Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Is piracy 'good' or 'bad'? Guest blog entry on Music Business Research website

Hop on over to the Music Business Research website where you will find a new guest blog entry from myself posing the rather ridiculous question: "Is piracy 'good' or 'bad'?".

Rather than aiming to address that question literally (that would certainly require an economist), I approach the question from the point of view of a psychologist by explaining how different parties can make converging claims, even when drawing from the same information - it's all about beliefs.

In doing so, the short article introduces a few key concepts and ultimately exposes how challenging it is for different stakeholders to agree on anything. 

A key point raised which I would like to reiterate here is that it is only the controversial research articles which claim that piracy has no negative impact on the creative industries which reach popular media. Why? Because news that confirms something obvious is not news, it's just 'facts', and no-one cares about them, do they? And, more importantly, because newspapers like to feed their readers what they want to hear so they remain loyal to them (for obvious financial gain).

Once more, it's all about beliefs. As psychologist Shermer (2011) succinctly explains: "Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow" (p. 5)

There's nothing wrong with being wrong, the last time I checked. It's time we were more open minded about things like this and developed better critical skills for evaluating who reports on what, and how they report it. Everyone can't be right, can they?

Tweets between meats @musicpiracyblog


Brown, S.C. (2014, July). Is piracy 'good' or 'bad'? - guest post by Steven Brown. Guest appearance on Music Business Research website. 

Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. Times Books: New York.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Streaming services to count towards UK chart rankings (and some points raised)

So it looks like the UK have finally caught up with the rest of the world and will now be incorporating streams from music subscription services like Deezer and Spotify into their official chart rundown.

As The Guardian reports, from July onwards, audio streams will count towards chart rankings, where 100 streams will be considered the same as a single download. Who came up with this and how, escapes me. I don't disagree with it, but I am curious as to how such a metric was calculated. Likewise, there are precautionary measures in place to try and minimise abuse from obsessed fans or record labels from endlessly streaming songs from particular artists.

I find this idea compelling, as it assumes hardcore 'fans' would make an effort to stream songs from their favourite artists on a loop to help them reach higher levels on the official chart. Two points come to mind when pondering this likelihood: 1) Who are such people? Have we not been hardwired to believe buying albums is the best way of supporting artists? and 2) What is the relevance of the chart today?

I will briefly explore the second question.

Secondly, I myself have no idea who is on the chart at any moment, or indeed where; it stopped being of importance to me about ten years ago. A contributing factor is that most of my favourite bands don't release singles nor do they care about chart performances. Why then would I pay attention to them? Reflecting on my own indifference is unscientific and does not further this discussion. Rather, it highlights the fragmented being that is 'the music consumer' - I know I'm not alone here. My suspicion is that chart performance meets some psychologically satisfying milestones for various stakeholders and ultimately informs people about new music via radio (still indeed a big think here in UK) and this is a good thing.

It will take a while before we really understand music streaming, but for now it looks like it is here to stay and the inclusion of streams into the chart rundown does indeed reflect music listening trends and provides a better measure of who is listening to what - this is the essence of 'the chart'. Controversial research has suggested however that streaming services are not being used as designed to be 'music discovery platforms' but rather have replaced music purchasing; this is the essence of ongoing disputes over royalties.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music [book review - updated]

As noted in a previous blog entry, I have my first book review on Reed's 2013 text 'Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music' out in the journal Rock Music Studies. Whereas before the review was only ahead of print, it is now out in in it's proper home amongst other articles in a recent issue and you can find it here.

It's a hard book to swallow, much like industrial music itself, given the huge scope of the book. Going into detail on different 'scenes' including in Sheffield and Berlin, Reed exploits rich qualitative interviews from key players to provide an authoritative overview of industrial music to date. Notably, the book includes a series of lists with key industrial songs; perhaps in the future books will include QR codes or something similar to take readers straight to them?

Tweezus built my hotrod @musicpiracyblog


Brown, S.C. (2014). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music [Review of the book Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music, by Reed, S.A.]. Rock Music Studies, 1(2), 193-195.
Reed, S.A. (2013). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The big names in digital piracy research: Criminologists

Further to a recent entry detailing some prominent Economists research digital piracy, this entry collates some more big names for you to look up online. These guys are Criminologists, and when added to the previous lists of Economists, you have yourselves a hit list of the most prolific researchers on digital piracy in the academic world; there's a skew towards these two disciplines in the literature.

George E Higgins
Sameer Hinduja
Tom Holt
Catherine Marcum
Jason Ingram
Scott E Wolfe

A simple cut and paste job should spawn research articles galore on personal websites, institution web pages, and other sources such as etc. Authors often have personal copies of their articles which they can share, upon request - there's no harm in asking. There are a few books from these guys, so have a look online for some second hand books (they can be costly).

Often collaborating together, there are a few key journals where you will routinely find some of these individual scholars. One of which, is the International Journal of Cyber Criminology which is open access, meaning you can download all of the contents for free, legally.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 20 June 2014

Motion Picture Association of America offers $20,000 grants to academics to research movie piracy

Academics have long been sceptical of industry research on piracy for it's lack of transparency, and industry have been long complained that academics are living in a bubble and don't know what they're talking about: it's a bit of a stalemate.

In an interesting twist, the MPAA are openly inviting academics to research movie piracy by offering grants to fund the work. Hop on over to their website for more information.

It's good to see they are open-minded to qualitative research, which I personally feel would greatly benefit our understanding of digital piracy to date.

Thanks to my friend Amanda from USA for the shout. You can follow her adventures in researching digital music listening trends more broadly @StudyListening.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Anatomy of a research article: An introduction

Quietly observed some trends from emails* over the last few months and one of the most common ones is the lack of depth on some articles I have discussed in this blog: this is purposeful.

It is not my wish to dissect every paper on music piracy on your behalf, but rather recommend research of interest for you to do your own reading on the topic and make your own mind up. It has become clear that for many of you however, access to the papers over the last few months has lead some of you to hit a brick wall of sorts, and I understand that this is frustrating.

Research, like everything, is paid for. Publishers put in a lot of work and the individual papers are similarly paid for and so free access to them is scarce. I cannot readily go into any real depth on articles on this blog without running the very real risk of infringing on copyright myself by regurgitating the content from copyrighted sources on this blog, a free resource. I can however, go into more detail on my own work, and that is my plan over the coming year. 

And so, in the first of this new occasional series titled 'Anatomy of a research article', I will be going into some detail on a case study approach article from some years ago all about the distribution successes of Nine Inch Nails - it is freely available here. It will land in the next month, so keep up to date with the blog if this is something you are interested in.

*I appreciate the feedback.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 13 June 2014

Some thoughts on the negative reaction to the new Pixies album

Because I'm more broadly interested in all aspects of the ever-changing recorded music industry.

Pixies released their first album in over 20 years a few months ago, called Indie Cindy. It's a good, but not great addition to their recorded works. Yet, it has been widely criticised by everyone with an internet connection and a keyboard. Pixies are one of those bands you can believe in, and it is upsetting to see them crash and burn in this way.

Now, whether or not you like the album and the songs contained within is of course entirely subjective. For my money, at least half of the album contains really good songs and if I went to see them live and they didn't play some of them, I would be disappointed. That's a reasonable measure of a 'good album', and any world with new Pixies songs in it is a better one as a result (fact).

With my hand on my heart, I cannot say that Indie Cindy is a great Pixies album, but then again, neither is Bossanova. There are some amazing songs on the new album, plus a few that miss the mark or seem designed to conjure up 'old Pixies'. But on balance, it's a perfectly acceptable 2014 Pixies album and one of the most exciting releases of the year to date - I have no issue with the more polished sound than on previous albums.

Anyway, my interest in the criticism from others however, is the fact that the album contains all of the songs from their three recent 4-track ep's. I have read many comment that this was a purposeful move to trickle the songs out to try and cushion the weight of expectation from a new full-length release. If this was the case, then I believe that Pixies have failed. The central point of the negative commentary from various agents on Indie Cindy is that the album is not an album, but rather the collected works of their ep's. This interests me.

Smashing Pumpkins' planned 44-song 'Teargarden by Kaleidyscope' project is designed specifically to follow the format above (conceived some years ago now) by releasing 11 4-track ep's to showcase the process of recording an 'album' as well as the eventual product. A recent lp as well as two planned albums of new material due for release in 2015 suggest the project has been abandoned.

Such observations lead me to ask the question: What is the contemporary relevance of the album?

And it is to this question that I will turn in a future blog entry in the coming weeks.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog