December 14, 2015
The 100th for the Chairman of the Board
Posted by Matt Bodie

Over the weekend Frank Sinatra would have turned 100.  Although much of his act and image seem hopelessly -- often offensively -- anachronistic, his music endures in a way that few musicians' will.  On Saturday This American Life reran their 1997 Sinatra tribute episode with new commentary, and you can hear host Ira Glass fighting through various of his feelings toward Sinatra, his banter, his persona, and his voice.  Part of the TAL episode features Gay Talese reading from his iconic article, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold", and if you haven't read it yet, there's no better time than the present.  (And if you have read it, here's a nice behind-the-scenes piece on the article itself.)  But enough talkin' -- where's the music?  I've always enjoyed the breeziness of "Come Fly With Me."  On the aforementioned TAL episode, Sarah Vowell makes a compelling case for "What Is This Thing Called Love?" A good friend of mine does a great karaoke version of "That's Life," while my wife and I always like to close out karaoke with "New York, New York."  And then of course, there's "My Way."  If this is all too much for you, you may enjoy the Sid Vicious version.

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November 23, 2012
Thought for Food
Posted by Erik Gerding

A few links to tide you over during your tryptophan-induced torpor:

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November 22, 2012
Posted by Erik Gerding
July 30, 2012
The Piano Market: Market Failure or Obsolete Product?
Posted by Christine Hurt

I'll admit.  I love pianos.  I remember the day that my mom and I went to someone's house to buy a piano she had heard was for sale.  I was 4 or 5, so I don't know if she saw the piano listed in the newspaper or heard about it from a friend, but I know the seller was a stranger.  I remember the man asked if we wanted to try the piano, but neither my mom nor I played.  We just bought it based on its good looks alone.  We lucked out.  It is a good piano.

When I was 27, after six years of living on my own, without a piano, I bought a piano from a warehouse dealer.  I took a long my boyfriend, who has perfect pitch and who became my husband.  He told me to pick what I would describe as the ugliest piano there, with a mismatched bench.  It turns out, it is an excellent piano, a Baldwin from the early 1960s, when the company did not put the name on the outside of the piano.  As a result, I bought the piano at a fraction of its "market value."

But, I've been skeptical of adding this asset to my concept of my "net worth," because I can't imagine that I would find a buyer willing to pay market value for my scratched-up upright piano.  And this article in the NYT today says that I'm probably right.

Markets depart away from efficiency when transaction costs are high.  Pianos have incredibly high transaction costs.  They are difficult to transport and difficult to store.  Yeah, but so are cars, right?  Yes, but cars can transport themselves, don't have to be climate-controlled (besides hail), and don't need a tune-up after being transported.  And, there are warranties.  Online markets don't do well with pianos, which need to be heard, not seen, and often heard by an expert.  So, though I have often wondered why there isn't more piano arbitrage, with dealers scooping up deals from unsuspecting sellers' houses, it may be that the transaction costs of going to people's houses, storing and transporting pianos is too much.

The article also makes the point that fewer people want pianos anymore.  Even though houses are bigger, people seem to like electronic keyboards that don't have to be tuned and can be stored easily.  When one of my neighbors announced they were selling their piano because their son really just wanted a keyboard and they were remodeling the living room, I was appalled.  But, this seems to be the way of the world.  And, I guess my neighbor's son will be able to take his keyboard when he moves out, unlike me.  I'm sure folks with fancy foyers and front rooms still want grand pianos, as long as they are shiny and look good (and maybe with digital "player piano" capabilities), but the middle-class front room piano may go the way of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  In fact, it's so hard to get rid of an old piano these days -- like a set of encyclopedias -- you may even have to pay someone to take it off your hands.

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February 06, 2012
Super (Bowl) Madonna!
Posted by Christine Hurt

In case you live under a rock, there was a big football game last night, and both Madonna and the NY Giants won.  It was a good game, a close game, with a great halftime show.

I am rarely interested in the Super Bowl halftime shows.  The Who?  Bruce Springsteen?  Tom Petty?  The Rolling Stones?  Um, not so much.  But Madonna is something entirely different.  I am the Madonna generation.  I remember seeing "Borderline" on MTV  in 9th grade and thinking "I have got to have that haircut."  Madonna's music is truly the soundtrack to my youth.  The summer I was 16 my favorite song was "Into the Groove," and on Mondays, "Teen Night" at Midnight Rodeo, I would wait and wait for that song to play.  I remember being in London in 1989 when "Express Yourself" was released.  In 1991, I had the most argumentative car ride from Houston to Austin, but I was listening to The Immaculate Collection in the background.

So, I did look forward to halftime, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, it was better than the pessimist in me had predicted.  She did not dress like a 17 year-old (just because you can, doesn't mean you should).  She sang mostly old favorites.  She was great.  I especially loved ending with "Like a Prayer."  Interesting how a song that spawned protests and a Pepsi boycott was the finale of a Super Bowl halftime with hardly a mention.  She must have loved that.

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November 14, 2011
Life in Athens
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

R.E.M. is a big part of life in Athens--mostly because the band is a reliable source of support for various charitable endeavors.  Also because you're about two degrees of separation from everyone here. As in, I've eaten eggs from Bill Berry's farm.  It's a long story.

What with getting a career up and running and having 2 children since moving here, I haven't really enjoyed the music scene much.  As in, at all.  I'm in bed by 10:15.  But last night...


I took a video, too, but I was up on the balcony and it didn't come out as well as this one.  I've always secretly imagined myself at one of these apocryphal tiny-venue R.E.M. shows.  Somehow, I didn't picture the crowd quite as gray and paunchy.

It still rocked.

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June 26, 2009
"Gone Too Soon"
Posted by Mehrsa Baradaran

For the past 30 minutes, this man in a car parked right outside of my house has been blasting Dangerous. When “Will you be there?” played, about three other guys on the street stopped to sing along. (I live in Harlem where it’s not uncommon to sing while you are walking or just standing there in the middle of the day). I have to admit, I got a little choked up listening to those guys. It took me back to listening to this very song on repeat in my room in high school. Even though there are more important things going on in the world, it’s hard not to take a moment to consider the legend.

And since this is a business-focused blog, I thought I would mention Mr. Jackson’s terrible state of financial affairs. It seems that he was indebted to some banks and a few foreign creditors for over $500 million. Even though his assets are twice that, his estate may not be able to keep his most important asset, ATV Music. He bought the firm, which owned copyrights to the entire Beatles back catalog, songs such as Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, and the works of Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac star Stevie Nicks - all for $46 million. In the 1990's, he sold half of the company to Sony for more than $150 million. It says here that the joint venture is now estimated to be worth around one billion dollars. Trick is that when he needed more money, he used his stake in ATV/Sony as collateral to secure $200 million in borrowings from the Fortress Investment Group. If he defaulted, Fortress would gain the share.

Seems there was a lot weighing Michael down toward the end, which makes me appreciate his lyrics even more:

But They Told Me
A Man Should Be Faithful
And Walk When Not Able
And Fight Till The End
But I'm Only Human

Everyone's Taking Control Of Me
Seems That The World's
Got A Role For Me
I'm So Confused….

May Michael Jackson finally find peace.

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September 22, 2008
Jazz on the Alpenhorn
Posted by Gordon Smith

Intrigued by a WSJ story, I found this video of Eliana Burki using the Alpenhorn as a jazz instrument. Pretty cool ... but I could use a little cowbell.

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September 16, 2008
Ronan Tynan
Posted by Gordon Smith

In an otherwise hectic day, I was able to enjoy my weekly ritual of trekking to the Marriott Center for the University Forum with my wife and daughter. (This is one of the great joys of my being at BYU.) Today's speaker/performer was Ronan Tynan, who has an amazing life story: double amputee, Paralympics medal winner many times over, professional singer, doctor, etc. It appears that he now makes his living as a motivational speaker, so he had the essential inventory of stories and greeting card sayings. But his singing was truly inspirational, including this beautiful song, "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," which he performs here as one of the Irish Tenors:

I probably should add that I found this song especially moving because my maternal grandmother left Oslo, Norway for Ellis Island in the early 1900s. In 1991, my parents visited my family in Delaware, and we took them on a trip to Ellis Island, which my mother had never seen. As we rode across the harbor on a ferry, my mother stood at the bow of the ship, gazing into the distance with tears streaming down her face. She told me later that she was thinking about what her mother must have felt as she saw that island, which she associated with prosperity. I never met my grandmother, but I suspect that things didn't turn out for her quite like she imagined on that day when she arrived at Ellis Island, but I am the grateful beneficiary of her voyage of faith.

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December 16, 2007
Some a cappella Christmas cheer
Posted by Gordon Smith

Earlier this semester, I saw a performance of BYU's outstanding men's a cappella group, Vocal Point, whose version of Thriller is not to be missed. If you are in a more spiritual frame of mind, you might try How Great Thou Art by Noteworthy, BYU's outstanding women's a cappella group. But this post is dedicated to Straight No Chaser, the Indiana University men's a cappella group, for their rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas (including a Toto tribute) ...

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October 09, 2007
Carillon Bells
Posted by Gordon Smith

Carillon As I walked from Senator Reid's talk to my office, the Carillon Bells were playing. Though I have heard those bells countless times, I paid special attention today because I recently learned that someone was actually inside the bell tower playing them! (Another podcast success story)

I had always assumed that the tunes were mechanized in some way, like a big music box. Apparently, the people who play the bells here also play the organ, though the two instruments are quite different.

Another fact I didn't know until listening to that podcast: there are only 148 carillons in the U.S. and about 500 worldwide. They are very popular in Belgium and the Netherlands.

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September 19, 2007
Posted by Gordon Smith

If free music seems too good to be true, it probably is. I tried SpiralFrog tonight. The software crashed my computer (which never happens on this machine). When I got the computer re-booted, navigated to the site, and tried to download a song (Bohemian Rhapsody, of course), the software went into spasms.

This may have something to do with the warning on the site: "We are currently experiencing extremely high traffic at SpiralFrog, which may be causing delays for some users. We apologize if this is you."

But even if it worked, SpiralFrog has a bigger issue: "Songs and video files that you download from SpiralFrog are not compatible with Apple's range of iPods or Microsoft's Zune."

My next step was "uninstall."

UPDATE: Marketplace is doing a series on the music industry. The second installment (here) mentions SpiralFrog, but pursue a bigger theme: mixed messages are being sent by the "Big Four" music publishers (Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner) by simultaneously prosecuting people who have downloaded "free" music and attempting to market through file sharing. By the way, the first installment of Marketplace's series is here.

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June 06, 2007
So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Posted by Christine Hurt

In writing a symposium piece tentatively entitled "Initial Public Offerings and the Failed Promise of Disintermediation," I have been doing some superficial (but very interesting) reading on the effects (or noneffects) of Internet disintermediation in various industries.  My basic thesis is that disintermediation has not lived up to its promise in many areas because of the necessity of creating demand networks for consumers to see the right flower when thousands are blooming.  I'll talk more about that later.

This project gave me an excuse to read a book that I've been wanting to read for a long time:  So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, by Jacob Slichter, the drummer for Semisonic.  Semisonic had one big hit, Closing Time, in the mid-90s.  The band was not the normal band; they were already in their 30s when their band was formed, two of the three had met at Harvard, and they paid attention.  Slichter writes an expose of exactly how much money a record company has to spend to get even a great song played on a radio station enough times to become a hit and how that money is then charged against the band.  I met Slichter's parents last year here in Champaign.  His father is a professor emeritus of physics and chemistry here at the U of I, where he has spent his prestigious career.  Slichter grew up here before going to college and then moving to Minneapolis.

If you are interested in the recording industry, then you should check out this 2004 book.  Slichter chronicles the way that money changes hands without violating payola laws and how some laws are blatantly violated.  As an aside that payola scholars would find interesting, Slichter does note that without legal and illegal payola, playlists at radio stations would be even shorter and narrower.

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June 02, 2007
Posted by Gordon Smith

Fred Wilson is blogging about free music as a business model:

So let's agree that it's the selling of music that's failing. What should the music business do? Watch the movie. The print companies went free, accepted advertising dollars instead of subscriptions, plugged into Google for traffic, and the money is now pouring in.

It seems so obvious and so inevitable. But there is a lot more to Fred's post, and it is well worth reading.

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June 01, 2007
Ann Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane
Posted by Gordon Smith

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Very fun post.

The release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was just a bit before my time, but it still made indelible marks on my youth. What is your favorite Sgt. Pepper's tune? Mine is undoubtedly the last song on the album, "A Day in the Life."

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