Sticks and Picks

Beats Music Gives Streaming Music Value


Since it was first mentioned, Beats Music has been promoted as the be-all-end-all of music curation. Using industry favorite buzzwords like “intelligent curation,” “personalization,” and “playlists,” the service is making it look like its January 21st launch will be a big deal. Although several other streaming music services exist in the industry, it’s Beats Music’s paid-only format that could finally create some much needed value for streaming music.

For streaming music services, the struggle lies in making advanced features for hardcore music fans, while marketing a free service geared toward the everyman. The problem with this format is that appealing too strongly to one side risks upsetting the other, and a delicate balance can stall advancement in either direction. Eliminating the all inclusive nature of free, easy access then, allows for the focus to be directed more intently towards something like curation an discovery. 

Offering only a quick free trial, Beats Music will be exclusively premium. This move alone is a clear indication that the service isn’t meant for just the average lean back radio listener, and let’s subscribers know that the features offered are to be taken seriously. While other services offer music discovery as a secondary (and sometimes laughable) feature, promoting curation as a paid product is something that gives the program value. In doing this, Beats Music separates itself from other services, instead of fighting for a place alongside Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes Radio.

Beats Music is not something that users can use the bulk of for free, and then pay for just a few added features. Instead, it’s going to be an all-or-nothing service that people won’t just use as an afterthought. It’s all too easy to take the availability of free, unlimited music for granted, especially when the listener isn’t actively engaged in the process. Beats’ establishing a reason to pay a monthly fee could be what it takes to show the full potential of streaming music, and show if listening to new music is something people are actually interested in.

Target Targets Digital Music


A few days ago, Beyonce released a new self-titled album as a surprise on iTunes. The album shot to the top of the charts, and has made an impact in the way that albums are traditionally released. In spite of this, Target has refused to sell the CD in stores, while issuing the following statement:

"At Target we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs, and when a new album is available digitally before it is available physically, it impacts demand and sales projections.”

So rather than physically carrying a CD for people to purchase, Target has decided to boycott the stocking of Beyonce and give up any revenue that may have been generated from its sales.

With this mentality, it’s not about impacted “projections.” It’s about being unable to cope with the fact that the retailer wasn’t needed to help sell the album, something that has become more noticeable over the past few years.

So keep on throwing a tantrum, Target, while saying it’s strictly about “sales projections.” With an attitude like this, you will no doubt be left behind, and the companies that choose to evolve with the times will be better for it. 

Rolling Stone: Fighting for Relevancy

Not too long ago, Rolling Stone decided to invest money in a visual takedown of EDM. Funny, since Deadmau5 and Daft Punk have been  on the cover of the magazine pretty recently, and how many chart toppers and article topics are the very acts that they promote one day, and call out the next. Now I could go on and on about how much I detest the article topics, visual layout, editorial integrity, review system, writing style, and really the overall philosophy of Rolling Stone, but it would just sound like a rant. So here’s the nicest way I can think of putting it: popular music influencers have overextended their reach on today’s listeners, and are destroying the musicians they claim to support. This latest outburst just solidifies their place in the music industry as a media outlet fighting for relevancy with immature shock value.

For as long as I’ve watched the MTV Music Awards, I can remember bands and artists accepting awards with a subtle jab at the very company they are receiving the award from (Dave Grohl and Billie Joe Armstrong being among the most outspoken and fun to watch). There has always been a disconnect between bands that wholeheartedly make music and the media, who spend the bulk of their time promoting the cookie-cutter artists that the bands beat out, but the recent VMAs and EMAs brought that to an entirely new level. Major music media decided to capsize their already damaged ship with Miley Cyrus behind the helm. Watching parts of the live performances, it was the first time I’ve seen audiences visibly disgusted. 

By continuously covering performances like these, it’s as if publications care more about the reactions from the public than the event itself. Every bit of coverage on the subject is cry for attention, and events that actually matter get casually tossed by the wayside. The result of this sensationalism is that viewers and readers turn to alternate sources which focus on the artists and their music, not their wardrobe or significant others. 

This kind of behavior is nothing new. Fans bypassing the major media to find music stories has been happening since the dawn of Myspace, where artists could suddenly connect with fans without having to go through a middle man. Given that the social media world has exploded since Myspace, it’s no surprise that this behavior amongst fans has escalated. If you want a look inside an artist’s personal life, just look at their Twitter or Instagram. Interviews and live footage can be found on Youtube, and direct-to-fan contact has moved largely to Facebook. 

Now that quality music content can be found elsewhere, large format music media has had to focus on other ways to grab peoples attention. As a result, it’s not just about music anymore. There’s nothing inherently bad about adapting to a changing ecosystem, but at some point, you’ve got to realize that a new species has emerged, which does not share the same defining characteristics as it’s predecessor. Nowhere is this more evident than with MTV, whose very title glorifies an extinct founding principle.

In clinging on to old marketing models, many music publications feel the need to throw in just enough coverage on music to remind readers of a time when that was all the magazine focused on. However, because of all of the other non-music related content needed to fill up the pages, the room that is left goes to stories that won’t be found elsewhere. The stories that subscribers are left with then, are not the kind of personal content that modern music fans can obtain from social media, but instead gossip riddled coverage on pop star excesses and market trends. 

It’s this kind of shallow coverage that’s doing the credibility of publications like Rolling Stone in. When they go on for years about EDM being the future of music and how much the industry can learn from the genre, it’s something that readers will remember when the stance is later reversed. It’s time for media influencers like this to evolve, and either strive to cover relevant music information or fully commit to becoming a specialized tabloid.


The Hybrid Theory of Music

In his article The Demise of the Electric Guitar in Music, Bobby Owsinski states that the guitar is having less influence on music in general. While this is certainly true in recent popular music, I thought about this in a rock context, and how the whole electronic music craze has influenced my musical preferences.

When I first heard Clocks by Coldplay, my whole concept of what I had assumed “rock” was, was changed. Although there’s guitar in the song, the lead piano melody and backing synthesizers added a whole new dimension to the guitar-bass-drums archetype to create something that sounded much bigger. While the instrumentation itself is nothing that hadn’t been done prior to the song’s 2002 release, it introduced me to a whole new aspect of music that I’ve been listening to ever since. Similarly, I find electronic music production very interesting, partly due to how different the creative process is from acoustic based songwriting.

With the recent rise in electronically driven songs, I’ve been having an easier time finding artists who have introduced electronic elements into their music. All of my favorite bands use some combination of acoustic and electronic instrumentation production, and embrace new technologies as they arise. In doing so, it may become necessary for the guitar to either take a step back as the lead instrument, or change it’s tonal characteristics. While the guitar has traditionally been the driving force behind a song’s overall melodic makeup, there are endless ways to incorporate electronic instruments and production techniques into modern music.

I’m a firm believer in evolution, especially when it comes to combining multiple traits into something new. That being said, I think it’s important to realize that while the guitar may not be as prevalent in today’s music, it hasn’t been killed off completely- it’s just in a state of movement. This movement could be considered a punctuated equilibrium, a key concept of evolution referring to the short, rapid period of substantial growth that follows after a lengthy state of unchanging existence. Much like the sudden rise of the electric guitar after decades of acoustic guitar exclusivity, the recent EDM movement could be the next logical step towards a hybridization of music. 

Today, I find it fitting and amusing that my musical taste and philosophy has come full circle since the purchase of my first favorite record, by Linkin Park. The album title perfectly sums up my views on music: Hybrid Theory.

Are Albums Dying, or Being Killed?

While reading an article about the death of the album, I began to think about the whole idea of an album. Since iTunes allowed for the purchase of single songs, a hit single mentality has quickly arisen, where artists choose to put out a collection of songs with the main focus being on those singles that will be promoted heavily. As a result, the album has become a ghost of its former self, no longer meaning a group of songs united by a similar idea, but rather a collection of songs created in a short period of time.

In keeping with recent bandwagon behavior, “analysts blame Spotify.” While on demand listening certainly allows for individual selection of material, how is it any different than a listener repeatedly selecting a single song on their iPod? Sure, statistics on Spotify show which songs are currently the most popular, but is it the program’s fault that other tracks on an album are being neglected? The blame instead rests on the artists themselves. 

Over the past few years, chart topping artists have taken the focus away from the album in several different ways. By constantly releasing singles at any given time, it gives off the impression that popular songs needn’t be accompanied by other tracks. When an album’s primary promotion tactic is that it contains the hit single, it makes the album as a whole seem unimportant. What then creates the incentive for a listener to purchase the whole album, and not just the title track?

Conversely, when an artist releases an album under a unifying idea, it is often labeled as a concept album. This further creates a divide between current releases, as it makes it look like albums made with a purpose are outside the realm of normalcy, and not something altogether common in today’s market. Now all of a sudden, consumers are conditioned to think that “normal” albums are just a random collection of songs, not put together in any order or for any particular reason.

Today’s music consumers have little reason to venture beyond the hit single. Instead, it’s treated as a self sustaining track that doesn’t benefit by being listened to in context with the rest of the album. As far as on demand streaming music contributing to the “death of the album,” I don’t buy it. I can listen to an album at any given time on Spotify; it’s up to the artist to make me want to explore it, and later purchase it. Today’s listeners spend a great deal of time and effort trying out music, finding what’s right, and then following an artist. Isn’t it about time top artists started putting the same effort back into the album?