Readers Respond about Music Streaming and Microphones

Letters from TMImaS readers.

Remington Noiseless Portable

Welcome to another issue of “Trust Me, I’m A Scientist”! If you’re one of the thousands of new readers who have been tuning in since our launch in July, you may have noticed that we don’t have a comments section around here.

I know that may sound old-school to some of you, but that’s just the way we roll around here. Let it be known that I’ve also tried drafting some of my recent articles on a 1934 Remington typewriter, pictured above. (It was lovingly provided by our webmaster, Brooklyn flutist Maria Johnson.)

What’s also old-school is that we read letters from our audience. Every single one. Sometimes, we even publish them. As much as we like to see your clicks on our pages, we love it even more when we hear your direct feedback. Below are highlights from a few of the most thought-provoking letters inspired by the last issue.

Spotify and The Future of Streaming Music

Last month, we presented some figures on how much musicians really earn on Spotify. Then, we offered some useful ways to crunch the numbers. Our readers have offered a few more.

You may recognize Brooklyn-based producer/engineer Allen Farmelo as a reviewer in this month’s Record Release Roundup. But before we asked him to contribute, he wrote in to offer another angle from which to view the numbers.

As you might remember, Spotify revenue per-play is variable depending on overall revenue and the artists share of plays through the service. So, for the sake of argument Allen decided to use the same $.006 rate we suggested as in the article as a recent workable average for our analysis. He writes:

“I like the new Vetiver record, The Errant Charm, and it’s a “typical” record in that it’s got 10 songs that are kind of average in length.
– If I buy it on iTunes I pay $10 and get 11 songs plus cover art insert.
– If I play it on Spotify I pay $0 and get 10 songs and ads interrupting it.
– Using [these] numbers… I’d have to play the whole album 166 times to generate $10 via Spotify for the [entire] Vetiver camp.
– The album is roughly 43 minutes long, so [that means] I’d have to play the album for 5 days straight.
– More realistically, I’d have to listen to the record once a week for over three years.

[However], if I listen to the record even once a month for a year, it will have enriched my life far beyond what most other $10 expenses can. But listening via Spotify, it would take me just shy of 14 years to get them their $10. There aren’t many records I listen to consistently for that long… Spotify would have to seriously alter their artist agreements in order for me to feel the artist was getting fairly compensated. Until then, I feel using Spotify puts me in the position of supporting ad sales more than artists….”

That’s a fair argument. Sean Congleton wrote us from Tokyo to say he had been inspired to create his own, updated infographic for Promotional Codes UK. He double-checked his rate with an indie band called Uniform Motion who offered a similar analysis to Allen’s. They claimed an average rate of £.003  per stream, which was just under $.005 per stream at the time.

There were others who were of a different mind, and wrote in to suggest that Spotify is a great deal. Their take? That bands might get additional listeners when streaming comes without a price tag, and they will get new revenue from listeners who haven’t paid for music in years. But will those new sources of revenue scale to make up the difference? This article also sparked a healthy debate on the Tape Op Messageboard, where musician Matt Giles of Austin Teaxs articulated the pro-streaming position:

“…I think it’s pretty clear that most people balk at paying 99 cents per song nowadays. At least, not when the alternative is file sharing for free or paying $4.95 per month for all the music you care to listen to. Do you think that in any other industry if your product could be exactly replicated, or bought for a low monthly fee, that there would be any way to compete?”

He also went on to suggest that a larger problem may be an over-saturated marketplace:

“…the music-buying population will spend  finite amount on music, and that amount appears to be going down every year. The amount of bands out there and music released appears to be going up, for some reason. There is just not enough money to go around for all of us to make a comfortable living doing this. If there was we’d have a dire shortage of astronauts and ballerinas.”

Gregg Juke, a professional musician from Buffalo, NY ties a bow on all these arguments nicely:

“Theoretically, we all should find our audience and have at least a shot at middle class. How? You got me. It’s never really been any different. It’s just that [now] the “promise of the digital age” has quickly given way to the “reality of the digital age,” which is much more like “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

That may be true.

With the advent of both records and radio, professional musicians banded together to lobby and ignite real advocacy in order to secure the royalty rates and basic rights they enjoy today (in theory, at least). Although Spotify and other streaming music services are clearly a step in the right direction,  musicians may need to come together once again to have a real shot at retaining reasonable standards of living in this new century.

The market too, may end up driving higher rates for individual artists. As additional streaming services clamor to find their place in this new market, isn’t it the next logical step to imagine deals where the Lady GaGas and the Foo Fighters of the world can demand significant sums to allow one service or another the exclusive rights to stream a new release?

I for one, would like to see higher guaranteed rates for artists. But for this to be realistic, streaming services will likely need to apply fair limits the number of on-demand songs subscribers can listen to per month, just like your cell phone company sets terms on your minutes. Subscribers who don’t find much to listen to one month, might be excited to find we’ve accumulated a whole slew of “rollover plays”.

The Venerable AKG C 414

Another one of last month’s most popular articles was our audio history of the AKG C 414. One reader wrote in to call it “the ultimate 414 shootout”. We liked the name so much, we added it to the teaser text.

Musician Jesse Gimbel of Philadelphia, PA writes:

“I feel really informed now, it’s nice to finally have the confusion cleared up. The clips were really interesting. I definitely heard more of a difference in some of the uses than others. Drum overheads are generally what I like best to hear how a mic sounds, but surprisingly I heard the least difference here. A definite difference, but it was more subtle than the others. On the male voice the difference was huge. Acoustic guitar was pretty huge too.”

“Overall I definitely got the impression that rather than one or two models really being amazing and the others sucking, I could see the use in having a few different models. I’ve always liked the B-ULS [we have], and I still liked it a lot on the male voice and on drum overheads, but I actually liked the TL-II better on acoustic guitar!”

This piece attracted an overwhelming amount of praise, rivaled only by July’s drum tuning article, but Jim Williams of Carlsbad, CA was smart to write in and offer some words of caution, lest listeners leap to conclusions online. For those who don’t know him, Jim is the esteemed audio engineer and technician behind Audio Upgrades He writes:

“The only problem with this is older mics all sound different due to age and condition. I’ve not found 414EB’s that sound alike as most have spitum, dust and oils on the capsules. Only NOS mics are in that condition where use hasn’t altered their sound.”

That’s very true. Although its mentioned briefly in the article, it bears repeating. At best, this is a rough sonic reference and can’t beat personal experience with a specific mic in your hand. Gabe Roth of Daptone Records talks about just how much one mic can very from another in our recent interview on the making of the Booker T’s The Road From Memphis.

In This Issue

Thanks as always, for reading, and for letting us know what you think! There’s plenty to write in about again this time:

First, we asked our hand-selected panel of musicians and engineers to share the albums that best captured their immaginations, and stood up to the first tests of time for our Summer Record Release Roundup.

Did we miss a record you’re in love with? Let us know with a 3-sentence review, and you might just see it in our “Readers Respond” section in the next issue. If you’d like to submit a formal review of a Fall record that mattered to you, get ready to submit it in early December.

SonicScoop’s Janice Brown and I will be co-hosting the flagship AES panel “Platinum Engineers: The Studio as an Instrument” at the Javits Center on October 22nd.

In this issue, you’ll find links to my interviews with the first three of these panelists, who just so happen to be some of my favorite producer/engineers in the business. Sharing their wisdom are Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Neon Indian), Chris Shaw (Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, Weezer), and Peter Katis (The National, Jónsi, Interpol).

We have a potentially controversial article for you this month, as we play media-critic and investigate whether the influential websites Pitchfork and Gearslutz are really on the wane. We ask if its possible to measure influence online, and whether these outlets been a positive or negative force on our conversations about music and technology.

Also in this issue, you’ll also find:

This entry was posted in All Stories, Guest Posts, Industry Trends, October 2011, Rants and Raves. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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