Changing Year: The Music Edition

Arcade Fire won the Grammy for album of the year (via HuffPo and lots of other places). Are they indie? Sort of. Did they deserve it? Well, it’s a very good album, and to criticize an album called The Suburbs for sprawling is perhaps to miss the point.

That said, I think that my album of the year was Laura Veirs’ July Flame. It was among my top 5 of the first 6 months of 2010, and overtook the midpoint front-runner by lasting particularly well. My favorite album released in the second half of the year was Lisbon, from The Walkmen.

Although there was no one release that told me in no uncertain terms that it was my album of the year, 2010 was a pretty good year in music. But it was, according to NPR and other sources, a very bad year for trying to sell music.

Which brings us to 2011, to Radiohead, and to their latest attempt to sell recorded music. I, and many others, will be downloading The King of Limbs in less than a week. The download, which costs $9, is one of two formats in which KoL will initially be available. The other is very analog, with two 10″ vinyl records, and lots of pieces of artwork. It also includes a digital download – and even a CD, to appease those stuck between the analog and download eras, and those who think that for $48 they should get a CD as well.

My album of 2011 so far is Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key, which will be released tomorrow. So today is the last day on which it can be streamed on NPR.

New Moon and New Music Model

The soundtrack to New Moon is drawing very mixed reactions over at Stereogum, and in other forums for music discussion. On the one hand, New Moon is (the second) part of the Twilight saga, and thus despised by the hipsterati.

But the soundtrack is considered a candidate for best album of 2009. A more recent ‘gum pst reports a leak of the soundtrack and includes MP3s of tracks by Thom Yorke and others.

There are comments along the lines of: how could the great Thom allow his music to be part of Twilight, which sucks like… well, like a teenage vampire.

Part of the answer lies in the new music model that Thom Yorke and Radiohead helped to make prominent two years ago, with the pay what you want web release of In Rainbows. A lot of people wanted to pay zero, and would have done so anyway. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those very people are disappointed in Thom for taking the chance to make money from the New Moon soundtrack.

Changing Music Services

It is indeed a time of changes. There was that election thing, and now I’m changing music services. I’m moving to Lala. A previous post explains what I like about the service. I’ve used it, and have been happy with it, during the subsequent couple of weeks.

That’s not to say that I’ve been unhappy with Rhapsody Unlimited. It offers music dial tone on very reasonable terms: a 14-Day free trial, then only $12.99 per month. I’ve had to call support a couple of times, and it was pretty good each time.

I’ve dabbled in other services, such as eMusic. But I prefer dialtone for most of my music.

Having said that, the metaphor that works best for LaLa’s model is perhaps one of… computing. The music is on a server farm, where I can sample it for free. To bring a track on to my own personal virtual music server, I pay a dime, and I can then listen to it as often as I want. If I want to cache that track, so that I can put it on my MP3 player, burn it to a CD for the car, etc., I buy the MP3, and pay about the same or a little less than I’d expect to pay elsewhere.

In Rainbows, On Torrents

This post takes its title from a paper (pdf available), the main question of which is: did Radiohead’s “offer of their album ‘for free’ succeed in diverting traffic away from Torrent sites, and (back) towards their own ‘venue’ of InRainbows.com?”

For ‘In Rainbows’, we are able to present global BitTorrent downloads on a daily breakdown from 10 October to 3 November 2007. In total, a staggering 2.3 million torrent downloads were made during this period – that far exceeds what outsiders have reported as the estimated download total from the bands official website, regardless of whether those downloaders paid or not.

Note that the authors have to rely on estimates of downloads from Radiohead’s site. That said, the fact there there were millions of torrent downloads in less than a month is, if not “staggering,” at least impressive.

So why did so many people use torrents to get something they could have got for the same price (free) from Radiohead’s site? The authors propose the “venue hypothesis” that: “people are more likely to act habitually (say, using The Pirate Bay) than to break their habit (say, visiting http://www.InRainbows.com)”.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion in the report and elsewhere (see links below) about this and other hypotheses, and about things like stimulus versus substitution effects. Did the free download stimulate payment for other Radiohead stuff (the CD itself, live shows, merch) or did it substitute for such payment?

I read about the report via At Ease and Wired. Having provided the obligatory links, I’ll add a good old-fashioned citation: Page & Garland (2008) ‘In Rainbows, On Torrents’, Economic Insight No. 10, Available: http://www.mcps-prsalliance.co.uk/economics

My Morning Music

While composing my two (web/business) posts of this morning, I was streaming a variety of music on Rhapsody.

I started off with “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. Although I didn’t enjoy it, I did find it interesting to note that the drums sound like the 1970s (Gary Glitter in particular), the cheesy synths like the 1980s, and the lesbiansperimentation lyrics like the 1990s. There is of course another song with the same title and theme, which has real 1990s lesbiansperimentation lyrics, 1980s beefcake rather than cheese, and a video that was wonderfully retro when it was made more than a decade ago.

Then I had me some Evil Urges. I can’t say that I gave in to said Urges; I don’t get My Morning Jacket. Then again, I get the impression that MMJ aren’t meant to be gotten live, rather than on record/MP3. The track I enjoyed most was “Librarian,” partly because I was in a library.

Finally, I sampled some Pablo Honey. Radiohead fans seem to regard the band’s debut album as their weakest, but there’s a lot of goodness and variety in this Honey. I heard 1970s new wave, I heard Coldplay, I of course heard “Creep” (twice, since the “so very special” radio version is tacked on to the end of the album). One of the interesting things about Radiohead is that they keep on trying on different musical outfits, and on Honey they change costumes with almost every number. Coherence, schmoherence, the kids had to start somewhere, and they tried a lot of somewheres.

Musical Monday

If you’re suffering from Radiohead overload, skip ahead. I’m obviously not, since I’m leading with a portrait of Thom Yorke which, by the way, is by Joshua Gorchov.

The first show of the tour, in Florida, has just finished. I won’t be able to catch the Boston show (or indeed any other).

I haven’t even had time to watch all of the session from Nigel Goodrich’s basement, which is up at VH1. I will, though, since I was blown away by the preview/teaser: a great version of Reckoner.

Tomorrow sees the CD release of Elvis Costello’s Momofuku. My earlier post on the album has been way more popular, at least by the humble standards of this blog, than I expected.

Enough of this Brit rock. It’s Cinco de Mayo, and the song of the day at the Rhapsody blog is a rather wonderful cover version of “Mexican Radio” by Kinky.

Enough, for the moment, of this Brit pretending to be a music blogger. If you want to read a real music blog post, check out Heather Browne’s tremendous account of day 3 at Coachella. She’ll take you there.

This is Radio comScore

So, Radiohead released In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-please download. What percentage of downloaders paid nothing? comScore’s estimate of 62% has been much written about.

So has the response from Radiohead. According to NME, the band has described comScore’s numbers as “purely speculative” and “wholly inaccurate.”

Now there’s a post from Andrew Lipsman of comScore, defending the firm’s Radiohead report.

comScore reports are derived from a representative sample of 2 million Internet users, who opt in to our panel and allow us to observe their actual online behavior, including e-commerce transactions… For the Radiohead study, we observed the activity of nearly one thousand people who visited the “In Rainbows” site, a significant percentage of whom downloaded the album. We ultimately observed several hundred paid transactions.

On yet another hand, Stan Schroeder at Mashable seems impressed with Radiohead’s statement that “it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales.” He goes on to say that: “I have no reason to believe that comScore skewed the results on purpose, but they definitely fumbled the ball on this one.” Some commenters on his post do think that comScore might have been paid off by the music industry.

I’m not so sure that comScore fumbled this one. What concerns I do have arise from the people in the sample. Are the people who opt in to a panel really representative? Do they, knowing that there clicks are being captured, act as they do when they actions are not being recorded and analyzed by comScore? I am more concerned with these questions than with the issue of sample size.

Radiohead Shines On

It’s about a month since Radiohead released In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-please download. Recently, much has been made of the statistic that 62% of those who downloaded the album chose not to pay for it. For example, Daniel Langendorf quoted Fred Wilson‘s remark: “I am surprised by the number of freeloaders.”

USBearAs an aside at the end of the same post, Daniel remarks that Radiohead will be working with EMI to release its back catalog on USB. Actually, the 7 albums are available in 3 formats: USB, download, and even, for the nostalgic, CD.

Since I never got round to buying Radiohead before In Rainbows, I’ve added the back catalog to one of my wish lists. I doubt that I am alone in this.

So one effect of the In Rainbows download will be to promote the back catalog. Another will be to promote the In Rainbows CD. Yet another will be to promote the international tour starting next spring.

As you can see, I don’t buy the implication that free downloads of In Rainbows represent forgone revenue for Radiohead. First, they serve as promo giveaways for other stuff. Second, they represent many people who wouldn’t have paid money for the music, either because they don’t pay money for any music, or because they wanted to try before buying, or they weren’t big enough fans of the band.

As Glyn Moody remarks, Radiohead really get the hang of this new music stuff.