Music streaming to be incorporated into Top 40?

Doane's Falls
Creative Commons License photo: Pear Biter

The BBC report that music bosses are considering incorporating music streaming into the Top 40. That would mean listening statistics from Spotify, Deezer and other top music streaming sites would be considered in calculating the most popular songs.

The Official UK Charts Company said it was “bound to” include streaming and subscription services at some point, but not for at least another year.

Because listeners do not pay per track – if at all – those plays would be likely to carry less weight than normal sales.

It’s a change which would totally shake up the charts.

At present, songs are considered for the charts at the point of sale. By considering music streaming, songs are considered at the point of use. It’s an important distinction. Take Pink Floyd – chances are not many people are buying Pink Floyd music at the moment: there are no new singles or albums being released. Yet, many people are listening to Pink Floyd at the moment. By shifting the focus from point of sale to point of use, there would be a huge change in the charts, benefiting popular artists who produce timeless music.

Mirror image
Creative Commons License photo: James Jordan

According to Martin Talbot, managing director of the Official Charts company, “Knowing what a stream is worth compared to a purchase of a download, for instance, is very difficult to identify at the moment, but that’s obviously going to be the next step,”.

This is going to be a big problem. Whatever weighting is assigned to streaming, it is going to be possible for people to manipulate the charts by incessantly streaming the same song. I remember when downloads were added to the chart: there was a big campaign to try and get The Wurzels into the charts. It never happened in the end: it took too many people to part with 99p for the prank to have worked. However, it’s not hard to convince a million people to stream a song from Spotify when it’s free. In fact, post a link to a song on Twitter and most people wouldn’t even know what the song is until after it loads. A Twitter meme can easily influence the charts.

The good news for consumers is that this is likely to increase the number of songs available for streaming. At present, there are big gaps in the catalogues of Spotify, Deezer, and other music streaming sites. Once streaming becomes part of the chart, I believe music companies will be much happier to open their catalogues to these sites. Because otherwise their competitors would have a huge advantage in the charts.

Microsoft Songsmith makes a song from your vocals

Creative Commons License photo: ValetheKid

Ever fancied writing a song but could never play an instrument?

Microsoft Research have released a programme called Songsmith. Songsmith records you singing into a computer microphone and automatically generates a musical melody to accompany it.

This is how Microsoft are marketing it:

Ever sing in the car? Maybe in the shower? You know who you are. Admit it, you like to sing, and you like music. Ever thought of writing your own music? Most people never get a chance to try… but we want to give everyone a piece of the songwriting experience, so we’ve developed Songsmith, an application that lets you create a complete song just by singing!

It’s a 98MB download. The free trial is fully-functional and lasts for six hours of use (measured as 6 hours whilst the program is running and active; not minimised). After that, it’s either 29 dollars or 29 euros to buy it.

What a cool programme!

Via Long Zheng.

Free MP3 Download Albums from

Merry Christmas everybody! Just to share with you a fantastic freebie, are offering every customer a free MP3 album download on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2008. Go to the Amazon MP3 Store to get your festive freebie.

These are good big name albums from artists such as The Killers, Leona Lewis, Guns N’ Roses and The Ting Tings.

My album choices from the free albums (what I’m currently listening to):

Unfortunately my musical recommendations are slightly biased from the fact I have seen all the listed bands perform live! So do have a full look down the list of albums available.

You can get more other albums for £3 a piece – not bad at all. Definitely compares very favourably against iTunes price wise and the music is encoded at 256kbps without DRM which means you are free to listen to the music as you please. Given music can be quite a large expenditure for many young people, this could be a great way to beat the credit crunch.

Update: You’ll still need to provide credit and debit card information to Amazon. I believe Amazon will charge you for the album and then refund you.

Thanks to Richard for the tip 🙂

Silent Disco – Great Clubbing Concept

Creative Commons License photo: coco빈

I just got back from Reading Festival and had a fantastic time. Saw some great bands like Pendulum, MGMT, Rage Against the Machine, The Killers and more.

One really interesting feature at the Reading Festival was the silent disco. It’s a really novel and interesting take on the clubbing concept where everybody is provided with a set of wireless headphones (as pictured). Simply instead of music being pumped out through speakers, it’s played through personal headphones.

At Reading, the silent disco was set up as a battle between two DJs. The headphones can pick up two different channels and a different DJ played on each channel. This was pretty hilarious at times – you could be rocking away to Barbie Girl whilst your friends may be dancing away to Metallica.

Sometimes a tune will come on one of the channels which everybody will start singing – you can take off your headphones and find out how well (or badly) your friends really can sing. And if you walked into the tent without headphones, you’d wonder what everybody was doing.

Silent Disco originally came to the UK at Glastonbury Festival because of complaints about noise coming from the disco. Since then, it’s evolved into quite a concept in it’s own. It’s certainly an experience and lots of good fun! I don’t know whether it’s the novelty quickly wearing off or the high costs of providing headphones to everybody but I don’t know of any “silent discos” outside of the various music festivals.

Music Festival Rip-Off?

Creative Commons License photo: burge5000

I’m going to Reading Festival this weekend which 80,000 music fans are expected to attend. It’s my second music festival and I can’t wait! Reading Festival certainly isn’t cheap. For many teenagers of my age with only part-time jobs, the cost of Reading Festival (£155 + p&p, other spending) is at least a whole months wages. £155 could buy a lot else. So are music festivals a big rip off? Well, obviously it’s a personal and a subjective opinion. I’d argue that at £155, it’s great value. Here’s why.

Two facts: Tickets for Reading Festival sold out very quickly – less than two hours. Tickets on the black market (eBay) have gone as high as £300 each. A friend of mine was offered £500 for his ticket.

As an economist, this indicates to me that, in fact, music festival tickets are under priced. In economics, we have something which is called the equilibrium price. This is the price for which supply equals demand. For example, if 80,000 people want a ticket at a price and 80,000 tickets are available at that price, the market is said to be in equilibrium.

Carling Leeds Festival 2004
Creative Commons License photo: Ian Wilson

In the case of Reading Festival, it is obvious that at the price of £155, more people want tickets than the number of tickets which are available. So the organisers could increase the price of a ticket and still sell out to capacity.

Why is that a problem? Surely the fact that tickets are “too cheap” is good news for festival goers such as you and I. We’re saving money after all aren’t we? Kind of.

Firstly, it’s a waste of everybody’s time to queue up overnight for tickets, or to have to keep refreshing a website to buy them.

Secondly, there is the problem of the black market. People are buying tickets for £155 and selling them on the black market (i.e. eBay) for double that. That means £150 of profit has gone towards a ticket tout, who has served no useful purpose at all, as opposed to towards the organisers who could put the money into improving the festival for everyone.

Roskilde Festival 2004 - Det første indtryk
Creative Commons License photo: Stig Nygaard

The black market is also a dangerous and difficult place to deal. Many fans bought tickets on unofficial sites such as SOS Tickets and never received them. They’re now disappointed they can’t go and may have difficulty in getting their money back. And the sole reason why people had to turn to the black market in the first place is because they can’t get them from legitimate agents, so it’s as a direct result of below equilibrium prices.

There are several reasons why Reading festival may have been under priced. It’s possible that the organisers wanted publicity from queues outside stores, and being able to announce that it sold out within 2 hours on the news headlines. Or they simply didn’t expect demand to be so high.

Reading Festival tickets are cheaper than they should be. For the lucky ones amongst us who were at the front of the line to get tickets, that’s great news – we’re getting a bargain. But for everyone else, it’s bad news. It leads to a secondary market, and that’s a recipe for being ripped off, scammed and paying vastly over-the-odd sums: most of which doesn’t even go to the festival organisers.

Far Afield: Soundscape Music

Far Afield is a fascinating soundscape compilation album which is free to listen to and download from the Internet Archive.

Similar to the Birdsong DAB radio station that I’ve mentioned in the past, Far Afield consists of field recordings of sounds from both natural and artificial sources. But the recordings don’t turn out as walls of random noise because the recordings are specifically focused around using the rhythms and melodies as focal points.

Curator Fred Yarm says:

The results that I received were astounding. The tracks represent everything from highly composed tracks telling stories or capturing the essence of far away locales to straight field recordings that the artist felt did not need any processing to demonstrate the beauty of the situation. Cracking ice on a lake, cicada songs, rusty gates, dripping water, moving trains, and a handful of other captured sounds provided the instrumental palettes for these compositions. Many thanks are to be given to the artists who accepted this challenge to coax such delightful music and beauty out of unplanned and un-orchestrated events.

It’s well worth downloading this CC-licensed album, putting it on your iPod and having a listen. In our daily routines: the commute to work and the incessant ringing of the phone in the office, we’re all too used to hearing the same sounds again and again. Far Afield can immerse you in an altogether different place.

P2P Intelligence and Monetising Media

Creative Commons License photo: Alex // Berlin (Stay in Madrid)

One interesting element of writing this blog is seeing how old posts are viewed. For example, last year I wrote about bugs inside my LCD screen. Since then, the post has been getting a couple of hits every day as people find it through Google and other search engines.

Over the last 3 or 4 days, traffic to that individual page has increased ten-fold. This coincides with the warm weather in the UK over the last few days. So obviously the fact I’ve been getting so much traffic on that page indicates that a lot of people have had problems with bugs inside their computer monitors lately.

It’s certainly an interesting piece of information or a trend that I’ve discovered by looking through my logs.

And it looks like media companies are finding their own sources of intelligence by looking at downloads on peer-to-peer sites. According to The Economist, 20 times as many tracks are exchanged on peer-to-peer sites than through legitimate stores.

Of course, sharing music on peer-to-peer sites is illegal. P2P sharing of music is not restricted to country borders and there is an infinite supply of it (since it’s free). That makes it dead useful for the media companies to discover where music is popular. For example, they can see where the music is popular even if it hasn’t yet been released there. And by finding out what other kind of music fans are listening to, especially in the younger generation which uses P2P, record companies can better organise supporting artists for tours.

Red iPod Nano
Creative Commons License photo: Andrew*

The dilemma for the record companies is of course that P2P file sharing is illegal and that means they are very reluctant to use data from it.

There is of course a middle ground. For example, Deezer is a legitimate music service which combines freely-available streaming music with a social network. Deezer spreads well through viral methods such as MSN Messenger, blogs and forums. Deezer can use cookies to link together all the different songs and artists you like. And when music costs nothing upfront, people are more willing to listen to new music. That means Deezer knows the music that you’re interested in: iTunes only knows what music you’ve purchased from them (and most people probably don’t buy all their music from one place).

Google Adsense transformed content on the web by showing relevant advertising. Amazon has transformed the way many of us shop by analysing what we buy and suggesting we buy them together. Instead of fighting piracy, I wonder whether these two approaches could be combined to align the goals of ensuring artists are properly rewarded with allowing people to discover new music organically and virally.

Deezer – Free Music

For those of you who haven’t already heard of Deezer, it’s a fantastic and free way to discover new music and to share it with your friends. It’s a eclectic mix of a music community, a jukebox where you can listen to music online, a Pandora-like “SmartRadio” service and a range of community features such as news and games.

It is a French website and the site is (as far as I know) fully licensed and legal in France and other countries. Certainly Deezer seems to have been around for a very long time, is fairly popular and hasn’t been taken offline so it would seem to be totally legit. The site is supported by advertising.

When Pandora closed it’s doors to listeners out of the UK, it had a big effect on me. I loved listening to Pandora on the computer because it played the music that I liked and without any adverts. Deezer’s SmartRadio does exactly that. I’ve discovered a lot of new music through Deezer and what’s great is that you can go back and listen to it at any time through the search feature.

You can also link to and embed songs into your webpage. e.g. Check out Utopia by Goldfrapp.

Deezer gets my seal of approval!