Friday, 22 May 2015

The commercial and aesthetic power of musical artwork

Hop on over to The Conversation website to read a short article of mine titled 'Stanley Donwood, Radiohead and the power of musical artwork'. In it, I provide a commentary on the role of art in the world of recorded music, from that ole cover of Sgt. Pepper's and beyond.

The emphasis is on Radiohead's artistic muse Stanley Donwood, whose contributions are woven into the process of recording the music itself. Other acts such as Nine Inch Nails have resident artistic directors, whilst many choose to work collaboratively with regular artists, as do Tool with Alex Grey.

But why?

If music is art, then what is the point of musical artwork?

The article covers music videos, album covers, and assorted miscellany whilst discussing the likes of Bjork in the process.

Check it out.

Twanks @musicpiracyblog 


Brown, S.C. (2015). Stanley Donwood, Radiohead and the power of musical artwork. Guest contribution to The Conversation (Aus) website.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Anatomy of a research article #3

In the third of this occasional series, I aim to review a recent polemic piece of mine from last year published in Convergence.

I have discussed this article several times on this blog, and the reason for doing so is simple: it's really important. More on that later.

Now, normally in this series I expand upon the methodology/tests conducted etc. to provide a more comprehensive insight into the mechanics of music piracy research. In this instance however, the methodology was pretty straightforward - it was a really comprehensive review of literature. Though not particularly exciting, it is worth mentioning exactly how this goes.

In effect, I spent years searching for and reviewing published work on music piracy in academic journals. Beginning with keywords like 'music piracy' and 'file sharing', I subsequently added more to focus in on particular areas of interest. Over time, I found myself with a large list of key authors and journals which published work in these areas; this guided more searches.

It was time consuming, but worthwhile.

It quickly became clear that the research methods used to explore music piracy were varied and often quite weak, by my standards. This is the focus of the article under review in this blog entry.

In the paper, which was itself a follow-up to a special issue of Convergence on digital piracy, I reviewed the conventional approaches used to measure music piracy and critiqued them by focusing on issues such as sampling, for example. Additionally, I defined some potential future methodologies which would benefit the literature, given the gaps observed from my literature review.

At a glance, the paper provides a nice summary of how music piracy research is often conducted.

It is one of the aims of this modest blog to provide you, dear reader, with information on how researchers arrive at their conclusions - not just discuss their conclusions. And with that, I urge you to give it a read.

Over and out.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 24 April 2015

What makes a music festival? The case of Festival no.6, 2014

I recently wrote an article which you can now access over on Live Music Exchange. It considers the unique ingredients of the Festival No. 6 event in Wales last year, and why it was such a success.

Specifically, I review 'content' and 'context', which are often discussed in relation to music subscription services. If they all have pretty much the same music, then which one do you use? It's all about the context.

Does the same go for music festivals? Check out the article and share your thoughts.

Much has been said about live music on musicpiracyblog, dating back as far as this December 2012 article, charting the links between music piracy and live concert attendance. It's important to keep the bigger picture in mind when reviewing the so-called 'music industry', and you can expect more entries on this blog on live music in the coming months when I take care of some live events.

Tweebs @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 17 April 2015

IFPI Digital Report 2015: The highlights

It's that time of year again: the annual digital music report from IFPI. You can download it in full here.

It's another positive entry, with discussion on digital piracy limited in comparison with reports from recent years.

In it, search engines such as Google are once more singled out as having to do more to minimise the traffic of searches to illegal content. Additionally, other companies are also singled out as playing a critical role in encouraging digital piracy. For example, the report notes how much pirated content is now sourced via mobile apps and that these apps are downloaded from legitimate sources such as Apple.

Also, companies such as British Airways, Samsung, and PayPal advertise on illegal websites hosting copyrighted content.

In a nutshell, consumers are receiving mixed signals.

Elsewhere, the report focuses on the continued rise of streaming, though acknowledges that the majority of digital music revenues come from downloads. There are now over 400 digital music services worldwide.

Interestingly, the top-selling album of the year (by some margin) was the OST to the Disney film 'Frozen'. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, film soundtracks have been in decline for some time, more than conventional albums, so it's a curious, but not unexplainable one when you think about who the Frozen album was intended for, and who is likely to buy it for them.

Anyhow, get on over to the IFPI website yourself and have a look. It's well put together and very accessible.

Tweeps @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 3 April 2015

Jay-Z has 99 problems (and Spotify is one of them)

Everyone loves Spotify, right?

Well, no.

The market-leading subscription service routinely comes under attack for paying artists so little, with even Universal Music Group, who part-own the service, unhappy with the low conversation rate from freemium to premium.

And, now, a 'new' service called Tidal has arrived. At least in North America.

As a UK resident, I have yet to sample the delights of 'Daisy' (similarly hyped), which of course had Trent Reznor's input. So, when I hear of a new game-changing service, I can't help but feel like it sort of doesn't really exist until I get to try it out.

Anyhow, collectively owned in part from artists themselves, Tidal simply aims to generate more revenues for content creators. And it has backing from a lot of high profile musicians such as Madonna.

Jay-Z explains: "For someone like me, I can go on tour. But what about the people working on the record, the content creators and not just the artists?"

This is at the heart of everything.

It's easy (and unsophisticated) to say that rich musicians don't need or deserve more money, but what about new and emerging artists?

Data from the Musicians Union (2012), who represent over 30,000 musicians, reveals that 78% of them earn less than £20,000 per year. It is also thought that just 1% of musicians account for some 77% of all music revenue. Many of them have signed up to Tidal.

Perhaps the smartest aspect of the service I have read about yet concerns the promise to allow musicians and fans to connect in new ways, along with exclusive content. This is something I have been anticipating for a while, but have yet to see it materialise in an exciting way.

Premature to expect any 'tidal waves' here, but there are some unique aspects about Tidal which are compelling and absolutely make it a rival contender for the likes of Spotify and Deezer.

At the end of the day though, with literally hundreds of different ways to legally access digital music, different people will of course shop around and settle on different services for particular reasons, just as they do with any product. I don't see any one taking over. But, if it did, I guess musicians would want it to be this one.

Twreats @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 26 March 2015

"If you like my new album, then check out my old one": The influential role of new releases on motivating purchases of old ones

And here's another lost gem.

In this important article published in the Journal of Political Economy (you can download a free version here) authors Hendricks and Sorensen explain how new music releases, and specifically those which are a hit, motivate sales of albums in an artists' back catalogue.

Sounds fairly obvious, but don't forget that research has an important role to play in defining basic assumptions about the world and the use of a substantial dataset of sales data from hundreds of artists over years and years goes a long way in setting this one in stone.

And if that's not enough, consider how in the days after U2 force-fed i-Tunes users with their new album, 26 of their older releases shot up the charts (though not to an extent particularly worth shouting about).

It's a tough read given the methodology used (you will know what I mean when you open the PDF) but the lengthy introduction to the paper is very well put together and easy to understand.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Hendricks, K. and Sorensen, A. (2009). Information and the Skewness of Music Sales. Journal of Political Economy, 117(2), 324-369.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Recommended journals #2: Music Psychology

In the second of this occasional series, I aim to bring the exciting world of music psychology to your attention.

Distinct from other branches of psychology, music psychology uncovers the powerful role music plays in our lives by exploring a broad range of topics including the increasing role of music in our everyday lives, thanks to our dear friend technology. To this end, much research explores the role of music on health and wellbeing.

A good dig around will also yield interesting insights into human cognition by considering emotion, language, memory, etc.

The three journals below are a good starting point if you're interested in doing some research of your own.

Psychology of Music
Musicae Scientiae

Tweets @musicpiracyblog