Taylor Swift and Being Between Stars

Taylor Swift has been blowing up the music industry lately, first by surprising everyone with the beauty of her latest album. SNL dubbed it a result of Swiftamine, and I can certainly say I’m under the spell.

Then, pre-release, she removed her entire discography from Spotify. The Atlantic reflects on this decision by pointing out, “Owning music outright, instead of renting it through a streaming service, would be better for listeners and artists in the long run. Indeed, it would be better for just about everyone except Spotify.”

A founder of a service artists can use to self-distribute their music weighs in, and declares that “it’s amazing that the old record industry existed in the first place” by stating that the only reason musicians in the early music industry were successful was because “they took advantage of inefficiencies in the market”. iTunes and Spotify disrupted that market by offering sales of single tracks, and pay-to-play streaming formats, but “by removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market.” If the most efficient manner of gaining traction as an artist is to do everything yourself, then the fully-optimized, efficient music industry of today is where you want to be. Unless you’re Taylor Swift, you’ll probably also be broke.

A few years ago, Sasha Frere-Jones, music critic for the New Yorker, examined Spotify in the light of Thom Yorke’s decision to pull his music from the service.

“The issue beneath all the complaints about micropayments is fundamental: What are recordings now? Are they an artistic expression that musicians cannot be compensated for but will create simply out of need? Are they promotional tools? What seems clear is that streaming arrangements, like those made with Spotify, are institutionalizing a marginal role for the recordings that were once major income streams for working musicians”

Spotify aside, what powers T Swifts sudden dominance of the mainstream? First, it’s her true pop debut, but more importantly perhaps is the songwriting duo backing up most of her album. Aside from Swift herself, the two most-credited songwriters on most of her album are Max Martin and Shellback. Both Swedish, they are products of a unique culture in Sweden.

“In fact, Sweden is the largest exporter of pop music, per capita, in the world, and the third largest exporter of pop overall. And in recent years, the country has seized not just the message, but the medium as well: As the industry moves toward a distribution model that relies on streaming music services, the Stockholm-born Spotify is a dominant player, with 24 million users per month.”

As music takes over the mainstream and streaming services and social media dominate online music consumption and discussion, The Morning News revisits a conversation with MP3 bloggers. Music blogs were huge to me growing up, as I’ve discussed before in reaction to an in-depth examination of streaming, and the history of my own music involvement. The bloggers discuss the present and future of music–discourse and industry.

On digital music as competition for physical media, “Digital might have advantages in distribution and portability but the aura of the object is something digital can never replace. I think we’re clearly heading towards a music world where digital will be the indisputably dominant form but I can’t imagine one where physical music becomes anachronistic.”

The film Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, has also been dominating discussions lately. I saw it this past weekend, and I’ve been thinking a lot about space ever since. The film is visually stunning, and it turns out that most of the space visuals are not only accurately rendered, but rendered for the first time visually using the special effects software used in this film (with renderers specifically written for the necessary scientific equations). Here’s a mashup of Interstellar along with other famous space films, like October Sky and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The score of Interstellar is part of what helps make the film so powerful. Hans Zimmer scored the film, and as The Atlantic discusses,

“In the context of a movie that embraces the idea that emotions and feeling are the most important dimensions of human experience, the overwhelming nature of the score is all part of the way Interstellar works as a cohesive whole.”

Space, and spaceflight, involve the capability of looking back on earth from above. While we can see earth from above when flying in ordinary airplanes, being able to see the curvature of the earth has a serious effect on the pilots and astronauts that have experienced it. Referred to by some as the break-off effect, some freak out and have difficulty flying afterward, perhaps attributable as well to the relative isolation of their cockpits, as the article points out.

Interstellar travels to another universe, courtesy of a future NASA that has figured out how to send humans not only to Saturn, but beyond (through a wormhole). Meanwhile, in the current day and age, we’re still trying to figure out if we can send people to Mars. There is a company that is convinced that they can, and are raising money (and signing contracts for a reality TV series) to that effect. However, while the company, Mars One, has investments, applicants, and contracts, what they don’t have are technical specifications or capabilities for their mission.

I’ve been gone for awhile, but October was a hellishly busy month for pretty much everyone, it seems. Now that it’s November, I’ve returned! A lot more in the pipeline, about nerdy things like infrastructure (of high-frequency trading networks), container ships, lightbulbs, the effect of algorithms on photographs and memories, virtual reality, and so much more.

While I’ve been out of the newsletter world, I’ve been tweeting up a storm (as usual), and also wrote about my experience using MyFitnessPal and attempting to quantify my own health. I’ll probably post again about that toward the end of the year, as I amped up my self-tracking after that post, and have high hopes to go through some of that data alongside other measures. I now use a mood tracker, a period tracker, a habit tracker, and have been tracking the songs I listen to since 2007 (or earlier) using Last.fm. I think it’ll be cool, if I can get all the data out to play with, to see if there are any correlations. (Speaking of which, if you have experience working with APIs, let me know!)