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the lo-fi hip-hop economy


chilledcow youtube

I tweeted a link to an article titled "The Economics of 24/7 Lo-Fi Hip-Hop YouTube Livestreams". The gist of the text is that live youtube channels such as this one that run no adverts bring no reward back to the music's creators, other than some promotion. The artists make money elsewhere. Then the twitter reply came: "good friend of mine started to make lo-fi hiphop [a] few years ago. now he is building his 2nd house from spotify money".

I have so many thoughts about this, too many to write, but the main ones revolve around the scarcity of attention, the drive to fill up time, and optimising output for fast turnaround, which all lead to formulaic music.

The scarcity of attention is in that there are only so many hours in the day, and the channels go for the listeners' time, much the same like radio stations have done for ages.

The drive to fill up time is in that once a channel is created, it needs to fill up its time with stuff that doesn't repeat so often. Back when Soma FM was a thing, most annoying about its streams was that they were repetitive - after a couple of days you began hearing the same tracks over and over, sometimes in the same order. There's an incentive for Spotify to have all the music, and that's reflected in the number of redundant music versions it hosts (try "Hedwig's Theme"), including the ones that sound like MIDI files. Those artists exhibit the same low follower to listener ratios like the lo-fi hip-hop ones.

chilledcow spotify

Optimising output for fast turnaround is to do with the fact that the artists, in turn, end up rushing to pump out new tracks, get them available to stream, push them into playlists, aiming to get to, and sustain, high numbers of monthly listeners. I've written before about the conveyor belt product, only this does away with team production for this end of the market. My biggest issue with it is that without having to put lyrics to it, sampling and chopping up other records gets old really quick. But "keep it simple, keep it stupid" has the benefit of sustaining churn while not cognitively loading the listener. Just keep making more.

In other words, Elseq this isn't.

But Elseq is exactly what some of us go for, expending countless number of hours in pushing the boundary of our own art in whichever direction the serendipity happens to take us in on the day, oftentimes simply towards complete frustration.

Not the easiest way to get to 1.5 million monthly listeners ($6750 for that number of plays. Enough to think about a house. Though at $725k median, maybe not in LA where some of these producers seem to come from. Or Oslo. Or the south of England. etc)

Like with fast food, I remain conflicted about its musical equivalent here. Though I've listened to a fair few tracks of these, there isn't one I remember, and definitely not one I've put on again afterwards. There's just nothing to hang on to (from the article: "In other words, such producers are getting massive reach, but close to zero follow-up from fans." ). I wouldn't call it hip-hop either, I have too much respect for the music I grew up with. This sounds like some post-Vaporware, gone towards capital, not against it. Massive respect to the artists though. They make good money for themselves and especially for the streaming services.

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