My friend has improved at playing the guitar. Particularly during lockdown this year he has spent time learning, recording and sharing songs online. His repertoire has grown. An investment in his own musical skills which will pay off many times over.
His efforts got me thinking about investment in music. The result is a scattering of options in the form of a blog post. Here are a few random thoughts and discoveries from looking at investment options in music.
There’s a company called Hipgnosis which recently listed on the London Stock Exchange. It buys up music catalogues from artists or other owners with the view that the IP will retain its value and pay back the investment over time as the songs continue to sell. You can buy their shares on the LSE today.
In March 2008, Anchorage Capital Partners announced The Guitar Fund, a $100M fund investing in the rare and vintage guitar market, citing an average annual return of over 31%, according the ’42 Guitars’ tracking index. I would find these sorts of guitars impossible to let go of, and very stressful to keep with toddlers running around my house wielding weapons and generally destroying everything in their wake.
Music Memorabilia can also be a source of alternative investment income or growth if you have the time and the inclination. There is a market for almost anything touched by a rock star. Proof of the rock n roll connection is often the hard part. I have some signed pics of Clapton, Beach Boys, BB King and Aerosmith. Hopefully the signatures are all real. How would I ever find out?
As a teenager I used to think I would listen to my walkman for the rest of my life. It was so essential to me – the cassette tapes I had painstakingly curated, the stock of fresh AA-size batteries, the headphones I found in an airport in England. The ritual of plugging it all in and pushing play. It just didn’t get any better.
One day in my early 20s I found my dad’s LP collection and an old hifi setup. I heard classics like Otis Redding and Springsteen in such clarity and power. Besides the fidelity, there was the long beautiful process of choosing the record, cleaning it, playing one side through and flipping it over, reading the liner notes, poring over the album covers, adjusting the needle and the audio settings. A new ritual was born. My life changed.
Now in my 30s I have my iPhone and an Apple watch. New tech, new ritual. I can call up any song I want no matter where I am. The digital liner notes are getting better every day and the sheer convenience of Bluetooth and music on the go is changing my life again. Don’t even get me started on Spotify’s daily mix and discover weekly playlists. That revolution in curation is a topic for another post.
Older forms of technology can all still be used of course. And often they retain their original power even though the convenience factor is low. Vinyl has made a come back. Audiophiles also tout the benefits of CDs and cassettes. For me this means I now have an arsenal of ways to access the Music drug. The music is the constant, Platonic form while the tech revolves and morphs around it in a clumsy, circular dance.
Perhaps one day the headphones will be nothing more than chips in our brains. A neuralink device Elon Musk sells for a fee. What might a music listening ritual look like for this scenario?
I get comfort from the fact that the music never changes. Taste and quality may vary, but a song is a song no matter what. The catalogue keeps on growing, but the essential form and function of a song is set. It is information in the form of a sound wave being received by the brain. Only the tech for delivery varies.
I just spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out who is the number 1 streaming artist on Spotify. (FYI it’s Justin Bieber). Spotify doesn’t make it very easy to find this out – I ended up getting the figure from Wikipedia. This search led me to the below chart showing how the music industry is making money again through streaming. (link)
What these figures point to is a very complex formula for ever declaring an album as “Number 1”. Gone are the straightforward days of measuring LPs sold. It is a weighted calculation, subject to bias and change over time.
Spotify itself is not making much money. For now the Company is beholden to the record companies (link) for their back catalogues (and to a lesser extent, their A&R and recording infrastructure). But one day perhaps it will break free from this like Netflix has from Hollywood.
The garden waste piles up each week in the corner of the property. Each time the gardener cuts the grass, sweeps up the leaves, or cuts down a branch he puts the waste into bags, and these bags pile up until a truck is organized to cart it off for composting. As the owner of the property this system can stress me out. Watching the relentless growing piles of waste sometimes feels like one of those awkward “white lie” situations – you know the one – you’ve told a little lie or made a transgression which is never confessed. The lie gets bigger and bigger, worse and worse until there is inevitably a release. Either you and your lie are found out, or you tell the truth. The pickup truck taking the waste away feels like eventually telling the truth.
Great music is just like my home’s waste management system. When a song is well written, a tension builds for the listener. The verse builds up to the chorus. The verse places bags of musical notes and dead ends in the corner of the listener’s head. Repeated phrases and hooks. A story in need of some resolution. Eventually the tension is too great and a switch to the chorus is like a clearing out of all the accumulated rubbish. The verse is the lie and the chorus is the truth.
This is most obvious for me in blues music. Think of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”. The verse is simple and repetitive to the point of ridicule. The harmonica’s five notes over and over moaning and groaning that Something huge is coming. Trust me he’s coming. Gypsy woman told my momma. Muddy is coming. Just now……Wait for it. It’s almost unbearable until Muddy grants us sweet relief with “But you know I’m here!” The chorus plays and all the rubbish in our mind is cleared away. Then the cycle starts again with verse 2. What a song.
This year is still young, but I’ve already achieved one of my life goals/resolutions. I’ve started a ritual of sorts with my 2 year old daughter. We listen to the hifi together. And she loves it!
I play cds with her. We pick a nice album based on the artwork, and I pick a nice track. Af after one song we switch albums. In one session we covered Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Elvis, Dylan, and a few others. She now asks for “music with daddy”. My life is complete 😂
The fun for her seems to be time alone with me. She enjoys picking the cds and then deciding if she likes the song or not.
I always point out the obvious sounds and instruments to her (drums, guitar, singing).
We spin around in my office chair at fun parts of the songs.
It is so much fun, and way more successful than I thought it would be.
The pixies as a band passed me by. I was a little too young and a little too stuck in east Africa for their first few albums to make any impact on my life. However, the beauty of music streaming services now is that I can dig into all the rich history.
I sometimes wonder why as a society we make all this new music when there is so much to discover in the back catalogues. Maybe they should put a moratorium on new releases until everyone has caught up with listening to everything ever released to date?
Life is not easy. To paint a bit of a bleak picture – even if you have all the money in the world, friends, family and health – the slow ticking of time in the background tells you It’s a losing battle. None of us will get out of here alive.
So what to do? Well among countless other mindfulness and health exercises, we should engage in activities which take time out of the equation. I mean those activities that engage us so fully, we can’t hear the ticking and the tocking. Time seems to stand still.
This is a sanctuary of sorts. This is music, audio and hifi for me.