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I am really digging the new Lana Del Ray album, Ultraviolence, and particularly the track West Coast. Produced by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys guitarist). She calls her groove ‘narco-swing’, a trippy, downtempo haze with ’50s and 60’s Americana trimmings.

(Source: Spotify)

The Beaches, Loner



Stuck in my head. It’s the soaring chorus, and the summertime.

All of these things. It’s a beginning-of-a-road-trip song. 

(via Four Tet Confirms He Is Burial)
That rumor is finally confirmed. 

(via Four Tet Confirms He Is Burial)

That rumor is finally confirmed. 

A First: Videogame Soundtrack Nominated For Grammy

Austin Wintory is the first composer to be nominated for a Grammy for the soundtrack of a videogame, Journey.

The New Authenticity In Pop

If the web was going to change the business of music, where would we see that change? Would it be deep in the bowels of established music labels, rapidly innovating to self-cannibalize their old business models? The established distribution channels, like radio? Uh, no.

As usual, the disruption starts at the edge, with independent artists, new music scenes, and music lovers who are looking for something not pushed like toothpaste or dog food, something authentic:

The Year in Pop - Viral Stardom and Martial Dance Music- Jon Pareles, Ben Ratliffe, and Jon Caramanica via

JON PARELES Well, what is the mechanism? I think what’s going on is that audiences like to find music on their own. You’re having so much stuff thrown at you, like you have Rihanna just blasted at you from all directions, and you think: “Wait a minute, I want something that’s mine. I want something that I’m curious about, where my curiosity hasn’t been smothered by the barrage of marketing.”

RATLIFF That’s the new authenticity. You found it by yourself or with a few of your friends online.

BEN RATLIFF We were talking about Tumblrs last year — sort of little online boutiques that don’t sell you things but shape your taste. Now this year something’s been proven: Pop performers can become truly famous by building their careers themselves online, maybe more efficiently and faster than a major company can help them to do.

JON CARAMANICA Especially if a major company is secretly helping them to do it: 2012 was probably the year when you started to see people who were birthed of the Internet, in about as true a sense as you can, become equally successful in a hard-dollars sense as people who have been birthed from of a major label.

RATLIFF Give us an example.

CARAMANICA A couple of things jump out at me this year. One, you look at the first-week sales numbers of someone like Kendrick Lamar, who had an independent album that was digital only and is now on [the major-label] Interscope, but basically has no major radio hits, even if he is well-liked by mainstream hip-hop. He comes out and sells about 240,000 in his first week. A couple weeks later Rihanna comes out — not her first album and at the height of her pop fame — and sells a few thousand less than Kendrick did.

RATLIFF It’s incredible.

CARAMANICA If I worked at Def Jam [Rihanna’s label], and I’m looking at those numbers, and I had just flown a bunch of journalists around the world to make sure that my pop star had a tremendous amount of presence, and she can’t even sell as many records as a guy who basically can’t crack the Top 20 in the Billboard R&B/hip-hop song chart, I’m really stressed. I think another good example is Lana Del Rey. This starts in 2011 with Lana Del Rey as an Internet thing, and then there’s an Internet backlash, and then there’s an Internet backlash to the backlash. And yet when she comes out [with “Born to Die,” her major-label debut], she not only does respectable numbers, she is someone whom people, for better or worse, took as seriously as any number of pop stars who were born inside the major-label system this year.

JON PARELES Well, what is the mechanism? I think what’s going on is that audiences like to find music on their own. You’re having so much stuff thrown at you, like you have Rihanna just blasted at you from all directions, and you think: “Wait a minute, I want something that’s mine. I want something that I’m curious about, where my curiosity hasn’t been smothered by the barrage of marketing.”

RATLIFF That’s the new authenticity. You found it by yourself or with a few of your friends online.

CARAMANICA Right, but when it turns out that a few of your friends are actually as many people as enjoy Rihanna, that says a lot of things about trends that maybe were there all along, but there wasn’t a frictionless way to serve that kind of interest. And now with the speed with which Internet things are turning into real-life things, it’s not going to make a lot of sense for a label to spend $1 million in development upfront on a pop star who may or may not succeed when you can find someone with a tremendous following online, put a little bit of cash in at that end, and then get the cream off the top.

These writers are so close to the show that they can sound just like the executives that run the labels, who could be tone deaf but have calculators where their souls are supposed to be. Deciding to shift their model to what’s working, partly because it will save them money, but mostly because it speeds everything up: there will be hundreds of artists building followings out there, all in parallel, much more happening in a shorter time than all the entertainment capital in the world could do in the old, ‘fly journalists around the world with Rihanna’ push-based marketing. Instead, stand back and watch (or seed fund from the shadows) social media marketing, and monitor what’s working. 

It’s a shift to trying to create and control a market, to becoming brokers and investors *in* a larger, more social world with ten thousand smaller, denser, social markets. 

I won’t go so far as to say that the folks behind these labels have moved to the edge themselves, but they have certainly turned their radar in that direction, and we can anticipate a continued hollowing out of the old, cold label-driven music business in 2013 and beyond.

Brain Shift Radio Controls Mood with Music – Is It Awesome or Creepy? - Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey via →

Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey via

In Philip K. Dick’s book Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? (a.k.a. Blade Runner), the lead character Rick Deckard and his wife alter their mental states with devices called Mood Organs. Rising in the morning, Deckard dials in a “businesslike professional attitude,” while his vengeful wife selects no fewer than six hours of “self-accusatory depression.”

If it is not yet clear, the book posits that the Mood Organ is bad — a way to feel without meaning. Imagine, then, someone reading about the Mood Organ and deciding it was a bad idea only because it had been poorly executed.

Enter Brain Shift Radio, an application built in part by Jeff Strong, a percussionist who spent more than a decade studying ethno-musicology and therapeutic rhythms. The resulting web app, which is free for unlimited use in this beta phase, harnesses “Rhythmic Entertainment Intervention” to let people “shift their brain” from one state to another. The user makes simple requests about how they’d like their mood to shift, and the system churns through research and data, spitting out an answer in the form of looped instrumentals purported to affect the brain in the specified way.

Say it’s just before lunch at your New York office, and you need an energy boost. You could select “I’m tired and feeling mentally groggy,” and listen to a delightful ditty called “Metal Element” which “stimulates the lung and large intestine meridians of the Chinese medical system.” You could also walk down to the corner shop instead, to purchase “Essence of Dragon Spine” from the man selling watches from a table.

The difference: Brain Shift Radio works. Sort of.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I plan to.

When Will Music’s Celestial Jukebox Go Mainstream? - Robert Andrews via paidContent →

Where’s the tipping point in the transition from owned to rented music? Is Spotify the fulcrum in this change?

Robert Andrews via paidContent

Globally, digital music subscriptions rose 64 percent to 13.4 million through 2011 (source: IFPI) - but that is just three percent of UK industry revenue. Downloads, dominated by iTunes Store, shipped 1.1 billion singles in the U.S. alone in 2010 (source: Nielsen SoundScan).

“For streaming to go mainstream, we need to hit somewhere like 10 times that,” MusicWeek editor Tim Ingham told a MusicTank industry seminar on the topic last week.

And industry analyst Mark Mulligan said: “We need to get to the next level of scale before ARPU (average revenue per user) actually matters to artists as well as labels.”

Spotify, which currently leads the sub-sector with three million subscribers amongst 10 million active users, has stated its aim to reach 100 million users all by itself. On its current free/premium conversion ratio (20 percent of active users), Spotify could bring labels some 20 million paying subscribers by the time it hits its target.

A hundred million subscribers would change the game completely for artists and managers,” Ingham said.

But how will Spotify and its peers, like Rdio, Mog, Rara and WiMP, get there?

Each has had growing but relatively little success selling direct to customers. Many are revelling in the extra exposure brought by their recent Facebook connection. Mobile has been the thing to drive the business for everyone so far. But each ultimately wants to be offered through bundling deals with telcos and ISPs.

Time and again, online economics show one way to achieve scale is to become part of the fabric of the internet. Many talk about Spotify’s API, the technology rules which allow developers to make new products from Spotify’s platform - but, right now, the offering is notably limited for such a high-profile service and has gained few adopters.

“If Spotify goes to scale in the way Tim was talking about and gets hundreds of millions of people using it, Spotify could end up becoming effectively an API for music,” industry analyst Mark Mulligan told MusicTank’s seminar.

Synaesthesia: Smells like Beethoven via The Economist →

Apparently, there is a strong linkage between the way we perceive odors (and tastes) and musical pitch anf the intruments that make them:

via The Economist

Ms Crisinel and Dr Spence wanted to know whether an odour sniffed from a bottle could be linked to a specific pitch, and even a specific instrument. To find out, they asked 30 people to inhale 20 smells—ranging from apple to violet and wood smoke—which came from a teaching kit for wine-tasting. After giving each sample a good sniff, volunteers had to click their way through 52 sounds of varying pitches, played by piano, woodwind, string or brass, and identify which best matched the smell. The results of this study, to be published later this month in Chemical Senses, are intriguing.

The researchers’ first finding was that the volunteers did not think their request utterly ridiculous. It rather made sense, they told them afterwards. The second was that there was significant agreement between volunteers. Sweet and sour smells were rated as higher-pitched, smoky and woody ones as lower-pitched. Blackberry and raspberry were very piano. Vanilla had elements of both piano and woodwind. Musk was strongly brass.

It is not immediately clear why people employ their musical senses in this way to help their assessment of a smell. But gone are the days when science assumed each sense worked in isolation. People live, say Dr Spence and Ms Crisinel, in a multisensory world and their brains tirelessly combine information from all sources to make sense, as it were, of what is going on around them. Nor is this response restricted to humans. Studies of the brains of mice show that regions involved in olfaction also react to sound.

Taste, too, seems linked to hearing. Ms Crisinel and Dr Spence have previously established that sweet and sour tastes, like smells, are linked to high pitch, while bitter tastes bring lower pitches to mind. Now they have gone further. In a study that will be published later this year they and their colleagues show how altering the pitch and instruments used in background music can alter the way food tastes.

In this experiment, each volunteer was given four pieces of toffee. While they were eating two of them, a sombre, low-pitched piece of music played on brass instruments filled the air. They consumed the other two, however, to the accompaniment of a higher-pitched piano piece. Volunteers rated the toffee eaten during low-pitched music as more bitter than that consumed during the high-pitched rendition. The toffee was, of course, identical. It was the sound that tasted different. – Aging musicians have sharp brains →

via Emory

Older musicians perform better on cognitive tests than individuals who did not play an instrument, according to a new study published in the April issue of Neuropsychology.

While much research has been done to determine the cognitive benefits of musical activity by children, this is the first study to examine whether those benefits can extend across a lifetime.

“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” says lead researcher and clinical neuropsychologist Brenda Hanna-Pladdy of Emory University. “Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”

The study enrolled 70 individuals age 60-83 who were divided into three groups. The participants either had no musical training, one to nine years of musical study or at least 10 years of musical training. All of the participants had similar levels of education and fitness, and didn’t show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cognitive performance was measured by testing brain functions that typically decline as the body ages, and more dramatically deteriorate in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice.

The high-level musicians had statistically significant higher scores than the non-musicians on cognitive tests relating to visuospatial memory, naming objects, and cognitive flexibility, or the brain’s ability to adapt to new information.

“Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical,” Hanna-Pladdy says. “There are crucial periods in brain plasticity that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development.”

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