Tim Panton: This is The Distributed Future podcast, where we talk to people who are doing interesting things who may be able to help us understand what the future of technology and society and their overlap is going to look like. I encourage you to subscribe to this podcast. Otherwise, you miss an episode and like it, favourite it, and spread the word around and all of that. Because otherwise, people miss out on really interesting guests. On which note I'm going to ask our guest to introduce himself right now.
Randy: Yeah. Hi, I'm Randy Resnick. I have been playing music professionally for about 57 years and recording with labels in real distribution world for 51 years. So, in order to talk about the future, we need to do a quick look at the past. And that would be my first recording in the studio was, as I said, about 51 years ago. At that time, in order to get to that far, you didn't fund your own music albums because it would have been way too expensive. Very few people did and if they did, it was like that old thing about how do you make a small fortune in the music business? You start with a big one. So when we went into the studio, our record label was paying for that. And there was a small advance and then the rest was sales. So the record company, the label takes care of all the expenses, and then they deal with distribution. And in those days, remember, no streaming. That distribution was vinyl. In fact, it was vital period then. The CD came along a few years later, so then there were CDs and now you could make your own CDs. You could distribute them in supermarket parking lots, or if you were playing concerts or in bars and so on. A lot of people did that but that's obviously not going to make you rich or even get a reasonable living wage.
Then came all of the other formats, DAT and all the different recording formats. Finally, we move up to streaming and things like the Apple Store or Bandcamp or many many other sites where you can either stream or buy. iTunes for buying and Apple Music for streaming, Spotify and so on. Now the idea is completely different. When Spotify started, just as an individual player or composer, you could upload stuff right to Spotify. But now you need a distributor. And those distributors are numerous. There's a bunch of them and each one has a little bit of a different plan. So right now there is one that takes a percentage and they do everything for free, there's no initial cost. There's another that does it for like $1 and they also take a little something off the top. There's another that gets it's preferred distributors-- say for Spotify-- so you get your music on much quicker, but there's a yearly fee or a subscription fee to pay. If you stop paying, your music comes offline. I personally have about 250 pieces of music tracks as it were on these different services. So if I just stop whenever the subscription expires, that all disappears. Is that good? Is that bad? I don't know. What is it-
Tim: I'm just gonna say there's already a huge amount to unpack. One of the things that's implicit in what you've said is that the bundling is different. I mean, I remember buying albums. And because buying one piece of vinyl was like what you did, and that tended to have two or four or ten tracks on it. Whereas now, the content is a track or do you still do albums?
Randy: You can do either. I started doing a lot of singles, then I started grouping them into albums. And of course if you have a concept or a sound, that would be the most interesting reason to do albums. But yes, I have an album with 25 tracks, I have also what they used to call EPs, which in fact makes no sense in streaming but that's two, three, or four songs or five. Up to five is called an EP. So yeah, there is the bundling aspect. And by the way in case you weren't going to mention it, whatever happened to album covers and all the text and bio information and all of that? Because that's missing now.
Tim: We missed all of that when we moved to the iPod and the MP3. You also missed out the step with the MP3 players. I mean, listen to it in iTunes but there was about 10 years in which which MP3 players were the most personal way to consume music, and you bought things-- or you didn't buy them-- but you got MP3 somehow and put them onto your MP3 player. And that's gone. Apple don't make one anymore and I don't think you can buy an MP3 player anymore. Like a flash in the pan, it doesn't exist anymore.
Randy: Well it's more that the MP3 player evolved into the iPod, which is a smartphone with no phone, but it also plays MP3. Actually, it [crosstalk] making iPods because I have a couple.
Tim: They've stopped making the iPod Touch.
Randy: Yeah, I'm surprised.
Tim: It's a tragedy, but they don't do it anymore apparently. I guess they didn't make enough money on them.
Randy: God, you'd think they would because for what the cost of making China... They're very expensive, you know? Even the iPod Touch the last time I bought one it was almost over €300.
Tim: I think it was probably my favourite ever Apple product. I had a red- I still have somewhere-- a red iPod Touch. It's just great. It's a fantastic device but they kind of don't exist anymore in the Apple catalogue. Like I said, presumably because... Well, I suppose it undermines the streaming story, which is I guess where we're going to get to, which is that... Presumably streaming for all that it is supposedly easier to get into and to get streaming music. Presumably, it makes you less money. I don't know.
Randy: Yeah, absolutely. But before we leave MP3s, there's another aspect of that which is that you can buy, especially in China, very cheap very small 250K MP3s or USB sticks and put an album on those. And so you can sell or give or send those out as well. And they're a whole different thing because as soon as somebody puts that into a computer, it's like streaming, only locally. And they could do whatever they want with it, including putting it into iTunes.
Tim: I'd heard about that happening as a music distribution in Africa where downloading over 2G or 3G or whatever is available is an expensive and unreliable game to play, and so you get people who will make you a stick of the album that you want. I wonder though, whether the money makes its way back to the artists in those cases.
Randy: Well, I'm talking about selling them at concerts. And I know you're probably not using video but just to show you, this is one that I've got through whatever the Chinese sign is.
Tim: You got your music on it?
Randy: Well, I could. I don't. I don't on that one. Actually, I gave them away to people who came to see me in a restaurant, I had three or four. But you can sell it for very cheap, after all you've already got your music. So you could sell something that had five songs or you could sell a recording of that gig even, you know? That's what's wonderful about the current Do It Yourself distribution. It's wide open. A person on the street with an acoustic guitar or an acapella could make a recording with a little crummy, not even an iPhone, it's something that costs maybe $150. Make that recording, burn it to a USB key and then sell it to people next time he or she is playing on the riverwalk or whatever. So that's distribution, too, and I think that can go ways into the future. It just depends on what physical media we're going to be using.
Tim: It used to be. There was a really good busker here in Chester who would-- in fact, several times several different buskers would sell their CDs from the music case in front of them. And the CDs would always be a turnover because it was easiest price point to negotiate cash wise. And presumably, that was probably the most easiest way to earn money they ever had. They would busk and then somebody would pay them 10 quid for a CD. And that's presumably quite good money.
Randy: Yeah, we did that at concerts too and bars and so on. And by the way, I forgot to mention much about vinyl. There has been over the recent years, people are collecting that stuff. And right now, which I did not understand, apparently vinyl is selling very very well and people are re-issuing vinyls. What's funny is I have heard, I don't know if it's a hundred percent true, but I have heard that many young people who are buying vinyls don't have a turntable. They just buy them to collect them. I mean, if somebody's going to pay $1,200 for a pair of what I'd call tennis shoes, why not get vinyl for $25 and collect and never listen to it? I don't know.
Tim: Yeah, I think there was a phase when that was a big thing if you remember. There was a brief flirtation with picture discs where they sounded crap, but they looked lovely. And as you say, the album cover was a thing of beauty and it was big enough to almost be its own poster. Whereas the CD box never was, and certainly the art that comes on with an MP3 isn't either in my experience. I can't think of an occasion when the art that came with a downloaded album grabbed me in the same way that the classic album sleeves ever did. Although I suppose, do they put the same amount of effort in or not?
Randy: No, it can only be one image. And there's nice images. You know, it's a very high res thing too. Apple wants 3000 by 3000 pixels, which when you're looking at it on your iPhone, it's wonderful. But the problem is not just outliner notes with your biography or the talking of the description of the musicians or the composition and liner notes, sometimes it was a critic that would write extensive stuff about jazz. But if nothing else, you don't have the song list and who's playing on it or who wrote it. And that alone, you can see that on Spotify but it's actually hard to get. That's annoying to me and it's unfortunate because it's a good example of how things are marketed today by sort of big tech-- the equivalent of big tech in music distribution.
Tim: Obviously, Apple is the classic crossover between the two, but are there other crossovers between big tech and the music industry?
Randy: I'm not sure what you mean. Apple came from what they do and then they went into music, but they do music because they sell stuff to play music, right? So I'm not sure. And I wonder if-
Tim: Well, iTunes is a massive distributor, whereas I was thinking that for example Facebook don't have it. They don't have a music arm, do they?
Randy: No, I don't think they do. And it's interesting that you mentioned Apple. It's true that iTunes, one of the nice things that it does for them is another arrow in whatever you call the thing for arrows. What is the thing called for arrows?
Tim: Quiver.
Randy: Yeah, the quiver. So it's another arrow in the quiver to drag people to Apple devices. Right? So that's very clever. And it's true that because Facebook, as you said, we're talking about big tech and hardware, Facebook doesn't manufacture anything. Well, it's actually tried. Didn't they?
Tim: Yeah, they made the creepy video phone device. I don't think they've made anything else.
Randy: Right. So you got to look at at Alexas and Amazon. Amazon's got music, too. And so they've got this huge audience that has a prime account, right? It's $100 and some a year. You get some limited music with it, then you have to pay the same price similar to Spotify or Apple Music and then you have unlimited. But the point is Amazon does make if nothing else, Alexa, and they probably make a little players. I'm not aware because I'm not a big Amazon Music person. Then within the distribution platforms, there's Tidal. And Tidal may have a partnership with somebody. So again, it's tied to these devices. And I think one of the smart things about Apple doing this is that there's that pair. You're in that world already, you know? I use Apple and I have an old iPod, but I don't have an iPhone and I don't want one. But you're tied into that in that some apps won't work, they don't have them for Android. Other things you can't get for Mac or desktop, but some you can get for Mac OS. I mean, there's an app, a Spotify app for Mac and Windows presumably. Unix, I wouldn't know-- Linux. There is certainly an Amazon app. And all these apps have one thing in common, they're extremely annoying. It's very hard to get rid of once you install them and there's all these reminders and stuff. I had an experience today already with it.
Tim: So the business model there is about repeated revenue for Apple or Amazon. Like, you're paying your prime subscription and you're paying the unlimited subscription. So it's very much a subscription model. Does that reliability of cash flow, which is what they're kind of interested in, does that feed back to the musicians? Do the musicians see any of that reliability?
Randy: You mentioned price earlier and I was going to comment. I don't know, there are places where you can look this stuff up, and it changes very often. But I can tell you that in general, Spotify will pay as an average three-tenths of a penny-- so point 3 pennies for one stream. And that's one full stream, I think they have to listen to at least a minute or something. But it's different. The rate is different depending on whether the people are ad-supported or they pay for a subscription on Spotify, and I'm sure there's similarities between them. Tidal is supposed to pay more, and Tidal boasts of having a much higher quality. They're done on 24 bit and big deal. You're listening on crummy earphones usually or air pods or whatever. So I'm not sure how important that is compared to the old days with the stereo and the $1,200 turntable, but yeah. So the musicians, the answer is flat no. If you want to try to make money, you're not going to do it on streams. Of course, the big big names are going to be making big money, sure. But the average person, even the small bands, you're not going to live on that money. But then there's a crossover to playing live concerts. And if you were doing a tour-- I can't really think of a good name of somebody who's minor but touring, but I've seen plenty. What they do is they maybe get tour support from somebody if they're on a label, and they're out there. But then they can sell merch. So merch is anything. Not just your music, but also T-shirts and so on. That kind of distribution is in-person at the concert and at the venue. That's kind of interesting. And it's much more engaging for the person who is there and saw you if they like you to actually be buying it from that table where you're doing a meet and greet.
Tim: Right. Although I see that some of the venues take a hefty percentage out of that. I've been at events where the band has said, "We'll be across the road in the pub and we'll have some merch with us if you want to buy our first," because they didn't want to pay the 50% fee that the venue was charging them.
Randy: Absolutely. Absolutely, that's very true. So if you wanted to move on, the one thing that has happened recently about three years ago, a thing called Audius started to get some traction. Are you familiar with that?
Tim: No, tell me about it.
Randy: So Audius... And I'm not friends with them at all. In fact, I have a very negative opinion so I don't want to go too much into it because what I have to say won't be good. [Tim laughs] But they're based... Okay. First of all, audience music is on the blockchain. So that makes a huge difference, right? And there's real interesting point of that, which is that I wasn't paying attention. I signed up, put a couple tunes up there, and to me it seemed for lack of a better word, schlock and amateurish. So I wanted to take them down and I looked into the terms of service and it was stated-- and I have a screen capture of their terms of service-- that all you had to do to delete your account was to write them or something like that, or click or whatever. But at the time that I had decided I wanted to completely delete my account, I went on to Reddit and got in touch with them and the person representing them said, "No, you can't. Because it's on the blockchain, you can't delete it. We don't have control of it anymore." So I asked him, "Well, if it's in your terms of service that I can delete my account and all my music..." So they changed the terms of service needless to say after a couple of weeks of that. Meanwhile the Audius Reddit group is filled with fanboys (and perhaps fan girls, I don't know) and fan XYZ, and I was definitely jumped on with, "Yeah, you don't know what you're talking about." And I said I don't even think there's going to be any real money for this. And nothing was clear obviously in the payout. Or the payout, excuse me, the payout was probably guess what? Tokens.
Tim: Right. Which you can't use to buy pizza. It's the big problem with tokens. Or you can, maybe.
Randy: No, I think there's some way to do something with it. Maybe you can buy other music from that same platform, I don't know. Anyway, I don't know how they're doing. The name leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I haven't actually gone to looked, but my graphic saying that they're basically crooks and that they lied about their terms of service is still up on the site, because apparently they can't delete my account. [laughs]
Tim: Oh, really? Brilliant. Brilliant. But I mean, they can't possibly put the mp3 itself on the blockchain, it can only be... In fact, kind of like the NFT images, it's only the hash of it that's on the blockchain. They can't possibly upload the MP3.
Randy: And talk about distributed, it's distributed in the sense that supposedly it goes on to all kinds of other servers. It's also possible it's one of these models where when you put music up there, your peer collection-- you know what I mean-- your peer to peer is also being shared. And I'm not crazy about those systems being connected to about 20 other people that I've never met and don't know what country they're in.
Tim: Well, that's the kind of original Napster model, isn't it, how MP3s were circulated back in the day. It's interesting I feel like the music industry who's been grumbling about the fact that they lost control here, really shot themselves in the foot. And this is kind of out of the normal policy of the podcast, but it's like a bit of history here. There was this site called mp3.com that had this really very reasonable business model, which was that if you could prove that you own the CD, then you could download the MP3s rather than having to rip the CD yourself. And one of the things they accepted as proof is that you just ordered it off their website. So you could order off their website and then immediately download the MP3s without the physical desk having arrived at home. Which I thought was a really simple sensible service, and the music industry chased them into oblivion. They sent more lawyers than you can imagine after them, and crushed what seemed to me to be a perfectly sensible business. And that result was that of course for about 10 years afterwards, everyone illegally downloaded their MP3s without buying the CD, because there wasn't a way to do it legally. That just seems like an omission like a missed opportunity for them. They could have done a deal with mp3.com and been in control of the music and made money out of mp3 downloads, but they chose not to. But I guess now with streaming, at least the streaming companies are very firmly in control over of the distribution. Does that seem fair?
Randy: Well, for one thing, didn't Apple take over that model? There's some deal where you've got music in your library that you bought, and you can download it... Oh, it's not in relation to iTunes where they send you the physical, right?
Tim: Yeah. I think Apple eventually got-- because they were less scared of Apple-- they got the rights to do that. But there was an ensuing-- I have forgotten how many years it was-- but between the demise of mp3.com and iTunes' rise where it was pretty much impossible to legally get an MP3 other than by buying the CD and ripping it yourself. And that was questionable legality as well in some jurisdictions. So kind of a desperate attempt to hold back progress, I think, which arguably backfired on at least the players then. Because I don't think any of the big record labels are still the power they used to be, maybe they are. Like, is Decca still a thing? I don't know.
Randy: Well, here's one thing with regard to tech, for example. You look at Meta who bought Instagram and WhatsApp and all of that, and there's a lot of legislation looking at antitrust in that regard. And Google, YouTube and all those things there's discussion about breaking those up. And the relation here is that in the music distribution business, there used to be 50 labels, now there are three. They've bought each other. The three main labels, and I think Sony has something to do with this, are owned by these three companies. And distribution is the same. A lot these big distributors like, I believe that one of the distributors I use is called DistroKid, and if I'm not mistaken they have purchased another one called TuneCore and also CD Baby. I may not have the names right but what I'm saying is it's becoming the same thing. And I guess for some reason, the US Congress isn't looking at those things yet because it's probably not big enough. It's not Google, it's not Facebook as far as money and the ads and all that. Also, I did want to mention that the artists can also partner with a site just like people go to Etsy to sell their little pottery or whatever it is or T-shirts, and you can go to Bandcamp and set up a streaming service for any of your music. Of course, if you're signed to a label, you couldn't do this. But if you have your own label like I do, or if you're just an independent musician, you can go to Bandcamp for one, but there are others. And you can allow streaming, you can allow a number of streams before they have to buy, and also you can sell. But you're selling MP3s or uncompressed, you can do either.
Tim: Do you actually get a sensible amount of money for that? Or is it again like fractions of a penny?
Randy: It's funny because I just put up a pretty big... I've got like 80 tracks on there at the demand of people on Mastodon. Because Mastodon, if you think about it, and I think you know Mastodon well enough to know that it would be more open source-ey. So not that many people are going to have subscriptions to monthly paying Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and so on. We're much more of an open-source attitude of how can I do this with less paying? Right? And how can I do it by listening first and so on? So you can do that, but I have not looked at the Terms of Service yet and I should. Shouldn't I?
Tim: Yeah. Well, I'm sort of also interested to see what the revenue cheque looks like at the end of the month or the quarter or whenever they send it to you. Like, do you actually make money out of it? Is it... I mean, I realize that you're probably doing this at least for the fun of it in part rather than to earn your crust, but it's nice to do both.
Randy: Yeah, I'm actually not doing it for the money but I'm gonna go just out of curiosity take a quick look over there. By the way my Bandcamp URL, I have a site called randulo.com that points right to my page in case anybody cares about the music or wants to check it out.
Tim: Oh, we'll put that in the show notes so people can look it up afterwards and listen to you. And we should actually tell people what they'd be listening to at some point, but let's do with Bandcamp first.
Randy: Yeah. Well, Bandcamp is a site that's been around for quite a long time, I don't know how long. I'm looking at their front page and it says fans have paid artists £1.05 billion and £186 million in the last year. So then you'd have to go figure out how many artists there are and who's selling. A lot of people don't sell either. In fact, I wasn't selling, and I don't care about selling that much. The artists can put a discount on buying, you can buy everything on the site for X amount. So the artists can set that, and as I said, you can set it so that people can stream unlimited, which is what I've done because it's not for the two cents. Go ahead, stream. [cuckles] But getting back to the future because this is the future, I haven't seen anything radical since Audius. And if you look at Audius at all-- look it up in other words, Google it-- you'll see that it got a lot of press. But then this was when Bitcoin and all that was just coming up and getting serious and people were all excited about the blockchain and Bitcoin and virtual lists and token that... There have been so many things gone through that. There was even a news service that was going to be doing that with tokens and all that. I was a part of that for a while because I was curious. I'm always trying things.
Tim: And I think there's a legitimate issue there, which is that we've never really come up with a kind of sensible micropayment for the web where you pay a couple of cents to read an article or whatever. And somehow, that's never been constructed in a way that was attractive or usable.
Randy: It is now.
Tim: Well, is it?
Randy: Yeah, [unintelligible 00:30:16] it's only one site doing that, and that's post.news.
Tim: Right. But presumably, you have to... How do they do that? They charge you at the end of the-
Randy: No, you have a credit. In fact, when you join, you get 50 cents credit. And since the average article is between one cent, three cents, and sometimes 25 cents, you can try it. And then if you like that idea... This just came out of Beta, it's only about six or seven weeks old, let's say two months. And it's now open to anyone, post.news. I'm on it. I'm not charging any money for anything I do there because I think for three cents... [laughs] Actually, a couple people have paid for posts that I've made because when I write something, I feel like it's original. I post a couple of stories there but I have never made it limited to the micropayments. I asked someody, "What do you think of micropayments," and he said, "I'd rather have macropayments." And I thought that was a good answer.
Tim: But in terms of the usability, it sounds like it's not too annoying to use, because that was always the issue. But it's still focused on a single distributor so it's kind of like, you know, it's not quite like the New York Times or something.
Randy: But it is a distributor though, Tim. So if you had a blog and you could go there and be a part of it, you could be paid. They just need to know financial details. I suppose they do some checking, you know? Although, no. Because individuals, they don't do any checking. You're there, you get into the site, you got 50 credits, 50 pennies. You can spend that. You can reward somebody for a nice post that cheered you up, or you can look at Reuters articles. Some of them are free and some of them are two or three cents. But I mean, this is the radical part that they're doing. There's plenty of things I'm not crazy about on there but I think that now that it's out of beta, it'll change a lot.
Tim: So in a way that's quite close to where Bandcamp is in terms of like... Or is Bandcamp entirely subscription? I'm trying to understand where-
Randy: Well, with Bandcamp you'd have to get an account, though, you have to sign in. Which is with Post too or anything. The question with Bandcamp is what are the prices? Because most people, I think the default price on a track-- a compressed MP3 track-- is probably 99 cents or something like that. And that's the same on iTunes and all the other sites as well.
Tim: But that's not a single listen, you get to own it then.
Randy: Yes. Oh yeah, you download it.
Tim: Right. But so there's no couple-of-cents-for-a-stream model.
Randy: No, I think the stream is free if you want it to be. I see what you're saying. Yeah. Like Spotify? No, Bandcamp doesn't do that. But there's like 20 Bandcamps, at least, and some of them are more for African music. I can never remember the name of that one.
Tim: Well, again, drop me an email at the end and if you come up with a few of them, I can pop them into the show notes and people can look them up.
Randy: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Tim: Yeah. I think it's interesting that we are in a point where there's an evolution almost triggered by the Bitcoin offer, but that never really materialised as a way of buying things. But the idea that you would be able to get micropayments through Bitcoin, [unintelligible] people into doing them with real coins, if you see what I mean. Because I think it's kind of interesting, you know. Well, Post News I hadn't really looked at them. I've been kind of spending my time in Mastodon land instead recently because I think that's also very interesting. But completely unrelated to music, except kind of how it gets paid for is interesting in terms of how people make money.
Randy: You know, you spoke... Excuse me.
Tim: Yeah, go on.
Randy: I didn't mean to interrupt, I thought you were done. What I was just saying is if you look at Piratebay, that model-- because people can go there and they could buy my music, I don't know. But whatever people have uploaded would be available there and it's free. And that's piracy and it's not good, I guess. But you can also consider the distribution where for example, like I pay for Netflix every month, and Netflix doesn't have the same catalogue in every country. They're getting better about that by the way, but right now there are things you can't get on my Netflix account. It's a US account, by the way. So you can then use a VPN and pretend you're someplace. And that works. It's really whack-a-mole as far as the VPN because they get these lists and they can detect it, but I don't find that stealing. I just find that getting around some jerk who's in charge of 'we're going to do the countries in this order'. If I want to see something and I'm paying for it, I want to see it. Okay? So I have no problem with that. But on the other hand if there's a documentary you want to see and it's just not going to be available, and you find it on on Pirate Bay, that's interesting. Because if you can't get it legally, there's an argument for stealing it, even though it is stealing. I may not agree, but you can at least understand how you could rationalise it anyway?
Tim: I mean, the problem is that it's not always in the gift of the artist to arrange for it to be available in every country.
Randy: Well, I was thinking more about movies and huge corporations, which first of all if they wanted to, they can. They can do anything they want. And it's mostly that they're going to distribute to every country, it's just that there's a department that says, "We're going to do it this way. First, it's going to be in the United States, you know, the region's on DVDs." And who hasn't defeated the region's lock on the DVD player if you have any interest in seeing stuff, rather than waiting until, you know? So that's a problem. The other issue is... So I wasn't necessarily talking... It's a shame if it's one little apple stand and people steal apples. Of course, that's horrible. But if it's some huge supermarket chain that's making millions and somebody's hungry and steals an apple, that's less bad in my opinion. That's wrong, I know it's relativism, but that's what it is.
Tim: Yeah. And I think that the problem, though, is that the legal infrastructure for content creation is so opaque, and particularly books, but I think also for films and music. It's not easy to produce this stuff. And I think we both had this thing that if you want to put something on YouTube, you better be careful that there is absolutely no music on it. Because otherwise, you have to jump through so many hoops otherwise it'll get blocked and you'll get banned.
Randy: That's not 100% true, actually. Generally what happens is you just can't monetize it anymore. Because I've had that happen too many times. In fact, I'd had my own stuff challenged a couple of times and had to go through the process of arguing with them, but it worked.
Tim: Wait, so you can't monetize it, but they can?
Randy: Exactly. [Tim laughs] And another side of that is that there are agencies, you know, who are these people with the patents? You know, they go around and just [crosstalk]. It's the same thing. There are agencies that go around and just put claims on all kinds of stuff that aren't theirs that aren't working for clients that they have or anything, and if they win, then they are able to monetize it and they put ads in and they make money that way. And that's total, you know, it's like piracy reverse almost. But if you put music in a YouTube video, first of all you can put it in and have it be an unknown link. What do they call those? Where it's just a link that anyone has that they can do it but it's not published on the channel. Okay? But if you publish it, what you're going to have is a copyright strike. And if you were trying to monetize, you're not going to be able to anymore. I'm not sure that they take down... I mean, they would certainly take down something like a movie or TV show. Not sure that if you have your own work plus background music, that they would pull that. Also, there's a lot of music that's legit that you can use on YouTube that's probably famous some of it. Because that's Content ID. They figure it out and then they remunerated the people who have the rights.
Tim: Okay, so if you use something from a creator who already has a deal with YouTube, then they get paid if I use it in my video? That's fascinating.
Randy: Absolutely. I've even discovered a thing where I went to look and I saw that people were using certain... I see which songs, which is super interesting. By the way, the quick parenthesis here, I'm on the Bandcamp fair trade policy and their share is 15% on digital items. So if you download yada yada $100 it's 15 bucks for them, and 10% on physical goods. Physical goods? I didn't even know you could buy physical goods. [crosstalk] I know they don't think it's music. I don't know what physical goods is. Yeah, maybe you can sell stuff. Anyway, long story short, of course you've got your additional credit card or transaction processor, which is gonna be four to 7%. So what they're saying is usually 80 to 85% goes directly to the artist or their label. And what I wanted to ask about before is that as you will know, Apple takes 30% for apps. And I think they may take 30% on the music too, at least in it for independence. I'm not sure about that but I wouldn't be surprised.
Tim: Well, I've never had anything to sell on iTunes so I wouldn't have any info on that. I did stumble across it, and I think I mentioned them to you, I did stumble across a bunch of people who were doing very niche content for meditation and yoga. And they were producing this niche content so as an artist or a musician, you could produce something that you thought was suitable for that context, and they were selling that to yoga studios and people. And what they were saying was a good commercial rate for streaming, I didn't look into the kind of detail of it and I don't know how successful they’ve been with that. But it was interesting, that niche market and niche kind of target audience was kind of interesting. So where do you see this going? I know you work with musicians from all around the world and kind of maybe have a sense of how other people feel about it outside kind of Europe and the US, is there a kind of movement for different solutions outside the West?
Randy: I really don't know, I think that in some places it's physical media hand-to-hand, literally. And it's incredible, now that I'm connected to more people who do hip hop, and in that world anyone with a computer can do that. I mean, physically speaking, you've got everything you need to make tracks and beats and people sell beats for other people to sing on and play on. And in that world, there are a lot of people who would like to make money and be stars, and some of them have a lot of talent others have none, but the point is that part of the industry is really dead. And unless you have investments in promotion, there's never going to be any real money. A lot of people keep trying, the wannabes. They keep trying and trying and that's very discouraging. Another reason why I'm glad that I am not counting on this for a living. I want to get back to the yoga thing for a second by the way because I'm with them, thanks to you. I had a 16-track ambient music thing for yoga on their server and it probably's still there. There's a lot of that music. And I thought that it was a subscription service by the way, not purchase for yoga teachers. So that was my impression anyway. And they do have a good royalty system. That's probably one of the bigger sources of income, you know, $10 or $30 here and there, but it's more than Spotify would pay over a year or two depending on what you got out there. But anyway, the scary part about distribution, Tim, I think is that there's just so many... What's the figure now? That there's something like 300,000 tracks uploaded to Spotify every day. I don't know what the real figure is but it's some huge tens or hundreds of thousands. So the competition is there. And the competition for people's attention especially these days, you know, nobody's gonna listen to more than a song at once probably of one artist. You'd have to be at all time fan like I guess David Crosby, Crosby, Stills & Nash, he just passed away. I'm sure there's lots of streaming going on with their albums right now. But other than a major event like that, I think that the ADD that's currently ubiquitous among younger and older people for that matter is such that people, you know, they got the music on when they're trying to code. That's a big deal. Or sleep. So artistically, you're not reaching anybody. And monetarily, you're getting those three-tenths of a penny for a full stream. So real distribution, I mentioned Audius. What's to come? I'm just hoping that we don't keep going with tokens and blockchains because that seems to be still an application that's looking for... It's a solution looking for a problem. I haven't had and I don't know if you've had any actual reason for the existence of blockchains. There must be, but there's not that many.
Tim: One of the things you just mentioned sort of in passing is effectively discovery. How do you find the new musician you like? How do you find something new if there's that sheer volume of tracks? I mean, it used to be that that was all filtered through, you know, the A&R man would go to the pub gig and the pub gig would only happen if the promoter liked you. So there were a whole bunch of filters before anything got to, as you were saying, vinyl. And so before I as a teenager would ever hear anything, it had been through a bunch of filters before it got out into the market. I didn't have as much to choose from. And then you know, there was the whole kind of mixtape culture that people would send you a mixtape of things that they liked and you would listen to it and there'll be one of them that you really liked and you'd borrow an album, and all of that whole kind of word of mouth but not quite thing. There was a whole bunch of filters on what music I was consuming. But at the moment, there's just one layer, it's Spotify and that's it. It's what Spotify chooses to give you. Is that a huge oversimplification?
Randy: Well, Spotify or any of the other like the ones that are like Spotify. Of course, you have choices in those platforms, including YouTube by the way. For example, my distributor sends YouTube everything I do. Not in album format, in single format. So every track, YouTube has a playlist with 150 of my tracks. I don't know how they selected them and it's updated every day. It's in a different order, I don't have any control over it, unfortunately, so you might fall on anything. But so YouTube is free. And of course, there's YouTube Music in which case you don't get ads. Otherwise, it's ads. The ads are annoying, but there's of course ways to block those ads. Is that ethical? I don't know. But let me just go back to what you were saying about filters because the word is gatekeepers, actually. Back in the day, it was gatekeepers. And now that there are no gatekeepers for independent music, anybody can be an independent musician, whether they're actually a musician or a singer, whatever. So you can put out tracks of silence if you want, and apparently that works for a minute. There was somebody who put out a poopoo or tracker that just had nothing on it but silence, and it was because the poopoo was trending because of Alexa. There was some long story about that anyway. As far as the gatekeeper go since there are no gatekeepers, yes, the biggest problem is discovery. And it's from my head. My name is known to an extent at least by some people because I've been doing this for over 50 years, but at the same time I've never been any kind of a star. Now, I'm trying to answer the discovery question which is that on Spotify, there are playlists. And if you get on these playlists, these are private normal people's playlists. They're public but they're from average individuals.
Tim: So that is kind of like a mixtape?
Randy: Exactly! They're huge and sometimes they have 50 or 70 songs, which is the kind I'd like to get on, and sometimes they have 2500 songs. Also, Spotify has editorial playlists and I was lucky to get one of my tracks on one of their editorial playlists. So I can tell you that in the week or two or maybe 10 days that that track has been on that playlist, it's been heard 3000 maybe 4000 times. That's not too shabby to coin a phrase.
Tim: But that's still only-- let me do the math-- that's still only $100.
Randy: Oh, if that. Yeah, because as I said, there are different degrees of depending on whether people are listening to it free or a paid subscription. So it's not exactly free. But yeah. The other thing I was gonna say is that when you get on people's playlists, some of the individual playlists have several thousand people and sometimes certain popular ones have like tens of thousands. And if you get on one of those playlists, you at least have some chance of being discovered. And I have all the figures and could tell you-- figures, meaning that Spotify has a channel you look at and you can see all the reporting-- and the reporting shows you what countries people are in that are listening. It also shows you how they found it, and then also shows you every playlist you're on. And so the largest source of my streams are coming from playlists. And I've told all other artists that I know a hundred times each that you get on a playlist. Unfortunately, although Apple has playlists, there isn't the same ecosphere or ecosystem to do this. Or I haven't discovered it. In other words, even if I had Apple Music and I did for a while, I make a playlist but there's no list of playlists. They don't make a thing of it in other words. Whereas Spotify does. Spotify encourages it and you get play from those things. The rest of them, I don't know. Amazon also has playlists. And by the way, a lot depends also on the infrastructure for the artists given by the platform. Spotify is far and away better than any of the other ones. They give you good information from analytics, but also ways to interact with people. You can choose to have a signal that they should listen to, so, "Here's my latest stuff." You can also associate your concerts if you're doing any live with your Spotify page. So these are important things. And so when people shitpost for lack of a better term about Spotify, it's not just the money. Because you're not going to make any other money anywhere else. The only way is to be not online streaming, but doing something else like playing in places, opening for other artists, and then selling your merch and selling your stuff. Unfortunately, why distribution? That's it. That's Spotify and company really.
Tim: So it occurs to me that we didn't, we sort of touched on it ut we never really talked about NFTs. Are they going to save everything? Are they going to be the thing that brings in tonnes of money to musicians?
Randy: Well, there's two opinions. One is it's complete jive, and the other is that it'll make you rich. And there's been a lot of scams going on, a lot of people selling, the same people who are selling the Web3 and Metaverse and all of that. Anyway, what I do know about it is I did make an NFT to see what the process is like. It's very hard for an average person or a musician to do it so you need a team or something, and this is probably true of a lot of art. But in the end, the smart contracts which are a way to include things in it... And it's programming, so I looked into that and it was way above my head, but you could probably do it. Yeah, there's an interesting possibility of a future. The current problem that I see is you can't just go and buy one, you have to get a wallet and go through all of that. And if you're not already hooked into the crypto scene, it doesn't seem that easy to me. The advantage, though, that's clever is what they call utilities, which is something like you buy the NFT-- and this applies to books as well, any kind of art-- and then the utilities can be a meet and greet in your city, for example, that are only available to the owners of people who have bought the NFT. A friend of mine writing a book on wine was saying that she was going to do tastings and things like that, so you got these extra really attributes that are actually very cool. And that's a great idea. The other thing about-
Tim: It's kind of like a modern version of being in a supporters club, really. Like, you know, the fan club or something like that.
Randy: Yeah. Yeah, that's true. That's true. But it's all built in contract and all that. Clever, true, and it is an advantage. But again, these are for people who already have a wallet and are already hooked into all that scene, because all that happens through this utilities thing. Smart contracts allow you to split the revenues among artists. I've participated in one of those and each person gets a certain percentage based on their participation. Another thing about smart contracts is that in some cases if you own an NFT and you sell it, the original artist gets a percentage. That's kind of a cool thing as a way to support people. But really all in all, I find that it's going to need a few years before anything happens. But it wasn't fair not to mention it.
Tim: Absolutely. Yeah. Have you actually got any money out of the one you've done, or any coins or whatever it is that comes out the end?
Randy: Well, I did one with three other people and they put it up and all that. After a couple of months, I said, "Have you sold any?" And they said, "Yeah, we sold three." And I said, "Yeah, I bought those three." Because I wanted to go through the whole process, you know? And it's interesting. Without getting into crypto too much, there are these gas fees and all kinds of things that go on and let's not forget the ecological ramifications. That's one of the things they need to fix. Incidentally, NFTs generally use Ethereum. Sometimes they use Tezos or a couple of other wacky... You know, then you start getting into the trivia of the whole blockchain thing and it's kind of nuts. That will all have to be shaken out, I think, but someday it might be something.
Tim: So there is promise there in terms of there being a modern digital supporters fan club type thing that's somehow possible and almost has an asset value as well, in theory.
Randy: I think you've made a good analogy there. Yeah, I think that's great. Again, since this is Distributed Future, it's really the only major thing that's had any action at all that I can think of that is related to a future that we might see in a year, two years, five years. Hard to say.
Tim: Okay, cool. Well, let's keep our eyes on that and see whether it actually happened. The question we always ask at the end of these podcasts is if you look five years into the future, what do you hope will have happened? What will have changed? What will be new?
Randy: I think that it's impossible to predict what will happen on the actual mechanisms that we're looking at. You know, Spotify could disappear tomorrow with all the rest of them. But we didn't know that there was going to be CDs, we didn't know there was going to be DVD. So if Sony or some other interesting party comes up with some incredible thing like not needing the internet but you're still getting stuff off satellite, for example, I don't know. But none of this changes the fact that how much people want or need music too. That's a whole other thing to think about. I won't go into the entire history of music but if you think about just the simple fact that before music was recorded, nobody ever heard any except if they played or had somebody who played or had places to go to listen to it. Once recordings came out and radio, then radio was the big thing. TV came out, and there was video and TV. Once video got to scanty outfits and dancing, that was the big thing, right? And MTV and so on. Then came DVDs, then came Sync. And by the way I didn't mention that Sync, which is use of your music for ads or TV shows or movies, is actually paying hundreds of times more than the streaming service or even sales. So if you've got on Stranger Things-- have you ever heard of that show?
Tim: Yeah. Yeah.
Randy: It's absolutely huge. A song from 40 years ago got on it because the music director liked it, Kate Bush, right? That song is 40 years. I think it's 40 years old and it went to number one on Spotify for several weeks. So that was some money for Kate if she's still alive.
Tim: Oh, yeah. I heard it being interviewed about it.
Randy: What's she saying?
Tim: Oh, I'm trying to remember. But it was a thing about how embarrassed her kids were about, you know, Mom you're on Spotify. That kind of thing.
Randy: Oh, yeah. No, you're on Stranger Things would be just a huge thing.
Tim: Well, that too actually. Although I think she'd given permission. I think she already knew and was already a fan of the show so-
Randy: Oh, they'd have to be because they would make a deal.
Tim: Right. Right. But I don't think she expected it to have the kind of knock-on effects that she did.
Randy: Precisely, because that show is so big. And that's what I'm saying, is that for artists who are trying to be distributed, that would be the biggest shot in the arm. It's been shown by her. And that thing is that there it is.
Tim: Interesting. So you're not overwhelmingly optimistic that there's a change around the corner that's going to be really good for artists. That's not the message I'm hearing from you, which is-
Randy: It doesn't depress me. I don't see an inspiration for it. And like I said, a lot of these innovations whether it's a platform or device like the iPod or the MP3 players, let's say, that was a thing that happened and nobody really foresaw that. At least no average person who uses them now ever conceived of that. "What if there was a device where you had music in your pocket and you wore these funny-looking things with wires?" And how about the icicle, the ear pods? Who ever thought-
Tim: But I think the innovations are around business models and less about the technology now, unless I'm kind of misunderstanding that.
Randy: Yeah. But I don't see an... I mean, do you have any ideas? We should get together and build it.
Tim: Well, no. I think the most interesting thing is mixtapes, getting mixtapes back, and the ability to send mixtapes and people make money out of that is probably the only thing that's come out of this conversation that makes me feel like you could build something there. But presumably, that's already somewhat covered by Spotify.
Randy: There are mixtapes on Spotify, actually. Real mixtapes, but they're Spotify. I mean, they're artists doing it but it's on Spotify. So the model is the same, the commission is the same, the pay is the same. In order to actually change the monetary structure, you would need either something to ship or something to transmit. And that seems, I don't know, like the Bandcamp thing is probably ideal, you know, if you can be discovered and you put that up there and you can have your own domain name like I did. So when people ask what your site is, they flop onto this page where your music is for sale, streaming free, blah, blah, blah. Whatever you want.
Tim: Okay, so basically a couple of iterations on Bandcamp and you'll be reasonably happy.
Randy: Well, yeah. But what I don't imagine is what they can do. I just don't see what we can do to make distribution different than it is now. Obviously, I guess it will be someday, but what? Hard to say.
Tim: Right. Right. Okay. Well, maybe AIs will recommend us. Our own personal in-pocket AIs will recommend the music that we want to listen to, I don't know.
Randy: Totally gonna happen. That's totally gonna happen.
Tim: [laughs] Okay. Hey, listen. Thanks so much for doing this, always a pleasure to talk to you. As I said, we'll put the stuff in the show notes if you can send me some links over for that. And to the listeners, I thank you for listening. And again, I encourage you to subscribe, to tell your friends, otherwise they'll miss out on future things. And if you want to, you can write us on wherever you get your podcasts from. Thank you very much.