annus mirabilis2007We are some years inundated with great music albums. Other years are just filled with waiting. Nobody has yet been able to explain the population fluctuations in lemmings and there's no authoritative explanation of the abundance of great music albums in some specific years. It's just a fact of life. For example 1973 was a golden year: David Bowie - Aladdin Sane, Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy, Frank Zappa - Over-Nite Sensation, Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle of Love, Bruce Springsteen - Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath among others. The corresponding year for the "gothic country" genre was 2007: Antic Clay - Hilarious Death Blues, Christian Williams - Built with Bones and Defiant, Strawfoot - Chasing Locusts, O'death - Head Home, Those Poor Bastards - Hellfire Hymns, Slackeye Slim - Texas Whore Pleaser, Sons of Perdition - The Kingdom is on Fire and Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter among others. This year was really Annus Mirabilis (an amazing year). However, in my darkest moments I think that the best years have come and gone. A person with a more relaxed attitude towards the genre would probably say that this is a normal feeling that comes with age. But, I do worry. There's a peak in the lemming population every three to five years. Many great lemmings are born every year. The same can not be said for the regrowth in the "gothic country" genre. There are not many new artists and bands that holds a sufficient high quality and stand the test of "authenticity". Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind. Let there be another year like 2007. Let's hope for the best and plan for the worst.

 

       

double-dip-daysI read an article which contained unexpected research findings. Country songs are less likely to lyrically incorporate negative emotions during difficult social and economic times. People seem to indulge in escapism in hard times. You can read about the findings here (opens in a new window). The research data indicate that country music is countercyclical. However, I happen to be an economist and there are no theoretical reasons against a procyclical relationship. In fact, you would expect a procyclical relationship. The harder the times, the more depressing the lyrics. A shortcoming with the psychological-sociological study is that the symmetry haven't been tested: that is, if good times is likely to bring forth dark and depressing lyrics. I haven't done any research, but I do know for sure that the study is not applicable to the "gothic country" genre. The genre is totally insensitive to business cycles. It's doom and gloom no matter what. You don't need a degree in economics to understand why. The "gothic country" genre is characterized by economic permafrost. Therefore, general economic growth and income growth doesn't reach the capillaries. I'm afraid that the research team will have to go back and start all over again. I believe the model is wrongly specified. The researchers define country music as songs that topped the Billboard magazine country music chart each year. This is not country music. 

      

 

Blog getupstandupThere was a time when people looked up to and admired creative ability, especially in music. Not in any devout way, but in a decent and uncontrived way. This have changed. The current view of musicians is "bring in the jesters and clowns". After all, they are artists and shouldn't they entertain us? For free of course. Playing for free creates good opportunities to come out with your music. Yeah, right. But how did this shift in the view of musicians happen and what caused it? Internet is not to blame. It's only the gun and not the man behind it. Internet is fantastic. It makes it easy for everybody to find you, but on the other hand it makes it easy for everybody to find everybody. It creates information glut. Myspace was hailed as an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos and a tool to reach out with your music. The life force of Myspace is now draining. There are other examples. Well, what caused the shift? The push back of musicians has economic reasons. The attack came in two waves. First wave was illegal downloading. This led to that people became accustomed not to pay for music. It was nothing more than theft. A musician would run a high risk of being cyber-bullied if he or she tried to claim his or her rights while the politicians stood by and watched. You can read my blog entry here (opens in a new window). Second wave was streaming. Belatedly, people have become accustomed to pay next to nothing for music. I hate streaming intensely. You can read my blog entry here (opens in a new window). These two shock waves led to an especially hard blow for artists that don't sell much. Now they sell even less. However, there are not many musicians in the "gothic country" genre with the goal of becoming stars. There's little, if any, money in the "gothic country" genre. The driving forces for the musicians in the genre are different. You still have to survive. The sarcastic joke "What’s the difference between a musician and a large pizza? A large pizza can support a family” is harsh reality for many struggling musicians. Not many in the genre are full-time musicians. If you can't even afford to make music in your spare time, then I would say that the conditions for music creation fundamentally have changed. Many artists in the genre have been crushed under the wheel of progression. To much work and problems and little or nothing in return. Some artists are so resignated that they don't know what's right or wrong anymore. "Maybe I should play for free or give away my music?" The cynic might object that it's the musicians own fault and it's time to wake up and smell the coffee and to change business model. "Why don't musicians tour instead or sell merchandise on-line?" This argument is too stupid to comment. But maybe the times are a-changing. I think there's a little light in the dark when more and more people recognize the relationship between creative ability and basic economic conditions for musicians. Under all circumstances, I think we all should straighten our backs and follow the late reggae artist Bob Marley: "Get Up Stand Up/Stand Up For Your Rights".           

 

 

HighDesertHymnsMusic creation isn't the same as music production. The latter part presupposes the former part. For some people music creation is a painful process, while for others inspiration comes naturally and in abundance. Palodine has always written a lot of songs to each album. While music creation is more or less unproblematic, music production is often unpredictable and surrounded by difficulties. It's hard to put out an album even if you have lot of good material. Palodine is a good example of that. Over five years elapsed between the second and the third album. The explanation was brutal structural rationalization in the music industry. Both record labels they were involved with closed down and they didn't have the funds to release the third album themselves. Thanks to a patron they could release "All the Pretty Wolves" in December 2013. Now Palodine are back with their fourth album "High Desert Hymns". According to Palodine: "This record is not as heavy as some of our past work. There is some more delicate, layered songs in the mix this time". Normally, this kind of statement is extremely worrisome. In another context this is an euphemism for not as good as previous work. Many thoughts ran through my head. Have they "matured" and become a husband-and-wife soft duo? It can't really be that bad, can it? Palodine is one of the hardest bands in the gothic americana genre, so how gentle and subdued can it get?  The questions will be answered in the end of this review. The new album "High Desert Hymns" is approximately 45 minutes long and contains ten songs. The album artwork is, like previous albums, designed by Katrina Whitney. According to the press release: "Themes of hypocrisy, enlightenment, violence, spirits, redemption and death still permeate, while short story narratives laden with desert imagery are introduced." You can buy the album in the format of your choice, just click on one of the icons (bottom left). Physical cds will be available through cdbaby.

 

Padodine HDH1I will now quickly walk you through the album. The first song is "Holy Roller", which is a disparaging term for spiritual fervor expressed by shouts and violent body movements. The song starts off with lonesome banjo playing, pounding drums and suggestive choir. The lyrics are ironic "Shake the Holy Roller/Shake a little harder". The song has all the typical trademarks of Palodine. There's no sign of "not as heavy as some of our past work" in this song. The second song is "Lay the Crossbow Down". It's not as heavy, but has a distinct rhythmic beat and, last but not least, a very beautiful vocal part that starts 1,55 and ends 2,35 minutes in the song. The third song "The Hunter" is dreamy and naturalistic. The song is built up around the vocals, sparingly orchestrated and ends abrubtly after some guitar playing. It isn't a bad song, but it doesn't reach the same level as other songs on the album. The fourth song "Animal Eyes" is a complex and varied song with many tempo changes or, in other words, songs in the song. It doesn't have the same characteristics as other Palodine songs. The fifth song "Light Above the World" is without any doubt the best song on the album. You immediately realize the greatness of the song. The song unfolds slowly and majestically for four and half minutes. The instrumentation and vocals are exquisite. If there against all odds where such a thing as a hit in the gothic americana genre, this would be it.

   

Padodine HDH2

The sixth song "High Horse" is the weakest track on the album. It's not a bad song as such. In fact, I like the structure, but I think the rhythm in the refrain is too jerky to fit in the song. Besides, I need to find something to complain about. The four last songs on the album are all very good. And that's really good news. I find it very disappointing when too little effort have been put in to maintain the level of quality throughout an album. I'm very pleased with the completion of this album. The seventh song "Abraham" starts with the familiar sound of vinyl crackle before a slow banjo- and guitardriven accompaniment takes over. The lyrics are predictive: "When Abraham came down the mountain/No one could see it coming". You don't hear concert bells too often in the gothic americana genre, but here is one good opportunity. The eight song "Amargosa" is a slow, elevated and dreamy song with beautiful vocals. The song is perfectly arranged and calibrated. The ninth song "Eagle and the Serpent" is enigmatic, dark and brooding. It's a long song, almost six minutes. It's also a complex and varied song with many tempo changes. The refrain is very evocative. The tenth and last song "High Desert Hymns" is seven and half minutes long. There's a distinct tempo shift after 4,50 minutes in the song. The last song on an album can't be a filler. The last song concludes what the artists want to say with the album. The song "High Desert Hymns" meets these high standards.  

And finally, the overall assessment: The album is set out to be not as heavy as some of their past work. I completely agree with this assessment. The new album is more subdued and definitely more polished. But, the difference shouldn't be exaggerated. This is still hard stuff, only with a slightly lighter touch. My concerns about "not as good as previous work" are unfounded. However, I prefer their harder sound. Palodine knows how to produce an album and the new album is no exception. Their trademark is a full-bodied soundscape with many instruments, care in details and entirety. The new album stands up well in comparison with their previous albums. There's more music from Palodine on its way. A new album will be released in January 2016. They will be back with a harder sound on this album.

    

If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: Palodine's Facebook page, Palodine's Bandcamp page, Palodine's CD Baby page and press kit for "High Desert Hymns".

 

facebook-icon Bandcamp logo

cdbaby logo

Slackeyeslim 3 presskit 

 

 

Spotify logoSpotify is the most cherished swedish innovation since ball bearing. While ball bearing have proved itself very useful and lasting, Spotify hasn't really proved anything. The heading for this blog entry is "10 Things I Hate About Spotify". Hate is a strong word and should be used in moderation. The word "about" is put there to have a damping function. However, I do believe hard words are justified in this case, since Spotify despite their motto "Music for everyone" little bearing on music. The unbearable smugness and strive for world dominance are no mitigating circumstances. There are, of course, more than ten things to hate. The list below (no ranking) consists of things that really irritates me. I don't expect people to agree with me. But as Oscar Wilde elegantly put it: “Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.” No comparison in general intended.

1. The business model

The compensation to artists is unfair. This is really nothing new, since it always been unfair. Only a small fraction of the sales price of a vinyl, cd or download ends in the pockets of the artist. But revenues from streaming is not even fractions, it's fractions of fractions. The pot should not call the kettle black. Compensation for vinyl, cd or download are paid (almost) directly, while streaming is compensation now and (at least theoretically) in the future. But, the last time I checked we live and pay our bills in the present and not in an unknown future. One simple question: how many streamings are needed to generate the same revenue as from a sale of a vinyl, cd or download? As an educational example you should do the math yourself. A rule of thumb is that 5 000 streamings means $20. Well, thank you Spotify. If you think you're supporting your artist by streaming, well read this article (opens in a new window).

2. The design

This is the ugliest music streaming service ever. Spotify looks like a failed school project. The company brag about how they are recruiting the best and brightest. But aesthetic disposition was obviously not requested. Not only does Spotify have a hideous appearance, the design have many flaws like the tedious navigation and the undeveloped search function. But, the ugliest part is the logotype. Looks like an ecstasy pill, but it's nothing to get ecstatic over.

3. The freemium strategy

You could either pay (premium) or use it for free (freemium). The freemium strategy is also a form of cut-throat pricing strategy to get rid of competition. When something is "free", you should ask yourself: who is paying? It’s the artists that are paying. You may object that nobody held a gun to their heads, but the business deal was close to a deadly threat. Both record companies and artists were caught off guard by illegal downloading and free fall in sales so they signed a bad deal. The business model is based on conversion theory (by providing freemium, users will upgrade to premium). There’s not much support of that. In 2014 there were 40 million users of which 10 million were paying users. In 2015 there were 60 million users of which 15 million were paying users. The ratio of premium/freemium users is the same. Only one out of four is a paying user. Spotify have introduced several limitations in the conditions to push users over to premium. This strategy have failed. The genie is out of the bottle and have no plans of going back. Not even the most degrading, infantile and intrusive advertisment seems to push people over to premium. The freemium model is particularly negative for artists that are more or less unknown and don't sell much. With freemium they sell even less. The thing that upsets me the most is by providing something for ”free” we deprecate all the work of artists. It's basic economic psychology, where "free" means "not worth anything". If you want to read more about this, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window).

4. The paradigm shift

The battle is sometimes labeled the ownership model versus the access model. The old paradigm (ownership model) is based on buying (and owning) physical and digital music. The new paradigm (access model) is based of having access to music (paying or not paying). I don’t see the new paradigm as a progress for humanity. There's little logic in paying for having access to 99.5 percent of the music you don’t have the slightest interest in, instead of paying (and owning) 0.5 percent of the music you have an interest in. Access model is cyber bulimia (see also number 8 on the list). If you want to read more about this, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window).

5. The blind spot(ify)

Despite the pompous company motto "Music for everyone", Spotify doesn't meet the expectations for a music streaming service. The mix ups and confusions of artists and albums are frequent. Spotify obviously lacks a functional database and identifiers. This is compounded by the staff members lack of knowledge of the matter. Knowledge of music was obviously not a requirement in the job description. There’s no shortage of marketers, accountants and programmers. Is it too much to ask for to employ at least one fact-freak? I like to paraphrase a popular assessment: ”Overstaffed, overpaid, over there”.

6. The sound quality

Spotify stream music compressed in 320 kbit/s for (premium) and 160 kbit/s (freemium). Why not offer lossless streaming? Spotify can't blame the bandwidth anymore. For example, both Tidal and WiMP offers lossless streaming. If you want to read more about sound quality, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window) or read about new hi-fi devices in this blog entry (opens in a new window).

7. The absence of interaction

There’s no interaction between artists and users. You can follow an artist or another user, that’s it. Whatever the initial idea of a social network (if there even existed one), this is a failure of biblical proportions. This seems also to be a very sensitive subject for Spotify. It's really the worst of worlds, since Spotify is neither a source of information for users or a promotional platform for artists.

8. The obesity

A good friend of mine (as well as site architect and advisor) recently delivered a nice metaphor. As a Spotify user you get to pick as much candy you want. You’re euphoric in the beginning facing an almost unlimited supply, but after a short while you will only eat the candy you really like even though you have filled your bag with several kilos of candy. The charm of putting together your Saturday candy bag is gone. I like to draw this metaphor a little bit further. In fact, all this candy will make you obese, jaded and also make you feel sick. Spotify encourages shuffle-mode listening. So many playlists, so little thought. Maybe I’m a dying breed, but I think an album should be enjoyed in the way the artist intended.

9. The unsupportive attitude

Some acquaintances who are not familiar with the fact that I hate streaming very deep and intensely (especially Spotify) say ”You can find everything on Spotify”. First, this is not true. They can find everything they want, but a lot of the music that I'm interested in is not available. For the sake of clarity, this is only an observation and not a wish for. Second, I don’t regard Spotify as ”gothic-friendly” or a service for introducing and supporting new artists and bands. The guiding principle is might makes right. The injustices in the "gothic country" genre are numerous, extensive and outrageous. Why should Spotify be an exception? It isn't.

10. The hoax?

Spotify isn't profitable. The economic result is a catastrophe. Minus 182 million dollar in 2014, compared with minus 100 million dollar in 2013. In any other industry this would mean cut-down or shut-down. But, not in this industry which is characterized by boomtown optimism and unbridled expansion. A company which give priority to expansion often meet losses, and if Spotify wouldn’t give priority to expansion there wouldn't be any chance of survival. The battle of streamed music is raging and there will be blood. It's either expand or die. The turnover increased to 1 213 million dollars in 2014, compared with 824 million dollars in 2013. Spotify is estimated to be worth approximately 8 400 million dollars. The revenues are actually increasing, but so also costs. The venture capitalists keep on pumping in money, despite the discouraging figures. The underlying assumption is that Spotify will become very profitable and give them return on investment. However, analysts believe that a business built on freemium can never be profitable. The success factor solely depends on the conversion of freemium users to premium users. But the stagnant conversion rate should cause fear-induced hiccup, when only one out of four is a paying user. Profitability doesn't seem to be just around the corner. What will happen if, and when, the patience of venture capitalists is starting to run out? Spotify could very well then be a new name to add to the list of greatest defunct websites and dotcom disasters.  

 

 

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