A Tale of Two Catalogues: The Celestial Jukebox and Campus Radio Library
Brian Fauteux / University of Alberta


Jukebox in the sky
The Celestial Jukebox.

There’s a persistent idea that every song you could ever want to listen to is only a few clicks away. News stories about streaming music services, and the tech companies behind them, regularly advance claims about revolutionary attributes, including their extensive and comprehensive catalogues.

In June 2006, Wired proclaimed that the celestial jukebox, “the ability to access all content ever created, from anywhere, at any time,” was becoming a reality, “at least as far as music goes.” The article followed the launch of Spotify in Europe but was years shy of its entry into North America. The concept of the Long Tail also entered the digital-musical vernacular around this time. According to Chris Anderson in 2004, you “can find everything out there on the Long Tail.” Niche selections, liberated from the limits of shelf space in bricks and mortar stores and from hit-driven economics would find an audience online.

There is no disputing the fact that there are more titles available on major streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music than at your average record store. But an imbalance of power in the music industries, in favor of big labels and big tech companies, have perpetuated a hit-driven economy. “Superstars are capturing the vast majority of music revenues and their share is increasing—not decreasing—because of the rise of digital services like iTunes and Spotify” [paywalled].

Limits to the infinite online catalogue are apparent to me whenever I wish to listen to certain albums by bands from in and around Toronto during the late-90s and early 2000s. This is a time during which music organized much of my social life: I played in bands and spent time at shows. I have a decent CD collection from this particular time and place, but it’s one absent from the major music streaming services. I can listen to these albums on a CD player, if I can find one, but with streaming music as our dominant mode of listening, it’s imperative to ask questions about catalogues and their variety. 


image description
CiTR DJ Nardwuar at the station’s music library.

An alternative example I’d like to discuss is that of the campus radio music library. It’s a library that often includes material objects like vinyl records and CDs but also digital files. When I spoke with the Station Manager of CHMA in Sackville, New Brunswick (a town with a population of around 5,000) while doing research for my book on campus radio, he told me that the libraries were full with 13,000 vinyl albums and well over 25,000 CDs. They were undergoing a digitization project with CDs moving onto harddrives (a process he said expects to take “another 700 years”). 

Campus stations fall under the community radio sector in Canada and are licensed to program music that complements commercial or public stations. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) first licensed campus radio in 1975, and the sector grew considerably in the decades that followed (although there are many rich station histories that predate licensing). Despite centralized regulation, campus stations are shaped by the localities they serve, and a station’s history is often reflective of its surrounding region. The campus radio music library encourages us to reflect on taken-for-granted assumptions about the abundance of choice within the streaming music catalogue. 

Albums that receive a lot of airplay on Canadian campus stations are included on the !earshot charts. The charts skew heavily toward Canadian artists but this isn’t exclusive (Fiona Apple and Thundercat are currently charting). Weekly Top 50 albums are aggregated nationally across 50 reporting stations, and there are charts generated by individual stations. One can also view monthly charts that account for the top 200 albums nationally. 


The logo for !earshot
The !earshot logo.

For the years between 2019 and 2014, our research team searched the top 100 albums on the monthly !earshot charts on Spotify to get a sense of what gaps might exist between campus radio programming and Spotify’s catalogue. Are the sector’s most frequently programmed albums available on one of the most commonly used music streaming services? Albums that are played by multiple stations rise to the top and are the ones likely to turn up on Spotify. That said, a notable number are missing (or are potentially too difficult to locate through the search function). 

From all the monthly top 100 charts in 2019, a total of 19 albums are not available on Spotify. This number increases significantly as one works backwards. In 2018, 28 albums are not available; in 2017, 38 albums; in 2016, 58 albums; in 2015, 65 albums; and in 2014, 77 albums. The older the charts, the more albums are unavailable on Spotify.

By looking at an individual station’s charts, we get a better sense of what albums resonate within a given city or town. CJSW’s charts (a station in Calgary, Alberta) include only the top 30 albums per month. In 2019, 33 albums from the year’s top 30 charts are not available on Spotify. On a local level, there is a greater disparity between the !earshot and Spotify catalogues.   

The top two campus radio albums across the sector in December 2019 are available on Spotify but have low play counts. Common Holly’s When I say to you Black Lightning, the number one album that month, currently has play counts ranging from 10,000 to 84,000 per song. The number two album, Woolworm’s Awe (one of my favorites of 2019, for the record), has play counts ranging from around 5,000 to 10,000 per song. CJSW’s top album that month, the self-released Mes Amis by BLVD Noir, has less than 1,000 plays for each song. 


The cover of Woolworm's Awe (2019)
Woolworm’s Awe (2019).

Many of the albums on the !earshot top 100 that are not available on Spotify are self-released. In 2019, 32% were self-released; in 2018, 54%; in 2017, 61%; in 2016, 53%; in 2015, 57%; and in 2014, 45%. And the albums with label representation are, for the most part, released on independent Canadian labels with small rosters.

2019’s percentage is comparatively low because Spotify introduced a beta program that allowed artists to directly upload their own music in 2018 (as opposed to needing to go through a label or a third-party service). In summer 2019, Spotify decided to end the program. It would make sense that more self-released albums would turn up on the service in 2019 given that independent artists were able to upload albums on their own without paying for an aggregator.   

Campus stations are evidently vital outlets for local and diverse music. The campus radio music library can be thought of as a “DIY popular music institution,” one with cultural, social, and affective functions (Baker and Huber 2013). Campus radio music libraries are rooted in place, they are decentralized, and they can be fairly comprehensive with respect to a diversity of artists. Still, collections are informal and incomplete, and no one station takes the same approach to music programming and storage.

Because campus stations maintain intimate connections with local music cultures in ways that are not driven by an exclusively profit-centric motive (licenses limit advertising revenue and funds often come from listeners and a fee levy), their sense of what matters in terms of collecting and showcasing is quite varied and diverse. These collections can tell us much about the musical histories of localities across the country. 

In the campus music library, we might evade the gated-in listening that corporate streaming music algorithms facilitate, or what Kate Lacey (2013) calls “listening in.” People maintain these libraries, and voices bring forth songs to listeners. This is a different listening experience than letting the algorithm do its work. If a major virtue of streaming music service is that it can easily bring a vast selection of songs to a listener across space and time, we would be wise to critically interrogate the depth of its catalogue and listen carefully for the sounds and songs that do not easily reach our ears. 

Notes: “The Cultural Capital Project: Digital Stewardship and Sustainable Monetization for Canadian Independent Musicians” is a SSHRC-funded research project led by Brian Fauteux, Brianne Selman, and Andrew deWaard, with research assistance from Dan Colussi, Anna Dundas-Richter, Maria Khaner, and William Northlich.



Image Credits:

  1. The Celestial Jukebox.
  2. CiTR DJ Nardwuar at the station’s music library.
  3. The !earshot logo.
  4. Woolworm’s Awe (2019).


References:

Baker, S., & Huber, A. (2013). Notes towards a typology of the DIY institution: Identifying do-it-yourself places of popular music preservation. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16.5, 513-530.

Lacey, K. (2013). Listening in the digital age. In J. Loviglio & M. Hilmes (Eds.), Radio’s new wave: Global sound in the digital era (pp. 9-23). New York, NY: Routledge.




Manufacturing Consent in the Digital Music Industries
Brian Fauteux / University of Alberta


The Creative Independent logo
Logo for The Creative Independent.

Forbes recently published an interview with Spotify’s Head of Music Jeremy Erlich on the subject of how artists can get their music on playlists. Given the interviewee, it’s not surprising that the article frames the streaming music service in terms not unlike a public relations narrative. According to Erlich, Spotify is democratizing the music industry. As he convincingly explains, “I think we show it through songs that have gone to #1, whether it’s Arizona Zervas or Tones and I. No one was pushing those songs. They organically raised their hand and rose to the top. It’s just a testament to the democratization of playlisting.” With further conviction, he claims that “everyone who has functioning ears” will be streaming in 20 years’ time” and “artists who couldn’t make a living before will be able to. That’s the ambition.” An interview featured in a major American business magazine has the strong potential to convince the public of the corporate streaming service’s self-proclaimed virtues. 

In my previous Flow column, I indicated that an imbalance of power between creators and big businesses is one of the largest factors that prevents fair remuneration for artists. Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall recently shared (via Twitter) a breakdown of how many streams it takes to earn a dollar on a variety of platforms. Her post was in response to news that Spotify, Google, Pandora, and Amazon were appearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals to argue against a songwriter streaming royalty rate hike of 44%. The chart indicates that it takes 229 streams on Spotify to earn a dollar and 336,842 to earn a monthly minimum wage in the U.S. 

In coverage of the pressing issues facing artists in the streaming music economy, news media perpetuate this imbalance of power through privileging industry perspectives over that of artists. What readers most regularly encounter are articles and interviews on or about the digital music industries that quote from industry representatives. 

Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model argues that “the societal purpose of the media is to manufacture consent for elite policies and decisions” (MacLeod 3). In part, this is accomplished through a reliance on information provided by government, business, and “‘experts’ funded by the powerful.” In an era of digital and social media, according to Chomsky, sources of news and information are still largely controlled by major media institutions (MacLeod and Chomsky 14).

Erlich’s account of his own company is a common one; “new” digital media services or companies “revolutionize” or “disrupt” the status quo to the benefit of all. An emphasis on and fascination with the new has been described, as Charles Acland does in the introduction to Residual Media, as tied to the production (or overproduction) of material goods and market forces. “An economic and cultural orientation toward novelty and innovation…helps sustain a gargantuan accumulation of materials” (xv).  

Overwhelmingly positive narratives of industry and technological trends persistently encourage ears and eyes to flock to where development and investment are most pronounced. Of course, new media companies benefit from convincing the public of the perceived superiority and dominance of their products and services. However, in this dire moment of pandemic and isolation that has disrupted live music industries across the globe, it becomes all too clear all too quickly that the minimal per-stream rate paid by Spotify is in no ways revolutionizing an artist’s ability to make a living


Sean Parker, Lars Ulrich, and Spotify CEO, Daniel Ek
Sean Parker, Lars Ulrich, and Spotify CEO, Daniel Ek.

As part of The Cultural Capital Project (introduced in my first column), we set out to compile a list of news articles that profile issues facing artists in the streaming music era. The initial focus was on taking note of the number of times that artists were mentioned in news coverage. However, it became our priority to get a sense of how often news articles include an artist’s perspective. We also made note of each time an article included a quote by an industry representative (an executive, a record label employee, a tech worker, and so forth). 

The resulting spreadsheet includes 359 news articles between the years 2009 and 2019 (with most falling after 2014, when Spotify launched in Canada and as streaming became a dominant mode of listening). The number of bands and artists referenced by these articles totals 1072 (this includes artists who are mentioned multiple times across the selection). From Canadian sources like The Globe and Mail, the CBC, and Winnipeg Free Press, to others like Forbes, Music Business Worldwide, Variety, and Billboard, a range of issues facing artists are apparent, including topics like “playola” and questions about how Canadian musicians are making money on streaming services. 

Out of the 359 articles, 88 feature a quote from an artist, or 24.5% of total articles. This number includes articles that use quotes from outside sources, like press conferences or earlier interviews. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, and Zoe Keating are featured multiple times. These are artists who made notable statements about streaming services that provided easy quotables, such as Yorke proclaiming that Spotfy is the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” in 2013 or Keating being open and public about the royalties she receives from various streaming services. More striking is the fact that just over 50 articles include an interview or quote that was directly sourced for the article in question (15% of the total).

By comparison to the number of times an artist is quoted or interviewed, 194 articles (54% of the total) include a quote from an industry representative. Some of the most frequently featured perspectives are from high-ranking executives like Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek. Evidently, there is a significant divide between the percentage of articles that feature an artist’s perspective. While our selection of articles includes many that critically evaluate the status of an artist’s livelihood within the streaming music era, the prominent inclusion of industry voices has the tendency to weather any resistance to an imbalance of power between artists and big businesses. 


Caribou's recent album, 'Suddenly'
Caribou’s recent album, Suddenly.

So why might it be important to feature artist perspectives in news coverage of the music industries in the streaming era? In Playing to the Crowd (2018), Nancy K. Baym explains that musicians are being asked to do more work that involves relational and entrepreneurial skills, but musicians are not being asked about what these relationships and interactions involve or mean for them (6-7). Musicians hold valuable insight into the intricacies of work and labour because, as Baym says, “Musicians are cultural forerunners…the strategies they devise to manage these tensions, have implications for workers in countless fields as they strive to build and maintain markets for their work” (7). 

In other words, how do we understand the full picture of significant shifts in the music industries without hearing from the musicians working within them? Outside of mainstream journalism, some sources have become excellent and accessible resources for hearing the perspectives of artists. One great example is The Creative Independent, published ad-free by Kickstarter, which regularly shares interviews with a variety of musicians. Lately, I’ve been listening to and loving the new Caribou album, Suddenly. I enjoyed reading an extensive interview with Dan Snaith about the album, one that sheds light on the creative process. On the subject of age, inspiration, and creativity, Snaith explains, “‘I’ve made music for 20 years…have I run out of ideas?…I’m always enjoying it, but I think the drive to not be complacent or to meet my own standards is really the thing that drives me on and on.” Or, take this great quote from interdisciplinary artist, YATTA, who says that “Just because a person or an institution takes an interest in you, it doesn’t mean that you have just become interesting. You’re interesting, period, and they are not, which is why they are seeking you out.”

Featuring the perspectives of artists helps to bring listeners and readers into the mechanisms and machinery behind the songs we hear and love and which become an integral part of our everyday lives. 


Notes: “The Cultural Capital Project: Digital Stewardship and Sustainable Monetization for Canadian Independent Musicians” is a SSHRC-funded research project led by Brian Fauteux, Brianne Selman, and Andrew deWaard, with research assistance from Dan Colussi, Anna Dundas-Richter, Maria Khaner, and William Northlich.


Image Credits:

  1. Logo for The Creative Independent.
  2. Sean Parker, Lars Ulrich, and Spotify CEO, Daniel Ek.
  3. Caribou’s recent album, Suddenly.


References:

Acland, C. R. (2007). Introduction. In C. R. Acland (Ed.), Residual Media (pp. xiii-xxvii). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

Baym, N.K. (2018). Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, audiences, and the intimate work of connection. New York, NY: New York University Press.

MacLeod, A. (2019). Introduction: Propaganda in the information age. In A. MacLeod (Ed.), Propaganda in the information age (pp. 1-11). New York, NY: Routledge.

MacLeod, A., & Chomsky, N. (2019). Still manufacturing consent: An interview with Noam Chomsky. In A. MacLeod (Ed.), Propaganda in the information age (pp. 12-22). New York, NY: Routledge.




Advocating on Behalf of Independent Musicians: Copyright Reform and Corporate Consolidation
Brian Fauteux / University of Alberta


Spotify banner outside NYSE on opening day
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service Spotify begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City.

Corporate streaming music services have brought forth few benefits for independent musicians. Meagre payouts, limited catalogues, and predictable algorithms combine to reward a shrinking number of bestselling popstars. Despite these issues, streaming services are often characterized by narratives of progress and superiority (infinite choices, new avenues of “discovery,” low prices). 

This narrative routinely makes its way into popular writing on streaming music. A recent Pitchfork column about the fusion of indie and pop in the 2010s describes streaming music listening as “detached, fully and finally, from the Earth. Recorded music simply materializes around us whenever we need it.” This recalls the concept of remediation, made evident by these popular assessments of our digital-musical-ecosystem whereby new media are “presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media” (Bolter and Grusin 1999, pp. 14-15). In a more blunt and messianic expression, Spotify is “the savior” of the music business.

In this introductory column (the first of three on issues of equity in the streaming music industry), I describe the process of participating in Canada’s copyright review process. In September of last year, Brianne Selman (University of Winnipeg) and I appeared before The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Remuneration Models for Artists and Creative Industries on behalf of The Cultural Capital Project, a collaborative research project that investigates issues of fair payment for creators (which also includes Andrew deWaard, UCSD). The purpose of our appearance, and subsequent written brief, was to argue that in an industry characterized by market consolidation, an imbalance of power between creators and big businesses is one of the largest factors that prevents fair remuneration for artists.


Members of the Cultural Capital Project, Brianne Selman and the author, speak to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during the hearing “Reumneration Models for Artists in Creative Industries.” More info at cultcap.org.

Canadian musicians are at the mercy of non-Canadian media and tech companies. In 2015, Billboard reported that Universal, Sony, and Warner control roughly 86% of the North American recording and publishing market. LiveNation and AEG monopolize the live concert and ticketing business; SiriusXM dictates the satellite radio market and has purchased Pandora; and the digital streaming media sector has come to be dominated by Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify. Further, the top 1% of artists account for 77% of recorded music income (Thompson 2014), and radio playlists and Billboard charts are dominated by just a handful of the record industry’s biggest superstars (Craven McGinty 2018). 

In light of these trends, our submission advanced recommendations that sought to rethink copyright and the role of the public domain in the Canadian music industries. A few of these recommendations include: an increase of public funding dedicated to independent artists; to recognize that user rights and the creative commons have value for Canadian creativity and that these should be protected; and to consider automatic rights reversions as a way to mitigate the ill effects of copyright term extensions. At this time, Canada had signed on to the USMCA, which includes a copyright term extension from 50 years after the author’s death to 70 years, an extension that industry representatives were collectively in favor of.

More specifically, we suggest that the federal government should prioritize relationships with provincial and municipal governments, particularly when it comes to policies and initiatives that fund and support live music venues, small record labels, do-it-yourself and artist-run spaces, and campus and community radio stations. Our submission argues that a more thorough consideration of public domain principles in our thinking around the digital music industries and copyright/cultural policies is essential if we are to take issues of equity and sustainability in the music industries seriously. This is an issue made all the more pertinent as conservative provincial governments in Canada have been slashing funding to their investment to arts and culture. In Ontario, funding for the Ontario Music Fund was reduced from $15 million to $7 million by the province’s Progressive Conservative government budget. More recently in Alberta, a budget rife with cuts to essential public services projects that over 50% of the province’s Arts and Creative Industries budget will be gone by the year 2023. 

With respect to rights reversions, we argue that copyright term extensions do not hold up to scrutiny in cultural economic theory (Giblin 2018) and that most of the commercial value of a sound recording is extracted in the first 10 years; so a 70 years after death term provides no real additional incentive for creators (Gowers Review of Intellectual Property 2018, p. 52). To mitigate the ill effects of the term extension we encourage a careful consideration of automatic rights reversions, with rights reverting back to authors after a period of no greater than 25 years. This echoes other arguments that have been put forth, including Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams) advocating for rights reversions with the ability of creators to reclaim ownership of creations 25 years after they have been given away (see also Rebecca Giblin’s Conversation post on Adams’s appearance). This recommendation offers some balance to the historically imbalanced relationship between artists and record labels, where creators are often pressured to sign away their rights for life.


Musician Bryan Adams before standing committee on Canadian Heritage
Canadian rock star Bryan Adams appears as a witness at a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Reflecting on this process, it felt as though our ideas were heard and that the Committee was in support of initiatives to improve the livelihoods of Canadian musicians. However, the report published by the Committee that followed the meetings and briefs, “Shifting Paradigms,” advanced a status quo narrative of continued copyright protection that was pushed by industry representatives.

Music industry representatives and lobbyists were collectively in favor of extending the copyright term (these can be read in our summaries of their briefs and presentations). On a positive note, the report did make recommendations that urge tech companies and streaming companies to support the work of Canadian creators, but there is very little in the way of tangible policy suggestions that provide an indication that these corporations will comply. Much of this discussion fell within an emphasis on the “Value Gap” in Canada’s music industries. 

Music Canada, a non-profit “trade association that promotes and protects the value of music and advocates on behalf of its creators,” defines the Value Gap as “the result of the marked disparity between the value returned to those artists creating and developing artistic content, and the online sources and telecommunications corporations who benefit greatly from the distribution of said content” (Bambrick 2019). Further, “Shifting Paradigms” did indicate support for an artist protection provision (in its Recommendation 14) and this is one area in which our submission and brief is represented. However, we recommended a Copyright Act amendment that would make a rights reversion automatic, so it will remain to be seen how this recommendation is applied. We are concerned that if the rights reversion is not properly enforced, the situation will be one in which artist contracts are restructured to avoid this protection provision.  

Just as there are issues with concentration in the telecommunications and broadcasting industry, as the “Value Gap” report indicates, the same can be said for the record industry (Music Canada lists its three members as the Canadian subsidiaries of the Big 3 record labels: Sony Music Entertainment Canada Inc., Universal Music Canada Inc., and Warner Music Canada Co.). More substantial copyright reform would advance a digital-musical ecosystem that provides fair compensation to artists and acknowledges listening norms and practices of everyday users.

Streaming music services are now the dominant music providers in Canada as in much of the world, and at the same time, the record industry’s increasing concentration has meant the continued persistence of a power dynamic that marginalizes independent musicians. Our hope is that our research may help to protect a vibrant and diverse Canadian music industry and that more space can be occupied by artists and non-industry representatives in the policy-making process as well as in the reporting on issues of equity in the music industries. 

Notes: “The Cultural Capital Project: Digital Stewardship and Sustainable Monetization for Canadian Independent Musicians” is a SSHRC-funded research project led by Brian Fauteux, Brianne Selman, and Andrew deWaard, with research assistance from Dan Colussi, Anna Dundas-Richter, and William Northlich.


Media Credits:

  1. People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service Spotify begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City.
  2. Members of the Cultural Capital Project, Brianne Selman and the author, speak to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during the hearing “Remuneration Models for Artists in Creative Industries.” More info at cultcap.org.
  3. Canadian rock star Bryan Adams appears as a witness at a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.


References:

Bambrick, H. (2019). Foreward. Closing the value gap: How to fix safe harbours and save the creative middle class. Music Canada. Retrieved from https://musiccanada.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Closing-the-Value-Gap-Music-Canada-2019.pdf

Bolter, J., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Giblin, R. (2018). A new copyright bargain? Reclaiming lost culture and getting authors paid. Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, 41, 369-411.

Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. (2006). December. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228849/0118404830.pdf 

Craven McGinty, J. (2018). Superstars are hogging Billboard’s Hot 100. The Wall Street Journal. 14 December. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/superstars-are-hogging-billboards-hot-100-11544788801

Thompson, D. (2014). The Shazam effect. The Atlantic. December. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-shazam-effect/382237/