Author Archives: Jeremy Silver

The Grammy’s, sales and big data

BBC Word Business report ran a two minute piece interviewing me about how companies are using Big Data in the context of the Grammy’s.
BBC World interview with Jeremy Silver on Grammys 2014


Global Music Industry – Current status update

Can bands make money in the music industry today?

Peter Day's World of Business

Asks Peter Day, the BBC’s legendary broadcaster , whose august tones, crisp analysis and instant authority have led him to shine illuminating lights on almost every sector of the global economy.

In his show this week, he takes a look at the music industry and its love-hate affair with the internet and digital technology.

He speaks to Billy Bragg, Moby, Fred Bolza of Sony Music and Mark Williamson of Spotify. Turns out, I have a few comments to make too about our Digital Medieval state.

Listen to this excellent 30 minute romp through some of the music industry’s current concerns, here.

Piracy persists but there may be a silver lining….

BBC World Service

Musicmetric’s end of 2013 assessment of levels of piracy for major artists prompted a new round of discussion on the subject.

Here’s an interview with the BBC World Service Business Matters in which their commentators from Canada and India made some interesting additional observations.

Download the file to listen to from Dropbox here

Listen to the BBC Radio4 Interview on the World tonight with Roger Hearing here

Top Ten list of digital music lessons learned


Well respected music industry newsletter MusicAlly published my top ten lessons learned from the medieval period of the digital era  this week.

This is largely made up of a series of points about what new music companies should and should not do when getting started; simple advice like don’t get sued.

Reproduced  by kind permission of Musically for your convenience here or to download here Top Ten list.

Or you can read the full story in my book Digital Medieval

Buy from the iBooks store here:
pay what you want via Musicglue:
Amazon UK in paperback or Kindle here or  Amazon US here

DIGITAL MEDIEVAL talk in Norwich

I hadn’t been to Norwich for a long time, but was invited to speak about my new book recently as a keynote at Norwich Sound & Vision – which was a fantastic event with loads of energy and some great bands playing. This event was organised by Juliana Meyer of Supapass and the audience was a mix of college students and entrepreneurs. So here is a video of a very informal chat on the subject of Digital Medieval.


Buy the book on Amazon UK here
or on the US site here

Digital Medieval – the state of the art

DigitalMedievalcolorThe first twenty years of music on the web …and the next twenty

Out now!

Are we entering a Digital Medieval period or a digital renaissance? In this new book Jeremy Silver traces the technological and economic story that leads from  the music industry’s losses to the global domination of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon. He tells the story of how the recorded music industry struggled with change, how entrepreneurs burst onto the scene and forced the pace and how ultimately the experiences of artists and music companies on the web, set the tone for the rest of industry to follow.
With over twenty years experience of the music industry and the internet, Silver is one of the digital industry pioneers. His insights and insider account trace the evolution of music on the web from the cyberpunk underground to the mass market mainstream.
Silver argues that the “walled garden” business models of the major platform operators is leading consumers to a state of data-lock which will look more like the dark ages than the renaissance. He celebrates the potential in an enriched, shared and open web while pointing to the perils of allowing the walls of the “walled gardens” to rise too high. Today we’re in digital medieval times – looking forward to the renaissance.

Buy it  in paperback from Amazon UK here or on here.  Kindle here.



Innovation and tech futures

Technology Strategy Board video

recent thoughts around the future of innovation in the UK…


I gave a talk at TEDx Houses of Parliament earlier this year. It centres around some basic questions of culture, creativity, ownership and attribution.  When does a piece of music cease to be the private property of the creator and become a part of the culture of the community?  Different copyright laws in different countries have their rules about this. The actions of creators and communities, especially on the internet, are very different again. This particular story starts in 1955 with the Staple Singers and continues to play out with Beyonce in 2013

Do take a look if you have a spare 12 minutes. I’d be interested in your comments and any other examples you might know.

Selected quotes from some of the best speakers at TEDGlobal 2012

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Tim Lebrecht

“We need to find ethical ways of prescribing placebos.” Jill Blakeway

“Louis Vuitton is the opiate for the Chinese upper classes today.” Robyn Meredith

“None of the threats to the global commons will be solved by building walls.” Admiral James Stavridis

“We’re not on a journey to a goal, the goal is with us changing with us.” John Cage quoted by Anthony Gormley

“The elemental world we all live in is the darkness of the body.” Anthony Gormley

“Educational grading has become degrading.” Simon Schocken

“We never see what is there, we only see what it was useful to see in the past.” Beau Lotto

“The 21st Century is not familiar to us, so we spend our time responding to a world that no longer exists.” Eddie Obeng

“Being open to the concept that globalisation is only 10-20% complete leaves room for some expectation that there might be more gains to be achieved from further integration.” Pankay Ghemawat

“People say that changing education systems is like moving graveyards, you can’t rely on the people out there to help you.” Andreas Schleider

“Our internationalism is the driver of our nationalism.” Alex Salmond

“European data retention is a blueprint for how to control a society.” Malte Spitz

“The Church of TED is very optimistic. Bulgarians are some of the most pessimistic in the world. There are the Happy, the Unhappy and the Bulgarians.” Ivan Krastev

“Transparency is not about restoring trust to institutions, it’s about managing mistrust.” Ivan Krastev

“Anonymous activities are Ultra Coordinated Motherfuckary. The internet will judge the operations of governments, states, and institutions.” Gabriella Coleman

“Just because a worker spends time making a piece of something does not mean that she becomes that thing.” Lesley Chang

“The things we buy or have around the home or office are not what they seem to be. They are not about what we think they are in the world.” Lesley Chang

“Knowledge comes from our senses, extend our senses and we extend our knowledge. Let’s stop building apps for mobile phones and start building apps for our bodies.” Neil Harbisson

“Everyone becomes psychotic in his or her own way.” Elyn Saks

“Why is that when people become ill and have something wrong with any of their organs, they get sympathy from other people – except when that organ is their brain?” Ruby Wax

“My goal is to create an image that would remind you of something that you haven’t seen before.” Robert Legato

“Treating people with drugs today is like fitting people with shoes without asking them their foot size.” Susan Solomon

“We’re no longer consuming to keep up with the Jones’s, we’re consuming to get to know the Jones’s.” Rachel Botsman

“Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour and our behaviour changes outcomes. I faked it until I became it.” Amy Cuddy

“If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative one, it will dramatically improve your effectiveness.” Jane McGonigal

“In the nineteenth century “computers” were people who made the calculations that were published in look up tables and were full of errors.” Laura Snyder

“Think of the computer as a spiritual space for thinking.” John Maeda

“I’m interested in designing not the object but the process that leads to the object.” Michael Hansmeyer

“Saving is present pain for future pleasure. Smoking is present pleasure for future pain.” Keith Chen

“Naked and pure is the spirit that transcends the existence mediocre.” Graffiti quoted by John Wilbanks

“I watch the US embassy data on Beijing air quality to decide whether I should open the window or not.” Michael Anti

The Mariachi of Mexico City

I recently had the opportunity to visit with policy makers from the creative industries in Mexico, courtesy of the British Council. While I was there I encountered the mariachi which prompted these thoughts:

The cantina is so loud that you can barely hear the music coming from one band as it merges into the sounds of the other. There are three in-house mariachi bands here; a black band, a white band and a maroon band.  Eventually one will come over and surround you and then you can’t miss it. Surrounded by murals of famous mariachi singers from the 1950s, the cantina sits on the edge of Plaza Garibaldi, the home of the mariachi.

They hang out on the street; they play on-demand in the square and they step out into the road, hail passing cars. They are waiting to be commissioned; to be sent off to play to someone, somewhere in this sprawling city for some special occasion or to jump into your truck and party with you. Imagine the joy of receiving a mariachi band on your doorstep; they are there to serenade you. How would that make you feel about the music and the person who had sent it? Nobody knows what the word “mariachi” means or where it comes from. I ask several people and get different answers.

At a large table in front of us there is a cell-phone addicted party of younger folk who resolutely refuse all the offers of the mariachi to play their table. We can’t understand why they’re here. But then an older group of local Mexico City residents arrives and occupies the booth next to us. They are in for a serious night. They order a very expensive bottle of cognac which they proceed to drink mixed with Pepsi-cola.

Then they summons the white-costumed mariachi band. The lead singer wears big moustaches and a military style costume different from the players. The players assemble but are spread out as they squeeze between the seats and tables.  The singers and the violinists come and stand right in front of the table, the contra-basso player stands with his stately massive bass acoustic bass guitar, directly in front of us as we are sitting in the adjacent booth. The two trumpet players stand a little way away by the door of the cantina. It’s as close as they can get, but they’re loud enough, they don’t need to be as close as the violins which are the more softly spoken, classy addition to the band.

One of the party has a birthday this evening. Each time she chooses a song for the mariachi to sing to her, she is choosing to be happy or sad. She wants them to create an emotional bond. She wants the singer to perform the tragedy of the song. She wants him to channel the pure joy. It is not a dramatic performance of varying emotion. It is a commitment of intensity to the music. It is a statement at her very table, that this music is serious and real and that he will bring it into her heart. She chooses a sad song because she wants to cry. She knows that it is a performance. She knows that he is just a mariachi. She knows that he is not a character in the song.  She knows that there is no role-play here. She does not enter the narrative with the mariachi. She accesses it via the mariachi. But the song is old. The song is traditional. She already knows where it is going. They have all lived with this song and what it can do; they have known its power since they were babies. The whole culture grows up experiencing their most intense emotions through the shaman power of the mariachi. The songs are tokens for the stories that they tell.

She chooses the song to match the narrative she wishes to revisit. The only question is how well the mariachi can perform his role. How far can he vanish into the pure intense stream of emotion he and his fellow musicians create? To send the mariachi to an object of affection is a common and meaningful action. He is the messenger. He is the voice of the emotion. He is the musical transmitter of emotions between people.  He is their means of communication. I want to hear the mariachi channel the love that my lover is sending me. I do not fall in love with the mariachi but he changes my emotional state. He alters my condition by his singing. I cry, I dance, I am seduced. But the mariachi in his black or his white uniform is only the messenger. He is a worker. I recognise his role. I value it.  I’ll pay him to play ten songs at my table. He creates the intensification that I am here for. I would not come to this table where he will come and visit, if I do not want him to play for me. And I do pay so he does play for me. But he is a cipher. He is playing out to me a set of coded musical messages that I have understood and sought out since childhood. He is like a doctor or a lawyer. He performs a professional service with complete professionalism – most of the time. Unless by chance one of his band gets wasted, starts putting his arm round the audience. Then he breaks the spell. He makes the wrong link.

There is no camaraderie with the Mariachi. Or there is with them as individual people, but it vanishes when they burst into song.  When they launch into the music, the audience is transported too. It is not like being with the heroic individualistic pop-star. It is not like some idol that the audience worships. No, the music is timeless and filled with every other moment in life in which it has appeared. It is a transport into a collective experience. It is the emotional consciousness that the nation shares. But it is defined and personal for each individual, shaped by how they personally heard the music. It feels like nothing else. It is authentic despite the artifice of the performer. It is the vibration of the real experience that the listener holds in her heart. She does not disappear into some collective mist. She cries over the memory of her dead mother because the song gives her the permission to do so, which is what she requested.

Is this experience of the song at its most powerful and most personal, is so different from how we discover and experience music in the contemporary world of western pop and rock? Is it the reason why recommendation engines don’t work because they fail so completely to connect with us emotionally? The new music by a new band that I want to hear so badly is not part of some traditional cannon that comes already equipped with its emotional value and weight.  Largely we don’t want that, except in the world of classical music.  Outside of that world, in the popular music world or the contemporary music world, we are prejudiced against the past and tend to think that a single canon of traditional songs is boring, insufficient, lacking in change. Among this crowd, there seems to be an insatiable appetite for some new sounds, some new music to make us feel fresh.

In some ways, we don’t really use this new kind of music in a completely different way. We do want it to help define us. We want it to paint new narratives and new moods that we can inhabit.  But it can’t have the power of the mariachi. By definition, new music has no heritage, instead it has a vibe and a newness that is what we look for. It might subtly allude to a retro experience (if we have the knowledge to recognise it). If it can summons up enough authenticity, then it might elicit a moment of sadness or longing for the past.  But mostly, we celebrate our embracing its strangeness. We enjoy the idea of privately owning it; the idea that we have made a secret discovery. In fact, the music might lose its potency when we share it with others or when we discover that other people know about the music too.

It seems that this novel emotion of secret ownership is all about finding our own path in an utterly fragmented world. It is the very opposite of the mariachi. It’s interesting to consider whether, if some new music is good enough, subtle enough, evocative, challenging and allusive enough, can it induce such a profound experience of intense emotion that the mariachi can usher in. The answer is with our perception. We rarely find enough reference and enough authenticity of experience to make that connection.  So is this authenticity possible without nostalgia or reminiscence?