The Princeton economist Alan Krueger — he led the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama, and his research has been featured several times on Freakonomics.com — is among a group of scholars launching a new endeavor. It’s called the Music Industry Research Association, and they want you to come to their first conference, at UCLA, in August. Here’s their writeup: Starting with . . .
Aaron Pilkington, an officer trainee at Air Force Officer Training School in Montgomery, Ala., writes to say:
I was driving down the road the other day with a fellow trainee, pointing out to him that the particular road along which we were driving always has police officers hiding out and catching people speeding. Just as I said that, sure enough, we saw a police car pull out with lights on and pull someone over. My friend, Bill, said that he wondered if the song “Sweet Home Alabama” would work in Alabama. I asked him to elaborate.
My friend, who is from Rhode Island, explained that a couple of years ago he was speeding and got pulled over by a police officer. He said that the song “Sweet Home Alabama” was on the radio and that somehow the officer let him off on a warning. Some time later, he was pulled over again and had the song on his iPod. In the time between being pulled over by the police officer and the officer walking up to his window, he pulled the song up on his iPod and left it on loud enough to be heard by the police officer, but not too loud. Again, success. He said this happened one more time just a couple of months ago in Florida and that he now always has at the ready a CD with the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” just in case he gets pulled over again.
For the first time, Austin City Limits, one of the two biggest music festivals in town, is running on two weekends instead of just one. Unfortunately, the price for a pass for the second weekend on Craigslist is now down to half the festival sponsor’s original asking price. Why?
1. The asking price for the second weekend was the same as for the first—not smart when you’re doubling the number of offerings; and the headliners are identical on the two weekends. The amount supplied is double in quantity, but no different in quality or even in variety; double supply, no change in demand.
2. Demand is almost certainly lower on the second weekend, since that is the weekend of the UT-Oklahoma game in Dallas.
It was probably a bad business decision to price the second weekend the same as the first.
I think that our engineer/mixmaster David Herman does a fantastic job of making Freakonomics Radio podcasts sound great (no matter what you may think of all the talking that interrupts the music and other audio effects).
But there is of course a lot of heterogeneity in personal preferences. Here’s an e-mail we just received from a listener:
Heard your show for the first time yesterday on Tipping. Loved all the speaking clips and analysis. HATED the musical interludes so much that we (my husband, kids and I) cannot fathom ever listening again unless they are removed. They gave us a bad headache and were so distracting from the content that we had to turn the show off before the end. Please consider removing them. Thanks.
Afraid we just lost a family of listeners, as we won’t be removing all music from our episodes. Happy to say this is an uncommon complaint; much more common is an e-mail asking where to get hold of the music that appears. FWIW, every time we put out a podcast, the accompanying blog post includes a transcript of the episode which lists the music.
In his new album, rapper Jay-Z expresses skepticism about some of his colleagues’ claims of extraordinary wealth, saying, “The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is.” So are your favorite rappers lying about how rich they are? Bloomberg Businessweek straightens out the confusion with a great graphic comparing alleged vs. actual wealth. Here’s a preview: Nicki Minaj is not “mak[ing] a billi like a big goat.” (HT: The Big Picture)
A few times a week, we get an e-mail like this one, from Oliver Breidenbach:
I love the music you choose for the background of the podcast. Can you post a playlist on your site or let me know where I can find the music? I think many fans will enjoy that.
One reason we get this question so often is that the music in our podcasts is so good. So is, IMHO, the entire audio soundscape. All of that is primarily the doing of one man, David Herman, who is Freakonomics Radio’s sound engineer/technical director/trivia repository — and more.
As for where to learn about the music: we list it in each show’s transcript, which accompanies the blog post that is published with each episode. Our podcast archive page is here. Enjoy!
We’ve blogged extensively about pay-as-you wish pricing schemes. Springwise reports that a Spanish concert promoter is now experimenting with post-concert pay-as-you-wish pricing:
Spanish promoters Caravana de Emerxencia have recognized this problem and addressed it through their upcoming gig, where attendees can decide the price of the ticket when they leave.
The concert is taking place on April 4 at Sala Capitol in Santiago, northern Spain. Four bands will be playing on the night – Skarallaos, Chotokoeu, Skarnivals and Swingdigentes. At the end of the evening attendees can pay whatever price they think the event deserves.
How do you like this plan? How do you think you would respond?
Right at this same time, I’m signing and hugging after a gig, and a guy comes up to me and hands me a $10 bill, and he says, “I’m sorry, I burned your CD from a friend.” “But I read your blog, I know you hate your label. I just want you to have this money.”
And this starts happening all the time. I become the hat after my own gigs, but I have to physically stand there and take the help from people, and unlike the guy in the opening band, I’ve actually had a lot of practice standing there. Thank you.
And this is the moment I decide I’m just going to give away my music for free online whenever possible, so it’s like Metallica over here, Napster, bad; Amanda Palmer over here, and I’m going to encourage torrenting, downloading, sharing, but I’m going to ask for help, because I saw it work on the street. So I fought my way off my label and for my next project with my new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, I turned to crowdfunding, and I fell into those thousands of connections that I’d made, and I asked my crowd to catch me. And the goal was 100,000 dollars. My fans backed me at nearly 1.2 million, which was the biggest music crowdfunding project to date.
And here‘s a rundown on other performers who’ve explored the pay-as-you-wish strategy.
I recently read a terrific book by sociologist Jennifer Lena, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music. She explores the factors that influence the spread of musical taste — why some genres, bands, etc., gain popularity. Jennifer’s research is impressive because of the range of her exploration — according to her publisher’s website, she covers “rap to bluegrass to death metal and South Texas polka.”
Jennifer is helping redefine our understanding of social influence — what and who matters, and how ideas and tastes spread in complex social networks. I had a chance to ask Jennifer a few questions about her work.
Q. You are interested in factors that determine whether particular musical styles, genres, etc., will gain mass appeal — or remain circumscribed to a small niche. Have you discovered something about the process of “influence” or “contagion” that the social network scholars have ignored or underemphasized? What does your work tell us about the role of networks in shaping popular tastes?
A. The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt.
We want to thank everyone for their questions — it’s great to see people responding to, critiquing and, in some cases, tweaking, the ideas we set out in The Knockoff Economy. We are fascinated by the complex relationship between copying and creativity — and we’re thankful that many of you are as well. So, to the Q&A . . .
Q. The issue that concerns my industry most is internet sales of prescription skin products such as retin-A and hydroquinone. Some might be counterfeit, but many are probably diverted products. The manufacturer sells them to a physician, the unscrupulous physician sells them on the internet at a deep discount, the patient may be hurt by expired or dangerous medications or may not use them correctly even if they are real. This hurts legitimate physicians by drawing business away from them, but also hurts a manufacturer’s reputation. (Apparently, people who have qualms about buying Viagra online don’t think twice before buying skin medications from those same sources.)
Do you plan to do any research in this area? Will you be looking at diversion in addition to counterfeits?
Here is an excerpt from The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, which has just been published by Oxford University Press. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running 2 excerpts from the book here on the blog and taking questions from Freakonomics readers in a Q&A. We’ll also run a contest for the wackiest photo of a knockoff item.
In The Knockoff Economy we examine the relationship between copying and creativity. Most people who study this area look at industries such as music or publishing, where intellectual property (IP) protections are central. We do something different: we explore innovative industries—such as fashion, food, fonts, and finance–in which IP is either unavailable or not effective. In these industries copying is common, yet we find that innovation thrives. In a world in which technology is making copying ever easier, we think these industries have a lot to teach us. And one of the key lessons is that copying is not just a destructive force; it can also be productive. Harnessing the productive side of copying—the ability to refine, improve, and update existing innovations—is at the heart of this excerpt.
THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY CHAPTER 4
Rules against copying don’t just cover outright imitation. They also address variations: works that use that some portion of another creative work but add in new stuff, and in the process transform the original work. Think of Shepard Fairey’s famous Hope poster of Barack Obama, which took an existing photograph and reworked it into an iconic image:
Every once in a while, there is a mash-up that combines a pop-type song with a hip-hop add-on. I’m not talking about songs like the odd new B.O.B./Taylor Swift duet, but rather, songs that exist on their own, and then get a hip-hop upgrade.
I’m sure there are many examples, but there are only two that I can think of off the top of my head.
The first is “Numb/Encore“, in which a popular Linkin Park song (“Numb”) gets Jay-Z lyrics laid over it. Here are they lyrics from the original Linkin Park song “Numb”:
I’m tired of being what you want me to be Feeling so faithless lost under the surface Don’t know what you’re expecting of me Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes (Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow) Every step that I take is another mistake to you (Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow) And every second I waste is more than I can take
I’ve become so numb I can’t feel you there I’ve become so tired so much more aware I’m becoming this all I want to do Is be more like me and be less like you
Compare the adolescent angst of those lyrics with the words that Jay-Z lays over it such as:
The day before Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s untimely death from cancer, a lawsuit was filed in New York accusing him and his bandmates of illegal sampling. What’s unusual about this case is that the samples in question supposedly appeared on the 1989 album Paul’s Boutique. An obvious question is why almost 25 years went by before anyone decided to sue.
The reason? The alleged samples can’t actually be heard by the ordinary listener. Which raises a kind of existential question about intellectual property. If no one can tell that something is copied, is it still illegal to copy it? And if so, why?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the samples in question exist. They are snippets of songs by Trouble Funk, a 80s era go-go band. Trouble Funk’s complaint declares that the way the Beastie Boys sampled the tracks “effectively concealed to the casual listener” the fact that they are samples at all. And it was “only after conducting a careful audio analysis” that Trouble Funk even knew for sure that they had been sampled.
Last week, the New York Times ran an interesting and important op-ed by Stuart Green, a law professor, who argues that although illegal downloading of songs or videos from the Internet may be wrong, it’s not really “theft” in the sense that the term has been understood historically in the law. Nor is it theft according to the moral intuitions of ordinary people (as Green’s own research with psychologist Matthew Kugler shows), who draw a sharp distinction between online file sharing and ordinary theft, even when the economic value of the property taken is the same.
The American League believes in comparative advantage, and has a designated hitter bat for the pitcher. I prefer this: I believe in comparative advantage and division of labor (and being a White Sox fan from age 5, I like the American League anyway).
This afternoon we heard a performance of Pagliacci, before which an announcer informed the audience that the soprano was ill, but would act the role while another—the designated soprano—sang from the side of the stage. The acting was better than usual, and so was the singing—an illustration here of comparative advantage. The overall effect wasn’t good: Opera is both acting and singing, and it was absurd and disconcerting to separate them. The production function for opera requires one person doing both—division of labor makes no sense in this case.
Yale Fox, a former Freakonomics intern, is a Canadian DJ who studies nightclub culture. He looks at how music trends, fashion, and even perfumes are the results of codified social behavior at nightclubs. He recently gave a TED talk on the subject:
I have probably seen and listened to more opera than the median American, but that’s not saying much. In other words, I am not very knowledgeable about opera itself, or its history and mores, etc. If I were, what I’m about to tell you probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Not long ago, in an airport far from home, I met a nice fellow who turned out to be a Spanish-born tenor now living in the States, named Alvaro Rodriguez. We kept in touch and he let me know that he’d be performing with the New York Lyric Opera, playing Don Jose in Carmen. So I bought my tickets and decided to read up on Carmen since: a) I didn’t know the story all that well; and b) my French is spotty at best; and c) this would be a scaled-down production, with no subtitles, etc.
Supporters of stronger intellectual property enforcement — such as those behind the proposed new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills in Congress — argue that online piracy is a huge problem, one which costs the U.S. economy between $200 and $250 billion per year, and is responsible for the loss of 750,000 American jobs.
These numbers seem truly dire: a $250 billion per year loss would be almost $800 for every man, woman, and child in America. And 750,000 jobs – that’s twice the number of those employed in the entire motion picture industry in 2010.
Does it make sense that we have gotten worse at making violins over the last 300 years, when we have gotten so much better at making just about everything else? Not really. Finally there is some experimental data on the subject, and it doesn’t look good for those who pay top dollar for fancy old violins.
My old band was called The Right Profile. (I talked about quitting in this radio show.) It wasn’t a great name probably but we stuck with it. I did love its provenance. It came from a song on The Clash’s London Calling, which is still one of my favorite records ever. “The Right Profile” was about the strange, sad life of the actor Montgomery Clift, who after a terrible car crash was shot from the right side. It was hardly the best song on London Calling — I wouldn’t even put it in the top five — but you come to love the names of people and things you loved, so I always loved The Right Profile.
So I was very jazzed to learn, via Variety, that a biopic of Clash leader Joe Strummer is in the works, to be directed by Julie Delpy, and it’s got a great title:
Details from The Right Profile are being kept under wraps, but the idea is to focus on Strummer’s life and his planned disappearance from the public spotlight in 1982. Pic is titled after the song “The Right Profile,” which appeared on the Clash’s seminal 1979 album “London Calling.”
An iconic figure of the British punk movement, Strummer died in December 2002, just a month before he and the Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
At Saturday’s concert by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, the program offered a menu for the second half: The audience was to vote on whether it wished to hear the Tschaikovsky Serenade, the Dvorák Serenade, or Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet (arranged for small string orchestra). After the intermission, the conductor briefly discussed each composer and described each piece, then asked for a show of hands.
I was worried: What if a plurality favored the Schubert (my choice), but the Dvorák had been a close second, with a majority of people vehemently against hearing the Schubert performed by anything other than four string instruments? I don’t imagine that second-preference voting would have been possible (fancier voting schemes regrettably generate larger transactions costs), so we would have listened to the Schubert even though more people would have been better off with the Dvorák.
Fortunately, a small majority of the audience shared my preference and we achieved the first-best (and heard a wonderful performance)!
My daughter, Anna, spent a bunch of time this past summer writing songs. One thing led to another and we ended up coauthoring a song together. I have more than 50 academic coauthors, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried writing music with someone.
Is it easy for people to tell the difference between songs she wrote by herself and a song where I wrote most of the lyrics? Is it possible for a 52-year-old lawyer/economist to emulate the lyrics of a 14-year-old Gleek? I think a lot of people would have a surprisingly hard time. But the question is testable.
So today I’m announcing a contest where you could earn a chance of winning an iTunes gift card worth somewhere between $50-$500. To play, just click through and listen to these three songs – Friend Zone, Longer, & Your Way, and then leave a comment to this post or as a YouTube comment to one of the three songs saying: i) which of the three songs you think I coauthored; ii) identifying a line in that song you believe I wrote; and iii) identifying a line in that song you believe Anna wrote. Here they are:
This is a Freakonomics guest post by Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist, and Director of Human Cognition at 2AI. His new book Harnessedexplores the evolutionary origins of language and music. Rise of the Apes via Miracle Grow
By Mark Changizi
Add Miracle Grow to your tomato plants and you get tomatoes. Big tomatoes, but still tomatoes. What you don’t get are mobile, blood-thirsty tomatoes with a deep distaste for the classic tune, “Puberty Love.” That would require serious evolutionary design, something far more complex than Miracle Grow can handle.
Yet something very much like Miracle Grow works for giving chimps and gorillas human-level intelligence. Or, at least, that’s what you’d have to believe to accept the premise of the summer movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where a grow-more-neurons drug aimed for Alzheimers is given to apes, who thereby become the cognitive equal of humans, replete with language.
Obviously, that can’t happen. Our human brain is not simply a bigger version of the same fundamental ape design. Rather, it possesses essential new software forged over millions of years of natural selection. Some believe there is new language software, a language instinct; while others believe, in contrast, that what’s new are general-purpose algorithms of the kind artificial intelligence researchers seek. A simple give-‘em-more-neurons mechanism can’t reproduce these sorts of designs.
A rash of recent news articles (like here and here) have noted that in a little over a year, an obscure provision of U.S. copyright law takes effect – one which allows songwriters and musicians to exercise their “termination rights” and take back from the record labels many thousands of songs they licensed 35 years ago.
So, for example, Boston will be able to take back Don’t Look Back. Gloria Gaynor can repo Love Tracks, and Elvis Costello can reclaim This Year’s Model. Less auspiciously, Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley can reclaim his entire solo album. (The music industry may not mind losing this one.) And every Jan. 1, a whole new crop of artists looking to lay claim to their termination rights will appear.
The music industry, already reeling from online piracy and digital downloads, is fighting back against what they see as the looming loss of their property—and the huge profits that still come from some of these records. Why would Congress create a system where, 35 years after making a record that no one knew for sure would be a hit, musicians could take back control—and profits—over the best-selling songs?
I had an interesting exchange recently while interviewing Tim Westergren, co-founder of the (just-public) internet radio company Pandora for our Freakonomics Radio hour called “The Folly of Prediction.” (We argue in the show that Pandora represents a narrow but worthy example of our ability to predict the future — unlike most realms, like politics, the economy, and so on.)
DUBNER: You know, there’s a neat body of research that shows that people’s tastes in the kind of stuff they consume — whether it’s food, or music, or art, and so on — tend to get fairly frozen in time by the time you hit your mid-thirties or so. Do you know anything about that — about the speed and variance at which people adopt new musical tastes, or are at least willing to experiment, versus their ages? WESTERGREN: You know, it’s funny, someone said to me a long time ago when I embarked on this, “Why are you doing this? People don’t want new music. I look at my friends and they have the same CD’s they’ve had for 20 years — what problem are you trying to solve?” And I think the truth is the reason that people’s music tastes atrophy is not because they don’t long for discovery. It’s because the don’t have time anymore, and what are they going to do? I know there’s actually a biologist who literally studied this, a fellow at Stanford who studied this, because it seemed like such a strong correlation, but it’s basically when you get busy. When you have a job and you have a family you don’t have time to do anymore. But if you look up behavior on Pandora, the level of enthusiasm, and intensity, and discovery that’s happening is just as rich for folks in their seventies and eighties as it is for, you know, teenagers.
A new study (abstract here; description here) proves what many of us already suspected: musicians have more highly-developed brains than the rest of us. The research relates to the concept of high mind development, which is basically the potential to become really good at something.
New research shows that musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have previously been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.
What happens when you match two guitar-playing economics students and a deep recession? Recession Sessions, an entire album of economics-themed songs by Ryan Stotland and Kyle Thompson-Westra, a.k.a. The Bull and the Bear. The two met at Tufts and now make music in the “financial folk” genre, with songs including “Central Banker’s Dilemma” and “Main Street Venting Blues.” Here are a few lines from “Dear Fiscal, Love Monetary”:
We’ll always be the heads of our nation
Can’t you see the way we killed stagflation
I never ever thought that I’d have this much fun
As when I watched you bring the rate down to one