The Beatles and Other Forgotten Bands

By James Wallace Harris, June 30, 2015

Now that Apple has entered the streaming music business it’s obvious that streaming is the future. After more than a century of wax cylinders, 78s, LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, DATs, SACDs, MP3s, music will arrive by subscribing to bits and bytes. We’re now in a transition phase. Some people will listen to music they own, and others will listen to music they rent. As the advantages of subscription music become apparent to all, most listeners will forget about owning. If songs aren’t instantly available on their smartphones, they will be forgotten.


Because I listen to ninety-nine percent of my music through Spotify, The Beatles are becoming a forgotten band. I’m sure Apple hopes to make an exclusive deal to stream The Beatles like they did for selling their songs and albums by digital downloads. If The Beatles make such an agreement, I might forget them completely. I bought twelve of their thirteen re-mastered CDs when they came out a couple years ago, but I don’t play them. Some are still in the shrink wrap. Listening to music on Spotify is just too damn convenient.


Most of the famous bands that held out against the subscription music tide have given in – AC/DC is the latest example. I have to admire that group for not making an exclusive deal. During the transition phase to a complete subscription music age, we will have to find ways to deal with forgotten bands. There are several reasons why music from the past isn’t offered today.

Once In a Very Blue Moon - Nanci Griffith

First, a band will refuse to allow their music to be streamed. That’s becoming less likely as people quit buying music. Second, music is often tied up in legal battles. Again, that will be resolved. There is a lot of music from the past that is forgotten because there’s no demand or its creators aren’t around to promote it. I assume this will change over time as those who still remember will complain. Finally, what we can hear will be limited by exclusive deals. There’s over a dozen subscription music services out there now with more coming on line all the time. The best way to capture subscribers is to promise the biggest catalog, especially catalogs with artists and albums that other services don’t contain. I find this mercenary practice a heinous aspect of the music business.

Willis Alan Ramsey

Right now the standard price for subscribing to a music library is $10 a month. If some services seek to dominate with exclusive deals, there will be a tendency towards monopolies and squeezing out the smaller services, or for people to subscribe to more than one music site. One solution to make subscribing to multiple libraries possible is to change the fee structure. For example, if Spotify and Apple charged $2.99 to be a subscriber, and then one penny a play, then fans could easily enjoy two sites and pay artists fairly.


One reason why artists have avoided subscription services is the low royalty payments. Between the music publishers and subscription services, they seem to make the best deals for themselves. Apple almost got away with giving people three months of music to new subscribers without paying the artists. I think the artists would get a better deal if their payments were separated from subscription fees.

Rainbow Down the Road by B. W. Stevenson

One cent a play is the perfect payment. That cent should be divvied fairly between the composers, performers and record companies. The one cent fee should only be for specific playing of songs. For random background listening, artists should get a lesser fee paid out of the subscription service fee. That way, unless a fan plays specific songs all day long, most listeners will still stay close to the $10 a month bill.

Never Goin Back to Georgia by Blue Magoos

With better royalties I believe most music from the past will be unearthed and put online. Forgotten bands and their albums will show up in libraries, making subscription music nearly perfect. Right now there are many favorite songs from the past that I can’t add to my playlists. In the future, when everything I want to hear is in my subscription, I can’t imagine another system of music delivery ever replacing it.

Sailer by The Steve Miller Band

Pictured are just some of the albums I can’t play on Spotify today. I hope they will all be available within a year.


Hey, Rdio, Rhapsody, Google, Spotify–Add These New Features, Please

I’ve been a streaming music subscriber for years.  First with Rhapsody, now with Rdio, but I’ve also subscribed to Lala, MOG and Spotify.  Each service takes a different approach to the best way of listening to music from a gigantic online library.  All provide the basics, search on artist, album and song, play album in order, random, repeat and repeat one, and create playlists.

New reports claim that music publishers now feel they are making more money per user from subscription services than by selling songs.  This implies that subscription services are succeeding – let’s hope.  I think there are many features that subscription services could add to their product that would make them stand out from each other, and maybe completely kill off the idea of owning music.

However, there’s far more potential benefits from subscription music than just playing music from a rented library.  One recent article claims that most artists will make more money in the long run from subscription music than from selling hit records, but it involves a new paradigm of promoting songs.  The old paradigm was to promote a hit, get as many people to buy it as possible, and then move on to creating the next hit.  The new paradigm is to create a portfolio of songs that are played forever by lifelong fans.  The old paradigm is based on selling the song once, and the new one is based on getting it played the most over time, year after year, decade after decade.

This makes techniques used to find songs and albums from almost a century of music, and adding tunes to personal playlists, the most important marketing tool for bands.  Theoretically, songs from the 1940s could becoming bigger hits than songs from the 2010s, if the right discovery tools were created.

It would be great if Rdio/Spotify/Rhapsody had an AI (artificial intelligent) program that could look at a person’s playlist and then guarantee them a list of songs from the past will be much loved.  Unfortunately, such computer magic doesn’t exist yet.  If there’s a Miles Davis track out there that you’ll play for hours on end in Repeat 1 mode, you’re going to have to find it yourself.

Some recording artists might be protesting streaming music for low royalty rates, and that might be true too, but streaming music is probably the best long term solution for helping new artists be discovered.  Digital Music News reported that 90.7 percent of all artists are essentially undiscovered.

With both Spotify and Rdio now offering completely free ad-supported subscriptions there is no reason not to try them.

So what features could the subscription music services offer to help fans find more songs to love?  Here what I want.

Top 100 Songs/Album/Artists By Year

Streaming music services need to quickly add Year to their search feature.  Having the New Releases, Current Hit Album/Song pages is just too damn limiting.  I need to be able to saying, “Show me what you got 1957!”  What would be even more fun would be to ask Rdio to play me the hit songs from the week I was born.  Or if I felt like returning to the summer when I was 14, tell Spotify to play music from the summer of 1965.

Who were the hit artists for 1938?  What labels were big in 1947?

I would also like to be able to play songs by release dates, and all songs from specific hit charts from a particularly week.

We might also need a composed year field, so I can ask for the music of the 1850s.

Far More Record Charts

Right now it’s possible to know which songs and albums are popular by everyone using the service, but that’s so limiting.  What I like to see is a chart of top songs being played by 62 year old guys who were computer programmers and who love science fiction.  Or if I wanted to sample another demographic, what songs are being played by college freshmen at the moment, what classical music symphonies are being made hits at the moment from Julliard graduates playing them, or what country tunes are being played the most in Nashville versus Austin or Denver, or what songs are loved by retired DJs who worked in the 1960s, or what songs are played the most by people over 90.  See what I mean?

Search by Catalog Number and Label

Now that subscription music services are vast libraries of songs that span decades, and record collectors have probably squirreled away all the great platters, it would be fun to play music historian on the cheap, and listen to music by label, especially all those rare labels put out by extreme music aficionados.

Years ago when I bought LPs, record companies would advertise other LPs on the inner sleeves of albums.  I especially loved the ones by ATCO and Warner Music.  For example, I’d love to be able to call up ATCO albums from 1970s, and just see what Rdio has.

Here’s a screenshot from MusicMatch for a search of Verve, showing a portion of the results near Janis Ian.  As subscription services grow, they will become closer to complete libraries of music history, and searching by label and catalog number will be more important.  Instead of collecting music from the past, it will be all about playing the music of the past.


Browse by Genres and Subgenres

Sometimes I want to play music by genre, especially genres I’m not familiar with, but most streaming services have very limited ways of doing this.  Rdio is pretty nice for genre browsing.  I can browse by “Stations” and pick Jazz, and then have the choice of 10 sub-genre stations, and then a 5 position control that ranges from Popular to Adventurous.  But what if I wanted smooth piano jazz from the late 1950s?  Or to hear the musical heirs of Charlie Parker?  Right now this kind of feature is one of the best ways to discover new old music on Rdio, but it could be infinitely refined.


Better Playlists and Collections

Right now I can have playlists and a collection to organize my musical favorites on Rdio.  Playlists are just lists of songs.  I’d love to have Album Playlists, to group albums I’d like to play together.  I’d also like to have multiple collections, so I can keep my jazz albums separate from my rock albums.  I was keeping my Collection on Rdio limited to albums I liked a lot, but when I downloaded the local client, it looked at the albums I owned on my computer, and added all of them to my collection, which is now one big mess.

Playlists and the Collection is how I get to remember what I liked on Rdio.  Without them I’d forget tons of music.  When using a subscription music library it’s very hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music I can play.  20 million songs, which is probably a million albums.  I’m lucky if I could sit down and write a list of my 100 favorite albums from memory.

When playing subscription music I mainly listen to what I already love.  But I, and new artists, want me to try new stuff.  Often I go through the weekly releases of new albums and try as many of them as I can.  There’s always more than I can try.  And if I find a song I like I can at it to a playlist, or add the album to a collection.  What I’d like to have is a personal library, which has unlimited collections.  Now some collections I want to name myself, but others I want Rdio to auto-generate.  So if I add Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen to my Rock Collection, it would automatically add it to a 1975 Collection, and a Columbia Record Collection, because there will be times when I’d love just to play my favorite albums from 1975, or even December, 1975.

Collections and Playlists are the way I distinguish my music from the background library of everything.  I want more tools for organizing my music, and even browsing it visually.

Higher Fidelity

Over time, as technology changes, I want streaming music to offer better fidelity.  It’s wonderful now, but I don’t want to be tempted by any new technology to come along that would make me want to start buying individual songs and albums again, either as digital files or on physical medium.  I’m over owning music.  Renting is so much more convenient.  I’m happy to let Rdio do all the library scut work.  Nor do I want to hop from one service to the next, as new companies promise features old ones don’t.  I’m currently thinking of subscribing to another service, adding Rhapsody or Spotify, for a while, just to see if they offer more.  But I’d rather they didn’t.  I invested a lot of love into Lala, only to have Apple ruin it.  Now that I’ve spent so much time with Rdio I want it to both succeed and keep competitive.

Export and List Features

A lot of work goes into discovering new music and creating playlists and collections, so if Rdio went out of business I’d loose a lot of knowledge I’ve put into their system.  I want to be able to export that knowledge to another streaming service.  Or if I subscribed to two streaming services, I’d like to sync that knowledge.  I’d also love some database tools to just study big data views of my music, or make printouts, like for putting on this blog.


The phrase “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” is an apt one for music streaming technology.  I’ve lived through so much technological change in my life, even just in the music industry, that I know nothing stays the same.  If I live another ten or twenty years I expect amazing things, and since I’m running out of time, I’d rather have them now.

Music Technology News

If you’re interested in reading more about subscription music, try these sites.

JWH – 1/19/14     

Models of Making Money by Making Music

Songwriters and performers dream of writing a hit song that will be heard by millions and make them rich enough to quit their day jobs.  As a life-long music lover I want my song making heroes to make as much money as possible, so it disturbs me when I read stories like “Get Ready for the Streaming-Music Die Off” that report artists are making so little from my favorite method of buying music that it might die off.  I’m upset that the artists aren’t getting paid properly, and I’m upset that I’m losing my favorite all-time method of buying music.

Music is very important to me, it’s brought my life much joy, solace, inspiration, happiness, stimulation, and pleasure.  It’s well worth the money I pay for it, and it’s angers me that so many people don’t.  Anyone who doesn’t pay for their music has no respect for music, or its creators.  Nor do they have any respect for capitalism and our economic well being.  With the music business we want to do two things:  reward the creators of music, and reward the business of promoting, publishing and distributing of music.  Sadly, it appears that the publishers of music have always been greedy and routinely ripped off their artists.  With the new digital technologies of music distributions it appears artists are getting an even shorter end of the stick than ever before.

Most people think little about music, and even less about how it’s bought and sold.  But if you love music, and you know who you are, it’s very important to know how your favorite artists are paid – their songs are the soundtrack of your life.  But we want more than that.  We want to promote economic strength in our country, and we want a vital music industry.  Americans are making less and less to sell to the world, so unless you want everyone working at a fast food counter, it’s important to promote industry too.

What Business Models Benefit the Artists?

There are two basic ways to sell music:

  • Artists sell digital and physical records directly to their fans
  • Artists sign with a publisher that sell their work in a variety of ways

In a perfect world fans and artists would cut out the middle man, but there’s a problem.  Getting a million people to listen to your song is hard.  Getting ten million people to hear it is far more than ten times harder.  If you want to get rich selling music you have to work with a publisher, and that involves working with loads of other people that take a cut out of the preverbal pie.

Every Tuesday new albums come out.  On Rdio I page through so many I can’t count them.  There are millions of would-be recording stars out there, all wanting millions of other people to listen and buy their music.  Most, if not practically all of them, will never make any money, not the kind of money that would let them live off their creative efforts.  In all the articles I read about the artists complaining of unfair treatment by the music publishers, I don’t see any figures on how many fans does an artist have to find to make a living.  That would be very interesting to know.  If a song writer wants to make a million dollars on his song, how many people have to buy the song directly, or listen on the radio, or hear it from one of the ever growing ways of hearing new tunes.

We know if an artist sells a song on their web site for a $1, it will take 1 million fans buying the song.  But how many would it take if the song was sold on iTunes or Amazon?  How many plays would it take to make a million dollars from fans listening on Spotify or Rdio?  Or Pandora or iTunes Radio?  Or just a plain old radio?  Each method of distribution has it’s costs, and investors that want their share of the action.

Artists are complaining bitterly about streaming music services not paying enough, but as the article linked above shows, it’s the music publishers who make the deals with the streaming services, and it might not be the streaming services to blame for low royalties.

I now get my music almost exclusively through Rdio, which I play $9.99 a month.  I’m contributing $120 a year to the music industry and their artists.  It troubles me when I hear that artists get little from this business model.  Would I benefit artists and the industry more by buying $120 worth of CDs?  Or $120 worth of MP3s from Amazon or iTunes?

To complicate the mathematical understanding of this problem, many of the songs I play on Rdio are ones I already own on CD.  I use Rdio as a convenience.  My favorite playlist is just over 200 songs.  I play it 90% of the time, and listen to new albums 10% of the time to find new songs to add to my playlists.  Probably 100 of those 200 songs I own already, so for about $120 I could buy the others, and go the MP3 buying model of business.  If I did that, I’d probably spend about $50 a year on new songs.

It’s doubtful I’d ever go back to buying physical CDs.  That means paying $120 a year to Rdio puts me at my maximum spending, and the artists on my playlist are getting paid a tiny fraction of a cent every time I play one of their songs.  Thus the solution by my standards would be to pay the artists at a higher rate, and the publishers less.

What Business Models Benefit the Fans?

For most music fans, the casual back ground music listeners, radio, whether AM, FM or various internet service, getting music for free is all they want.  They pay for their music by listening to ads.

Let’s ignore the barbarians that steal music.

Next up are fans who love songs enough to buy them.  They might buy a handful of songs a year, just the ones that are catchy enough to keep.  They will spend a $1.29 here and there.  Over their lifetime they will collect and own a playlist of their favorites.

Then we have fans willing to buy whole albums from their favorite artists, either digital or physical.  They are willing to commit $10-15, or more.  These kinds of music lovers often buy one or more albums a month.  However, this model of business is disappearing.  Fewer and fewer fans collect albums.

For the hard core music fan that loves the widest variety of music, nothing beats streaming music at $10 a month.  (Or $5/month if you only listen from your computer.)

How to Grow the Industry?

Streaming music is based on the idea that fans will pay a monthly fee to hear whatever they want whenever they want.  $10 a month gets convenience.  This is the model I prefer.  I was hoping this model would be the one to succeed.  I show off Rdio every chance I get, but I have convinced damn few people to buy it.  The streaming music model is like owning a giant record store for $10 a month.  It’s an unbelievable deal, but it’s not popular.  Spotify is hoping to get 40 million subscribers, but only has six million now.  It would take a 100  million subscribers to make subscription music a 12 billion dollar a year industry, and that’s not likely, but it would make music into a cable TV like industry.

If digital music had never existed, and the only way to own music was via physical media, the music industry would be huge, but I doubt we’ll return to that business model.

Let me tell you a story.  My friend Leigh Ann brought over a stack of old LPs she had.  She thinks she got them from an estate sale.  They were old Broadway show soundtracks from the 1950s and 1960s.  They looked rare, valuable and in good condition.  Most of them were on Rdio.  My $10 a month gets me whole areas of music I’ve never even tried.  Mostly I use my $10 a month service to play the same 200 songs over and over again.  I haven’t even begun to explore 1/10th of 1/10th of the music on Rdio.  $10 a month for unlimited streaming music is the best money I’ve spent in my life.

Leigh Ann and I started playing her albums but it became obvious that it was much easier just to call them up on Rdio.  I could buy her albums, but the artists that created them wouldn’t get paid.  Someone, probably not the original artists, do get paid, even if it’s a tiny amount, if I play them on Rdio.

Artists should get better rates from subscription music, but subscription music should be the model to market music.  It has one fair concept – artists are paid every time a song is played.  That’s better than what they get from stolen MP3s or people buying used LPs and CDs.  And streaming music keeps millions of albums in print that would be forgotten.

JWH – 12/6/13

Sharing Music

Yesterday WordPress informed their bloggers we could add links to Spotify and Rdio to our blog posts and they would be converted into music players.  Great!  I’ve always wanted to review music and let people play it while they read the review.  It’s very hard to describe music in words.  Last night I posted a couple test posts and discovered there’s some real limitations to the endeavor.

I’ve also started a new blog site, Streaming Music, where I will branch off my writing about music. To give you some idea what I can do there I’ve created some tests of embedded music players.

Rdio only played 30 second clips to the people I got to try it, none of which were subscribers to Rdio.  I’m going to try again here and see if I can find some subscribers and see if they hear more than 30 second clips.

You can join Rdio for free and get limited access to their music. You can also join Spotify for free and get quite a bit of free music, but you’ll need to install their software client. Rdio works with a web client.

Spotify won’t play at all unless you have the Spotify client installed.  This is free, but requires people to go off and install the client.  However, Spotify has millions of subscribers, and millions more free users.  And they have users in Europe.

The next downside to the project is people outside of U.S. and Europe can’t use either service.  All the legalities of online borders is a pain to deal with on the Internet where we’re really just one big world.

People have been sharing music on the Internet right from the beginning, but illegally.  For $5 a month you can have legal access to gigantic libraries of music, so subscription music is a new kind of sharing that’s spreading fast.  By WordPress offering linked music players should push this movement further, and hopefully one day I can put a song up to play on my blog and anyone in the world can hear it while they read my post.

If you don’t mind, leave a message and tell me if you can play music from Rdio or Spotify.  Tell me if you only hear 30 second clips or the whole songs.  Tell me if you are a subscriber of either service.  And let me know what country are browsing from.



The Significance of the Spotify Revenue Model–A New Social Promotion Paradigm

Spotify is popular European streaming music service that has come to America.  It’s not that we didn’t already have American streaming music services from Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG, Napster, Microsoft, Sony and others, but Spotify is different, it has a free, ad-supported option besides it’s two paid options.

Allowing people to listen to music for free is significant., also offered a free option, but Apple bought Lala and killed it.  I wonder if Apple will buy Spotify?  Free is a threat to the status quo, but legally free means a new paradigm in promoting music.

Would-be rock stars dream of riches so how will free music help them? To become an actual star means finding a million fans – it’s all about promotion.  If your songs sucks, no amount of promotion will help, but if they are great, without listeners no one will know.  And the best way to promote a product is word of mouth.  And social networking on web pages, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or even email, is word of mouth promotion on steroids.

It used to be radio airplay created hit songs. But who listens to radio anymore?  Now-a-days people use YouTube.  Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is at 106,083,210 plays on YouTube.  Of course that could be 10 million fans listening 10 times each, or 1 million fans listening to the song a hundred times, or it could be me listening for 10 times before I bought the CD, and another guy out there listening to it for 106,083,200 times.  But this is the kind of promotion that payola can’t even touch.  Free is more contagious than the common cold. 

Most people I know who want to share a song with a friend checks YouTube to see if there’s a video so their friends can hear it for free.  But what if there’s no video?  Bummer.  There’s always finding a pirate copy, but that’s a pain and could be dangerous.

Spotify is the new kid in town that could replace YouTube’s as the go-to place to have friends try out songs.  But there’s a minor hitch.  You have to be a Spotify member and install the client software before you can play songs for free.  Now that’s not much more work than getting Acrobat Reader so you can read PDF files, but it is some extra work.  If Spotify gets the kind of market penetration as Flash then it will be a snap to share songs.

Spotify will replace Billboard as the definer of Hit Lists. But this depends on everyone using Spotify.  It would help if they had a web client.  It would also help if they had an embeddable player so web pages and blogs could just add a play button so when someone writes about a song they could press a button and listen while they read. 

WordPress does have a MP3 player I could embed in my writing here, but I’d have to load the song onto the WordPress server first, and since most songs are copyrighted, that’s illegal.  But Spotify, and other streaming services, could legally arrange to stream music to such embedded buttons, and they and the record companies would want such buttons if they also had a button next to the play button to return you to the album page where you’d see ads and more promotions for the artist and their albums.

Now this assumes Spotify remaining the only music streaming service with a free option.  What if that’s not the case?  What if they all offer ad-supported listening?  This will cause terrific competition for membership.  People will chose which service from a variety of features.  Price has always settled down to $5 a month for computer streaming and no ads, and $10 a month if you want to hear music on your mobile device (smartphone, MP3 player, tablet).  I would expect the Spotify competitors to come out with free ad-supported versions soon.  The ad supported version is like getting heroin for free.  Anyone who loves music will pop for the $10 deal eventually.

What the artists and record companies will want is the most efficient way to create massive audiences for songs.  I would guess royalties from subscription music is based on plays.  If no one listens to your album, you don’t make any money.  So they game switches from how many songs you can sell, to how many people can you get to play your song on the various subscription services.  Money from subscribers and ads are out of your control – everything is about getting people to listen.

And since anyone can listen for free, this should wipe our piracy – at least for songs on subscription services.

I’d love to be able to write album reviews and be able to embed a player for each song I review so people could play the songs while they read what I’m saying about them.  Right now I can do this:  “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele.  If you have Spotify you can click the link to play that song.  What I want is a graphic with CD controls and a play button so if you pressed it the song would play right in the browser where you are reading this.  WordPress offers that feature if I pay $19.95, but I couldn’t legally upload the song for you to try it.  If I could, I would gladly pay the $19.95 – but then the artist wouldn’t earned royalty credits.  It would be much easier for all concerned if streaming music services just offered embedding controls that WordPress, Facebook, etc. could incorporate like they do when I embed a YouTube video.

If such subscription music players were widely used, artists would get more play credits.

By the way, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” gained 26,000 plays as I wrote this blog.

JWH – 8/5/11

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