We are still Europeans

The digital and creative intelligentsia of Europe has flocked to the UK in recent years. We have attracted folks because the UK seemed like an enlightened, forward thinking, inclusive place to come and work and think and create. Their skills, inventiveness and breadth of outlook have enriched our universities, our startups and our national institutions. As we wake up to this decision this morning, we must make sure,  loud and clear,  that these brilliant people are still and will always be welcome. This is true for all the visiting workers we have hosted here, but for our creative and digital community it’s vitally important. I don’t know of a startup that hasn’t benefitted from a pan-European work force – not just for their skills but for the global outlook that being cosmopolitan creates. When I think of the difficulties we have encountered when we have had to try to secure visas for US citizens wanting to join us and contribute to our economy, it is clear that we must urgently insist on avoiding any changes to residency rules for folk like this. We may have decided as a nation to leave the EU and the economic consequences of this will be uncertain for weeks to come and  are already clearly negative. That said however, we cannot allow our community to retreat into some inward island mentality. The country may have chosen to leave the EU, but that should not prevent us from standing as culturally European and citizens of the world. 


Check out a few of the amazing people I’ve had the privilege to interview at the Mama event in Paris over the last few years:

Nick Mason    Nick Mason

Redim_SeymourStein     Seymour Stein

Keith Harris  Keith Harris


Bring back the music nerds!

Musical evolutions are hard to trace sometimes. There is a section in the opening of a song called the Dark of the Matinee by Franz Ferdinand that, to my cloth ears sounds exactly like the beginning of the immortal Jewish folk song Hava Nagila – it comes right at the beginning of the track and lasts about 22 seconds before repeating again throughout, if you want to check it out. Then there’s the tiniest brief line in the Chilli Peppers’ Zephyr Song (just about at the 2.04 minute mark) that seems to morph weirdly for a moment right into Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello. Argue with me about that one if you will, but I swear, it’s there somewhere.


Sometimes these are just things that occur to you when you’re singing badly in the shower (is there any other way to sing in the shower?) and sometimes they might be deeply buried treasure that even the song writers didn’t really think of. Then at other times they’re totally sophisticated samples planted or extracted (depending on your point of view) right in the middle of a song to make us all feel smart or just to get off on a brilliant musical juxtaposition or cultural reference or even maybe to achieve some subtle commercial goal. A sample is a way of paying respect or making a connection with someone else’s scene. We all delight in spotting these things, they enrich not impoverish the music.


Sometimes, it’s a bit of a joke or is it faintly sinister when you are taken all the way back to an embarrassing nursery rhyme – Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle and find it reappearing in a way that still makes me cringe in the classic Aerosmith Walk This Way, then even more famously redone by Run DMC and then riffed on by Stiff Little Fingers in No Sleep Til Belfast which was itself a cover of the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn, which was then sampled brilliantly in Fat Girl by Easy E of NWA featuring none other than Freshly Done. Well what more can I say? The path of true love never did run true.


So what are we to make of the wily ways of musicians, songwriters and producers in their apparently endless reworking of respect and satire, of tribute and rip-off. When exactly do the Blurred Lines get crossed into something where, well, you just Got to Give It Up? Well never, allegedly, if musicologically the songs are technically musically different and it’s just a sound or a vibe that kind of connects them. Except, that is, in the case of Bitter Sweet Symphony, which I have talked about extensively elsewhere in a TEDx talk I gave a couple of years at the British Houses of Parliament. Suffice to say that what the Rolling Stones may have borrowed from Gospel and the Blues was all apparently fine, but when someone else wrote a classical composition based on their borrowings and the Verve borrowed from that – well there was all hell to pay – or at least all the royalties on the track – for ever. Perhaps ABKO Records might like to re-think the artist-relations politics of that particular issue sometime before Richard Ashcroft gets too old. But I’m not writing this to complain about the injustices of sampling or the appropriateness or otherwise of the protections that copyright laws afford. On the contrary, it’s the joy of discovery that interests me the most.


When exciting new streaming music services seem to be fighting for differentiation on a daily basis, it’s the journey of music itself that ought to give them the best chance to educate us. WhoSampled.com is one of my favourite but most under-exploited music resources, because when I sign in to my favourite streaming service, whichever one that is, I would love to be educated about the music I’m listening to. I would love to be presented by the Horace Silver Song for My Father that supplied the key riff to the Steely Dan song Ricki Don’t Lose That Number or on hearing their classic Do It Again be led into a brilliant mix with Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean by Club House (Michele Interlandi and Stefano Scalera) to hear how those bass grooves interweave so perfectly.


The musical skills that lie behind the perfect playlist are sometimes just the perfect segueway from one track to another, but at times it is the musical connections and real interconnections buried deep inside the songs themselves that make for the richest musical experience. Only the rare music afficianado and blacksploitation fan would probably have gone back to the Chi Lites’ Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So) – but Beyonce made its brass stab the signature of Crazy in Love and now far more people would have a reason to go back and revisit the track. So that one might start to look like strategic back catalogue marketing. Equally, would Major Lazer have quite the same profile if Run The World (Girls) hadn’t featured their utterly identifiable beeping whooping sample from Pon De Floor or was it more that Beyonce was garnering some fresh street cred from the Lazer collective? What comes up from the underground to the overground takes everyone forward.


When iTunes first appeared and made digital music such a slick experience, everyone got excited. They created a digital music revenue stream that had not previously existed and saved the recorded music industry from the bottomless pits of Napster and the other file-sharing sites. In the process however, for whatever reasons of efficiency or plain old technology ineptitude, all the metadata that fleshes out the music got stripped away. No liner notes, no acknowledgements or special thanks and no credits. When Spotify came along, I hoped that they would do something about, but no. When Apple Music came along, I hoped they would do something about that, but no. To this day, it is almost impossible to tell from what a digital track gives you which musicians played on a track, let alone who produced it or engineered or where it was recorded or when. When we combine the richness of that kind of metadata with the surprises and delights of who sampled what, music gains a richness that is what got nerdy kids excited by it. We have to get some of that back, and encourage a return to the nerdiness of music fans. Yes, “lean back” is great for the massive passives, but I believe it’s the earnest enthusiasm of a new generation of music nerds that will really return a passion for music to the market.



Blockchain for music?

I attended an interesting event, sponsored by the Guardian and Sonos all about the future of music and whether blockchain technology could come to its aid.

My friend and co-conspirator Dave Weller of Thomson Reuters wrote a great blog on the subject: here

The Blockchain Saves the Music Industry

Spotify Buys Beats’ Analytics Provider Seed Scientific

Big Data – the Big Issues for A&R and Marketing of Music

For Midem 2015, the conference moved to June and heated itself up a bit. I moderated a panel that took the top level view of big data for music with some highly esteemed panellists :

Dominique Delport, Chairman & Global Managing Director, Havas Media Group (France/UK) @domdelport
Jennifer Hanser, Head of Strategy & Partnerships, Bitly (USA) @hanser_ja
Paul Hitchman, President, International, Kobalt Label Services (UK)
Rishi Malhotra, Co-Founder & CEO, Saavn (USA) @rishimalhotra
Steve Savoca, VP, Content & Distribution, Spotify (USA) @britenation

Together, the panel did a pretty good job of running through all the main issues surrounding the use of big data in A&R and in Marketing of music. Towards the end we touched on some interesting and more sensitive topics such as who owns the consumer data about an artist – the artist? the label? the social network? no-one was too comfortable answering that one.

If you have a spare hour you can view it in real time here:JS screenshot

Throw Out the Big Pot: A Re-Examination of Streaming Pay (Analysis) Billboard – NewsDigital and Mobile By Gideon Gottfried | May 11, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

Published here in Billboard today:

Hands Holding out Money

Remember Portishead instrumentalist Geoff Barrow‘s Twitter rant last month? “34,000,000 streams. Income after tax = £1,700.” We already analyzed why it is hard to draw any meaningful conclusions out of this crude depiction. What is more: Barrow shouldn’t have been that surprised in the first place. It is the nature of the current payout structure of streaming subscription services that the more streams that are generated, the less each individual stream is worth.

It is hard to lift the veil entirely because the subscription space is a hazy jungle, with individual deals hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. But this much has become clear by now: all the money subscription services earn from advertising and monthly subscriptions ends up in one big pot. From there, it is distributed according to the number of streams generated by users. This means each individual stream becomes worth less the more streams that are generated.

The Baffling (and Slightly Insane) World Of Streaming Payments, Explained

That is why it is so important for these services to convert their free users into paying subscribers. It’s just about the only way the amount in the pot will grow while the amount of streams stays the same, making every single stream worth more. Granted, it’s not the only scenario where that could happen. According to some supporters, the more mainstream a model streaming becomes, the more users will stream less intensively. It is the early adopters who are so engaged that chop up the revenue pot into small pieces. It remains to be seen if streaming will become a mainstream model. It may be realistic to assume that most music listeners won’t pay for a streaming subscription in the first place, simply because they are content with internet radio.

Whether the subscription model turns out to be everybody’s favorite way of consuming music or not, there are advocates of a new payout model out there. One of them is the investor, entrepreneur and digital media consultant Jeremy Silver. He says: “I do believe that there is the makings of a solution to this. The problem is not about streaming, it’s about subscriptions and how you divide up the revenues. If a subscription service simply aggregates all the activity on its entire platform and then pays out pro rata against it, the winners will always be the larger players. But if they were to reorganize their payment mechanisms so that it reflected what individual subscribers are actually listening to, then indie bands in particular would start to make some real money.”

What that means is every user’s subscription fee could be divided up individually according to what that user actually listens to in any given month. If you only listen to, say, the new Rae Sremmurd album, all of your ten bucks would go to the band, their label and publisher. Silver starts his day to the exact same three songs every morning but the artists he listens to do not benefit from that because they get drowned out in the current payout model.

There are entire genres like jazz or classical music that are losing out in the current system because they aren’t streamed intensively. They too would benefit from a more individualistic approach. More so because these genres probably attract audiophiles who might be willing to pay double the amount per month for lossless streaming. Thus the effect of dividing up each user’s subscription fee by his individual streams would be doubled too. Of course that model still entails that the more streams that are made, the less each stream is worth. But it would still be a more accurate reflection because the pot is only divided amongst “your” artists.

The implementation of such a payout structure could be costly. “It may be expensive for existing players to re-engineer their systems”, says Silver. “It does raise the question of how committed the existing players really are to rewarding artists. It would also be interesting to see if Tidal — who aren’t as far down the road of their infrastructure and are genuinely artist oriented, but owned by big names — would demonstrate their commitment by trying it.”

Silver points out that “there’s data that shows users are more willing to pay if they know that the money is reaching the artists directly.” An individualistic payout structure might actually speed up the process of converting free users to paying subscribers. In an age where engaging with fans has become more important than ever, streaming services are in a great position. They collect enough data about their users to enable artists to reach out to their followers in unique ways. That, together with a new way of distributing the money, could very well be the next quantum leap in streaming.

Says Silver: “Streaming is still very young. It has only acquired a two-digit market share for about five years now. I’m optimistic that we’ll figure it out.”