1. Is This the Future of Arts TV?
An article in The Guardian of London discusses the status of arts programming on British television, which it says is at a crossroads. While big broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 are perceived to be reducing their arts content, the tiniest galleries and dance companies are producing videos of their own. Channel Five may have ditched its last arts program in 2008, but does this matter when orchestras, theatres, even newspaper arts desks now make their own web TV? Are we witnessing the end of an era, or the birth of a new one?
These days, broadcasters face fresh competition from cultural institutions, which have seized on cheap digital technology and (perhaps despairing of ever getting on traditional television) started producing video themselves. The Tate shoots short art films, free to watch on its website. In June and July, the National Theatre broadcast Helen Mirren's Phèdre to 280 cinemas worldwide. The Guardian has its own weekly culture strand, while Sky co-produces films with the National, the Courtauld and Scottish Ballet, among others. "I think the question is how broadcasters work with cultural organizations," Wyver says. "That means partnerships with not just Tate and the National, but [theatre groups] Punchdrunk and Kneehigh, lots of smaller organizations. That's something Sky is much better at than the BBC."
2. The world's first Twitter opera
The libretto has been taken from the sublime to a ridiculous conclusion. Instead of a "little book" - its literal meaning – the latest, and most avant-garde, of operas will feature little "tweets." In a blatant attempt to shake off its fusty image, the Royal Opera House (ROH) has teamed up with the micro-blogging site to produce The Twitter Opera with a libretto composed entirely of public tweets.
The ROH will join the 140-character tweets into a libretto, set them to familiar opera tunes and original music by Helen Porter and stage the result at its Covent Garden home in September. While some have welcomed the initiative as further evidence that UK opera is no longer a middle-class preserve, others have dismissed it as a stunt that could threaten the world-famous opera house's reputation.
The initiative is the latest in the ROH's attempts to broaden its appeal. It is to reprise its collaboration with The Sun newspaper, which gave its readers exclusive access to the opening night of Don Giovanni last year, by offering tickets to Carmen and the ballet Mayerling in October.
3. CD Industry [or] Bust?
Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette points out some of the inconsistencies in the debate that has become “a fun game that journalists play about the recording industry.” She provides links to various, seemingly mutually exclusive reports of the demise and rebirth of the classical recording industry.
The latest defense comes from Henry Fogel, who writes in his latest blog post that the classical recording industry "most certainly is not dead. It is changed." He points out that there is a volume of recording choices available today, “that we couldn't even begin to dream of in the 1980s.” Midgette counters that "more recordings" does not equal a "revitalization of an industry," continuing to say:
“Because I always thought that an industry is a field that makes money. And very few of these recordings do. The companies that put them out are, increasingly, non-profit organizations.
As Henry also notes, "The purpose of recording is no longer to make gobs of money, but to document their art. That strikes me as a very healthy development." I'm all for documenting art; I believe in art for art's sake. And I have tremendous respect and admiration for Henry. But to say that this represents a new business model seems to me a little bit like saying the newspaper industry is not in trouble because, just look, more people are following the news, in print and online, than ever before.
And I find it noteworthy, and unfortunate, that observations about the difficulties facing various aspects of the classical music industry are so often taken as somehow representing an attack on classical music itself. The music is definitely going to prevail. The interesting question is how.”
4. The Carbon Case for Downloading Music
Stating perhaps the obvious, a new study has found that downloading music is substantially better from an emissions perspective than buying compact discs. The study, which was financed by both Microsoft and Intel and written by two academics at Carnegie Mellon University and a third affiliated with Stanford University, found that buying an album digitally reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 40 to 80 percent relative to a best-case scenario for purchasing a CD.
That scenario involves a customer buying a CD online and having it delivered via a light-duty truck; the more carbon-intensive options examined by the study are express air shipment of the CD, and the customer visiting a store to buy the CD. The advantage for digital comes largely because CDs must be manufactured, packaged and transported over long distances.
Even in a situation in which a consumer downloads the music — and then burns it onto a CD and puts it in a CD case — the carbon differential is 40 percent in favor of the download, the study found. If the downloaded music is not burned onto a CD, the differential rises to 80 percent.
However, there is room for debate. The high carbon cost associated with visiting the store, for example, rises when customers make the trip by car. If a consumer walks to the store instead, then buying a CD is “nearly equivalent” in carbon terms, the study says, to downloading the music and burning it onto a CD. Large file transfer sizes can reduce the carbon advantage of downloads, owing to “increased Internet energy use for downloading.” The study also concedes that in some instances, the downloading and purchasing of hard copies are not perfect substitutes. Some consumers, for example, pursue albums for reasons beyond the music — say, for the album’s artwork. While the artwork is sometimes available for digital download as well, this may not be “completely satisfactory for some customers,” the authors write. The study also did not look at the comparative carbon impact of CD players and digital music devices like the iPod.
5. Challenge to funding models for UK museums
David Gilbert, chairman of the British Contemporary Arts Society finance committee, has set up an initiative that aims to generate up to 30% extra revenue for UK museums and galleries—a welcome move at a time of major funding and sponsorship worries. Culture Label (www.culturelabel.com) is an online venture that unites the retail outlets of 60 British arts institutions, allowing worldwide access to their products. A museum such as the Baltic in Gateshead can now sell items unique to its shop, such as its Angel of the North necklace, to a global audience through the Culture Label website. Those taking part in the scheme include major London venues such as the Tate, the V&A, the British Museum and the Royal Academy through to regional institutions such as Ikon in Birmingham, the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Bluecoat in Liverpool, and countrywide organizations such as English Heritage and the National Trust. Although the site currently links only UK organizations, the plan is to make it a global venture, connecting museums and arts institutions across the world on one site.
6. You Tube Search-and-Delete Code Makes Money for Rights-Holders
You know how digital music works: People get sued, content gets deleted, startups go bankrupt. But with its ContentID program YouTube has created a mechanism that makes it just as easy for copyright owners to make money from unauthorized uploads as to order them deleted, the system’s design purpose. And they are starting to get with the program.
ContentID still performs its primary function, making it faster and easier to delete unapproved content from YouTube. But the system’s capacity to monetize infringing videos while allowing them to remain on the site is becoming more significant.
YouTube’s database of audio and video fingerprints is learning how to deal with the fact that the guy who added a saxophone part to a particular song deserves a certain minute percentage of revenue when the song appears in your YouTube video. When you upload a video with someone else’s song as the soundtrack, you infringe on two exclusive rights of the copyright holder: the right to distribute the work and the right to synchronize it to video.
Every minute, the world uploads roughly 20 hours of video to Google’s YouTube site. Here’s what happens when it encounters YouTube’s ContentID system.
- Audio and video tracks are separated, and each plays all the way through to create a spectrogram somewhat similar to what you see when listening to music with a spectral-analysis visualizer.
- The system focuses on the most-detailed parts of the file and analyzes the deltas, or changes, in key areas of the spectrogram over time.
- The system runs the resulting spectrogram, or fingerprint, against more than a million reference files (and counting) in the ContentID database.
- • The comparison is “fuzzy,” meaning that it doesn’t have to be an exact match — just close enough. This allows audio and video to be identified even if it’s been transcoded into a new format.
- If the system finds a match, it follows whatever rules are attached in the database. Depending on those, it will either permit the audio and video to be posted only as part of the official video, permit the audio to be posted regardless of what video is attached, or prevent the audio and/or video from appearing on the site.
- Rules in the database are updated on a rolling basis as labels, publishers, studios, broadcasters and rights societies add new information. (Example: “the saxophonist just bought all the publishing rights to the song.”) That means all of the previously uploaded stuff on YouTube also has to churn through the Content ID system periodically for each region.
- All consumers care about is that the videos we upload to YouTube don’t get deleted, even if they infringe on a music copyright. Thanks to this rare example of cooperation between content owners and distributors, that scenario grows more commonplace.
7. Leagues See Bloggers in the Bleachers as a Threat
Camera phones, hand-held video cameras and social networking sites like Twitter have turned sports fans with Web sites into instant reporters and broadcasters. But one of the nation’s leading college leagues is drawing a line in the turf. The Southeastern Conference, home to some of the nation’s most prominent and lucrative university athletic programs, has recently issued rules prohibiting fans from distributing photographs or video of its games in real time for commercial use. Like a growing number of pro and college teams nationwide, the conference sees money to be made online from the exploits of its athletes.
The rules are aimed not at the casual fan who might post a few pictures of Saturday’s football game on a personal Web site, but rather those who copy television broadcasts, create their own highlight reels and post them on sites charging for access or advertising. That is no small number. Prominent teams can each have hundreds of unofficial fan Web sites, some updated and visited around the clock.
Leagues and teams at many levels have tried to restrict how their games are covered while also creating their own thriving media divisions. That has already pitted them against traditional news media outlets, like newspapers and radio stations, for readers and listeners and advertising dollars. Now, they are trying to curtail rabid fans who run Web sites devoted to the teams they love — or hate.
The Southeastern Conference did not identify specific Web sites that might have prompted its policy changes. But mainstream media organizations and their defenders have joined bloggers in rushing to fight the new rules. Sandra Baron, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on First Amendment matters, said the rules were a “continuing effort to put a stranglehold on objective, third-party news organizations.”
The rules are part of an effort to protect a vast online video archive of games and file footage that the conference will market to fans this fall. The SEC Digital Network, as it will be known, is not unlike what Major League Baseball and other professional leagues have done with video from their games to create highlight reels, slide shows and other montages.
Conference officials said they were not trying to prevent fans from sending personal messages or brief descriptions of games to their Facebook pages or on Twitter, as some fans fear.
Enforcing such a policy would be impractical and counterproductive because social media platforms help promote the conference’s teams, said Charles Bloom, a spokesman for the SEC.
But “the line is drawn at game footage video,” Mr. Bloom said. “We want to protect our rights to have video between the conference and its members, and ban the commercial sale of photo images. Fans can post photos on their site or Facebook page, but they can’t be for sale.”
A few years ago, Major League Baseball sought to restrict the number of photographs that newspapers could use in slide shows on their Web sites. Pat Courtney, a spokesman for baseball, said the policy was not aimed at outlets reporting news, but at individuals who “take 600 pictures of last night’s game” and put them on their Web sites. The custom of leagues allowing local television stations to air a two-minute highlight video clip has not extended to the digital age. Newspapers, which were not in the business of transmitting video before the advent of the Internet, have sought the same rights as TV stations.
“It’s hard to say we should have free access to this if ESPN and Yahoo Sports have stepped up and paid for it,” said Jeff Price, the former president for digital businesses at Sports Illustrated, who is now a sports industry consultant. (ESPN and Yahoo pay Major League Baseball for the right to transmit highlight clips over the Internet.)
8. A Few Dollars at a Time, Patrons Support Artists on the Web
Earl Scioneaux III is not a famous music producer like Quincy Jones. He is a simple audio engineer in New Orleans who mixes live albums of local jazz musicians by day and creates electronic music by night. He had long wanted to pursue his dream of making his own album that married jazz and electronica, but he had no easy way to raise the $4,000 he needed for production. Then he heard about Kickstarter, a start-up based in Brooklyn that uses the Web to match aspiring da Vincis and Spielbergs with mini-Medicis who are willing to chip in a few dollars toward their projects. Unlike similar sites that simply solicit donations, patrons on Kickstarter get an insider’s access to the projects they finance, and in most cases, some tangible memento of their contribution. The artists and inventors, meanwhile, are able to gauge in real time the commercial appeal of their ideas before they invest a lot of effort — and cash.
“It’s not an investment, lending or a charity,” said Perry Chen, a co-founder of Kickstarter and a friend of Mr. Scioneaux. “It’s something else in the middle: a sustainable marketplace where people exchange goods for services or some other benefit and receive some value.”
Mr. Scioneaux, who ultimately raised $4,100, offered a range of rewards to his supporters: for a $15 payment, patrons received an advance copy of the album; for $30, they got a personal music lesson as well. A payment of $50 or more got both of those, and a seat at Mr. Scioneaux’s dinner table for a bowl of his homemade gumbo and a chance to listen to some of his studio recordings. “I didn’t expect people to be all over that one,” he said, “but it sold out almost immediately.”
That sense of inclusion is an important part of the appeal to Kickstarter’s supporters, who don’t get a tax deduction for their payments. Mr. Scioneaux’s dozen or so dinner guests included Mark Barrilleaux, an engineer from Houston, and his wife, Janet, a retired nurse, who put up a total of $100. “We decided it’d be worth it for the entertainment value and the opportunity to participate in a musical production,” said Mr. Barrilleaux. “I’m a petroleum engineer. How else could I join the music business?”
So far, projects on Kickstarter have included building a temporary wedding chapel in Manhattan, converting an old bus into a mobile Thai restaurant, sailing around the world and shooting photographs from all 50 states. The company doesn’t currently have any profit — all money raised goes to the projects. So far, more than $400,000 has been pledged for almost 400 ideas. To date, all the projects on the site have been hand-picked by the founders, although they plan to eventually open the site to anyone. Once that happens, they said, they will consider charging a fee to process transactions.
9. Opus Arte signs long-term deal with Bayreuth
The Royal Opera House’s multi-platform arts production and distribution company, Opus Arte, has announced a new long-term partnership with the Bayreuth Festival. The announcement of the signing was made at a press conference in Bayreuth today by Katharina Wagner, co-director of Bayreuth Festival and great grand-daughter of Richard Wagner, together with Roland Ott, the new managing director of Opus Arte.
The first recording to be released on DVD will be Christoph Marthaler’s production of Tristan und Isolde conducted by Peter Schneider which is scheduled for release in November 2009.
At the same time, an audio recording of the complete Ring Cycle, conducted by Christian Thielemann in 2008, will be released. Other releases will include Die Walküre in 2010 directed by Tankred Dorst and conducted by Christian Thielemann. Future productions will be announced in due course.
Tony Hall, chairman of Opus Arte and chief executive of the Royal Opera House said: ‘This is an exciting, long-term agreement between Opus Arte, the Royal Opera House and Bayreuth. Roland Ott and I want to bring the very best opera and ballet recordings to audiences all over the world. Including Bayreuth in the opera houses we are working with is an enormous bonus.
Katharina Wagner commented on the new cooperation: ‘I am very happy that, after a long time of talking to and discussing with several major labels, we now found a partner that not only is able to provide the high quality and the specific image that fits very well with the worldwide unique Bayreuth Festival but also is willing to become one of the very few and selected long-time partners we can definitely rely on’.
10. For classical recordings, the future is online
Quick, which music group has won the most Grammy Awards? No, it's not U2 (who lead the field in popular music with 22), but the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose recordings have won 60. For breadth and sheer number of albums, no one can match the world's great orchestras, some of which have been recording for nearly a century. The Chicago SO has made more than 900 recordings; a Boston Symphony Orchestra discography published last year needed 350 pages to get through the whole catalogue.
Numbers like that used to be grounds for chest thumping, but now they're reminders of a golden age that is definitely past. Formerly dominant labels such as Decca and EMI Classics now do so few orchestral recordings that many fabled ensembles are setting up their own labels and selling their music online.
"The days of the seven-, 10- or 15-record deal are long gone," says Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston SO. "We decided to take our destiny into our own hand." The BSO launched its BSO Classics label earlier this year, with an initial batch of four live recordings. Two are available as CDs; the others can only be purchased as digital downloads from the BSO's website. "I have two kids, and they've never bought a CD in their lives," says Volpe. In any case, the BSO's website records more than 7.6 million unique visitors per year, far more traffic than the orchestra could expect from record stores. The Philadelphia Orchestra ended a 10-year recording drought in 2007 by launching a partnership with the tiny Finnish label Ondine, with which it has since produced seven live CDs. As in Boston, the Philadelphians are seeing a bigger future in marketing their own music online. They will sell you music from a selection of recent and archival concerts, one piece at a time. Most works cost $5 or $6 (U.S.), depending on the audio format. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has three live recordings for sale as digital tracks on its website (for 99 cents each), and as CDs with very limited distribution. So far, says a TSO spokesperson, the downloads outstrip the hard-copy sales by two to one, and over half the downloads are from buyers outside Canada.
The common element in all these situations, aside from the drift away from hard copies, is that the recordings were all made live under two industry wide agreements negotiated with the American Federation of Musicians during the past decade. These industry wide deals allow North American orchestras to make the live recordings with lower up front fees and, in the case of recordings released as downloads only, with no upfront fees. The details of the arrangement vary from one orchestra to another, but the outcome is the same. The biggest single cost of recording an orchestra - the players' "step-up" fees - is drastically reduced, or at least deferred until the recording is launched and begins to make money.
"There's no advance," says Volpe, of his contract with the players in Boston. "We don't pay out until we've covered our costs." It costs so little to turn the microphones on at Symphony Hall, where many concerts are already recorded for radio, that the BSO now tapes every concert it plays. Only those that both management and orchestra feel would enhance the BSO's discography and reputation are put up for sale as digital albums, for $8 to $13. (The BSO also sells all-access online subscriptions for $30 to $50.)
Nobody has looked further into the future of symphony orchestra recordings than the Berlin Philharmonic. Its Digital Concert Hall, which it launched last year, is a multimedia experiment that combines elements of live performance, concert film, online event and replayable audio recording. The Berlin Phil put almost all of its 2008-2009 programs on DCH, as high-definition concert films shot in its home auditorium at the Berlin Philharmonie. The 30 concerts were all streamed live on the day they were performed, then stored in the DCH archive. For a subscription fee - €39 ($60) for one month or €149 for the year - you can watch and listen to virtually anything the Berliners played last season, as well as forthcoming live streams during your subscription period (you can also buy a single ticket for €9.90). It's like having a recording you can listen to whenever and as often as you like, though it feels like you're witnessing a live event, and at the end of your subscription you own nothing. "Without the support of Deutsche Bank [DCH's major sponsor], and of the guest artists who gave all these [recording] rights almost for free, it would not have been possible," says Olaf Maninger, a Berlin Phil cellist and managing director of the DCH. "It's very interesting for them and us to have a look into the future. We all want to give it a try. And we are building an archive in HD, which is fantastic."
11. In Praise of…..MaestroCam
It is better to conduct with the ear instead of with the arm, Richard Strauss advises in his Ten Golden Rules for aspiring wavers of the baton. To audiences for whom the art of orchestral conducting remains a mystery, however, there is now the enlightenment of MaestroCam. At five televised Proms this summer, if you press the red button on your remote control, you can spend the whole evening focused entirely on the man on the podium. Even better, you get a discreet and informative commentary from experts like Matthew Rowe, Peter Stark and Jason Lai – who featured as conductor-mentors in Maestro, the BBC series for stickwaving wannabes and who all belong to the Richie Benaud school of commentary and only speak when they have something that needs saying.