THE SIXTH EXTINCTION:

Ric Amurrio
14 min readMay 24, 2018

EPISODE 1 MUSIC IN PHASE SPACE

Apocalypse Now!, Appetite for Creative Destruction, Superstar Economy, Long Tail and the Downward technological progression

When you hollow out culture, it is inevitable that parasitic forces fill the void sometimes called corporations, sometimes called government

Joe Norman

APOCALYPSE NOW

In biology an habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is render unable to support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously use the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. In the simplest form, when a habitat is destroyed, the plants, animals, and other organisms that occupied it have a reduced carrying capacity so population decline as well as reduction of genetic diversity and extinction becomes more likely.

Organisms with limited ranges are most affected by this destruction, mainly because these organisms are not found anywhere else within the world. Organisms have a very specific requirements for their survival that can only be found within a certain ecosystem, resulting in their extinction. If you’re a musician it’s inconceivable there could be an economy to support you so you better have rich parents.

With widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as touring and disappearing record sales, as well as other areas, the vast majority of these extinctions is thought to be undocumented, as we are either not even aware of the existence of any of this bands before they go extinct, or we haven’t yet discovered their extinction.

I call the Sixth extinction the ongoing disappearance event of bands, solo artist, styles and other talent during the collapse of the music industry, mainly as a result of human activity. A big part of the problem is that most consumers now attribute very little value to the recording itself, and most consumption (through YouTube, Spotify, ad-supported piracy, or BitTorrent) happens at little-to-zero cost to the listener.

A decision was made to prevent or inhibit the negative consequences at the financial and economic layer by actually spending resources, or burning resources at the cultural level and occupying all available niches destroying the available ecosystems with all manner of tools more reminiscent of mining or oil extraction that have devalued music in a more pernicious way than the problems of hyper-supply and inter-industry jockeying.

The environmental impact of mining includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affects the health of the local population.

A massive, decades-long shift towards free (or near-free) music means that entire generations of listeners have never paid anything for recordings. And, predictably, will continue to resist any requirements to pay for music.

This includes the disappearance of bands on the second to third record, starting at the end of the last century. Bands, which did not evolve alongside industry parameters, proved highly sensitive to the introduction of new technologies, and many died out shortly after it began spreading

APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION

We always heard that more opportunities will be created than destroyed. Isn’t twenty plus years long enough to wait before we take a more scientific approach? Are we building the information highway for people or who exactly for? If it’s for people, someone is asleep at the wheel. Something like “We may not know where we’re going anymore, but we’re going to get there a whole lot faster.

A decade-long decline in recording revenues has dismantled the label system, once the most reliable form of artist financing. Both independent and major labels, once the core of the music industry ecosystem, still have serious survival problems monetizing their audio releases, which is shifting the emphasis towards touring, in-person experiences, and other activities.During the collapse of the music industry the record labels and other key industry factions sat back and let silicon Valley to crash the $15 CD in favor of the 99 cent A la carte downloads. Even as it was clear that they were losing money on that deal, they sat fat and happy with the arrangement. As downloads showed signs of fading, they allowed streaming radio pioneers, to take the driver’s seat.

The music industry didn’t create its own platforms to distribute the music, it didn’t create its own streaming media platforms and it did not partner meaningfully with others to harness the power to create and antifragile forward-looking lines of revenue. The music industry brass remained static and went on a campaign to blame everybody but themselves for their problems while the only thing that really works for the user (iTunes, Spotify) has given rise to yet another hardware-based, proprietary, walled- garden, non-music-centric, de-facto monopoly.

VICTIM BLAMING

Web 2.0 likes to indulge in exaggerated perceptions of the evils of the old models of intellectual property, focusing on controlling distribution, scale and domination, and about achieving hit-driven, repeatable mass-market success. Audiences were a “captive audience. For many college students, sharing files is considered an act of civil disobedience that puts you in the company of Gandhi and Martin Luther King!

All the dinosaurs of the old order have been given fair notice of the digital revolution to come. If they couldn’t adapt, it was due to their own stubbornness, rigidity, or stupidity. Blame them for their fate.

This is what we have said since about our initial victims, like the record companies and newspapers. But none of us was ever able to give the dinosaurs any constructive advice about how to survive. And we miss them now more than we have been willing to admit. Actually, as long as we put the blame on them, it is okay to admit that we miss the declining “mainstream media.”

Now the tailspin continues, and the damage to our cultural capitalis hard to overstate. It’s no coincidence that the United States stumbled into Donald Trump and is paralyzed before serious challenges at home and abroad at precisely the moment when real criticism is besieged. It almost might make the conspiracy minded think there was a grand plan to keep us dumb.

THE SEARCH

A decade ago we all hoped, that the internet would bring so many benefits to so many artists that those who weren’t being paid for what they used to do would end up doing even better by finding new ways to get paid. You still hear the same cliches, as if people were immortals and can afford to wait in geological timescales to access new sources of wealth.

Jaron Lanier made the case that we had a baseline in the form of the musical middle class that was being put out of business by the net.

We ought to at least have found support in the new economy for them. Could 26,000 musicians each find 1,000 true fans? Or could 130,000 each find between 200 and 600 true fans? Furthermore, how long would be too long to wait for this to come about? Thirty years? Three hundred years? Was there anything wrong with enduring a few lost generations of musicians while we wait for the new solution to emerge?

Jaron Lanier

He produced the answer as follows; One would expect is an S curve: there would be only a small number of early adaptors, but a noticeable trend of increase in their numbers. It was common on the net to see incredibly fast adoption of new behaviors — only a few pioneer bloggers for a little while , then, suddenly, millions of them — . The same could happen for musicians.

PHYSICAL PRODUCT — HYPERREALITY

Consider Mp3s. A purchase of an Mp3 is not as substantive for the buyer as was a Vinyl purchase in physicality. An Mp3 buyer is no longer a first-class citizen in a marketplace.

When you buy a Vinyl, you can resell it at will, or continue to enjoy it no matter where you decide to buy other books. It might become a collectible book and go up in value, so you might make a profit on your original purchase.

Every purchase of an old-fashioned vinyl opens an opportunity to earn money by enhancing provenance. You can get the author to sign it, to make it more meaningful to you, and to increase its value.

With an Mp3, however, you are not a first-class commercial citizen. Instead, you have only purchased tenuous rights within someone else’s company store. You cannot resell, nor can you do anything else to treat your purchase as an investment. Your decision space is reduced. If you want to use a different reading device, or connect over a different cloud, you will in most cases lose access to the book you “purchased.” It wasn’t really a purchase, but a contract entered into, even though neither you nor anyone else ever reads such contracts.

THE SUPERSTAR ECONOMY: GAME ZERO

SUPERSTAR ECONOMY

The music industry is a Superstar economy, that is to say a very small share of the total artists and works account for a disproportionately large share of all revenues. This is not a Pareto’s Law type 80/20 distribution but something much more dramatic: the top 1% account for 77% of all artist recorded music income (see figure).

As of today 10% of artist take 99% of streaming or 1% recent of artist takes 77% of market

The clamor for online attention only turns into money for a token minority of ordinary people, but there is another new, tiny class of people who always benefit. Those who keep the new ledgers, the giant computing services that model you, spy on you, and predict your actions, turn your life activities into the greatest fortunes in history. Those are concrete fortunes made of money.

The largest streaming platform in the world, Google-owned YouTube, doesn’t think that music devaluation is even possible. “It’s amazing how often people invoke that word ‘devalue’ as if it means something,” Google executive Tim Quirk said in 2014. “It doesn’t. You know why? Because you can’t devalue music. It’s impossible. Songs are not worth exactly 99 cents and albums are not worth precisely $9.99.”

Worsening the situation is a circular ‘blame game’ between streaming giants and labels, with artists ultimately shorted. Spotify says they pay the labels, though this is often with huge, multi-million dollar advances and/or equity positions attached. But labels frequently don’t pay their artists, either for legitimate (ie, the artist is unrecouped) or illegitimate (ie, they’re screwing an artist) reasons.

THE LONG TAIL

The concept of the long tail seemed like a useful way of understanding how consumers interact with content in digital contexts, and for a while looked like the roadmap for an exciting era of digital content. In fact digital music services have actually intensified the Superstar concentration, not lessened it . The top 1% account for 75% of CD revenues but 79% of subscription revenue. This counter intuitive trend is driven by two key factors: a) smaller amount of ‘front end’ display for digital services — especially on mobile devices — and b) by consumers being overwhelmed by a Tyranny of Choice in which excessive choice actual hinders discovery.

The long tail does not increase sales, but it does create competition and squeezes prices. Unless artists become a large aggregator of other artists’ works, the long tail offers no path out of minuscule sales.

Not my problem, you say? You could derive value from ubiquity. The solution wasn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution was to change your business. You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you could sell interactivity and souvenirs.” Interactivity couldn’t be copied. Don’t try to sell what was abundant — sell what is scarce.

But after ten years of seeing many, many people try, I fear that it’s just not working. We are all starving because of our failed digital idealism.

Often we talk about mining, oil extraction and fraking like the most damaging activities relating to the environment.

Ultimately it is the relatively niche group of engaged music aficionados that have most interest in discovering as diverse a range of music as possible. Most mainstream consumers want leading by the hand to the very top slither of music catalogue. This is why radio has held its own for so long and why curated and programmed music services are so important for engaging the masses with digital.

The Catalogue Size Arms Race

Matters are worsened by the music services’ catalogue arms race which has become entirely detrimental to consumers’ digital music experiences. Action needs taking urgently to make sense of 25 million songs, not just through discovery and editorial, but also by taking the brave decision to keep certain types of content, such as sound-alikes, outside of music services’ main functionality.

Until labels, distributors and artists come to together to fix the issue of digital catalogue pollution — sound alikes and karaoke especially — the Tyranny of Choice will reign supreme, hiding 99% of artists under a pervasive shroud of obscurity and giving the Superstars another free lap of the track.

Downward technological progression THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

There’s now a downward technological progression, with vinyl only slightly breaking the chain. With every subsequent format, monetization deteriorates: streaming pays less than downloads; downloads paid less than CDs

In fact, former member of Cracker and current artist activist David Lowery feels that artists are worse off now than they were in the analog era. And, he points to lower payments, less control, a shift in revenue towards tech companies, and less secure copyright protections to prove his case.

Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music. That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, figuring out online sales strategies, and fixing broken-down vans.

Paid downloads are plunging, with massive declines surfacing this year. That is bad news for artists and labels, given that the payouts on downloads are far higher than streaming (thanks to an upfront payment and more predictable revenue cut.

Songwriters are often paid pennies for successful tracks, even top-charting songs on major streaming and internet radio platforms make just $5,679 for 178 million streams. Lower royalties are killing an entire generation of writers: Nashville has lost more than 80 percent of its songwriters since 2000.

We’re blinded by incremental progress in electronic gadgets of marginal utility — new smartphones, larger monitors, and more powerful computers. Yet we drive vehicles with internal combustion engines, our electricity is mostly generated in thermal power plants fueled by coal, we are far from curing solid cancers, and we are slowly losing the race against multi-resistant bacteria. The average Sci-Fi writer of the 50s, 60s and 70s would be very, very disappointed with the world of 2018. There is no colony on the moon, we don’t have fusion power, and there are no laser guns or sonic disruptors. No robots anywhere. We can’t even cure the common cold.

It is painfully obvious that technological progress between, say, 1968 and now, can’t compare to the periods between 1818 and 1868; 1868 and 1918; or 1918 to 1968. This will very likely be recognized by the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing in 2019, when lots of people will start to wonder why it is that, 50 years after the greatest triumph of the Apollo programme, we don’t even have the capacity to repeat the technological feats of the late ’60s.

At its core, all civilization is about problem-solving. The more successful a society is at that, the more stable is it likely to be. When faced with new problems, we use methods that worked in the past. Traditionally, our problems were solved by creating new structures: committees, commissions of inquiry, new rules, laws and regulations and centralization. So why is it that we now commonly seem to make problems worse whenever that approach is used?

This means we are investing in ways that generated positive returns in the past, but are now useless; or if not useless, potentially harmful. Every year we spend more money on managers rather than CATALOGUE and even those doctors and nurses spend more and more time with non-productive tasks such as filling in paperwork.

Investment in complexity that produces negative returns is a sure sign of a complex system that is ‘brittle,’ or, likely to fail catastrophically, as explained by Crawford Holling, one of the founders of the academic discipline of ‘social ecology’.

TOURING

Touring is fun, but it can also be extremely demanding and exhausting, especially when its the core revenue generator. Many artists are experiencing difficulties making a sustainable living out of touring, merchandising, or other non-recording activities like ‘experiences’

Live Music

A large percentage of live music fans are frustrated with high ticket prices at concerts, not to mention wildly overpriced, in-venue items like beer. And, the secondary ticketing market is often fed before the actual market, thanks to bots, aggressive scalpers, or the artists and ticketing providers themselves.

All of which means that fans now regard live concerts as a one-off, infrequent ‘event,’ instead of a regular outing. In fact, the average consumer goes to just 1.5 shows a year (per Live Nation Entertainment). Meanwhile, service fees continue to outrage fans, even though artist guarantees and advances are often a culprit (then again, Stubhub recently found that ‘all in pricing’ led to fewer sales.)

If you used to make all of your money selling music but now they have to tour the crucial difference there is if you’re making your money selling your your intellectual property well then then that is money that you can continue to make even when you stop working whereas if you were making your money touring you know that there’s a linear relationship between you know every gig and every dollar and once you stop touring you stop making money and that’s that looks very different in your old age as a rock star yeah

Of course if you’re young what you think about is it’s in my interest to not have to pay for this file oh you know right but then you will not stay young forever no matter what weird rhetoric comes out of Google spin-offs you know you will also grow old you will also have a biological body and you will have needs and you will not always have perfect days and this whole idea of intellectual property kind of like a lot of things in our society it you can think of it as something that only benefits elites but actually it was fought for by unions trying to support people who are not elites at all the musicians union battled long and hard to get these rights to create dignity for people who produce information in their lives and to have it lost by people who thought they were doing the right thing is just one of the great tragedies of our era.

Older, arena-filling artists are starting to die. And Many others are touring just to pay the bills, including medical bills. That includes Dick Dale, who remains on the road despite his advanced age to pay for treatment for rectal cancer, renal failure, and massive vertebrae damage.

When this music wants to be free things started happening we just started having weekly fundraisers for people like famous musicians who’d gotten sick in old age and had like no support me more and it was just so tragic recently John Perry Barlow passed away and he had been a songwriter for the Grateful Dead one of the most successful bands which had actually pioneered a lot of this idea by encouraging tapers at their concerts from a very pure feeling from a very generous feeling but then you know at the end even though he’d penned you know these songs and these huge selling records he just basically didn’t have income.

It’s like what I call it a singing for your supper for every single meal you never get to build up any life you know you can’t build up any reserve so that you can have a sick day or grow old or have a kid who needs to go to college you know it’s it’s a everybody goes into this geekycon a you’re basically this disposable element and somebody else’s fortune and that’s what that’s what making music free actually did.

INFORMATION IS NOT FREE

We’re used to treating information as “free,” but the price we pay for the illusion of “free” is only workable so long as most of the overall economy isn’t about information. But as technology advances in this century, our present intuition about the nature of information will be remembered as narrow and shortsighted. We can think of information narrowly only because sectors like manufacturing, energy, health care, and transportation aren’t yet particularly automated or ‘net-centric.

This could start to happen, for instance, once cars and trucks are driven by software instead of human drivers, 3D printers magically turn out what had once been manufactured goods, automated heavy equipment finds and mines natural resources, and robot nurses handle the material aspects of caring for the elderly. Software could be the final industrial revolution. It might subsume all the revolutions to come.

Maybe technology will then make all the needs of life so inexpensive that it will be virtually free to live well, and no one will worry about money, jobs, wealth disparities, or planning for old age but instead, we are probably heading into a period of hyper-unemployment, and the attendant political and social chaos. The outcome of chaos is unpredictable, and we shouldn’t rely on it to design our future.

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