Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Classical Music Needs Spotify

"There's a lot of talk these days about reinventing classical music. Or maybe just reinventing its marketing, but in any case doing something to make it come alive -- and assure its survival -- in an age of O.J. Simpson and Madonna."

That is the first paragraph of Greg Sandow's brilliant article, Why Classical Music Needs Rock & Roll, dates from 1996, which seems to be a long long time ago. But the anxiety over the supposedly dying classical music hasn't changed for a much longer time. To make that passage relevant in the 1920s, all you need to do is to change the last two objects to Jazz and gramophone; 1960s, Beatles and TV; and 2010s, smartphone and Spotify.

I agree with Alex Ross that all these debates over whether classical music is dead or not, is a waste of time, because it will never change anything. Entrepreneurs and technicians couldn't care less about these concerns, when they set out their business or research plans. And when they determine a new distribution method or technology is more convenient than the previous one, therefore more people will adopt it and more profit (for them) will be generated, they will never step back because of the potential harm it could do to art. Deal with it.

And there's a lot of talk these days about the potential harm Spotify could do, or already have done, on the music industry, or even music itself.

Some of them, like Walter Benjamin did 75 years ago, argue that when art was rendered too easily accessible, its “aura” was lost. I partly agree with that, and I'm by no means a tech enthusiast (I find H.P. Lovecraft view of the universe more likeable than Stephen Hawking's). But if you see this from a historical perspective, the “devaluation” of art is inevitable, and for centuries art constantly gained new values by taking advantage of new technology, so we are not living in a culture desert now, after everything that came after the industrial revolution.

The rise of bourgeois introduced classical music to a much wider audience, but at the same time, screwed landed aristocrats, so they could no longer afford (not only financially, but also emotionally) to support artists like Beethoven on their own, or to hire Haydn with a full orchestra. People may argue: “I'd rather have one Beethoven other than 100 salon composers.” But sorry, no one can change the times when the times have changed. Art will deal with new spiritual conflicts caused by new technology, and hopefully, flourish in new ground made possible by it, like it did in the past centuries. I consider myself a very cynical man, but I believe in the self-renewing capacity of art. Otherwise I cannot think of anything that human beings can lean on.

I'm also optimistic about Spotify's impact on the classical music industry. According to the much-quoted article by Mode founder Brian Brandt, Spotify's payment to his label is about 1/3 penny per stream, in June 2011. Looks bleak, yes? Here's my take on it:

Mr. Brandt also said the profit from one CD sold is about $3.

If 10 users listen to a 10-track Mode album on Spotify for 10 times, Spotify pays Mode:

$0.0033*10*10*10=$3.3 Looks better? Hard to believe? Read on.

"We agree with Prof. Bartok that a smartphone would save us much trouble"

Where do the three 10s come from? 10 tracks per album is a legitimate guess, there are albums featuring long tracks, like the 4-track Xenakis quartets recording, but there are also albums with many shorter tracks, like the 25-track Berio's Works For Voices disk. And I think listening to an album 10 times is an understatement. For most music fans, when they buy a CD, they probably listen to it many more times during the time they own that CD. Please note that CD’s lifespan is said to be decades, in theory your grandchildren could inherit your CDs 60 years from now (though by that time it might be harder to find a CD player than find a 78 rpm record player today). So 10 plays for an album is also a safe assumption, IMO. If people don’t listen to an album at least 10 times in years or even decades, I see little possibility, or reason that they would, or should buy it. I know, there are classical veterans who own thousands of CDs and never listened to most of them more than a couple of time. But I don't think that kind of behavior is what the industry should depend on, and it's not environment friendly either.

Then we come to the real question: is it possible to get 10 times or more people to listen to an album, than those who buy CDs? I'm not a classical music marketer, all I can say is, at least there's hope, and I see more hope in getting more people to listen to the music, than luring people into buying CDs again, which is beating on a dead horse.

Nielsen SoundScan reports that for the first half of 2011, a total of 3.8 million classical albums were sold, compares to 2010 it shows a 13% growth. Looks encouraging? Not to me.

Lady Antebellum, one pop act alone, sold the same amount of albums in 2010.

Talking about market size, if we say $8 per album (real figure may be lower. I have no doubt that a large part of the sales were from heavily discount boxsets, like the 170-CD Brilliant complete Mozart edition, sells at $134), the market size of physical sales of classical music in recorded from in half a year, is merely $30M. Halo, one game from Microsoft, grossed $200M in 24 hours.

If we still hope that all the great composers as a whole should at least be as relevant as one pop act, or one video game, think hard about how you can make use of the new technology. If you don't, most likely the new generation will ignore you and your great music just like you ignore the technology they cherish.

Subscription services, like Spotify, make it possible for the first time in history that a listener can listen to any music on-demand without “extra cost”. Seize the opportunity and market your music accordingly. Many Aphex Twin fans will listen to Alarm Will Sound plays Aphex Twin, though most of them may not buy it. Give them a chance to let them know about this music, because that’s all it takes for them to listen to it now. What about Mahler, Bach or Perotin, should we also market them as new hipsters? No I don't thinks so. But I don't think it's too hard to get enough people to listen to the core repertoire either. MTT's 17-CD Mahler cycle sold 130,000 copies in the past ten years, and was considered a great success. That’s only 7,650 copies per CD. I believe there are many more people who actually attended MTT's Mahler concert, how hard could it be, to get those people listen to this music, "for free"? Ask the salesmen which is easier, handing out 10 "free" samplers or selling one unit? Many will choose the former, I think.

Of course there are also new problems. In the past the labels sold a bunch of CDs upon initial releases, covered their cost so they can keep on making new music. But now, as I stated above, it might take years or even decades for enough people to listen to those music enough times for the labels to generate an equivalent profit. (so maybe streaming services should pay advance to music makers?) And when everyone starts to seek for more listeners in an equally “free” environment, the competition could become nasty. I don’t claim to know the answers, but I believe the future, as always, lies in the hands of people who are brave enough to embrace it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Guest Post: The Art Of The Trumpet

I always planned to make playlists for every major instruments in the orchestra, problem is, I'm not a musician or musicologist, so I think it's better to share such playlists made by the professionals. Luckily, last week I stumbled upon this nice article: Spotify: What It Means For Classical Music Fans during my daily monitoring of everything Spotify and Classical, and found out the author Sam Callahan is a trumpet player and student at Indiana University's renowned Jacobs School of Music (Xenakis taught there and established a studio). I asked Sam if he would like to share a playlist of his favorite recordings of the trumpet repertoire, and he made two! Here's Sam:


The Trumpet Solo Shortlist (18 tracks, 1 hour) is an introduction to music for trumpet soloist and accompaniment drawn from the more complete playlist below. It features a movement or two from the repertoire's seminal multi-movement works, a few shorter one-movement pieces, and a small sampling of modern trumpet music. The playlist is in approximate chronological order, beginning in the Baroque era and ending with arrangements of music originally written for other instruments. I chose my personal favorite recording of each piece, usually leaning towards period instrument performances (done on a valveless trumpet by Niklas Eklund) when it came to the older works.

This longer playlist Trumpet Solo Works (221 tracks, 14 hours) is still only a portion of Spotify's amazing collection of trumpet solo music. Most pieces are for trumpet and orchestra or piano accompaniment, but some pieces, like Henze's thrilling Sonatina, are for trumpet alone. The playlist includes the full album for each Shortlist track and much more, including many lesser-known gems (check out Handel's gorgeous "Eternal Source of Light Divine, performed by Niklas Eklund.) There are also a few arrangements of pieces not originally for trumpet on albums by Alison Balsom and Maurice Andre. These are magnificent demonstrations of the instrument's full range of capabilities.

Guest post by Sam Callahan

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post: Bold as Brass: Some songs featuring, or with critically good bits for, the Horn Section

Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome George Wallace, lawyer, culture blogger, and maker of one of the most creative and enjoyable playlists I've ever heard? The playlist is so awesome that there's no Tumbling Dice, no Glad Tidings, no God Only Knows, no Ring Of Fire! Only pleasant surprises, one after another. I'll speak no more as George has also written a wonderful introduction to it. Here it is:


Much of the fun of creating Spotify playlists lies in the innumerable ways in which lists can be themed. Some Spotificists choose the straightforward “jam” mix: songs they like, songs they happen to be listening to Right Now, songs for partying, songs for canoodling, and on and on. Others opt for the archival approach, collecting complete sets of things or definitive surveys [“Jos. von Rottweiler - The Complete Bassoon Pavanes, 1610-1623”]. My preferred method is thematic free association.

Bold as Brass: Some songs featuring, or with critically good bits for, the Horn Section [40 tracks, 2 hours]

This list is essentially what its title says it is: a group of songs linked only by the fact that there are horn parts in [most of] them. All the songs are songs that I happen to like, usually because of the way the horn part works.

Two recent releases were catalysts (cata-lists?) for this selection, each bringing a marching-band sensibility to bear on non-obvious material. Both of them appear in the collection: the Hackney Colliery Band, represented by its take on Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” The other inspiration is Asphalt Orchestra, the avant-marching band project under the umbrella of NYC’s Bang on a Can, whose take on Frank Zappa’s “Zomby Woof” (it appears here as "Zomby Wolf") is a hoot and delight.

Thinking about marching-band influenced tracks rapidly expanded to include horn/brass parts generally, leading to the list as it is now.

Beyond the presence of horn parts, other rules are in play, of course. Most of them have been broken as often as they are followed. For example, I have tried to avoid obvious choices in favor of the less well known. There is nothing here from the Rolling Stones (though I have included a song from a Keith Richards solo outing) and none of the many possible choices from the Beatles. That the Beatles are not on Spotify only simplified a choice I would have made anyway. I have tried to avoid the well-known generally, so I feel a bit guilty over the inclusion of “Tusk” and The Who – but I’m too fond of the songs to omit them.

Theoretically, I adopted a one-song-only-per-artist rule, but that has been broken, too. The ostensible Elvis Costello number, “Stalin Malone,” has lyrics and presumably was recorded with vocals, but the album version is strictly an instrumental performed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The Dirty Dozen reappears in its own name with “Feet Don’t Fail Me now.” EC himself reappears, singing this time, in a selection from his collaboration with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. (New Orleans is fully represented, by the Dozen and Toussaint and by the unexpected “second line” that burst out in Elvis Perkins’ “Give My Fond Regards to Lonelyville.”) IN another violation of the one-song rule, I’ve started things off with Eric Mathews, under his own name, with his wonderful “Fanfare,” and he reappears as the horn-playing half of Seinking Ships on “One Day Forever.”

While the hors are prominent and obvious in many of these selections, they sometimes take their sweet time joining the party. Midnight Oil’s “Power and the Passion” doesn’t set the brass loose until it’s final minute, but that minute makes the song. “Christi,” by semi-obscure Chicago psych-folk group The Singleman Affair, has a wonderfully woozy horn part in this live version, but nowhere else: the studio version released earlier this year is good, but missing the little bit of wacky joy that the trumpet brought to it live.

Perhaps the biggest breach of the rules is in the title of the Playlist itself. The song “Bold as Brass” comes from a very early (1977) Split Enz album, when it was still Phil Judd and Tim Finn’s band, before Neil Finn came on board. It is a song I have liked since its original release . . . and despite its title, has no brass part. But this is my playlist, by gumbo, so I can say with Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself!”

I hope that this music brings you the pleasures it brings me. If so, trumpet it to all and sundry.

Guest post by George Wallace

Monday, August 22, 2011

Karlheinz Stockhausen: A Chronological Playlist

Karlheinz Stockhausen, "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music", would be 83 today. Here is a playlist that collected all his works available on Spotify, in chronological order. Karlheinz Stockhausen (46 tracks, total time: 9 hours)

For multi-movement works I only included one track per piece, to keep the playlist neat. Listen to the full recordings if you find the sampler movement interesting. For Zyklus I included more than one recordings, because every performance is unique. I also put it all available arrangements for Tierkreis and In Freundshaft. The bookends of the playlist are Kurtag's Hommage à Stockhausen, and Haydn's Trumpet Concerto, with cadenzas written by Stockhausen, played by the composer with his son Markus as the soloist.

For starters who are afraid of electronic music, try Mantra, Stimmung, and Gruppen first. To listen to Stimmung, please save the album to offline. Otherwise the gaps would ruin the soul-cleansing experience.

Below is a list of works in this playlist, linked to their details Wiki pages.

Etude, musique concrète, Nr. 1/5 (1952)

Schlagtrio ("Percussive Trio") [originally Schlagquartett], for piano and 2 x 3 [originally 3 x 2] timpani, Nr. ⅓ (1952)

Punkte ("Points"), for orchestra, Nr. ½ (1952/62/66/93)

Klavierstücke ("Piano Pieces")
    Klavierstücke I–IV, Nr. 2 (1952)
    Klavierstücke V–X, Nr. 4 (1954–55/61)
    Klavierstück XI, Nr. 7 (1956)

Kontra-Punkte ("Counter-Points"), for 10 instruments, Nr. 1 (1952–53)

Studie I ("Study I"), electronic music, Nr. 3/I (1953)

Zeitmaße ("Time Measures"), for oboe, flute, cor anglais, clarinet, and bassoon, Nr. 5 (1955–56)

Gruppen ("Groups"), for 3 orchestras, Nr. 6 (1955–57)

Gesang der Jünglinge ("Song of the Youths"), electronic and concrete music, Nr. 8 (1955–56)

Zyklus ("Cycle"), for a percussionist, Nr. 9 (1959)

Refrain, for piano (+ 3 woodblocks), vibraphone (+ 3 alpine cowbells and keyboard glockenspiel), and celesta (+ 3 antique cymbals), Nr. 11 (1959)

Kontakte ("Contacts"), for electronic sounds, Nr. 12 (1958–60)

Mixtur 2003, for 5 instrumental groups, 4 sinewave-generator players, 4 sound mixers with 4 ring modulators, and sound director, Nr. 16⅔ (1964/67/2003)

Solo, for a melody instrument and feedback (live electronics with 4 technicians, 4 pair of loudspeakers), Nr. 19 (1965–66)

Stimmung ("Tuning"), for 6 vocalists, Nr. 24 (1968)

Spiral, for a soloist with short-wave receiver and live electronics with sound director, Nr. 27 (1968)

Pole ("Poles"), for 2 players or singers with 2 short-wave radios, Nr. 30 (1969–70)

Mantra, for 2 pianists (with wood blocks and antique cymbals) and electronics, Nr. 32 (1970)

Für kommende Zeiten ("For Times to Come"), 17 texts for intuitive music, Nr. 33 (1968–70) 
No. 15, Japan, for ensemble
No. 16, Wach ("Awake"), for ensemble

Alphabet für Liège ("Alphabet for Liège"), Nr. 36 (1972)

Am Himmel wandre ich ("In the Sky I Am Walking", American Indian Songs), Nr. 36½ (1972)

Tierkreis ("Zodiac"), 12 melodies of the star signs, for a melody and/or chording instrument, Nr. 41½ (1974–75)  including Leo

Harlekin ("Harlequin"), for clarinet, Nr. 42 (1975)

Sirius, electronic music with trumpet, soprano, bass clarinet, and bass voice, Nr. 43 (1975–77)

In Freundschaft ("In Friendship"), for clarinet, Nr. 46 (1977)

Halt, for trumpet in B-flat and double-bass (1978/83)

Michaels Reise um die Erde ("Michael's Journey Round the Earth"), Nr. 48 (1978)

Pietà, for flugelhorn and electronic music, or for flugelhorn, soprano, and electronic music, Nr. 61½, from act 2 of Dienstag aus Licht (1990/91)

Orchester-Finalisten ("Orchestra Finalists"), Nr. 68 (1995–96)

Best Non-Classical Spotify Source: Pansentient League

If you are a Spotify veteran, you probably already know Pansentient League, the world's largest and most informative independent Spotify blog by Afront, who also maintains the Spotify On The Web page on Spotify's official site. If you are new to Spotify and haven't figured out how to get the most out of this service, the first thing you should do is to find some top tips on Afront's site. Here are some links to some of the best pages there:

New On Spotify: Shows a selection of new releases added to Spotify over the last 7 days, and searchable by genres.

Spotify Top Tips: A slideshow that features top tips that help you to get more from Spotify. Some of them are so fundamentally useful that you got to wonder why Spotify don't tell you about it themselves.

How Spotify Works: If you are curious about how can Spotify streams music as fast as if all music were already on your hard disk, this article is a fascinating read.

Spotify Mobile Faceoff: iPhone vs. Android: Afront is an Android user, also check out his detailed review for the latest version of the Android app.

Stuff for Young Kids on Spotify: There are full of hidden gems inside Spotify's deep catalog, including Yo Gabba Gabba and SpongeBob's Greatest Hits.

The Pansentient League's Guide to Spotify on Kindle: Freshly released yesterday, features all the great tutorials and tips on his site in a professionally edited and formatted ebook. All contents are completely revised and updated, and related topics are arranged into chapters, plus exclusive content. I recommend all Kindle users to download a free sample and see for yourselves.

This post is not an advertisement, it's a tribute to another Spotify blogger who contributed a great lot to the service and its users.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Post: Playlists From Naxos

It's my great pleasure and honor to introduce you Collin from the prominent Naxos label, who created some excellent playlists with Naxos and some of their distributed labels' contents, and would like to share on here with classical fans and Spotify users. Naxos has always been a pioneer in both expanding the recorded repertoire, and experimenting with new distribution tools - one year ago they were among the first classical labels to offer free sampler album on Amazon MP3 Store, and of course, they are also the first leading classical label to embrace Spotify. Hope you enjoy these playlists as much as I do, and stayed tuned for more awesome Naxos playlists to come.

Simply Ballet (150 tracks, total time: 7 hours)
Just a small selection of what Naxos has to offer in the realm of music for ballet. Of course some very well-known works here as well as some not so known gems.

Medieval Sounds (100 tracks, total time: 5 hours)
An excellent selection drawn from the Naxos "Early Music/Alte Musik" collection. A nice introduction to this period of music.

The New American Classics (127 tracks, total time: 17 hours)
Drawn from the Naxos American Classics series this playlist could really be ENDLESS however I just decided to focus on the really key releases. This shows there that are many different sounds and styles coming out of the current American Classical Music scene. This list is very fluid and will continue to grow and to morph in coming months.

Monster Music: Classic Horror Film Music
(146 tracks, total time: 6 hours)
As the title implies this is music drawn from the Naxos Film Music series and features scores from some wonderful Hollywood films plus one Hammer studios film and of course Beauty and the Beast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miles Davis Complete Spotify Edition: In An Orderly Way

Spotify's artist pages of many great artists are simply unusable, like Elvis, Johnny Cash or Miles Davis. All their official releases are there, but hard to find. Because many albums were tagged by reissue dates, so it's impossible to browse their great body of works in chronological order. The real trouble is, the pages are flooded by numerous greatest hits/live sets from all sorts of labels that just want to cash-in through public domain recordings and grey market bootlegs.

The first album on Spotify's Miles Davis page is: 30 Masterpieces, from TSK Music (who?). I can't even find an official site for the label, and I don't know why they have the rights to release recordings originally from Prestige. And I don't understand why Spotify let all these unnecessary compilations in, since all official releases and compilations are already on Spotify, with better packaging, remastered sound quality, and reviews from AllMusic right under the tracklist. Ironically this compilation seems to be more popular than many official ones.

Hope Spotify sort this out soon. For those who can't wait, I made an easy-to-browse playlist after Wikipedia's Miles Davis discography.

The first part of the playlist chronicles all the official albums Davis recorded as the band leader, from Blue Period (1951) to Doo-Bop (1992), including the three soundtracks he made. The album Blue Period is not on Spotify, but all tracks are available on The Complete Prestige Recordings 1951-1956, which I put at the beginning of the playlist.

The second part features important live recordings from Columbia Legacy, and the last part consists of compilation and box sets. For box sets devoted to the complete sessions of classic albums like In A Silent Way, I put official album takes from the sessions box sets in the first part, and didn't include them again in the third part.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Miles Davis: Complete Spotify Edition (99 tracks, from 99 albums/box sets). I've tried my best to find the versions that are available on both sides of the pond, still a few albums are missing on Spotify USA. Press Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view, and use the filter bar to find albums more quickly. Also see my previous post for John Coltrane playlists.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter To Mode Records: The Spotify Problem

Hi Mode Records,

I read Mr. Brandt's article on New Music Box, as a fan of contemporary classical music and Spotify, I should like to share some opinions of my own.

Firstly, I totally agree that Mode, and other labels, should get paid properly, so they can keep on making music. The current payment from Spotify is indeed depressing.

However, I don't think leaving Spotify or giving up cloud services all together is a good idea.

Business models aside, there's little doubt that cloud services is going to take over content ownership, the process is inevitable and it's accelerating, after Spotify entered the US market. It's not just an opinion of an early adaptor, it is as nature as CD took over LP, or iPod took over Walkman. To be frankly the concept of content ownership sounds rather alien to me now. Why should people store a copy on their computer, and spend their time to move it around on phones and tablets, when they can simply access it from the cloud anywhere anytime? Personally I agree with die-hard CD/Vinyl fans that owning a physical copy makes me value the music more, but most people always choose what's most convenient for them. As a business you can't tell them "you should keep on buying CDs or MP3s", in my opinion it's time to consider how to adjust your business model to cloud services now.

Have you ever wondered why Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise sold 200,000 copies, maybe more than any single CD of contemporary works he recommended in that book? And why few people of one million subscribers of The New Yorker ran to the nearest record store to buy a Xenakis CD, after they read Ross's brilliant article on Xenakis, which appeared on the magazine last March? I don't know the answer (though obviously one of the reasons is not everyone is as rich as John Taylor of Duran Duran), but I know that fact isn't going to change in the times that both physical and digital sales are declining, and I see a great opportunity lies ahead: there are many people who never heard of the music they've read about.

Subscription-based cloud services like Spotify let the users access to all kinds of music at ease. What if those one million magazine readers could access to works featured in that article, such as Psappha, a highly addictive piece that has great potential to be a crowd-pleaser, in one click (like all Spotify users are able to do now)? At current payment rates, one million plays generate $3,000 from that single track, not to mention the posiible sales bring in by this "sample". Bear in mind that most of those people would never pay to hear Xenakis without cloud services anyway.

And with Spotify, teenage pop music fans nowadays can explore new music as they please.  A couple of minutes within Jonny Greenwood posted about he'd been listening to George Crumb recently, tens of thousands of fans could start to listen to Black Angels right away. Any IDM/Drone fan who is curious about where did this music come from can listen to Xenakis and Stockhausen to hear for themselve.  Before cloud service, let's be honest, most of them source it from Youtube and illegal p2p networks. I'm not saying getting contents for free is good, but that is a fact and even if piracy could be rooted out from internet (no it can't), I'm afriad most of these curious listener would just give up exploring more music.

You see what's really exciting about Spotify and cloud services is they are, relatively speaking, so young, and full of possibilities. Putting a streaming link into iPad version of The New Yorker and monetizing it is just one of the numerous ideas. Even if Mode can survive solely on a few thousand loyal fans, like in the past 26 years, why not give the new opportunity a try?

The 1/3 penny per stream payment rates is definitely not fair, but I'd assume it's growing, because Spotify's paying subscribers has been growing rapidly in the past two years, from 250k to 1.7 million, and within one month more than 140k US users subscribed to their paid service. So Spotify's income, and accordingly the payment to all labels, should continue to grow rapidly in the next few years at least.

In my opinion what you should try is, to unite with other independent classical/jazz labels, maybe even the majors, to negotiate with Spotify, and ask them to change the pay per stream model. The current one is not fair to labels with longer tracks, because if a 50-mintue 12-track pop album and a 4-track, 50 minute classical album both got streamed once, Spotify's payment to the pop label is triple (12:4) of the classical label. Also note that currently this model seems to be adapted by all streaming services, so it may take some time and effort to change.

I know this may sound aggressive but I do think you should also try to promote your contents on Spotify. In the past you focused on meeting the needs of thousands of contemproray classical fans, it's more like maintaining a small community, where everyone speak the same language. Now the whole wild world is opening up, all kinds of people have the same chance to hear your music, if you want to be take advantage of that, you need to come up with some new strategies. Cage Against The Machine? Xeankis Remix contest? Inviting Jonny Greenwood or Bjork to review your new release and post a Spotify link on their Facebook walls? Why not?

At the same time, you can also maintain a regular CD club for fans who just won't listen to music on computers, selling Flac online (ideally as a subscription, like Resonus Classics), or even manufacture some collectable handcrafted CD-R/Vinyl (pre-order only so you can control the cost). I'm not a businessman, but it looks to me that there are many possibilities worth trying, than leaving Spotify now.

Right now only about one third of Mode's catalog is available on Spotify, I don't know if the rest two thirds moved more units than the Spotified ones. If the sales level are the same, would you please consider making more contents available?

I hope you can take my opinions into consideration, before you make your decision.  And I hope this email can be forwarded to Mr. Brandt. Thank you.

Music is the best.


Postscript: In the end, the essence of the music business is to meet people's demand for music, in a monetized way. Before the cloud, people buy copies. Now that more and more people start to realize they don't need copies anymore, and it's foreseeable that, in a few years, the cloud would be able to stream in lossless quality and offer multimedia information like booklets and musician biographies. Simply put, the cloud will shortly exceed CDs/Digital copies in user experience, in every way. In my opinion the industry needs to come up with a new way of making profits from the cloud, instead of running away from it. Currently Spotify is the cloud service with the most hype, and personally I think it's the most technically advanced one, so it's in a good position to become one of the dominating ways of how people consume music. I hope niche labels can give Spotify more chance, to experiment with the opportunities it offers, instead of cutting it off at this early stage.

And I also hope Spotify can show some goodwill to niche labels with longer tracks, it might not be up to Spotify to change the pay per stream model, which is adapted by all streaming services that I know of. Here's an easy alternative: just count one stream of longer than 10-minute tracks as two streams, longer than 20 as four. It doesn't require Spotify or the users to pay more, but makes the payment model more fair. At least Spotify can let the labels know they are open to negotiation, and sincerely "want to offer Spotify users all of the music in the world", in a sustainable way for both them and the music makers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mode Xenakis Edition On Spotify

Xenakis on Mode by Disc:
Edition 1: Ensemble Music 1 (mode 53)
Edition 2: Ensemble Music 2 (mode 56)
Edition 3: Xenakis & Varese (mode 58)
Edition 4: Complete Works for Piano Solo (mode 80)
Xenakis, UPIC, Continuum: Electroacoustic &
  Instrumental works from CCMIX Paris
(mode 98/99)
Edition 5: La Légende d'Eer (mode 148)
Edition 6: Music for Strings (mode 152)
Edition 7: Xenakis Percussion Works (mode 171-173)
Edition 8: Kraanerg (mode 196)
Edition 9: Electronic Works 2 (mode 203)
Edition 10: Complete String Quartets (mode 209)
Edition 11: Works with Piano (mode 217)

All 12 titles are on Spotify except for Edition 5. See official page for more information.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Mode: Xenakis Edition (90 tracks, total time: 14 hours) A few more link to Alex Ross' writings on this composer: Xenakis In New York (footnotes), Xenakis Videos, Xenakis At The Mall, Xenakis In The Park , and Percussion On The Lake.

Please support Mode Records by listening to their music on Spotify, or buying a copy. If you want to ask them not to leave Spotify, please comment here or on their Facebook. Thank you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Support Mode Records On Spotify

Last October I wrote about Spotify's paying model and its effect on classical labels, when ECM and Naxos reportedly threatened to leave Spotify. Eventually Naxos stayed, but ECM was mostly gone from Spotify UK.

Little seems to be improved regarding the paying model itself, despite that the paying subscribers more than doubled in the past 10 months. I've just heard a new complainant about Spotify, from the founder of the excellent independent classical/jazz label Mode:

"On a typical CD sold through a distributor (yes, still the bulk of our sales are wholesale), we may make a profit of $3-4 a unit. Already that is not much considering the total sales of a typical niche CD. Sales through iTunes or similar service can yield a similar profit. But this all gets turned on its head with the Spotify model. For example, in June 2011, Mode had a total of 11,335 streams through Spotify; our income was a whopping $36.98! A big individual seller that month, by composer Luciano Berio, was streamed 1,326 times through Spotify; our income $4.18. So, we earn about 1/3 of a penny per stream. And these meager amounts should be split with the artists and composers." full article here.

 I think this low payment is partly due to Spotify's strange paying model that only counts the number of streams, but not total playing time. If you spend an hour to listen through this 24-track album Deltron 3030, and this hour-long, one-track Mode album Oltracuidansa respectively, then according to the payment figure above, the hip-hop label makes 8 pennies from Spotify, and Mode makes 1/3 penny. OK maybe they don't count tracks shorter than 30-second, as there's no popularity marks for those track, then it's 7.33p vs. 0.33p. Ridiculous is not too strong a word here.

I've got a feeling that Spotify don't want to acknowledge the existence of albums, they seem to believe that everyone listens to 4-minute pop tracks, in mixed-up playlists. In the European version, Spotify offer MP3 purchases, and users can only buy tracks (No separate price for albums). So a 20-track hip-hop album costs £20, and that one-track, hour-long Mode album costs £1. If you still buy MP3s, why don't you grab all those long tracks on Spotify? Here's a playlist for classical tracks longer that 45 minutes, to help Spotify Free users to get rid of the ads (for a while).

That being said, I am still a believer in the Spotify model.

1, As Spotify's official response said, Spotify "monetises an audience the large majority of whom were downloading illegally". More than 85% Spotify users don't even want to pay $5 per month for unlimited access to 15 million tracks, I don't think most of them will start to buy CDs or MP3s if their music was pulled out from Spotify.

2, As Mike's comment and this thread on a classical forum show, Spotify makes it much easier for fans to sample CDs before they buy, and makes it possible to hear a CD that they never will buy without hearing it. I think most loyal fans of Mode will continue to buy CDs, and casual fans now have the chance to listen through Jack Quartet's Xenakis, and might even buy the CD if they like it a lot. 30 seconds previews on Amazon can only tell the listeners little about a contemporary classical piece that they never heard of.

And most importantly, technology never goes backward. I simply cannot imagine that five years from now people would still be buying MP3 files instead of accessing them from the cloud anywhere anytime. So I hope Spotify can work out a better way to work with classical and other niche labels.

In the meantime, if you want to support Mode Records by listening to their music on Spotify, I found 10 CDs from their catalog which consist of many short tracks that will maximize the effect. Here's the Spotify playlist: Support Mode Records (340 tracks, total time: 15 hours) Listen through this or download it to offline, to support this great label which brought us recordings of Cage, Feldman, and Wolff that few others do. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Music From The Works Of James Joyce

Taken by Gisèle Freund in 1939
"He liked Yeats's poem 'The Cloths of Heaven', and had set it to music, but for himself he would allow no woman to tread, be it ever so lightly, on his dreams." From Stanislaus Joyce's My Brother's Keeper

Thanks to this great site: james-joyce-music.com, it is much easier to find the songs mentioned in Joyce's works. The site also provides extensive information including lyrics of the songs, their influence on the author and essays on Joyce the musician.

I put all available songs listed by the above site into a playlist, together with Syd Barrett's Golden Hair (based on a poem from Chamber Music), Kate Bush's Flower Of The Mountain (based on Molly's soliloquy), Jefferson Airplane's Rejoyce, John Cage's Roaratorio (based on Finnegans Wake), Finnegan's Wake by The Dubliners, one track from an compilation of 36 indie artists interpreting 36 poems of Chamber Music, and some classical works on Joyce texts by Stephen Albert, Barber, Berio, Del Tredici, Otto Luening and Takemitsu. The playlist starts with Eolian Episode from Ulysses, mixed to Satie's Gnossiene, and ends with April/ALP from Wake, mixed to the music of Oval, both passages were read by Joyce himself, and mixed by DJ Spooky.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Music From The Works Of James Joyce (38 tracks, total time: 2 hours.) When multiple choices were available, I chose historical recordings that are more close to Joyce's time. Two tracks were performed by John McCormack, who had sang with Joyce the amateur tenor. See this page for liner notes and lyrics.

See complete tracklist below, with links to more information:

1, Eolian Episode
2, Silent, O Moyle
3, I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls
4, Oft in the Stilly Night
5, I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby
6, Love's Old Sweet Song
7, Brigid's Song
8, Blumenlied
9, The Holy City
10, M'appari
11, Yes! Let Me Like a Soldier Fall
12, The Bloom Is on the Rye
13, The Low-back'd Car
14, The Croppy Boy
15, Sweet Rosie O'Grady
16, In the Shade of the Palm
17, The Groves of Blarney
18, Killarney
19, Lilly Dale
20, Barber: Nuvoletta
21, The Lost Chord
22. Finnegan's Wake
23, Barber: 3 Songs, Op. 10 
24, Del Tredici: Syzygy, For soprano, chimes, horn, and orchestra
25, Del Tredici: Four Songs on Poems of James Joyce
26, Harry Partch: Settings for soprano, kithara & two flutes
27, Califone: VII, from Chamber Music
28, Syd Barrett: Golden Hair
29, Otto Luening: Joyce Cycle
30, John Cage: Roaratorio
31, Kate Bush: Flower Of The Mountain
32, Jefferson Airplane: Rejoyce
33, Toru Takemitsu: A way a lone
34, Toru Takemitsu: Far calls. Coming, far!
35, Toru Takemitsu: riverrun
36, Stephen Albert: Symphony riverrun
37, Luciano Berio: Chamber Music 
38, April/Anna Livia Plurabelle

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Alex Ross's CD Picks On Spotify

Since 2007, The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross occasionally publishes new CD recommendations on his blog The Rest Is Noise. A complete list can be found on this official page. He also published a few recommendations on the now seemingly abandoned New Yorker blog Unquiet Thoughts.
Photo via Opera Chic
Here's the Spotify playlist: Alex Ross: Recommended New CDs (58 tracks from 58 CDs) About 1/3 of his choices (some 40 titles) are not on Spotify yet, mainly due to the absence of the whole Hyperion label and many Harmonia Mundi recordings. Albums are sorted by publication dates, as in the official page. Press Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. I'll update the playlist when new recommendations are posted.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BIS Schnittke Edition On Spotify

Alfred Schnittke (November 24, 1934 – August 3, 1998) was a Russian and Soviet composer. To some people, he is the Soviet composer after Shostakovich.

This playlist collects all 24 titles of the BIS Schnittke Edition in one place, sorted by release dates. All recordings are available on Spotify UK and US in their entirety.

See this BIS page for discography and details.

Here's the Spotify playlist: BIS: The Alfred Schnittke Edition (240 tracks, total time: 1 day) Use Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Music Inspired By Oscar Wilde on Spotify

"Music makes one feel so romantic - at least it always gets on one's nerves - which is the same thing nowadays." - Oscar Wilde

After reading Alex Ross' new essay on Oscar Wilde, I finished this playlist which includes:

Jacques Ibert: Ballet on The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Franz Schreker: Ballet on The Birthday of the Infanta

Alexander von Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), libretto based on The Birthday of the Infanta, Eine florentinische Tragödie, based on A Florentine Tragedy

Jim Parker: Symphony In Yellow suite

Thomas Pasatieri and Ned Rorem: Songs on poems of Wilde

Antoine Mariotte and Richard Strauss: Operas on Salome

Kent Olofsson: Kiss of the Seven Veils, for soprano, bass clarinet and piano (pdf introduction)

Salvatore: Jugend, "Music from and inspired by De Utvalgte's literary installation based on The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Some audiobooks of Wilde's works, including Wilde himself reading a snippet of The Ballad Of Reading Jail, and Orson Wells reading The Happy Prince, with Bing Crosby as the Prince, to the accompaniment of music composed by Bernard Hermann.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Oscar Wilde (29 tracks, total time: 4 hours)

For more historical voices recordings and poetry audiobooks, see this previous post.