Nashville is the Silicon Valley of the music industry – a concentrated cluster of musical talent, venues, studios and all the inputs required to make music. So it’s no surprise the city take the music business seriously. In May 2009, the mayor launched a Music Business Council (h/t: Ian Swain -my MPI colleague, music project collaborator and DJ). To signal the initiative’s importance, he sits on the council whose members not only include label execs and entertainment lawyers, but also musicians like Emmylou Harris and Jack White. The Council’s goals extend all the way from supporting and expanding the presence of music festivals in Nashville to aiming to develop the best music education program of any public school system in the world.
Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Nearly 40 years ago, the geographer Jean Gottmann documented the rise of the great megalopolis of Bos-Wash – the Boston-New York-Washington corridor – as a massive new kind of geographic form. My own research (PDF) has used satellite imagery to plot the rise of mega-regions – integrated systems of cities and their suburbs – across the globe. The world’s 40 largest mega-regions produce two-thirds of all economic output and nine in 10 of the world’s innovations. With their massive scale and market size, mega-regions are becoming a key economic and social organizing unit of our time.
But mega-regions are not only important to markets, economics, and technology, now it appears they are important to music as well. Case in point, the indie-rock band The Walkmen whose newest single was recently released. Half the band live in New York, half live in Philadelphia. They maintain recording space in both places, and recorded their upcoming album from BOTH studios. Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser described the logistics of their arrangement to Pitchfork in February: (more…)
It’s pretty well-known that our economy – and society – is transforming from one where wealth and prosperity came from industrial products and material goods to a system where new ideas, human creativity, and experiences play a greater and greater role. As societies become more educated and basic needs are fulfilled, the attention of their populations shift to favor experiences and self-actualization over physical goods and even luxury items – what sociologist Ronald Inglehart calls the rise of “post-materialist” values.
But my sense is that perhaps the best place to observe this transition is in the rapid evolution of the music industry. Music is a highly competitive business – one I like to think of as an innovative market in miniature. Musical entrepreneurs compete not only on the basis of musical talent and their ability to create new sounds and arrangements, but also on fashion, design, business acumen, and even spectacle. Music was one of the first industries to experience the brutal effects of the digital transition, and it’s clear that the ability to make money has shifted – even for the most established acts – from selling albums, CDs, and even digital downloads to live performance and, well, designing experiences. (more…)
My paper with MPI colleagues Charlotta Mellander and Kevin Stolarick is out in the new issue of Environment and Planning A. Its full title is “Music scenes to music clusters: the economic geography of music in the U.S., 1970 – 2000.” Here’s the abstract.
Where do musicians locate, and why do creative industries such as music continue to cluster? This paper analyzes the economic geography of musicians and the recording industry in the U.S. from 1970 to 2000, to shed light on the locational dynamics of music and creative industries more broadly. We examine the role of scale and scope economies in shaping the clustering and concentration of musicians and music industry firms.
Fascinating interview with Mariah in The Times of London on selling-out, music business models, creativity, and more (h/t Dan Silver). Money quote:
“I don’t care if the rock-band person thinks, ‘Oh, I’m a sellout’. Well, guess what? They’re a sellout anyway for going to a record company. I’m sorry — you are. You want to just play in bands in bars? Then do that. Or play on the streets. And if someone throws you some dollars, then you can go get a soda. But you could also help somehow merge the soda business with the music business in a way that is creative.”
Digital technology from myspace.com to a recording studio on your laptop means that music can literally be made and distributed anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. But it is also clear that a great deal of music continues to come out of particular cities and their music scenes.
The graph below, from a new study from my colleagues at the Martin Prosperity Institute ranks the major music locations in the U.S. and Canada. Even before I moved to Toronto I was aware of the musical talent that comes out of Canada: from classic rockers like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to Rush’s brand of rock and pop stars like Nelly Furtado or indie darlings New Pornographers, Arcade Fire, and Feist. So our team at the Institute decided to see what the numbers might tell us about differences between the Canada and U.S. music industries.
The rankings are based on location quotients which gauge the relative concentration of music industry establishments, including record labels, distributors, recording studios, and music publishers.
Interestingly enough, half the top 15 cities are Canadian. Still, the United States is home to the two top-ranked cities – Nashville which is literally off-the-chart on this measure and Los Angeles, the center for global entertainment. Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal all out-rank New York on this score. Atlanta makes the top 15 as do college towns like Austin and Madison, Wisconsin. U.S. establishments are considerably bigger than their Canadian counterparts, with average receipts of $4.1 million per establishment, nearly eight times the Canadian average of $540,000. But, Canada in fact has about five times the level of music establishments after controlling for population, 5.9 music establishments per $100,000 compared to 1.2 for the U.S.
The full report is here.
Andy Warhol’s famous 1968 quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” has not yet come true, but the spirit of it is manifested in the world of cyberspace. At least everyone has the opportunity and the platform to become world-famous.
The United Breaks Guitars phenomenon is well-documented. The main story is that a clever video with outstanding production value even though it was created on a shoestring describes how a checked guitar belonging to Dave Carroll was broken by baggage handlers. The video has been viewed almost six million times and the Sons of Maxwell have been elevated from a talented but relatively unknown band into a much bigger deal. The song itself reached #1 on the Country and Western charts in the U.K., iTunes sales skyrocketed and, yes, the guitar situation was finally resolved.
But, you probably already knew about the Taylor Guitar if you spend a lot of time online. The oeuvre of jrdmovimkr, an artist that makes fantastic stop-motion videos may have slipped your attention. His medium? Lego. Have a look at his work in this video – a shot-by-shot tribute to “White and Nerdy” by Weird Al Yankovic. jrdmovimkr’s work has been viewed more than 3.4 million times.
Success on YouTube for witty self-created videos isn’t political or dependent on how rich, connected, or good-looking the author is – it is a complete meritocracy. If your work is clever and entertaining, it will gain acclaim and you will be famous, at least in the online world, and probably for more than 15 minutes.
You can ask the creators of the Potter Puppet Pals. Their most popular video has been viewed more than 70 million times. Seventy million people, by the way, would be enough to be the 15th most-populous country in the world.
What does the music you listen to say about your personality, and what determines the kinds of music we like? Watch this video by path-breaking Cambridge University psychologist Jason Rentfrow and find out.
In the wake of Michael Jackson’s death, there’s been no shortage of predictions about how his passing represents the end of the “age of celebrity.” The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henniger writes:
The Age of Celebrity died with Michael Jackson’s heart. Those of us dedicated to the zoology of celebrity should have known it was over when the death of next-to-nobody Anna Nicole Smith filled the airwaves in 2007 for a week. Celebrity had lost its meaning. We will bury its golden age in Jacko’s tomb.
Marketing runs the world now. Because of marketing the world is overflowing with people who are famous, or anyway familiar. These people aren’t celebrities. Not real celebrities.
Henniger ties Jackson’s celebrity to a major technological shift – the rise of cable television and MTV:
Michael is the last celebrity because he rose to fame in the 1980s, and in the 1980s there was no World Wide Web. We didn’t have 1,000 cable TV stations. But we did have MTV. MTV broadcast Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” video in 1983. Music videos helped make him a megastar, but Michael Jackson was the last one across the bridge from the world of celebrity to the media galaxy of bargain-basement fame.
And he argues the shift to digital technology works against the rise of another mega-celebrity:
It has taken some time to see how modern media squashed the life out of genuine celebrity. Web sites, TV and magazines shot Michael Jackson and his white glove into the sky like a Roman candle. But in the nature of fireworks, modern media then fired thousands of other people into the same sky – singers, actors, athletes, talk-show hosts, psychologists, comedians, models – and turned them all into . . . familiar faces…
A real celebrity is beyond reach. Today, to hang out with famous people all one needs is the ability to mouse-click. Constant clicking rubs the shine off anyone’s glamour. Beautiful people have become a dime a dozen.
Not so fast.
There’s good reason to suspect that, sooner or later, new technology will spawn an even bigger mega-star with even more global reach. That’s been the pattern in the past actually and there’s little reason to think it will end now.
My colleagues and I have been studying the implications of technological change and musical celebrity as part of the MPI’s Music and the Entertainment Economy project. Our work is still ongoing, but our reading of previous studies of music, popular culture, and technology, and our early findings, identify a powerful pattern.
With every new technology – from the rise of film, recorded music, talking pictures, transistor radios, FM radio, cable TV, and now the digital revolution – experts have predicted the death of celebrity. But each advance has generated celebrities bigger than the past. New technologies, as the work of German economist Peter Tschmuck has shown, open up new distribution channels and new markets that give birth to ever bigger stars.
The first big star was Rudy Vallée, whose soft singing voice was amplified by the invention of the electric microphone. He inspired other crooners like Bing Crosby, whose 500 million records sold make him one of the top five selling artists of all time. Next came Frank Sinatra – a true mega-star whose scores of bobby-soxer followers helped solidify the notion of teen pop culture and who was one of the first to capitalize on tie-ins between radio, albums, and feature films. Then came Elvis Presley, the King who took teen culture to a whole new level – his hip-swiveling appearances on Ed Sullivan making national news – and sold more than a billion records over his career.
Noted rock critic David Marsh has said that Elvis ushered in the first major shift in modern popular music culture. The second shift came with the Beatles (who also sold a billion+ records) and the British Invasion, which augured the shift to album-oriented rock featured on FM radio. Michael Jackson defined the third major revolution in popular music, selling some 750 million records and, according to Marsh, giving rise to the heavily produced pop form which is with us to this day. MJ can count everyone from Madonna and Justin Timberlake to Beyoncé, Britney, and Lady Gaga among his disciples.
But it’s a mistake to see MJ as the end of the line for celebrity.
The big mistake of most chroniclers of popular culture is that they see only one side of digital technology. It is true that new technology enables niche acts to reach larger markets, giving rise to the Long Tail phenomenon identified by Chris Anderson. But the long tail is only part of the story of the transformation wrought by high-speed digital networks. Anderson’s theory is based on a family of statistical distribution curves called the “power law” that are characterized by thick heads and long, trailing tails. All kinds of social and economic phenomena from the distribution of baby names to the distribution of city populations have been found to conform to these basic curves. Now, Harvard’s Anita Elberse and PRS’s Will Page are finding that, in the digital age, even though the tail is long but thin, the head remains “fat.” In fact, if you take power laws seriously, the head of the tail should grow in proportion to the length of the tail – getting fatter as the tail gets longer.
The digital revolution – from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube – creates a powerful platform for instantaneous global reach that goes beyond what radio, TV, and even cable TV can offer.
My hunch is that sooner or later we will see a new mega-star on a truly global scale. Not arising in one country like Elvis from the U.S., or the Beatles coming from the U.K. to “invade” America, or Jackson, an American conquering the world. This will be a celebrity who emerges simultaneously on a global scale – a person less tied to one country of origin who will be seen from the outset as a world mega-star.
Henniger curiously mentions Barack Obama (as well as Mark Sanford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mike Huckabee) as a new kind of celebrity, saying attention has shifted from pop culture to the sordid, hyper-real, sometimes surreal world of politics. Politics lacks the visceral excitement and appeal to launch a mass superstar, but Obama himself provides some contours of a world star. He is a global person – the product of a Kenyan father and white American mother, born in Honolulu, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, schooled at Columbia and Harvard (among the most global of universities), and a Chicagoan before taking up residence in the White House.
Glimmers of the new age of global celebrity are peeking through. “Jai Ho,” the theme song for the mega-hit Slumdog Millionaire, features lyrics in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Spanish and has been covered by Americans the Pussycat Dolls and Snoop Dogg. Its composer is A.R. Rahman, a star film composer who has already sold over 200 million records in a career that began only in 1992.
My students tell me that the mixed-race (black/Chinese/Jewish) reggae artist Sean Paul is almost as popular in India as he is in his native Jamaica. And Grammy and Academy Award-nominated rapper M.I.A.’s persona is equally rooted in London and Sri Lanka. TIME magazine ranks her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people and sums up her global appeal:
She’s a Sri Lankan refugee who didn’t speak a word of English before she was 10, yet she’s also a child of Chuck D and the Pixies and Fight Club and MySpace. There are no borders for her. . . You don’t have to be from the West to have a favorite Biggie song. We are all listening to the same music.
These artists hint at the global reach of the new generation, but they’re they’re just inklings of the much bigger possibility to come.
Maybe celebrity and the power law that defines its mega-stars will end forever with Jackson’s passing. But I doubt it. In each previous epoch, the rise of a new technology has led to a celebrity even bigger than the last. Digital networks and social media are platforms with such enormous potential and global reach that they are tailor-made for the Next Big Thing.
Nashville may be the center of the recorded music industry and, while it has attracted scads of musicians over the past several decades, it remains a narrower kind of music scene compared with say Brooklyn, according to analysis by my U of T colleague Dan Silver. In an earlier post, I explored Jack White’s move from Detroit to the Music City. Silver picks up on the Punch Brothers‘ Nashville-to-Brooklyn relocation, making an important distinction between music industry dynamics and music scenes.
This is not about comparing New York and Nashville in particular. My point is more general: we need to think not only about music industries, but also about music scenes as a factor in attracting musicians to cities and sustaining their creativity once they’re in place.
Punch Brothers leader Chris Thile was a bluegrass prodigy in the “progressive bluegrass” trio Nickel Creek. Based in Nashville, the platinum-selling group was famous for mixing bluegrass with diverse genres and covering songs by non-bluegrass artists like Pavement, Elliott Smith, and the Jackson 5. But after Nickel Creek came to an end in 2007, his new act Punch Brothers chose to make its home in Brooklyn.
While Nashville is full of industry opportunities and plays host to a dynamic live scene, it tends to value expertly played country and pop-rock sounds over more unconventional musical risk-taking. In NYC, Thile feels at home incorporating prog rock, chamber music, and klezmer into the Punch Brothers’ more adventurous sound.
Silver, who plays a key role in our MPI Music and Entertainment Economy Project, explains why Nashville, despite its widespread opportunities, is not always the best home for musical omnivores like Thile:
There is likely a symbiotic relationship between recording industry infrastructure and music scenes, as scene members work session gigs by day and clubs by night. And yet, on the other hand, there may be a negative influence whereby heavy industry concentration creates an over-professionalized environment that is not open to some kinds of musical innovation. The grunge sound of ’90s Seattle and Olympia grew up where there were few recording studios, and the scene made a virtue out of the unprofessional sound that emerged.