Tag: streaming

This is the Album of the Future

record collection

I am a composer, performer, music producer, and avid record collector, and I am currently in a complicated relationship with physical media. Like many others, I love the tangible process of opening up a CD or LP, playing it through my home system, and studying the artwork and liner notes as I listen. I hold my own albums to this standard as I release them into the world. I pore over the details of the physical package, driving my collaborators crazy as I attempt to perfect every aspect of its design. After spending several maddening months—and often years—to make an album, the moment of finally holding the object itself is a satisfying final seal, assuring me that I’ve created something permanent.

Yet the age of streaming rages on, my closets are filled with boxes of overstock, and even my mother is more likely to listen to my music online than she is to put on a CD or LP. As much as we like to think of these discs as the sacred vessels of our musical concepts, many of us are questioning whether it is worth the time, money, space, and materials to produce the physical object.

What makes an album such a powerful statement is that the artists and producers craft a complete experience for the listener, not only through a cohesive musical idea but through its presentation: artwork, information, liner notes, and now virtually any form of media. Currently, digital platforms do not allow much room for this, confining albums to tracklists and an album cover: a thumbnail representation of something that could be physical. This has had financial repercussions—by reducing an album’s worth to the play count of its individual tracks, huge corporations have gotten away with paying artists fractions of pennies for their work.

In response to these changing tides, some of us have chosen to dig deeper into the classic formats, releasing our albums on limited edition vinyl and cassette tapes. Others search for new objects to represent their album (beer koozie with download code anyone?). Look no further than Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Music (2005), a self-contained electronic music circuit and playback device within a CD case, for an eloquent example of physicality as the concept of the album itself.

There have been many creative approaches to releasing albums as physical objects in today’s world, but that’s not what this article is about. I’m tossing any purity I have left aside, and I am wondering: What can an album be now that it no longer needs to be an object?

Florent Ghys’s “This is the album of the future” from his video album Télévision

The album has always been and continues to be a malleable form, having adapted to over 100 years of changes in technology, business, and pop culture. The very first albums were, literally, albums: bound books manufactured to contain several 78 RPM phonograph records, examples of which can be found as far back as 1908. When Columbia Records began releasing 12-inch discs in 1948, the term had already been extended past its original meaning to refer to any collection of musical tracks. Since then, our albums have contorted through a variety of formats, shapes, and sizes and now, residing on the internet, they no longer require a physical container. Artists can release albums at a faster rate and with more ease than before, and the possibilities seem to be endless for the integration of multimedia and interactive elements.

Some are skeptical as to whether some of the newer formats should be identified as true “albums.” To decide for myself, I apply a very simple litmus test: Does the artist call their work an album? If yes, then it is so. I see the changes in how music creators conceive and present this music as the indication of its evolution as a term.

I have been searching for compelling examples of albums that have extended this form within the digital world and collected them here. Some big-budget and mainstream offerings need to be mentioned, but I have chosen to focus on a few specimens from independent artists and labels, and have given them a close and thoughtful listen.

This is by no means a comprehensive survey. I invite anyone with examples of albums that should be included in this discussion to post in the comments below.

Notes from Sub-Underground

Object Collection’s Notes from Sub-Underground (2017)

One of the immediate parameters that is lifted for albums in the digital age is that of length. At one end of the spectrum, an artist can release a shorter offering and present it as a complete concept without feeling the need to fill the entirety of a CD, tape, or LP. On the other end, albums can be very long indeed. Notes from Sub-Underground, a 2016 collection of experimental music put out in the wake of the Trump election, is an awesome example of this. Produced by the music theater group Object Collection, this five-hour-plus compilation is comprised of 62 tracks representing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 artists. The line-up includes influential experimentalists from across generations including Richard Foreman, Cat Lamb, Phill Niblock, Michael Pisaro, and Matana Roberts, as well as performing groups String Noise, Ensemble Pamplemouse, and my own group Dither.

Beginning with a call for submissions in December, the compilation was assembled in less than two months and released on Inauguration Day, 2017. Object Collection compiled the tracks, did some basic post-production work, and produced a cover and liner notes for digital distribution. Upon its release, in order to download a copy of the album, listeners would contribute an amount of their choosing through an Indiegogo campaign, all proceeds of which were donated to the ACLU. (You can now access the compilation through Object Collection’s website.) While only some of the tracks are overtly political, the collective album effort is what makes this an effective statement.

And it’s a great record. I committed to a complete listen, toggling between sessions on my home computer and on my headphones while on New Jersey Transit. Although the sequence of the tracks is not curated (the song titles are placed in alphabetical order), there is a satisfying flow to the album in its consistent inconsistency. One of my listening sessions began with Mellissa Hughes and Philip White’s “Clinging to a Cloud, an abstracted pop song comprised of autotuned melismas intertwined with synth tones and computer voices. This track flows beautifully into an excerpt from Suzanne Thorpe’s vocal collage “Constituting States,” constructed of recordings of the U.S. national anthem as sung in different languages. The voices swirl around each other and finally resolve, to be interrupted by Jonathan Marmor’s clangorous electronic piece “Easter Helicopter”. Listening to the entire project is a cathartic experience that holds true to Object Collection’s maximalist and DIY ethos.

OneBeat Mixtape 18

OneBeat Mixtape 18: Vols 1-6 (Found Sound Records, 2019)

A collective musical endeavor that approaches the album format as a series of shorter offerings comes from the Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization Found Sound Nation. To document the output from their OneBeat program in 2018, for which they enlisted 24 international artists to create collaborative works, they have produced and released a series of digital “mixtapes,” each averaging around 20 minutes in length. Their concept is to provide an extension (“B-sides”) to the golden record that was included aboard the two Voyager spacecrafts in 1971. They staggered the release of the six volumes, each referencing a stop as the ships traveled deeper into space. The entire project can be found on Bandcamp.

While the eclecticism of the tracks on each volume holds true to the idea of a mixtape, the concept and production of the recordings create a unified offering. (All tracks were produced by OneBeat and recorded during the same sessions.) “Sorabe,” the opening track of Vol 1: Earth composed by Tsanta Randriamihajasoa, groups the Malagasy pianist with Indian vocalist Pavithra Chari, Hungarian clarinetist Zolt Bartek, and Algerian drummer Younés Kati. The track is a jazz-infused tour of each artist’s musical language, emulating the idea of the earth’s bustling “acoustic and organic sounds.”

Skipping ahead, Vol 6: Heliopause is described by OneBeat as a collection of “abstract pieces perhaps only understandable by the most adventurous human ears.” While I don’t find this material to be inaccessible (especially after listening to 5.5 hours of Object Collection) this volume certainly conjures an otherworldly sonic palette that one might equate with the edge of our solar system. Beginning with the more tangible songlike opening of “Outer Space,” each track of the album continues a trajectory deeper into textural and droney soundscapes.

Florent Ghys: Télévision

Florent Ghys: Télévision (Cantaloupe Music, 2014)

There are many notable examples throughout recorded music history of a film being produced in conjunction with an album. The Beatles’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Prince’s Purple Rain (1984) are two of many landmark works which were released separately as film and soundtrack. As home video systems became increasingly popular in the 1980s, artists began to regularly distribute video compilations, live concerts, and documentaries as part of their output. I fondly remember the comedic band Green Jellö (popular on MTV for their heavy metal claymation video “Three Little Pigs”), who claimed in the opening credits of their Cereal Killer VHS (1993) to be the “world’s first video-only band.” (They did in fact release a soundtrack album separately from the video.)

Billing an audiovisual work as the album itself is still a relatively new phenomenon which is quickly being embraced by the mainstream, encapsulated by the success of Beyoncé’s “visual album” Lemonade (2016). Although one might question how these offerings differ from the films and videos made by their predecessors, I see this as a natural arrival point, enabled by current digital platforms: the audio and visual elements of the album are both readily available on the same interface and can be easily conceived, created, marketed, and distributed together as a unified concept.

Bassist/composer Florent Ghys dubs his most recent solo release Télévision (2014) a “video album,” and it is indeed a high-level integration of musical and visual concepts. In this case, the two elements are so intrinsically connected that it’s hard to imagine experiencing the music alone. Working in sync with both audio and video software, Ghys composed the two entities in tandem, providing a direct video corollary to virtually every musical event.

In the opening track “Beauté Plastique,” each new instrumental layer enters with a corresponding visual element, creating a complex tapestry of hockets and contrapuntal lines. The final track, “This is the Album of the Future,” features a tongue-in-cheek video collage of dated advertisements for compact disc players. (Télévision is in fact also available as a CD from Cantaloupe records.) The entire video is an absorbing and effective visual experience which kept me engaged in a way that felt more akin to binge watching a TV series or going down a YouTube rabbit hole than listening to an album of the past.

Rabbit Rabbit: Rabbit Rabbit Radio, Vols 1-3

Confronting the issue of digital distribution, another creative video-based offering comes from Rabbit Rabbit (Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi). Frustrated with online services, in 2012 the duo began a long-term project in which they released a song and video per month on their own subscription-based site, rabbitrabbitradio.com. Although they have now chosen to end their monthly output and focus on larger-scale works, they compiled their three years of work into three albums which can be listened to and watched on Bandcamp.

While maintaining high production values, these videos are intimate and homegrown, often using footage from the recording studio or home performances. They incorporate several candid and personal moments, including a living room session in which their young daughter throws a minor tantrum during the song. Family and friends feature prominently throughout the three volumes. “Paper Prison” is a documentary portrait of Bossi’s father as he discusses his rare book collection. The final track, “Merci Vielmal,” was recorded on a train while on the road with their group Cosa Brava (performed with bandmates Fred Frith, Shahzad Ismaily, and Zeena Parkins). Not only is this music captivating, but you come out of the experience feeling as if you have had a window into the artists’ everyday lives.

John Cage, The Ten Thousand Things, I Ching Edition

John Cage, The Ten Thousand Things, I Ching Edition

John Cage, The Ten Thousand Things, I Ching Edition (Microfest records, 2013)

In the ‘90s, artists such as Peter Gabriel, Primus, and The Residents released CD-ROMs with game-like applications along with their albums, providing an interface for listeners to explore the songs, art, and other elements. Today, our touch-screen devices offer even more potential for interactive music applications. Bjork’s Biophilia (2011) was released as an “app album,” featuring artwork, extensive liner notes, videos, and games associated with each track. Other artists take the interactive model further by allowing the music to be generated in real time. Brian Eno’s most recent release Reflection (2017) exists both in fixed media and as an application that creates a unique and endless version of his composition.

An interesting example of a generative album experience comes from Microfest Records’s release of John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things (2015). In the 1950s, Cage composed this set of pieces to be played independently, in any combination, or reconfigured in a variety of ways. Microfest produced The I-Ching Edition of the album which consists of a fixed version of the piece, accompanied by an application (delivered via thumb drive) that allows you to generate unique versions the composition. Each rendering is constructed from performances by pianists Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay, bassist Tom Peters, percussionist William Winant, and an archival recording of Cage himself reading his lecture “‘45 for a Speaker.” Each new version of the piece uses the same recordings, but is unique in its organization.

One of the most satisfying things about this piece is that the spoken material in Cage’s fragmented lecture describes the same compositional techniques that you are hearing in real time. The chance aspect of the application itself adds yet another layer. The creativity of this format, the top-notch performances, and the charm of hearing Cage masterfully read his lecture make for an enthralling aleatoric experience.

Ironically, many of these innovative application-based albums have fallen victim to operating system upgrades. We can still get Bjork’s album through Apple’s app store, but similar offerings from Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and Philip Glass seem to have become obsolete in less than ten years. These apps were either never updated, or they were seen by the record companies merely as short-term marketing tools. There also just haven’t been a huge quantity of app albums made, as the financial overhead required to create these programs is still prohibitive for most independent artists.

With so much trial and error required, it is not a surprise that album formats have needed to pass a high threshold of popularity and mass consumption in order to achieve longevity. This is one reason that physical albums are still relevant today—they survive as permanent objects on the sidelines of a constantly changing and merciless digital landscape.

What is the album of the future? I hope for an interface that is as accessible and navigable as the current streaming platforms, one that allows artists to configure a unique experience for their listeners, and one that empowers us to control its monetization. (Bandcamp is well ahead of the pack in this regard.) The ideal platform would not only provide easy access to music, art, text, and all types of media, but be malleable so that new elements can be integrated as they arise. The next sea change in business and technology will surely provide new and unforeseen formats for our music, and within it artists will continue to innovate, adapt, and respond.

Live Streaming 104: Post Stream, Graphics, Licensing, and Live Streaming Through Collaboration

Live streaming is trending, feeding the algorithms, and connecting the world in new ways. If you are already putting forth the effort to create a musical production of any kind, adding another technical layer is very much worth it to share your music, create a community, and market your product. Plus, you will end up with excellent content for blogging, your portfolio, submitting to competitions, and consistent posting to your social media channels.

In my previous three posts, we covered the why, where, and how of successful live streaming. This final article is a sort of postlude, to discuss post-stream content benefits, to clarify some concerns about licensing, copyright, ownership, and agreements, and to encourage you to think beyond the scope of what you are able to do by yourself.

Post-Stream Benefits

There is a segment in Live Streaming 101 about post-stream benefits, but I think it is worth repeating. Once your stream is over, you will have an HD video (saved to your mobile device, camera, or computer) and synced audio. If you have an engineer helping you out, you can master and remix the live audio and re-sync to the video pretty easily at this point as well.

Once the video is polished, if possible, I recommend segmenting the concert by piece and creating a separate video for each piece. I recently did this with three of my short piano pieces from a February 2018 concert at Kalamazoo College, presented with Aepex Contemporary Performance. Instead of bulking them into one video, I cut them into three shorter videos. Here’s what they look like:

Glass Study One
Glass Study Two
Glass Study Three

By having shorter content, this gives me three opportunities to repost to Facebook and Twitter, three opportunities to tag and mention my many collaborators (Kalamazoo College, Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Aepex Contemporary Performance, Justin Snyder), and listenable examples of my music. I could even make a YouTube playlist of all three, and add to it if I make more videos in the future.

If we quickly dissect the social media impact of three videos, with four partners we can tag, we get 24 sharing points (three videos tagging four pages three times on two social media platforms) which will only be multiplied by the algorithms of social media and the shares made by your friends. These videos can also be featured on your website, and—as mentioned before—emailed to your subscribers. Segmenting videos and delaying the release also allows you to be consistent with your social media presence—taking a singular event and spreading the content out over many months.

There are many ways to spice up your live stream in post-production and they usually include graphics. You can do anything, but the standard for concerts seems to be 1.) a title slide or sequence of title slides, 2.) a bar or graphic in the lower third of the video image that you can use to denote the name/movement of a piece and the performers playing, and 3.) closing slides for crediting performers, funding organizations, and your website. For all of these images, make graphic files the same size as your video resolution.

This brings us to creating graphics for your stream.

Graphics for streaming and post-stream production

Inserting graphic overlays and title slides into a live stream is really only possible using an external encoding program like OBS, Switcher Go, or some other non-mobile tech. It’s a really great effect for your next level professionalism; you can have the concert poster start the stream, followed by composers/performer/piece title bars that overlay the video image, like in this live stream I did for The Gilmore.

To create these graphics—specifically the overlay bar—you need a design program that can create a transparent PNG. I use Canva, a simple online graphic design program. (I do believe that the transparent PNG option is a paid feature.) Once you get past the title slides, designing a piece/composer/performer bar for the lower third of the screen is really easy. My recommendation is that you design it in a 1920 x 1080 pixel format, which is standard HD definition, so when you load the graphics into your streaming software, they automatically fit the HD video image. To create the lower third bar effect, use the same resolution, create your lower third image, then download with a transparent background in PNG format. As always, do your research and make sure you know what your video image resolution is.

If you don’t have the encoder software that allows you to import graphic overlays during the stream, take the time to edit your video post-stream and use these graphics (like I did above) or other video editing software to make your videos look awesome.

Licensing, ownership, and approval

As with all non-public domain music, there are some licensing and copyright issues that can arise with live streaming new music. Questions about this were posed to me at my presentation at the New Music Gathering in Boston this past spring, and thankfully, after an interview with Chris McCormick at BMI, I am fully aware of the concerns that can arise, and the solution to properly and legally address them.

In short, you need to get approval from all composers represented on your concert live stream, and all performers who will be part of your live stream. I recommend drafting up a simple letter of agreement for composers and performers detailing 1.) how much they will be paid 2.) how many services are expected (rehearsals and performances) and 3.) that the performance will be recorded and streamed live, with all planned future uses outlined. It’s important to note that the rights to produce a piece can be controlled by 1.) the composer and publisher or 2.) just the composer. The composers involved should know whether or not to include their publisher if you are unsure.

When your video is uploaded to YouTube, it becomes YouTube’s responsibility to pay the PRO (Performing Rights Organization, like BMI and ASCAP) based on streaming data that it sends quarterly. If you are streaming the music of other composers (which you should already have approval for anyway), YouTube will typically direct the streaming fees to the right places. Of course, this works best for pop acts that accrue more streams and have larger representation. After speaking with Chris at BMI, I learned that Twitter and Facebook are currently working on developing their licenses with the PROs, whereas YouTube has a pretty robust system already, so we may see some future changes in how we credit and control intellectual property in live streams.

Thinking beyond your limitations

After reading these four articles, I hope you have gained a deeper understanding of where to begin your live streaming journey, how to do the research necessary, and how to ask the right questions to start your own streaming. If you get hooked like I did, consider expanding your talents and go a little more pro.

When I started streaming with The Gilmore, I was fortunate to get video work from our upstairs neighbors in Kalamazoo, the Public Media Network. They had the equipment and know how—all we had to provide was clean audio and some direction. After years of cultivation, we have a really great partnership and, through practice, have learned how to get our tech working in the best possible ways to make some great streams. After visiting the streaming room in the basement of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s hall, it was apparent that a high-quality stream needed an entire team of people, and early on, the DSO partnered with Detroit Public TV to make it happen. It made me wonder how many other public media groups are out there with camera equipment and know-how, and how many would be interested in collaborating with local arts groups.

The point of my short story is to encourage you to think of ways to leverage your network to build partnerships and share resources for mutual benefit. When I started working with the Public Media Network in Kalamazoo, we benefited from their robotic controlled multi-camera set up and staff expertise, and they received artistic content for their cable channels and community exposure. It never hurts to seek out local groups and ask. You may be surprised what can come together.

Another option might be to build a sort of streaming consortium that would allow you to pool resources to buy a rig that would work for multiple groups, and you could come together to produce each others’ work.

So don’t limit yourself just because you only have a mobile phone set-up. If you are interested in expanding, seek out collaborators in your community!

End Credits

Thank you for reading this far. Special thanks to my employers, The Gilmore and Kalamazoo College; my video partners Public Media Network; and the New Music Gathering and NewMusicBox for helping me hone my thoughts. Also props to Garrett Hope of the Portfolio Composer for being my first public appearance (here on his podcast) where I spoke about live streaming.

As you can tell, I love talking about this stuff, so please reach out:

Twitter: @schumakera
Or through my website: www.adamschumaker.com

Beyond SoundCloud: Why We Share

We share music online. It’s part of getting our music heard by audiences, promoters, funders, and our peers. Recently, SoundCloud, one of the services used by musicians to host and share files digitally, has been in the news because they’ve undergone significant layoffs and there are now questions about the future of the service. But the current trajectory of the company gives composers and musicians an opportunity to re-examine some things. While it may seem important to figure out “What service do I use now?!?”, we’ll make better choices (today and for the future) if we spend a little time first thinking about “Why do I share my music online?”

It’s important to remember that we don’t have to share our music, we don’t have to give it away for free, we don’t even have to make it available at all. This is a choice we have. And while it might seem obvious that making our music available makes sense, it’s worth remembering that sales of vinyl generate more revenue than ad-supported streaming (see page 3). So if we’re distributing our music online, it likely isn’t primarily for sales revenue.

Many of us in contemporary art music and experimental music make and support our own work; we make music as a result of our own personal networks of composers, players, and venues more often than as a result of label or other institutional support. There aren’t relevant charting methods for us. Our revenue/attention generation is too small for an advertising or subscription-based platform to care about our audience.

Those who are now looking for how to share music post-SoundCloud will benefit from first examining their own needs and goals. Knowing why you share music will help you pick a system or platform that works best for you and your audience. In this article, I’ll cover some of the important questions we can ask ourselves as music creators and then connect them to ways we can share music using different services.

Below, I’ve matched some technologies and techniques to different reasons you might be sharing music. Where possible I’ve focused on options that meet the following criteria: 1) offer some potential for generating revenue, 2) are available for audience members to hear on the open web (i.e. they don’t need to subscribe or buy anything to hear what you share). Sadly this isn’t always possible with contemporary tools.

Here goes:

I share music to generate revenue through sales.

SoundCloud was a miserable choice for this in the first place, as there was no meaningful way to get paid by them. If you want to get paid for your work, you might want to examine Bandcamp. This is a service that caters to independent artists who want to connect with their fans and get paid for their recordings. The site provides all the stuff you need to sell things.


Sample Bandcamp page

I share music to increase my exposure, as a marketing expense.

SoundCloud was pretty fickle for this sort of thing. Aside from luckily getting placed alongside a popular hit—as rapper Rory Fresco did when the SoundCloud algorithm chose his track “Lowkey” to follow Kanye’s “Real Friends”—chances of getting exposure just by being on SoundCloud were very thin. If you want to be a part of that kind of system, getting your music onto Spotify or other streaming services like iTunes will probably give you a similar chance of getting placed alongside a popular track in a curated playlist. Luck generated by SoundCloud’s algorithm or luck through a human curator is still luck.

Distrokid is a simple way to get your music into streaming services. So is CDBaby. The two have different pricing structures, and it’s worth investigating them to see which is best for you. Generally speaking, if you’re very prolific Distrokid will be better. If you only release occasionally, CDBaby may be the better option.

In addition, there’s YouTube. Though it requires you to come up with something for the video aspect, there’s no denying that YouTube is a monster when it comes to music discovery. Make a simple, attractive template for your video and upload there, and maybe you’ll get lucky with a playlist, etc. Either way you’ll have a unique URL, some analytics about your listeners, and maybe make a fraction of a cent if there’s some advertising clicking.

I share music to grow my audience. I market it myself on my website or through distributing links.

If you accept that most people who listen to your music are going to find it because of efforts you take (advertising, getting press, emailing/sharing links, etc.) then Bandcamp is going to be worth investigating. You can upload your tracks, each track will have a unique web address that you can share/promote/advertise, etc. In addition, you can embed your track directly on your website (if you prefer to advertise a web address you own) or elsewhere.

If you are concerned that putting more casual recordings onto Bandcamp will clutter more “serious” album releases that you also have on Bandcamp, try making an album called In Progress or Mixtape or something else that feels right for you. Then, just keep adding your casual tracks to this album as you go. The music “album” is a techno-social construct anyway, existing primarily as an artifact of early 20th-century production methods. For your casual tracks, where you aren’t seeking anything more than an address for others to find your music, one Bandcamp album to which you continually add tracks will do the job handily.

Another service to look into is Octave. This is a paid service, but it’s essentially a more functional version of the SoundCloud embed. If all you need are embed links to put on your own website, this might be your service.

A free service that doesn’t get much use but has many of the same features as Bandcamp is Orfium—individual track URLs, embeddable players, revenue generation. In addition to sales revenue, Orfium has a licensing component which might be useful as another revenue stream. One big advantage for Orfium when it comes to anyone moving from SoundCloud is the “import from SoundCloud” feature.

I share music to build community around my work.

SoundCloud has been hobbling its ability to do this for some time. When it killed off “groups”—the only curated community-building feature that could be used collaboratively by music-makers—SoundCloud essentially gave up community building. There are other platforms, however, that are infinitely better at helping you develop a community around your work. There are the obvious ones: Facebook and Twitter. But also, there’s Tumblr.

Tumblr #experimental music sampling

I’d like to give a special note that Tumblr is an environment in which a tremendous variety of niche interests are served. A quick aside: If you think that Tumblr is only for teens 1) you’re wrong and 2) what’s wrong with teens in the audience? While the file size upload limits will prevent some longer works from being uploaded directly, you can embed links to any of the other services you try. I would recommend investigating Tumblr as community-building platform: it has passionate users interested in niche/unique things and the posts are visible without requiring someone to log in—they’re public.

Those four reasons for sharing will probably cover many of us. In a Twitter conversation the other night, composer Jay Batzner had a few other reasons, which may be unique to academic uses. I’ll paraphrase them below.

I share music for the analytics, particularly to know where my audience resides geographically.

If the data on listeners is important, the best way to get analytics data on your listeners will be to have your own website with your own analytics package installed. If this is a hassle you don’t wish to undertake, then perhaps the Bandcamp free data will suffice. Also, Orfium is supposedly working on getting analytics built for their platform.

I share music to get comments and in-track feedback, for pedagogical uses.

The comment system at specific points within the waveform on SoundCloud was handy when it wasn’t spam. And that in-track commenting capability is one that isn’t well matched by other services.

SoundCloud's in-track commenting

SoundCloud’s in-track commenting capability is a valued feature

However, the collaboration tool Splice has the ability for in-track commenting and also general commenting. Splice doesn’t put music and comments out publicly; it’s designed for people working on a track together to be able comment and share files back and forth before releasing. To use with students, the students would need accounts (which are free) and you would need to give them access to your track. This might be a problem or a benefit, depending on how your class works. Perhaps students will be more engaged with commenting if they know it isn’t tied to their public digital persona. Or perhaps it’ll be a hassle for teachers to grant access to the tracks, etc.

It’s easy to get caught up in tools and questions of “how.” Contemporary marketing practices encourage us to focus on “how” questions because the answer is always some product or another. If we start with “why,” then we can better evaluate the array of options out there for us.

It’s also important to remember that the way we generate revenue, attention, and choose collaborators to further our work may be very, very different from the way the rest of the music industry handles things. As a result, most of the tools we encounter may require us to think a little bit outside the box to make them function for us. Hopefully, as experimenters and finders of new sounds, we can adapt and get what we need from the tools available.

The Case for Radio

Car Stereo

“Is radio dying?” I’ve been hearing this ominous question for years, especially in the context of the plethora of digital music platforms—Spotify, Pandora, our personal music collections, YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and many more. Can good old-fashioned radio continue to thrive among the other options out there? I believe the answer is yes; radio is evolving, not dying, and there are foundational principles of radio that can’t compete with fancy new technologies.

On February 7 I hosted Musochat, a weekly new music Twitter conversation (Sundays at 6 p.m. PT) to discuss related topics with this passionate online community. You can read the entire summary here, but since I didn’t chime in with my own answers I’d like to share them here.

Do you still think of “radio” as on-the-dial only? If not, how do you define it in this day and age of digital platforms?

It’s definitely not on-the-dial only, but in order for it to be radio, it must be a unique channel of music curated by a human that cannot be paused, skipped, rewound, or altered in any other way. This includes terrestrial/HD radio, their online streaming simulcasts, and continuous streaming channels like KING FM’s Second Inversion, WQXR’s Q2 Music, and New Music USA’s Counterstream Radio. Some people mentioned Pandora in their responses, so I added the sub question, “Do you think Pandora is radio?” I say, “no,” as Pandora’s model is opposite to my definition of radio: the infinite channels are not unique, they are generated by a computer, and the listener can control the experience.

What is your #1 most used music platform and why?

Outside of my office, where it’s the endless wealth of new music new releases (roughly 70% on physical CDs and 30% digital files) for airplay consideration on Second Inversion, my go-to platform is radio. Since I spend so much of my work week choosing music for other people to listen to, I take immense pleasure in consuming playlists that other humans have curated when I’m on my own time. I listen terrestrially if I’m in my car or at home and stream the audio on my phone if I’m walking or bussing, and I rotate between Seattle’s public radio stations, including KPLU (jazz), KEXP (a little bit of everything), KBCS (folk & bluegrass), KING FM (classical), and KNHC (pop and dance remixes). I value that I can count on these stations to help me discover something new almost every time I tune in. I’d also define radio as a community of listeners hearing the same thing at the same time and the ethereal bond that I have with who-knows-how-many other people at any given moment is another fundamental reason why I love radio.

If you could change one thing about your #1 platform to make it better, what would it be?

I’m tempted to say nothing, because what I love about radio is its reliable unpredictability. Unrelated to the audio product, I would love to see a space where listeners can chat about what they’re hearing in real time to turn the aforementioned ethereal bond into a more tangible bond.

How much talk do you want to hear when you’re listening to music?

Not a lot but definitely some. Roughly 60-90 seconds of historical or anecdotal information is ideal for me. The human voice is something that radio uses in a meaningful way that other streaming tools such as Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube don’t offer. This furthers my case for radio being a reliable source for learning, discovery, and context.

Research shows that the #1 core value for classical radio is “to relax.” Does this apply to you? If not, what is yours?

And to clarify, this applies to audiences of major market classical radio stations which typically play mostly Baroque through early 20th-century repertoire from the Western canon. For me, classical music can be relaxing, but I don’t listen to it to relax. I listen with intent, focus, and an analytical ear and hope to feel something, whether it’s good or bad. If I don’t feel anything, I turn it off. From the peanut gallery on Musochat—most people firmly said, “no,” and offered some great answers: to engage, to get pumped, to discover, to think, to question existence, “to kick my brain into gear” (@EdWindels), “to ponder new sounds in a more solitary setting than a concert” (@ursulasahagian), to be thrilled, stimulated, excited. While I wasn’t surprised to hear the lack of agreement with relaxation amongst a group of adventurous listeners, I was thrilled to see such a wide variety of very strong values for radio.

How much does the actual video content matter in YouTube videos? Do you use it mostly for the audio?

I brought this question up because video has become a presence in the evolution of radio. As people are choosing to stream radio stations on devices with screens, creating a visual reflection of the station’s mission is a natural step. This is one way for radio stations to infuse their identity into additional content that can be spread across widely used platforms, such as YouTube or Vimeo, and embedded into social media.

I think the video content does matter, tremendously so (“Like, if you’re gonna have a video you gotta make it worthwhile, even if it’s just a great performance video” @sammelnicomposer chimed in), but YouTube has become very saturated with content that doesn’t actually have any video, e.g. a still image of a CD cover, a headshot of the composer, or a nature shot. This does not constitute a proper video experience for me, so I tend to use YouTube as an audio search tool. If there is a well-produced video attached, I’ll save it to watch again later, tweet it, or e-mail to a friend. Good videos should be shared actively and put on a pedestal and at KING FM and Second Inversion, we’re trying to set the standard for what classical music videos can and should be.

If you were in charge of a new music radio show, 24/7 stream, or podcast, what would you include? List 1-3 things—general or specific.

Since I am in charge of such a thing, I’ll say that with Second Inversion, I’m most excited to present a wide variety of musical flavors, brief spoken introductions from passionate voices (composers, performers, advocates), and on-demand content (videos and live concert recordings). Common answers included current performances from cities all over the world, diversity (music from non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-cisgender composers), strong opinions, humor, interaction, and emerging composers who don’t already have national recognition. I’m proud that all of those are already integral parts of Second Inversion’s programming, and we’ll continue to include them as time goes on.

To recap this interview with myself, there’s no doubt in my mind that radio will continue to be one of the many valuable media consumption options. The human-curated element and innate community of radio is unique to the medium and something that you simply cannot get with an algorithm-based streaming aid (Pandora), nor a searchable music database (Spotify). In this day and age, radio has evolved with digital technology such that you can stream a radio station in your city, seek out another station that offers content you prefer, or maintain the connection to your hometown station if you move to a different city. At KING FM, we’re proactively thinking about what the “21st-century radio announcer” is, and it’s not just someone behind a microphone in a booth. That’s still part of it, but producing creative audio content, having active voices on social media, and engaging with the community are important pieces of the puzzle, too. I’m even more assured about radio’s ability to keep reinventing itself and adapt to changing trends, with research to be conducted by Station Resource Group (SRG) in the coming years.
If you don’t share my optimistic outlook or feel like you’ve lost touch with your local radio stations, I encourage you to visit one of them today online and check out what they’re doing. Are you surprised? Positively or negatively? Either way, I’d love to know your take on the state of radio and its future.

We Need More (On-Demand) Films of New Operas

met catalog

Screen shot of Met Opera on Demand subscription offerings.

Every now and then, I like to daydream about a question that’s essentially a variation on the more universal “What if I won the lottery?”: What if I had a foundation? Where might I direct the plentiful resources of my hypothetical endowment? Near the top of my fantastical list of grant programs is this wish: to support the creation and distribution of high-quality films of contemporary operas.

Making more live films of new and recent operas, and making those films readily available to the public, might be much more important to the future of opera than is currently appreciated. It could create new audiences for live opera, give long-term life to contemporary works, and enable young and emerging composers, librettists, and performers to become more aware of the state of the art. Leveraging streaming video on demand, whether through subscription, pay-per-rent, or ad-based platforms (or some combination thereof), is one strategy that could be particularly effective at removing some major barriers to experiencing new operas, both for new audiences and opera devotees who lack access to live performances.

Sadly, I do not have my very own foundation for the arts. Furthermore, I don’t claim to have any special solutions to the logistical, financial, and legal complexities of producing, licensing, and distributing films of operas. Even so, I believe such hurdles will need to be tackled and overcome—for the love of opera.

Barriers to Access

As a young composer starting out in opera—I’m currently in America Opera Projects’ wonderful Composers & the Voice fellowship program—attempting to become reasonably knowledgeable about prominent work being done in the field has led me to many impasses. Surely I’m not unusual in lacking the resources to travel around the country (or the world) to see notable productions, or even to buy tickets to more than a handful of the productions occurring in New York City, where I’m fortunate to live. As such, I’m frequently frustrated by the lack of films available of stage productions of new and recent works.

I cite my personal circumstances only to illustrate a universal problem. For anyone out there who does not happen to live near an opera company that frequently stages quality productions of new operas, or does not have the resources to attend more than a couple performances each season and/or take the risk of attending a performance they don’t already know much about (e.g. seeing a favorite performer or favorite work), the barriers to experiencing the best of contemporary opera are, at present, much too high for too many people—be they opera novices or opera nerds.

The Value of Video on Demand

The problem I’m contemplating is not solely a matter of documenting the work on video (important in its own right) and making it commercially available in some form (such as on DVD or via movie theater broadcasts), but also making video highly accessible. This is true for operas in general, but especially true for contemporary operas: First, because the future development of opera depends on the circulation of new work. Second, because any new opera lacks the widespread reputation of canonical repertoire and its future may be dependent on the impression made with its first production(s). A well-produced, well-distributed film of a new opera could make a big difference to the life of that work.

According to Nielsen’s most recent Total Audience Report, 45% of U.S. households subscribe to streaming video on-demand services. Consumption of video on PC, smartphone, and tablet is increasing steadily: 2015 showed a 19% growth over 2014. Teens and younger adults appear to be the biggest consumers of digital video: to cite just one statistic, 18- to 24-year olds spent 72% more time per month watching video on a PC than 50- to 64-year olds. Trends in sales also indicate the overall shift in the home entertainment landscape towards digital and streaming: The Digital Entertainment Group’s report for 2014 stated that, while DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales continued to be the primary revenue stream, income from discs (both sales and rentals) has gone down markedly as digital movie sales and subscription streaming are continuing to experience huge growth (showing an increase of 30% and 25.8%, respectively, between 2013 and 2014).

Recordings cannot and should not replace live performances, but that’s true no matter what medium of video is being discussed (online streaming, DVD, live simulcast, etc.). Given the on-demand convenience and wide availability of mass quantities of streaming video of all kinds via subscription and ad-based services, opera—like many other performing arts—is at a major disadvantage in vying for the attention of even very enlightened media consumers if it does not begin to leverage current and expanding forms of distribution more extensively.

Jake Heggie’s <em>Moby-Dick</em>

Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick at the San Francisco Opera (Great Performances, PBS) is one of a handful of films of contemporary operas currently available via streaming video on demand. (Source)

Current Availability

In 2012, the Metropolitan Opera launched Met Opera on Demand, a subscription streaming service for PC and mobile, with a subsequent release supporting streaming on home TV via Samsung Smart TV or Roku (the most compelling platform for this service, in my opinion, assuming your TV has a bigger screen and better speakers than your PC or mobile device). High-quality films of live operas, including and predating live simulcasts from the Met, have never been more widely accessible. Note that $14.99/month for unlimited access is an exceptionally high price tag compared to other streaming video services (especially considering that the Met also offers a comparatively small video library: while boasting 550 full-length performances, at last count that list encompassed videos of 108 unique operas or opera-related programs, not including multiple productions of the same opera or audio-only recordings). However, this is very affordable when compared to the cost of opera tickets or purchasing DVDs.

Met Opera on Demand is an exciting model, prime for future development. Unfortunately, the last time I checked the selection of operas by living composers available through the Met Opera’s library, they were disappointingly few: The First Emperor by Tan Dun, Doctor Atomic and Nixon in China by John Adams, The Tempest by Thomas Adès, and The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano. (Of course, there are only so many contemporary operas being produced or filmed at the Met that would be possible to include. But that’s a subject for an entirely different column!) Notably, Nico Muhly’s recent Two Boys is absent from this list.

Aside from Met Opera on Demand and the occasional full-length video on YouTube (usually of dubious legitimacy), there are several sources for streaming opera videos on demand. However, they feature smaller libraries—typically a rotating selection, in coordination with the current or recent season—and one or two contemporary works at most. Such libraries include Teatro Real, Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall (mostly un-staged, concert performances), Stream Opera, Viener Staatsoper, The Opera Platform, and PBS’s Great Performances.

Imagine the possible impact of a subscription streaming service that included a substantial library of contemporary operas—ideally, aggregated across multiple opera companies to offer quantity and variety. How might such a service expand audiences for new opera? Generate interest in staging new productions of existing works? Further the artistic development of this field, in which even composers and librettists only rarely have opportunities to see the master works of our age?

Certainly, there are some more fundamental, underlying problems with the current situation—it’s challenging even to find a prominent place for new works on our opera stages and in our culture, never mind our streaming video websites—and yet, films are not being made (or being publicly distributed) of even the full range of new operas that are actively being commissioned, developed, and produced by professional opera companies across the country. As I learn more about current operas, I find it increasingly disappointing to have no opportunities to see films of many operas written by prominent American composers. Where are the DVDs or streaming videos of Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar? Christopher Theofanidis’s Heart of a Soldier or The Refuge? Ricky Ian Gordon’s many operas?

By contrast, Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick was filmed for PBS’s Great Performances and is currently available via streaming video on the web and connected TVs. From the consumer’s perspective, this is a dream come true: it’s available on demand, in your home, for free. Assuming you have an internet-connected device, the barrier to entry is no greater than the amount of time it takes to actually watch the opera. Kevin Puts’s Silent Night was also broadcast on Great Performances and was previously available on demand for a temporary period. This film appears to no longer be available from any source, free or paid.

How is it that an opera can win the Pulitzer Prize, receive a production by one of the country’s largest opera companies (Minnesota Opera), and be filmed and broadcast on public media—a triumph by any measure—and yet the public cannot presently access this film through any medium? There are likely complex legal or economic reasons behind this, but the outcome is a missed opportunity for audiences and opera-makers alike.

To Stream or Not to Stream? That is the Wrong Question.

ignore streaming services

With the launch of Apple’s new streaming service, we’ve seen a resurgence in the popular arguments over streaming: Are the royalty rates too low? Can this possibly be sustainable? Does streaming devalue music? If you can hear everything for free, why would anybody buy anything?

For the armchair pundits pompously pontificating in pubs, the answers to these questions don’t really matter: they don’t have any skin in the game. They’ll keep doing their thing.

If you run a label or release your own recorded music, though, the answers to these questions do matter, because at some point you’re going to base a decision on them.

I spend a lot of time with labels, and the decision many of them are wrestling with is this: “Do we stream our products or not?”[1]

This is the wrong question to ask.

false dichotomies

Here’s why:

The record business is old. Edison patented the phonograph cylinder in 1878, and discs were introduced to the US market in 1889. Since then, we’ve had 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, tapes, cassettes, CDs, SACDs, DVDAs, Pure Audio Blu-Rays, MP3s, MP4s and FLACs. [2] People act like downloading represented a big shift in music consumption, but it really didn’t. [3]

Except in few rare cases, the shift to purchasing digital downloads hasn’t seriously challenged our idea of what constitutes a recorded music product. Digital albums are, for the most part, simply digital representations of the CDs they either duplicate or replace. Each format strikes a different balance between convenience, quality, playing time, and durability, but what they all have in common is they are all sold.

The business we have has evolved—partly through intelligent planning, partly through natural selection—around the process of convincing customers to part with money in return for the permanent ownership of recordings. [4]

You make a record, promote it to people who have never heard it, and get them to pay a chunk of money in order to be able to listen to it at any time in the future. Thus it has always been.

This is important, because our entire experience of recorded music, all the assumptions we make about what constitutes a product and how it should be valued, have been shaped by an ownership-based market that is more than a century old. Like unmetered water, an all-you-can-eat buffet, or an unlimited cellphone contract, the new streaming music services create a different set of incentives for both customers and suppliers. To apply these changes to a mature ownership-based market, we have to forget a lot of things we didn’t even realize we had learned.

The question we have to ask is not “Should I stream my stuff?” but “How does the existence of streaming services change my job?”.

do the same thing

It’s perhaps helpful here to look at what the movie industry does. Rental (and even subscription) has been a big part of their business for decades, so they’ll have had the chance to learn from their mistakes as the market matures. You don’t have to hang out with a Hollywood lawyer for long to realize that while the dumbest people in the movie industry are just as dumb as the dumbest people in the music industry, the only ones who take on the major labels and win are the studios. The men in suits might know a thing or two.

Blockbuster movies these days are so homogenous they make the Top 40 look like a hotbed of artistic rebellion, and yet studios are quite comfortable distributing them through a wide range of outlets. There are previews followed by a wide theatrical release, traditional physical rental, home-delivery rental, cable pay-per-view, download-to-own, digital rental, online subscription services like Amazon Prime, DVD, Blu-Ray, in-flight entertainment, cable movie channels, and network broadcasts. If there’s a way to get paid, the studios are all over it.

Indeed, for as fun as it is to lampoon them for making the same movie over and over, we should look in the mirror once in a while. The economics of the physical sales model have got us thinking an album has to be at least ten songs or 50-70 minutes of music. When iTunes came along, labels and artists alike bent over backwards to try to keep the album format alive instead of realizing what an absurd creative and commercial straightjacket it has always been. This is particularly stifling in the new music world, where a new work might not see release until there’s a full CD-length program to keep it company.

Studios know that people have appetites for 15-minute cartoons, 43-minute episodes, 120-minute feature films, and 27-hour stimulant-fueled Breaking Bad binges. Movies are profitably made for straight-to-DVD release, and video streaming services are making their own content and dropping whole seasons in one day. The content might all look the same, but the business plans are sophisticated, carefully tailored to the content, and different.

Other businesses have embraced (or been forced to accept) access as an alternative to ownership. Public libraries did not destroy the book business, despite its long-touted decline. [5] It took quite a while for recordings to replace sheet music as the most visible form of music consumption. (The first Top Ten charted the sales of sheet music, not records, and sheet music first became available on subscription 250 years ago.)

19th-century music

Of course it’s possible that subscription streaming will be the end of the record business as we know it, but I’ve never understood what is supposed to be so great about the record business as we know it. Let’s worry about something that is within our power. What are we going to do about all this?

The way I see it, you have some action items:

1. Stop looking for a new model. When people say they’re looking for a new model, what they really mean is “can somebody please come up with something that works so I can copy it.” It is going to be harder than that, but only a little bit.

2. Stop thinking of your recorded music business as “selling albums.” From now on, you commercially exploit the copyright in audio recordings. Write yourself a list of all the ways you might do this. Include not just paid streaming and downloads, but licensing, future compilations, and free downloads and streams used for promotion. Consider them all for every recorded asset. Try to keep an open mind about what constitutes a product. Do not wait until you have a whole album to think about this. Alongside your marketing plan, make a release plan for each product. Do not simply take the last one and change the album title and the date.

3. Make worse records. When I buy an album, I’m expecting a certain baseline level of quality, because while only a fraction of the cost goes toward creating the content, I’m still paying a lot of money to permanently own that recording. On a streaming service, I already paid somebody else. All I invest in your product is the time to listen to it. I’m more willing to take a chance, and less likely to be disappointed. There are no refunds for bad records on Spotify, so many interesting-but-not-sonically-perfect live albums have a place on streaming services even when they really don’t belong on download stores.

4. Make better records. To make money from selling albums, you have to convince people that they may, in theory, wish to listen to them at some point in the future. To make money from streaming music, people have to actually listen to it. If your albums are better in theory than in practice, streaming platforms are not going to be the place for you. You have to record something that doesn’t already exist, and which people will want to hear. If you want streaming subscribers to buy an album you’re not prepared to stream, then it really has to stand out to people who haven’t bought it and don’t go to record stores. It will cost the same as a month of listening to everything on Spotify.

taylor swift

5. Remember that “streaming” is not a single service with a single deal. Alexander Street Press and Naxos both offer academically focused streaming products that are priced higher than Spotify or Apple Music, and pay correspondingly higher per-stream rates. These services already offer a happy medium for labels reluctant to participate with Spotify and Apple Music.

6. Consider windowing. Apple Music will let you set a streaming release date that is some time after your download-to-own release date. There are ways to do the same with Spotify. Your commercial goals may be best served by not releasing the DVD the day your movie opens in cinemas.

7. Consider why you made the recording in the first place. Not everybody’s primary motivation is profit. If the priority is to reach a large audience, and to get people to take a chance on your music, streaming might come quite high up the release plan.

8. Try stuff. Innovation is just having something to show for playing around. The more fundamental the threat to your business, the more important it is for you to play around. Most big companies are bad at this, which is why they’re so often late to the party, and when making a serious plan to invent something doesn’t pan out, they use their money to get what they want instead.

9. Build a following. Streaming service providers are determined to turn their jukebox apps into social networks. It feels desperately contrived, but it is happening, and it isn’t enough to get people to like your album once. For you to get paid, people have to listen to your records over and over again, and it is nobody else’s job to make that happen. If you’re not streaming, this still matters, because if a major discovery platform doesn’t have your music, you have to work harder to keep the same level of visibility.

10. Don’t forget your back catalog. A year after release, you might have shipped 80% of all the albums you’re ever going to sell, but on streaming services, the work is just beginning. Make sure your catalog is nicely linked up online, that any resources about the music have links to the recordings, and that you’re using playlists, editorial, and any other tools at your disposal to get people from one of your recordings to another. Make sure the metadata is lovely. Put the sleeve notes on your website—somewhere obvious. Look after your old records, and they’ll continue to look after you.

If you’re in the business of making and selling records, then streaming means your job has changed, and it’s not as simple as opting in or opting out. Whether you want to stream or not, things are different now. The one thing you mustn’t do is ignore it. Good luck.

streaming moral crusade

1. Too much has already been written on this question, but in brief, the arguments against streaming are that:

a) It is unsustainable. The argument goes that streaming services are not profitable despite their huge popularity, and therefore never will be. This misunderstands the nature of investment and the projected growth of these businesses.

b) It is a scam. If the majors are screwing their artists, then this is (i) not new and (ii) between them and their artists. It is not an inherent flaw in the delivery mechanism, nor is it Spotify’s fault that some people entrusted notoriously devious multinational companies with the exploitation of their intellectual property.

c) It is not transparent. This is not true either. Streaming services pay out a fixed percentage of total subscriber revenue according to each rightsholder’s share of the total number of streams. The formula is not complicated, although the implications of this are not always obvious.

d) They insist that every stream is worth the same, and that amount is too low. This is the only argument that holds water, and it is a straightforward business decision: the service offers to pay you X each time somebody listens to your music. Take it or leave it. This isn’t a moral question, it isn’t about transparency or power or big guys and little guys or the contract to take photos of Taylor Swift on tour. It’s your music; they are offering to pay you for it. You decide.

Some products will reap poor financial returns on streaming services because they are, by their nature, not something people listen to often or repeatedly. Some labels have catalogues comprised entirely of these products. If those labels intend to continue making exactly the same products without regard for the changing shape of the music market, they would be well advised to steer clear of streaming services altogether, but that does not mean they will not feel the effects of them.

2. At this point, even downloads have been around for a long time: I run a label for King’s College Choir. The choir itself has been around for half a millennium, but fewer than half the singers are older than the iTunes Store.

3. Outside of chart pop, which has suffered badly from a sudden increase in ways for young people to express their individuality (or lack thereof), the big shift came a little earlier with the widespread success of online CD sales. This has had a huge impact on the diversity of available recordings. iTunes and Spotify also have almost everything**, but they didn’t start this. Amazon did.

**There are exceptions. Garth Brooks isn’t even on download stores.

4. Usually round ones, as Will.I.Am observed in a moment of either inane idiocy or surreal genius.

5. There’s an old joke that the first book published using moveable type was the Gutenburg bible and the second was a book about the death of the publishing industry. With some regrettable exceptions (I’m thinking Twilight), taking publishing out of the hands of monks with nice handwriting turned out not to be such a bad idea.

Now Hear This: NMBx Interviews Now On SoundCloud

Introducing a new way to enjoy the music and interviews NewMusicBox posts every month! You can now sit back and listen to audio-only versions of the profile videos we have created in a single continuous stream, or pick and choose to create your own playlist.

So far 12 tracks totaling more than 90 minutes have been added to this collection. Don’t see your favorite interview? Let us know which stories you’d like to see added to this feature in the comments below.

Send Chutes and Ladders

fire escape
As part of the Chamber Music America conference in New York last month, I sat on a panel that discussed the ways in which classical and jazz are isolated from other genres of music and what we might do to help de-silo our work (a much more complex and serious problem than being cordoned off in our own glass room in Tower Records was in olden times). There’s a pretty large gap between how the jazz and the classical community see these fields and how the rest of the music community sees them (as a quick scan of the Billboard charts often makes painfully evident), and that has both cultural and economic repercussions.
Current delivery platforms and participation rates in the creation of new work mean music of any and all types is coming at us at a phenomenal rate. This then requires music makers to place a high priority on and devote precious resources to being effectively present in this general music marketplace—to being where music fans are, so that those who are interested in what’s available can find and enjoy it. This has challenges, for sure. Market share (or strange ideas about composition vs. recording date) can result in classical and jazz being left out of splashy mainstream productions such as Twitter #Music and the Google Music Timeline.  Services such as Spotify and iTunes don’t handle the more complicated metadata very well, often rendering music in these genres harder to discover and sort. But building a tailor-made private playground cut off from huge pools of listeners is an even worse attempt at a solution, effectively serving only to drain resources and build walls. Seen in this light, standing in a crowded YouTube field or Live365 index makes a lot more sense. On its own it’s just an open door, but at least that door is open and there’s active street life beyond its threshold.

From there, standing shoulder to shoulder with other artists across genres takes us a certain distance further away from being an untouchable “other.” NPR does this in their “Best of the Year” album round up, on which Caleb Burhans’s Evensong is followed by Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap. Here on Counterstream Radio, we did it through meaningful conversations between artists such as Meredith Monk and Björk.

Keeping out of that silo also requires keeping pace with what the major mainstream players are developing and how their work might help us entice more people to walk down our lane and visit our home. This made me reflect back on a talk I heard Tim Quirk, head of Global Content Programming at Google Play, give at the Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Day last October. He spoke about how new technology has allowed the development of services “that let thousands of potential masterpieces find their ideal audiences” independent of traditional gatekeepers. “Telling the world what it should or shouldn’t listen to has become far less important than simply making this overgrown jungle navigable…Context is more important than opinions.” On balance, that sounded like a powerful potential opportunity for classical and jazz music to me.

Later in his talk, however, the argument got a little more challenging. “Getting people to pay attention to something new has always been hard work and it’s only getting harder as the amount and, I think, the quality of the competition explodes while the ability to listen to something else instead becomes even easier. Capturing people’s attention and then hanging onto it is the fundamental challenge for artists and labels and their managers in the 21st century.”

It will be all the harder for those who find themselves stuck up a tower, never even making it to the party in the first place.