Hello, hello! I want to make two small announcements. Next week a copy editor will clean through this newsletter, which should address the ever-persistent concern over my charming, but understandably frustrating grammatical errors. The other news is that today I made a Patreon page if you’d like to support this newsletter.
I tried a for pay newsletter last fall, but stopped after a couple of months due to underestimating the effort to move apartments and other personal life shifts. This is why my Patreon is set up with two tiers: Supports ($3) that is essentially a tip jar to help with email distribution cost, you’ll see this in the goal. The next Stans ($6) tier will feature Patreon exclusive posts that’ll range from riffing on the news, book reviews, and whatever other short-form content y’all might desire. The first Stan tier should arrive next week maybe around Spotify’s Q4 numbers...perhaps.
I’m up to answer any questions, and I can’t say enough thanks if you do contribute. If not this newsletter will keep arriving every Wednesday, but enough about me let’s chat about musicians and podcasts.
Most music news reports on podcasts are centered around potential Pandora or Spotify that I find rather trite. Not that podcasts aren’t increasing in relevance but recent headline speculation (“Spotify Can’t Keep Losing More Than $1 Billion a Year. Can Podcasts Rescue Its Business Model?”) glosses a bit over the reality podcasts made up less than 1% listening. There is a business reason why both companies want a narrative of podcast growth but it isn’t being borne out in user behavior yet. That’s why I’ll be observing the podcast trend from an artist not a platform perspective.
Streaming Birthed the Podcast Star
Even still what sparked this internal discussion wasn’t even a podcast perse. The inspiration was Soulja Boy’s instantly viral Breakfast Club interview from earlier this month. One of the most influential rappers for redefining how the genre approached the internet went off complaining about feeling disrespected and with a high-pitched screech of “Draaaaaaake” effectively ruined the name of the Canadian rapper. Video clips of the rapper’s dramatics quickly spread online in a way that is hard to find replicated with audio-only content.
Where podcast growth normally occurs through building upon the success of an already successful podcast see: The Ringer podcast network expanding off of Bill Simmons’s already successful ESPN podcast, or through persistent world of mouth. This can often make podcasts feel a bit insulated from broader culture as it requires a deeper engagement with the content rather than passive consumption. Certain sectors of the music industry might find that a disadvantage when so much of the music industry's system is to promote artists at a massive scale. That is why it's easy to observe early cautionary tales of podcasting within the musician space.
Earlier this month the newsletter Trapital wondered aloud if rappers in 2019 would continue to adopt the podcast form and mentioned Tidal’s short-lived attempts with podcasts back in 2017 and the potential issue of Joe Budden signing a windowed exclusive deal with Spotify for his show. The issue highlighted wasn’t the show's quality but rather limiting the audience by locking into singular platforms that don't spread content well. Even though it was an hour-long interview the interview traveled like one of Soulja Boy’s many proto-meme-inspired songs of the mid-2000s.
Rap, and broadly mainstream music, due to market pressures and a bit of genuine musical vibrancy is typically stuck looking forward, not back. That in the context of music releases is great because it allows for new trends, regions, and sounds to filter up and be ready to be consumed. That isn’t necessarily great for podcasting. Like radio before, the medium thrives off building habits through hosts, show topics, and a consistent broadcast or release schedule. The Breakfast Club with radio roots can see Soulja Boy moments happen without needing to adjust their entire business model around a singular moment, unlike a musician with a hit song. The show’s infrastructure is built to foster and produce these moments and when it doesn’t happen that doesn’t equate to a disappointment or flop, as there’s always a show the next day.
What Do Podcasts Really Offer Musicians
A number of musician podcasts are already out there as Cherie Hu observed when tweeting for musician podcast recommendations and receiving over 160 replies. In one way podcasts can offer a more intimate, and less exploitative, post-career path for successful artists that one could’ve found on VH1 in the 2000s via Flavor of Love or Rock of Love, which perhaps offered the harshest unintentional critique of the 80s major label lifestyle. Much in the way, there is a solid career path that professional athletes can take once of the playing field and enter into the local broadcast booth or national radio/TV sport commentator.
What’s odd is that there is already a platform that’s made artist focused podcast for years but never given that name...Apple Music’s Beats 1. Even though the programming is framed in the context of radio more podcast-like content could slide into Beats 1 radio and the fact there isn’t more overlap of Beats 1 with Apple’s own podcast store feels a bit like a missed opportunity while this space is so open.
Now, where exactly does this leave up-and-coming artists who might be interested in building up that audience? Perhaps instead of running towards Instagram live some of that studio time could be used to express some of those same thoughts in weekly 45 minutes chunks. This isn’t a suggestion for every artist or fan base, but as there is a trend in journalism and other parts of media towards niches this feels like a possible route. Also, an example of this approach can be seen in the obsession with artist/concert merch this decade, where one’s fandom is directly analogous to whatever clothing one can potentially afford. The tier reward system that can be seen on various podcasts on Patreon shows an interesting path.
Now does every band need a weekly podcast where they talk about the news of the day? Absolutely not. Are the current ways of conceptualizing being a musician one where such programming would be feasible to integrate into the workflow being a musician? Maybe. I’m suggesting podcasts this week but more broadly I want to keep interrogating what it means to be a musician in 2019 and what is it that fans want out of people who make music but in turn can offer so much more.
6 Links 2 Read
The Four Types of Music Subscription Models in 2019 - Music Business Worldwide
In light of myself taking another go at a subscription, I’m very much interested in seeing how the music industry approaches a wide range of subscription methods.
YouTube Ripper Wins Dismissal of Record Labels’ US Piracy Lawsuit - Torrent Freaks
Typically I don’t cover much piracy news but I’ll admit that the lawsuits against most MP3 rippers reminds me of reading about the record industry’s fight back in the day against bootleggers. Never underestimate people’s desire for a personal recording.
These stories make great headlines but truthfully readers would be better served learning about how little money artists derive from music streaming royalties than fear-mongering over a few people swindling a few hundred bucks from Spotify. The systematic issues are in the business, not security.
The Trichordist yearly update on music streaming rates holds a few interesting details. Apple Music went up, Spotify went down, and as the article points out YouTube Content ID is nearly 50% of the streams but barely pays out 7% of the overall market share. While I understand the monetary concern, I find the “value gap” argument here increasingly thin unless the record industry starts making bigger demands from YouTube, otherwise this decade-long spat will persist.
I apologize for two gaming stories this week but the lawsuits over Fortnite dances are such a bizarre news story to me. Personally, I think Epic Games, which a larger minority stake is held by Tencent, owes something to these dance creators but still not quite sure of the best legislative outcome.
The Penny Fractions newsletter arrives every Wednesday morning (EST). If you’d like to support it, check out my Patreon page. The artwork was done by the graphic designer Kurt Woerpel whose work can be found here. My personal is davidturner.work. Any comments or concerns can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. I did enough self-promo this week, so thanks for reading y’all!