Digital Media Digest

September 2019

With the accelerating pace of technological change, the League posts a monthly digest of relevant news and information regarding changes, trends, and developments that may affect the digital media activities that orchestras use to achieve their institutional missions. For each monthly digest, the League's digital media consultants, Michael Bronson and Joe Kluger, draw from a variety of websites and publications to provide excerpts or summaries of articles. (These do not necessarily represent the views of the League.) 

As a service of the League, members with questions about the information in this digest or about other digital media topics – e.g., planning, strategy, and production – may contact  Michael Bronson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Joe Kluger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


$150k to the SPCO
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has received a two-year, $150,000 Futures Fund grant from the League of American Orchestras "to support innovation and organizational learning." The SPCO is one of 19 U.S. orchestras to receive the grant, which ranges in size from $80,000 to $150,000. It will use the money to test different approaches to delivering digital concerts to the broadest audience in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Through its online Concert Library, certain SPCO concerts are available as livestreams during performances and later as on-demand HD concert videos. All are free. The SPCO means to expand the number of people who can experience its performances. (Source: MinnPost.com) 

Turns out online opera is a good idea
When Houston Grand Opera launched Episode One of its Star-Cross'd opera series, "Boundless," last April, it was, for many, an entirely new way to experience the art form. The serialized video project is based on the personal stories of Houstonians and how their lives mirror the themes in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The first edition told the story of a middle-aged woman at a crossroads in her life, who begins a relationship with a man 16 years younger. That opera was a co-production between HGO's HGOco division and North Carolina-based Junction Road Pictures, and was shot entirely on location in Houston's Museum District. And apparently, folks thought it was good: "Boundless" just won a Telly Award in the Non-Broadcast General – Cultural category. The award honors excellence in video and television across all screens. Part of the idea was to simply ensure opera evolves with an increasingly online populace, but the video format enables artistic innovations, too. (Source: Houstonia Magazine)

Knight Foundation launches $750,000 initiative for immersive technology for the arts
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is looking for pitches on how to enhance and augment traditional creative arts through immersive technologies. Through a partnership with Microsoft the foundation is offering a share of a $750,000 pool of cash and the option of technical support from Microsoft, including mentoring in mixed-reality technologies and access to the company's suite of mixed reality technologies. Specifically, the foundation is looking for projects that will help engage new audiences; build new service models; expand access beyond the walls of arts institutions; and provide means to distribute immersive experiences to multiple locations, the foundation said in a statement. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Bernstein's 'Mass' gets brilliant encore, bound for TV
Last summer, the Ravinia Festival achieved an artistic high point with a vividly conceived production of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," to celebrate the composer's centennial. But what happened this year at the festival was much more than just a revival of that staging. With cameras filming the proceedings for a national broadcast next year (details to be announced), this "Mass" proved more sharply dramatic, intricately choreographed and ferociously performed than last time. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

What is Spotify thinking with its 'Dance Like Nobody's Paying' ad campaign?
To promote a free 30-day promotion on its premium platform, Spotify recently launched an ad campaign featuring a hipster euphorically dancing next to the slogan "Dance like nobody's paying." The campaign comes after longstanding complaints about the company's royalty payments, not to mention its attempts to appeal the Copyright Royalty Board's decision to increase songwriter rates by 44% over the next five years and its recent determination that it had overpaid music publishers by an undisclosed amount in 2018 and is requesting a refund. Predictably, songwriters and music industry pros aren't happy about the new campaign, which seems to add insult to injury after the above incidents. (Source: Variety)

Spotify tops 108 million paying subscribers
In a second-quarter earnings report, Spotify revealed that it has topped 108 million paying subscribers — up 8 million from the previous quarter — and 232 million monthly active users. It also pointed to new agreements with "two of our four major label partners on the renewal of our global sound recording licenses," and said it is in "active discussions" with the other two. (Source: Variety)

Spotify abruptly shuts down its direct upload & distribution plans
Spotify's ambitious expansion into artist distribution is now being abruptly shut down. According to an email sent to artists participating in its beta-stage launch, the program is now being transitioned to other distributors. Accordingly, participating artists have less than 30 days to transition their content to another distributor, or lose their Spotify placements and accompanying play counts, playlist positions, and metadata. The program coincided with a major investment in distributor Distrokid, and allowed artists to directly upload their material onto Spotify. The concept of byassing music distributors sent shockwaves into the sector, which counts Spotify as one of its most important endpoints. Even worse, Spotify was potentially offering the entire direct upload concept for free, and almost certainly undercutting standalone distributor pricing. (Source: Digital Music News)

For new video game music, Salt Lake City is becoming a hotspot
Utah has become an increasingly popular place for the video game industry to record its musical scores. As it turns out, Utah's orchestral community has become the solution to numerous issues the video game industry typically faces with its orchestral scores. Michael Greene, a longtime sound engineer in Salt Lake City, estimates that three to five major video game scores — full-length offerings with 30-50 minutes of music — are now recorded in Salt Lake City annually, along with another 10 "ancillary scores" (extra music for existing games). (Source: Deseret News)

Digtial tools and community first — A bright future for the TSO
Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden says the time is right to open classical music up to a wider audience. Faced with the shifting nature of digital music trends and an ever-more competitive entertainment market, Loden is seeking ways to enhance the key elements of cultural experience for the wider population of a cosmopolitan city like Toronto. One way to accomplish that is with digital tools, such as installing new high-end cameras in Roy Thomson Hall, which could be used to facilitate 'aspects' of digital concert hall programming — the gold standard for such content being the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's digital offering. Alternatively, the TSO could partner with classical streaming channel medici.tv to produce classical recordings for streaming. That same channel is now available to anyone with a Toronto Public Library card — perhaps offering a gateway for classical fans to experience the TSO's future digital offerings. (Source: Digital Journal)

Taylor Swift says she will rerecord her old music. Here's how
When Taylor Swift complained about the sale of the Big Machine Label Group, the owner of her first six multiplatinum albums, to the powerful music manager Scooter Braun, she kick-started an industrywide conversation about master recordings and artists' rights. Under the old recording agreement, the company owned the masters and could dictate how her songs are sold and used moving forward. Now, ahead of the release of her new album, Swift has implied that she could get around the restrictions of the original agreement by rerecording her old music and release new versions that she would own. (Source: New York Times)

U.S. copyright office awards mechanical licensing collective contract to NMPA bid
After a heated and contentious battle, the U.S. Copyright Office has chosen its winner to run the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). The award is going to the self-named 'Mechanical Licensing Collective,' a coalition created by major music publishers and larger indie pubs like Downtown Music Publishing. The selection edges out a spirited bid by the American Mechanical Licensing Collective, or AMLC. The winning bid was principally driven by three major organizations: the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and the Songwriters of North America (SONA). That group solidly rallied a long list of organizations across other music industry sub-sectors, and quickly boasted an 'industry consensus'. (Source: Digital Music News)

Amazon music has 32 million subscribers — and a 70% yearly growth rate
Several weeks ago, Apple Music casually announced that it had reached 60 million subscribers. This milestone comes after just four years on the market and includes paying and trial users. After nearly eleven years in the market, Spotify quietly confirmed it now had 100 million subscribers. Now, rival Amazon has confirmed a new milestone, cementing its status right behind both music streaming leaders. According to the Financial Times, Amazon now has over 32 million subscribers across both its Music Unlimited and Prime Music services. The media outlet also reported that both have a stronger growth rate than Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify, for example, has only grown 25% in the past year. Amazon, meanwhile, grew 70%. (Source: Digital Music News)

Is traditional radio about to crash?
According to the Nielsen's 2019 Audio Today Report, which was recently made available, 272 million Americans listen to traditional radio every week, an increase of 7 million or about 2.5 percent, from 2016's figures. Sounds like an impressive gain on an equally impressive base of listeners, though total listenership has actually remained stagnant since 2017. One surprisingly positive sign is that radio remains far more ingrained in American life than anyone would have guessed. The report indicated that radio's share of listeners — anywhere from 90 percent to 94 percent, depending upon the age group — is higher than the shares of all other leading platforms, including televisions, smartphones, and computers. What these same researchers don't note, however, is that radio listeners are generally less focused than users of other platforms. While smartphone adverts command solid prices because users must acknowledge them, radio listeners need not focus on commercials — or any particular portion of a broadcast, for that matter. (Source: Digital Music News)

Apple decides to invest in original podcasts — Putting a buzzkill on Spotify's expansion
Now, after spending hundreds of millions on its podcast expansion, Spotify has a potentially serious problem ahead. Wall Street reacted to news that Apple had decided to invest in original podcasting content, just like Spotify. Of course, Apple's the 800 lb. incumbent when it comes to podcasts — which might explain why Spotify's stock immediately faced downward pressure on the news.  (Source: Digital Music News)

Exploring an immersive future in classical music 
Technology is often touted as the long-awaited savior of the classical music scene. With virtual reality, it opens up entirely new ways of thinking about — and experiencing — performance. Dutch composer Michel van der Aa recently premiered his mixed reality opera Eight in Amsterdam, followed by a run of performances at the Aix Festival in France. It's being touted as a "breakthrough" work that integrates technology and music in new ways, while eschewing peripheral gimmicks designed only to impress. (Source: Ludwig-Van.com)

Imagine being immersed in the OSM — without the orchestra present
Thanks to two new programs at la Société des arts technologiques (SAT), you will soon be able to experience the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in a fully immersive audio environment on your phone. The research programs are for collective spontaneous immersion and acoustic simulation for virtual reality and augmented reality.  For the next three years, the team from SAT will spend a week each year recording OSM rehearsals and concerts to create immersive acoustic projects. The OSM already has a virtual reality piece that is available on the major VR platforms like Oculus. It's a six-minute VR video on the huge organ at the Maison symphonique, the Grande Orgue Pierre-Béique, with the camera entering into the organ as it's played by the OSM resident organist Jean-Willy Kunz. (Source: Montreal Gazette)

Stanford researchesrs point to dramatic improvements in virtual reality sound
When most people think of virtual reality (VR), they think of the immersive visual experiences that place them into alternate worlds. But sound also plays an important role in these experiences. At the moment, though, creating realistic sounds for VR is not easy. But a group of researchers at Stanford University hope to change all of this with a new algorithm that they've developed. In practical terms, the algorithm can significantly reduce the amount of time required to model sounds. It can be many thousands of times faster than traditional modeling, which could bring an unprecedented amount of realism to VR experiences. (Source: Digital Music News)

Apple music's analytics dashboard for artists is offically out of beta
Apple Music has been tweaking its analytics dashboard for artists for more than a year. Now, it's ready for prime time. The data tools are part of the Apple Music for Artists creator platform, and a way for Apple to battle Spotify on artist-related services. The provide performance metrics on specific songs, cities, and even listener demographic breakdowns.  Even Shazam data is layered into the mix, thanks to Apple's recent acquisition of the heavily-used recognition app. Any Apple Music artist can now jump in at the Apple Music for Artists splash page. (Source: Digital Music News) 

Spotify, Apple, Pandora, Amazon, Google, warns against ditching PRO consent decrees
Should the Department of Justice really do away with the ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees? Not according to major streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora/Sirius, Amazon Music, and YouTube owner Google/Alphabet. As the U.S. Department of Justice deliberates over whether to trash the decades-old Decrees for the licensing of public performances, the streaming services have issued a dire warning of a Decree-less future, saying doing so, especially without any secondary licensing plan in place, would lead to outright chaos. (Source: Digital Music News)

Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Google/Alphabet protest streaming royalty rate increases
Back in March, the streaming music giants first announced their intentions of fighting a major increase in streaming royalty rates for publishers and songwriters. The sizable 44% increase, which applies to streaming mechanical rates in the U.S., was handed down by the Copyright Royalty Board before drawing the sharp rebuke of streaming platforms. Now, the the group of streaming companies has formally entered a 92-page appeal of the rate increase (the full document is here). Those groups are all part of the Digital Media Association, or DiMA, which also counts Apple amongst its ranks. It should be noted, however, that Apple isn't appealing the decision and views the increases as a healthy change for songwriter and publisher royalty structures. (Source: Digital Music News)

Commentary: Classical streaming has arrived. How do the new services stack up?
"With CDs on the way out, our brave new streaming world has proved not so hot for classical, jazz, world music and many other tributaries outside the commercial mainstream. But the progressives, once again led by music mavens, have finally begun to act. Within the last few months, new classical-friendly streaming services have arrived for your computer, tablet and phone. Sound quality has been greatly improved. Metadata too, which is to say streaming services identify what you are hearing while you are hearing it. Experts are grabbing curation from the greedy clutches of impersonal AI. "In an opinion piece, Los Angeles Times music critic provides a comparative analysis of the classical music streaming services, including Qobuz, Idagio, Primephonic and Apple Music. (Source: Los Angeles Times)