The Fallacy Of Music Like Water - hypebot

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Audioswhite

Some keen observations. I admit that I have been in the camp of thinking of Pandora and Spotify as being similar to FM radio or like Siruis/XM. Paid access that can drive sales. But upon reflection, like you mention, I think that is really a result of my (gulp) age & demographic and the demographic for my label. (Modern "Classical") So we have seen the uptick in sales.

So, how do we in the ever increasingly "independent" music business get younger music lovers (consumers) to not just settle for the "free" water, but find and buy the energy drink, soda, $5 coffee etc? (terribly extended metaphor - I know) That's the trick. I do not believe any independent artist or partner label will be able to make a go from just the current Spotify access model. Maybe it will morph to a more curated access that pays higher, but it won't be enough. The industry - the artists and partner labels - need to find the way though.

Spotidj

A .001-.004/stream royalty rate may never result in sustainable income. But what if the rate reaches 0.01 or a little more? And what if you have millions of streams for years in a row. Just look at Sweden and how some artist are doing there.

The water may contain some gold in the end.

Erik Peterson

I've never agreed w/ the whole 'music like water' concept. It completely devalues the music, in my opinion; and the economics of it just do not add up in the long run.

Shrimpy Z

What if a magical rainbow-colored unicorn flew over my house and shot $100 bills out of its ass and down my chimney?

C'mon.

Spotidj

Does this mean you don't agree with my view? Fine with me let's wait and see.

BTW Spotify already pays me $ 0.0063 per stream a rate that has been growing so far. Tomorrow I will get the Q4 statements.

LG

Infringement isn't the cause of revenues going away. The problem is that consumers don't want CDs any more.

For my own musical life I could care less about CD revenues. I do free YouTube recordings and MP3s to promote my live performances, and get revenues from playing live. Recordings to me are just ways to help book profitable live shows.

I have no illusions about my music being devalued. When I play well it casts a spell over the people in the room. When I don't they ignore me. That's how music works. It doesn't bother me.

I get the feeling that my brethren complaining about CD revenues are just unwilling to move on from the past. Times are a-changing. Big whoop.

Jeremy

Good piece, and I encourage you to keep writing about it. I do hope we can eventually counter this foolish "music is like water" meme. I too had not come across a lot of written criticism of the concept (I missed Dubber's!) back when I wrote an essay for Fingertips in 2009 entitled (yes) "Music Is Not Like Water." It's a bit dated by now but most of the basic ideas hold true, I think: http://www.fingertipsmusic.com/classic/comment_water.htm

As for LG's idea that the problem is that consumers don't want CDs any more, well, yes, but I'm not sure how you so confidently disentangle that from the infringement problem. Surely one of the reasons that some consumers, at least, don't want CDs anymore is because they have grown very happy accessing the music illegally for free. I am also weary of the "you're just resisting change" argument that often arises in the face of anyone questioning where technology may be taking us. History readily supplies us with examples of how unquestioned technological change in the present can cause rather severe problems in the future. And yet always comes the "Get used to it, times change" argument. I truly think we owe ourselves, and future generations, a bit more reflection and discussion than that.

Rick

Well, dude, if it happened, that would be crazy awesome. You might have to launder the money first though.

Rick

Music is always valuable, but we're entering a space where recorded music isn't necessarily going to pay the bills. Fine. Even producers, who in the past have relied on album sales, are beginning to take charge and play out in the form of DJ sets. Music in and of itself will always be valuable and people will always be willing to pay for it in some form, whether that's paying to see the band live, paying for the vinyl, licensing to brands and other commercial outlets, there's still value there. If this internt "fiasco" has proven anything, it's proven that people value music so much, they'll do whatever they have to do to get their hands on it. Demand is undoubtedly up. I love the stats on single sales historically, for one.

Music is always valuable. And hey, people still spend $4 on a bottle of water in the US of A even though running water is free.

Widi Asmoro

i certainly agree with this argument

Gerd Leonhard

Interesting debate --- will chime in tomorrow (Gerd Leonhard, co-author of The Future of Music) and... music like water meme dispenser see http://gerd.fm/musiclikewater :)))

Gavin Castleton

Thank you Jeremy, you spoke my mind exactly re: "You're just resisting change." I had free mp3s online in 1996, and stopped printing CDs entirely two releases ago. I have never resisted change, but that doesn't mean I should assume all change is inherently healthy.

Gavin Castleton

I think it's worth pointing that demand and value are not synonymous, though they often correlate. As for the "artists should just make their money through live touring" sentiment (which is increasingly common), here is a response I posted on my Facebook page:
"There is a common presumption that if more people listen to an artist (whether or not they paid for the music), then that artist will make more money from alternate revenue streams. Many people highlight touring as that primary alternate revenue stream. While that thesis completely disregards artists who don't or can't tour (due to age, health, family, finances, stage fright, handicap, lack of a vehicle, lack of a band, etc.), as well as the very definition of "revenue," it also doesn't really look too far ahead to a time when all those crappy bands you alluded to are also pursuing the same revenue stream (you can find data on increased touring in the US. Google it). Do you think concert tickets will rise or sink with that touring saturation? Do you think promoters will pay more for my band or less, given that bigger pool of crappy bands to choose from? Is it a logical assumption that while the experience of listening to recorded music has been devalued to zero, listening to live music will never lose its value? You do know there's streaming video on the internet, right? You do know that there are several services helping artists set up live streaming performances, right? It seems highly likely to me that the "live" experience of seeing an artist isn't far behind in the "everything you're good at should be free" game. The probable outcome of the business model that you and many other consumers are suggesting is that artists should keep wandering from alternate revenue stream to alternate revenue stream in hopes of landing on one that people "feel" like paying for. In fact, that's not so much a business model as a transition into becoming a charity organization. I think I've lost faith in the idea that there is some golden experience that artists will stumble on that the bulk of consumers will WANT to pay for. Personally, as a consumer, if you ask me would I prefer to pay for something or not, I'm gonna go ahead and say not. And any path that leads artists further away from getting paid for the work that they're really good at, i.e. the actual experience that their music delivers, is a non-starter for me, because it removes an incentive for them to improve their art and pushes them to improve something else in instead, be it marketing, t-shirt design, or promoting someone else's products. I'm not fond of any suggested solution that will distract artists from improving their music."

Clyde Smith

I like this process of extending the metaphor to see its full implications.

Reminds me of Metaphors We Live By. A very important book for understanding how we communicate and how we fail to communicate.

Katie

Really interesting debate. Thinking about what SpotiDJ said, maybe a solution, albeit unlikely, is a copyright reform that creates a statutory rate per stream granted to performers. Considering that the statutory mechanical rate was introduced in 1909 and phonographs were introduced in the end of the 1800s (correct me if my years or facts are wrong), I imagine a similar argument existed back then regarding songwriter's and the fact that the market was moving away from buying their sheet music. Perhaps we should consider a similar solution? I admit, I can't see this realistically happening anytime soon though.

Suzanne Lainson

A few years ago, at the start of the recession, I decided it was impossible to look at music as an isolated business. My focus has shifted to the world economy as a whole. There are several trends which are or will impact the arts as a whole.

(1) If people don't have enough money coming in, they don't have it to spend on artists and what they produce.

(2) The sustainability movement has encouraged many of us to consume less. So we don't want to buy as many objects which need to be stored. We could shift our attention to events, but touring uses energy, so from a sustainability standpoint, it makes more sense to go to events involving local artists playing locally. That's cool, but we do need to have multiple places for them to play.

(3) Tech tools are getting so available/cheap/easy-to-use that many people who in the past might not have done at lot of creative work can now do so. So we have an ever widening group of creative people. Most of them will never make a living at with their creative acts, but the creative process is good in and of itself.

I saw this today and it captures my concern. I'd like to think we'll be accomplishing more than this.

I'm Being Followed: How Google—and 104 Other Companies—Are Tracking Me on the Web - Alexis Madrigal - Technology - The Atlantic: "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," my old friend and early Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher once said. "That sucks," he added.

Gavin Castleton

Thank you so much for this contribution to the discussion... I agree that one must consider global economic trends. And the last quote their is particularly poignant for me because I now work for a social marketing software developer instead of working on new music most of the day. It is absolutely a waste of my talents (though admittedly I am 90% work ethic, 10% talent).

Spotidj

Music is always valuable. Good point Rick! All these complaints about the devaluation of music. It annoys me.

Since when do we measure the value of music in dollars?

Michael

I read recently that something like 70% of the revenue of Topspin is actually CDs!

mickhassy

True! You put very collective and amazing article about Music Like Water.Thanks dude

Uke Jackson

Who remembers mp3.com? That's when the payouts were made. We could make thousands a month -- some folks made 10s of thousands a month. Ten cents per play!
Those days won't ever come again. All mp3.com did was set the hook firmly in the fishes' mouths.
Now the only people making significant money are those who build and provide the internet platforms.
The rest of us are techno-serfs.

Gerd Leonhard

Hi Gavin, thanks for this post. Since I am the guy who came up with the Music Like Water meme, along with Dave Kusek, and egged on by David Bowie (ie no ownership is claimed:), I would say there are a few things that I don't understand in your piece, above. First, digital music is the way it is, and ACCESS is the new ownership, period (not just in music, but think cars, movies... etc, too), and nothing is going to bring back what it was before the Net. We have liquidity, we have ubiquity and that's that. It makes no sense to want to turn the clock back. There is serious $ potential in this model if we ALLOW it to eventually reach 5 Billion connected people - within the next 5 years. Look at Netflix, look at Farmville, look at the Kindle. Dont refuse, get on with it! Your whole piece smells a bit like "I wish we were still in control of everything" - kinda in line with what U2 Manager Paul McGuinness meant when he said that "personally, he regrets the demise of the major label-dominated record industry". We are NOT in control of what people do with our music, our books, our films - THEY are. We can NOT force them to pay, we can only ATTRACT them to pay. My 2 cents.

Audioswhite

There is no question that "digital" is here to stay and that "access" will not be rolled back. Legislation is not the answer(IMOP). I do think that it is required that we constantly scrutinize the state of our business - honestly - to find a way to sustain and grow it, like Gavin has done with this post.

My take is that the part of the Music Like Water metaphor/meme we need to work on is the free or basic access part.

So, it is not a question of going back to the way it used to be, it is a question of how we move(educate?)our consumers to engage in more than what is free or accessed for minimal charge. Touring may be an answer, but not a practical one for many in the business. And to jump up and down on the metaphor just a little more - I pay my water bill, (just like I have a Spotify and eMusic account) but I also find myself buying bottled water, flavored water with vitamins so on and so on.
Artists or their partnered producers/labels now need to access and tweak the filters, engage the audience and find the way to rise above the expanded pool of content to generate the revenue to fund the next project, pay the living wage or become the mega star - what ever the goal may be. On top of that - what is IT that your engaged audience will want to pay for - Vinyl, and app, a special single (like the fan club singles of old)?. Not an easy environment, but challenging, accessible and hopefully - rewarding.

Clyde Smith

I don't see it as an issue of turning back the clock.

Understanding the power of metaphors is key to how artists themselves look at what they do.

To some degree one can say this is the fallacy of looking at Music as TAP Water. Ubiquitous, cheap (1st world) and interchangeable.

As a couple of people have pointed out, to extend the metaphor further would include bottled water and even water that is extremely rare, like the Japanese craze for glacier water.

Music in digital form has become more and more like tap water.

Limited edition physical bundles, VIP settings for the superrich and superfans and other things that are scarce or give the impression of scarcity are more like bottled water. As are live performances.

There's a continuum from more expensive to truly scarce but the increasing practice of creating special offerings and add-ons to digital music, developing interesting merch, focusing on live performance and licensing are what's working and what should continue to work.

The problem is that the ubiquity and copyability (is that a word?) of digital music has opened the door to artists feeling devalued and fans devaluing music in that form.

So a lot of this is about music in digital form as opposed to music per se and the issue that everyone is already dealing with is how to shift focus to things that don't lose value in a world flooded by digital music.


Dubber

I'm sorry - it's still an idiotic metaphor. Not flawed or problematic - idiotic. Unhelpful.

It shuts down thinking about music in the digital age rather than opens it up. It presents an imagined "future of music" as more or less exactly the past of music, only distributed differently with a slightly different payment plan. It considers a world where the only value of music is as a commodity and says nothing about the culture of music, the diversity of experience and the potential for genuine innovation.

If all the internet can come up with for music is a different way to give the same people money, perpetuate what has long been an unsustainable deal for artists and incentivise the incumbents without addressing copyright reform in any meaningful way, then we might as well not have bothered.

It might be interesting to observe that subscription based music-on-demand services are enjoying some success by aggregating commercial content and providing it in different ways. But claiming that this is the what the 'future of music' entails (even overlooking the egregious misunderstanding of what the word 'future' actually means) wilfully ignores the rich complexity of a cultural form like music in a discursive media environment like the internet. And simply saying "it's like water now" - is absurdly reductive.

These days, whenever I encounter the phrase "music like water" - what I hear is "I'd like to stop thinking now".

Just because you can fit it on a bumper sticker, doesn't mean it's profound.

Account Deleted

The article is written as if Music Like Water is a choice, like a business model. It's not a choice. It's a reality that's being created by the digitization of 'physical content' and the increased interconnectedness of our world. Of course it's more complex than the analogy, just like the internet is more than a "discursive media environment".

It's a trend, not a choice. Choosing against it means creating a business based upon a fantasy model of reality... and business models always function better when they're well-grounded in actual reality.

Nelson

I highly recommend The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do by Eduardo Porter.

In it Eduardo give a number of great examples on the notion of Free and he is not associated with any service that might have a position to defend. Here is a great example, before cable TV was free and now look at what we pay for watching it.

Gavin Castleton

I thought I said pretty clearly in the post that I'm less concerned about the devaluation of music in a fiscal sense, and more worried about the devaluation of music in regards to listener attentiveness, comprehension effort, and longevity.
Strangely, I don't think you'd tell any other working person to stop worrying about their value in terms of dollars - that honor seems reserved for musicians and artists for some reason.

Gavin Castleton

I have read and enjoyed that book. If I remember correctly, cable TV began by rebroadcasting distant signals in mountainous and remote areas, and eventually, when local stations felt threatened, got sued for it. They were subscription based from the start (or at least within a year of first rebroadcasting). They didn't start creating their own content until the 50's. I don't think that scenario is quite analogous to what artists and musicians are dealing with.

Gavin Castleton

Spotify has made it quite clear that "Music Like Water" is their business objective. This is not primarily about the over-abundance of music (which I suppose you could call a "trend"), though I did mention it in #4. we're talking about the credo that Gerd's book promotes: "Music should be distributed and paid for like water - as a subscription-based utility that is available wherever and whenever you want it." We are most definitely talking about a business model, here, and we most definitely have a choice of whether or not to adopt it - both as consumers, and as artists and musicians. Choosing against it means innovating in a different direction, which is what my post is advocating. If you want to call that "fantasy-based," you're welcome to do that. I remember when Napster, Myspace, Youtube, and Spotify were all fantasy-based concepts.

Gavin Castleton

Thanks for responding, Gerd. I'm honored to have you in our discussion! I think what to you read as, "I want to turn back the clock" was meant to be, "I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater." And I think that's an important distinction. When you imply that the music industry can only move forward or backward, you discount what true innovation and industry evolution always is: a reassessment (and often rejection) of accepted beliefs (which is what Napster did, and what I'm calling for here), some forward movement, some backward movement, and a whole lot of laterals.
Your book is called "The Future of Music," you are a "futurist" by trade, and yet the theme of your response is, "This is the way it is in present day, so get over it, the discussion is over." That attitude seems inconsistent to me.
No part of my post disputed the onset of access over ownership. I have never, nor would I ever, suggest that we go back to a time when artists are selling physical CDs (only). As mentioned before, I stopped doing that two releases ago... and it means a whole lot less boxes in my garage, a whole lot less manufacturing fees, and a whole lot less shipping fees. I'm appalled at how long it's taken to get per-artist/label subscription services going smoothly, since there are so many of us interested in the idea. It's the notion of "Free access" that I was commenting on, both because of what it means for artists' income and the way listeners value music. More often as of late I've found myself streaming new bands' records once or twice, only to return to the records I grew up on - those I paid too much for and spent whole years playing over and over, until I loved every note. I'm not the only one (http://www.businessinsider.com/top-spotify-songs-2011-12). It concerns me that I don't invest emotionally in music like that anymore, and my post is an attempt to address that problem. My hope is that if we consumers learn to care more, it will result in more artists affording that extra Ramen pack. Or possibly, health insurance. And I don't believe that Music Like Water will help us learn to care more. It's that simple.

Gerd Leonhard

Hi Gavin, I understand your points, thanks for sharing

I guess the bottom line is we are just in an interim period where the likes of Spotify or even Youtube aren't making much $$ for artists yet. Just wait when streaming services have 1 Billion users (3 years), and Youtube make the same or more $ than Google does now ($3 Billion / month). Plenty of new cash coming - we just have to ALLOW it.

Andrew Dubber: your post is not very helpful. "Idiotic" is someone / something that ignore clear future trends on the basis of being more popular with others that do the same. Frankly.

Cheers Gerd

Nelson

As Clyde Smith mentioned the book Metaphors We Live By..well The Author George Lakoff in his newest book The Political Mind pulls back the covers on the break throughs in neuroscience and how those that know about such things pull off what they do. Particularly of interest is the concept of biconecptionsim and how using it via Frame of Water can lead to all kinds of wonderful neural mappings. Like taking a Commercial Event Frame and making it into a Natural Resource Frame.

Clyde Smith

Thanks! I'll check that out.

Jos Smolders

Listen to what Seth Godin had to say. http://youtu.be/JXmcxuckvsA

Jos Smolders

Gerd, you may be right about Andrew's 'idiotic' remark but he does have a point. From my (albeit limited) point of view, though, I see your line of thought more as addressing the music industry whereas Andrew addresses the creative community. So you are both on different platforms.

I agree that the bottom line of this article is a wish for the olden days and that those are definitely over. It's no use debating how wrong that is. People should face the current developments and extrapolate them from the past into the future. Which is what a futurist does, right? That's where I think your 'story' is helpful. Your metaphor of music like water was useful in 2004 to make something clear. Let's move on to a new metaphor. Ayndrew and you both have your own useful story to tell.

Mojo Bone

Yeah, and everybody knows the rainbow-colored unicorns have spotty aim.

Gavin Castleton

As I stated earlier in my response to Gerd's post:
I think what to you read as, "I want to turn back the clock" was meant to be, "I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater." And I think that's an important distinction. When you imply that the music industry can only move forward or backward, you discount what true innovation and industry evolution always is: a reassessment (and often rejection) of accepted beliefs (which is what Napster did, and what I'm calling for here), some forward movement, some backward movement, and a whole lot of laterals.
Your book is called "The Future of Music," you are a "futurist" by trade, and yet the theme of your response is, "This is the way it is in present day, so get over it, the discussion is over." That attitude seems inconsistent to me.
No part of my post disputed the onset of access over ownership. I have never, nor would I ever, suggest that we go back to a time when artists are selling physical CDs (only). As mentioned before, I stopped doing that two releases ago... and it means a whole lot less boxes in my garage, a whole lot less manufacturing fees, and a whole lot less shipping fees. I'm appalled at how long it's taken to get per-artist/label subscription services going smoothly (drip.fm, airborne, etc), since there are so many of us interested in the idea. It's the notion of "Free access" that I was commenting on, both because of what it means for artists' income and the way listeners value music. More often as of late I've found myself streaming new bands' records once or twice, only to return to the records I grew up on - those I paid too much for and spent whole years playing over and over, until I loved every note. I'm not the only one (http://www.businessinsider.com/top-spotify-songs-2011-12). It concerns me that I don't invest emotionally in music like that anymore, and my post is an attempt to address that problem. My hope is that if we consumers learn to care more, it will result in more artists affording that extra Ramen pack. Or possibly, health insurance. And I don't believe that Music Like Water will help us learn to care more. It's that simple.

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