Crypto Pop: The Future of Music?

BBC: “The year is 2018. Music is changing fast, but can the humans keep up? Here’s a handful of possible outcomes. 1) Your favourite singer is not real: … One of Japan’s biggest pop stars Hatsune Miku is not a real person. But that small detail didn’t prevent the humanoid singer from releasing another new music video last week.” Roy Orbison “died in 1988 but now his 3D hologram world tour will come to life, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on 8 April in Cardiff.”

“2) The live parameters have shifted: Ben Robinson of Bluedot Festival comments: “Now people can experience being on the stage with the artists. Or the gig could move off the stage.” 3) “The recording studio is in your laptop: Noel Gallagher … never actually met the bass player on his new album Who Built The Moon?” He comments: “Here I am at two in the afternoon talking to a guy on an iPad and for him it’s four in the morning and I can hear the song coming through his speakers and he’s saying ‘What do you think of this? Maybe if I do that?’ And I’m like ‘this is so far out it’s unbelievable’.”

“4) There’s a direct line between you and your favourite act: Jack White’s Third Man Records reward their subscribers with deliveries of exclusive limited edition pressings. DJ Gramatik went a step further last week by becoming the first artist to ‘tokenise’ himself, meaning fans who buy the token using the cryptocurrency Ether can potentially share in his future revenue … 5) But new music technology will not be for everyone:Bass player Peter O’Hanlon says: ‘Our fresh approach will be that we just come and play the gig! Everybody else is flying across the stage and we just stand in front of you and play’.”

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How ‘Stranger Things’ Went Global

Wired: “It’s hard to overstate how important it is to Netflix’s long-term ambitions that shows like Stranger Things ‘travel’ … it has to spend wisely to ensure it’s producing content that plays as well in Canada as it does in Cameroon … Making movies or series that play well overseas depends to a certain extent on quality, of course … But for a show like Stranger Things—which is an Emmy-nominated and critically-praised show in the US—to succeed abroad, Netflix has to translate its genius to as many markets as possible. Literally.”

“That means the creation of a Key Names and Phrases tool, a sprawling spreadsheet in which teams of freelancers and vendors input translations in the name of consistency. Does the show include a fictional location? A catchphrase? A sci-fi item that has no real-world corollary? All those things go in the KNP, allowing Netflix to know how they read in Greek, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese, and so on … That focus on consistency goes beyond the words themselves to the voice actors saying them. Netflix says it looks for people who sound like the original cast but also, as Sheehan puts it, ’embody the spirit of the character and tone.'”

“Netflix’s global accommodations go beyond subtitles and dubs, of course. The company has advanced efforts in recent years to make its service more usable in emerging markets, countries where bandwidth may be limited or unreliable … The result? A show that went viral first in Canada, and gradually spread to find enthusiasts around the world. In one month, Netflix users in 190 countries watched Stranger Things, and viewers in 70 of those nations became devoted fans. A handful of people tuned in from Bhutan, and from Chad. In a first for the streaming service, someone watched Season 1 in Antarctica.”

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Slow & Low: How Netflix Raises Prices

Quartz: “When Netflix raised rates this month, it increased the price of its most popular plan in the US by $1 and its premium package by $2. The hike hit new signups first and is still rolling out to existing users—a strategy Netflix uses to give people time to adjust. The company, shrewdly, did not touch the basic plan—its cheapest offering at $7.99 a month—so that folks on tighter budgets could still afford the service … The key, for Netflix’s management, was learning to raise prices without spooking subscribers—by doing so in small and infrequent doses.”

“Netflix has been careful not to raise rates too quickly in markets where it’s still building out its library and launching originals geared toward local audiences. It needs to become a service its customers can’t live without, before they rethink its value … Some analysts expect and welcome another modest price lift in the US next year to cover the rising cost of Netflix’s content. An extra dollar here and there, if Netflix continues to add new ‘must-watch’ series and movies all the time, shouldn’t dent its base too badly.”

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Whip It Good: The Last Train to Weirdsville

    Dangerous Minds: “Last week Dave Taylor, who runs Weirdsville Records in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, on the northern edge of Detroit, pulled a funny kind of prank when he decided to switch up the visual look of his store for an hour or two … a full wall of Whipped Cream & Other Delights and Whipped Cream & Other Delights fronting every bin! (Yes, in case you were wondering, the unseen albums in the bins are not all Alpert’s masterpiece, they’re just regular albums.)”

    Taylor explains: “Every day we get records in. There will be at least two of these in every stack! Nine out of 10 households had this record! It’s a great record and who can’t love this cover?”

    “One of the most interesting aspects of the display is that Taylor went out of his way to make sure customers understood that the copies are not for sale. Taylor says that he has about 75 copies of the album, and sheepishly admitted that he is ‘stockpiling the Herb’.”

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Surge Pricing: The Customer is ‘The Boss’

The New York Times: “When Bruce Springsteen decided to do a run of shows at a Broadway theater with fewer than a thousand seats, he appeared to reject the laws of economics — or at least what would seem to be in his financial best interest. He limited ticket prices to between $75 and $850 and has been allocating them through a lottery that includes identity verification. His goal was to prevent scalping. Yet not everyone who sought tickets got them at those prices. The tickets that have leaked onto the open market on StubHub ranged in one recent search from $1,200 to $9,999.”

“Fans don’t want to think their favorite artist is gouging. And the entire concert experience may be better if raucous superfans are in the front rows, rather than whoever is able to pay four figures for a ticket. The goal is to create an experience that makes everyone leave with a warm glow, their fandom of that artist that much deeper. If artists did raise prices sharply, there’s a risk they would need to discount prices later to fill up the arena. Research shows that when people find out they overpaid for something, they buy less in the future.”

“That might be a lesson for the other industries where variable pricing could make a lot of sense … What the successful examples of variable pricing have in common is that they treat customers’ desire for fairness not as some irrational rejection of economic logic to be scoffed at, but something fundamental, hard-wired into their view of the world. It is a reality that has to be respected and understood, whether you’re setting the price for a highway toll, a kilowatt of power on a hot day, or a generator after a hurricane … one view of the Springsteen approach is that it is economically irrational. But another is that it is part of a long-term relationship between a performer and his fans.”

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Broadway Bargains: There’s An App For That

The Wall Street Journal: “A veteran Broadway producer is instituting what he believes is an industry first: A best-price guarantee on show tickets. Ken Davenport, lead producer of the revival of ‘Once on This Island,’ … says the guarantee will ensure that ticket-buyers won’t have to scour the web for deals through theater sites advertising discounts. Instead, they can go to the show’s website.”

“While Mr. Davenport says the idea is to make pricing fairer and more transparent, he also allows that he stands to benefit from the guarantee. If theatergoers come to see the show as the best source for a discount, he says he doesn’t have to spend as much time and money marketing various other deals. Moreover, when theatergoers go to discount sites in search of cheaper seats, they often learn about deals for other Broadway productions, Mr. Davenport says. In turn, that could lead them to buy tickets for a different show.”

“But while Mr. Davenport’s strategy may resonate with theatergoers tired of the bargain hunting, not everyone thinks it will pay off. Larry Compeau, a Clarkson University professor who specializes in consumer psychology, says Americans have become accustomed to the hunt. He notes failed experiments by prominent retailers and manufacturers to simplify pricing and do away with discounts. “The general American consumer values the deal,” he said. Others say Mr. Davenport could be sacrificing revenue from ticket-buyers who don’t necessarily worry about deals.”

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Slowball: Is ‘Big Data’ Wrecking Baseball?

The Wall Street Journal: “Baseball has never been more beset by inaction. Games this season saw an average gap of 3 minutes, 48 seconds between balls in play, an all-time high … A confluence of hitting, pitching and defensive strategies spawned by the league’s ‘Moneyball’ revolution have all played a role. That makes baseball, whose early use of big-data strategies was embraced by the business world in general, a case study in its unintended consequences.”

For example: “Statistics showing precisely when starting pitchers become less effective have prompted teams to remove them from games earlier than before. That has increased one of the biggest drags on pace of play: pitching changes. Regular-season games this year saw an average of 8.4 pitchers used between both teams, an all-time high. That’s up from 5.8 pitchers a game 30 years ago.”

“Radar and camera measurements of the angle at which balls leave the bat have shown that the optimal swing angle looks more like an uppercut than many hitters preferred. Hitters, in turn, have started swinging for the fences in droves. Home runs this season reached a record level. That all-or-nothing approach means that between each home run there is a lot of standing around and waiting. Some classic displays of athleticism—a daring attempt by a runner to advance more than one base on a teammate’s hit, for instance—have become rarer.”

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Chance v. Swift: Sincerity v. Authenticity

David Brooks: “It’s interesting to compare Chance the Rapper’s new song with Taylor Swift’s new song … The former stands out from the current cultural moment; the latter embodies it … The first thing you notice in comparing the Chance the Rapper and Taylor Swift songs is the difference between a person and a brand. A lot of young people I know talk about ‘working on their brand,’ and sometimes I wish that word had never been invented.”

“A person has a soul, which is what Chance is worrying about. A brand has a reputation, which is the title of Swift’s next album. A person has private dignity. A brand is a creation for an audience. ‘I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,’ is how Swift puts it.”

“The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting against the society you find so vicious and corrupt … rebellious authenticity is the familiar corporate success formula, and sincerity, like Chance the Rapper’s, is practically revolutionary.”

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Disney Brings Its ‘World’ To Retail

The New York Times: “Quietly, like a mouse on tiptoe, Disney overhauled its retail store at the Northridge Fashion Center mall in late July. Out went the twisty Pixie Path aisles, the ornate displays, the green walls and the color-changing fiberglass trees. In came a movie-theater-size screen, a simplified floor plan, white walls and more items for fashion-conscious adults … the Disney Store here was a prototype, and the company has been monitoring sales and consumer feedback as it prepares to revamp its 340-store chain.”

“The redesign makes Disney’s stores a bit more like Disney’s theme parks. For instance, daily parades at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed live to those colossal video screens. During the parades, store personnel will put out mats for shoppers to sit on and roll out souvenir carts stocked with cotton candy and light-up Mickey Mouse ears. The screens could easily be used to stream other events, such as red carpet arrivals for Disney movie premieres. That kind of programming could bolster foot traffic, and thus sales — while also turning the stores into a more potent promotional platform for Disney’s films, television shows and theme parks.”

“As it attempts a new mall strategy, Disney is also remaking its e-commerce operation. ShopDisney.com is replacing DisneyStore.com. The new site will have a less cluttered look and a vastly expanded assortment of designer merchandise aimed at adults (Mickey-themed Ethan Allen furniture and a $350 Siwy denim jacket with Minnie embellishments will be on offer). The site will also stock more items that previously were available only in stores inside Disney theme parks.”

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