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Demand for Taylor Swift tickets rattles Ticketmaster

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Courtesy of Taylor Swift

Demand for Taylor Swift tickets rattles Ticketmaster

 

The Future. Ticketmaster’s sale of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” may go down as one of the most chaotic offerings in music history, with demand far exceeding any tour in the company’s history. The dust is still settling on how Ticketmaster will handle the remaining tickets (if there are any), but one thing may be certain — Taylor Swift is the biggest act in the world right now, bar none.

Too big to succeed
Ticketmaster learned this week that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, according to Insider.

  • Ticketmaster leveraged its “Verified Fan” program to sell Taylor Swift tickets — a record 3.5 million people signed up.
  • So when the sale started, 1.5 million people were immediately let in while the other 2 million were put on a waiting list.
  • The trouble is that 14 million people (and bots) showed up to buy tickets, forcing millions of fans to wait hours to get a shot at getting a ticket.
  • Ticketmaster’s site couldn’t handle that kind of traffic. Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei said the tour resulted in “3.5 billion total system requests — 4x our previous peak.”

To fulfill all the demand, Maffei said Swift would need to perform over 900 stadium shows (almost 20x the number of shows she is doing)… that’s a stadium show every single night for the next 2.5 years.”

Ultimately, two million tickets were sold that day.

Stadium-sized stakes
Some lawmakers and government officials want to pull the plug on Ticketmaster’s dominance in the live-music industry.

  • Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator David Cicilline (D-RI), and others have either criticized Live Nation’s dominance or called for its breakup over antitrust concerns.
  • Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti announced that he’s perform over 900 stadium shows in relation to Live Nation’s market share.

And with the actual public sale of Swift tickets that were supposed to take place today being scrapped because of “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems” and “insufficient remaining ticket inventory,” don’t expect the volume on this to go down anytime soon.

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Libraries curate local music streaming services

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Libraries curate local music streaming services

 

The Future. Over a dozen public libraries across the US and Canada are offering their own curated music-streaming services that members can access. With many major cities creating unique platforms, artists are gladly signing up for a little more exposure. In an industry awash with too many musicians, libraries may be pivotal in creating local stars.

The Dewey Decibel System
Forget Spotify playlists. Curated library streamers may be the new jam.

  • According to Vice, public libraries are creating curated streaming services using an open-source software called MUSICat, which was developed by a startup called Rabble.
  • MUSICat allows the libraries to be “region-specific” so that it’s available exclusively for patrons and non-exclusive, so that they can still be shared on other streamers.

The services aim to highlight local artists and genres to the community while putting a little money in their pockets — typically just a few hundred dollars — as a symbolic gesture that artists should be supported.

Soundscape
Libraries in cities like Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Forth Worth have all created their own services — each with unique eligibility rules.

  • The New Orleans Public Library’s Crescent City Sounds streamer — which was cursed by “local artists and business owners, music journalists and historians and more” — only accepted artists that regularly gigged in the area.
  • The Edmonton Public Library in Alberta, Canada, has already signed up 200 local artists. It has even given some the opportunity to press their music on vinyl or play at library events in the city.

It looks like more and more libraries are okay with getting loud.

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And the brand plays on

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And the brand plays on

 

The Future. For musicians at every level, merch now plays a key role in how they make a living. Unless they’re mainstream pop stars, artists earn more on their merchandise than they do from a record. This truth rang loudest during the pandemic when income streams from live shows disappeared. Unlike other parts of the music business, merch might just be “future-proofed.”

$3.5 billion in global retail sales

It pays to have a fashion-forward audience, according to The Guardian.

  • Artists can leverage their following into profitable merch sales on their websites, where they don’t have to pay hefty commission fees to venues that might demand as much as 25% of their sales.
  • While a band T-shirt might be perceived as a one-time sale, it delivers value long after the tour has ended.
  • Luxury brands like Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Acne have featured big-ticket versions of band tees on their catwalks.
  • Retail chains like Primark and Urban Outfitters sell vintage T-shirts to Zoomers who might like the band’s logo more than their music.

Fans want it
Artists have product validation before they invest time and money into designing merch. A tour announcement warms up its audience, creates desire, and teases its product. Merch from certain artists can often sell at higher prices on resale sites than they retail for — like the sweatshirt from Kids See Ghosts, which was marked up 533%.

Audience vs. community
The most successful artists are multi-hyphenates who produce merch not just for the people who see their shows — but also for those who have a conversation with them and fellow fans. For her album Renaissance, Beyoncé made a special edition box with a CD and T-shirt featuring Queen B in one of multiple poses available to pre-order.

“Part of the fun of getting the box was the mystery behind what it would be and what pose I would get,” says Ineye Komonibo, a culture critic at Refinery29. “My friends and I organized so that none of us would get the same pose and even had theories about what each pose or box would be.”

As an evergreen product or a timed release, merch offers the best of both worlds. Vintage or contemporary, it’s always profitable too.

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Record labels struggle to craft a new generation of pop stars

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Record labels struggle to craft a new generation of pop stars

 

The Future. The business of turning musicians into superstars is harder than ever, according to industry insiders. That’s thanks to a fractured culture, an overwhelming number of artists, and few outlets that actually guarantee success. But with artists finding a fanbase in niche subcultures, it may be more beneficial for labels to redefine what “breaking out” means.

Break pressure
It’s becoming harder for artists to break out these days. According to Billboard, there are a few reasons for that:

  • There’s just too much music. The sheer volume of people uploading tracks daily and its ease of accessibility means it’s only become harder for anything to break through the noise. Even Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer told investors recently that “If there are 80,000 tracks a day being uploaded on major [digital service providers], then [major-label] market share is going to be diluted by default.”
  • The cultural tastemakers aren’t touchstones anymore. Both radio and late-night TV don’t hold the power that they used to, so having a #1 radio hit or being the musical guest on Late Night doesn’t ensure you’ll find success. And being featured high on a popular Spotify playlist doesn’t even do the trick it did a few years ago.
  • TikTok is chaos. Industry insiders note that what takes off on the platform feels random, so everyone is trying to craft a viral strategy… but the algorithm seems to reward star power less than any other platform. Manager Justin Lehmann says, “And without breaking there, it’s difficult to say what else can cause a big moment to happen for anybody.”

While label executives may look to overall streaming numbers as the break-in metric, Billboard writer Elias Leight notes that from 2001-2004, over 30 new artists were in the top 10 of the Hot 100 list annually. It’s declined nearly every year since, with only 13 cracking the top 10 in 2021.

Is there a “mainstream?”
Crush Management founder Jonathan Daniel says that the decline in new stars is because our culture is now incredibly fractured. “Everybody’s feed is siloed, and in a way, that’s awesome — you have unlimited choice. But it makes it harder for something to be mainstream.” And Nick Stern (manager of acts like Metric and Djo) says that “the recipe to break is like 45 ingredients long.”

So what do labels, managers, and, of course, artists do? That’s the million-dollar question, especially as Gen Z doesn’t even believe in “mainstream” culture anymore. Other than artists making great music and managers identifying them, the labels seemingly need to rethink their relationship with talent.

That’s something that outgoing Warner Music Group CEO Stephen Cooper pinpointed at a conference last month, saying that the label has “reduce[d] our dependency on superstars” and are pivoting to investing in “artists at the beginning of their career.” Expect every label to follow suit.

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AI music generators could make the next hit

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Illustration by Kate Walker

AI music generators could make the next hit

 

The Future.

AI-powered platforms are turning their generative capabilities to music, spitting out clips created from an algorithm trained on hundreds of hours of existing music. It’s murky water for the music industry, which is famous for its strict copyright laws. But forward-thinking musicians could use these tools as another instrument in their arsenal to craft sounds that we have yet to think of.

AI on FM
Stability AI is tuning its algorithm to craft new music.

  • Techcrunch reports that Harmonai, backed by Stability AI, is beta testing a new tool called “Dance Diffusion,” which can generate “original” song clips.
  • The tool creates these clips through the process of “diffusion” — generating new data by “learning how to destroy and recover many existing samples of data” (i.e., all the music from a specific artist).
  • For now, the tool is only being trained on songs in the public domain that artists have contributed and music that is licensable under Creative Commons.

The tool is still pretty limited in that the inputs it takes in will spit out a clip similar in style. They’re also only a few seconds long, and the lyrics, if they have any, are mostly gibberish.

Soul of a song
Stability AI isn’t the only company experimenting with AI music creation.

  • OpenAI, the company behind DALL-E 2, released “Jukebox” a few years ago, which can create whole songs when a genre, artist, and some lyrics are inputted… but the songs come out structureless and have “nonsense” lyrics.
  • Additionally, Google announced AudioLM, which can extrapolate entire piano generations just by being given a “short snippet of playing.” So far, the tool hasn’t been open-sourced.

While musicians may bristle at the potential pitfalls of this tech, some are doing their best to harness it and even control it. A company called Spawning (run by technologist Mat Dryhurst and musician Holly Herndon) is working on a tool called Source+ that will allow musicians to opt-out of the databases these AI tools run on.

Meanwhile, Herndon released a tool called Holly+ that allows artists to include an AI version of her voice in their music — a glimpse of what the future may hold for AI-driven creativity.

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Hume raises millions to launch Web3 musicians

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Courtesy of Hume

Hume raises millions to launch Web3 musicians

 

The Future. Tech and music company Hume has scored a significant Series A investment to create a roster of virtual artists that will bring some jams to the metaverse and get IRL talent paid in the process. If Hume can mint more artists like angelbaby, it could be the first successful record label made for the metaverse.

Metastars

Hume is putting big money behind the idea that the next top musical acts will be digital creations.

  • It plans on using the money to create and finance more avatar musicians, which the company dubs “metastars” that can play in virtual worlds.
  • Obviously, there are people behind these metastars. Hume pays the songwriters and producers upfront and gives them a share of royalties. They also receive a tradeable NFT of the song.

Once the virtual musicians are created, fans can purchase an NFT that gives them a percentage of the IP, which includes songs and other revenue streams. Hume gets upfront financing for the characters, while fans get to invest in (and hopefully profit from) their success.

Angelbaby dreams

Hume has already made a name for itself with its marquee metastar, angelbaby, which was purchased from the NFT collection FLUF World, giving the company the right to do whatever it wanted with the character (much like the several Bored Apes used to launch businesses).

Hume has set angelbaby up for success, giving the artist tracks from talent that has worked with the likes of Selena Gomez and Dua Lipa. And to prove its cred, angelbaby played this year’s SXSW — the first virtual musician to ever do so.

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TikTok is making music super casual

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Illustration by Kate Walker

TikTok is making music super casual

 

The Future. TikTok is not only changing how music sounds but how artists present themselves to the world. Some are thriving, while others report burnout. But the ones who may really start a vibe shift on the platform are those who find a way to hack the tenets of TikTok (its blink-or-you’ll miss them trends, focus on authenticity, and lo-fi visuals) in service of creating something ambitious and large-scale without looking like it.

From MTV to TikTok

According to Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic, TikTok is taking the spectacle out of music videos… and maybe the musicians themselves.

  • The MTV era was defined by music videos that felt cinematic in scope and ambition, but the social-media era has changed how artists interact with culture.
  • This has peaked with the rise of TikTok becoming a music-discovery hub. Both the algorithm and the audience prefers a sense of lo-fi aesthetics, confessional relatability, and an always-posting pace — a “calculated messiness.”
  • That’s been a boon for artists like Lil Nas X and Lizzo (who excel at consistently leveling with their audience), but has rankled others like Halsey and FKA Twigs (artists whose mystical, “larger-than-life” vibe requires more production value… not viral clips).
  • But newer artists, like Magdalena Bay, are trying to build a new highly-produced aesthetic (without looking like it) that leans into the best of what TikTok is capable of while also providing a “meta take” on TikTok’s cultural hypnosis.

The conclusion: TikTok is forcing artists to act more like influencers. As Kornhaber notes, “now audiences—or at least the industry that markets to them—want stars to be smaller, more normal. Is there any clearer sign that we live in an age of disenchantment?”

But maybe it’s just the cycle repeating itself. In the 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, superproducer Rick Rubin said, “In some ways, MTV hurt music, in that it changed what was expected of an artist. The job changed. It became a job of controlling your image.”

In another ten years, audiences, the platforms, and the whole system could desire an entirely new type of image.

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Death Cab for Cutie set a geotagged scavenger hunt for new single

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following the Death Cab for Cutie Map // Illustration by Kate Walker

Death Cab for Cutie set a geotagged scavenger hunt for new single

 

The Future.  In support of their new album, Asphalt Meadows, Death Cab for Cutie released its latest single, “Rand McNally” via a geotagged search for one of the places the band has played at over the years. The song’s debut mixes fan loyalty, band trivia, and a reminder of the specialness of live music… which could create an opportunity for an enterprising developer and music lover to create searchable maps of band tours throughout history.

Play pilgrimage
Wired reports that Death Cab for Cutie is sending its fans on a quest.

  • For the release of their newest single, “Rand McNally,” the brand launched the “Death Cab for Cutie Map,” which was created by London-based digital map-design firm Landmark.
  • The web-based map directed people to go to one of the more than 800 places they’ve played since 1997. Once there, they could access a geotag which unlocked the new song — a prize for the diehard Death Cab fans.

The locations (a mix of still-standing venues and long-lost clubs) were aggregated thanks to a mix of records from Death Cab’s tour manager and booking agent, Setlist.fm, and the defunct fan site dcfc-tour.net by using the Wayback Machine.

Van stans
Death Cab for Cutie has been touring for a while, having played 1,375 shows to date. According to bassist Nick Harmer, the geotagged single is meant to be a nod to that “legacy” and also a thank you to the fans who have seen them play.

And with the pandemic keeping people indoors for so long, Death Cab also hopes that it gets people nostalgic for live music again. Band manager Jordan Kurland said the map could connect fans to “a time and place.”

Just writing this makes us want to go to the next Death Cab concert.

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Discord brings together musicians and their fans

Discord brings together musicians and their fans

 

The Future. Discord has quietly become the hub for artists to interact with their fans, which is both tightening artists-fan bonds and building a community among those fans. It’s the type of platform that could inspire long-lasting passion for the musician as a person… if they can keep up with it and navigate it professionally. No wonder Billboard called “community manager” the “hot new job” in music.

Service on the server

According to Pitchfork, the community chat platform Discord is becoming the most harmonious place for music fandoms.

  • Artists such as FKA twigs, Swedish House Mafia, and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo are using Discord to not just connect with fans, but stage virtual events, beta test new projects, program bots to create games on the server, and of course, play music.
  • Some artists have joined simply by sliding into already-existing fan servers, starting their own server, or working with Discord’s in-house talent partnerships team.
  • When artists drop new work, they can literally tag @everyone so the whole community gets a push notification.

One of the most surprising things to come about from the artist-run (or, at least, the artist’s team-run) Discord servers, is how some fans are starting to work for the artists within the community. 

Rivers Cuomo has tapped fans to take on roles such as “biographical researcher” (essentially an archivist of his work) and “iPhone” (test iOS apps that Rivers programs). In return, they get priority access to certain events. 

Open mic

What makes Discord so user-friendly for artists and their fan bases is that the conversation — written, voice, video — is gated. That means that they’re not publicly searchable and allow for interactions to seem protected, a walled garden promising access and exclusivity.  

It’s also always on, meaning that people can jump into the server at any time and chat with anyone who’s in there. It’s why Discord calls itself the “24-hour diner of the internet.”

And with Discord rolling out “Forum Channels” — a take on Reddit’s subreddits, where a lot of Discord servers spring from — conversations within a server will soon become a bit more organized.

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Pop stars stay put with extended residencies

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Pop stars stay put with extended residencies

 

The Future. Pop superstars are playing more shows in select venues, making the residency (or extended stay or long run) in major cities a modern music trend. While residencies have typically been reserved for prominent artists in the last act of their careers, these artists are instead locking down the most popular venues in the US… which may leave everywhere else free for those not already at the top of the music food chain.

Only the hit cities
NYT reports that some of music’s biggest acts are opting out of hitting the road.

  • For the North American leg of his new tour, Harry Styles is playing 42 shows in only five cities, including 15 at The Forum in LA and 15 at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
  • This November, Adele will start a 32-show engagement called “Weekends with Adele” at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
  • Mexican rock band Maná played 12 dates at The Forum — the only US shows they booked all year.
  • BTS, Katy Perry, Miranda Lambert, and several others have decided to play only a limited number of venues this year.

And these longer engagements won’t slow down any time soon. Omar Al-joulani, President of Touring at Live Nation, expects to see another 30 tours in 2023 similar to this trend.

No encore expenses
So, what’s behind the “more shows at fewer venues” trend? (Besides it making a ton of money for legends like Celine Dion, Elton John, and Billy Joel.)

  • Cost cutting. Tours are expensive (production, transportation, labor), and the price tag is only going up because of inflation.
  • COVID. It’s still a thing, and big artists are nervous that increased travel gives them a higher chance of getting sick… forcing them to cancel shows (which is very expensive).
  • Wellbeing. Even pop stars feel burnout, and less time on the road is a major stress-reducer. Look no further than Shawn Mendes’ decision to postpone his current tour.

The irony is that the live-music industry is soaring post-pandemic (or what we’re all saying is “post-pandemic”). Pollstar reports that ticket sales for the top 100 tours in North America hit $1.7 billion in just the first six months of this year (it helps that tickets are more expensive than ever). And to top it off, Live Nation has already sold over 100 million tickets overall this year.

Both of those stats are higher than 2019’s. The pent-up demand is no joke.

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