View profile

Gaming the system in 2016 (and beyond).

Merry Christmas Eve! Hope you're all as simultaneously thrilled and exhausted by the holiday music as
Gaming the system in 2016 (and beyond).
By Cherie Hu • Issue #8 • View online
Merry Christmas Eve! Hope you’re all as simultaneously thrilled and exhausted by the holiday music as I am. :) This winter break will be a busy but fun one for me: I’ll be skiing in Jackson Hole for the first time next week, then making a trip out to D.C. in January for a week-long course on culture & politics at Dumbarton Oaks.
I’ve gotten a handful of new subscribers since the last update—please introduce yourself if you haven’t already, simply by replying to this email!
Today’s subject line could mean… well, whatever you want it to mean. We conquer and redefine institutions by gaming them, in ways large and small. There are many synonyms for this phenomenon: sidestepping, hacking, breaking. Go ahead, make that one of your resolutions for 2017.
At this moment, however, I’m specifically thinking about a piece that Pitchfork Senior Editor Jillian Mapes wrote this month, criticizing major labels for releasing increasingly longer albums in an attempt to “game” the streaming system and maximize revenue, at the arguable expense of quality. Frank Ocean’s Blonde, The Weeknd’s Starboy and Drake’s VIEWS—which feature 17, 18 and 20 tracks respectively—are some cornerstones of this trend.
While Mapes’ argument reads brilliantly, I think there are plenty of musicians “gaming the system” in ways that are more illuminating than disrespectful, more amusing than artless. One of my favorite bands, Vulfpeck, has released 100% silent albums and tracks, encouraging fans to stream them millions of times in order to raise money for tours (e.g. Flow State, Sleepify). Indie band The Pocket Gods & Friends specializes in albums of one hundred 30-second tracks (stylized as 100 x 30)—since royalties on Spotify are allegedly paid after just 30 seconds, disadvantaging longer songs and raising the question of whether tracks should even last more than half a minute anymore.
Yes, longer albums give mainstream artists an arguably unfair competitive advantage on the charts. The modified emphasis on streaming in the Billboard Hot 100 criteria makes singles essentially irrelevant, leading to a plethora of what fellow Forbes contributor Gary Suarez calls “fake hits.”
Yet, the new, higher-level creative paradigm in streaming is something that all artists can take advantage of. In this week’s episode of PopcastNew York Times pop music critic Joe Coscarelli suggests that longer lengths are part of a new “playlist aesthetic” for albums, defined by a “kitchen-sink” approach that makes mathematical sense for maximizing potential streaming royalties and catering to playlist-friendly users.
We’ve always complained about how slow the music business adopts to new technologies, but this new phenomenon seems to debunk this notion, suggesting that the industry is finally using streaming to innovate aesthetically while profiting economically. My greatest hope is that, in this process of artistic elongation, of throwing everything but the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks, artists won’t forget to be bold and different—traits that make otherwise overly long oeuvres like Blonde worth their celebrity.

Writing
Pixelated Performance: Why Indie Rock Band Glass Animals Gamified Its Latest Album
How Mobile Millennials Are Transforming The Music Ticketing Industry
What Is “Escape Room” And Why Is It One Of My Top Genres On Spotify?
How Context Awareness Is The Next Frontier In The Music Industry
Good reads
Hip-Hop Coding: Exploring the Connections Between Computational Thinking and Hip-Hop Culture
The Programmer’s Guide to Booking a Concert
The Challenge Of Organising A Gender-Balanced Conference In The Music Industry
How a Musician Can Make Money in 2016
Obligatory potato
A 30-year-old mother recently threw a fit when she realized she couldn’t use the contents in her recently-purchased package of Tesco’s Crispy Potato Letters to spell her own son’s name. Sure, Tesco may have messed up, but at the end of the day, you should never use potatoes to teach English anyway.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Cherie Hu

Cherie's updates at the intersection of music, technology, creativity, business, people, travel and potatoes.

If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue