#356      37 min 36 sec
Digital "dischord": How technology and markets are bleeding our musical artists

Economic geographer Prof Andrew Leyshon charts the rapid changes in the music industry since the 1990s, how new technologies are changing how music is made and consumed, and how artists are affected. Presented by Peter Clarke.

 "I can remember the first single, I can remember my first album. I don't think I can remember my first download.” -- Prof Andrew Leyshon




Prof Andrew Leyshon
Prof Andrew Leyshon

Andrew Leyshon is Professor of Economic Geography, University of Nottingham. He has authored and edited several books and published over 100 academic papers and chapters. He was Editor-in-Chief of Geoforum between 1995-2006, has presented over 90 conference papers and seminars, been a Principal Investigator on six major Economic and Social Research Council grants. He is a member of the Editorial Board of both Environment and Planning A and the Journal of Cultural Economy and the Editorial Advisory Board of Economy and Society. In 2007, he was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of British Geographers. In 2015, he was Eminent Research Scholar in the Faculty of Business and Economics, at the University of Melbourne.

Andrew Leyshon's blog.

Credits

Host: Peter Clarke
Producers: Peter Clarke, Andi Horvath
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Louise Bennet
Series Creators: Kelvin Param & Eric van Bemmel

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VOICEOVER

This is Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia.


PETER CLARKE

Hello I'm Peter Clarke, welcome to Up Close. Music is one of our greatest mysteries. How it actually works on our senses, our bodies, our memories, intellects and emotions, it's still a very fertile area for research. Music, vocal and instrumental, has been part of the human experience for many thousands of years. Its roles and effects have been legion. Social, religious, political, propagandist, medical, to name but a few. For most of human history music has been performed live and shared in an acoustic space, either at close quarters or over longer distances and not pervade as a mercantile commodity. Amongst that constellation of communication inventions at the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century, were audio recording and radio broadcasting, alongside cinema, television, automobiles, aviation and many others.

Developed slightly earlier, printed sheet music and play of pianos and the like, driven by encoded cardboard rolls were also important vehicles for spreading music around. These emerging technologies were able to disseminate representations of original live performances to audiences distant from the original performances in both time and in space. These days, most of us listen mainly to these representations of musical performances, occasionally returning to experience live musical concerts, some purely acoustic, most amplified. The Gutenberg print revolution in the middle of the 15th century was seismic in the effects that followed over the next centuries.

The enlightenment, evolving democracy, mass media itself was eventually spawned within this revolution. Initially newspapers, books and magazines then the audio visual mass media. But now we're in the early stages of an even more profound revolution, the great digital disruption, hardly an area of human activity, especially communications has been left untouched by this resolution. The creation, production and dissemination of musical representations has been fundamentally transformed already and that shift is progressing at a dizzying speed. So, when did our musical world start to change so drastically? What are these changes about? What's actually causing them? How will music figure in the lives of generations to come?

Our guest on Up Close is Professor Andrew Leyshon, Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Andrew's most recent book, Reformatted: Code, Networks, and the Transformation of the Music Industry is the basis of a public lecture he's delivering at the University of Melbourne. Andrew, welcome to Up Close.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Thank you very much Peter.


PETER CLARKE

Let's go back to the initial sale of musical recordings in the early 20th century Andrew. A shellac disc with grooves, an analogue of the original musical performance, but what was the essential nature, do you believe of the purchase transaction way back then?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well if you think about the situation before you were able to record music, then how would you experience it? Well you'd kind of have to be there, to be in the audience listening to people perform, or you'd perform it yourself. So as you said in the introduction, that the rise of sheet music grew and that's how people played music. I grew up in a family and I'm sure many other people did, with a piano in the corner and that was a hand me down from various generations and that became the way in which people played music. Most people had a musician in their family of various levels. But when you could actually buy the recorded music, that was a seen as an extraordinary thing because there you could get access to the best possible performers and from that point on the industry grew and people were trying to get those replications first of performances, live performances, and then the recreation of music itself within studios.


PETER CLARKE

Those shellac recordings, they were still in my parents’ cupboard when I was just a little kid and I used to play them then, they were heavy, they were solid, very physical.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes it was physical, but that's just the way it was. The fact it's become more immaterial is not so important, though I do understand that people have a certain degree of nostalgia for certain periods that they associate with discovering music and somehow that seems to be redolent of the certain kind of atmosphere. You have people perhaps of our generation Peter, who grew up with albums and the nature of the album cover and that became an art form in itself. People actually regretted the development of CDs because the picture became a lot smaller and of course now, with MP3s you don't get anything at all, or not necessarily. I've been a very big fan of MP3 as a way of playing music, because as someone who listened to music a lot when I was growing up, one of the things that I kind of regretted was the fact that if we listened to singles you'd have to keep getting up and putting them on and if you [unclear] and with an album you'd get very tired about the same order of songs.
So when CDs came along, you had the shuffle within the album and of course now with MP3 and the different playlists, you can have an infinite variety of different kinds of music. For someone like myself who often works with music in the background, I think that's great. But certain people feel that physicality - gone back to that physicality of vinyl. Vinyl is the fastest growing part in the music industry at the moment, but it's going from a very small base and if anyone's staking the return of the music on the growth of vinyl, I think they're going to be very disappointed.


PETER CLARKE

I've heard someone say that the physicality of buying their first precious album, you really keep that in your heart. But your first digital download, well it's just a little process and there it is, in amongst all the others.


ANDREW LEYSHON

That's a really good point. I can remember the first single, I can remember my first album. I don't think I can remember my first download. But I suppose you download so many at the same time. I can certainly remember the experience of when I first downloaded Napster, or certainly when I first was informed about MP3. I remember that moment because it was one of those moments where you have a light going on and I realised this was going to be really important and there was a research project in it. But no you're right, I can't remember the very first file I downloaded.


PETER CLARKE

Do you see the CD - the arrival of the CD as the beginning of the tipping point?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well it was I guess in that it introduced digital music. I have a little vignette from a book by Steven Knopper who talks about a technology industry representative who was deputed to go to a music conference to talk to the heads of record companies and argue that they should sign up for this new format and there's a little risk of piracy he argued, but, the pie would be so big that it would be worth doing. The quote in the book says "it was lucky there weren't any rotten fruit in the room, otherwise they'd have all thrown it at me". Now what I say is that well this is not someone pitching MP3, this was somebody in the early '80s pitching CD technology. This was somebody from Phillips Corporation in the Netherlands. The record industry heads recognised then that the digitalisation of music had implications for piracy. The technology was then developed in such a way that the music was locked down. When CD first came around it was a long time before we had recordable CDs.


PETER CLARKE

And rip-able CDs.


ANDREW LEYSHON

And rip-able CDs absolutely. That was part of the condition I think for Phillips developing this that they had to build it in those locks so that it couldn't be copied, but of course what you could do, people who didn't have a CD player would then - you would lock it into a tape recorder and somebody would make a really good quality recording of a CD. The thing is with tape is that it would deteriorate over time. So that was seen to be a built in redundancy of illegal copies. So although at the time the music industry was very animated about this, over time they became less concerned about that, particularly when they discovered MP3 and began to almost be nostalgic about home taping, saying that it proliferated new kinds of genres like rap and hip hop and other kinds of cut up forms.

So it was very concerned about CD when it came in because of this, but actually what happened was that it led to an incredible bonanza for the music industry in the 1980s and it enabled companies to sell their catalogue all over again because what was pushed was the high fidelity, high sound quality of music, so people thought all of a sudden, oh my vinyl collection isn't good enough, I have to go out and buy all these things again in CD.


PETER CLARKE

No crackle and pop.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah absolutely because after a while vinyl will get scratched, you'll get jumps, it's not as good. What people have discovered since is that CD is not that durable either, 25 years I think they reckon is probably the length of a CD. So after a while the information will gradually disappear into the ether. 


PETER CLARKE

Which is the same I guess for all those visual images that are stored on DVDs and CDs too?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Absolutely and I think there is some concern about the cultural protection of a whole range of things that are preserved on digital because it might disappear or again formats might change.


PETER CLARKE

Trace for us the arrival of the MP3, how did that happen? But more importantly Andrew, how did it gain such domination so quickly?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well it came out of a really unexpected place from the music industry and that's partly why it caught them out. There was an international movement to develop digital television and part of that you needed to send sound packages down what was then the very narrow copper lines of the internet and there's a lot of information in a sound file. It was seen to be too big, so actually it was the Motion Picture Expert Group, they developed - the Audio Layer III, became MP3 for short, an acoustic masking piece of compression software. So it analyses the sound of a particular duration and it looks at those sounds that are inaudible to the human ear or less important and strips all that information out and reduces it down by about 10 per cent.

At that point it became possible to send it in packages to help digital television. That would have been the end of it, but at the same time in the 1990s there was a set of developing communities on the internet called hackers who were just interested in software, they'd grown up with software in the 1980s. There was a particular thing called internet relay chat, IRC, where people who were into hacking would communicate with one another about different kinds of software programs they would develop, but they realised that this is a way of copying music and circulating it amongst themselves and began to do this. But in one sense that was like the digital equivalent of home taping, and the industry knew it was going on, it was so difficult to do, you had to have such technical skills to be able to do that and not people many did, so they didn't think it was a problem.

So the big game changer for the industry was the development of Napster in the 1990s because what that did was make that internet relay chat community and they were exchanging MP3 files of music amongst themselves, it made it possible for anybody really who had just the minimum amount of computer savvy to just download this package and then be able to upload all your songs, share your songs to everybody else and then you'd have access to all theirs. It became at one point this extraordinary library of music that was in the world and people like Lawrence Lessig who's an American academic who deals with copyright says, in one sense it was doing a cultural function.

It was making available music that wasn't commercially available that had been deleted from a whole series of record companies, so they weren't actually planning to make any money out of this anytime soon. This absolutely horrified the music industry because this was money that they felt they'd spent, they'd invested and they should be a getting a return on this and people were just getting it for free.


PETER CLARKE

It's probably worth pausing for a moment to emphasise the very nature of digital. Files are all the same aren't they? Right down at their very base atomic level in digital, music, pictures, text and everything else, essentially they're just very migratable aren't they?


ANDREW LEYSHON

It's information that can be translated into zeros and ones and then communicated and re-assembled. You can break it down and send it and it can be sent through packages in different formats and then brought back together again. That is why it is incredibly transmissionable.


PETER CLARKE

So Napster was a key arrival in terms of this burgeoning piracy, this burgeoning sharing of - particularly as we're talking about today, musical files?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah. It's known as a peer-to-peer network. So once you've signed up you are able to communicate through Napster's central server with other people who'd signed up and they could have access to all your files. What they were doing was illegal, because people were making available sound recordings which they could use, but they were making them available for other people which they didn't have the right to do. So various legal measures were put in place to shut Napster down and that was possible because there was a central server for Napster. So once you found where the Napster headquarters was, which was in San Mateo, California in Silicon Valley, you could have the warrant and you could shut it down and once you shut that central server down, then it didn't work anymore and this happened around about the turn of the last century, 2000, 2001.

However, by this stage, the centralised peer-to-peer network had been transformed into a decentralised peer-to-peer network. So the software was working, but it didn't need to actually be anywhere. It didn't need to be a central server so that all the people on there could communicate to one another. Ever since there's been a cat and mouse game between these different networks being developed and the way they would make money is through advertising by attracting people to it, and becoming more and more powerful and sending vast amounts of information, so not only music, but also films and other things as well. So it's constantly evolving. You can catch up with them and shut them down, but it takes a while and so there's just a large reserve of music available on the internet.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew what do the stats tell us about the size of the chunk out of what we might call legitimate music, brought about my these file sharing techniques and sites et cetera? How big is the deficit to the music industry?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well that's an interesting question. There are billions of files available to be got for nothing, if you know where to look or you've got the right kind of software. A deficit to the music industry, that's a very difficult question to answer. That there has been a deficit to the industry, I think is undeniable. But the way in which the music industry would like to define it is that every time somebody listens to a piece of music that's got illegally that's somehow a substitution for an official purchase and I think that's...


PETER CLARKE

A bit of a stretch?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Absolutely because you may be just exploring and you may just think I'll listen to it for nothing but there's no way I would have bought it anyway. So that is too much of a stretch as you say. However, certainly sales have been forgone through this, an already precarious industry has become even more precarious, so traditionally it was estimated that 95 per cent of the money that record companies would spend on artists in the form of recording and marketing would not be recouped. They would not make that money back on those artists because they just wouldn't make enough money. But, luckily, the five per cent who were successful and they made their money back, once they were successful, the marginal cost of reproduction on music is so low you could sell a lot of CDs for a little marginal cost on your end, to make a lot of money back and that was the logic. So it's always been an incredibly inefficient industry because it's about taste, it's about fashion and that's very difficult to predict.


PETER CLARKE

And the stars subsidise the try-hards?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Absolutely, yeah. You can sell a lot of Coldplay CDs that will subside all the other artists.


PETER CLARKE

But that culturally is not necessarily a bad thing?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well no and I think in retrospect people are beginning to re-evaluate the role of the record label. If you think about those people who manage to get a contract but then didn't manage to make enough money, they were never asked for their advances back and in the past they would possibly have a contract that would be two, three albums and they would pay for them all that time, thinking well that's probably how long it takes for someone to develop into a saleable artist. That would give them a period of time in which they could develop and they could live in that time. That is just almost unheard of now, that you would get that. So that welfare function that record companies played in the music economy is all but gone. They still are big funders, but not as much as they were.


PETER CLARKE

Give us a sense of exactly what the balance is today between music still sold via CDs and sold digitally online? Roughly 50/50?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes about 50/50 now. So I think it's about - the last figures for 2014 were 46 per cent for physical and 46 for digital and another eight per cent for synchronisation rights, so that's when you sell to films and getting music played on radio and stuff like that.


PETER CLARKE

Talking about radio, in my younger years, we're going nostalgic again, we listened to a lot of music on the radio, but I've got to tell you I still do. I stream a Paris station called FIP, which plays an awful lot of music for me and probably music I would buy otherwise, so that's an interesting aspect. What role has radio played going way back? But today radio broadcast and radio streamed? What role is it playing in terms of either boosting musical sales or giving people the opportunity to listen to music and not purchase anything?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well I think it depends the territory you're in. So for example in the UK, if music is played on the radio or in any public place, then there are performance royalties to be paid. There's an artist called La Roux, who's a sort of fairly medium successful artist in the UK, been around for about eight years or so, but she was complaining the other day that she's never made any money from her records in terms of sales and also she's got this fairly famous tweet about her royalties from Spotify for the last three months earlier this year were £100 I think and she said great, I'll only need another three months and I can pay for the Spotify premium subscription. Where she has made her money is from radio plays, because actually that is a part of civil society that works in this regard, that is policed that you do pay those royalties and the money comes in. But the royalties that you would have got from music sales is just not there because they're not selling, because if you don't want to pay you don't have to.


PETER CLARKE

This is Up Close. Our guest is Professor of Economic Geography at Nottingham University, Andrew Leyshon. Reformatted: Code, Networks and the Transformation of the Music Industry is the title of his latest book and the focus of our discussion today. Now in that book you talk of four networks within the musical economy, what are these networks?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well that's my way of trying to think through the process of the musical economy and spatialise it. I'm a geographer, I'm interested in the way in which economies are organised spatially as well as temporarily. So the first network is one of composition, which is basically the act of creation which involves bringing together artists, bringing together their agents, bringing together technology to perform and record music. So that network of composition tends to be associated with urban agglomerations, so in cities like Melbourne there will be a constellation of performance venues, there will be networks of performers, there will be people who act around the music industry. Melbourne has been a very successful musical economy in that regard for a number of years. So that's the process of creating the music and then finally stabilising it as something that's recognised as a commodity.


PETER CLARKE

That would include we should say in the contemporary setting, a lot of sampling and drawing upon that vast critical mass of other sounds.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes absolutely. Bringing in music and mixing it together and that boundary between music of the past and of the present has become much more blurred and a much more fertile mixing of different styles and of different artists and it's become more accepted particularly with the genres like rap and hip hop.


PETER CLARKE

That's the creative network.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Then once that's music stabilised into something that people are happy with, it then moves into the next network of reproduction which traditionally would have gone into a manufacturing process to make a vinyl album or a CD, but now is merely converted into a sound file which will go onto distribution systems like iTunes or Spotify and that's the next network of distribution, which takes the music to its audience and then the fourth network is one of consumption, which in the past consisted of record shops and other distribution spaces, but increasingly now it's just all online.


PETER CLARKE

I guess it's an obvious comment and it applies right across the digital revolution, but people talk about democratisation of the means of production and the tools that are available, perhaps $100,000 on a 24 track tape based recording machine, it can all just be done in the back garden now.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah.


PETER CLARKE

Those means of production, has really spread out hasn't it, in terms of the number of people doing that first network, the creative network?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah. Particularly with the process of recording music as you suggested, because it used to be very difficult for artists to get through into what you might almost describe as a sacred space of a recording studio because they were very strongly policed, they were very expensive spaces. So if you think of a traditional recording studio, if you ask most people to visualise it, what they will see is a nice appointed room but it will be dominated by a big recording desk which would be...


PETER CLARKE

Huge.


ANDREW LEYSHON

...huge, up to 128, approximately even more channels and that and each of those channels can record and they have the sliders that go up and down. So they could be linked to different instruments or different parts of instruments even, so you could get this incredibly textured sound. They were extraordinarily expensive, £250,000, AUD$500,000 and some studios would have three or four of those. So that actually acted as a barrier to entry in itself. That if you wanted to go into a recording studio industry, you needed some deep pockets to be able to do that. But then that was quite expensive to run. You had to pay for the labour, the producer, the technicians, the space itself. The role of the record companies were to recruit people that they thought had sufficient talent and prospect and they would then pay for them to go into that studio.

So if you didn't get past that first hurdle, it was very difficult unless you had some money of your own. But now as you say, that barrier has gone in that you can do that much more cheaply, or you can do a bit at home and if you wanted some certain effects in a studio where you think there's a certain amount of magic dust that they might be able to do, you could do that, but for a lot less time and money. Recording studios have really fallen away and it's only the really big ones that are holding out and that's partly because of orchestral recordings that they're doing.


PETER CLARKE

I was about to bring in orchestras, classical music and I talked to you about representations of music earlier, that's what we all listen to you now, representations of music. To go into a concert hall and hear a bit of Monteverdi with the cellos all pumping out that energy, I guess it needs an incredibly high level of recording as well?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Also it's a slightly different market as well. So that still does work. Although actually the big London studios, I think a lot of the thing that's keeping them going is soundtrack music for films. So they've got bigger budgets and they need a big space. It does translate into a very good high quality sound.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew as you well know, traditionally historically copyright has been sliced and diced already hasn't it? Lyrics, musical composition, mechanical, reproduction rights, how have the various challenges to this traditional system been met by the recording industry over time? Have they been successful and what's the current approach?


ANDREW LEYSHON

They're not making their return on recorded music. There's the copyright from the recordings and there's also copyright from the publishing. The publishing is holding out, partly because of plays on radio and so on and other live performances. So looking around for other sources of income, like 10 years or so ago, companies started looking at the so-called 360° deal. So they weren't just interested in the artist's music as recordings, they were interested in the artist as an entity, as a commodity themselves. So they'd be taking shares of the merchandise, they'd be taking shares of performances and so on. It's a way of trying to get their claws into as much revenue as possible and for that, the artist would be paid a vast amount of money.


PETER CLARKE

That seems almost about collectability of the artist, him or herself and the merchandise and the music and all the bits and pieces.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes. They become a commodity with a trajectory in their own right, with all the things that go with it. That's quite good in the sense that you're probably made for life and you've got a lot of money there. But you also become locked in to that trajectory that the record company wants you to go.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew, how key has been the role of the behemoth Apple and the iTunes store in all this? It seems just on a cursory observation that at least they're being quite traditionalist. They're trying to get the flows of money...


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah.


PETER CLARKE

...to the people who make the music, but is that the whole truth there?


ANDREW LEYSHON

They've done a very great service for the music industry, although at the time both have been traduced by traditionalists in the industry. I suppose if you think about Apple coming in, that the industry was in crisis, that it was all over the place in really how it was going to respond to MP3 and what Apple were doing was inserting themselves between the record company consumers and taking a cut for that which they still do. But it's been extraordinarily successful, it's acted to stabilise digital music in quite a strong way, so the number of downloads is massive, they actually build in some degree of copyright control into the formats that they use, although they are open to other formats now. They will play music that's been pirated, but at least their things that they provide is fairly secure.

Now of course they're moving towards streaming, which is what Spotify does and the music industry has finally recognised that this may well be - as far as the industry is concerned, as the record is concerned, this may well be the saviour, because this is a delivery system that's locked in. To stream you have to pay the subscription or you have to get the free version which gets the advertisements in terms of Spotify, but at least there's a revenue linked to that.


PETER CLARKE

That takes us right back to the beginning of our discussion talking about buying big chunky shellac recordings et cetera. We've come a long way haven't we? We're now buying the access...


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes.


PETER CLARKE

...to something like digital radio in a way?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes. You're renting it really. So you're paying for access rather than owning it. If you've got the premium subscription on Spotify and you've got access to this universe of music that's there at your fingertips, if you stop paying that subscription that all goes away. So it's not as if you've bought something and then it's - you're going to build up your collection, you're locked in. That is a possibility for the record companies, however, the other side of that is the musicians are not doing particularly well out of Spotify. At the moment, the share of revenue coming from a stream is - I think it's 55 per cent to the record company, 23 per cent to the platform and 22 per cent to the artist. However, for the artist that means - the latest calculations is .0011 of a dollar per stream.

So you've got to stream a lot to get anything resembling a living income from that. So Coldplay for example have got a billion and a half plays. If you add all that up in terms of that share of those streams, it adds up to $140,000, which is no - it's not nothing, but for a billion plays to be translated into that - and that's about $30,000 each for them. Their living standard is probably a bit higher than that. I wouldn't worry about them, they're making enough money from other sources, but you take that down to smaller artists then it's not really a liveable income.


PETER CLARKE

You're with Up Close as we explore with Professor of Economic Geography, Andrew Leyshon some of the remarkable technological and social forces that are transforming how we create and consume musical commodities within the unfolding digital revolution. Andrew one clear outcome seems to have been an inversion of the earlier practice, live performances to bolster album sales to now producing an album to bolster live gig ticket sales. When did that inversion start to occur and what actually drove it?

ANDREW LEYSHON

That's actually know by certain people in the sector as the Bowie theory, David Bowie theory because he actually wrote about this in the late 1990s. He's always been a keen observer of technological change and in a magazine interview he said that going into the 2000s that bands better get used to a lot of touring because that's going to be the only unique commodity that they have left. He was incredibly prescient on that. So the reason for this is, if you think you can get access to any kind of music that you like pretty much free, then your valuation of that goes down. But what people will pay for is the affect-laden, emotionally-laden experience of being in the same space as an artist. What's been illustrated since about 2000 is that the ticket prices and prices for records has begun to diverge.

In the past, ticket prices were kept down really, because they were seen as a promotional device for selling records. That was the main thing, so often bands would lose money on tours. They'd keep the money down so they would be accessible, because I think that would more than pay for its way because people would be buying the records. Now it's actually the other way around, so people will make the records not expecting to make any money, but at least that's promotional material for the tour, to get people to turn up. If you're very successful then you can make a lot of money for touring.

There's a big audience for this, partly because the music is so available that people can explore different types of music and they think, well I actually I'd really like to be in the same space. That's the way in which music was enjoyed. You would need to be in the same space. Of course the other thing to say is, the quality of performance has increased through technology.


PETER CLARKE

Yes.


ANDREW LEYSHON

But also the use of recorded music in live performances. The use of stems that they take from the studio because a lot of bands are very anxious about their ability to reproduce this live.


PETER CLARKE

So live ain't live?


ANDREW LEYSHON

No it's not really live. Well it is live, they're there and I suppose the worst examples are where people are clearly lip syncing, but it goes from that all the way down to how much of the instrumentation is actually live as well.


PETER CLARKE

Now a writer and a thinker that you cite in your book, Jacques Attali, the book he wrote in the mid '70s is called Noise: The Political Economy of Music, he was quite prescient back then and he sort of envisaged an almost market-free model, where musical production flowed and the surfeit overwhelmed the process of the traditional mercantile transitions based on value. He imagined everyone making music...


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yeah.


PETER CLARKE

...and us just enjoying that music in a way, what remains that drives a market for music then? What are the forces at work?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Well going back to Attali, what Attali is clearly influenced by is a Marxist conception of economic change that you move from feudalism to industrial capitalism and then you have the overthrow of capitalism and you have this post-capitalist nirvana, so just as Marx said in the day that people would probably fish in the morning and read in the afternoon, I think that Attali's translation of that into a musical style was that people would make their own music for their own enjoyment. He's right, there's a lot of people now making music for their own enjoyment, only because they can't actually sell it or get a sustainable income from it. How do you translate that into an activity that's reproducible?

That's really what I'm interested in, is how industries are able to reproduce themselves at times of economic and technological change. It's still difficult. We're still not sure. I think there's still some changes still to go in this because it settles down. There are developments of higher quality MP3 coming. There's the lossless version and that's certainly what Apple Music and their streaming service they're trying to sell the higher premiums that they're charging, which they argue will then be translated into higher royalties going to artists. It's all about high quality sound, it's about curating that music. So that may tap into a different kind of market.


PETER CLARKE

Inevitably in these big changes, we lose some things but we gain a lot as well. I think we've probably lost the concept album haven't we? Which was specific I guess to the vinyl album and later to the CD album, I'm thinking of Pink Floyd and all the rest of them, Yes, Genesis those sort of bands that produced really extensive concept albums, almost audio novels if you like. We've probably lost that.


ANDREW LEYSHON

I would say that's not necessarily a bad thing. They're still there, you can still listen to them. If somebody wanted to make a concept album they probably could. Whether there'd be a market for it or not, but actually the length of these formats, they're not some sort of sacred thing. So the reason that the CD is able to hold the amount of music - the length of music it is, is because when Sony were developing that they wanted it to be able to record Beethoven's ninth. So that was the standard, that becomes a new standard for length. You could argue in the past, a band recording an album, they would need probably two killer tracks, they'd put the rest on and they could probably sell that. But now if everything has got to be sold on its own right, then perhaps it would be a higher quality. I should say, I've not noticed that, but there's a lot of music out there, but there's a lot of okay music out there. But it is a lot of music out there, there's no doubt about that.


PETER CLARKE

There's no doubt about that. On the other side of the coin, perhaps our wins - an extraordinary blossoming of music from all over the world, and a lot of cross cultural music. We see it here in Melbourne. You go to live concerts and you see people from all over the world coming together in very creative collaborations, producing music that would never have occurred before and of course they're using the internet and having collaborations in cyber space as well. So perhaps that's one of the wins we've had?


ANDREW LEYSHON

Yes and making available this incredible library of songs again. One of colleagues at Nottingham who I'm working on a research priority area with is a big fan of baroque music. She's subscribed to Spotify just for that, that's all she listens to, but that's fantastic because she wouldn't have got that. If you wanted any kind of music, you could find it. So actually all the music is increasingly being available, but it's how you're able to access that and then importantly if it's going to be provided by a private companies, how that becomes a reproducible business model.


PETER CLARKE

Just to clarify, you talked about the subsidisation by the stars in terms of the try-hards, has that been ironed out in the Spotify model? That doesn't happen anymore?


ANDREW LEYSHON

The subsidisation? Well no that doesn't happen because the deals are not there in the same way as they were. That's the amount of money you will get back. Some people who get signed up will get an advance, but it tends to be on a recording by a recording basis, the long-term deal is a thing of the past.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew, finally I'm going to ask you the hardest question of all, thinking ahead, trying to speculate, trying to imagine and dream - where's all this taking us? Another 10 years, which is a scary time ahead I know, but say in another decade, where will we be as consumers, but I guess more importantly, where will the creators of music be?


ANDREW LEYSHON

If you think about 15, 16 years ago we didn't have Google. Just think how dominant that is in the economy and things are moving very quickly all the time. I think some very interesting things are being developed - the way in which music has been integrated in technology in different ways. In technology centres like Silicon Roundabout in London, there are companies who are experimenting with music that could be linked into other artefacts like computer games. Not in the traditional way, that you actually - as a compositional game, as you move through this virtual space you end up composing music in different ways and you end up producing something quite unique. I've colleagues at the University of Nottingham who are wiring up the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with similar software technology and algorithms, so as people move around that, that creates new kinds of music. Therefore that's an experiential payment for music in a different way.

The other thing that I'm interested in is the growth of new funding models, like crowd funding. It has a possibility for artists to be able to get going, certainly if they can build up a sufficient fan base, who are prepared to give money to allow them to record or to tour and all they want is some sort of participation, or they may just want the satisfaction of this happening in the first place. But they're not looking for a monetary return and that's a useful compromise I think in the fact that it is difficult for many artists to make a financial return on what they're doing. So actually they can do a performance return or an experience return to people who give them money to enable them to do this. But, I suppose one of the issues is you have a certain degree of social skills and competency to be able to do that and that's not going to be available for everybody.


PETER CLARKE

So you've looked at a lot of these newer and more creative approaches to monetise the production of music, does your intuition, your gut tell you that there may be some unknown game changers on the horizon? We've missed a lot of them already, social media itself emerged in 2006 or something like that, Facebook on university campuses, now look at it, look at social media. Are there some lurking game changers, some unknowns that you sense are there, that could transform the whole thing again?


ANDREW LEYSHON

There's always a possibility of a new format change. What that might be, I can't imagine, but I guess if I could imagine that I probably wouldn't be sitting here talking to you Peter, I'd be in Silicon Valley getting lots of venture capital to develop something. I think one thing is quite clear is that it won't be the same. It won't be stable and it will continue to change for a while yet.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew, you're not in Silicon Valley, thank you for being with us today on Up Close.


ANDREW LEYSHON

Thank you very much.


PETER CLARKE

Andrew Leyshon is Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Nottingham in the UK. His most recent book is Reformatted: Code, Networks and the Transformation of the Music Industry. You can find relevant links to Andrew's work, research and publications on the Up Close website together with a full transcript of this and all our other podcasts. Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. This episode was recorded on 26 October 2015. Produced by Peter Clarke and Andi Horvath. Studio production and audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer. I'm Peter Clarke, thanks for listening and I hope you can join us again soon. Bye for now.


VOICEOVER

You've been listening to Up Close. For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook. Copyright 2015 The University of Melbourne.


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