Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The iTunes Store Shows A Hint Of Panic

There’s talk coming from various sections of the music business that Apple’s iTunes Store will soon offer high-resolution tracks for sale, and that the introduction might coincide with the future release of three Led Zeppelin masters. The unconfirmed details have the hi-res tracks in their full 24 bit glory encoded using Apple’s lossless audio coding, and priced a dollar more than the current lossy AAC tracks.

Mastered For iTunes To The Rescue, Maybe
The fact is that Apple has been accepting 24 bit tracks at up to a 96kHz sampling rate for more than a year now in their Mastered for iTunes program (called MFIT within the industry), but the final encode for the iTunes store was still done at the lossy AAC resolution, although they sounded better due to starting with a higher quality master.

Supposedly, the hi-res track launch is in response to the fact that Apple is seriously concerned about how quickly download sales are diminishing, with Nielsen Soundscan’s Q1 report finding that downloads have diminished 13.3% over the same time last year. Apple missed the boat when it launched iTunes Radio, thinking that it was a way to increase download sales instead of realizing that people stream because they don’t want to purchase their music anymore. Now it’s faced with sales falling far faster than anyone ever anticipated as streaming gradually takes over the music delivery space.

But offering hi-res tracks might be only a temporary ace in the hole for iTunes, record labels and artists alike. It doesn’t cost the company extra to offer hi-res tracks, since most are already delivered that way, and it increases the per track revenue. The only problem is that the majority of buyers probably aren’t interested in the higher fidelity in the first place, and would rather pay the least amount of money possible if they choose to make a purchase at all. Then the fact of the matter is that many pop-oriented tracks aren’t recorded that well to begin with, or use distorted samples or loops that probably won’t provide much of a difference in the end for the average listener. Buy one hi-res track that doesn’t seem worth it and you’ll probably never buy another again. Read more on Forbes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Is Radio's Biggest Music Genre?

Brad Paisly image
OK, quick show of hands? Who thinks that electro-pop is the biggest radio Top 40 genre at the moment? Who thinks hip-hop? How about rock? You're all wrong - according to Nielsen, it's country music.

Country music's audience has grown wider and younger in recent years, and is now poised to dominate the radio airwaves like never before. And it's kicking butt on television as well, with the recent Academy of Country Music Awards receiving its largest viewing audience in 15 years, ABC's prime time Nashville also a hit, and numerous country-oriented reality shows in the works.

One of the reasons for the format's growth is that it has embraced younger artists like Taylor Swift, the Band Perry, and Hunter Hayes more readily than in the past, which has enabled its radio market share to rise dramitically even in the 12 to 15 year old bracket. To put it bluntly, it's no longer the music of 40 year old women like it once was.

While many say that today's country is just 70s rock with fiddle and steel guitar, there's a vibrancy to it that other music doesn't seem to have at the moment. Popular music is all about cycles, and perhaps we've not seen the peak of the this latest country cycle just yet.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Streaming Up And Downloads Down This Year So Far

digital music image
Soundscan's sales numbers are out and it's no surprise that the same trends that we saw at the end of last year continue, only more so. Digital and physical sales were down while streaming was way up, and the hits are doing better than ever compared with the bottom of the charts.

Here's a look at some of the most important numbers:
  • Digital Sales - down 13.3%
  • CD Sales - down 21% compared to this time last year
  • Interactive Streaming - up 35%
  • Streaming Royalty Rate - up to $.005 from $.00375 last year
Even though sales are down, streaming royalties seems to be making up for the decline, which is something that was predicted would happen. In fact, if this trend continues, music industry revenue could actually rise slightly by the end of the year.

Albums continue to take a hit as well, with digital albums down by 14.2%. In fact, all genres of music posted a decline except for electronic music, which posted a modest 2.7% increase in sales.

The music business continues to evolve and the switch to streaming continues at an increased rate as consumers warm to having access to, rather than owning, music. With several new streaming services about to be introduced, it will be interesting to see if the trend accelerates even more.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is Wu-Tang Clan’s New Album A Look Into Future Music Industry Sales?

Wu-Tang Clan album image
The only copy of "The Wu - Once Upon A Time In Shaolin"
When Wu-Tang Clan announced recently that they’d be pressing only one copy of their upcoming album The Wu - Once Upon A Time In Shaolin and would put it up for auction after a museum listening tour, the general thought of music industry insiders was that this was a giant publicity stunt.

Well, stunt it is that’s working beautifully in raising the group's visibility, but it’s also an excellent case study in one of the principles of the Economic of Free, a theory put forth a few years ago in Chris Anderson’s book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Whether they know it or not, Wu-Tang is proving that the little understood second principle of the concept works like a charm.

While Anderson doesn’t outline the concept of the Economics of Free (E of F) specifically like I’m going to in his article, breaking it down into the following two principles makes it easy to grasp and see in action. Let’s take a brief review in how E of F applies to music sales in the world we live in today.

The Two Kinds of Products
First understand that the typical artist has two kinds of products; infinite and scarce. Typical infinite products are music or videos in a digital form, which cost nothing to reproduce. Scarce products include tickets to live shows (not very scarce, but more so than digital music), custom CDs and CD box sets, signed merchandise, exclusive access to musicians, backstage passes, private concerts, and anything else that has a limited supply.

Giving Some Away
Keeping that in mind, Principle #1 is “Give some or all of your infinite products away for free in order to charge for the more scarce ones.” We see this all over the web every day in the form of the many “freemiums” that are offered. For instance, sign up for the free tier of Pandora or Spotify, and if you like it, you can buy up to the next level of service that makes it ad-free with better audio quality.

Instead of using money, many Principle #1 transactions revolve around social currency, like giving away a free download or exclusive content in exchange for an email address. That allows the record label, artist or band to continually offer other products that you might buy later that potentially carry a higher profit margin. Read more of Forbes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Which Decade Had The Worst Music?

Decade of the worst music imageYesterday I posted a piece of the latest CBS/Vanity fair poll on music in the United States. Here's another section from the same poll, this time about the decade that most people think as had the worst music.

I don't think it's surprising that most people think this current decade leads the topic, but what is surprising is how many really believe that at 42%. The past 4 decade has its detractors as well, but with 15% in the 2000's, 13% in the 90s, 14% in the 80s and 12% in the 70s, those decades are viewed very similarly.

It's difficult to say exactly why people feel this way (which is even shared by younger listening audience members), but I suspect it might have something to do with the rise of EDM influenced songs which center more around the beat and a hook than melody and lyrics.

It would be really interesting to see how this figures are broken out by age, genre tastes, and location.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How People Listen To Their Music

CBS and Vanity Fair recently conducted a survey about music consumption in the United States that's extremely detailed and interesting. I'll be providing information from that report from time to time in upcoming posts, but let's start off with how most people listen to music.

As you can see from the chart below, the radio is still the way that most people get their music at 49%, followed by a digital music service way behind at 17%.

People still like to listen to songs in their library from a phone or digital player at 15%, 9% still use a CD player, 6% from their computer, and 1% from a record player.

That last figure is surprising in that it's as high as it is. Vinyl has made a comeback, but finding the equipment to play it on isn't all that easy these days. Also, the fact that so many still use CDs shows that the format has a great deal of life left in it as well.

How people listen to music image

Monday, April 7, 2014

Keeping The Cannibal Away: The 3 Biggest Issues Facing The Upcoming YouTube Streaming Service

YouTube Music image
There’s been a lot of rumblings from Googleland again about the new YouTube streaming service that it’s preparing to introduce, with most of more recent ones being about how Google is struggling with getting everything just right before it launches. There’s good reason for the company to be so cautious as there’s a lot riding on the decisions that are being made right now, at least in the music sphere.

The launch of the new YouTube streaming service has actually been speculated for months, and if I didn’t actually know people who have seen it for themselves, it might be easy to think of the launch whispers as a just a diversion to throw off the competition, a nice rumor to scare the pants off of Spotify, Pandora and Beats Music. That said, all indications are that the service is being crafted to be a serious contender in the music streaming space, but the fact of the matter is that there are three major issues facing Google here, and none of them trivial.

The biggest question is how to top something that’s doing so well already under its own momentum. YouTube is already the largest music discovery engine online, beating all competitors by a large margin, according to Nielson’s Music 360 Report. You don’t hear a lot of complaints or “if only it did” comments from its users, as most are quite content with the on-demand access that they have now. Oh, and it’s free too. How do you surpass that without becoming just another service groveling for some of Pandora or Spotify’s marketshare?


By delivering picture along with the audio, that’s how, which raises the second question of how Google gets around delivering that picture without it resembling a late night at a Karaoke bar. Word has it that the company is looking into licensing different types of artwork to play behind the music; some static and some dynamic. Ideally the graphics would have at least something to do with the artist, but many videos today get by just fine with abstract graphic designs. Read more on Forbes.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

4 Tips To Optimize Your Videos For Mobile

Mobile Video image
One of the things that we have to be aware of when making a video these days is how it will play on a mobile device. Here's an excerpt from the YouTube chapter of my Social Media Promotion For Musicians book that provides 4 tips to make sure that your video is effective on a phone or tablet.

"Mobile viewers watch videos a lot longer than they do on their desktops. In order to maintain that attention, it’s important to observe the following:

1. Avoid using tiny text. Make sure that any text you use is readable on any screen that the video might be viewed on, especially a smartphone.

2. Make sure the audio is clear. Great audio is always a plus, but even more so when viewing on a phone. Remember that the speakers are small, so you're not going to hear many of the low frequencies, but that's okay as long as everything is intelligible. Also remember that there's always a lot of ambient noise around a phone if the user isn’t wearing earbuds, so make sure that the audio is able to cut through it.

3. Use lots of close-ups. Close-up shots work great on small screens - wide shots don't. 

4. Test the video on your own phone before you upload it. What good is the video if it doesn't get the point across? The only way you'll know for sure is if you test it, and your personal phone is a great place to start.

These are all good tips to keep in mind the next time you create a video. Remember that it's more than likely that a great number of your viewers will now be watching on their phone, so compensate for the small screen right from the beginning.

People Watch Longer On Tablets
While most people watch at least a couple of YouTube videos on their laptop or desktop during the day, it turns out that tablet users actually have the longest video engagement. Video distributor Ooyala did a study that determined that tablet users watched 28 percent longer than the desktop average. They also found that tablet viewers are more than twice as likely to finish a video than on a desktop, which was about 30 percent higher than that of mobile devices.

The study also found that desktops and laptops are more likely to be used for short video clips, whereas videos that are 10 minutes or longer make up 30 percent of the hours watched on mobile devices, 42 percent on tablets, and nearly 75 percent on connected TV devices and game consoles."

To read additional excerpts from Social Media Promotion For Musicians or my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com. Also check out my series of social media courses on Lynda.com for free for 7 days.


The bottom line is, if you make a video, be sure that it plays well on a tablet.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Topspin Sold Again

Topspin sold image
It looks like Beats Music recent acquisition of Topspin was just a way to bring some money into the corporate coffers, as it was announced that Transom Capitol Group would now purchase it from Beats.

Transom Capitol is the holding company of Bandmerch and Cinderblock, which were both merged together recently. This now gives the company a very strong position in the merch space, handling both products and ecommerce technology.

The client list of the combined companies is very impressive, with names such as The Who, Manchester United, Kid Rock, Death Cab for Cutie and The National.

The Topspin name was also acquired, and the company will continue to use it to do business, announced Transom Capitol.
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Follow me on Forbes for some insights on the new music business.

You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What's The Most Downloaded Smartphone Audio App?

smartphone lineup image
Every year Edison Research produces a research document entitled The Infinite Dial that looks at the state of radio, and more recently, the social media around it. This year's survey has a number of very interesting facts, but one that stuck out was the most downloaded audio app on a typical listener's smartphone. This is what it found.

Pandora - 50%
iHeart Radio - 16%
Spotify - 9%
Google Play All Access - 4%
SiriusXM - 4%
Slacker - 4%
Tunein Radio - 3%
Rhapsoday - 3%
Songza - 2%
Last.fm - 2%
Rdio - 1%
Stitcher - 1%

What's interesting is the inroads that Pandora has made, and how little market share other services like Spotify and Slacker have. Pandora is a lot more powerful than many give it credit for.
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Follow me on Forbes for some insights on the new music business.

You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Billboard's New Twitter Charts

Billboard logo image
Twitter has showed his music muscle once again, signing an agreement with Billboard Magazine to institute a number of real time Twitter charts. The charts will monitor not only the top tracks by popular artists, but also the ones with the most engagement.

Billboard is built around its more than 200 charts, which are recognized worldwide as the gold standard for success of a release. Adding additional charts derived from a social network like Twitter is a move to keep the company more relevant and timely in today's market.

While all this sounds well and good, the new charts do put an additional burden on an artist to develop a Twitter following. Although Twitter can hardly be ignored by any artist these days, it's sometimes not as emphasized in an artist's marketing the way other social networks are. That could all change with the creation of these charts.

If there ever was a good reason to get a Twitter account, it's these new Billboard charts.
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Follow me on Forbes for some insights on the new music business.

You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Look Into The Music Industry’s Crystal Ball

Crystal ball image
“Crystal Ball, Crystal Ball, tell me things as you think they will be.” The great thing about the music business now is that, unlike previous eras, it’s rapidly shifting and morphing at a faster pace than ever. That makes it difficult for some to keep up, more difficult for others to adapt, and pretty near impossible to predict what will happen ten years from now. That said, there are a number indicators that allow us to look into the near future and take an educated guess at what we may see just a few years down the line. Allow me to gaze into my crystal ball.

Streaming will become the primary way that most people consume their music. We’re only at the beginning of the streaming era of music and there’s a lot of room for growth. World-wide there were only 28 million paid subscribers of streaming services last year according to the latest IFPI digital music report, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of music consumers on the planet. More and more people are discovering just how useful the access model is as compared to the ownership model. It doesn’t take long to realize that your digital storage filled with a library of songs can’t compete with having access to 10+ million songs anytime and anywhere.

But there will be fewer outlets that deliver it. Right now streaming is a part of the industry that’s completely upside down financially. None of the major platforms, Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, Slacker, etc., turn a profit yet, instead playing for the big score down the road when the economy of scale flips their way when enough new users sign up. Unfortunately by that time it will be too late. Apple will have entered the game with their own streaming service that will play on all platforms, and will be able to convert its massive existing customer base into monthly paying customers. Amazon will be in the game too, and Google will intensify it’s already potent efforts (perhaps with a separate new YouTube component). Read more on Forbes.
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You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

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