Streaming Is Killing Music | Alan Cross | TEDxWinnipeg

Streaming Is Killing Music | Alan Cross | TEDxWinnipeg

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00:01
[Music] I am going to assume that there are some music fans in the audience right okay so I have a bit of a rant that we're going to go on here and it should be of interest to anybody who listens to music and this rant really began when I was in grade seven ah this was in mr. Penner's science class I I couldn't find a picture but
00:38
let's just say that this is a reasonable facsimile and mr. panner said something that really stuck with me for a reason I don't know he said he was trying to tell us about the three states of matter and he says a solid is obvious you know what the shape of a solid is but a liquid or a gas they assume the shape of the container in which they're stored I have no idea why that's stuck with me but it
01:08
kind of blew my mind in a weird way and then when I was getting deeper into what's going on with music today I thought a mr. Pinner again and I thought you don't want we can apply those same principles with the three states of matter to music we can talk about containers now this is the first container that we ever stored music in up until Thomas Edison came along with his wax cylinder music was effervescence
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it was there and then it wasn't there was no way to store music for later analysis later enjoyment later study but with this we began to see music preserved for future generations now before then you know a song could be a couple of rhymes that you spout it off in the pub it could be a folk ballad which went on it for as many verses as it took to tell the story
02:08
it could be a symphony which could go on for an hour or more the Greek national anthem has 158 verses so the music was flexible it was like a gas in the air there was no container for it but with the Edison cylinder it had a container and that container could hold two minutes worth of music if you wanted to be a recording artist after
02:38
1877 your music had to conform to the size and shape of the container which meant a two-minute song okay so for the first time there is a time limit on music then around 1900 a guy by the name of Emile Berliner came up with the idea of taking some of Edison's principles and applying them to a rotating flat disc and after a couple of years everything's standardized into a 10 inch
03:08
disc that ran at 78 rpm with grooves cut so far apart the math and the geometry tells us that if we use those standards we can get between three and four minutes of music before we have an interruption before we have to get up change the record or turn it over three or four minutes that's the size of our container and for the next 50 years the 78 rpm record became the thing that
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standardized our appetite for popular music we began to crave expect songs that were three or four minutes now this is John Philip Sousa you might remember him as the guy who does all the marching music and he absolutely hated the idea of recorded music in fact he in 1906 published a essay entitled the Medus of
04:09
mechanical music and he believed that by committing something to a permanent storage format like a record or a cylinder would lead to unrest and social decline and the reason is because once you put something in this container it would be in that container in form forevermore it ruined the opportunity for a reinterpretation of that music that performance would be frozen in time and what would musicians do if they
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recorded something once were they not needed again he was actually the guy who came up with the phrase canned music for very good reason so there's your Edison cylinder and here we go with a can so if you've ever heard the term canned music you can talk to John Philip Sousa about it most other people really embrace for courting music this was cool for the first time ever I could enjoy music on my own terms there were others that didn't like it
05:14
musicians unions for once because well if we're not gonna be playing live and radio stations and other places are gonna be playing pre-recorded music well what are we gonna do and record labels didn't like it very much because well if we played records on the radio get it for free why would anybody go out and buy records so we had this 10-inch 78 rpm record for about 50 years and like I said it created this standard for how
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long songs should be but then in 1948 Columbia Records introduced something they called the 33 and a third long playing vinyl record by making the record bigger by cutting the grooves closer together and by slowing down how fast the record turned down from 78 to 33 and a third they found that they could get 22 22 minutes of music on a side of a record before they had to get up and turn it over so for the first
06:16
time ever we had this really long interval where we could just sit back and listen to music the container that bigger and this led to an explosion in interest in longer forms of music for example a symphony you could get a movement of a symphony quite comfortably on one side of an LP if you were into Broadway show tunes you could get a lot of music from that show on one side of an LP and it was marvelous so we expanded the
06:48
music to fit the available space on the container now in the 1960s this got even bigger starting in about 1965 artists began to realize that they had this huge palette that they could fill and we ended up with wonderful albums from the Beatles and Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield and so many others they wanted to write to the size of the container now we've still maintained our liking for three and four minute songs that was perpetuated by the 7-inch single which
07:20
was introduced by RCA Records in 1949 as a response to the 12-inch album and radio really embraced this it was cheap it was easy to use it was easy to distribute so our need our demands for three and four minute songs was kept alive by the single now a single like this could hold up to five minutes well actually could hold longer than that but audio quality begins to degrade after five minutes so we didn't put more than five minutes worth of music on one of
07:52
these records not very often anyway we had other containers in the 1960s we had the cassette which was invented by a Dutch company called Philips we had the 8-track which was invented by a was something would the atria [Applause] okay and then we had reel-to-reel tape now you could buy pre-recorded records pre-recorded music on all three formats but they you know nobody really mess too
08:25
much with that long capacity of the LP they didn't fill these containers to the brim but then comes along the compact disc 1982 and into early 1983 we stopped talking about a rotating disc that had a spiral that was 500 meters long and we began talking about a plastic disc that contained megabytes of information the CD was developed by Philips of the
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Netherlands and Sony of Japan and this thing this new design could hold up to 74 minutes worth of music now why 74 minutes well there's an apocryphal story that says that the president of Sony insisted that the new format hold his favorite symphony uninterrupted which was Beethoven's 9th in d minor opus 125 it ran his favorite recording of that performance ran 74 minutes so he declared CDs have to hold
09:28
at least 74 minutes not true it's a really good story but really what it came down to is that Philips wanted the CD to be 10 centimeters in diameter but Sony wanted it to be eleven point five centimeters in diameter so they had a compromise and they made it 12 centimeters in diameter and if you do the math and all the geometry and you figure out exactly how you place the binary code on the CDs using the standards set out by Sony and by Philips
10:01
you get 74 minutes worth of music that's it's as boring as is that people began to fill this container to the brim you had so much more music on a CD than you did on an album here's the worst offender this is the Red Hot Chili Peppers 1991 album blood sugar sex Magik yeah you can do that that's fine this record has 73 minutes and 55
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seconds worth of music on it so 5 seconds short of the ultimate capacity of the CD didn't need to have that much music on it have you heard this record not necessarily but again we filled the available container then we get to the internet on March the 14th of this year which is also affectionately known as pi day 3.14 right a guy in New Mexico
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posted this he calls it shepherd's pie and what he did was take pi the mathematical concept and extend it to 1 billion digits then he taught an artificial intelligence music program to bass music on those 1 billion digits so shepherd's pie in its entirety is 999,999 days long it's a hundred and fourteen years
11:38
there's no container it can be as big as it wants to be and this brings me to streaming here's where the rant is going to begin now I don't get me wrong I love streaming I think streaming is wonderfully convenient the idea of having 50 million songs on a device may be that big it is just so cool the entirety of human musical history on this wherever you are awesome however there have been some changes in
12:10
our behavior when it comes to accessing and consuming music as a result of streaming let's just talk about physical containers again when you bought a record CD or vinyl doesn't matter you had to work for a certain amount of time before you earned enough money so he can actually go to one of these things right and then you would take it home and you would listen to it over and over and over again even to the songs you didn't like because if you made up your mind
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that you didn't like a song at an album well it was kind of like you wasted your money a little bit right so you would listen to these songs over and over again until the penny drops and go yes okay fine I like it that's one thing the other thing was that the record the container had additional resources there was artwork that you could study there were liner notes there were lyric sheets this was all really cool so you had this financial investment in the container and what was
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on it and you had this intellectual investment in the container based on what you could divine from it streaming not so much it is context-free music that goes in one ear and out the other there is nobody to tell you why that song is important what's cool about this band who was behind this album whereas this scene building and what does this sound all about you'll hear any of that it's in one ear and out the other I call it organized noise and
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again don't get me wrong it's here to stay love it a lot but for a rich music experience it's kind of lacking a little bit the other thing that we need to talk about are some really frightened numbers there is a company behind Spotify called the echo nest and the echo nest is forever parsing data from users they know exactly how we listen to
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music how often we listen to music and how we skip music this is really important I'm going to give you these numbers if a song comes on and you're listening on Spotify there is a 24 percent chance that you will skip that song in the first five seconds there is a twenty nine percent chance that you will skip that song in the first 10
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seconds and there is a thirty five percent chance that you will skip that song before 30 seconds have passed now this is a really important concept no one gets paid for a stream unless it runs for at least thirty seconds so producers and composers and songwriters and record labels are throwing everything they can at that first thirty
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Seconds to make sure us we with our short attention spans hang on to that song for at least thirty one seconds best example right now Taylor Swift and Mia now when you hear that song again listen to how it starts how long is the intro zero seconds when does the chorus come up almost right away how many hooks can you count in that first 30 seconds a lot the idea is that this song has been genetically programmed to hold our attention for 30
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seconds that's perverting changing altering the way music is being created let's go a little bit further if you look at the Billboard Hot 100 and you go back to 2000 the average length of a hit single was four minutes there were no songs under two and a half minutes today the average length of a song on the hot 100 is three minutes and
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30 seconds so with the Clio sentence and the number of songs under two-and-a-half minutes has increased by 8% over just the last three years I'll give you a great example what's the number once what's been the number one song for the last 12 weeks old town Road by little nas ex how long is Old Town Road I'll tell you a minute 57 seconds the reason these songs are getting shorter is because artists and producers and engineers are looking at the data and they see oh okay
16:57
a shorter song seems to indicate that people will skip less there's a greater chance of us getting to that 30 seconds with shorter songs and with the shorter song we can have more shorter songs after that on a playlist so that the 30-second mark comes up much more quickly now let's think about this if you're a prog rock band alright and you do you specialize in songs are 7 8 9 10 minutes long you are gonna get paid exactly the same amount
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for a 10 minute rock and roll epic then somebody who writes a song that's 2 minutes long so you might think as an artist why bother writing a song that long I'm not saying you won't do it but if you are an album if your album has 5 10 minute songs on it you have a chance to score that 30-second mark 5 times but consider a band like the pocket gods they're from the UK they understand how things work earlier this year they released an album called 300 by 30 and
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what that is is 298 songs each less than 45 seconds long and the idea is put it on and that 30-second mark comes up an awful lot and that's where they make their streaming money give you another example there's a band called Wolfpack very clever they needed some money so they released an album that had 10 track on it each track was 32 seconds long and each track was dead silent there was no
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audio on it whatsoever so they told their fans put this on when you go to bed put it on repeat and every time it went past what happened they got paid and they made twenty thousand dollars until Spotify call them and said cut it out again gaming the system it's all about the container if the container is nowhere well then look what can possibly happen the last thing I want to talk
19:05
about is away from streaming and into headphone culture how many people walk around like a zombie with headphones on right you seal yourself off and your little private bubble of music so you don't have to deal with other human beings right okay this all began 40 years ago this coming Monday what happened 40 years ago this coming Monday anybody know Sony Walkman was released the very first Sony Walkman and the again we go back to the president of Sony Music and he demanded that the Sony Walkman
19:37
includes two headphone jacks because he couldn't imagine people walking around like zombies sealing themselves off from the rest of the world that lasted for one iteration of the other Walkman they went to the one headphone jack but not the thing that made the Sony Walkman cool was funky the cassette machine because that mechanism was was it was small but for the first time ever you've had lightweight good sounding headphones I'm in the back of the 70s I had a pair of Kaas headphones and they weighed six
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pounds that's not an exaggeration six pounds but the Sony Walkman were really light and you could wear them anywhere and they sounded really good so as time went on we became addicted to this idea of being able to curate our own little music space and that has had a an undesirable side effect there's something known as ego casting and casting means you are only predisposed
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to listening to things or absorbing things that you already agree with this is probably the problem with the Spotify algorithm or the algorithm used by any of the other streaming music services they recommend music that they think you will like based on what you've already listened to so it doesn't really work that hard into getting you outside of your musical comfort zone there are times where you need repeated unintentional exposure to a type of
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music before the penny drops and you go out okay I get it and I'll give you an example modern jazz nobody likes modern jazz the first time they hear it because it's so complex the back stories are so deep the musicianship is just way out there you need somebody to either take you by the hand and explain what Miles Davis or John Coltrane is doing here or you need to be exposed to it in an office some place playing played over and over and over again before you go ah I get it this is great give me more the other side effect from
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ego casting is that it's spilled over into all media so if we can control only the music that we like to hear it's not very far step before we start controlling only the news we want to hear so what a surprise fake news is a problem and that is what I think is an offshoot of walking around like a zombie with your Sony Walkman in 1979 so in conclusion here what I would like you to do is remember that there's
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only really one container that this we have from what we understand an infinite database of music in our heads in our skulls but there are people who are trying to game us neurologically so they get prime placement in your container so they can make money so they can make a career so they can make music for everybody else so here is what I'm going to ask you to
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do and I want you to take this away and think about it when you listen to music try to see if they're manipulating you into sticking around for that 30 seconds if they are you can choose to listen to 30 seconds and move on or not but I really hope that you can avoid the skip button live in the music listen carefully and hopefully maybe by giving
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yourself that extra bit of time with something that may be unfamiliar that may be different that your life will be made richer by the music beware what they want you to put into this container because it's the only one that matters thank you very much [Applause]

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