Investment options in music

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?

How do you invest in music?

Music plus tech

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.

Podcast ambitions

Today I am starting to work on a new series of podcasts for the blog.

This is a misleading statement because as yet I don’t know what it’ll be about, who will be on it or how many I will do.

Perhaps more accurate would be to say I am starting to think about starting to work on the podcast!

One idea is to use the blog itself as a resource, looking back over the most popular posts I have written and use them as a guide for podcast topics.

But like I say – still early days. So watch this space, and prime your ears in the meantime 🙂

Specifications

Specs can dominate your life if you let them. What chip is in your smartphone? What resolution is the song you are listening to? How big is your car’s engine? Newer, smarter, better. It’s a game that can drag you down a rabbit hole.

The biggest problems of chasing the specs as I see it:

  1. There is always a newer gadget coming up around the corner. This means your claims and feelings of superiority are always going to leave you empty when the new gadget is released.
  2. The FUNCTION of the gadget often gets totally lost in the spec wars. I was describing the problem of being an audiophile to a grounded friend of mine. I told him how the marketing leads us to believe that the newer amplifiers and DACs and speakers can reflect a truer sound than the old. He dismissed the whole thing in one simple question: “What is the point of listening to music? It’s to enjoy the music, right? You don’t sound like you’re enjoying the music much when you talk about the specs”. Music players are there to serve us music, not to make us feel like we are lacking something.
  3. Specs are corrupting in the most real sense. If two different specs matter, but they are contradictory – it can corrupt the human spirit. Take VW emissions standards as an example (link). The tension between on the one hand, environmental responsibility and the customers’ perception of the company doing the right thing, and on the other hand, customers need a high performance vehicle that is zippy and meeting speed and power specs – this dichotomy led to false information being manufactured and published. Possibly 20 years in jail??! Hectic punishment all to meet a specs expectation.

As someone prone to chasing specs, I am learning that making do with something that is GOOD ENOUGH for the job it is intended – this is the secret to a lot of contentment and productivity.

Streaming and ownership

If I can consume media with purpose then I will be happy. Too often though, I feel like media is force fed to me like a scene out of A Clockwork Orange.

I have decided to make a change in music subscription services – from Google Play Music to Tidal. New MQA Masters catalogues on Tidal are a factor, as are my future plans to integrate with a service such as Roon. Roon lets you interact with the music you listen to like we used to with CDs and LPs.

All of this is a rather futile effort to mitigate against the fact that when we stream our music or TV or movies, we no longer own the content. It’s a mindset from another time I guess but to pay for a service rather than a piece of art seems like a poor deal.

At least it is convenient and works on my phone though.

 

The tech urge within

For some reason the world of audiophile technology and tech hardware has become extremely refined in its marketing of products. The premium that must be paid to own a new high grade audiophile amplifier is insane. And yet….

And yet I want one as if it is going to cure my human condition. I don’t understand this urge. Why do I feel so intensely that I have to be part of this tiny group of people that spend their children’s school fees on audio equipment? Do I honestly believe the music will sound THAT much better? No. Sigh…..

I think the truth is that there are many industries that have tapped into this tribal urge to belong – Apple being the most obvious. An iPhone essentially does the same thing as a phone one tenth its price – and yet the company’s revenues go up and up. People want to spend money on things which make them feel part of a group.

The trick is to decide what will make a tangible difference to life, and what is merely hype.

The latest iPhone will not out-perform my Motorola to the point that my life improves. And neither will a new amplifier improve the performance of my headphones.

The pull is strong indeed though. It’s like these companies are using the Jedi force to extract my wallet from my pocket, and it is all I can do to push it back in.

That’s my consumer culture rant for the day. Back to work 🙂

Google enhancements

One of my favourite things to do is to combine 2 x Google services to enhance my music listening experiences. I like to work my way through this book: 1001 albums to hear before you die. I have the book open to read in my browser in Google Play Books. As I read I listen to the albums on Google Play Music. A Google double whammy.

If you read about a piece of music while you listen to it, the experience is more enjoyable than just listening. Our brains respond to trusted recommendations and descriptive writing in interesting ways – the music seems to open up as you read about it. It is really fun identifying all the features of an album with headphones on, at the same time as it is described in words in front of you.

Google may not have the highest bitrate in its streaming service, but its flexibility and complementary nature of its other offerings mean that it has become a staple in my listening habits.

Convenience vs. Quality

I just received in the mail 2 x new stylus needles for my old LP player. The old stylus broke, so I had to order them online from the UK and then wait for a couple of weeks for delivery. When they finally arrived, i found the mechanism on my LP player broken and in need of service. Still no high quality vinyl sounds for my discerning chimp ears.

All the while, I have been streaming Google Play Music through my phone and computer and Ipad to get music whenever and wherever i want it.

The convenient solutions will spread like wildfire and then iteratively be improved until they are both convenient and of a high quality.

Meanwhile vinyl is the same as it ever was. Fantastic when it works, but a lot more involved and higher maintenance than the digital age.

Convenience vs. Quality – Convenience is kicking ass at the moment in my household.

 

Planned obsolescence

I already have a Marantz receiver. It decodes, amplifies and networks more audio signals than I will ever need. And yet…

http://www.whathifi.com/news/marantz-unveils-2016-home-cinema-line

…And yet i want another one this year with the slight upgrades all around.

The marketing machine in Audiophile-land, and in tech in general, means there is always something better about to be released. It’s easy to burn through money because of the stream of upgrades. Planned obsolescence.

Key then is to understand your needs versus your wants. I don’t need another receiver. I just want one. And so the marketing machine loses its potency.