Hello, hello. I want to say a quick thank you to everyone who reads this newsletter. I originally started this a little over a year ago and continue to be blown away by readers and the insightful feedback I get every week, again thank you so much. Now this week is a little busy, so let's jump a 2018 review of anti-labor retail giant Amazon, and Amazon Music, its music service I’m sure everyone reading uses, and its video streaming platform Twitch.
Building The Amazon Narrative
Since this is an anniversary issue I'm going to quote myself from last November:
I’ll just a say little thing here, if Spotify IPOs don’t be shocked to start seeing more stories about the rise of Amazon Music and the fact that Apple Music might actually be making some headway with paid subscribers. Just a thought.
Now let’s look at some 2018 headlines about Apple Music:
Now to quote a Hits Daily Double article from early August this year, emphasis mine:
Spotify and Apple Music are far and away the dominant forces in streaming music. That said, the two powerhouses, which once held over 90% of the market, are ceding share to other services as total streams this year have increased by nearly 40%. The two services now have a combined 75% of total streams. Wonderers have wondered who the next major player might be.
Perhaps most notably, Amazon’s marketshare appears to be growing. According to label insiders, Amazon’s Prime Music and Music Unlimited can now claim 9% of the streaming market.
Unsurprisingly a couple weeks after this report, Amazon announced its first national TV for Amazon Music. The tagline was: “A Voice Is All You Need.” I'll be blunt Amazon Music isn't an interesting music streaming platform, but its ecosystem is. There are tens of millions of Amazon Prime subscribers, so why not just use Amazon Music and get access to essentially the same catalog for a cheaper fee. Or perhaps you’re one of the millions of people that own an Amazon smart speaker, which are primarily used for music anyway, so why not just use Amazon Music. The opportunities for Amazon are fairly obvious, so let's get a bit more into specifics.
Now to start, please do ignore all marketing with faces likes Anderson .Paak or Future promoting Amazon products, because they don’t represent the music being used on the service. Instead the most popular songs are in genres like rock, country, and even pure pop, which are often forgotten in the streaming revolution narrative. There is even a children’s song like “Baby Shark” currently in Amazon Music's top 10, which again shows the particular market that Amazon Music is reaching at the moment. The charts look far closer to the contemporary iTunes charts, where genres like rap and r&b are underrepresented compared to Apple Music or Spotify charts.
Amazon Music’s customers aren't the Apple Music fan running to stream the latest Drake album or the YouTube fan who subscribes to a dozen EDM channels. Instead they appear to be slightly older, more interested in soundtrack music, and non-black genres. That’s why in a sense it makes sense Amazon Music targeted smaller indie artists (Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail) to record exclusive Amazon Music only tracks and some of Amazon's earliest music ventures were with country stars. Now, while I highly doubt any of these artists fan bases care about Amazon Music, similar to Amazon funding a Jay Som Music video last year, but rock music, at the moment, appears to be a more natural home at Amazon Music. Now before record labels further commit to Amazon, I'll repeat a bit of caution I've said before.
The more Amazon Music eats the pie of western and in its dreams Indian music streaming, record label should be on guard. One only looks at to look at the recent fuckshit of Amazon's parading around its second headquarters across the country only to gain country on major American cities and then announce they'll just move to New York City and right outside of Washington D.C. I fully expect that Amazon would be fighting for the lowest royalties rates when the time is eventually right for them. They aren't a music company, they don't even pay lip service to act like they deeply care about music, unlike an Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, etc. Amazon's chief motive, like all companies, is to extract as much profits as possible but the company at least holds the guise of helping the consumer.
Why Aren't More Musicians on Twitch
I could do entire newsletter on Twitch, well I mean I did earlier this year, but I could easily do another. Obviously the big moment this year for music and Twitch was when Drake hopped on Ninja’s stream and broke all kinds of Twitch viewership records. Still beyond seeing artists playing Fortnite, I’m not exactly sure I’ve seen a lot of progress in what can happen with music in this particular space.
Of course there are numerous EDM labels that continue to generate endless Twitch livestreams of its music and labels like Monstercat that essentially exist to provide background music to streamers continue to chug along. Still I guess I was wondering if someone would’ve done more behind-the-scenes Twitch streams, maybe move off Instagram and put that content on Twitch were it can be monetized? Part of this does fall on Amazon and Twitch, because its easy to imagine a world where Amazon Music and Twitch are more interconnected, and for example an artist’s profile would give access to its catalog but also its most recent videos of them fucking around and give the option of subscribing directly to a channel for exclusive music and video content. Yet the two operate in two oddly separate silos. I highly doubt that’ll change anytime soon, but of all the western companies who are in the world of music Amazon already holds the infrastructure do a lot more experimenting.
That’s why all year I’ve kept an eye on what’s going with the company. I cannot imagine that music is a great priority for the company, but when last year they killed the ability to stream your own MP3 offer its cloud service it was clear they were about to become far more serious about music streaming. The company also recently launched in Mexico and already beat Spotify to India, so there will be ever more to keep an eye on. Jeff Bezos and his companies might abuse and exploit the labor of thousands of people everyday, but in terms of envisioning an actually interesting post-music streaming world I'd expect far more interesting moves made over at Amazon rather than a music first company. O did I also mention Amazon sells physical goods?
Last week when talking about Monthly Listeners I got a kind email pointing out a couple things I should clarify about how the Monthly Listeners stat works on Spotify. When I wrote this:
Let’s keep using Travis Scott as an example. Last time I checked he was at 25,861,694 Monthly Listeners (Yes, I know this is different than the screenshot, lol). Now if you go to his artist page and look at how many plays are coming from the RapCaviar playlist right now it is 2,552,916. That means 9.87% of Travis Scott’s Monthly Listeners are not engaging directly with Travis Scott but are just hearing his music on this singular playlist.
What the stat actually says isn’t the number of people who listened but the number of people who heard Travis Scott the first time through the playlist.
The other detail I wanted to highlight was that Monthly Listeners isn’t just an artists songs, but also includes if an artist was featured on a song, so when 21 Savage was featured on Post Malone’s “Rockstar” that would’ve hyper-inflated his Monthly Listeners, even if none of those listeners listened to a full 21 Savage song. This clarification further re-affirmed by skepticism towards the stat and that its marker of audience reach is rudimentary and intentionally misleading.
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Now this is a bullshit public relations story, because while Spotify announced the week before Billboard reported on attempts by streaming services potentially pulling money from artists to help offset how much money may now be going to songwriters. So while Spotify will publicly put a face on being pro-songwriters, they, along with Apple, etc., are again trying to find whatever ways to hoard money for themselves.
YouTube: We’ve Paid the Music Business $1.8bn in Ad Money Over the Past 12 Months - Music Business Worldwide
Speaking of hoarding money YouTube is reported starting to pay out even more to labels. Would love if someone could tell me where the major growth is happening and if markets like India and Japan are seeing increased ad rates?
This is slightly old, it came out last Monday, but I looooove all stories about social media stagnation. I just often wonder about these companies after they’ve peaked in growth, and yes I’d ask the about Spotify.
This article is amusing on two levels. One the issues being discussed is exactly what I’ve noticed as rap fan for well over a decade, so seeing this “issue” across other genres is on one level kind of amusing. My other note is the idea of a singing a 15-year-old to a deal where a label is going to take a percent of all future touring revenue is slightly horrifying, just from a pure child labor perspective but I guess c-suite execs gotta find ways to scrap together pennies.
Google Contractors Say Reporting Process for Sexual Misconduct Remains Flawed - Gizmodo / Airbnb And eBay Just Said They Would End Forced Arbitration For Sexual Harassment Claims - Buzzfeed / Software Company Learns a Tough Lesson About Union-Busting; Fired Workers Win Big Back-Pay Settlement - Newsguild
Just including these three stories for the thirteen of y'all that are interested in the intersection of tech and labor. The Google Walkout is already having positive results in the industry and a shitty union busting company, Lanetix, settled with the workers they fired earlier this year. Bless labor, which speaking of...
Last week I was on the podcast And Introducing by Chapo Trap House producer Chris Wade along with Molly O’Brien talked about the book Tell Tchaikovsky the News, which was about the fall of the American Federation of Musicians during the rise of rock and roll. Listen for a history of music unions and labor, or if you want to hear my muffled laughter at gallows music industry jokes.
One last thing, if you happen to be in New York City and are somehow free at 11:30, please do catch me at The Poetics of Information Symposium hosted by New York University at 1 Washington Place. I’ll be on a panel with Liz Pelly (da gawd) and Damon Kurkowski (goat), who I’ve cited here before, which will be moderated by Ben Ratliff (da gawd II). Below is a flyer, if you can make it let me know and I can say hey!