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Fake Artists Worth Millions

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. - Marcel Duchamp

Pietro Psaier did well for an artist, selling over 5,000 paintings in the last 10 years and grossing well over a million pounds from auctions. He traveled the world and regularly hung out with famous artists like Andy Warhol and John Lennon.

However, Pietro Psaier probably never existed and attempts to verify his identity have been fruitless.

Does it even matter if he was real or not?

We buy emotion, not product details.

We care about Evel Knievel not because he jumped X number of feet, we care about him because he jumped over 19 cars. Same distance, but using something we could easiliy visualize (the cars) instead of hard details (distance), he was able to capture our imagination by triggering an emotinal response.
The better you craft the emotional context that people experience your music through, the better people will pecieve your music. 

So go ahead, crate fake persona or start a beef with another band.

Be an entertainer.


How to Sell Out Properly: Update

The Economist just put out an article describing the new function of A&R staff at major labels, and covers a few familiar ideas along with some new ones.

With less returns to album sales, labels want to reduce the risk of their investments:
One is by outsourcing the discovery and promotion of artists to television. Sony Music was quick to realise that singing competitions such as “American Idol” and scripted shows such as “Glee” were a uniquely powerful means of touting artists, especially in America where most radio is local. As The Economist went to press, Scotty McCreery, an “American Idol” winner, was perched atop Billboard’s album chart. Earlier this year Universal Music signed a deal with “The Voice”, a new competition show.
An even better way of reducing risk is to bet on acts and albums that have already hit the jackpot. Mr Joseph describes himself as “fairly obsessed” with what is known as catalogue A&R—repackaging old albums. Universal has done splendidly with new editions of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. Next month it will release anniversary editions of The Who’s “Quadrophenia” and U2’s “Achtung Baby”. The 30-, 40- and 50-somethings who buy such records have more money than teenagers, and are less likely to pirate music.
TV compeitions are playing the lottery and catalog A&R is recycling old major label material. Both of these methods are about major labels trying to sustain the old business model as long as they can.

"Getting signed" isn't as lucrative as is used to be, either. Average first-album advances are stagnant, with increasing demands on rights.
Those longed-for record contracts, when they finally appear, are seldom lavish. Robert Horsfall, an artist manager at Sound Advice, says the normal range for a first-album advance in Britain has been stuck at £75,000-150,000 ($119,000-237,000) for many years. And record companies increasingly demand a slice of live-music and merchandise revenues. Bidding wars for talent have become rare, partly because there are fewer record companies. There may be fewer still when EMI is sold, as is expected soon. Small wonder that a few artists, having reached the point where they could get a record deal, decide to go without.
Is there any doubt that a huge part of being a successful band is being a solid small business?


How Can I Improve A Student's Motivation to Learn?

Don't call them smart.

I'm serious.

Jonah Lehrer goes over some classic psychology research by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller showing how calling students "smart" can backfire.
Her most famous study, conducted in twelve different New York City schools along with Claudia Mueller, involved giving more than 400 fifth graders a relatively easy test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After the children finished the test, the researchers told the students their score, and provided them with a single line of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence. “You must be smart at this,” the researcher said. The other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”
The students were then allowed to choose between two different subsequent tests. The first choice was described as a more difficult set of puzzles, but the kids were told that they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other option was an easy test, similar to the test they’d just taken.
When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.
Dweck’s next set of experiments showed how this fear of failure can actually inhibit learning. She gave the same fifth graders yet another test. This test was designed to be extremely difficult — it was originally written for eighth graders — but Dweck wanted to see how the kids would respond to the challenge. The students who were initially praised for their effort worked hard at figuring out the puzzles. Kids praised for their smarts, on the other hand, were easily discouraged. Their inevitable mistakes were seen as a sign of failure: Perhaps they really weren’t so smart. After taking this difficult test, the two groups of students were then given the option of looking either at the exams of kids who did worse or those who did better. Students praised for their intelligence almost always chose to bolster their self-esteem by comparing themselves with students who had performed worse on the test. In contrast, kids praised for their hard work were more interested in the higher-scoring exams. They wanted to understand their mistakes, to learn from their errors, to figure out how to do better.
The final round of tests was the same difficulty level as the initial test. Nevertheless, students who were praised for their effort exhibited significant improvement, raising their average score by 30 percent. Because these kids were willing to challenge themselves, even if it meant failing at first, they ended up performing at a much higher level. This result was even more impressive when compared to students randomly assigned to the smart group, who saw their scores drop by nearly 20 percent. The experience of failure had been so discouraging for the “smart” kids that they actually regressed.
Totally counterintuitive, yet research since the original paper (1998) bears these findings out.

So when you're trying to motivate someone to perform better, praise and reward hard work (which can be changed) and not innate talent (which can't).


What Do We Do About Streaming?

There's been quite a raging controversy over Spotify over at Hypebot as musicians across the industry chime in with their opinion on the streaming service. 

Zoe Keating, Cellist and brilliant DIY musician, talks about how independant artists are treated unfairly.

         That’s it. That’s my complaint: fairness.
If Spotify would level the playing field and make the distribution equal to all artists. I would lay off (since I am sure that my constant complaints are a total priority for them!). Now, if Spotify was to make those royalties algorithm-based, they’d have my full nerd support. For example if, thanks to their 'related' algorithm,  people listen to small-artist X after listening to large-artist Y, then I could see that a particular play, not all of them, of artist Y could be ‘heavier’. However, if people end up at artist Y by searching for them directly, the play-weight should reflect that. Data, do it with data!
But just to pay tracks from major labels more because they are major labels, that is so OLD. Where is the revolution in that?
Four indie labels have already withdrawn from the service. Sam Rosenthal of Projekt, the most recent label to pull out, issued a public statement explaining the label's decision bluntly:
For a stream on Spotfy.... NOW READ THIS CLOSELY..... on average $0.0013 is paid to Projekt's Digital Distributor. 5000 plays generates around $6.50. In comparison, 5000 track downloads at iTunes generates $3487. To be clear: I am not suggesting that every stream would have been a sale at iTunes. Believe me, I understand the reality of the music business. I am providing that as a comparison for you. Let's look at this another way: To earn the U.S. monthly minimum wage - $1160 - 892,307 plays a month are needed at Spotify. This is not a viable number for artists.  
Spotify responded to Projeckt by changing the subject:
Spotify does not sell streams, but access to music. Users pay for this access either via a subscription fee or with their ear time via the ad-supported service [just like commercial radio] - they do not pay per stream. In other words, Spotify is not a unit based business and it does not make sense to look at revenues from Spotify from a per stream or other music unit-based point of view. Instead, one must look at the overall revenues that Spotify is generating, and how these revenues grow over time.

Spotify is generating serious revenues for rights holders, labels, publishers and the artists that they represent.  We have paid over $100m to rights holders since our launch, and the overwhelming majority of our label partners are thrilled with the revenues we're returning to them. Spotify is now the second single largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe, according to IFPI.
But is this current royalty structure sustainable? According to Spotify's filings in the UK, it lost $42 million on licensing fees in 2010 alone despite a five-fold increase in revenues from the previous year. 

What does all of this mean to an independant artist? Is streaming worth the loss in income so more fans can listen to your music? Can you ever break even on streaming? Is it better to just ignore the whole deal?

Here's how I see things playing out:

1) Streaming services are similar to radio in that both benefit major labels with more money and muscle than independant bands. 

When it comes down to corporation-level negotiations, a DIY artist will always be at a disadvantage. Self-sufficent bands don't have legal departments, lobbyists, consultants, piles of cash, or a fanbase ranging into the millions that can be used in negotiations. If Spotify can't sign a DIY singer-songerwriter it's no big deal, but if Spotify doesn't have access to the entire Universal Music catalog, the streaming service will be severely crippled. The streaming service has to make that deal.

As such, these large entities leverage their influence and power to ensure that they maximize their benefit from negotiations. Organizations not at the table miss out.

It sucks, but I don't see a solution to this problem without either a PRO stepping into negotiations or a coalition of DIY artists forming their own right's group.

2) There's no turning back, the cloud is here to stay.

For better or worse, streaming services figured out how to monetize piracy. Judging by the success of Rdio and Spotify, businesses have made their services more appealing than piracy. Unless there is a game-changing method of piracy to replace BitTorrent, the ease of use of the cloud will continue to draw in customers. (Piracy in Sweden is down 25% since the Spotify's introduction.)

Businesses won't give up this revenue stream without a fight.

3) Streaming is marginally better for indie musicians than radio.
Radio was a passive music experience, with a song selection heavily influenced by who had the most cash for promotion.

Streaming/cloud services/piracy enable an active music experience by allowing curious fans to give new bands a try. It won't pay much, if anything, but it does benefit smaller and niche bands that wouldn't get much airplay on traditional radio.

A minor win.

4) Streaming an album is a moral dilemma.
As a fan, it was absolutely awesome to hear the new Mastodon the day it came out for free on Spotify. Now I've got no qualms about throwing dollars at Mastodon, I've bought every studio album because they're that gravy. But. having spun the album a few times, there wasn't any reason for me to buy the actual album anymore.

This is a mammoth moral dilemma.

Instead of Mastodon seeing my entire $10 for a digital download (minus iTunes' cut), the money is instead spent on a subscription to an intermediate who only offers the band a fraction of the $10. The middleman (streaming) scoops most of the profit off of album before it ever hits the band.


How do we cope with this?

5) Delaying and limiting releases to streaming is an effective compromise.

By delaying release of new material to streaming services, we ensure that super-fans who are willing to pay for a "brand-new" album actually pay for the album, while not excluding casual listeners who may convert to a sale later down the line. This is the same method of price discrimination that movie companies use; movies don't come out on DVD/Netflix until months after they've left the theaters. This ensures that movie-buffs willing to pay a price premium to see a movie in theaters actually pay.

For the same reason, any b-sides, rarities or limited-edition material shouldn't be released to streaming services as this would discourage willing fans from paying at the cost of providing the material to casual fans, who really won't care about "extra" material.

What are your thoughts on streaming?


Do We Really Need 10,000 Hours to Achieve Mastery?

(Warning, long post)

By now you've probably heard about the 10,000 hours theory popularized by Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers. According to Anders Ericsson's work on expertise, to attain mastery in something (such as playing bass) you'd need the equivalent of 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. (Three hours a day for ten years) This message, like many disseminated by Gladwell, has reached audiences far and wide. The Freakonomics team of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt even uses this theory to propose an explanation for why so many all-star soccer players are born in the first few months of the year (age cutoffs).

But Ross Tucker and Johnathan Dugas of Sports Scientists took at a different look at Ericsson's data in the context of athletic performance.
"Let me start out by saying that culture, training, diet, opportunity are all crucial to producing sporting champions or elite performances.  But the problem with the debate as it stands is the relative dismissal of physiological factors like genes, and also the extremely oversimplified view that "it's all about the training", or that science suggests genes don't matter.  My purpose with these posts is thus not to dismiss the role of training, culture or belief, but rather to balance out the argument with the facts.

And in so doing, to give an indication of just how complex it really is - the only certainty is that whoever says that success is due to one or two things is wrong."
Tucker and Dugas point out a huge omission in Anders Ericsson's work; the 10,000 hours theory talks only about averages without regard of variance. Even though the average practice time needed is 10,000 hours, it's possible to get that average by having one person practice 17,000 hours and another practice only 3,000 hours. That's a few practice years worth of difference.

Concerning a study of high-performing darts players by Duffy and Ericsson, Tucker and Dugas note that practice alone doesn't tell the whole story:
What is most interesting about this is that 10 years of practice explained 25% of variability, while 15 years explains 28%.  So clearly, the more you practice, the more you can explain performance.  That's not surprising, but the question is this:  How many hours of practice would it take to explain "most" of performance as a result of practice?  Look at the quote in the figure above, where Ericsson writes that "the development of expert performance will be primarily constrained by individuals' engagement in deliberate practice" (Ericsson, 2009).  Well, 28% is not "primarily constrained" and even though more practice explains more of performance, there is clearly a lot missing from this practice argument.
Tucker and Dugas propose a different theory that is equally valid using Ericsson's data:
Ericsson concludes that these children just accumulate more training time and that this explains performance.  The difference between the "best experts" and the "least accomplished players" is the training time.

But what if it is exactly the other way around?  Let's take two children at nine years old.  Do they have the same ability to play on first exposure?  Ericsson's model says yes, and that the difference comes later, when one child practices more, gets better teaching.  But what if the difference is present from the very first note, the first exposure to the activity?  The parents of a child who shows some ability encourage further practice, they invest in teaching and training, and this child, by virtue of the fact that he/she has more ability to begin with, accumulates more practice.  

But the child who has little innate ability makes the violin sound like the death march of stray cats, and their parents do not encourage more play.  In fact, they discourage it - the "go play outside" syndrome takes over, and the child is never exposed to teaching or practice.  His trajectory is set precisely because he has less innate ability.
Same data with a wildly different conclusion. For anyone who has taught before, it's very obvious that some students have more innate talent and drive than others.

Clearly, practice will always be important to success. You can't pick up a Squier at a garage sale and become Frank Zappa over the weekend. That'd be crazy (awesome). But denying that people have differing levels of innate talent is as silly as denying that tall people exist.

In fact, I even saw a tall person last week!


What Happens When Someone Jacks Your Swag?

Musicians aren't the only ones who have to deal with piracy, this'll make your head explode with righteous fury.

Two websites were ripping artists' work off of their DeviantArt websites and reselling them on canvas for hundreds of dollars a painting, giving no money back to the artists. The offending website even bragged about how much it was "helping artists.'

The same thing happened recently to a group of graphic designers as well. (My favorite part is where they point out the scammers trying to re-sell the Time Warner Cable logo. Wow.)

This is heinous. 
What can we do?

A) Was DRM right? Is the only way forward to continuously develop new ways to manage access to our art?
Not quite.

Treating your fans as criminals by default might discourage the occasional theft but it comes at the cost of punishing people who legitimately purchased your music. Even control-loving Apple had to relent on pushing DRM through iTunes when the customer outcry grew too strong.

There will always be pirates and there will always be paying customers.

Guilty until proven innocent? Or innocent until proven guilty? (aka Type 1 or Type II errors)

Who will you favor?
B) Patrol the web ourselves looking for signs of our work being stolen? Maybe hire interns? Lawyers?

The probability of this time/money investment paying off is slim. The internet, like the universe, is infinite. You could search 24 hours a day and still miss infringements. Launching satellites into the unknown is for NASA. You're a musician, you should be creating music!

As I said previously, people can steal your songs but they can't steal your brain. Longevity as a musician comes from consistently producing great work.

That being said, however, TinEye is an awesome reverse image search that is a great tool for finding people using your images. An occasional check on TinEye would be a good idea to check and see where your visual arts are being used.
C) Give up?


D) Copyright your work?

If you're worried about someone stealing your work, copyright it. This won't really stop a pirate, but it gives you recourse should you discover someone stealing your work.

Under US law you automatically own the copyright to any work of art/music you produce as soon as it is recorded in a tangible form, like a recording or sheet music. However, actual time of creation is difficult to establish in court as it essentially would come down to both parties saying they created the work first.

Thankfully, around $35 you can get a Performance Right (PR) and Sound Recording (SR) copyright to your music through the US Copyright Office. Any question of ownership is solved and should you need to take the claim to court you'll stand a good chance of winning sweet cash money from whomever is stealing your goodies. (note: I'm not a lawyer, but this is my understanding of the basics)

Copyrighting songs isn't perfect by any means, but it's cheap, effective, and simple enough to be well worth the effort.


Back to the top story, the group of aggrieved artists is filing a class-action lawsuit against the website. With the help of copyright and strength in numbers, these artists will probably prevail. At the time of writing, the offending websites were down.

Right on.

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