Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Changing Times

News services this week reported an attack from the head of the global record industry body IFPI on Google for not doing more to expunge links to unlicensed music downloads, in the wake of a $600m decline in global sales last year. Ironically, the contents of IFPI's own Digital Music Report 2014 rather strongly suggest piracy is not the real point.

For a start, the global industry's 3.9% revenue slump last year was strongly influenced by a cataclysmic 16.7% drop in revenues in Japan, which generates aroudn 20% of global income. With that result taken out, the global industry decline would have been only 0.1%. (Interestingly, the same report says that all of Japan's Top 10 selling albums are local repertoire, further stretching the connection with global piracy.)

The real news is that the music business is cannibalising its own revenue -- and it probably doesn't have a lot of choice about it. Digital music revenue climbed 4.3% last year and that rise was driven by a striking 51% increase in streaming revenue, which topped a billion for the first time.

But streaming services don't bring in nearly as much as digital sales do. Although digital sales revenue fell 2.1%, it still accounts for two thirds of overall digital revenue. And digital in turn is trumped by physical sales, which fell 11.7% but still comprise more than half of record industry revenue worldwide.

Stopping the world isn't an option. IFPI says:

Japan remains a market in transition, with legacy mobile products and physical format sales only now starting to decline, while streaming and subscription services are still establishing themselves.

The best-case scenario is that (a) this is a necessarily difficult time of transition, and (b) that a slowing of the decline in physical sales in several major markets is a sign that that decline is levelling out. What you can't do any more is accuse the industry of sitting on its hands. This is a rapidly changing business.

But any benefits of an increase in the uptake of services such as Spotify don't tend to fall evenly. These services are more viable if you happen own, and can aggregate, a lot of copyrights. If you have only your own repertoire as an artist, the sums can look very small.

One bit of happy news for artists is implied by a 19% increase in performing rights revenue to record companies, to just over a billion. Does that imply a good result for composers and their publishers, who receive income from their own subset of those rights? Sure does. Both ASCAP and BMI, just two US collecting agencies, have reported good growth, taking in $851m and $944m respectively from rights in both traditional and new media and other forms of public performance. That's where the money is for artists -- so long as they have a slice of the songwriting.

It's also why cafes, bars and shops should just pay their damn little bit for the music they use in their businesses.

NB: The link above is to the detailed IFPI media release. The full report is here.


A couple of other things from that report (feel free to dig out other stuff -- it's quite substantial).

Who would you say the world's biggest selling popular music artists were last year? This is it ...

1. One Direction

2. Eminem

3. Justin Timberlake

4. Bruno Mars

5. Katy Perry

6. Pink

7. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

8. Rihanna

9. Michael Bublé

10. Daft Punk

Lorde has a little way to go yet.


And the report's  list of licensed digital music services in New Zealand:

7digital, Amplifier, Bandit.fm, Deezer, Fishpond, Google Play, iHeart Radio, iTunes, Music Unlimited, MySpace, Pandora, rara.com, Rdio, Spotify, The InSong, theaudience, Vevo, Vodafone New Zealand, Xbox Music, YouTube.


Have you read and enjoyed my Top 10 New Zealand Songs About Drugs for Audioculture?

Well, why not not? Are you some kind of wowser?


Flying Nun has announced a couple of brilliant choices for its World Record Store Day vinyl releases: the legendary Dunedin Double EP, featuring the first released work of The Chills, Sneaky feelings, The Stones and The Verlaines, and Bored Games' Who Killed Colonel Mustard?, the first record to feature a young Shayne Carter.

The former, especially, is an auspicious release. Originally recorded and released in 1982 and out of print for the past 17 years, it embodies a great deal of Flying Nun mythology, from the fact that it was recorded on Chris Knox's iconic TEAC four-track to the tensions and rivalries that shaped it. I've written up an Audioculture essay on it, to be published near to the April 19 release date.

On the non-archive front, I mentioned Grayson Gilmour's new album for Flying Nun, Infinite Life, last week. It was announced just as I published the blog post and I hadn't had time for more than a quick listen. I've listened to it half a dozen times since, and I feel comfortable in saying that it's a fucking beautiful record. You can get it here (and also pre-order a special vinyl package).


There's been quite a bit of attention lately for Sarah O'Holla's blog My Husband's Stupid Record Collection, where O'Holla, as a neophyte, explores her music nerd husband's collection of 1500 vinyl LPs. And not all of it has been positive. Some people feel that it perpetuates gender stereotypes about the way men and women relate to music.

Yeah, sorta, I guess. The idea that male music nerds own music in a way women can't is odious and pervasive. But that really does seem to ignore the joyful spirit in which the project is being done. And O'Holla herself has responded thus:

A lot of the criticism of this blog is that it plays up this idea that women’s voices are marginal or less important, but for all that has been written, no one has made any effort to reach out to me for comment, or even to ask me a question. One article got my name wrong throughout. It’s clear that critics are more interested in making me a symbol of some harmful stereotype than understanding what this is, or who I am. Talking to me might make that difficult. It might humanize me.

I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. I couldn’t write this blog if I didn’t know who I was and what I like. Unfortunately for my critics what I like often isn’t all that gender transgressive.  But that’s not bad or something that I should be ashamed of. 

The same holds true for Alex, with whom I’d happily do a blog where he has to read a pile of my favorite children’s books, or go to 10 of my favorite ballets, or go to soul cycle with me for a month and write about it - parts of my life of which he is completely culturally ignorant. The reason we did this project instead of any of those is because of the two of us I’m cooler and more adventurous.

So, if this blog has put me in the category of women with controversial ideas and opinions, then I will happily join it. It’s not my responsibility to compromise who I am in the name of subverting gender stereotypes. And it’s not fair to say that every project that involves a man and a woman should have it’s main focus be gender. I just wanted to comment on the music. I wanted to write in a style I enjoyed, I wanted to learn something new, and I wanted to do something creative with the guy that I love. “Let’s lie on the living room floor and listen to records together!” I have the best marriage ever.


Some smart people (you know who you are) were enthusing on Twitter this week about A Cliff At Dawn, the EP by the Wellington new-folk duo Athuzela Brown. So I went and had a listen and I can see why. This is pretty special stuff.

That's a name-your-price download.

Currently showing up at TheAudience: a punky, genre-spanning song about an anti-depressant. As you might expect, it's not quite a happy song, but it's quite impressive.

Pure indie with a pedigree: Golden Curtain are former members of Garageland Grad Prix.

There's a bunch of goodness in my Soundcloud stream these past few days ...

Swedish DJ Disco Tech has released a free download of his tuff edit of this smouldering old funk tune by Lost Generation.

A thoughtful, restrained rework of 'The Wilhelm Scream' from the excellent Cousin Cole:

Gorgeous techno from the Swiss-Canadian producer Cyril Hahn (click through for a free download):

One of the many versions of the classic 'Be Thankful for What You've Got' given a sweet, dubby touch-up by Leftside Wobble (again, click through for the download):

And Leftside Wobble again (he's on a roll right now) with some disco joy for the crowd (click through etc):

I had a quiet couple of days last weekend, but I couldn't resists the chance on Sunday night to see the British dancehall reggae star Gappy Ranks play for free at the Ponsonby Social Club. I'm glad I made the effort -- it was a lot of fun and a nice crowd. Among that crowd was P Money, who I gather has been spending this week working on some new tracks for Gappy. Here's one of their earlier collaborations:

And finally, two gigs to watch out for in Auckland ...

SJD plays the King's Arms tonight, with The Bads and Mulholland.

And Phoenix Fest in Kingsland's Nixon Park tomorrow presents perhaps the perfect Aotearoa soul funk lineup: a reunited Opensouls, Tyra and the Tornadoes and Funkommunity, with Cian on the decks during the breaks. And it's free! Also: it might be your last chance to see Nick D in the flesh before he heads for Japan. If you love a live groove, you really should not miss this.


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