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An Executive Briefing Paper on the Creative Economy
Here's my latest culture and arts survey
Last month, I tried something different at The Honest Broker.
As you probably can guess, I spend a lot of time trying to grasp what’s really happening in our culture—especially behind-the-scenes stuff that impacts media or music or creative work.
But only a little of this information actually shows up in my articles here.
So back in May, I decided to share more of this under-the-radar news with you—in a kind of briefing paper. The idea was to give a quick overview of trends and events that impact the culture, but aren’t covered widely in the media.
Readers gave positive feedback on this. So I’m doing it again. Maybe this will become a regular feature, or a special feature for paid subscribers.
In any event, below is my executive briefing paper on the creative economy.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, media & culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
EXECUTIVE BRIEFING PAPER ON THE CREATIVE ECONOMY
The economic impact of Taylor Swift’s concert tour is “more than the gross domestic product of 50 countries.”
And it’s not just the ridiculously expensive concert tickets—although ticket sales alone are generting more than $10 million per concert. The entire tourism business gets a boost, according to the CBC.
Occupancy rates in Chicago reached 96.8 per cent when Swift played three shows this month. A two-night run through Las Vegas helped push tourism numbers in that city to levels not seen since the pandemic.
This further validates my hypothesis that the path to financial success in music is increasingly driven by what happens in the physical world, not the digital realm.
In related news, more than 14% of music fans have traveled more than 500 miles for a concert.
Jazz fans are surprisingly willing to travel by air for a music event. Country fans are the most likely to drive.
In an extreme case of corporate bullying, Apple wants to prevent Swiss fruit farmers from using an image of an actual apple.
These farmers formed a union more than a century ago, and have used an apple as a symbol for most of that time. But the tech behemoth wants to put a stop to this.
Over the past few years, Apple has pursued a meal-prepping app with a pear logo, a singer-songwriter named Frankie Pineapple, a German cycling route, a pair of stationery makers, and a school district, among others. The company fought a decades-long battle with the Beatles’ music label, Apple Corps, which was finally resolved in 2007.
This is the ugly reality of intellectual property law in the current moment.
[Note to self: Write a discursive essay on apples, starting with the Garden of Eden. Then show how they became popular gifts for teachers, and kept doctors away. Then the apple got turned into a symbol for the most beloved rock band of all time and its quest for peace and love. Finally, the richest corporation in the history of capitalism takes control of the fruit, demanding licensing fees from all and sundry, even farmers in their own gardens. We’ve come full circle—only the nature of the serpent has changed.]
A new study indicates that a hit song can be predicted by observing listeners’ neural and physiological data. This technique is actually more accurate than asking people whether they like a song.
The researchers believe this could be turned into a business:
The approach described here should also be tested for its ability to accurately predict hits for other forms of entertainment that are known to be difficult to ascertain, including movies, TV shows, and social media posts in order to confirm and extend our results. Indeed, our use of a commercial neuroscience platform makes such extensions feasible for non-neuroscientists.
The parent of TikTok is buying ridiculous amounts of computing power—purchasing more high-end Nvidia hardware this year than the entire Chinese economy consumed in 2022.
Jitwei, a Chinese news outlet, has shared that ByteDance has placed orders for Nvidia GPUs worth approximately $1 billion in the ongoing year of 2023.
This equates to an estimated 100,000 units….Inside sources from the Chinese tech industry suggest that the domestic supply chain is overwhelmed by the sheer volume and product requirements of these tech giants. Consequently, firms such as ByteDance and Alibaba have resorted to direct negotiations with Nvidia.
This video on “Why Do Movies Feel So Different Now?” has racked up more than 2 million views since its release a few weeks ago. It offers a smart critique of how the entire narrative structure of film is changing.
A Harvard expert on dishonesty has been placed on administrative leave after allegations of dishonesty.
In 2021, we and a team of anonymous researchers examined a number of studies co-authored by Gino, because we had concerns that they contained fraudulent data. We discovered evidence of fraud in papers spanning over a decade, including papers published quite recently (in 2020).
In the Fall of 2021, we shared our concerns with Harvard Business School (HBS). Specifically, we wrote a report about four studies for which we had accumulated the strongest evidence of fraud. We believe that many more Gino-authored papers contain fake data. Perhaps dozens.
A second fraud allegation was published on Tuesday.
In a study that will surprise nobody, the film director with largest age gap between partners in a romance is….Woody Allen.
By the way, there’s no sign that older women are finally getting validated by Hollywood romance movies.
This information is drawn from a fascinating database which classifies 880 relationships from 630 films.
A Top 40 Portland radio station announced on Tuesday that it will start using an AI deejay on its midday show. They are using the voice of a morning show host—so many listeners will simply assume that this is a familiar station personality.
Here’s another new video of related interest—just four days old. It’s called “Why Every Radio Station Sounds the Same.”
Vice Media just got acquired—which seems like reassuring news for journalists. But the real story is that the acquirer is just the stupid lenders who would lose enormous sums in the event of insolvency. The purchase price ($225 million) represents a 95% collapse from the days when Vice was valued at more than $5 billion. But even at this low price, the move smells like throwing good money after bad.
I have a similar observation on the possible acquisition of Simon & Schuster by private equity firm KKR. This, too, is an ominous sign. These buyout firms specialize in stagnant industries—that’s why they have acquired so many local newspapers in recent years. When they show up at your doorstep, it’s probably already too late to get your house in order.
The people hired to train AI are outsourcing their work to. . . AI.
Around 40% of AI training is now done this way, according to MIT Technology News. This brings with it tremendous risk:
Using AI-generated data to train AI could introduce further errors into already error-prone models. Large language models regularly present false information as fact. If they generate incorrect output that is itself used to train other AI models, the errors can be absorbed by those models and amplified over time….Even worse, there’s no simple fix.
This is part of a larger problem—but almost all of it is hidden behind the scenes. In the mad rush to monetize AI, everybody is cutting corners.
For example, Google is telling the team responsible for the accuracy of AI output to work “fast at the expense of quality.”
They have to read an input prompt and Bard's responses, search the internet for the relevant information, and write up notes commenting on the quality of the text. "You can be given just two minutes for something that would actually take 15 minutes to verify," [contractor Ed Stackhouse] told us. That doesn't bode well for improving the chatbot…..
Stackhouse is part of a group of contract workers raising the alarm over how their working conditions can make Bard inaccurate and potentially harmful. "Bard could be asked 'can you tell me the side effects of a certain prescription?' and I would have to go through and verify each one [Bard listed]. What if I get one wrong?" he asked.
Archeologists have found 12,000-year-old flutes made from bird bones—and then were used to imitate the sound of birds. This reinforces my view that music, in these situations, was closely linked to sympathetic magic. Hunters imitated their prey in music and visual arts, and this was expected to result in a successful hunt.
The discovery marks the first time a prehistoric sound instrument from the Near East has been identified, and it is the oldest that imitates a bird call from any ancient civilization.
One aerophone is fully intact, complete with finger holes and a mouthpiece. When played, the flute sounds like a raptor call—or, as Simmons said, "a high-pitched 'screeching' call, very much like a smaller bird of prey up in the treetops."
A Harvard neuroscientist claims to have found the perfect music for enhanced focus—and it’s not jazz or classical or ambient sounds. The key is not genre, but familiarity:
It entirely depends on the individual and what they respond to. I have many favorites—hip-hop, rap, pop, country, folk, classical, opera. So it’s not about genre for me. As a musician and Harvard neuroscientist, I’ve found that “familiar music,” or songs that you enjoy and know best, are the most effective for maximizing concentration.
Are musician royalties from Spotify actually getting smaller? Singer Dani Filth thinks so, and is calling the streaming platform the “biggest criminals in the world.”
I think we had 25, 26 million plays last year, and I think personally I got about 20 pounds, which is less than an hourly work rate.
Can this really be true?
Of course, Spotify could provide actual numbers. But, as the experts explain, “it's impossible to work out exactly how much you should or could be earning per stream based on Spotify's own confidentiality and the vast number of factors influencing your stream rate.
Do an other professions work in such total ignorance of how they get paid?
Here are some other odds and ends:
A Dutch survey suggests that higher concert ticket prices may lead to more drug use (highly speculative but intriguing).
A treasure trove of unusual graphic design and imaginative fonts can be found in old high school yearbooks.
Fans are now throwing phones and other objects at musicians.
And, finally, close-up photos of sumo wrestlers look like soothing mountain ranges covered in mist.