Music piracy all but eliminated in Norway, where 80% of those under 30 use subscription streaming

A very interesting set of numbers from Norway.

As many already know, subscription music streaming has made strong inroads in northern Europe. (800 pound gorilla stream co, Spotify, started in Sweden.)

But numbers coming out of Norway are suggestive that the widespread adoption of subscription streaming has all but wiped out the music piracy that was rampant there only a half decade or so ago, reducing illegal downloaders from 70% in 2009 to just 4% in 2014 — with only 1% currently using illegal downloading as their primary source.


Q: I love vinyl and want to capture that ‘analog sound’ — will I get that if I record my synthesizer to a cassette recorder?

A: The characteristic ‘sound’ (complex of deviations from accurate signal, aka, distortion) imposed by the cassette format is very different from that created by vinyl transcription.

While a good grooved disc can do a pretty good job with regard to fidelity (accuracy), at least within certain parameters — and, no doubt there are those who seek out those characteristics, preferring them over objectively less distorted, higher fidelity transcriptions — the state of the art vinyl record’s main divergences from fidelity are: random noise in the form of surface noise, scratches, dust, etc, as well as the basic, always-running sound of stylus-in-groove (drop the needle in a ‘blank groove’ with the volume at an ‘active listening’ level and see what you hear), as well as various forms of intermodulation distortion produced by both record wear and mechanical imperfections or design flaws in pickups, motor noise and or bass feedback rumble (the stereo becomes a resonant system with bass frequencies being transmitted from speakers through floors and cabinetry back to the pickup, which is why high end turntables put so much effort into anti-vibration/shock mounting), and finally, while the fidelity at the outside of the groove can be high and frequencies quite extended, by the time you get to end of a record side, the stylus-in-groove speed is much slower, higher frequency response has diminished greatly and because the diameter of the inner groove is so much tighter, dynamic levels must be watched carefully or various forms of distortion will become problematic. Oh, and don’t forget lack of stereo separation, with separation between channels typically between 25 to 40 dB. And, in lesser turntables, throw in fast and slow speed variations: wow and flutter.

While the grooved record was the best mainstream delivery medium of the analog era, pre-recorded reel tapes offered some arguable advantages but were fraught with tradeoffs: they were expensive and consumers balked at threading tape machines (??? — but they did!), and good decks were plenty expensive. (Add to that good tape was far from cheap.) And they were far from immune to their own pernicious form of noise: hiss. Still, with wide enough tracks and high enough speed, they could carry a decent signal. (Tape/capstan flutter was still an issue, but record scratches weren’t. Unfortunately, record scratches were ‘replaced’ by the tendency of magnetic tape to shed the ‘active’ oxide layer — where the magnetic signal is stored — from the backing, letting your signal flake off slowly — and sometimes not so slowly.)

The cassette was introduced first as a portable format — voice and tape letters were the big selling point. Through the 60s, different attempts to get tape into cars had supplanted the goofy lover’s lane phonographs that some folks mounted under their dashes. (You couldn’t drive with them running. The needle would skip to hell and back.) ‘Endless’ tape carts like those used in broadcasting were employed, leading to commercial car decks like the 4 and 8 track models that dominated the end of the 60s. Around that time, a move was made to bring ‘high fidelity’ to the cassette. Sony was one of the first makers to bring out a ‘hi fi’ cassette deck. It cost $600 back in ’69 (equivalent to around $3800 today). And it sounded AWFUL. The flutter made it sound like it was running through a cheap guitar chorus pedal just about. There was almost no high frequency response.

Cassettes definitely got much, much better, but they were always limited in their frequency response and accuracy (at both ends of the frequency spectrum), slathered in hiss, and beset by lingering speed issues in the form of flutter, which was particularly bad because of the low speed of the tape and the tiny circumference of the capstans — meaning that even micro-tiny imperfections in the mechanism could be ‘magnified’ into relatively noticeable speed problems.

Now, of course, we know that many ‘lo fi’ enthusiasts like cassettes for many of those perceived negatives: they’re looking for ways of ‘mangling’ the sound and imparting a distant-in-time-or-space sort of vibe. And that’s fine, particularly for those aware of the issues. They grew up with clean, relatively high accuracy signals and they’re bored with them. I get it. Just as, hopefully, they get it that I grew up trying to squeeze accurate signal out of analog media like vinyl records and tape and, so, have been delighted to finally have that fidelity delivered by modern recording systems and media.

Now… as someone who recorded a lot of analog synths to a lot of analog tape in the 1980s, I have to say that I, personally, prefer to get — as a baseline — more or less the sound that came out of the synth. That really didn’t happen until I got my first DAT machine around 1990. Me, I did not like the sound of the synths I was working on to get mangled by the recording medium. But, that’s me. Not you. Not anyone else. Everyone must ultimately find their own way.

The Tortured Artist

An ethos may be true for one person and yet may be false for another.

I’m decidedly a moody guy, not always a ball of good cheer. To some extent, it’s how my body works — though I’ve developed a number of strategies for dealing with it over the years. Still, I’ve had some major, uh, mood issues in the course of my life. When I was young, I suppose I even had the proverbial existential crisis. You know: Why bother… why not just…? But I didn’t. I wasn’t ‘ready’ — in fact, I was just depressed over what at the time seemed a cascade of failures and broken ‘dreams.’ I slowly rebuilt my life around ‘everyday pleasures’ — years later I’d discover that I’d more or less rediscovered what is often called Epicureanism, but mixed it with a blend of Taoism and Zen. (They all fit pretty well, to my thinking.) But, living strategies notwithstanding, the endocrine system of a ‘moody guy’ can be a cruel master at times.

I offer that perhaps-dreary bit of autobiography largely to establish my bona fides as someone who has been down, way down — and whose physical self seems to occasionally conspire to drag him back down some of those same dark avenues from time to time.

Now, maybe it’s because I was a frustrated wannabe growing up — always on the outside of music, looking in, frustrated every time I tried to do more than noodle on a piano, driven to distraction by the simple task of learning to tune a guitar. (Terrible sense of pitch at first, couldn’t tell up from down within a fifth or so; and don’t even talk to me about rhythm. I’m surprised I had enough rhythm to walk.) But I often found solace in listening to music… it was my refuge, even, at times a bit of a cure, sometimes expressing for me pains I couldn’t confront directly, and sometimes just lifting me with mind-blanking cheerfulness. (Sappy or not, the Fifth Dimension’s “Age of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine” was, at a certain point when I was a kid — a point when I really needed it — a bitter mood lift than I could have got in any pill.)

So, maybe it was because I came to making music — at 20 — with almost no expectations… I’d failed to pierce the veil of music-making before (despite the theoretically positive example of my ‘natural’ musician father) and I wasn’t at all certain I would get any farther than I had in the past — but I also felt like it was now or never, do or die. And with the encouragement of my then-GF and my very patient and kind roommate (who was a fine musician and is now a big deal behind the glass), I finally was able to pound away until, one day, months after starting, I thought, if I kind of screwed up my ears a little, it sounded kind of, every so faintly, like music.

I’ll admit, after I’d been playing a while and felt growing confidence in the songs I was writing, that I sometimes got that ‘if only someone would discover me’ feeling… but I had a realistic enough grip on what was actually coming out that I kept those feelings in check. And, then, since most of my friends were by then much more experienced musicians, I had the wise-up experience of seeing my musical betters strung along, played, and then, almost always, discarded by the music biz — so I began to think that, no matter what, the one thing I didn’t want to do with music was get caught up thinking it would take me somewhere (somewhere, you know, fabulous [and I use the term ‘fabulous’ with broad knowledge of its connotations]).

That was, indeed, why, when an opportunity to move behind the glass presented itself, I jumped. It seemed to combine my lifelong love of tape recorders and various tech gizmos with music — even while taking the ‘artistic pressure’ off my music.

Ironically, maybe, the less I’ve felt pushed by forces extrinsic to love of music — like career ambition, fantasies of a life where I ‘didn’t have to do anything but make music’ — or the desire for adulation/admiration — the easier it’s been for me to write better-crafted songs.

Perhaps it’s a little like a love relationship…

The less you ‘need’ from the relationship — the less you try to get what you think you want, simply engaging directly with what you love with few/no expectations and no thought of rewards or return — the more that relationship may seem to ‘give’ you. Or, just maybe, by actively engaging with who/what you love, you are actually creating those eventual rewards.

At any rate, maybe there are those who MUST ‘suffer for their art’ — who are so driven that that relationship becomes a love-hate struggle. I don’t want to suggest there are not.

But I’ve seen a lot of folks who seem to ‘burn out’ ‘on music’ — but, oftentimes, from my perspective, it’s seemed like they were really looking for something more: societal value, a sense of personal ‘worth,’ approbation, or just some sense of ‘confirmation’ that it was ‘all worth it.’

I guess, in some sense, I’m lucky. For me, that sense of confirmation often comes when I pick up my guitar and play something that maybe I’ve struggled with in the past but that this time just kind of falls into place.

And sometimes that sense of ‘worth it all’ comes just from sitting in a spot of sunshine and strumming a few chords. Growing up as part of the first ‘TV generation,’ it only occurred to me after I started playing music that I now had the ability to entertain myself. (For free. With no commercials.)

There’s a notion of ‘grace’ in some religious and mystical traditions. In my mind it seems almost inextricably entwined with ‘mystical’ interpretations of the musical experience. Whether we want to talk about angels or muses or the hidden reaches of our own bio-electro-chemical neural systems, to me, the gift of music is a form of grace. In whatever paradigm one wants to contextualize it.