Q. Am I really wrong?


Q. Are you sure?


Q. Can you prove that I’m wrong?

Yes, but, you’ll have to agree in advance what proof looks like, otherwise you could just move the goalposts after the game.

Q. How come I have so much evidence that I’m right?

That’s confirmation bias. Your brain carefully files away all the reasons you might be right, and disregards all the reasons you might be wrong.

Q. How come so many people agree with me?

They’re wrong too.

Q. They can’t all be wrong, can they?

Most people are wrong about most things most of the time. If there’s one remarkable discovery to be made in the study of science, religion and philosophy, it’s that being wrong about almost everything does people so little harm. The fact that every scientific discovery since the stone age has only doubled our life expectancy is a cutting indictment of the futility of knowledge in the face of ignorance.

Q. What about the evidence that I should be right?

Those are mostly just reasons why it’s embarrassing that you’re wrong.

Q. What about the mathematical proof that I’m probably right?

That just means we should have been momentarily surprised that you were wrong. Total denial is not called for.

Q. Why has nobody told me this before?

Given the way you’re acting now, it’s hard to imagine anybody feeling like you might be anything but completely receptive to information relating to your wrongness.

Q. So what? I’m supposed to completely rethink everything I thought I knew?

Well, bumbling blindly got you this far, and we wouldn’t be exploring all our options unless we at least considered elective ignorance. Eternal darkness loses some of its lustre once you embark upon it willingly, though, so perhaps you should take comfort in the knowledge that you’re probably wrong about all sorts of other things, too.

Dear Aaron Dunn (founder of Musopen),

My gripe is pretty simple:

You have a website dedicated to giving away music that is in the public domain. Some of the music on your website is not in the public domain. It belongs to people, who should be getting paid when it is downloaded. You have made almost no effort to prevent this, and you hide behind an absurd interpretation of a law you don’t understand in order to justify your continued inaction.

Let’s start with the public domain. Authors are entitled to copyright protection for a period of time, after which their work becomes free for anybody to reproduce. Copyright terms are a bit confusing, but if you want to know if something is free in the major markets, it works like this:

Public Domain


I’m often astonished at the extent to which people who run record companies can be bad at maths.

Yesterday I sat in a meeting where it was suggested that the success of a promotion might be measured be checking the sales of the records in it before, during and after the promotion. It’s not a totally barmy approach, but without comparing the sales of the records in the promotion with sales of some other records over the same period, any increase or decrease might be the result of normal sales patterns or overall fluctuations in the market.

Still, that’s not nearly as daft as this thing I found today. The headline is “Which music services are growing, which are shrinking” which would make for a pretty interesting article if it actually told you the answer to that question.*

It’s not easy to measure this unless you sell music on these all the services** so the author has instead used Google Trends to find out which services people are searching for. In the medical world, this is known as a surrogate outcome. The thing you want to measure is difficult to measure, so you measure something related instead. It can go wrong.

The trouble is that a related variable isn’t necessarily strongly correlated to the outcome you care about. If you’re gong to use a surrogate like this, it’s a good idea to check if it’s really easy to find examples of it not working at all well. The examples below are literally the first things I searched for.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 13.51.21

According to Google Trends, Steve Jobs was never more in demand than the day he died, and is still not as unpopular as  when he was alive (that last bit might be true).

Perhaps its fairer to compare Google Trends with a better-known indicator of company performance: share price. Here, Berkshire Hathaway’s search popularity has been in steady decline for the best part of a decade.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 14.06.41

Don’t tell their shareholders that, though. According to the NYSE, business has never been better.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 13.54.19

Meanwhile, at Yahoo, search interest hit a high plateau in 2010:

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 13.55.24

And the stock price is doing almost the exact opposite.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 13.55.14

Pretty much the entire foundation of all scientific progress is to come up with an idea and then try to prove it wrong, because if you can’t prove it wrong, you might just be on to something. If the author had made even a cursory attempt to check how poorly search popularity was correlated with company performance, I think he might have offered a stronger disclaimer than:

“Of course, these search trends are not the same as having an actual measure of activity. Millions of people play music on Spotify or iTunes every day without performing a search. However, until we can get raw user numbers from every music service, this is probably about the closest we can get to understanding which services are growing and which are shrinking.”

When I wrote “almost everything you read about the state of the record industry is, at best, totally useless” this is just the sort of thing I was talking about.


* Perhaps I should avoid reading articles with questions in the headlines. If they ever answer the question, it’s because the answer is “probably not”. This is often the way with rhetorical questions.***

** If you don’t sell music, why do you even care which ones are growing?

*** And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?**** And was the holy Lamb of God, On Englands pleasant pastures seen?**** And did the Countenance Divine, Shine forth upon our clouded hills?**** And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills?****

**** Probably not.

I stumbled upon this Boulez/Deutsche Grammophon record this week.


There’s something about it that seems a bit unfinished. Like they’d cut out the background to replace it with something cool, and then either got sidetracked or possibly ran out of time.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 21.09.33

I wonder what they took out…


…and what they planned to put in.


I know what I’d have done.


The Times Higher Education Supplement and the Independent reported yesterday that the Royal Academy of Music enjoy’s the UK’s highest graduate employment rate at 100%.

There’s a small chance somebody might make a fairly important career decision (or at least spend £36,000) on the basis of this 100% figure (or perhaps on the basis of the Independent’s unambiguous advice “If you want to be employed after uni, study music”), and as these two respectable publications were apparently too busy to find out what it actually means, I thought I’d do it. It took 15 minutes. Here we go: (more…)

On May 10th, my little company (Proper Discord Ltd) celebrated its first anniversary. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing clients, we’ve made some lovely records, built some interesting companies and welcomed a new baby into the family.

I relaunched this blog a year ago with a video offering unhelpful advice on pronouncing composers’ names.

I stole the idea, quite shamelessly, from this.

My video clocked up more than 26,000 views* on YouTube, of which more than 3,000 happened last week, after (though not necessarily because) the New York Phil shared it on Twitter (which was nice of them).

I really like playing around with all the statistics you can get from YouTube. It tells me, among other things, that the average viewer in the US and UK watched 50 seconds of that video: long enough to enjoy the funny bits, but not long enough to catch the message I wanted to get across. I’ll bear this in mind for other projects, where it might make more sense to put the commercial call to action nearer the start.

You know what’s weird, though? While the average English-speaking user watches 85% of the video, the average Bolivian viewer watches 142% of it. Jordan, Estonia, Indonesia, Armenia and handful of other places also enjoy >100% “engagement”.

To begin with, I thought this must be some sort of mathematical error, but then I realised these viewers weren’t watching it for fun.

They were studying it.

So next time you meet somebody from Estonia, write “Thomas Tallis” on a piece of paper, and ask them to read it out loud. Just in case.

* Divide 26,000 views by Boyle’s Constant, and I should be able to sell almost two albums. Seriously. This stuff is commercial gold. I’ve never really made a coherent effort to turn YouTube views into blog traffic – this isn’t what the videos are for – but it’s interesting to see how little traffic it does generate. In the last year, a total of 13 days worth of video has been streamed from my channel. It probably wasn’t all watched at work, but any time you spent watching my videos could have been spent working, and at the US minimum wage, that’s $2,385 worth of time spent bringing 244 people to my blog. That’s right. Each visitor I get from YouTube costs the music industry $9.77.

To give you an idea of just how bad this is, I got more incoming traffic (284 visits) from Google+. I didn’t know there were 284 people on Google+.

Almost all the incoming traffic comes from Facebook, search engines and Twitter. Some posts go crazy on Twitter, others on Facebook, I can’t figure out any logic to what is popular where, so I put it down to luck: it’s unlikely enough that a post about statistics related to marketing classical music would go viral anywhere.

$9.77 is about £6.23. My work website ( doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but that’s ok, because it’s well targeted: I make £16 for every visitor I get. Since gets 60 visitors for each one that it refers to the blog, an entirely YouTube-based marketing campaign for my business (via this blog) would cost the music industry £23.50 in lost productivity for every £1 I made in increased revenue, assuming, well, a whole lot of “it would carry on just like this” stuff we should really have learned our lesson about by now. Anyhow. This footnote is now longer than the post to which it is appended, and we should probably both be getting back to work.

But, like a Beethoven coda, this footnote keeps coming. I could have stopped there. Or the paragraph before. Really, it would have been perfectly adequate with just the first  paragraph. Or even just the first line. That had all the good bits in it. The rest was just excessive development. But I can’t seem to find a way. I should just stop typing. Like Miles Davis said, or is supposed to have said, just “take the horn out of your mouth”. But somehow it’s not that easy.What would Beethoven do? V-I-V-I-V-I. I. I. I.








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