Music Diary Notes: The Fall of Gaga, Spotify in July, Clash Over ‘Friday’?

Music Diary Notes: The Fall of Gaga, Spotify in July, Clash Over 'Friday'?

OK, I called it last week – Lady Gaga has been displaced atop the album charts after leading for only two weeks. This week has also seen Spotify gain Universal Music Group contracts and supposedly be very close to closing on Warner Music Group, the final ‘major’ as they prepare for US launch. Finally, the annoying viral YouTube hit ‘Friday’ has gone from free to rental to gone to ‘director’s cut’ … all in one week! Let’s take a look.

Lady Gaga

The graph at the top shows the sales of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ in the three weeks since release. The first week it broke the 1 million sales barrier, which is great – but I put a caveat in the form of the 450,000 (>40%) that were ‘freebies’. The second week it just barely beat out Adele’s 21, and also experienced a record setting first-to-second week plunge … even worse than Christina Aguilera’s dismal 2010 record that set a record in the UK for being the first record to debut at #1 and fall out of the Top 20 in the second week! The third week Lady Gaga barely broke 100,000 in sales, and fell more than 10% behind Adele who regained the #1 slot.

While it might seem that I ‘have it out’ for Lady Gaga and other pop stars. That is completely not true – my issues is with the ‘star making machinery behind the popular song’, to quote Joni Mitchell. I DO single out different artists – in the past it was Katy Perry for having very little discernible musical talent, and it is Lady Gaga these days because of the massive campaign to ensure success of her latest release. But make no mistake – Perry and in particular Gaga are extremely hard-working, even if their efforts have less to do with … well, music.

I looked at the first week of Lady Gaga sales and pointed out a couple of things: first how the ‘success’ was largely based on Amazon having given away the record, which was also done with smartphone pack-ins and other freebie deals; and second how her label spend millions ensuring that the record would be a huge hit.

Why do I care? I mean, why should I care if Universal Music Group wants to lose money in order to pump up sales numbers, and if Amazon wants to lose millions in order to push their Cloud Music service? Because it creates a false sense of what is actually going on in the music industry, which actually hurts everyone else. I look at Adele, who with great pipes and limited promotion has ridden the tide of popularity of ONE song to have what will easily be in the top 5 albums for the whole year, if not the very top. Unlike Lady Gaga, Adele’s sales have grown organically through people listening and liking what they hear and then buying the record; with Lady Gaga it was all hype and promotion and the massive drop-off in sales speaks directly to the word of mouth about the record itself outside of the initial singles (hint: it ain’t good).

My nephew, without hearing the record, was very positive about it due to the ‘message’ and the great story about Lady Gaga and her history and so on. The ‘born this way’ message is completely unoriginal, with both Katy Perry and even Ke$ha having similar themed songs on their records. As for the story … I honestly don’t know if it is true. I should believe it at face value, but after reading the section in Bill Bruford’s autobiography about an agent who was showing Bruford a press release about a new singer, and when Bruford reacted emotionally to the tragic tale, the agent asked for tips about how he should change it around, Bruford realized it was all a PR fabrication. Given everything else in the pop world – creators of Milli Vanilli, after all – why not do the same with Gaga?

So the problem isn’t Lady Gaga or other pop singers who work really hard to get – and stay – at the top, but rather the industry that is corrupt and trying to buy their way back to a happier time rather than innovating their way to a new frontier.

Oh … and the Lady Gaga album really IS crap.

Spotify – Coming REAL Soon Now?

With each week there seems to be more and more mounting evidence that Spotify will have a US launch while the air is still warm in the Northeast, perhaps as early as July … but not prior to July 4th according to reports. I have written about my short two-week trial of the service in the past. This week Bloomberg noted:

Spotify Ltd. reached agreements with three major record labels and is close to a deal with the fourth, Warner Music Group, to start a U.S. version of its online music service, people with knowledge of the talks said.

According to AllThingsD, the offering Spotify will bring is no longer the ‘slam dunk’ it might have been in 2009:

In Europe, Spotify offers a “freemium” service, where registered users can listen to a certain amount of music each month for free, and paying subscribers get unlimited music, which they can stream to their computers or phones. People familiar with the company’s plans indicate that it wants to do the same thing in the U.S., and would likely charge around $10 a month for the premium service.

Unlike Europe, however, the U.S. has several existing subscription services that also stream unlimited tunes for $10 a month, and those have yet to take off, even though the services are now compatible with popular handsets like Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.

An interesting note at HypeBot:

To make the labels happy. Spotify has reportedly agreed to a faster monetization strategy than they currently have. That could mean more restricted trials than its current ad-supported freemium model. Spotify has 10 million EU users with one 1 million subscribers paying 10 Euros a month for an ad free version with mobile options.

At this point I am not sure what to think: I liked the way Spotify integrated my iTunes playlists and library with their streaming music seamlessly, and also liked the’light’ clients for the desktop. However, I am quite happy with both Rdio and MOG, and Slacker’s Premium service adds a cool new dimension by combining on-demand and internet radio seamlessly … and each of those work at least as well on mobile devices as the desktop.

And the coming iCloud with iTunes Match shows tremendous promise, as does Amazon’s Cloud Music … and while Google’s offering is currently crap, that won’t be true for long.

But the line “the U.S. has several existing subscription services that also stream unlimited tunes for $10 a month, and those have yet to take off” is perhaps the most telling, and should have those investing millions in Spotify worried.

Rebecca Black vs. Ark Media

Rebecca Black is very much a star of the internet age. With a lousy video of an annoying song with a terribly overproduced track … she became a YouTube hit. Once again I think the story being put out is somewhat nuanced to sound more intriguing than reality. But regardless, Friday became a viral video hit, then sold decently on iTunes. Early erroneous reports by Forbes said it hit 2 million in single sales, which could have earned her tons of money … but in reality she made ~$25,000 off the peak sales week of 40,000.

The biggest splash was the >30 million video views on YouTube, but again according to Forbes this isn’t necessarily a huge money-maker:

Looking at 2010’s actual numbers, the site makes about $1 per thousand page views. For videos running ads as part of the revenue sharing program, that revenue is then split between YouTube and the content creator. Content creators, or partners, take 68% of the profit. At 30,000,000 views, that lands Black and Ark Music Factory $20,000 – a 1000% return on investment.

Even assuming 50/50 split that is only $10,000 each, meaning that the total between the two parties, or likely well under $250,000 between the total iTunes sales and YouTube revenue over the last few months.

Apparently things between Ark and Black have soured, since earlier this week Ark replaced the normal version with a $2.99 rental.

And that meant a Friday without ‘Friday’ … but then it reappeared in a Vevo channel, only to once again disappear with the note

The Vevo-branded video is down “because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

All of this is part of the ongoing tussle between Black and Ark, as noted at CBS:

All this hullabaloo comes about as the 13-year-old and Ark Music Factory fuss over who owns the rights to the highly-buzzed-about jam. Ark Music is considered a “vanity” production company that aspiring artists – or in Black’s case, parents of an aspiring artist – pay thousands of dollars for videos to be written, filmed and promoted. The company’s tagline: “Get Discovered!”

My guess is that since the actual product from Ark is being used to generate so much direct attention and revenue, the situation is very different than the expected route of using them as a means to get discovered and THEN do something commercial.

It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. What are your thoughts on Lady Gaga, Spotify and Friday?

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!