Maybe the pendulum has swung too far.

Data is ruining baseball. Turns out it’s best to only let starting pitchers go five or six innings. And have fielders adjust position based on the batter’s entire history of plate appearances. And since the pitchers are speeding the ball at 100 MPH consistently, the batters are employing upper cuts to try and hit home runs.

There have been a record number of strikeouts. Innings go by with no one on base. It’s turned into a game of home run derby. An already slow game is getting slower because of more pitches. Baseball is being ruined by data. New rules could possibly effect change, infielders would have to stay on the dirt, moving the mound back and lowering it…but to a degree you’re messing with the essence of the game.

The twentieth century was all about modernism in architecture. The frills were eliminated and you got very efficient, square boxes. But people got tired of square boxes, and as a result frills returned, most notably the arch with the notch at what was then known as the AT&T building. As for painting… The minimalism of the sixties has now been superseded by post modern artworks. Whether frivolous, like those of Jeff Koons, or… We had no pictorial images, now we do again. Is this what needs to happen in the arts in general?

The data has to be interpreted, but right now it’s believed that we need to pay attention to the spikes. If people go to see superhero movies, that’s what we’ll make. End result, the human pictures, all of the rest, went to streaming, with a different model. It’s not about the heat, the numbers of an individual show, but the collective, as long as enough people continue to subscribe, they’ll make a vast cornucopia of product.

The same thing has happened in the music industry. If you’ve got streams, hits, data that can be gleaned online that illustrate you’ve gained attention, then you get signed and pushed and the focus is on you, irrelevant of the content/style/quality of the music. Independent objective judgment has been thrown overboard for data points, all in pursuit of end dollars. What this is doing to the music industry at large is never addressed. More eyeballs, more money, good. Slow start, little data, bad. But now the music industry is turning into the superhero world of the movie studios. And the truth is despite the grosses of those cartoon pictures MOST people never ever see them! In fact, many people have sworn off the theatre-going experience completely, never mind the sticky floors, the talking and cellphone use, the overpriced concessions and the endless advertisements and trailers. It’s not a great experience and the pictures are not worth it. But the film industry never analyzes the product, it just looks at the grosses, the data.

It’s much harder to promote a musical act that has quality but no data. It’s an uphill climb. So, record labels no longer do this. Furthermore, the three major record labels are all publicly-owned companies. The end result being that everyone who works there is an employee, and they’ve got short term thinking, this is very different from the Jerry Mosses and the Chris Blackwells who signed what appealed to them and then worked to spread them. Hell, Blackwell single-handedly blew up reggae into a worldwide phenomenon. And the truth is the Marley slog was not easy, there was press, but the first three albums didn’t sell that well, the live album injected some excitement but it wasn’t until the turn of the decade, into the eighties, that Bob Marley became the icon he is, with the attendant reverence and continual raining down of dollars, even after his death!

Or then there’s the Grateful Dead, overanalyzed, but it was known as a road act and it wasn’t until “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” that the public at large got the message, multiple albums into their career, never mind these record sounding different from what came before.

Just because it sells that doesn’t mean it’s good. We’ve always known this, but now data has skewed the production of music. You don’t practice an instrument alone in your room for a decade, struggle with multiple acts before you find the right formula and gain traction. No, teenagers are stars, those who’ve paid no dues. They employ modern technology to create something their cohorts, other young people, react to. As a result, labels sign and promote them and most of the world scratches its head asking itself WHAT HAPPENED TO MUSIC?

And the tracks are constructed on an assembly line, the bolt of inspiration that created some of the best tracks of all time has been excised.

So if you want to build a factory, a distribution system, data is extremely helpful. But when it comes to art, and baseball is art, you can get to the point where data hurts the product to its ultimate detriment. Who wants to go to a boring endless game? Who wants to listen to mindless tripe, especially when the acts come and go nearly instantly and they’re all whored out to corporations, or corporations themselves. The Weeknd is a big success and then he goes to work with Max Martin. And the truth is Martin is so good that he can make a hit for almost anybody, you or me. And my point isn’t to criticize the brilliant Martin but rather the vaunted Weeknd… You did it yourself, you made it yourself, but to continue this way would be too risky, so you bought insurance, you employed Max, you shaved off the edges of your identity to make sure you had the data, i.e. the streams.

If we looked at the data they never would have made almost all of the shows representing the golden era of television in streaming. If you look at the numbers, it’s the high concept dreck that gets all the views, don’t think just because a show wins awards that most people watch it, that’s patently untrue! But at least there’s high quality stuff for the rest of us. And the truth is not everything Netflix or Amazon produces succeeds on either an artistic level or a data/views level, but unless you’re constantly pushing the envelope, you end up with bland product and you lose the public. Kind of like network TV. Trying to appeal to everybody, i.e. the data, they appeal to fewer and fewer.

This is a big issue. And disruption always comes from outside. With Netflix. With the publishing companies buying catalogs. Universal may have bought Dylan, Sony may have bought Simon, but without Hipgnosis and the rest of the indies these deals never would have happened.

The music industry keeps on believing it can hoover up anything that is successful. But not only is this untrue, many people are not making music at all, because the lift is too high, they get no respect, certainly no help, all anybody wants to know is the numbers, the data, and the truth is everything that starts outside starts with low numbers, and change can take decades to take effect, like the legalization of marijuana.

Yes, the data is killing baseball. And movies.

And music too.

It’s just that those drinking from the trough of data don’t want to question themselves, it’s anathema to speak negatively of anything making money. It’s all numbers, there’s no soul, and certainly in music, that’s what attracts listeners, soul. But that’s gone.

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