Technology News of Note

July 2012

1.    SAG-AFTRA Announces Deal to Cover Music Video Performers

Dancers and other music video performers will get union protection going forward, SAG-AFTRA announced after it reached a tentative agreement with the major record labels.  The deal means that for the first time, music video performers and choreographers will have nationwide guarantees for health and retirement benefits as well as guaranteed fair pay, safe working conditions, and reuse fees.   (Source: Backstage)

2.    Air cello and more in 4-D 'concert' at a London museum

At Science Museum in London, an interactive digital installation co-developed by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra lets visitors conduct and step inside a virtual orchestra.    “Universe of Sound” uses Gustav Holst's "The Planets," heaps of high-definition video and a couple of Microsoft Kinects to turn the orchestra inside out.   Seeing an orchestra play live is often a one-dimensional experience. You hear the music, you see the motion, but most of the time you aren't close enough to take in exactly what is happening. Universe of Sound is a completely new way to experience an orchestra.   Each of the rooms in the Universe of Sound exhibition is devoted to a group of instruments (violin and viola, celeste and organ, and so on), with each instrument getting its own big screen.   This gives one an immediate sense of the physical and mental effort required for 100 people to make "The Planets. The team has also jury-rigged a Microsoft Kinect to turn it into a conducting simulator. You stand in front of three screens that show the whole orchestra playing and the challenge is to follow the beat pattern with one hand and control the volume of each section by gesturing with the other hand.  At the moment, the functions are quite basic, but it works well enough to give the sense of the aesthetic decisions a conductor has to make and the physical coordination required to communicate them.  (Source: Los Angeles Times)

3.    Giving Love, Lots of It, To Her Fans

The punk-cabaret singer Amanda Palmer held a party for her fans, to celebrate the nearly $1.2 million she has raised for her new album on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.  24,883 fans made contributions ranging from $1 to download the album to $10,000 for a private dinner.  The money Ms. Palmer raised in the monthlong campaign for her album, “Theater Is Evil,” is by far the most for any music campaign on Kickstarter, where the average successful project brings in about $5,000.   (Source: New York Times)

4.    Beats Electronics acquires MOG music service

Beats Electronics, the company best known for its Beats By Dr. Dre headphones, is acquiring the online music service MOG. The parties did not disclose the terms of the acquisition, the first for the company co-founded by rapper and producer Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen and A&M Records.  MOG, founded in 2005, offers more than 16 million songs available for free online – including its Facebook App – and by subscription on portable devices, LG and Samsung Smart TVs and other devices.   (Source: USA Today)

5.    Come stream with me

Clear Channel Communications, America’s largest radio broadcaster, announced a deal with Big Machine, a country-music label, to pay performance royalties on all its radio channels, terrestrial (i.e., over the air) and digital. The plan is for Clear Channel to pay the label and its artists, who include Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, a cut of its advertising revenue.  The agreement indicates that Clear Channel plans to invest more in digital radio, the part of the industry that is growing. But unlike terrestrial broadcasters, digital stations are obliged by a 1998 law to pay fees to artists whenever a song is played. This skewed system has made life painful for digital platforms trying to build an audience, such as Pandora, which pays out more than half of its revenue in music royalties.  Only 2% of Clear Channel’s listeners are digital and 98% terrestrial, so the deal looks costly. But Big Machine supplies only a small proportion of Clear Channel’s music. And paying a share of ad revenues hurts less than paying per song. The idea is to see what this does to the bottom line before negotiating with other labels.   (Source: The Economist)

Other recent articles on this groundbreaking development include:

6.    Royalties From Digital Radio Start to Add Up

SoundExchange, a nonprofit group that processes payments for online streams, announced that it has paid $1 billion to artists and record companies since its founding in 2000, and that this year its quarterly payments exceeded $100 million. The payments reflect the growing popularity of digital music as well as new ways for the record industry to make money as sales continue to fall.   SoundExchange collects money from Sirius XM Radio, Pandora and other forms of Internet radio. For most labels and performing artists, this is the only money their recordings earn for radio play, since terrestrial radio pays only songwriters and music publishers. (“On-demand” digital services like Spotify and Rhapsody, which let users choose exactly what songs to listen to, generally pay record companies directly.)  

The billion-dollar milestone also gives some positive publicity to SoundExchange, which has been criticized for being slow to pay everyone who is owed royalties. At the end of 2010, the last date for which audited accounts are available, SoundExchange was holding $132 million, for artists who have not registered or because of complications like bad or missing data about which songs the services have played.  It also faces a challenge in the emerging trend of direct licenses between record companies and digital services.  (Source: New York Times)

7.    Twitter just threw a lifeline to the content industry

Twitter just achieved a holy trinity of snackable multimedia: you could already view Instagram pictures and YouTube videos within tweets, but now you can also listen to SoundCloud sounds without ever leaving Twitter.com.   If it sounds a little Facebook-ey, it should — this shows Twitter stepping up far more explicitly than before as Facebook’s most plausible rival.  For media firms, an app pact with Facebook is Faustian by nature: it may achieve virality, but it involves letting Facebook keep their customers within the confines of its walled garden.  Twitter, on the other hand, is all about links to the rest to the web. Yes, snack-size content like sounds, pictures and short videos will probably be consumed within the Twitter environment. But Twitter’s fast-moving nature will also lead a lot of people to click through to the original site so they can go back to their stream view.  In SoundCloud’s case, for example, the firm is not only getting its content out there more, but also gaining a way to invite people back to its own environment.   (Source: GigaOm)

8.    Broadcast exhibitions online to receive UK funding

Arts bodies will have to broadcast performances and exhibitions live on a new digital arts “channel” in return for receiving government money, under a radical funding shake-up proposed by Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary in the U.K.  He urged organizations to embrace digital technology to reach a wider audience and called for the creation of a new web-based arts channel, warning that future funding could be dependent on bodies making their work available digitally.  Mr. Hunt did not say how the new channel would be funded but he promised that it would not be a traditional broadcaster which might challenge the BBC for license-fee support.  The arts channel would be accessible through a set-top box streaming Internet Protocol television (IPTV).   (Source: The Independent)

9.    Medici.tv's First Ever U.S. Webcast of the New York Philharmonic

Medici.tv, the subscription based audio-visual streaming enterprise, offered an internet broadcast of “Philharmonic 360,” a co-presentation of the New York Philharmonic and Park Avenue Armory, which showcased a spectacular program of spatial music from Gabrieli, Mozart and Ives to Boulez and Stockhausen!   (Source: Medici.Tv)

10.    The Amazon Effect

An article by Steve Wasserman in The Nation, discusses in depth how Amazon has been able to exploit for its benefit the disruptive impact of the Internet on the marketing and distribution of commodities.  The impact on Amazon’s retail competitors, as well as the manufacturers of the products it sells, has been profound.  (Source: The Nation)

11.    Revamped Theatre Royal Stratford East website to live-stream rehearsals

Theatre Royal Stratford East is planning to stream activity from its rehearsal room live on its new website so that audiences can see what is happening inside the venue.  The decision to live-stream video from different parts of the building is part of a wider move by the east London theatre to make its redesigned website more “democratic”. Theatre Royal artistic director Kerry Michael said the new video stream would act “like a shop window.”  Rather than listing upcoming productions, Theatre Royal’s new homepage asks visitors to choose from one of four statements - I would like to see what’s on, I would like to join the conversation, I would like to explore your channel or I would like to get involved. The different options then give viewers opportunities to see videos made by the theatre and to upload their own video content and post their views on theatre and other issues, as well as buying tickets.  (Source: The Stage)

12.    The State of Online Music Discovery

Choosing music that someone else would like is more complex than suggesting toaster ovens or even movies. The reasons we like a song are highly subjective and can hinge on very specific, sometimes subtle characteristics. Thus music recommendation is a hard problem whose solution would simplify and brighten the lives of a huge audience - and that's a tidy definition of a worthwhile business venture. Some companies have tried to solve it by programming computers to identify songs a given listener will like (e.g. Pandora, Last.fm). Others use human judgment to match new music to a listener's preferences (e.g. Spotify, Rdio). An article in ReadWriteWeb evaluates some of the key players using each of these strategies.   (Source: ReadWriteWeb)