committing to 500 new words per day.

My idea: one new loop, daily, for a year. 365 loops.

Each of these will be uploaded to my Soundcloud account, and I hope you’ll check in occasionally to see how things are going. The first one should be embedded below.

February 17, 2014. Read more in: Music


Stallman: Under copyright law, I could even copy them

A curious piece on The Guardian today, by Richard Stallman. He mourns the loss of HMV, on the basis that what’s replaced physical music sales is a “disaster for freedom”. However, the arguments he makes are curious.

Once I had bought the records, I was free to give or lend them to friends. Under copyright law, I could even copy them, to audio tapes in the old days, and give those to my friends. All this without the state’s knowing anything about it.

Now, he was certainly free to give or lend records to his friends, and also to copy records to tape and give those away. However, he wasn’t acting within the law. Today, in the UK, you’re still not acting within the law regarding format-shifting; and even if copyright laws change in 2013, to introduce a measure of fair-use (as is fairly likely), it will be for purely personal collections only. In other words, it will no longer be illegal in the UK to rip a CD to MP3s (just as the CD format is dying off, usefully), as long as you’re making the MP3s for you, and not spreading them around the web or emailing them to your friends.

For those who love both music and freedom, today’s form of internet sales is out of the question, which leaves ever fewer opportunities for us to buy music.

From the previous quoted paragraph, the ‘freedom’ Stallman appears to be encouraging heavily involves rights infringement—unauthorised copying of purchased content. Such copying’s still perfectly simple with digital files, but that doesn’t make it any better. And if Stallman’s concerned about “fewer opportunities for us to buy music”, I’m more worried about fewer musicians able to make music, because people are making use of their ‘freedom’ to rip said artists off, copying their music rather than buying it—whatever the format.

January 21, 2013. Read more in: Music


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