Joined: Apr 20, 2010
Location: Central PA
|Posted: Tue Apr 20, 2010 6:02 am Post subject:
Realtime: A Pop Music Model for the Twenty-First Century
Subject description: The Causal Distractions: Electronic Improv
A POP MUSIC MODEL FOR THE
BY THE CASUAL DISTRACTIONS
THE BIG IDEA
Dinosaurs are roaming the land! They are the major record labels who
once thrived on the sale of $20 compact discs that cost pennies to
produce, and the artists that relied on huge marketing advances and an
army of publicists to get their music heard.
They are struggling to survive in the wake of an apocalyptic meteor
impact: the Internet’s exponential growth. Suddenly, music is available
everywhere and few people want to pay for it. Record stores are closing
their doors; labels are dropping all but the most popular artists. The pools
of money that fueled the industry are drying up.
The first part of this essay takes a close look at this new landscape. The
second part uses logic to describe the sort of small, furry creature we
expect will emerge from the underbrush and eventually take over the
WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE THE
The March of Progress Stomps Over the Music Industry
According to Nielsen SoundScan, compact disc sales have dropped by
half since 2000. Fewer people are paying for music, so the music
industry’s revenue stream is drying up. Why? It is the inevitable result of
duplication. Copied cassette tapes never sounded as good as the
original, which limited the amount of copying one could do. Not so with
CDs. Then MP3s arrived. Suddenly, music files on the computer were
one-tenth their original size, making it practical to store them in bulk and
transfer them over the Internet. Today, file sharing accounts for nearly
half of all Internet traffic.
The industry is trying everything it can think of to stay afloat, but the
writing is on the wall. Technology marches on and human nature is not
about to change.
No Need for Shelf Space in the Mall
Increased bandwidth coupled with improved Web searching (Google) and
open, widely accepted media distribution services (iTunes and podcasting,
CD Baby, etc.) make it possible to self-distribute digital media.
No Need for Full Page Ads in Rolling Stone
Social networking sites (blogs, Facebook, LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.)
make it possible for an artist to self-promote. They also enable viral
marketing: friends sharing compelling content by word of mouth.
You Too Can Be a Pro
Recording technology has improved to the point where anyone who owns
a computer can produce inexpensive recordings. With skill, an artist can
make these recordings indistinguishable from those laboriously produced
in expensive studios. As such, recording studios, the hefty budgets they
entail, and the record labels that supply such budgets, are becoming less
important to the process of creating and sharing music.
The Long Tail Is the Place to Be
The graph of artist popularity versus numbers of artists is growing a long
tail, as defined by Wired magazine's Chris Anderson. A decreasing
number of artists, those backed by the increasingly troubled and
financially strapped music companies, are hugely popular (the green area
in the graph). An increasing number of artists are relatively obscure (the
yellow area). What is novel about this is that for the first time in history the
obscure artists are collectively more popular than the top artists (the
yellow area is greater than the green area). Soon, everyone will be in the
band, and with few exceptions everyone will be in the long tail.
Albums: A Quaint Concept
Without physical media, the concept of the "album" no longer makes
sense. Albums exist because long-playing vinyl records once existed.
Labels forced artists to fill albums with 40 minutes of music separated into
20-minute sides, preferably subdivided into radio-friendly three-minute
tracks. CDs extended the idea of an album, eliminating the sides and
increasing the capacity to 74 minutes, but the industry still drove artists to
produce music in readily marketable, CD-sized segments. Now that direct
downloads have made physical CDs superfluous, there is no reason why
an artist should be restricted to a 74-minute album. The album as an art
form is giving way to continuous streams of loosely connected multimedia
The Mathematics of Disposability
Because there is more music than ever before competing for the same
number of ears, it follows that music is more disposable than ever before.
In general, a piece of recorded music can expect to get less attention,
fewer repeated listens, than it would have gotten decades ago. This is
becoming increasingly true.
Since attention spans are shorter than ever, artists have a smaller return
on the investment they make in each piece of music. Why should an artist
spend thousands of dollars and years of his life carefully crafting a perfect
album when each year that goes by means fewer people will bother to
Let us define the craft ratio as the time spent creating a piece of music
divided by the time one listener spends experiencing it. Music created
and recorded in real time would have a craft ratio of one. For a typical
band that releases an album every two years, the ratio is 17,000 to one.
What implications does an enormous craft ratio have in a world of flagging
attention and thinning budgets? All things being equal, it is a detriment. It
represents more investment for less return.
Whether they realize it or not, modern bands are content providers that
must compete with American Idol, Netflix, Facebook, and millions of
secondhand Harry Potter novels for public attention. The surest way to
lose that attention is to stop providing content: let the blog go stale, leave
a lot of “Coming Soon!” pages on the band site, avoid social media,
release something new every few years.
To succeed, a band must keep the content coming. Be prolific. Release
a lot of music, but also release the making-of the music. Release
everything. Get on Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter. Post equipment
reviews. Make a series of clever YouTube videos featuring liquid nitrogen
and thirty drunken monkeys fighting over a drum kit. Peddle a dull essay
describing your revolutionary philosophy of making music.
Each bit of something the band creates is a morsel, a yummy, that can
feed a potential fan’s need for immediate gratification. Give someone
yummies and they are likely to come back for more. With luck and skill, a
band can become a preferred yummy provider for tens, hundreds, or
thousands of people. The key is to keep the yummies coming from every
Not Just For Radio Anymore
Music is increasingly for more than direct listening. It appears in films,
commercials, ring tones, video games, and multimedia art. Political
causes, activist causes, and charities adopt it. Other art forms, like
remixes, samples, and mash-ups, use it as grist. More music than ever is
ambient in the Brian Eno sense: fully integrated into daily life and capable
of being enjoyed at a variety of attention levels. Music that can fit as
many of these categories as possible, and some categories not yet
conceived, will be more successful.
Onward, Toward Unemployment!
Money is, for better or worse, becoming less a motivating factor for
musicians. As the disposability of music increases, its perceived
monetary value decreases. CDs that sold millions of copies in 1990 for
$20 are now on iTunes for $10. Amazon has used copies for $1. Apple’s
iTunes, with its 99-cent song downloads, has come closest to realizing the
dream of seamless micropayments. But new artists are not about to quit
their day jobs.
The industry is trying desperately to hang onto its profit margin. It is no
longer enough for a band to produce a simple CD. A release must be a
multimedia event, with packages offered to consumers at a variety of price
points. For example, the free MP3 download, an inexpensive CD of
same, a more expensive bonus edition on 180 gram virgin vinyl with a
hardbound book of prints, and a “collector’s edition” featuring a pint of the
artist’s blood. An army of suits is hard at work thinking up other, wilder
business models in an effort to keep the money coming.
The fact is, creating music is increasingly art for art’s sake, ars gratia artis,
as it was before Thomas Edison realized he could mass-produce
THE REALTIME IDEAL
It follows from Part I that a band must do the following to adapt to the
twenty-first century market. We call this the Realtime approach, as
opposed to the Studiotime approach, the old way of overproducing an
album’s worth of songs over a period of months or years. Realtime is a
model of making and distributing music in the modern world.
A Realtime band:
•Has a strong Internet presence.
•Distributes itself on the Internet, without a label.
•Promotes itself without a label.
•Creates music at home, without expensive studios.
•Exists in and thrives in the long tail.
•Does not mass-produce physical media, like CDs.
•Does not restrict itself to albums and songs.
•Admits it is disposable and ephemeral, perhaps going so far as to
release music as podcasts (a subscription model).
•Has a low craft ratio, which implies music released frequently.
•Continuously creates content in a variety of media.
•Creates music that lends itself to ready application in film,
multimedia art, activist causes, mash-ups, and as ambient music.
•Is motivated by something other than money and deluded dreams
of having a career in music.
•Does these things while having fun and reveling in the postpostmodernism
of it all.
The Casual Distractions Are a Realtime Band
We are a different kind of band. We improvise electronic music. We don't
write songs or albums. We don't practice, or rather, everything we do is
practice. Each set we play is a unique, nearly seamless string of moods
and styles that lasts anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour. The
sound constantly shifts but orbits around ambient, pop, and experimental.
We have released over 60 hours of original music on our Web site and
through podcasts and torrents since we formed in July 2008. Most of this
music is in the form of the aforementioned sets. We also release
“singles,” short song-length clips culled from the sets.
A typical set might include any of the following:
•spoken word material
•synthesizers and other electronic instruments
•swampy, dubby grooves
•acoustic instruments played through a microphone
•happy pop ditties
•strange, unidentifiable effects
•trippy, deep space ambience
•warm synth washes
•jarring, claustrophobic darkness
•amusing chatter recorded unintentionally
•sounds from nature
We never know what will happen. It would be simpler to predict the stock
market or next week's weather. It all depends on a hundred variables at
any given moment. And yet, a cohesive, overall sound is emerging, one
that is unlike any other.
With few exceptions, we post all performances for anyone to download for
free. That means hours and hours of free music. There is a set index to
help navigate through it all. The index describes a set in terms of a
timeline, breaking it down into like segments. These are not songs per se,
more like mileposts on a long journey.
We don’t use laptops. We don't use music software. We tried it before and
became convinced that the unlimited possibilities of software stifle
creativity. Instead, we found inspiration with hardware, boxes with blinking
lights and knobs to twiddle.
The Casual Distractions are Todd Christopher and Joe Rizzo. Christopher
has been creating experimental electronic music for years as Instruction
Shuttle and has too many releases to count. Under this moniker he has,
among other things, performed in New York City and collaborated with
Dean Garcia of Curve. He also created a CD of exquisite electronic pop
as Lasers Shoot From Our Fangs. Rizzo has created three albums of
electronic pop as Amoeba Crunch and has a long history of playing rock
and roll before that.
We are not only producing gravity-defying music, we exemplify the
Realtime approach and are promoting it. We believe Realtime is the punk
of the twenty-first century; an antidote for ProTools, Auto-Tune, quantized
beats, Photoshopped perfection, and endless digital studio tweaking; a
return to creating entertainment that is immediate, relevant, and alive.
The Casual Distractions
This is Electronic Improv: All Hardware, No Software.
See what it’s like being ahead of the curve.
Visit us at