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The Argument for Aesthetics

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The Argument for Aesthetics

 The prolific Ted Gioia has just done us a very big favor in digging into the issue of fake artists on streaming media. I'll refer you to his post to get the whole story: The Fake Artists Problem Is Much Worse Than You Realize. Here is a key segment:

The streaming model allows for abuses beyond anything a pirate ever envisioned. Algorithms now determine how a huge portion of song royalties are allocated, and if you can manipulate the algorithms you can send enormous sums of money into your bank account.

The root of the problem is the increasingly passive nature of music consumption. People will often ask Alexa, or some other digital assistant, to find background music for a specific task—studying, workout, housework, relaxation, etc. Or they will rely on a pre-curated playlist for that purpose. They don’t pay close attention to the artists or song titles, and this is what creates an opportunity for abuse.

What kind of abuse? Ted got a lot of information for his story from this source: AN MBW READER JUST BLEW OPEN THE SPOTIFY FAKE ARTISTS STORY. HERE’S WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY.

Long before your first article about fake artists in 2016 there was already a huge growth trend in people listening to mostly instrumental “mood music”. Even Sony and Universal Music created playlists for these types of use cases under their Digster and Filtr brands long before Spotify ever did. In fact many majors started releasing music by “fake artists” in the early 2010s and have continued to do so... 

Interestingly, all of these ‘artists’ are all discovered on Sony-controlled playlists with very generic search-optimized titles, and millions of followers if you add all the small niche playlists together.

There is a lot more material there, but the bottom line seems to be that there are huge revenues to be earned by creating generic music that will turn up in typical searches. Back to Ted:

Hara Noda seems to be a real person, working as a producer and drummer in Sweden—which, by pure coincidence, is the same place where Spotify has its headquarters. In fact, the number of fake artists whose music comes out of Sweden is extraordinary. But even the numbers may be misleading. According to one survey, “about 20 people are behind over 500 artist names.”

And keep doing it over and over. At the end of the day, these "artists" can get more plays and hence more royalties than Grammy winners. As Ted says, the world has changed.

This kind of scam wasn’t possible before streaming. People obviously listened to music while studying or working, but they either picked out the record themselves, or relied on a radio station to make the choice. Radio stations were sometimes guilty of taking payola, but even in those instances a human being could be held accountable. But with AI now making the decisions, everything can be hidden away in the code.

Music is especially susceptible to passive consumption and in that regard it is like wallpaper or commercial design, something that is designed to be just a comforting background. This is a useful function in many, or perhaps most, people's lives. Music is something to relax to.

What is different today is that this kind of generic, fairly easily cranked out music, is now getting more and more revenues even as it preserves an essential anonymity. Historically, that's new. The pick-up band at the medieval banquet got paid a lot less than the famous composer writing masses for the cathedral. In the medieval world (here I am using "medieval" as a generic term for that period before the middle class became an important economic factor) the high, middle and low musical forms were compensated similarly. But in the world of algorithms, the most generic and least original, the least creative, in other words, can win the biggest earnings.

I think that this is, in an odd way, an argument for aesthetics. People who develop their aesthetic sensitivities become more active listeners and would tend to skip over the generic and seek out the original and stimulating. They look for music that challenges more and rewards more. They are actively engaged in listening. With engagement comes judgement, aesthetic judgement in particular.

This sounds rather elitist, doesn't it? Yes, I'm afraid it does and elitism has a bad name these days. But passivity can also be bad, apparently.

Here is Hara Noda with "The Beauty of Everyday Things". Four million plays on Spotify.






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