Streaming music services and the future of consuming music

I’m listening to Spotify while I write this. I’ve been a premium subscriber since early 2010, which means I’ve so far paid spotify £390 of which around 70% has gone to the artists. It took me a while to get used to the idea that i didn’t “own” the music I was listing to, but the benefits of being able to listen to anything I wanted to, whenever i wanted, and the chance to discover new music made up for it and I now believe that as long as streaming services exist, I’ll never buy a CD again. I won’t bang on about how great it is, because you’re generally either into streaming or not, and that usually depends on how you listen to your music.

There’s a lot of bad press about streaming services and the supposed bad deal that the content creators (artists) get paid from it.  Atoms for Peace pulled their albums from Spotify and other streaming services, with band members Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich criticising these companies for business models that they claimed were weighted against emerging artists. I disagree. Anyone that thinks they can create some music and make a living from it using streaming services is living in a dream world. The music business has changed, and for the better in my opinion. Gone are the days when a band could release a CD, sell hundred of thousands or millions of copies and rake in the big bucks (but don’t forget the record labels and other third parties taking their lion’s share). Some people compare streaming to that old business model, and that’s where it looks like the artists are getting a worse deal, but it’s not a fair comparison.

Musician Zoë Keating earned $808 from 201,412 Spotify streams of tracks from two of her older releases in the first half of 2013, according to figures published by the cellist as a Google Doc. Spotify apparently pays 0.4 cents (around 0.3p) per stream to the artist. When artists sell music (such as a CD), they get a one-off cut of the selling price. When that music is being streamed, they get a (much smaller) payment for every play. Musician Sam Duckworth recently explained how 4,685 Spotify plays of his last solo album earned him £19.22, but the question is just as much about how much streams of the album might earn him over the next 10, 20, 30 years.

If you created an album yourself, and you had a choice between two customers – one who would by the CD, giving you a £0.40 cut, and one who would stream it, providing you with £0.004 per stream, which customer would you choose? Part of this actually might depend on how good you think your music is, and how enduring its appeal will be. If it’s good enough, and al the songs on that album are good (all killer, no filler!), then it’s going to get played a lot, making streaming more lucrative over time, but if it’s poor, with only a couple of decent tracks, and maybe not as enduring as it could be (think Beatles vs One Direction), then a CD is going to be more lucrative, because after a year or so that CD is going to be collecting dust at the bottom of the shelf never to be played again.

I can’t easily find a way to show the number of plays per track in my spotify library, apart from my last.fm scrobble stats, which won’t be entirely accurate as they only record what I listen to in online mode, but I’ve pasted the top plays per artist below:

The Gaslight Anthem (621 plays)

Chuck Ragan (520 plays)

Frank Turner (516 plays)

Silversun Pickups (425 plays)

Biffy Clyro (305 plays)

Ben Howard (302 plays)

Sucioperro (241 plays)

Eddie Vedder (225 plays)

Blind Melon (173 plays)

Foo Fighters (166 plays)

Iron & Wine (141 plays)

Saosin (121 plays)

Benjamin Francis Leftwich (119 plays)

Cory Branan (116 plays)

Twin Atlantic (112 plays)

Kassidy (101 plays)

Funeral for a Friend (94 plays)

Molly Durnin (89 plays)

Crucially, of the 18 artists above, at least 4 or 5 are artists that I discovered on spotify. The radio and “discover” tools on it are actually really good (90% of the time), and of those 4-5 discovered artists, I’ve seen two of them live in the past year or so. If we stop trying to think in pure instant revenue terms, streaming services provide a great part of a business model that includes long term small payments to artists and allows consumers to discover new music more easily.

Artists need to build themselves a business that incorporates records, songs, merchandise and/or tickets, and look for simple ways to maximise all those revenues.

Crucially, they also need to start developing premium products and services for core fanbase – fans who have always been willing to buy more than a gig ticket every year and a record every other, but who were often left under-supplied by the old music business. Which is why, for artists, the real revolution caused by the web isn’t the emerging streaming market, but the boom in direct to fan and pre-order sites.

Frank Turner believes we may eventually move towards a model where all music is free, but artists are fairly compensated. Talking about piracy and torrenting, he says:  “I can kind of accept that people download music without paying for it, but when the same people complain about, say, merch prices or ticket prices, I get a little frustrated.” “I make the vast majority of my living from live, and also from merch. Record sales tick over.”

If you look at Frank Turner’s gig archive, you’ll see he’s performed at almost 1500 live shows from 2004 to 2013. Most of the musicians I know do what they do because they love playing music, and particularly so in front of an audience. I personally believe that live music should be the core of any musician’s revenue stream, with physical music sales, streaming, merchandise, advertising, sponsorship, and other sales providing longer term revenue. Frank seems pretty hot on spotify, and has released a live EP exclusive to the service.

I also believe the format of live shows will change too. I love small gigs in dark little venues such as the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, but as artists become more popular and play larger venues, there is naturally some loss of fan interaction. With the use of mobile technology, social networks, and heavy duty wifi (802.11ac for example), large venues can begin to allow the artists to interact with fans and provide a more immersive experience. Prior to or while the artist is on stage, content can be pushed to the mobile devices of those in the audience, telling them what track is being played for example, with links to download or stream it later, provision of exclusive content such as video and photo, merchandise, future gig listings, and event the ability to interact with other fans in the venue or otherwise.

The future is a healthier relationship between services like Spotify and musicians, where both can find more ways to make money by pointing fans towards tickets, merchandise, box-sets, memberships, crowdfunding campaigns such as songkick’s detour, and turning simple concerts into fuller experiences for fans.

Mountain biking in the Peak District in the snow again!

I love biking in the snow. The landscape and trails change so dramatically in such a short time, and its great to ride snow-covered trails that you’ve already ridden in rain, wind, sun, baking heat, and whatever else we put up with (enjoy).
On this occasion, the drifts were a bit bigger than I’d expected, but it was still a great ride.

20130402-205939.jpg

20130402-210013.jpg

20130402-210053.jpg

20130402-210111.jpg

20130402-210153.jpg

20130402-210213.jpg

20130402-210225.jpg

20130402-210245.jpg

20130402-210303.jpg

20130402-210312.jpg

20130402-210327.jpg

How to write an SPF record

An SPF record is a DNS TXT record (like A records and MX records) that indicates to receiving mail servers whether an email has come from a server that is “allowed” to send email from that domain. I.e. it’s a check that should prevent spammers impersonating your domain. It does rely on the receiving server actually doing the check, which not all do, so it’s not by any means fool proof, but it should help prevent mass email from your organisation to customers being flagged as potential spam.

 

Below is an example SPF record for capitalfmarena.com:

(this is in the public domain – you can look up an organisation’s SPF record by using online SPF checkers)

 

“v=spf1 ip4:93.174.143.18 mx a:service69.mimecast.com mx a:service70.mimecast.com a:capitalfmarena.com -all”

 

V=spf1 specifies the type of record this is. (SPF)

 

Ip4: pass if the IP senders IP address matches the addresses we send mail from.

 

mx a: pass if sender’s IP matches an ‘MX’ record in the domain

 

a: pass if Sender’s IP matches an ‘A’ record in the domain

 

The –all indicates that all other senders fail the spf test. (+all would mean anyone can send mail.)

(~all was used when spf was still being implemented, and is a soft fail, but shouldn’t really be used any longer other than when you’re transitioning between mail hosts or something)

 

Mechanisms are tested in order and any match will pass the email. A non-match results in a neutral state, until it gets to the end of the string where the –all mechanism will fail it.

 

IT & Web Infrastructure Masterclasses

Through March 2013, I’m running a set of IT and Web infrastructure masterclasses in Nottingham (in conjunction with PCM Projects), for people who don’t necessarily work in IT, but need to know (or would benefit from knowing) some of the basics.

The intended audience is small business owners or managers, where you may have to deal with IT contractors or staff and decide IT and web strategy, but you’re not comfortable that you know enough about it to make informed decisions. For example, there are an almost infinite number of ways to keep your business data accessible, secure, backed up, and away from prying eyes, but which way is best for you? How should you manage your website – should you pay someone else to design and host it, or bring it in-house? How should you handle email, on what sort of server? How should you plan for business growth? How do you protect your business from viruses, malware, spam, and hacking attempts?

These are the sort of questions that I will help you with – you don’t need any knowledge of IT or the web already, and because the groups are small – around 6 people – you’ll be able to ask questions and find out information specific to how your business operates.

You’ll then have enough knowledge to go to your suppliers or contractors, and ask the right questions, purchase the right services, at the right price.

There are four sessions, as below, and you can book yourself on them by visiting the eventbrite page for the events. Contact me for any further information.

 

Technically Speaking – 4 March

Topics to include: an overview of web/IT infrastructure and how it all fits together; an update on the current climate; domain names, analytics, and connections to social technology.

 

Email & Communication – 11 March

Topics to include: different service providers and set-ups (e.g., using hosted email, managing it in-house) and getting it all working for PCs and on mobile devices; good email practice, transferring data and keeping it secure.

 

Internet Security – 18 March

Topics to include: how to stay safe and keep trading; what are the threats – viruses, hack attacks, theft, loss of confidential or valuable data; keeping your business (and family) safe on the internet; and keeping your systems up to date and secure.

 

Data storage – 25 March

Topics to include: managing data storage and growth in your business; internal networks and cloud storage; back-ups; access controls, speed vs. reliability vs. cost.

Snowdon in the snow

I recently took a week off work to go biking, snowboarding, climbing, and hiking and stuff. Part of the trip included a visit to Wales to stay at penmachno after riding llandegla. I was going to ride penmachno the following day, but the weather was dreadful, so I walked halfway up snowdon instead 🙂

20130209-114157.jpg

20130209-114211.jpg

20130209-114225.jpg

20130209-114252.jpg

20130209-114314.jpg

20130209-114329.jpg

20130209-114339.jpg

20130209-114351.jpg

20130209-114405.jpg

20130209-114428.jpg

20130209-114501.jpg

Mountain biking in the snow – sherwood pines, Nottingham.

Sherwood pines is a nice little place to ride – the main trail is quite short, but is pretty much 100% twisty fast singletrack, and you can get a couple of loops done in two hours. I went for a ride there recently in the heavy snow, and I was so lucky to have the trail to myself. The snow was fresh – no foot prints or tyre tracks, and it was deathly silent in the woods with the snow falling heavily. Absolutely brilliant, although I couldn’t feel my feet after 15 minutes or so…

20130209-113539.jpg

20130209-113551.jpg

20130209-113617.jpg

20130209-113634.jpg

20130209-113646.jpg

20130209-113706.jpg

20130209-113721.jpg

Virtual Domain Controllers and time in a hyper-V environment

In a “normal” (read: physical) domain environment, all the domain member machines such as servers and PCs use the PDC (Primary Domain Controller) as the authoritiative time source. This keeps all the machines in a domain synchronised to within a few milliseconds and avoids any problems due to time mismatch. (If you’ve ever tried to join a PC to a domain with a significantly different time setting, you’ll see how this can affect active directory operations).

However, virtual machines are slightly different. VMs use their virtual host as the authoritative time server – it’s essential that the virtual host and the guests operate on the same time. Run the below command in a command prompt on a VM:

C:\>w32tm /query /source

And it should return:

VM IC Time Synchronization Provider

If you run the same command on the host itself, it’ll just return the name of one of the domain controllers in your network (probably, but not necessarily, the PDC).

Now, what if your domain controllers are virtual? They’ll be using their host machine’s time as the source, but the hosts themselves will be using the PDC as an authoritative time source – the problem is clear: they’re using each other as authoritative time sources and network time will slowly drift away from the correct time.

You may decide to disable integration services for the guest (the PDC), and configure an authoritative external time source, but if the PDC is rebooted or goes offline and comes back online with a different time than the host (such as a restore), you’ll have problems. Granted, this should fix 90% of issues, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a solution.

Disable integration services in hyperV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an ideal world, you’d still have at least one physical PDC, which would use an external time source, and would serve time to all other machines in the network, but if your infrastructure is such that you only have virtual domain controllers, you’ll need to do something a little different. The best way to this is to set your virtual hosts to use the same external (reliable) time source. This does of course require that your virtual hosts have access to the internet, but at least you should be able to add firewall rules to enable access to a fixed range of NTP servers, which should pose no security threat.

To do this, log on to your (windows) virtual host (in this case, I’m using Hyper-V server 2008 R2).

Run

C:\>w32tm /query /source

And it’ll return one of the domain controllers.

Use the command prompt to open regedit, and navigate to HKLM-System-CurrentControSet-services-w32time-parameters.

It’ll probably look like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Change the “Type” entry to “NTP” and if you desire, change the NtpServer entry to something other than windows time, although you can leave it if you wish.

registry time settings

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve changed the registry entries, run:

net stop w32time & net start w32time

then

w32tm /query /source

And it should return the new internet time servers.

Run:

w32tm /resync /force

to force a resync of the machine’s clock.

Log on to the virtual machine running on this host, and check the time. Force a resync if you want – it won’t do any harm, and at least you’ll know it’s synced.

If you now run:

W32tm /monitor

on any machine, it will display the potential time servers in your network, and the time offset between them. If all is correct in your network, the offset should be pretty small (though it will never be zero)

domaincontroller1.domain.local *** PDC ***[ipaddress:123]:
    ICMP: 0ms delay
    NTP: +0.0000000s offset from domaincontroller2.domain.local
        RefID: 80.84.77.86.rev.sfr.net [86.77.84.80]
        Stratum: 2
domaincontroller2.domain.local[ipaddress:123]:
    ICMP: 0ms delay
    NTP: -0.0827715s offset from domaincontroller1.local
        RefID: 80.84.77.86.rev.sfr.net [86.77.84.80]
        Stratum: 2
Warning:
Reverse name resolution is best effort. It may not be
correct since RefID field in time packets differs across
NTP implementations and may not be using IP addresses.

 

If you find a domain member machine (whether it’s a server or simple client) which is not set to use the proper domain NTP server, run the below command:

w32tm /config /syncfromflags:DOMHIER /update

This command instructs the machine to search for and use the best time source in a domain hierarchy.

 

What’s the best vehicle for mountain bikers?

Being a mountain biker means travelling a lot. Unless you happen to live in the Scottish highlands, or in North Wales, you don’t tend to have huge amounts of trails on your doorstep. And even if you do, who wants to ride the same trails all the time?

So, we drive. A lot. We get up early on a saturday morning and load bikes and kit into a car or van and set off in search of trail gold.

But what’s the best sort of vehicle to use if you’re a mountain biker? I’ve had fast cars, new cars, old cars, small cars, big cars, and vans. I also used to drive tractors, but they’re a bit slow and unless you count a trailer, don’t have much storage space.

ford focus estate with bikes and kit in

Currently, I drive a ford focus estate. It’s awesome. It’s a few years old so i don’t worry about the odd scratch and scuff, and I can get a full suspension mountain bike inside without taking the wheels off and still pile all my kit in. With the front bike wheels off, you can easily get two bikes and two people in, plus kit. It does over 50mpg because it’s a diesel.

The estate version of the focus has a flat boot, so there’s no lip to get the bikes and kit over when loading or unloading, and the rear with the boot up provides a good sheltered seat to get changed if the weather’s not too bad. There are also some handy little compartments in the boot that are useful for storing tools and/or food.

Previously, I’ve had a lovely Audi A3. Brand new, company car. Climate control, leather and incredible sound system. Bloody nightmare. Constantly worried about scratching it, and had to use a bike rack, which means you can’t leave it anywhere unattended, and your fuel economy drops pretty drastically. Gorgeous car, and great to drive, but completely impractical for someone who wants to put dirty kit and people inside it, and dirty bikes on the rack on it.

audi a3 with bike rack

On a trip to Scotland once, we hired a transit van. This was pretty awesome, to be honest. We got about 8 bikes and lots of kit in, although it took some working out, and careful arrangement of fork stanchions and blankets…

transit van with mountain bike kit in, scotland

Three people in the front, and we were sorted for a road trip (the other guys went in a car). However, you can’t get from the cab to the rear of the van because of the bulkhead, and the fuel economy isn’t great.

awesome pickup truck

Now, what about this? A pickup truck. We saw this in Wales on a recent trip to llandegla. I doubt it’s road legal. Anyhow, a pickup truck is great for biking, but do you ever actually need to drive off-road? I’ve been mountain biking for most of my life, and I’ve never actually needed to drive off-road – that’s what the mountain bike is for. Of course, it’d be amazing for shuttle runs…

beautiful vw caddy

I have to say however, there are some beautiful VW caddys around, but who could risk chucking a mountain bike in the back of this beauty?

To be honest, the best vehicle I’ve ever had was this Mercedes Vito. I genuinely loved driving it because it handled so well, and it’s perfect for short or long trips with the bike(s). With split front seats and a row of seats behind that you can also split and remove one, it means you can get from the drivers seat into the back of the van perfectly easily. I’ve had four people and four bikes, plus kit, comfortably in the vito.

Vito and mountain bike

 

Vito and mountain bike in the snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the weather is bad, it’s easy to get changed inside before the ride, and even do some pre-ride mechanical checks and lube the chain and stuff. After a ride, the rear door lifts up to provide some shelter from the rain (or sun..?), and you can chuck the bikes in before hopping in yourself to get into dry clothes without doing that ridiculous manoeuvre of trying to get changed in the seats of a car without giving yourself cramp. Also, it’s rear wheel drive, and that always means a little extra fun.

What’s your ideal mountain biking vehicle?