Music Hall added to Music Biz Timeline

Some key dates and events from the age of Music Hall added to the Music Biz Timeline, mainly taken from the excellent Michael Grade documentary. Music Hall dominated public entertainment in the UK from the late 1840s to World War One and sowed the seeds of light entertainment and popular music. During World War One Variety began to replace the Music Halls.

Going underground (again)

The music industry of the present really is getting more like the industry of the past. The recent consolidation of the Majors takes them even further away from what is happening in music today. Music fans looking for something more than chart artists and the odd YouTube break-through act find plenty of diversity in the healthy new underground on the web.

The original music underground was born in the 1960s. Mainstream music media of the day (such as it was, basically the post-War BBC) offered only easy listening household names. There was no official radio for the music of the young so they turned to pirate radio and Radio Luxembourg.

The Beatles with the help of George Martin (and massive sales) came to run EMI rather than the other way round. The counter-culture was evident in their later work but they remained a mainstream act until The End. Pink Floyd on the other hand made a first album of psychedelic pop before morphing into a progressive rock monster fuelled by a rich underground scene in London and elsewhere. There were few Floyd singles after that and Led Zeppelin famously released only albums in the UK.

By the end of the Sixties the record industry embraced the idea of “album bands”. Other Sixties Mod and R&B acts, often supported by new indie labels like Immediate, Island and Charisma made a similar transition from chart music to “adult-oriented rock”.

Just as pirate radio, independent labels and a strong live scene brought alternative music to young people in the Sixties, the Internet is doing it today. (By the late 1960s and 1970s all the big labels had their own progressive imprints like EMI’s Harvest, Philips’ Vertigo and Decca’s Deram, a sharp move even in an industry that still served record buyers of all ages—would our teen-oriented industry be able to do the same?)

But Major labels are alert to the new competition for eyes and ears if not minds. Rihanna has sold 11,594,209 singles in the UK since 2005 deliberately releasing more records. Her manager Jay Brown explains it is no longer possible to keep the attention of the public by making an album every 3 or 4 years—she has released 6 albums in 7 years. Of course, in the 1960s it was quite normal for an act to release more than one album a year, but we’re getting there.

Deconstructing Lefsetz

I often thought about tracking one of the noisier pundits to see if their startling insights made sense over time, then last week I saw this:

Lefsetz—8 November 2011

The Myth Of The Long Tail

Just because everything’s available, that does not mean anybody wants it.

A couple of things struck me. I was sure he used to be a fan of The Long Tail and even understood it. And we all know The Long Tail doesn’t say “if it’s available people will want it.” But this isn’t just a parody of The Long Tail, it doesn’t make sense. Everybody knows marketing can flop—consumers know they don’t buy everything.

The Wired article was first published in 2004 and the book in 2006. First called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More and later changed to The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand. Perhaps the new subtitle confused Lefsetz, “unlimited demand” is a daft thing to say.

Chris Anderson sparked a useful, if sometimes badly titled debate. Both the original article and the book have been revised. Lefsetz has name-dropped The Long Tail quite a bit, here are some early mentions.

Lefsetz—19 January 2006

And you have articles like “The Long Tail” saying that selling of less than platinum material is VERY profitable, that there’s a demand for EVERYTHING!

Lefsetz—5 April 2006

THE LONG TAIL

There’s a market for everything and fewer people want the mainstream thing.

Lefsetz—14 April 2006

For it’s a long tail world, and he who does not participate in it is doomed.

Lefsetz—26 April 2006

THIS is the long tail. There’s a demand for everything. The key is to make almost all of it available.

Lefsetz—2 May 2006

Yes, it’s a long tail world. There is demand for everything.

Lefsetz—20 July 2006

The future is long tail.

At first Lefsetz believed a caricature of The Long Tail, that there is a market for everything. Everything would sell. But we already knew that wasn’t true. The iTunes Music Store launched in April 2003 and labels reported a substantial minority of tracks never sold at all.

When the book came out some of the numbers were challenged and Lefsetz began to doubt his original version.

Lefsetz—9 October 2006

Yes, it’s a long tail world, but it doesn’t go on FOREVER! To the point where there’s demand for Little Johnny’s keyboard work.

Of course, nobody ever said that and Lefsetz knows, or at least he looked up a more accurate description.

Lefsetz—26 October 2006

The Long Tail equation is simple: 1) The lower the cost of distribution, the more you can economically offer without having to predict demand. 2) The more you can offer, the greater the chance that you will be able to tap latent demand for minority tastes that was unreachable through traditional retail. 3) aggregate enough minority taste, and you’ll often find get a big new market.

But Lefsetz wasn’t distracted by reality for long, he found it much more entertaining to throw rocks at his straw man.

Lefsetz—10 November 2006

5. The Long Tail

So everything sells. Big fucking deal. It’s kind of like blogs. Anybody can have one, but only a SLIVER of them get any page views. The point of Chris Anderson’s book is if you put it up on the Web, someone will want it. Enough to quit your day job? Good question. Probably not.

Lefsetz—30 November 2006

Too much has been made of the long tail.

Lefsetz—9 January 2007

The long tail says that there’s demand for everything, that people want a much wider swath of material than previously thought, and that via Internet distribution, it’s now available and will sell. I AGREE with that.

But hang on, now he agrees with it again, in CAPITAL LETTERS, and he read the book (a year after it came out).

Lefsetz—12 July 2007

I’m finally slogging through “The Long Tail”.

He liked it. Perhaps because he was seeing the whole picture and not just his sensational misquotes. But it didn’t last.

Lefsetz—12 March 2010

The Long Tail means everything is available, so your friends and family can buy it, not that we, the general public, care whatsoever.

Lefsetz—30 December 2010

The Long Tail was a myth.

Lefsetz—8 September 2011

You’ve been sold a bill of goods.

You read “The Long Tail” and believed a new era was upon us, an egalitarian one in which everybody got to play and be recognized, where music was plentiful and those making it survived financially…but this is untrue.

That’s the pundit’s dilemma. If you’re not shocking people every day you might get ignored. When The Long Tail was new it was “the future” but now the idea is familiar it’s “a myth”. Which is a shame because Lefsetz doesn’t need to work the sound-bite end of the business.

Debugging broken Bit.ly links

I’ve been tied up for a couple of days sorting out a URL problem. To be fair it could occur with any link shortener. If you have ever been plagued with broken Bit.ly (or other) short links this may be of interest. I have written up the incident and what I discovered here When Bit.ly links break. Along the way I had to wrestle with a not very helpful helpdesk and a Bit.ly page that could show the problem (Goo.gl does). I’m glad that’s over, although I still have no idea how it happened.

Pete Townsend, John Peel, Wayne Rosso and Steve Jobs

Pete Townsend gave the BBC 6 Music John Peel Lecture last night—I wasn’t disappointed but then I didn’t expect much. I love early Who, but not hot air:

Now is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of FaceBook and Twitter, it can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire…

Townsend badly needs a music biz primer and a calculator. Apple pays the record industry precisely what they agreed—more money than anyone else has made for the Majors on the Internet. The artist’s cut goes into Townsend’s bank account via his record label and the writer’s cut via his publisher. Why should Apple do their job? Did Our Price or HMV?

And Apple is a “vampire”? What would Townsend call the distributors and record shops who sell his CDs just like Apple? They take a far higher cut and never provided the extra services he seems to think Apple should offer young musicians. He had nothing to say on the subject of his lecture “Can John Peelism survive the internet?” There is much to be said about John Peel, 6 Music and the web, but Townsend isn’t the man to do it.

Wayne Rosso also takes the anti-Apple line this week. He describes Andy Lack as a potential saviour of the music industry for resisting Jobs:

While the other guys had stars in their eyes, Andy [Sony] connected the dots and pushed Jobs for a royalty on the sale of each ipod.

Wayne Rosso is normally a good read but this is another comment in search of a calculator. A 1$ levy—as Microsoft later paid for each Zune—would give the record industry just $450 million, based on sales to date (iPods 300m, iPhones 100m and iPads 50m). That wouldn’t save the record industry—it’s down tens of billions since before the iPod launched in 2001. Online music sales only started with iTunes Music Store in 2003 and it has since paid the record industry far more than half a billion.

What Rosso doesn’t mention is that Sony had all the resources Apple had and more, but they failed to deliver web music in a way that worked. Sony bought into the music business precisely to exploit the synergy between music and technology. In his authorised biography of Jobs Walter Isaacson describes the negotiations for iTunes Music:

“Sony’s never going to figure things out” [Jimmy Iovine] told [Doug] Morris. They agreed to quit dealing with Sony and join Apple [iTunes Music Store] instead.

Since their magic bullet SDMI failed Sony have launched several music retail hubs for the Internet and mobile phones, all have stiffed. Rosso himself has a history, his P2P music service Grokster failed where iTunes succeeded (although these days the RIAA wouldn’t be quite so keen to shut a potential web music licensee down). He did the right things at the wrong time. Steve Jobs, love him or hate him, did the right things at the right time.